Saturday, November 23, 2013

BUS STORY # 368 (Old Tex Bus Story # 2)

Horses and Bus by Stephskimo
Horses and Bus, a photo by Stephskimo on Flickr.

This is part of a series I call the Old Tex stories. You can read about Old Tex here, and you can read the first story here.

You could never tell where an Old Tex story was gonna come from or go to.

I have no recollection of what he was telling us about when he took a sharp right turn to tell us he’d been married 28 years.

This was back in East Texas. Sometime after the marriage ended, she married a guy who up and got cancer and died just four years after.

He found out about this when the man’s kids called him up to explain they didn’t have any money for the funeral. He was a good man, they told him.

Well, it didn’t matter to him how good a man he was, he couldn’t see paying for the coffin of the guy who married his old lady. He didn’t even know the guy, didn’t know his kids.

It wasn’t like they didn’t have any money. She made good tips. And he used to send her money -- he’d send her a thousand dollars when he was out on the road, and he’d get home and it was all gone and no sign of where it’d gone -- well, sump’n was up, all right.

People need to be putting something aside, gotta take some responsibility for themselves.

Well, it wasn’t but half a day later when his own son calls him and goes through the whole story again. He was a good man, his son tells him. They don’t have any money, he tells him.

Coffins ain’t cheap, he told his son. His son said they were planning to cremate him. He told his son to give him five minutes, he’d think about it. He called this guy he knew and told him the story. The guy couldn’t believe he was even thinking about paying for his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral.

Well, it wasn’t the whole funeral. It wasn’t even the coffin. He just bought the urn. Six hundred dollars.

He figured he could meet ‘em halfway.


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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

BUS STORY # 367 (Old Tex Bus Story # 1)

Veterans Transportation Service van wrap, downloaded from Banner & Sign Express. by busboy4
Veterans Transportation Service van wrap, downloaded from Banner & Sign Express.

This is part of a series I call the Old Tex stories. You can read about Old Tex here.

Old Tex is telling us about ‘dozers back in the day.

He is talking about the bone-rattling seats when he goes off on a tangent about how the Japanese invented a way of adjusting the treads with just a half-turn of a screwdriver so the treads would stay aligned when you started up.

Just a half-turn with a little ol’ screwdriver. He wouldn’t’ve believed it if he hadn’t seen it.

That leads to the push buttons they replaced some sort of stick shift with (the way I visualize his rendition, anyway).

Finally, he returns to those old seats and wonders what the Japanese might do about them.  Maybe they have already. It’s been a while since he’s been on a ‘dozer.

He’s had offers. But ever since the accident, he’s been done with all that.

He’s had some trouble with his feet, too, with blistering and peeling.

I’m sitting just across the aisle from him, and the guy next to me asks him if he thinks it was Agent Orange that’s causing the foot problems.

Well, maybe. But he knows a guy who was never in country who’s in way worse shape than he is.

He doesn’t know exactly what happened, but somehow this guy got crosswise with the Marines, and they stuck him in the Philippines. He never did get to see combat.

But now he’s got some kind of skin condition nobody knows what it is. He’s diabetic, but they don’t think it has anything to do with that.

Anyway, his skin is falling off. Started on his feet and is moving right on up his legs. Looks like a new-skinned cat.

He went to the VA and they turned him away.

He went to the University Hospital and they couldn’t figure out what to do with him. They were gonna cut one of his legs off for a while, but they decided to move him to a rehab center instead.

He thinks the VA turned him away because they’re overloaded. But somebody’s got to step up for this vet.

He’s been in contact with folks in San Antonio -- he knows a lot of people -- about getting this ol’ boy into Fort Sam.

That’s Fort Sam Houston, he explains, you know, for the Texas general. They do a lot of burn work down there. He thinks they would take a real interest in this guy’s condition.

They run a first-rate operation down there. He’s never been in the clinics himself, but everybody knows about Fort Sam.

Somebody’s gotta step up to the plate.


The photo at the top of this story is downloaded from Banner & Sign Express.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

BUS STORY # 366 (The Old Tex Bus Stories)

A Gerard Forken photo downloaded from Stars and Stripes: Seabees' new bridge in Vietnam gets a test. 1967 by busboy4
A Gerard Forken photo: "Seabees' new bridge in Vietnam gets a test, 1967," downloaded from Stars and Stripes.

Most mornings, he got on the same bus I took to work, and he got off at San Mateo to catch the southbound to the VA.

He always wore the same thing: blue jeans, black windbreaker, black baseball cap with “SEABEES” across the front.

I didn’t ever get his name. I’m calling him “Old Tex” in these bus stories because he was old and from Texas.

When I say “old,” I mean I thought he was older than me. I had him somewhere in his 70s, and so it came as a surprise when, the last time I saw him, I learned he was actually two years younger.

I heard him before I saw him. He was hard of hearing, and he spoke at a volume I figured was his normal. So he could pretty much be heard by everybody on the bus.

Hearing is not the same as understanding.
He wasn’t just from Texas; he was from piney woods East Texas.  I am familiar with several Texas accents, but his accent, spoken in quick bursts of phrases in a gravel voice, made a lot of what he said unintelligible to me.  A lot of good bus stories got lost.

So did a lot of his life story.

He shared parts of it freely with whoever would listen. But something in the telling of a particular story would often remind him of another story and off we’d go. It was a bit like starting out for Santa Fe and winding up in San Ysidro.

So it took a lot of rides and a lot of careful listening for me to begin assembling that jigsaw puzzle of a biography.

I knew he was a born Texan, that he’d been in the Seabees, that part of that service was in Vietnam, that he was actively engaged in some form of socializing with other veterans, as well as some probably informal advocacy on behalf of at least one of those veterans, and that the reason he was on the bus several times a week was to go to the VA here in Albuquerque.

I knew that he’d been a foster parent or sponsor of some kind, and I regret not getting more of that story.

I knew he’d been in a bad accident, that the accident was a lot of how he ended up here, and why, the last time I saw him, I wasn’t likely to see him again any time soon.

I also knew that he was divorced, and that he had two grown children, one, the boy, in Florida and the other, the girl, in a place I never really did get nailed down. I don’t know, but suspect, he wasn’t close to his children -- or at least they weren’t close to him. There were too many stories that were missing a supportive son and daughter where you would expect them to be. But you didn’t get that from anything he said, or from any tone of voice. You had to read between the lines and be old enough to know what you were looking at.

He was, I think, an easy touch. I got this sense from fragments of stories he told. I also remember the morning a woman in a wheelchair got on the bus and discovered her bus pass had expired. Several folks reached for their wallets or purses, but he got up and went to the front to pay her fare.

I think most of all, he was lonely.

I also think he didn’t let that get him down. Leastways, not where any of us could see it. He was always positive, interested, unfailingly polite, and could see the humor in things. I would describe him as a good ol’ boy in the good sense of that term.

I have three stories from Old Tex. I got them sitting there in the back of the bus with him, facing him across the aisle, leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, listening hard to every word he was saying to me. I’ll be telling these stories over the next three weeks.


The photo at the top of this story was taken by Gerard Forken. It has been downloaded from an article titled "Seabees' new bridge in Vietnam gets a test, 1967," in Stars and Stripes.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

BUS STORY # 365 (Portrait # 24: Martha Stewart Living)

She’s sitting in the two-seater across from the driver. In front of her is an old-style wheeled frame for strapping suitcases to, from way back when they hadn’t started making wheeled luggage. Standing in for a suitcase is a black cardboard box with magazines inside.

She’s reading one the magazines, or rather, she is paging through it and periodically tearing pages out of it and stuffing them into the duffel bag on the seat beside her.

The duffel is brown leather, handsome but worn.

As is, I now realize, the woman herself.

Late 60s, I’d say. White hair pulled back on the sides with a barrette, neither neat nor messy. Classy black and white plastic frame glasses. Salt and pepper eyebrows and a focused expression. She may or may not be using makeup.

Her clothes, like the bag, are tasteful and worse for the wear. Brown suede jacket with a brown, fake fur collar. Tattersal vest over a white blouse with a scalloped collar and a subtle, small print I can’t make out.

Sage green pants of some soft-looking fabric. They’re a little short, and I can see a white satiny-looking liner poking out below a frayed cuff. Thick, bright blue socks disappear in high-topped brown boots that look like English walkers. Theyre in excellent good condition.

The magazine she is culling pages from is about perfect: Martha Stewart Living.

I have the sense she fully appreciates Martha’s style, and not just from wishful daydreaming.

There is a story here, and I am having to settle for this small portrait instead.