Life on the Bus

I grew up in Mexico, lived in some rough border towns for much of my childhood. To get around, I traveled by bus, pretty much across the country; so you learn how to “sense” when something doesn’t fit, or someone doesn’t look right at the bus station or between stops: these places are about routine and everyone, the bums, taxi drivers, passengers, bus drivers, and ticket tellers, move a certain way.

Well, this morning, like every morning I travel by bus, I get a cup of coffee from the coffee shop next door to the bus station in New Paltz, where I routinely take the 8:30 AM to get to Albany. I look through the window of the coffee shop and see two guys walking in to the station; one is tall, has a white beard and a quick gaze, he’s carrying a piece of paper in his hand, the other is short and unassuming; but they don’t fit the scene, they don’t belong.

I enter behind them, walk to the teller window to buy my ticket, and I overhear a conversation taking place between the two guys and two well dressed women, curiously standing in the middle of the station. I take notice because the women don’t look like they’re going anywhere, they have no bags or tickets in hand; and as soon as I had walked in, the two guys snapped their necks, and turned around to look at me — intensely.

So, I thought, “Uh, am I in the wrong place, here. Who are these people. What are they waiting for. Why do those two guys look like cops?”

Because they are!

The tall guy with the beard is dangling a police badge from his neck, which I now see as he turned around to look at me — intensely; the little guy just stood there, but I could see he was carrying a gun- he’s the backup, casing the joint, probably runs very fast.

The story unfolds; one of the women, the one whose voice is breaking as she nervously shakes a bit, is the mother of a young girl who is on the 8:30, on her way home from Phoenix. The girl is 22, a heroin addict, ran away with her boyfriend, he’s 34, he’s a heroin addict too; both had jumped parole and were being tracked by the police — on Facebook!

So you see, this morning is not routine, but no one else in the station pays notice, the passengers come in, buy their tickets, go about their business: one is a well-dressed woman with heels and a short black dress, big handbag under her arm, “Yep”, I said to myself, “She’s going to the City”.

Another is a woman with a stroller and a young child. And all of a sudden, as police cars come into the parking lot and start to position themselves and their vehicles, I’m thinking, “This is no good, what if the runaway guy, or the girl, are armed. Where is the safe spot to move to. How is this going to go down?”

The bus rollsĀ in. I had moved to the safe spot; the inside corner between the coffee shop and the station. From there you can see everything, and everyone — the whole scene. The woman with the stroller had also moved there, but she hadn’t noticed anything, she simply moved to the spot where she was out of the way, because of the stroller.

As soon as the bus driver opens the door and walks down, the parole officer and the little guy walk right in, come out first with the guy, then the girl. He is put against the bus, gets cuffed doesn’t resist. She comes out, looks at her mom, in disbelief, and starts to yell at her. She knew. Her mother had turned her in, had called the police — how else would they have known to meet them there. The story, arranged by the parole officer and the mother during that conversation at the station, was that they police followed them on Facebook, knew they were coming home. You see, this way she would not be lying to her daughter, because this was partly true, and she had done the right thing, she told her fried — her daughter needed help, was coming home.

The tragic thing is, though, the parole officer, warrant in hand, had to take the “kids”, as the mother referred to them, straight to jail, then back in front of the judge, then I don’t know where.

The mother had thought the police would let her take them home, have a shower and rest; they had been traveling by bus for three days now and she just wanted to get them home. But this was the wrong thing to do, the parole officer had told the mother earlier during their conversation. “They’ll just pick up and run, and we have to chase them again”, he said. “This is the best thing for them now, they are not kids anymore. I’ve been doing this for 37 years and believe me, drug addicts know how to be convincing; they learn that and play at your strings”.

The girl, cuffed and put in a separate police car, is sitting in the back seat now, her mother, the friend and the parole officer approach the car while the passengers board the bus — incredulous of what they had just witnessed.

I come up to the bus driver, he looks at me, says: “I’m not going to New York” (remember him). “I know”, I replied, “You’re going to Albany, I’m going there too”.

Life on the bus, is strange, but true — on any given day!


How I Learned How to Hate the Car and Use Public Transportation (in America)


Well, my grand experiment is to learn how to get around using only public transportation (and a bike) in upstate New York; this after putting over 100,000 miles driving in less than 2 years time, and in the course of it messing up my back, right leg and tendons in both my hands.

This picture shows the massive interconnected network of bus (sorry, it’s now called a “coach”) routes that I will use to continue traveling to and from our farm in the middle of nowhere. Funny, I’ve used public transportation since I was 8 years old, when I would take the bus from Matamoros to Cuernavaca, by way of Mexico City and the Metro with abolutely no problem. Only problem now is learning how to read the ridiculously arcane bus schedules littered with absurd symbols and undecipherable notes that require you to have a PHD in semiotics to read and comprehend.

mobility network

But, all is forgiven, since every “coach” now has wifi linked in throughout the entire route. This journey is premise for my first book, which I will write at the end of 2012 loosely titled, “My Grand Experiment, or How I Learned to Hate the Car and Use Public Transportation (in America)”.