Sunday, February 22, 2015

BUS STORY # 433 (Broken Bad)

Wendy, played by Julia Minesci in "Breaking Bad." Downloaded from wikja.

I’ve just taken the middle seat on the side bench in the back of the bus. There are four of us: a woman to my left, a woman sitting across from me -- Whoa. She’s nodding off, and she leans her forehead into one of the poles supporting the overhead rails, then jerks back and grimaces.

She is a frightful vision. Shoulder-length, unkempt hair that starts out gray and turns reddish-blonde halfway down. Eyeliner, lipsticked red lips. She’s wearing two coats, or rather, half-wearing the outer one, a long, Army-green coat. She’s gotten the left sleeve off, but the right one is still collapsed between her elbow and wrist. The rest of the coat is crumpled up behind her right arm.

The inner jacket is a quilted black number, open to reveal a red card hanging from a lanyard around her neck that reads “Visitor” on top and “Presbyterian” below. Her shirt, a multicolored, horizontally striped number, is either cropped or not pulled down, revealing a distended belly that makes me think “Visitor” ought to read “Patient.” Her jeans are worn, and she has a pair of high-topped men’s shoes, the left without laces.

There’s a stubbed-out cigarette clamped between two fingers of her right hand. On the seat beside her is a plastic bag of groceries. I can see a bottle of something neon blue and a pack of Marlboros.

I look away quickly when her eyes catch mine.

I’m thinking she must know she looks a sight, and I feel bad that I might have made her feel worse than she already does. I will later realize I was, if she even noticed me, the least of what was making her feel bad.

She goes back to closing her eyes and grimacing, then yawning, then leaning so far forward that her face is on her thighs. When she jerks back upright and opens her eyes wide, I feel a shock of recognition: Wendy, the hooker in “Breaking Bad!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a rider on the bus I suspected might be on heroin. Of course, thinking of her as Wendy makes me shift from heroin to methamphetamine, and the next time she yawns, I check out her teeth. I get a good view of exactly two teeth standing side by side, left of center and all by themselves in that curving lower gum.

She looks miserable. I remember times I got sick with some kind of fast-moving bug while I was at work or out somewhere, and how terrible I felt trying to get home so I could just lie down, and if dying was part of the equation, well, it would at least bring relief. That is what she looks like she feels like.

There is a fourth person back on the platform, a black guy sitting in the middle seat of the back row. He’s an older guy, grizzled, with a dark baseball cap with no letters or insignia, dark jacket, dark blue jeans. He’s looking straight ahead, expression in stone, not looking at her, not looking at me looking at her. I imagine him taking one look at her early on and harrumphing to himself, “white folks.” Or maybe he’s just seen too much of this already wherever he grew up.

Someone pulls the cord, and the old guy says, “This is the stop.” I wonder for a minute who he’s talking to, then see a guy half-sitting, half-standing in front of the bench seat by the back door. I’m trying to figure out how he knew this was the kid’s stop when he gets up and starts for the back door. The kid sits back down, and as the old man passes the woman, he says, “C’mon, now.”

Another shock of recognition: they are together!

He’s already off the bus when she starts to get up, too. I see him on the sidewalk outside. He’s walking down the sidewalk, but then he stops, turns, and looks for her. When she’s off the bus, he turns back around and continues walking. She follows after him.

As the bus pulls away, I see her throw her head back and stagger. The side of her face is wracked with misery. It’s really overwhelming, for the both of us.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

BUS STORY # 432 (Grade School Reunion)

"Feel the beat," by Lester

If I’ve got to remember, that’s a fine memory.
-- Leonard Cohen, from “Tonight Will Be Fine.”

My eighth grade girlfriend and first true love of my life got on the bus this morning and took the seat right in front of me. Well, not the same girl, but a girl who looked so much like her that my heart did a single beat double-take. It used to just run away with itself every time I saw her back in the day. She was the first girl I ever kissed -- on the cheek, but I was left stunned senseless after succumbing to the impulse.

She looked like her old self, same round, sweet face, and she looked like herself in this day and age, her face now with make-up, lightly applied, really, but which made her look slightly removed from the girl I remembered. She was still wearing the the same blonde-brown ponytail, except the ponytail now fell in permed waves, and her hair was color-streaked with blonde.

Her ears were now pierced, too, the right three times, two in the lobe and one in the upper ear. That was a surprise. I could see the loops in her lower ears, but could only see the backing for what must have been a stud in the upper right ear.

Her left ear held a white earbud, attached by a white cord to a black smart phone which she scrolled through and paused, scrolled through and paused, throughout her ride. I’m trying to think if she would have been allowed to have a smart phone back then, and I think maybe not. And I think she wouldn’t have argued or pouted about it, even if she were disappointed.

Her blouse was white, with a scalloped collar, something she would have worn back then if not for the school uniform. I didn’t notice her black pants or white athletic shoes until she got off at UNMH and walked south toward the UNM campus. I liked her better in her skirt and her bobby sox and saddle oxfords. But she was a college coed now, and all that grade school uniform stuff was history.

Before we got to her stop, she grabbed a backpack and stuffed her phone and earpiece into it. There may or may not have been books in there; I couldn’t tell. But I have a distinct memory of the way she and all the other girls carried their books on top of a blue, three-ring note binder, stacked in the crook of the left arm. We boys carried the same books and binders, but we carried them differently, down by our sides. I remember when we were younger, we carried them in old army surplus back packs, but somewhere along the line, backpacks became uncool and not big kid.

She was not at our fiftieth class reunion. I was quietly disappointed, but I had a great time, maybe because I wasn’t distracted. So it was good to see her this morning, looking like those fifty years hadn’t happened, and for a heartbeat, making me feel again what it was like to see her when we were both young and had no idea where it would all end up. I’m glad neither of us decided to take the car this morning.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Feel the beat,” and is posted with the permission of Lester. You can see all Lester’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

BUS STORY # 431 (Making Out 21st Century Style)

"Kiss and Ride," © All Rights Reserved, by rudi_valtiner.

At first, I think it’s a mother and son sitting up front on the bench seat across from the driver.

They seem awfully close for a kid his age which looks to me like junior high. But when he leans in and kisses her on the mouth, I take a closer look.

He’s got one leg thrown over hers, and she’s running her fingers over his knee.

Not mom.

Not mom, but definitely more physically developed than him. But at that stage of life, they could very well be classmates.

He leans in for another kiss. They don’t get all twisted up with it, and half a minute later they’re apart and he’s scrolling through his smart phone.

A few minutes later, he puts the phone in his lap and leans in for another long kiss, then back to his phone. I watch this pattern repeat itself until a wheelchair boarder displaces them to the back of the bus.

Kids making out on the bus. I dispense with the socially calibrated conventions of “inappropriate PDA” and “babies making babies” before getting down to what I am really thinking.

I couldn’t have kissed a girl like that when I was that age. Of course, maybe if there had been any girls who had invited me to kiss them like that... But even if I got up the nerve, I certainly wouldn’t have been kissing anyone right there in public, on a city bus, up front where everyone was watching! Although I do recall the common sense-obliterating confluence of young desire and opportunity...

But if by some miracle I’d been granted the opportunity and seized it, I know I wouldn’t have interrupted things to scroll through my smart phone!

OK, yes, there weren’t any smart phones in my day. And I know there are a million stories offering testimony for just how incredibly attached people are to their phones despite whatever is going on right in front of them. But, c’mon! Kissing?! At that age? Somebody could’ve stolen that smart phone right out of my hands and there’s no telling how long it would’ve taken before I realized it was missing.

I am old, I am old. I cannot imagine a smart phone distracting me away from kissing a girl, especially when kissing girls is new. I am from another time.


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

Sunday, February 01, 2015

BUS STORY # 430 (Shorts 39)

Riding the Red Line. Photo by Busboy.

The old guy sitting next to me reaches over and pulls the cord. When he gets to the back door, he calls out: “Thank you. Have a fun day and a fun weekend, with success everywhere.” And exits.


Our driver pulls into the stop past the intersection with Eubank. Some riders exit, some board, the doors close. The driver stays at the stop, engine running. After a minute or so, a woman stands up and shouts, “Why are you just sitting here?” The driver answers he’s running ahead of schedule and he’s trying to get back on schedule. “Let me off the bus,” she cries, and walks to the front. The driver opens the door. “I’m never gonna get anywhere on this bus,” she tells him as she exits.


The annunciator says we’re approaching Wyoming, stops near side, far side, and so on. The woman across the aisle raises her hand off the bar of the seat in front of her and pulls the cord. The bus pulls up to the stop. The woman starts gathering her things. There are a lot of things. She remains seated, pulling things from all around her and rearranging them, putting some in her backpack, pulling some stuff out. The driver waits, and not seeing anyone getting up, pulls out and into the intersection. “Wait wait wait,” yells the rider. But of course it is too late. The bus pulls into the stop on the far side of the intersection. The woman, who continues packing and unpacking and rearranging through the intersection, finally has her stuff together and walks to the front of the bus rather than the back. She pushes past the couple of people trying to board. Out on the sidewalk, she turns and gives the driver the finger.


We are at a stop when, through the front windshield, I see a man running down the sidewalk toward us and waving. He clearly means for us to wait for him. The driver waits. As he gets closer, I can see he’s tall and thin, with a long braid down his back. Jeans and a turquoise T-shirt with something on the front. He finally boards, and I can see he’s Native American. He stands at the till, breathing hard and rummaging through his pockets. The driver waits. The third time he checks his left pants pocket, he pulls out some change and begins dropping the coins, one by one, into the till. They must be nickels, I think. Finally, he’s done and he waits for the day pass to shoot out of the machine. When it does, he takes it and turns to walk down the aisle. Now I can see what’s written on his T-shirt, in large white letters: “I’m on Indian Time. I’m never late.”