It’s still dark these days at 5:45 a.m., and cold — zip up the hoodie cold, curl inward like a drawstring being pulled cold.
Intermittent streetlights splash phosphorescent orange-gold onto the nubby asphalt, but that’s no kind of wake-up in all this quiet. There’s no hint of a sunrise behind Grand Mesa. So sleepy. It would be easy to nod off if the green metal lattice of the bus bench seat wasn’t so hard and cold.
Gazing down the street doesn’t make the bus come any faster, but then there it is, glowing from the inside like an all-night diner, like a cruise ship gliding over midnight ocean. It slows and stops to a hiccupping stutter of squeaks and hisses, and the doors open with a deep sigh.
Up two steps, good morning to the driver, show the bus pass, find a seat.
Guy in the way back is out, his black jacket draped across his folded arms and tucked securely under his elbows, his head resting back in the 90 degrees between wall and window. Everyone else, the other two passengers, stares somewhere into the middle distance between floor and horizon.
The bus moves forward, another day begins.
All day, through 11 routes, past plans for two more compressed natural gas buses and talk of combining services with Greyhound, Grand Valley Transit buses circle routes from Fruita to Palisade and all points in between. People get on and people get off, Monday through Saturday, going forward, looking down the road.
The sealed circles of each route begin, these days, in the dark, but eventually the sky lightens from navy to periwinkle to pink to gold, and there’s somebody at every stop, it seems: going to work, going to school, going to get an ankle monitor.
It’s just for 10 days, James Ridley explains, and it’s something of a long story: See, he was driving from Rangely to Carbondale a few months ago to see a girl, and it was the middle of the night, and the air was choking with smoke from forest fires, and he was tired. Plus, he had a couple of broken ribs courtesy of some dudes who didn’t like that he was making more than their uncle in the coal mines. Anyway, he was talking on the phone with the aforementioned girl — and OK, he probably shouldn’t have been talking and driving — so he ran a red light in Glenwood Springs. And a cop saw him. And he had something in the car that he shouldn’t have, you know how it goes.
So James, who is 22, pulls up the left cuff of his jeans to reveal the black ankle monitor above his high top. It looks like the world’s nerdiest digital watch. His brother, Blake, 20, two seats over at the very back of the bus, gives it a passing glance. Eh. No big deal. He’s thinking about his application at StarTek, and James is thinking pragmatically. Lesson learned, right?
It happens, a blip in an otherwise unbent path: job as a banquet server at the DoubleTree, plans for Colorado Mesa University next semester, hard work, always hard work, very little residual bitterness over the total lemon of a Toyota he bought for $800 that died after two weeks because the guy probably hadn’t kept oil in it. He has his eye on a Lexus for sale on North Avenue for $3,000. Blake just needs a new alternator. They get off at the Clifton transfer station and walk the 45 minutes to their home on 33 Road rather than pay $1 for another ride.
And onward down the road, a right and a left and a right again into Palisade, past the cemetery, past the high school, through town, then circling back west. Transfer to the Route 2 bus, and onward to Mesa Mall.
Where Jeremy Kuhn, 33, is waiting for his girlfriend, Susan, outside JC Penney. She should be coming on the Route 8 bus, but maybe not. He sits in his worn wheelchair and waits, his right leg in its walking cast resting gently on the sidewalk.
“I have a steel bar in my leg now,” he says, on account of being hit by a car at Fifth and Pitkin a while back. “I was jaywalking.”
For now, he lives at the Rescue Mission and doesn’t have a very clear vision of what’s down the road. Definitely lunch at Subway with Susan, though. She’s not on the Route 8 bus, so he gets on it to go out to her. They’ve been together for three years. He knows what to do.
Over on the Route 11 bus, Tina Hurst is heading back home to the Redlands after working a shift as a janitor at Mesa Developmental Services. And then there’s the rueful joker:
“Sheriff’s Department,” calls the bus driver.
“I’ve already been there,” joker replies.
Willingly or unwillingly, wonders another passenger.
“Why do you think I’m on the bus?” he answers.
Hours pass, and the buses circle. Aurielle Tedesco, 22, gets on the 11, white button-down and black slacks, a long black apron wrapped around her waist and draping to midcalf. She’s heading to Red Lobster and this week she’s going to start training as a server. This news is accompanied by a humble-ecstatic smile. It means one more step away from ComCor (Mesa County Community Corrections) toward her own place, toward leaving mistakes far in the past.
Lucinda Sanchez, 33, sits beside her, a friend from ComCor. She’s heading to the Olive Garden, to her job as a server, just starting her three-year sentence at a halfway house. Life will get better. It has to.
And how’s this for good news: Jeremy Oberley, 30, is on his way to IntelliTec for orientation! He’s going to study business. There’s a big ol’ Dr Pepper in the left side pocket of his black backpack and a big ol’ Mountain Dew in the right one. His T-shirt may have holes, but he’s wearing a blazer. He’s ready. He moved here from Florida thinking a change would do him good, but for a while it didn’t. Now, though?
“I get paid tomorrow,” he says. “I work over at Wendy’s on Horizon. It’ll only be for 17.9 hours — I just started there — but still.”
At the bus stop outside the window, in the brilliant sun shining on First Street, a woman is applying massive amounts of mascara. Her shirt says “Gigi” in rhinestones, but she doesn’t get on. Instead, a gray-bearded man with nacho cheese Doritos and Kroger brand crackers in a plastic sack does.
Andrea Harris, 36, probably could have gotten off at City Market, but she’s heading toward specific Safeway sales. It’s her day off from Taco Bell, which is a job, right? The divorce knocked her for a loop and she couldn’t afford the car payments anymore. Plus, she let her LPN license lapse while she was a stay-at-home mom, so you just make do. Her kids, who are 7, 17 and 20, are doing great, though.
Zhen Zhong gets on, fresh from the Mesa County Public Library and her daily, uphill climb to learn English, and later, for a different kind of learning, Jessica Garcia climbs onto the bus with her three children: Angelina and Nevaeh, 2-year-old twins, and Juanito, 4. Juanito is businesslike in his backpack, on his way to preschool at the Mesa County Workforce Center.
The family sees him there every morning, the stroller folded in front of them as the bus rumbles to and from his beginning education.
“Do you like preschool?” Jessica prompts him in response to a question.
He can’t answer, wide-eyed and shy.
“He loves it,” she answers for him.
Shadows stretch into late afternoon, and still the bus rumbles onward. CMU students get on, restaurant dishwashers get off. By 6 p.m., a lethargic fog of fatigue settles into the bus. Where midday there were shoulder-slapping greetings of recognition, there now are tired smiles and nods.
It’s time for dinner at Homeward Bound, for the night shift, for homework.
The sun sets and lights inside the bus cast shadows onto the street of the people sitting in it. A few are sleeping. The engine rumbles loudly and the brakes puff with each stop. The doors swing open, and feet hit sidewalk, heading forward, heading home.