Sunday, September 29, 2013

BUS STORY # 360 (Shorts 32: Thank You, Driver)

It is a crystal clear, unclouded blue sky, full sunshine morning. It is also 15 degrees with a wind chill factor of 4. When the 11 pulls up to the stop on the east side of Louisiana, I see the Rapid I plan to catch already past its stop and at the intersection. That means I will be waiting for the next bus, outdoors, in the biting cold, for the maximum wait time of 20 minutes. My lucky morning. I get off the bus, walk to the intersection and punch the button. I get the “Walk” signal and cross the intersection, past the front of the Rapid. I look up at the driver, walk around to the door. She opens it! I tell her I really appreciate this. My lucky morning.

Our morning driver generally foregoes his rest stop at the regular destination for a Circle K a quarter mile or so earlier.  That way, he can get his morning coffee, and use the bathroom if he needs to.  However, this morning, after taking on boarders, he continues on his way.  One of the regulars calls out, “No coffee this morning?”  The driver replies there were several people behind him and he didn’t want to hold them up.

I'm on the number 2 heading north this morning when we pull up to an empty bus stop. There’s a guy walking towards us who’s signaled the driver he wants to ride. When the bus pulls over, the would-be rider doesn’t increase his pace. It isn’t a long wait, maybe 10 or 15 seconds. But it’s still a wait. When he gets to the door and boards, he puts his money in, takes the pass, heads for the back. No thank you for the driver. An hour or so later, I catch the same bus, the same driver, going south. As we approach a stop, we pass two women walking the same direction. The driver wonders out loud if they want to catch his bus. He pulls over and waits to see what they are going to do. They keep walking at their own pace, until they reach the door. One of them stops and stands there until the driver opens the door. She swipes her pass, heads for the back. No thank you for the driver. The driver knows it would have been an hour before the next bus came for either of these riders. He didn’t have to stop and wait, but he did. On behalf of those two thoughtless riders, and all thoughtless riders everywhere: Thank you, driver.


I’m waiting for the 66 when a Rapid Ride pulls up across the street. A single passenger exits and heads up the sidewalk. The driver starts to pull out when the passenger points to further up the sidewalk. There is a girl running toward the bus. The bus makes a single forward lurch, then stops. He waits for her. After she boards and he starts to pull out once again, I flash him a thumbs-up. He doesn’t see me.


Driver to the two young girls exiting the bus with their mother: “Don’t forget to drive your mother crazy. She loves that.”


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Thank you to our outstanding bus drivers” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of JarvisEye. You can see all JarvisEye’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

BUS STORY # 359 (Payback)

Easy to Understand Rewards by busboy4
Easy to Understand Rewards, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

There are four people waiting at the bus stop.

It’s dark outside, but the bus shelter is lit, and I can make out a young couple, an older guy, and a teenager.

The young couple boards, and the driver shuts the doors behind them.

The woman is already on her way to her seat, but her companion tells the driver there’s two more out there.

“I know,” says the driver.

“Uh, I think they want to get on.”

“I know,” says the driver.

The guy asks the driver what the deal is.

“They swore at me last night, and I’m not lettin’ them on.”

The guy laughs, says, “OK, that’s cool,” and heads for his seat grinning.

Outside, the older guy and the teen are just standing there. They haven’t rushed the door, aren’t banging on it and shouting.

This is not what I would have expected. It is as if they understand they did something wrong, and have accepted the consequences of their bad behavior.

I can’t help but wonder what country they are from.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

BUS STORY # 358 (Rudy)

bus_drawing by asterisktom
bus_drawing, a photo by asterisktom on Flickr.

The San Mateo is jammed this morning.  I see an empty aisle seat right in front and nab it.

“It’s a full house this morning,” I say to my seat mate.

He agrees and says he doesn’t know why it’s so full today.  We wonder if an earlier bus broke down or was in an accident, and if our bus is doing double duty.

“You goin’ to work?”

I tell him I am.

He asks me where I work, and how long I’ve worked there.

After I fill him in, he tells me he’s out of work right now, and asks if my company is hiring.

I really don’t know.  I ask where’s he’s heading right now.

He’s taking his son to school.  He nods at the bench seat in front of us.  A good-looking, clean-cut middle-schooler gives us a shy grin.

“I’m Rudy,”* he says, offering me his hand.

I shake, give him my name, and ask him what kind of work he does.

He says what’s he’s good at is drawing.  He’s just finished doing a portrait of someone he knows and it turned out really good.  He’s thinking of going back to school to get his GED, then seeing what there is for drawing and art.

I ask what he uses now.

Pencil, charcoal, pastel chalks.  He’s never worked with oil, but he’d like to.

He says he’s been drawing ever since he can remember.  “I’m really good.”

That last doesn’t sound like bragging or salesmanship. It sounds instead like an affirmation of something he’s come to learn deep inside.

I ask him what he would like to be doing as an artist.

“Portraits,” he answers.
When we reach his stop, I wish him luck.


*Real name changed.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “bus_drawing” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of asterisktom. You can see all asterisktom’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

BUS STORY # 357 (Special Needs)

I'm going into work later than usual when we pull into the stop at Monzano High School. I register a large group of students at the stop, but nothing more. When I hear the signal indicating the wheelchair ramp is being lowered, I look more closely.

Sure enough, one of the students is wheelchair bound. He sits at an awkward-looking angle, with arms that don’t seem to know what to do with themselves.

He’s the first to board, preceded by a man who is working the control knob on the front of the chair. He drives the chair slowly, and after a couple of tries, gets it mostly into the place opened up by the driver.

The adult is a big guy, 40s, in cargo shorts. He’s got an ID badge of some sort hanging from a ribbon around his neck. I figure he’s a teacher.

The kid vocalizes to him while the driver straps down the chair. The vocalizations are utterly unintelligible to me, but the teacher answers him. I don’t know whether he understands the kid, or is taking care to acknowledge and engage regardless.

The kid’s arms jerk spastically now and then. He’s wearing a bright green T-shirt which looks good against his olive coloring. In fact, the kid looks good: a bright, pleasing face and a happy expression.

The second kid aboard is using a walker. The teacher directs him to the bench seat just across the aisle, behind the driver. He helps the kid stay stabilized when he goes to sit, then breaks down the walker.

Once the kid is settled, I can see a happy and relaxed and slightly vacant look replace the expression of mild anxiety I saw when he was negotiating the boarding. He reminds me of someone I’ve never met, the son of the daughter of the sister of my ex-wife. (He would have been my grand nephew.)

My kids told me the story first. Later, I heard it from his mom at a wedding many years ago. They were all out walking one afternoon when a drunk driver jumped the curb and hit Eddie.*

The hit left him physically and mentally impaired, but not incapacitated.

She was struggling with the decision to enroll him in public high school rather than a school for the disabled. She wanted him to learn how to adapt his new condition to his old world rather than end up becoming isolated. But the physical and emotional impact on both of them was terribly wearing. I could sense she was unsure she was doing the right thing.

I am remembering this story as I watch the rest of about a dozen kids board, along with four more adults. Several of them look to be Down’s kids. All of them look like what we are currently calling “Special Needs Kids.” They’re stable enough not to require help. They do need direction -- “Move to the back, Chris.* No, all the way. There are seats there.” This to a student who was eyeing the empty seat beside me.

The adults are, simply, awesome. Attentive, patient, competent. Calm. Over and over and over again. And mutually supportive of each other as well. I think they have been working together for a while now.

And this fits with something else I notice: Most of these kids look happy to be here, and excited about whatever is coming next. There is an openness, an innocence even, long gone from the faces of their normal classmates.

There is one student who does not share the happy, open faces of her companions. She is sitting in the bench seat right in front of me, facing the kid in the wheelchair. From the time she is seated, until the time everyone gets off at the bowling alley where they are going, she stares with eyebrows knitted at the wheelchair kid, as if she’s trying to puzzle out what is wrong here.

I don’t know if this is her default expression, or if she is on to something. If it’s the latter, she’s dealing with the same question all of us deal with sooner or later: Why?

I tell myself she cannot know just how much worse things would be for her if not for (most likely) her parents, and these teachers, and for living in a society that has the means and the willingness to provide this level of support.

Just as I cannot possibly know what life would be like if I were sitting in her seat.

The boarding of these students takes long enough that I resign myself to a missed connection. I am fine with that.

As it turns out, with still more time taken by their exiting, I make my connection with a two-minute margin.


*Real name changed.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

BUS STORY # 356 (God Bless)

A HOSTILE...GOD BLESS!!! by jahat
A HOSTILE...GOD BLESS!!!, a photo by jahat on Flickr.

I’m heading for a stop on San Mateo when I see there’s another rider sitting on the bench inside the shelter. Young kid, in a faded black sweatshirt and paint-spattered jeans.

I sit on the other end of the bench and pull out a magazine.

A couple of minutes later, I notice he gets up and leaves. I keep reading.

Another couple of minutes, and he’s back and sitting down.

I look over, puzzled. He’s sitting there like nothing happened.

I go back to my magazine, but I notice when he gets up the second time and leaves the shelter. I watch him walk to the intersection where he stops and turns around to face the traffic. He unfolds a cardboard sign, then starts moving back toward the shelter, moving slowly past the cars waiting for the red light to turn green.

The sign says, “Need help to get a room tonight. God bless.”

When the light turns green and the traffic is moving, he folds up the cardboard sign and returns to the bench.

I watch him work the stoplight maybe half a dozen times. He gets two hits.

I look at the faces of the people who are handing him money through their car windows, and I try imagining what they are thinking, what is it that has moved them to give money to this kid.

After the second hit, he does not return to the bench. He goes back to the intersection instead and waits for the light. Then he crosses San Mateo and walks on down Lomas.

I go back to my magazine.

In a while, I see my bus coming. I roll up my magazine and get up to go stand at the curb. That’s when I see the kid again, across the street and walking south. He’s got a white fast food wrapper in one hand and a soft drink cup in the other.

The bus comes between us, and I board. By the time we reach Constitution, I understand that all I’ve got of this story is what I saw.


The photo at the top of this story is titled "A HOSTILE...GOD BLESS!!!" © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of jahat. You can see all jahat’s photos on Flickr here.