Sunday, October 27, 2013

BUS STORY # 364 (When Nothing Happens On The Bus)

handsome by busboy4

handsome, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

Most bus rides are completely uneventful. It’s the exceptional ride that yields up a story, or an interesting portrait, or even the paragraph-long brief encounters I call “shorts.”

This morning, I took the bus downtown. Here are two things I saw, neither of them particularly exciting or provocative, but pleasurable to me, and lost to me had I been driving or reading.

On the front aisle-facing bench seat opposite the driver, I saw a pregnant mom with a stroller in front of her. To her right sat the stroller’s usual passenger, a cute kid no more than a year old, if that, with a purple stuffed animal clutched in one arm and a wonderfully curious and open face which took in each one of our own faces in turn.

After studying one of us for a minute or so, he’d say something to his mom.

I couldn't make anything out of the babble, but his mom could. She leaned toward him and answered, in intelligible English. After her response, he went on to the next rider, and the process repeated itself.

I’d love to have a translation of his bus stories from this morning.

Shortly afterwards, two school kids boarded, an older sister I’d put in fifth grade, and her younger brother I’d put in third. She directed him down the aisle, then put her hand lightly on his shoulder to guide him into a pair of empty seats.

She had the look of the older sister charged with taking care of her younger brother, and who took that charge seriously without seeing it as an opportunity to boss him around.

Which might explain why he had the look of a boy who didn’t have a problem with a girl who was additionally his sister guiding him around.

When they settled in their seats, he turned to look at her, and she at him, then they both faced forward.

It was sweet.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

BUS STORY # 363 (Sexy)

I board the southbound Eubank bus and take a seat across from the driver. Sitting opposite me is a young woman.

The first thing I notice is the fedora, a dark, short-brimmed model, pulled down low in front. Large convex lenses, smoky and opaque, fill in the face below the brim. Bright pink lipstick.

Black turtleneck, light blue denim blazer. Gray tights. Magenta ballet slippers.

Long, straight black hair hanging like curtains down either side of her face which is pointed down toward the smart phone in her hands. She is totally absorbed.

Sexy, I think to myself.

Which leads me into reflecting on what that means to me now, and what it used to mean to me when I was a young man.

These days, there is no longer a quickening of the pulse, no rush of desire and romance and hope and imagination, a fearsome concoction that can fill a young man’s head with foolish notions which sometimes lead to embarrassing miscalculations, the memories of which will later catch him unawares, and at the most inopportune times make him groan out loud.

I don’t miss all that youthful Sturm und Drang. If someone had told me I’d be grateful for the peace and quiet, I wouldn’t have believed them. Or else I would have been even more frightened of old age than I already was. I’m amused the “loss” turns out to be one of the better trade-offs for eroding vision and hearing, for cranky knee joints and low back catches.

And then, she does something to quicken the pulse.

She suddenly looks up from her phone and calls out, “Wait! I need to get off here!”

“Here” is at the intersection of Eubank and Menaul, already past the bus stop, where we are waiting on a red light.

She jumps up and heads for the door. The driver opens the door, and she darts out.

I see her walking westward down Menaul, still looking at her smart phone. Then she stops and looks up, then starts walking again still looking up towards wherever she’s going.

Can she possibly -- will she -- Yes! She goes to the bus stop, sits down on the bench, then leans forward and looks east for her connection.

A stylishly-dressed young woman using a smart phone app to get around the city using public transportation.


The photo at the top of this story was downloaded from New Girl.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

BUS STORY # 362 (Nolle Prosequi)

Call Gene. by busboy4
Call Gene., a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

Four of us are waiting for the Juan Tabo. It is scheduled to arrive at 12:41, but it is now one o’clock and the bus hasn’t come, and there is nothing in sight when we look south at the top of the rise where the street crosses over I-40. I’ve been here since around 12:25, so I know it didn’t come early.

One of the would-be riders goes over to the schedule posted in the shelter.

“Twelve forty-one it was supposed to be here.”

He has a foreign accent. He turns and walks to the curb and looks south.

“How can people work like this?” he asks.

I think “Polish,” but it’s not. Not quite. It’s even further away from Czech. Definitely not German. Russian?

He’s short and stout, with short blond hair where it’s not covered by a black baseball cap. He’s wearing jeans and a black leather vest over a gray T-shirt. Late 40s, maybe. It's hard to tell.

The other two people remain passive, non-committal, looking at the sidewalk. But I am looking at him, and he sees that, and he comes over to where I am standing.

He makes his case against the bus system: Our bus was supposed to be here at 12:41. It is now after one o’clock. The next bus isn’t until 2:05. What happens to people who have to get to work on time? What kind of bus system in a city this size runs only once an hour? Why don’t they make a bus system people can use and can count on? We’re not a poor country. Countries much poorer than we are do so much better. Where are we spending our money instead?

He isn’t ranting, exactly. At least not like a born-and-raised-here American like so many of my fellow riders rant. I can hear the stream of expletives now... No question: my co-rider here hasn’t fully assimilated.

I think he must be from somewhere in Europe where he’s experienced the kind of convenient and dependable public transportation we hear about on this side of the Atlantic. I ask him if he’s gonna be late for work.

No, he isn’t, but if he were going to work now, he would.

There is a pause.

He hasn’t worked in two years now. He can’t get a job.

I ask what he does.

He’s a medical technician. He has a bachelors of science and he can’t get a job.

I ask him what exactly it is he does, or used to do.

He looks at me and tells me he is the guy behind the doctors who take care of the patients. It’s harder than nursing. Nurses just follow orders, just do what they’re told. Anybody can do that. But he has to process the tests that tell the doctors what to tell the nurses to do so the patients get the right treatment.

I’m amused by the grandiosity of his explanation, but then he adds, in a quiet, wistful voice, “I was really good at what I did.” He is looking away from me when he says this.

He goes on to say he won an award for his skill in 2010. Now he can’t even get a job as a janitor. And worse: it’s been so long he is no longer confident of his skills. And who knows what has changed now.

I ask him what happened.

He was accused of a crime, “a felony.” It went before the grand jury who dropped the charges. He says that here in New Mexico, there is nothing about his being convicted of a felony on his record. However, there is a record of his being charged with committing a felony, and that does not go away when the grand jury dismisses the case.

He says that when he applies for work, people see he was charged with committing a felony, and that is the end of that. He’s been without work for two years now.

I ask if he’s seen a lawyer.

Sure he has. For five thousand dollars, the lawyer explained the grand jury dismissal was “nolle prosequi” and cannot be removed from his record.

He does not explain “nolle prosequi,” and I am going to have to wait until I get home to my computer to find out what it is. But what I do notice is that he never denies he did anything, just reiterates the grand jury “dropped the charges.” At one time, I think he almost tells me what the charge was. But he catches himself, and says in its place, a “serious” felony.

I can’t help thinking if he’s from eastern Europe, he might be old enough to have known life on the other side of the Berlin Wall. And that makes me wonder if he is wondering how this has happened to him here, of all places, instead of in his homeland when things like this could happen to someone like him.

The bus finally arrives. The other two people who had been waiting with us are gone. I didn’t see them leave. My new co-rider boards the bus and asks the driver what happened. She tells him the bus broke down. He turns around to look at me and just laughs.

Hours later, back at home, I google “nolle prosequi.” According to, “nolle prosequi” is “Latin for 'we shall no longer prosecute,' which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case... either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proved, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution's claim or the district attorney has become convinced the accused is innocent. Understandably, usage of the phrase is rare.”

Two other sites (the 'Lectric Law Library and Wikipedia) add that a nolle prosequi is not an acquittal. This, I conclude, is why the matter is still on his record.

Maybe he committed a serious felony and has gotten away with it -- assuming being rendered unemployable and without income is “getting away with it.” And maybe that’s why he’s subdued, not ranting, when he tells me all this. Another sign of his not being fully assimilated...

But I can’t help wondering: What if he had been wrongly accused?

It all seems a bit Kafkaesque, and I wonder: If he’s actually experienced life in totalitarian eastern Europe, maybe the reason he’s so subdued is because it feels a little nostalgic, as if he’s not really run away from home after all.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

BUS STORY # 361 (The Hypnotist)

We are riding the Green Line into town.

At the Eubank stop, several people board. Two of them get my attention.

One is a very tall, thin black man in slacks, a gray shirt and dark tie, and a red sweater vest. He’s probably late middle-aged. He’s clean-shaven, wears his hair closely cropped, and has on a pair of heavy black plastic-frame glasses. He takes the seat just behind the first exit doors.

The second is a short, round woman with a krinkly face whose race or ethnicity run the range of my guesswork from Eskimo to Hispanic to eastern European. She looks in her early 70’s. She’s wearing a long white coat and a wide headband with white feathers, with her own white hair looking like it’s pouring out from beneath the feathers behind her.

She takes the seat just in front of the first exit doors.

A block or so before San Pedro, she pulls the cord. The next stop is a mile away, at San Mateo. But when we blow by San Pedro, she stands up and starts shouting at the driver that she wanted to get off at San Pedro.

The driver looks at her in the rearview mirror and says, “This is the Rapid Ride, ma’am. The next stop is San Mateo.”

He has just wasted his breath. She wants to know why he didn’t stop the bus.

In the mirror, I can see his mouth open as if to reply, but he seems to realize either she doesn’t, or won’t, understand what he is telling her. His mouth closes, and his eyes return to the road.

She steps out into the aisle now, and launches into a streaming complaint.

The tall black man calls out to her. She turns to look at him. His hand is up like a student’s asking to be recognized.

He explains to her that this particular bus only makes a few stops because it is an express bus. It doesn’t stop at all the usual places. So what she will have to do is wait until the next stop at San Mateo, get off the bus there, cross the street, then wait for the regular bus, not the Rapid Ride, and take it back to San Pedro.

The whole time he is explaining this to her, his right arm remains raised on high, and his explanation is accompanied by a series of graceful, almost hypnotic, right hand gestures ending with a very long index finger pointing, at a right angle to his hand, to across the street.

I don’t know if it’s him, or his hypnotic hand, or the fact that he is a rider like herself and not an official of ABQ RIDE, but she listens to him. When he has finished, she repeats the last instructions: get off the bus, cross to the other side, catch the regular bus.

I see him nod his head as he tells her yes, and his hand comes down.

She says something I cannot make out, but she moves from the aisle into the space by the exit doors.

When we stop at San Mateo, she gets out. I watch her walk past my window toward the corner. Her white hair streams out from beneath her feathers.