Sunday, December 28, 2014

BUS STORY # 425 (Portrait # 26: Vietnamese)

The Finest Vietnamese Cuisine by busboy4
The Finest Vietnamese Cuisine, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

When the bus stops, the driver puts the bus in the kneeling position. I watch a walker emerge through the doorway, followed by an older Asian man.

He has trouble maneuvering the walker, and ends up pushing it against the first row of forward facing seats -- empty -- on the door side, then sitting down on the bench seat.

He looks around at the rest of us. It’s hard to read his expression, but it is not blank.

I decide pretty quickly he’s Vietnamese.

I began acquiring the habit of guessing Asian nationalities from the time my kids told me Asians do not see themselves as “Asian.”

What do they see themselves as, I asked.

They replied, they see themselves -- and other Asians -- as Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese or Thai or Korean or Laotian or Hmong or...

I keep in mind that they were in high school at the time. American society doesn’t get much more balkanized than in high school.

Still, I began making the effort afterwards. Knowing the Asian nationalities of many of my co-workers has helped me form a rudimentary template which functions much the same way as my sense of whether a bird of a certain size and backlit on a wire or branch is a Robin or a Thrasher or a Kingbird. You gain confidence with practice over time, but, of course, you never really know.

I’m better at it with the birds.

So I’m looking at a man who I am thinking is Vietnamese, a man who is younger than me but debilitated to the point of using a walker, and who is regarding the rest of us with an expression that I cannot read.

If he’s Vietnamese, he’s probably here as a consequence of our involvement in the War in Vietnam.

I find myself wondering what he might be thinking.

He could be feeling old before his time and broken down and looking around and thinking this is not his home and we are not his people and wondering if his decision to come here was the right one after all.

Or he could be looking around and thinking how he and his family are still together in America, which used to be some sort of Disneyland fantasy back in Vietnam, but is now this place, this Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He could be looking around and thinking how wonderfully different the bus service is here and how much room there always is compared to back home.

Or he could be thinking back home, his daughter or daughter-in-law would never have gone to work and left him to take the bus to wherever he’s going...

I am, of course, trying to imagine being a stranger in a strange land.

I did not really learn my world was not The World until I went to high school, where I encountered city kids and town kids and farm kids and rich kids and not-rich kids and white kids who were German or Czech and Mexican kids and a few Lebanese kids...and a lot of them had funny ideas about my world.

We were balkanized in my high school, too.

We come to his stop. He gets up, takes some time getting the walker in the right position to exit, and turns to leave.

That’s when I see the back of his black T-shirt for the first time, and I am pleased with myself. The name of one of the many Vietnamese restaurants in town is written across the back.

He’s slow to exit the bus, and that gives me enough time to wonder if he and his family were in the restaurant business back home, or if this was a matter of finding a way to survive. And I wonder how different the food they make today is from the food he knew as a teenager back home, and if he’s old enough to know the differences between how his family got their supplies then, and how they get them here in the States.

I’m wondering what he thinks was gained, and what was lost, and if he thinks the trade was worth it.

And while all of us know there is no better place a human being could live than right here in America, I’ve been perplexed by multiple surveys* purporting to measure national happiness in which we, ourselves, have reported ourselves not happy enough to make anyone’s Top Ten list.

We’re way ahead of Vietnam, though.


*Although this is far afield from bus stories or public transportation, here are some links to some of those recent surveys of “national happiness.”

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report on life satisfaction in the developed world.

New Economics Foundation’s report on the Happy Planet Index.

Earth Institute’s report on world happiness.

The UN/Gallup Polls’s report on the happiest countries.

Buthans’ Happiness Index report on the happiest countries.


Two weeks ago, I posted a story about the changes to ABQ RIDE’s “Plan Your Ride” webpage feature. You can read it here.  Earlier this week, ABQ RIDE announced its move to Google Maps. You can read that here.  Note that, in fact, the old Plan Your Trip is once again (or perhaps still) accessible, but not from the Trip Planning menu! From the ABQ RIDE website: Bus Routes & Schedules - HTML Format > Plan your ride.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

BUS STORY # 424 (Wow)

Bus Stop Santas” by Lynn Friedman. Posted with permission.

I’ve been posting bus stories weekly through eight Christmases now -- the ninth is just a few days away. I’ve always tried to have a Christmas bus story for Christmas week, but finding one -- mine or someone else’s -- is the hardest thing about Bus Stories I do. They are not easy to come by.

Once again, I’m having to settle for a generic, non-denominational, “nice” bus story that at least evokes some of the human warmth most of us associate with the holiday spirit -- and this one truly warmed my heart. I’ve also tried compensating for the lack of a Christmas story with the Christmas-themed bus photograph at the top of the page.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good ride.

I’m sitting on the bench reading and waiting. The woman at the other end of the bench is taking care of business. She’s on her phone, and she knocks out a series of calls with a crispness and efficiency that make me wonder if she’s an executive secretary when she’s not riding the bus.

“Sir, do you know the date?”

I look over and, yes, the executive secretary has just asked me the date.

I’m pretty sure it’s the 27th, I tell her.

She looks through an organizer. Thursday, she says, half to herself.

“It’s definitely Thursday,” I affirm.

“Between work and everything else, I can’t even keep track of the date,” she says. She goes on to describe committees she’s on, research projects she’s in the midst of. She says she can hardly wait to retire. Her parents are retired now, lucky dogs. But, she tells me, they deserve it. She and her brother put them through hell when they were kids.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Her brother is married, with two kids who are giving him hell. She doesn’t have any kids herself, but she does have a husband who’s filled the role. He’s not working, and she’s the sole support for the two of them.

Disabled? I ask.

You could say that, she replies. He has a disability, but his real issue is how he presents himself. He has a grandiose sense of himself, and he ends up overwhelming, then scaring, the folks he’s trying to get a job with.

She’s got him in counseling for that particular problem.

I salute the effort both of them are making.

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t bring in any money,” she replies.

She says he could go on SSI, but he tells her if he does that, he’d be giving up. He wants to work; he wants to be normal.

There is a pause, and then she says, quietly, looking across the street, “I kind of admire that about him.”

I don’t say anything. I just sit there and all I think is “Wow.”


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus Stop Santas” and is posted with the permission of Lynn Friedman. You can see Lynn Friedman’s photostream on Flickr here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

BUS STORY # 423 (Plan Your Ride: An Update)

Downloaded from Joseph M. Foster: Living the Outrageous Life

This past July, I posted a story called Plan Your Ride. The post described the three options then available on the ABQ RIDE website that enabled riders to plan a trip from point A to point B. Those three options were ABQ RIDE’s own Plan Your Ride, Google’s Maps, and Hopstop. I went on to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each option.

A couple of months ago, Hopstop disappeared from the ABQ RIDE website. This week, I discovered Plan Your Ride has also disappeared. Now, when you click on Trip Planning, you are taken directly to Google Maps. (I’ve found nothing about these changes on the website, nor in my review of the ABQ RIDE Facebook and Twitter postings.)

I’ve used Google Maps for planning bus trips both here and in other cities, and it has proven to be extremely helpful. But there are a few caveats. One is that I’ve found routes best taken using the Rapid Ride don’t always display on Google Maps when there are other options. For example, I can meet a friend at O’Neill’s on Central at 11:30 a.m. by taking the 11 to the Red Line at Nob Hill, then the 66 to O’Neill’s. Google Maps would have me stay on the 11, then walk a mile to O’Neill’s. Or else walk two miles to Central and take the 66 to O’Neill’s. The Rapid is faster, with minimal walking.

Another caveat is that your arrival time must be exact. For example, there is a neighborhood Asian restaurant, An Hy Quan, where I often meet friends for lunch. We meet at 11:30 a.m. Using the now-removed Trip Planner, I knew to catch my 11:07 departure to Juan Tabo, then five or so minutes later, catch the 1 to the stop across the street from my restaurant. The bus usually arrives around 11:32. Trip Planer always gave me options which included arrivals that were a little past my specified arrival time -- 11:32, in this case.

Google Maps is precise. Using 11:30 as an arrival time will not give me the same option. In fact, for this same trip, Google Maps tells me to catch my bus 22 minutes earlier, get off at Juan Tabo, then walk a mile to the restaurant.

A final caveat is that Google Maps doesn’t necessarily have the same schedule for ABQ RIDE that ABQ RIDE is using. I discovered this disconcerting fact earlier this week when I went down to my stop ten minutes before my bus was scheduled to arrive according to Google Maps, and almost missed my bus! I assumed my driver was way early, but when I checked the bus schedule against the actual arrival time, I found my driver was within five minutes of being on time.

I’m not sure how ABQ RIDE conveys its schedule changes to Google Maps, nor how long it takes Google Maps to incorporate those changes when it receives them. I now am sure that whenever I need to be some place on time, I better double-check the Google Maps directions against the ABQ RIDE schedules -- both for departures and transfers. It’s a pain, but not getting where you need to be when you need to be there is a bigger pain.

Still, the availability to riders of a reliable trip planer is an excellent service, and Google Maps is a wonderful tool. And the real key to making all this work is for the drivers to stay on schedule. That’s even more important than a trip planner. And, in my experience, ABQ RIDE continues to do this well.


Last week, under the Holy Cow! link to the right of Bus Stories, I posted this link: Too few bathroom breaks drove bus drivers to adult diapers. As the report speculated, the Dept. of Labor did indeed come down hard on King County Metro. This week, a Seattle bus driver comments: About Those Urine-Soaked Seats...

Sunday, December 07, 2014

BUS STORY # 422 (A Muslim On The Bus)

Photo by Hazel Thompson; downloaded from The New York Times.

I board and start up the aisle, looking for a seat. A guy all in white, with a white beanie, smiles and nods at me. I take a seat across the aisle and one row behind him.

He looks late 20s, light-skinned, mixed race. Close-cropped, curly black beard. The beanie is a lacy, white-knit cap which looks like an oversized kippah or an undersized toque. The pattern makes me think of Irish lace. Google will tell me later he’s wearing a kufi.

He’s also wearing what for all the world looks like an old-fashioned cassock, with two buttons where the notch for the Roman collar would appear, except it is white. A very bright, very new white. Below the hem, I see long sheer black socks and black dress shoes.

Muslim, I’m guessing, but I’m not sure.

As it turns out, we both get off at Juan Tabo. And, as it turns out, we are both waiting to cross north together. And so, while we are waiting for the light, I ask:

“What does your dress represent?”

He explains it is Islamic, and he wears it to set himself apart from the world and to remind himself of his religious obligations.

I tell him the only temple of Islam I know of in Albuquerque is on Yale.

He says, gently, “We call them ‘mosques.’ Yes, I am working for them now.”

Holy Moly! I can’t believe I said “temple!”

I ask him if he was born into Islam.

No, he came by it in his studies of religion. He adds that true Islam emphasizes love for one another, and tolerates the different beliefs of others.

I refrain from asking about the different competing beliefs within Islam, some of which seem pretty devoid of love or tolerance. But what religion doesn’t have these internal discrepancies? Even that Koala bear of organized religion, Buddhism, has had its not very Buddhist moments recently in Tibet and Myanmar.

I say instead that I’m sure he gets asked about this a lot.

He laughs, and says Jesus was tested, the prophets were tested, how can we think we won’t be?

My Muslim projects a remarkable lightheartedness. I would call it joyful if I did not sense it was rather new, rather put on like the kufi and robe. Rather like another new convert who urged his fellows to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” A faith and a conviction, bright and shiny and new, which has just begun the process of becoming internalized.

It’s not an easy thing to set yourself off from your fellow man in so deliberate a way as by your appearance. It can put people off. I remember when long hair on males first started showing up in Texas. A boy could find himself in trouble. These days, advertising yourself as a male Muslim isn’t risk-free, even in laid-back Albuquerque.

I confess to favoring the St. Francis of Assisi way of bearing witness in the world, including on the bus: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Clothing and iconography count as words. Any old hippie could tell you that. And any old hippie could tell you the words are not always understood by the listener the same way they are intended by the speaker.

I have the notion that if Jesus were to have shown up today rather than 2000 years ago, he’d still be likely to pick another backwater like Albuquerque, and he’d still be more likely to recruit from a demographic more likely to be riding the bus than driving a Lexus.  Just like then, we wouldn’t know his followers by their clothes. The only way I imagine they might stand out is they wouldn’t be having loud, obscenity-laced conversations in the back of the bus and they wouldn’t be taking up more than one seat, but would be leaving the aisle seat open and inviting access, would be offering their seats to the women and the elderly when the bus is full, would be helping people with their bags of groceries and their walkers and strollers, and would be saying “Thank you, driver,” when they got off.

Now that I think about it, there’s an awful lot of folks like that riding the bus right now. But I’m pretty sure if one of them invited me to get off the bus and come follow him... Well, let’s just say, oh me of little faith.