The dirty old street is covered in snow.The old houses turned into apartments have smoke coming from the rooftops as ice hangs from the gutters.People are in a mixture of moods ranging from docile to heightened to agitated.You can smell the different aromas of different foods being cooked from the various restaurants as I open the door to the bus at each stop…
People are on their best behavior on snow days.It is a long walk or wait for the next bus in the cold so no one wants the boot into the dreary weather.No one expects us to be on time necessarily either.Needless to say,these are the most laid back days.
I was actually on time all day today.I got all my layover breaks and had a rather good day.At the light of Peoria and Colfax heading west there was a man sitting by me.He was tall,looked weathered and was in his early sixties.He had a light mocha colored skin and shabby clothes that didn’t appear to really protect him for the weather.
“Hey,mister bus driver,how do I get to Jesus Saves?The homeless shelter?How do I get there from your bus?”
I explained the routing.
“Thank you,mister bus driver.Thank you.”He said and we both sat there,both steeped in a weird boredom.After a moment as the light turned green he said,”I used to play with lots of different bands.I used to play with Earth Wind and Fire,is a bitch what coke can do to you.”and we both started laughing.
I’ve had him on my bus over the years.He used to have a wife he rode with.She looked older than him,long gray hair and pale almost transparent white skin and she used a walker.He was always so attentive to her.She passed away a couple of years ago.I actually remembered them from three years ago looking for a good place to eat on Colfax.He told me money was no object and they talked excitingly about going out.I referred them to Bastien’s.I have seen him also over the past couple of years here and there.
We started talking after his ice breaker.We both loved music and talked a lot about jazz and 50’s and 60’s rock.We talked about the instruments we loved.He pointed out places where he played.I found myself really enjoying our conversation.As we made our way onto 15th Street I saw his bus to the shelter,the route 48.I tried to catch up to it,but it had left the stop.I called dispatch.Normally on snow days we don’t do courtesy waits,but I told them I had an elderly gentleman needing to get to Jesus Saves before 5:00 and asked can they please please hold that bus on 16th Street mall for him.I stopped on the corner of 15th and Curtis street before the actual stop and we said goodbye to each other.I saw him rush to the bus as I shut the door and made my way to Auraria.It dawned on me how much I liked talking to him,and that though I’ve seen him for many years that was the first time we really talked.I may not see him or talk to him for another few years or again,who knows if we’ll cross paths…This job is funny like that…People just come and go,but we always remember where we left them off….
The excitement of travelers,the lights,the people standing in balcony areas of bars and restaurants,the light traffic on and outside the bus…It’s nice.There is no rush.There is no tension.There were no swears thrown at me today.
I got a Christmas present from one of my passengers.He is trying to quit meth.He is younger than me,late 20’s or early 30’s.I am 38.He is covered in tattoos,but that is not what makes it apparent he is a meth addict.It’s his jumping around,his spitfire way of holding a conversation.His words are all over the place,so that the conversation usually changes mid sentence.I have always had a soft spot for him.He has never really intentionally made a problem for me.Often times when he boards it’s like a tornado just showed me a bus pass and before I know it,he’s running across the street to whatever craziness awaits his day.He gave me a puzzle with elephants on it.Still in the plastic wrapping…
A few weeks before he boarded my bus and did not look good.He was coughing really hard and looked thinner then usual.He talked slower.He told me he had pneumonia.He actually layed in one place the whole time.When I got to the end he asked me in a pleading way if he could stay on the bus.I looked at him and knew he was not well.We talked for a bit and it was strange actually being able to understand him.
He told me he’s been clean for over a month. He was in the far back of the bus,legs stretched out and curled up by the window in the corner,with his hood over his head.To avoid using he was sleeping on the streets,being away from his cohorts.He was not allowed home.Already sick,being on the street brought on the pneumonia.I felt for him.I don’t like seeing people suffer…but I don’t like being a doormat either,so I don’t always offer help.
Seeing him like this really bothered me.I’ve never seen him so….still.I asked if he’d been to the doctor and if he’s taking anti-biotics.He told me he went to the doctor,but he didn’t have enough for anti-biotics,and his parents wouldn’t give him money.I understood both sides…but honestly understood his parents’ side more.
Still,I could see he was sick and I gave him money to get the anti-biotics.I took a chance.Part of me wondered if I was giving to a lost cause,if he’d choose meth to ease his pain temporarily.Part of me believed he’d spend it on the meds.The part of me that believed he’d spend it on the meds won.I gave him the money.If I saw him anytime soon I’d find out what he did.
The next day came and he was waiting for me at Downing street.He knew when I’d be there.He was savvy enough to know it was my set schedule as an individual and that I did this Monday through Friday,and I’d be there at that time.He jumped on the bus in this wild frenzy.I could still understand what he was saying.I could tell he was just excited.He pulled the anti-biotics out of his backpack.He showed me it was that day’s date.I wouldn’t have asked him to prove he got the anti-biotics,I knew I was taking a chance,but that was on me,not him…Still,he stood there in front of everyone telling me he spent my money on anti-biotics and not drugs,really excited and proud of himself.In a way I felt proud of him too…
So he gets on a few weeks later and he is waiting for me.He is holding the puzzle.He looks happy.He only rides to the next stop,to only give me the present.He is all happy and looks a hundred percent better.I feel happy.Not because I helped him,nor because he spent the money on much needed meds…but because he looked happy.Genuinely happy…that was present enough.As he handed me the puzzle and told me Merry Christmas,he told me how he had a phone that got stolen,while he was passed out at a McDonald’s,but it was ok because he had stolen it in the first place…I couldn’t help but feel for him and all that he’s going through,as self inflicted as it may be,I could see the human in him trying to come out and do the right thing…
Merry Christmas to him.Merry Christmas to all who have nothing.Merry Christmas to all who have everything or who are making do like me and my wife,Merry Christmas to everyone.Merry Christmas and God bless everyone.We all are just trying to get by…
After some years of being a bus driver you start to notice people and the changes they go through…For instance there was this one gentleman whom rides regularly. He is a college student and very young.When he first started riding he was very masculine, his clothes reminded me of 90’s skateboarders…Then you start to notice the change.For two years now I’ve watched him grow into himself.
Two years have gone by and I’ve seen him change into another aspect of himself.There are no parents around…
There is no one to tell him who to be.He had become a full fledged homosexual.I watched his transition into his own identity take place each day right in front of me.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of transitions in people.I’ve seen people become junkies.There is this one guy who used to own a construction company.He would ride the bus because of medical issues.At one point his wife left him.He used to be very clean,groomed and everyday he’d tell a corny funny joke when he boarded.He was a short,round man,white,with sort of a mullet going on.He’d start conversations with people and he was otherwise jolly.
Shortly after his wife left him I started noticing more and more him getting on the bus with beer and vodka (not opened of course).It went from a can here and there and a bottle every few days to a case everyday and a bottle everyday.I’d talk to him and ask how he was doing.One day after he opened up to me about certain things I pleaded with him to get help.I even recommended some good services to seek out.
Over the course of time I noticed he lost a lot of weight.His appearance was more disheveled.He was a lot less jolly and a lot more methy….He would make phone calls looking for drugs,out loud on the bus.Somedays when he got on his eyes would look like they were bulging out of his head.His clothes were dirty.He was always agitated.One day I actually had to kick him off the bus for trying to pick a fight with some teenagers.Then after a bit I didn’t see him for a year.When I did,he was on a street corner with a sign asking for money.I barely recognized him.
I used to get this one guy.He was Hispanic,young,early twenties.He was always high on heroin.Sometimes he’d try to get on the bus like he was a zombie.His motor skills being off,his eyes half closed and rolling back in his head.He couldn’t even make it up the steps.He probably had just shot up in the alley.After some failed attempts to board he’d laugh insanely and give up.He go curl up against the building on the sidewalk and pass out.Naive people would think he was sick.Everyone else knew he just needed to sleep it off,otherwise we all have other places to go.
I didn’t see him for a year.Appearantly he got caught in a burglary.He spent some time in jail.Then transfered to rehab.Then back out into the world and on my bus.It was strange seeing him sober.For a bit he seemed overwhelmed and anxious a lot.He was actually really funny when he was sober.The more we talked the more I liked him.He got a job.Then an apartment.Then a girlfriend.He seemed really happy.He came a long way from this dirty street kid sleeping on the sidewalk to this young man who was getting his life together.I still see him a lot.
Everyday when we are out there as bus drivers we come to know all of you in one way or another.When we are pulling into the stop we already know what you are going to generally do before you even board.We have sized you up before we even open the door.Part of it is a defense mechanism,part of it curiosity.Mostly we are just preparing for whatever it is we need to say and do that will keep the bus rolling,to keep heading down that dilapidated old street to whatever fate it is that awaits you and your story as you walk through the doors and onto that grimy old pavement….
There just seems to be those days.That day where you wake up with every intention of having a good day.It may start out with actually feeling rested.From a good dream.With a shit eating grin on your face…And when you stub your toe on the edge of the bed that should be your first warning to take the day off…but you’re determined it’s nothing but a minor set back to an otherwise glorious day ahead…yep,should have called in and stared at the ceiling all day,but one can never truly see these days coming.This I believe is where the Yiddish word “schmuck” originates.From not seeing the otherwise obvious…
I limped into the bathroom and got the shower running.My son was at his mom’s so I didn’t have to drive him across town to school.The extra two hours sleep was nice.I missed him tremendously,and hoped he was having a good morning as I got into the shower.My wife was still asleep.She works nights and sleeps during the day.Our cats crawl into bed taking my warm place as I prepare for the day.The shower was nice and warm.I sang “everyday” by Buddy Holly as I put shampoo in my hair.The pain in my toe was going away.As I started rinsing off the shampoo,some got in my eyes and began to sting.I tried to pull our shower head off to rinse them out when I slipped and fell onto the tub floor.Luckily I caught myself enough to not have a worse fall,but I landed right on my right side rib cage.Oh it hurt.I made my way up, cleaned out my eyes,finished up and got dressed.
My wife is a sweetheart and makes my lunch when she gets home from work.She gets putzie when she gets home.I put my badges on my uniform and pulled my lunch out and set it on the counter.One of our cats knocked down a plant and got dirt everywhere.I cleaned it up and realized I was now running late.I threw on my jacket and grabbed my backpack and walked to the bus stop.Once there I realized I left my lunchbox at home.I don’t usually carry cash and I don’t have a card,so I realized at that point I was ass out going to have one of those days…my bus came.Still,the schmuck in me held onto the idea things might get better.
I get off at Onieda and cross the street.This is where I make relief,at Colfax and Onieda.I sit and pull out a book.Not long until my bus arrives,so I start reading.I get caught up reading and realize some time has gone by.I look at my watch.It’s 26 minutes after my bus was supposed to leave,outside of the arrival time,I realize altogether it’s 38 minutes late….I stand up and start pacing.Another six minutes pass by and it finally arrives.It was not my regular driver.I quickly set up the mirrors and transfers and log on.I call dispatch to see if I can get respaced.The driver gave me no reason why he was almost an hour late on a thirty minute trip….Dispatch tells me to just run it late.At this point I think to myself it doesn’t matter I didn’t bring my lunch…I’m not getting a break for the rest of the day.As bus drivers we don’t have scheduled lunch breaks or ten minute breaks every two hours…it’s all based on our layover,and if we’re late in our layover time there goes our break…
Despite the amount of busses on Colfax it’s inevitable that if you’re late there will be shit tons of people at every stop.Not to mention how many of them that won’t have their fare ready or need the lift.And have tons of groceries.The lift doesn’t bother me.You need it for a reason.The groceries doesn’t bother me as much either.If you don’t have a car you have to make due…But not having your fare ready really eats me.You see me coming.There is absolutely no reason to wait until I pull up to start looking for it,especially when there is a line of people behind you.I can’t yell at you,but believe me I cheer inside when someone else starts to speak up.It has become a huge pet peave of mine.It’s just very inconsiderate and wastes so much time….
Right away people are pissed as well.For starters,there were three local busses ahead of me,mind you they were supposed to be behind me…but as a passenger it would appear like an extra bus was out there.Maybe it’s my vibe wanting to hurry that makes people realize I’m late?I don’t know.All I know is people start taking stuff out on me.Calling me “nigga” and “asshole”,or the beloved “bitch”.I figure I’m late,so screw it.I get them off the bus when they start calling me names.I pull over,open both doors,one way or another I don’t leave until they are off and I’ve gotten the last middle finger flung at me.I’m not a punching bag and we don’t have to tolerate this behavior.No one should.
The day has gone on at this point.The late minutes have dwindled to just a few minutes.I’ve been called many of things,not had a chance to piss or eat or smoke a cigarette in almost seven hours.I make the turn onto 14th Street from Larimer.I have about thirty college students on the bus.A car on my right side started pulling up as I was making the right turn.I see she has still a car length and a half in front of her.I compensate for the future space I’ll have and then she stops short.She got a text and I remember seeing her look at her phone as she steps on her breaks and the side of my bus collides with the rear corner of her car.You can hear the crunching sound.The students all grumble as we pull off to the side.She pulled over first and you can actually hear the plastic from her tail light fall onto the pavement.I get my passengers off my bus as I block traffic for them.Only one of them was nice enough to say “I hope your day gets better.”The rest personally griped at me as they walked to the next bus stop.After ten minutes the supervisor and police officer show up.The lady was at least friendly during all this despite the damage I caused her car.The cop asked if she wanted me to get a ticket and she said no.The supervisor cleared it with dispatch after the lady and cop left.I finally got a break.He told me to go back to Auraria and wait until my next leave time.I finally used the restroom,smoked a couple cigarettes,took a deep breath and did my last trip.I got home that night after work and though I missed my wife and son,I sat in silence and enjoyed the little bit of solitude before my wife got home from work.I didn’t have the tv on or my record player.I didn’t read.I just sat and stared at the floor for a couple of hours and breathed.
I open today with a question.Does your job have a bathroom around some corner or in a hallway,easily accessible to you?Does your job have a water fountain and coffee maker?Perhaps an area with a microwave?We do,but in the garages we have.Three in total.Platte,just outside downtown,Boulder and my garage,East Metro,just off Colfax and Billings.But alas our jobs as drivers requires us to be driving and not necessarily hanging out at the garage.When one is need of food and water we must carry and provide such ourselves.A restroom can be tricky.Most places off Colfax don’t offer public restrooms, even to us in uniform.Certain privileges such as those mentioned are not alloted us.We must find our own means.
Sometimes we have issues that require us to get relieved early.Does your job allow you to leave early if you are sick?You clock out and leave if you just can’t make it through the day?Our job is a little trickier…Once a friend of mine had a heart attack on duty.He was doing the 32.Something went wrong,he slumped in the driver’s seat and put in the emergency call setting to dispatch.He was pulled over at 23rd and York st.He was gasping for air and all he could get out to dispatch was “ambulance,ambulance…”At this point he fell to the floor of the bus and lied there holding his chest and trying to breathe.An elderly man walked to him and said “Can you just drive to Colorado Blvd and drop me off,then back the bus up here for an ambulance?” Another passenger blurted out “Can’t you see this man is having a heart attack??If you ask again I’ll take your skinny old white ass and throw you to Colorado!!”He ended up surviving and got healthy enough to continue driving.He was saved.
Sometimes I get migraines. They come on from time to time.I have learned many techniques to stop them,but sometimes they happen and I can’t deter them.It’s at this point I have to call in for sick relief. I can’t just tell my supervisor I have one and leave.I have people on the bus.I am out at some point in the city,often miles from my garage.Once I call in for sick relief,dispatch has to call my division. From there they work out which extra board driver has the hours available to cover me.From there,they have to figure out how to get that driver to me.Sometimes it can be tricky,because each division has only one car for these situations. Sometimes street supervisors are on calls as well.In the meantime you have to try and continue on unless it’s too unbearable,but when you have people on the bus depending on you,you want to try your hardest to continue service. It has been well over a decade where I worked at a job with luxuries like a bathroom and food available. Where I can just clock out and go home if I start throwing up or have a migraine.
Out on the road you really have to rely on yourself for many things.We don’t have a kit with bandaids and headache relief.We provide these things ourself.You as passengers see us as drivers with backpacks.Our backpacks provide us with the things we need.
I drove,and got a call to pull over.I had a migraine and had been vomiting from the pain.I was pulling over at bus stops and vomiting in the trash cans at each one. When I got the call to pull over,it was over an hour since I called it in.The driver taking over wandered out of the supervisor car and I relayed what information he needed like detours and where the person who needed the lift had to get out.The passengers sat confused and wondering what was going on.In the meantime I made my way to the supervisor car to be carted back to the garage.The bus sat at Downing st as the new driver set up the mirrors.I put my head against the window because the pressure felt good.At last I could get home and get to a nice dark place to rest.At home with accessible water and restroom….At home with things I needed…In a place where I could stretch out and have all basic human necessities available.
It’s always a wonder,the things you see.My last trip tonight a man,who appeared to be high on meth,twitchy and high strung boarded my bus to only give a lot of change to a little girl,about four years old,who was sitting in between her parents.The coins were in his stocking cap.He was about six feet tall,white,bald head,eyes sunken in and skinny as a pole.He was wearing a ratty faded gray jean jacket,a blue hoodie underneath,and dark blue jeans that were all very dirty.He jumped onto the bus and asked for forty seconds,told me he wasn’t riding.He had such air of urgency. He dumped all this change into this little girl’s hands while her parents watched on smiling.He screamed out “Thank you for your patience!!” as he ran off the bus.We all sat there dumbfounded for a moment before I shut the door and left the stop.
Maybe we had stumbled upon some strange moment of self redemption for this fellow.He didn’t know these people.They seemed just as confused and shocked as the rest of us.The thing is,everyday driving the 15 you see moments of greatness,moments of despair,sometimes the worst moments of humanity…Sometimes you see kindness on a huge level.Sometimes you are just a sitting duck in the driver’s seat for people’s abuse…
Most of my trips end at Krameria st.RTD started these short trips in 1984.The purpose of these trips is the bulk of our passengers are between downtown and Colorado blvd.Also we cannot maintain a constant ten minute service between downtown and Aurora.Financially and driver wise we cannot afford that kind of service.It would require an exponential amount of busses,drivers and funds to do so.
My Krameria trips usually result in annoyed and angry people at the expense of not paying attention to the bus they boarded.This paticular day seemed much more than usual the amount of people who didn’t pay attention.People grumbled and made rude sarcastic remarks as they exited the bus,but this paticular man made a point to come up to me and leave his mark,and that he did….
This elderly man,white long stringy hair,a workers smock and blue slacks came from the back of the bus towards me.There formed a line of people waiting to exit behind him.He wore dark aviator glasses.He knelt down to where his face was by my ear.He said:
“Seems like you have a lot of disappointed people here.You are a son of a bitch and a lazy asshole. There is no reason to end you’re route here you fucking asshole.I hope you get a gun and shoot yourself in the fucking head you lazy fucking asshole.”
I looked at him in a moment of complete confusion.Mind you the 15 runs every ten minutes to Krameria,every 30 minutes to Aurora.It has since 1984.This is not something that started yesterday. We have destination signs showing our end trips and bus schedules marked with which trip goes where.These are grown adults with every capability and function to be able to decipher their ability to go where they need to.He winked at me as he exited the bus and the others followed.
All I could think about the rest of the day was this man’s words.How easily they rolled off his tongue…How completely vile and disgusting he was.All I could see all day was his face.In all the good things I did,I just kept hearing him telling me to get a gun and shoot myself. I went home that night and sat with my family and thought about what he said.I decided he was the one that was a horrible person.I thought to myself he didn’t know me.My son told me he loved me and gave me a hug before he crawled into bed.My wife gave me kisses and affection.That man’s word faded away…The greatness you find is in moments of redemption from a junkie and not the words of an old bitter man.The greatness in humanity comes not in moments of weakness and anger,but in being brave enough and strong enough to be considered strange in the moment of giving.The greatest moments come when you give all you have to a complete stranger,even if all you have is a smile.
If the 15 isn’t busy enough,every three weeks we get hit with this impending storm.All drivers know it’s coming.We see the last days of the month dwindle away…And prepare for a week of mayhem.
People of all economic statures ride.From poverty to high wealth.We watch them intermingle through the mirror.To the homeless with their free issued bus passes and fares paid in 225 pennies (it’s happened…) to regional passes and eco-passes,discount passes,monthly passes,ride tickets,college passes,access a ride passes,lightrail tickets,transfers,expired transfers…crumbled up torn transfers…people even go as far as to try and quickly flash king soopers cards,and they try and alter transfers to make them look valid.To think of the effort someone goes through to try and tear the transfer,put scotch tape on the back and try to pass it off to us…it’s comical in a way.Such effort to avoid paying for a service that’s provided through a government commodity at a low price then turn around and try and steal a ride….wow.People just don’t realize every cent they don’t pay is the exact cause of fare increase and reduced service.It’s a severe catch-22…but anyhow….the first of the month…Holy Week.
Every stop for a week is met with a crowd of people waiting.Every stop by a grocery store is crowded with people with carts,wanting the lift,even if they are only going to the next stop.Mind you,I understand circumstances of bad knees,old age and so on…but the first of the month means not twice the amount of people,but an exponential amount of people and the lift at once.And again,this is not an insensitive bitch session about people who need it…but when you have so many people at once needing it,you realize you are not going to get that bathroom break,that chance to eat your sandwich or just a chance to breathe and get a moment of solitude.For a week this lasts…
I noticed today they are building a Wal-Mart at colfax and havana.To many in this area it can be exciting…To a bus driver what we see is a crowd waiting with tons of bags of groceries,waiting until we pull up to start trying to pull out a pass or transfer or whatever,and not just one person but many…We see a waiting crowd with carts and people with strollers full of groceries…and here’s the deal.Trips on the 15 going to Chambers only have a four minute recovery layover at Colfax and Chambers.This means if you’re four minutes late leaving Havana you’ll lose all layover time at Chambers.It all just adds up.This means your westbound trip will already start late by the time you get through the construction as well.
In all summary,I guess I’m just saying the first of the month is a time for us that means little time for a break,and chaos as our ridership pretty much just blows up.And not just in groceries…but also in drunks and drug addicts.We’ll see somebody strung out,shaking and sweating the last week of the month…And come the first they are bouncing,drunk,high…Sometimes you can actually smell that smells like burnt wires that is crack or meth.
Today I had a very very crappy day.When I get stressed out,I fight the stress with humor.If you know me,the more outgoing and silly I get,means I’m stressed as fuck.Today is over,but this will continue until Friday when finally in a way I’ve snapped and thrown my hands in the air anyways….The final cane has tapped the pavement,the final hidden beer is drank in the back corner,the final crack pipe hot with fire burns the fingertips of someone in a dank alley…I go home for a weekend to retreat,hide,listen to music and rejoice in solitude…