Sunday, April 24, 2016

BUS STORY # 494 (Portrait # 33: Soap Opera)

Downloaded from soap opera

I watched this story unfold when I was still working and taking the same bus at the same time every work morning. I retired before I saw any resolution. I still think about these two folks, though, and wonder about the story I didn’t get.

I really don’t remember which of them I saw first. Sometimes he’s on the bus, and she’s not. And vice versa. And I know of at least one time they didn’t sit together when they were both on the bus.

They are both good looking, and I remember being aware of them individually before I began thinking of them as a couple.

He has a lean, ascetic look that makes him seem taller than he really is. Salt and pepper hair, just long enough not to be short. His glasses aren’t stylish -- lots of glass, little frame -- but they complement his usually impassively serious face. He wears jeans, sometimes blue, sometimes black, always neatly pressed, which reinforces my sense of an underlying fastidiousness. I can’t get a fix on his age -- he could be anywhere from mid-40s to early 50s. Whatever his age, he looks good.

Where he’s angular and lean, she’s soft and round. And where his face reflects a fine-boned Spanish-Navajo heritage, hers reflects the dominance of the Aztec. Prominent cheeks and jaw, strong nose. Large dark eyes. Lustrous black hair worn straight and falling just short of her shoulders. I’d put her in her mid-40s. She usually dresses in black -- black jackets and coats, black pants or long black skirts, opaque black stockings and black, serious shoes. Sometimes with a splash of color from a silky blue or maroon blouse. She looks good.

She boards farther down the route than he, and when the aisle seat next to him is empty, which it is most of the time, and which by now I’ve concluded is meant as an invitation, she goes to sit by him. That’s the only time I see him smile, and I take it for a giveaway.

They talk very quietly and, I think, gently. They don’t often look at one another when they talk -- she will look directly at him more often than he will at her -- but you can see the attentiveness in the way both incline their heads. They sometimes gesture when they talk, but they keep those gestures economical and tidily confined.

The time I saw them not sit together, she had boarded with a small suitcase on wheels. There wasn’t room in the seat, so she took a bench seat facing the back door and parked the bag in front of her. He stayed in his seat. I remember thinking there was room for him if he wanted to sit next to her, but there was also another guy sitting at the other end of the three-seater. I don’t know if it was our Albuquerque tendency to try and leave an empty seat between strangers, or a reluctance to have a conversation that might be overheard, that caused him to stay put. Or, depending on what story might be concocted from what we have here, some other reason entirely.

But just before her stop -- she gets off before he does -- she stood up and went over to his seat, leaned over a bit, and said something to him. He smiled, as if pleased to have heard what he heard, shook his head yes, got up, and went over to where her suitcase was sitting. At the stop, she exited, and he carried her suitcase out to the sidewalk for her. A thank you and smiles were exchanged, and he got back on the bus and took his seat.

That was a more effusive parting than normal. I never see any long, lingering looks when she gets to her stop. What I do see is a normal, have-a-good-day kind of exchange, and that’s that. She heads north and doesn’t look back, and he doesn’t watch her go.

He gets off at the next stop and heads south.

I really have no idea what the story is here. For all I know, they could be family, or old friends who used to work together, or just a muy simpático pair of co-riders.

Or already married to others. (Yes, of course I’ve looked for a ring on the left ring finger. Nothing on either one. Which, I know, doesn’t prove anything.)

Whatever the story is, it’s a lot like watching a soap opera: the story unfolds very, very slowly.

Just one more reason to keep me riding.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

BUS STORY # 493 (Other Voices, Other Buses)

Downloaded from Dreamstime.

I don’t remember when I first discovered there were other bus bloggers out there. Carla Saulter’s “Bus Chick” was my first discovery, and she’d been at it longer than I.

Then my daughter introduced me to “The Subway Chronicles,” a remarkably literate series of essays by various New Yorkers about their experiences on the subway.

I began putting links to these and other blogs in my sidebar, and the format evolved to the list of current blogs you can see there now, followed by another list of “gone but not forgotten” blogs that have been abandoned but are still accessible. (A couple of fine ones have been dismantled, including “The Subway Chronicles.” “The Blood Bus,” a Glasgow bus driver’s raucous blog, also comes to mind.)

I found most of these blogs during my weekly search for “This Week’s Featured Bus Story,” another sidebar edition which allowed me to share other people’s bus stories.

Near the end of 2008, it occurred to me that I really should have been saving those stories, and so I began doing just that in a blog I titled “Other Bus Stories,” and adding it to the current blog roll.

I have my favorites. When I began saving the weekly stories, I began labeling my favorites as “a Top Ten Bus Stories nominee.” By now, I have almost twice that number so labeled. So I’ve sorted out my top ten favorites and present them here, in chronological order.

December 3, 2007, from Minneapolis: “His teeth were biting my...”  by Jill via “Bus Tales”.
“Bus Tales,” like “The Subway Chronicles,” was a blog made up of the contributions of its many riders. Unlike the Chronicles, the quality of the writing and the stories varied widely. This story still makes me laugh. It’s a wonderful example of that bus weirdness that does happen from time to time, but Jill’s experience is as benign as it is weird. I admire her assessment of what was happening, and her compassionate handling of the situation.

February 25, 2009, from NYC: “Bus Justice,” by Andrew Tavani via New York Press.
A powerful story that evoked mixed feelings of righteous satisfaction and an uneasy conscience over just how compos mentis the old man really was.

March 12, 2012, from Silverwood, Michigan: “An open letter to the weird guy on my bus in 1968,” by Pony via her blog, “PhoenixDown Farm.”
Probably all of us are familiar with this kind of retrospective reflection on a past experience that seemed unimportant or unpleasant at the time, but ended up having a surprising impact on our lives. I’ve seen several bus stories that explore this experience, but this one was especially sweet.

April 14, 2012, from Portland, Oregon: “Scam Artist Rips Off Innocent Citizen,” by Nickareeno via his blog, “Sardines Are Only Packed Once.”
Boy, do I recognize this story and all the feelings that go with it! Nicareeno’s posts have been featured several times on “Other Bus Stories.”

November 14, 2012, from NYC: “Beauty on the Bus,” by Susan Heath for The New York Times.
Sweetness and kindness in the big city! We could do with a lot more of both.

March 2, 2013, from Edinburgh, Scotland: “The last Etruscan,” by “A Late Starter in Edinburgh” via her blog, “Not Reading On the Bus.”
A lovely story and the final post by one of my favorite bloggers. I have assumed from the writing the author is female, but there is another author from Edinburgh famous for his extraordinary ability to write from the female perspective: Alexander McCall Smith. Whoever “Late Starter” might be, the writing here, and throughout the blog, is extraordinary. I still miss it.

June 30, 2013, from Boston: “Strangers on a bus,” by Sarah Kess for The Boston Globe.
Another retrospective, and a startling, “you are there” story told by a woman witnessing another young woman’s public pain and embarrassment, watching that woman rebuff another, older woman trying to help, and, finally, her own personal reflection on what she learned from the experience about the kind of person she wants to be. This one has stayed with me.

July 22, 2014, from Seattle: “Vanishing Reason,” by Richard Isherman via his blog, “Bus Stories: Observations on Life in Transit.”
Richard Isherman is another of my favorite bloggers. His closely observed, very well written stories are often fanciful musings on what he’s observing. They’re literate and witty, usually amusing and always insightful. This one, however, is one powerful heartbreaker.

February 5, 2015, from Seattle: “Different Sides (More Than One Way Through Life),” by Nathan Vass via his blog, “The View From Nathan’s Bus.”
Nathan Vass is a bus driver for Seattle’s King County Metro. He’s a prolific blogger, with a fine ear and extraordinary talent for converting how people actually sound when they talk into comprehensible written dialogue. He’s also attentive and compassionate to a degree I find both astounding and daunting. This story is a remarkable slice of life, and I think we’re fortunate Nathan was there to hear it and pass it on to us.

August 5, 2015, from Portland, Oregon: “In Heat,” by Bill Reagan via the blog, “Trimet Diaries.”
Bill Reagan is yet another of my favorite bloggers whose stories have frequently been featured in my side panel. It would have been hard to pick a top favorite of his stories had this one not come along. This is a story I haven’t seen on the bus myself, yet I immediately recognized it because, like Bob Seger, I remember, I remember, I remember... Not that I was ever one for making public displays of affection. But I was definitely a boy who had no idea “how little he understood” the young woman of his desires, and how troubling that was to the young woman in question. Reading this story now, at my age, makes me wince for the both of them.


I don’t have a corresponding top ten favorite fictional bus stories. But who doesn’t love Kramer’s bus story from “The Fire,” the nineteenth episode in season five of the NBC sitcom, “Seinfeld”? Besides, as any longtime urban-dwelling bus commuter knows, it’s not all that beyond the realm of possibility.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

BUS STORY 492 (Time Was...)

The simple joys of life can be done alone,” by Steve Baker

I’m meeting someone for lunch. The trip requires one transfer, and I’ve just taken a seat on the bench to wait for it. At the other end of the bench is a little old lady. I nod hello.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you happen to have a cigarette?”

She’s toothless, but she puts a lot of effort into making sure she articulates as clearly as possible.

“No, ma’am, I don’t. Sorry.”

“You’re one of them that don’t smoke.”

She says it more as an observation than an accusation.

“Yes, ma’am,” I confirm.

We sit there quietly for a while.

Then she calls out, “Sister! Sister!”

I look over at her. She’s looking at a car directly in front of us, in the middle lane. Black car, nice car, driven by a young black woman.


She starts waving her right arm.

“Sister! Sister!”

The woman doesn’t look over. I don’t think she can hear -- the windows are up and she probably has the radio on and surely the air conditioner. The light turns green, and off she goes, along with all the other cars and trucks.

“Did you know her?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “She’s black is what it is. I’m just tryin’ to get me a ride.”

While I am still turning that one over in my mind, she tells me she hasn’t had a car in 14 years. She hasn’t had a job in 17 years. She took a leave of absence from her job here in Albuquerque to go to Chicago. She said they told her they’d keep her job for her until she got back. But they didn’t.

“Time was, people looked out for one another, took care of one another.”

I ask her who she worked for. She names a local family business I not only remember but had regularly patronized many years ago. I describe the owner to her.

“Yes, sir,” she says. “That was my father.”

I am genuinely surprised and I tell her so. She quickly explains this wasn’t her father’s doing. When he died, the kids took over the business. Everything changed, she said. It was her siblings who told her she didn’t have a job anymore.

“Time was, you put family ahead of money.”

She said they ended up falling out with one other, all over money, and that’s why the business floundered.

I tell her I’ve seen another place outside the state with the same name, in the same business, and now long abandoned. “Yes, sir,” she says, and she tells me the state and the town. That is when I think she might really be who she says she is.

She continues that the out-of-town place was her aunt and uncle’s business, and that part of why they closed down was because of how the family was managing the business here.

I’m so absorbed by the story I don’t see my bus until it pulls past me toward the intersection.

I jump up, and watch it stop for a red light.

“That’s my bus,” I explain to the woman, then walk quickly to the corner. I stand right by the front door and hold up my bus pass. I know the driver can rightfully decline to let me on since I’m not at the stop. He looks over, opens the door.

I thank him and explain I was deep in a conversation and didn’t realize he’d pulled up at the stop. He laughs and tells me he could see that.

I take a seat, but the wonder of what I’ve just heard is mixed with regret at such an abrupt leave-taking. And sadness, too, for all that I’ve heard, and for her.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “The simple joys of life can be done alone” and is posted with the permission of Steve Baker. You can see all Steve Baker’s photos on Flickr here.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

BUS STORY # 491 (Language Lesson)

Photo by Busboy.

There’s a guy at the other end of the bench where I sit down to wait for the 5. I open my book and start looking for where I left off when I hear him say something I don’t understand.

“I’m sorry?”

“Good afternoon.” This is said so deliberately that I understand immediately English is not his native tongue.

He’s short, compact. Dark face, straight black hair, neatly cut. Button-down plaid shirt, jeans, heavy black shoes in good shape. Mid-40s.

“Good afternoon,” I reply.

“I speak Spanish,” he says, again in carefully articulated English. “Do you speak Spanish?”

Poco,” I answer, laughing, then add the Anglo invention, “Nada mucho” -- “nothing much” in literal English. He processes this quickly, laughs, and then amends my response to “no mucho.”

He asks if he can practice his English with me.

Claro que si,” I reply. Of course.

He then explains he has been studying English at CNM for five months. His enunciates carefully, and his accent does not obscure his pronunciation. His command of grammar is remarkably good.

I tell him in Spanish his English is better than my Spanish. That about brings me to the limits of my Spanish. He looks pleased by my comment.

I ask him where he’s from.

Peru. He arrived here -- he gives me the exact date while counting off the months on his fingers -- eight months ago.

I ask him why he came to America. He answers he has a son training to be an electrician with Job Corps -- he pronounces the “ps” ending of the word.

He goes on to tell me he has a sister here who’s been an American citizen for forty years. He stayed with her for three months and then, “I go independent.” He’s got an apartment. He also has a wife and daughter back in Peru.

I ask what his wife does. She’s a secretary.

And what does he do?

He was a lawyer back in Peru, but that degree is worthless here. He wants to get into law here, but he knows it will take time and schooling, and right now, he needs to work. He reaches into a bag and pulls out a manilla folder. Inside is a resume listing work he has already done since arriving here in the States: cleared brush; dug trenches; trimmed trees. He explains someone at Goodwill helped him with the resume. The page is crisp and clean.

He has applied for several jobs, filled out the forms, but no one calls him back. His latest application was yesterday, at a car wash. He shows me the form. I look at the form, but I’m thinking I don’t really understand why he came to the States, and that is the real story here. What I do know is he’s truly starting from scratch.

I tell him it must be hard being so far from his wife and daughter. It takes me two more attempts to get that across. He smiles and says, “Sometimes not so much.” He doesn’t elaborate and I don’t press. I figure that might be a big part of the real story.

The bus comes and we sit together on the back bench seats. He asks me if I went to college. Yes. Do I have a degree? Yes. A doctorate? No, a bachelor’s. He pauses, then asks me why, if I have a bachelor’s degree, am I riding the bus instead of driving a car. “You are rich enough, yes?”

I laugh. There is no way to explain here; my Spanish is utterly inadequate, and his English comprehension is not nearly as well developed as his speaking abilities. So I say simply, “Soy rico porque no tengo un automobile!” -- I’m rich because I don’t have a car.

Which is not true. What is true is that I would be mas rico -- have a lot more disposable income than I do now -- if I didn’t have my car. But I think he understands my point. I’m just not sure he believes it.