Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
- Community Blog
- Living in El Fin Del Mundo
Tijuana/San Diego buses #3
My grandparents house in East Los Angeles was an interesting place to grow up in during the 60's and 70's. At nearby Ford Blvd Elementary school I was taught that the 'nuclear family' of dad, mom and two point something children, in one house, was the normal American family. Then I'd walk home to the barrio, to Grandma's house where I lived. There I learned that normal is in the eye of the beholder. Inside Grandma's house lived a revolving door of Rangel's, near Rangel's and friends of Rangel's. There may even have been an enemy or two of Rangel's in there from time to time. When Grandma got to dishing out plates of her delicious home cooking most everybody yearned for a serving. One of my favorite relatives who passed in and out of the guest room at my grandparents house was my mother's older brother Eugene Jr. Or Uncle Junior as he's known. At the time that he moved in with us he was working as a school bus driver for a large company. Prior to that he'd been working as an armed security guard but had wanted something less dangerous and stressful than dealing with belligerent drunks at weddings. So he decided to drive school children. My poor uncle. I can still remember him lying in his room, filling out reports about his unruly passengers and the problems they gave him. I recall him saying in near tearful exasperation to my grandparents about how a 'gum in hair' incident was the last straw and he couldn't take anymore. My grandmother commiserated with him as she berated the terrible youth of the 70's. My grandfather chuckled and said, "Isn't this what you wanted?" Uncle Junior didn't quit that day. He stuck it out and went on to have an exemplary career as a bus driver until he was hired at Universal Studios to drive their tourist trams. Based in large part on his record as a bus driver. I am darn proud of my Uncle Junior. Not because he has a super cool job at Universal Studios which allows him to see movie stars up close and gets him free tickets. No, I'm proud of him because he used to be a bus driver. If ever there was a job that I couldn't do it's drive a bus. It takes patience, diplomacy and the ability to hold one's tongue. I don't do well in any of those character virtues. Watching bus drivers in action has shown me that a good sense of humor can also be of value(Another asset I lack). All these positive traits are necessary just to deal with the passengers. Not to mention the driving part about being a driver. Sitting several dozen unpredictable strangers behind you while attempting to maneuver a large metal rectangle the size of an army tank, filled with diesel and mounted on wheels, through downtown San Diego or worse, Tijuana is ludicrous. At least to me it is. That's not a job. That's stress waiting to kill you. I wish I had what it takes but I don't. I try to show my appreciation for the service MTS bus drivers give by practicing good passenger etiquette as often as my crusty old fart personality allows me. My number of pleasant experiences on San Diego and Tijuana's buses are far lopsided toward the former. The ratio for SD and TJ is about the same. The one major difference being that in San Diego it's the passengers that usually cause problems whereas in Tijuana it's more often the driver. But that's another story. For every one bad experience I've had one hundred uneventful commutes here in the Tijuana-San Diego area. Best of all though, is the occasional 'incident.' Be they good or bad, they are snippets of human behavior, that have at times, led me to put down whatever I happened to be reading and marvel at those ridiculously interesting creatures who call themselves civilized human beings. One of my favorites happened as I rode the bus to the Old Town trolley station. I didn't notice when the disagreement between the middle aged woman and two young men began. In all honesty I don't know if they were already on the bus when I boarded or not. I was exhausted from work and not really paying attention. The MTS bus was about half full of passengers and filling quickly. It was a nice day for the beach which meant that the hotel maids, gardeners and dishwashers would be competing for seats with teendults (teen aged adults) and their surfboards. I knew by the time we got to the trolley station the bus would be packed. I was just happy to find a seat in the far back of the bus (where really old people and really pregnant women rarely go) that I wouldn't have to give up. I'd recognized the bus driver immediately. He's a nice fellow with an outgoing personality that in my opinion perfectly suits his profession. This guy is one of the few MTS drivers who stop for delayed trolley passengers. When you arrive at the Old Town Trolley Station you disembark on one side of the railroad tracks. But about half or more of the connecting bus routes are located on the other side of the tracks. The bus drivers depart punctually according to schedule but the trolleys don't always arrive punctually. All it takes is one knucklehead standing in a doorway and jamming the sensor to delay everybody's morning commute. So this is what happens; You get to the trolley station and look across the tracks. The bus driver is leaning over the steering wheel and flipping the ignition. You dash down the stairs, under the tracks and up the stairs above. As you reach the top of the stairs you come eye level to the road in front of you. I usually lean against the newspaper racks there and start dry heaving. The bus driver is just pulling away from the curb but doesn't stop as he or she passes you by. At this point I flip them a mental bird since I'm to tired to lift a finger. I once heard a bus driver tell a passenger that it was against the rules for them to stop at the stairs and pick up delayed trolley passengers.They needed to load up across the street where the benches are and the buses stop. I can see how this would bottleneck the exit for the other buses as they pulled away from the parking locations. Especially during rush hour. But as a passenger, I say it sucks. The good fellow driving had stopped for me at the stairs once and I'd never forgotten. About halfway to the trolley station I started noticing the middle aged woman's shrill voice. It seemed to grow louder as the bus rolled on.Or maybe it was because many of the other passengers had quieted down to hear the verbal altercation taking place. The voices of the two young men were barely audible. I could see them much easier than hear them. They looked slightly embarrassed. Their posture was defensive and non confrontational. That made sense.Two young guys picking on a middle aged woman on a bus full of witnesses was pretty stupid. The actions of the woman seemed to verify this. She wasn't shouting at the two young men. She was screaming. I couldn't understand much of it over the roar of the bus. All I could see was the back of her head as it jerked and snapped. Her movements were those of someone who was way beyond pissed off. The bus driver pulled off the freeway. Her voice continued to increase in volume. Several blocks from the Old Town Trolley Station is a patrol station. It is on the bus route. The woman's voice grew louder. She seemed on the verge of losing control. I noticed a couple of passengers closest to the woman lean cautiously away from her. The bus driver abruptly pulled to a stop in front of the patrol station. Several passengers grumbled about 'uneccesary stops' but most of us were eager to see the unfolding drama play out. In a controlled but noticeably upset voice the bus driver said to the effect; "If anybody is having a problem on this bus we are now in front of a police station and can resolve whatever problems exist. Let me know if the problem cannot be resolved. Because if it cannot be resolved, I'm going to start honking this horn and I'm not going to stop honking it until the police come out here and resolve everything!" That put a grin on my tired mug. I sure liked this guy's style. The first thing that came to mind was the old saying, 'you could have heard a pin drop.' Nobody spoke or moved the final distance to the trolley station. It was great. This guy was good. Aside from the pay, I bet he'd have no trouble being a bus driver in Tijuana. He wouldn't mind the Bon Ice vendors who ask if they could hop aboard from one stop to another and sell a few ice creams. I'm sure he'd admire the bus musicians, especially the good ones, as much as I do. And I'm positive he'd figure out a way to outsmart the bandits. He has that American survival quality about him. A nice bus driver compared to a grouchy one can affect bus loads of lives all day long. I'm glad most of the MTS drivers I encounter are nice. As I scribbled earlier, you gotta have the personality for it. Coffee's Ready Gotta Go.