Sunday, April 27, 2014

BUS STORY # 390 (Thank You For Your Service)

Downloaded from the City of Albuquerque website.

When I posted last week’s bus story, I also posted a side link under “This Week In Albuquerque,” “ABQ RIDE to Provide Free Transportation to Veterans with V.A. Hospital Cards.

The next day, I had some business that put me at the corner of Montgomery and Wyoming, waiting for the westbound 5. I was sitting on the bench when a guy who looked older than me jaywalked himself across Montgomery. Blue jeans jacket, blue jeans, and looking a lot like Robert Duvall.

He approached the bench, then stopped and looked me over. Then he said something I couldn’t make out other than the word “free.” His voice was thick, and I wondered if he’d had a stroke.

I heard him the second time: today was the first day you could ride the bus for free if you had a V.A. card.

I told him I’d heard about that, and he took the seat beside me. He sat down slowly and stiffly.

Then he took out his wallet and pulled out a monthly Silver Pass, the pass for seniors. He told me he’d just bought it when he heard about the V.A. card, and now he didn’t need it anymore. He offered to sell it to me for ten bucks. Since this pass costs twelve, that might be a bargain for someone, but not for me. I showed him my annual Silver Pass.

I don’t think he heard me, but when he saw my pass, he figured it out. He put his pass back in his wallet. I told him he’d surely find someone who’d buy it. And that was when the bus came.

It was crowded, and we ended up on the back platform, sitting on the bench seats opposite one another. I leaned forward and told him now he knew the V.A. ID really worked. He said he already knew that; this was his third boarding of the day. He said he took the 11 to the 2, then walked over to Wyoming for the 5. I laughed and told him I’d taken pretty much the same routes.

When we got to his stop, he wished me a good day. I thanked him, then added, “Thank you for your service.” But I don’t think he heard me.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

BUS STORY # 389 (Lost In Translation)

bus (downloaded from KIdentity) by busboy4
bus (downloaded from KIdentity).

I’m pretty sure my co-rider is talking to himself -- or to an imaginary someone. It’s hard to tell.

I see this on the street from time to time, but I can only recall one other time I’ve seen it on the bus. It wasn’t what he was saying that caught my attention that other time -- he was mouthing silently. It was his gestures. Ordinary gestures, like the ones we are thinking about when we describe a person as “talking with his hands.”

I remember that rider would intermittently catch himself and plunge both hands in his lap, but they wouldn’t stay there. Some other conversational point had to be made, and the hands would fly up and help make the point.

Today’s talker also catches my attention because he, too, is using his hands. But differently. He’s signing to himself.

Whatever he is saying, he is saying it over and over again, because the same signs repeat themselves. And they repeat themselves forcefully. He feels strongly about whatever he is saying.

Over time, I pick up a larger pattern: he signs emphatically and repetitively, then tilts his head back and stares at the ceiling, then pulls out a smart phone and scrolls, then puts it back in his pocket and begins signing again.

Maybe he’s rehearsing a response to something he’s received on his phone. Maybe whatever he’s read on his phone causes him to tilt his head back and ask “Why me?” before he deals with it.

Maybe he’s learning how to sign. Maybe he’s practicing today’s lesson, and the head tilt is a sign of how frustrating the learning is going.

After a while, he reaches down to the empty seat beside him and pulls up a bicycle helmet, which he puts on. Then he pulls the cord.

I watch him exit, take his bike off the rack, and ride off down the cross street. I wonder if he’s headed to a confrontation with whoever or whatever is on the other end of his phone, or perhaps to the pacifying distraction of work, or to signing class.

Or something else altogether.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

BUS STORY # 388 (In The Wrong Seat Today)

Old guy boards, stops at the fare box, hangs his cane on the hand rail, sets a twelve-pack of Coke Zero on the floor, starts looking for his bus pass.

He’s got a Billy Gibbons beard, big-lensed glasses, a gray baseball cap. Long dark greatcoat, no gloves. He’s wearing Z-Coil sandals with socks. It’s somewhere in the low 30s and breezy outside.

He locates his bus pass in the left pocket of the coat. He tilts back his head to bring his glasses to bear on the pass, making sure that’s what it is. Then he swipes it, and takes a seat in the first forward-facing row, in front of the bench seats.

Next stop, another old guy in a blue jacket gets on. He swipes his pass and takes the bench seat in front of the first old guy.

A conversation ensues, but I cannot hear what the first old guy is saying to the second. But I sure can hear what the second old guy says back:

“Well, I’m gonna have to disagree with you about that. But whatever.”

And he crosses his arms and turns his head toward the windshield.

The first old guy replies, “Maybe you’d feel differently if you’d been sent to prison for something you didn’t do.”

The second old guy doesn’t acknowledge the response. He pulls his feet in under his seat and crosses them at the ankles. He holds that stare at the front windshield.

I’m sitting two rows back and across the aisle. And wishing I’d been the one sitting where the old guy in the blue jacket who doesn’t want to hear any more is sitting. There is a bus story here that I’m just not going to get because I am sitting in the wrong seat for today’s bus story.


The photo at the top of this story is titled "ABQ RIDE Daytona Garage Tour - 6905 Interior Maintenance 3" and is posted with the permission of wastemanagementdude. You can see wastemanagementdude's Flickr photostream here.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

BUS STORY # 387 (Going Home)

Photo by Marcus Castro; downloaded from by busboy4
Photo 2 of 11 by Marcus Castro; downloaded by busboy4 from

Yo mother treated me / Like I was her baby chile
(Was her baby chile)
Yo mother treated me / Like I was her baby chile
That's why's I sighed / (Sighed so hard)
And come back home to die.
-- from “Fixin’ To Die,” by Booker T. (“Bukka”) White

I walk up to the bus stop on Montgomery and I’m sure the lady sitting there is the same one that sat in front of me on the bus up this way an hour or so earlier.

Short, round, black woman in black pants and a black and white blouse, with gray in the tight curls of her short hair.

Contrary to my usual watch-and-wait ways, I tell her I think I recognize her from earlier this morning. She looks at me and says, yes, she believes she recognizes me, too.

Then she asks if she was too loud on her phone.

I remember her being on the phone now, but I tell her I couldn’t hear her, which is true. She tells me she hates it when people talk so loud on the phone. She tries not to use the phone at all when she’s on the bus, but sometimes she’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.

What she had to do this morning was get her INR level checked. She has a heart valve and has to take anticoagulation medicines, and the INR is a test to make sure her levels are not too high or too low, but just right.

They’ve been out of whack because she’s been sick. She says she was in the hospital for three weeks, out just a couple of days ago.

I ask what was wrong.

Well, before this last time, they told her it was Crohn’s disease because she had non-stop diarrhea and blood in her stool. They wanted to admit her from the ER, but she said she didn’t want to be admitted and asked them to please send her home.

Which they did, along with some antibiotics. Looking back, she thinks she made a terrible mistake. The antibiotics they gave her helped for about a month, and then she got sick again, except worse. She couldn’t stand for anyone to even touch her abdomen. They wanted to admit her, and this time, she didn’t put up a fight.

They wouldn’t let her eat or drink anything the first eight days except water for her pills. She’d never gone even a day without eating. The fourth day, she says her stomach just gave up on being hungry anymore.

They were giving her fluids and antibiotics by IV. She showed me her upper arm, where she’d had a pretty good allergic reaction to the tape. She asked them if she could take the tape off and use rubber bands to hold the tubing in place. Oh, no, they told her. No rubber bands, they told her.

They did a CT scan. She had an inflamed small intestine and they couldn’t see her appendix. Four days later, the small intestine was even more inflamed and they still couldn’t see her appendix. There was some talk about a possible rupture, but apparently that diagnosis was abandoned.

And then, after she finally started to get better, they discharged her.

They still didn’t know what she has, but they thought it was “bacterial” and referred her to a specialist. She sees him five days from how. Meanwhile, her primary doctor sent her to have her INR checked, and advised her to double up on her vitamins, twice a day instead of one, because her gut isn’t absorbing all that she’s putting in it.

She’s distressed about the fact she’s missed work for three weeks. She says she has worked ever since she was nine years old. She’s worked 33 years in Federal service. But while she was in the hospital, she decided she needed to get back to work by April 1 so she could hand in her resignation and retire on her anniversary date.

What was she gonna do, I asked.

Go home, she said. Go home.

“Home” is near Augusta, Georgia. She hasn’t lived there since she was a kid, but she has family there. She has friends here, good friends, but no family, and she feels the need to be close to family.

I sense she’s been shaken by what’s happened; she’s afraid it isn’t really over, and she isn’t sure how it’s all gonna turn out. I wonder if she wonders, like me, if the Augusta she is imagining is the home she is going home to. I don’t have any such doubts about her family, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t, either. That’s who she’s going home to and, either way, that’s where she’s gonna find home.


The photo at the top of this story is number 2 of 11 taken by Marcos Castro for The caption reads: "Elese Tillman carries her luggage to her connecting bus at the Fayetteville Greyhound Bus Station on Friday morning, Feb 7, 2013. She is traveling from New York to Augusta Georgia."