I was standing up on the Redline coming west down Central by the far back exit when a loud voice snarled: “Is there some reason why your ass is in the back of my neck?!”
If you’ve ever ridden the bus in Albuquerque, you’ve shared the ride with numerous veterans, some better off than others, but most of them pretty much winging it.
You can see them with their canes and their bad knees and oxygen tanks. Some will stare you down. Some avoid eye contact altogether. A lot of them wear hats festooned with trinkets. Some wear bits and pieces of old uniforms.
The veterans that are the worst off appear homeless.
At the sound of the voice behind me, I leapt forward in a panic, unsure of what was happening, prepared to defend myself.
It turned out that I had mistaken a man’s neck for sections of plexiglass I often lean against to keep my balance.
As soon as I caught a look at his scowling mouth, his unkempt hair and repaired glasses (before I even took stock of his tattered camouflage pants), I knew who I was dealing with. Someone that had ridden in troop transports and cattle cars, someone who had slugged through mud and shit. Someone who had come unglued. Given his thinning hair I guessed Vietnam.
Here he was on the Rapid Ride, purposefully avoiding the Local 66 Bus because it was too much like a cattle car—too crowded, too loud, too riddled with despair—and some thoughtless asshole sits on his neck.
Seeing all this in an instant, feeling the strain of his madness in an instant—the impatience, the frustration, the nagging anger and rage—I made a vigorous apology and shifted my position.
Recently the City of Albuquerque has opened a new Rapid Ride stop in the heart of “EDo” at Central and Edith. It is currently operating on a trial basis. It saves me having to walk through the tunnel under the railroad tracks to the Alvarado Transportation Center. This tunnel is no joy to walk through. It smells like piss and shit, frequently has bodies strewn through it, and drivers feel compelled to honk their horns as they enter it as some sort of homage to the downtown. So you can understand why I prefer Central and Edith.
When we reached the new stop, I touched the veteran on the shoulder and bent down. He probably hadn’t been touched in years.
“I’m a veteran, too,” I whispered, “I understand.”
Without turning in his seat or looking up, he nodded his head and briefly touched my hand.
I got off the bus.