Wheels of Misfortune

Cultures clash -- and crash -- in Curtis Park. Is this a terminal situation?

It's not right to have so many people so close to a busy street with so many buses pulling in and out of traffic, Flores says. Like Mendez and many other Mexican nationals, she prefers to travel by bus, which usually offers Spanish-language videos and popular music. But whenever she comes to this corner, which is several times a year, she keeps a close watch on her kids. And like Mendez, she can't understand why the city and the bus companies allow passengers and their families to be treated like cattle, particularly in the winter, when they must squeeze into the narrow waiting rooms. She suspects it has something to do with the size of their wallets.

"There's nothing but working people here," she says. "If we were rich, the service would be better, but since we're not upper class, no one cares."

On the other side of Champa, in the packed parking lot of Limousine Express, Leticia Calderon stands in the lonchera line. A departing bus inches through the lot while a security guard waves men, women and children out of the way. The bus lumbers into the middle of Champa and negotiates a jerky K-turn while commuting cars stack up behind it. Suddenly, a burly guy in a sleeveless shirt elbows Leticia out of the way. Hard. Her two pigtailed girls watch wide-eyed as her husband, Louis, flags down a passing police car.

Mark Andresen
There goes the neighborhood: John Hayden loves Curtis Park, but he doesn't like the bus companies that congest the area.
John Johnston
There goes the neighborhood: John Hayden loves Curtis Park, but he doesn't like the bus companies that congest the area.

The bully says Leticia cut in front of him, but Louis maintains that "the assault" was unprovoked. The cop calms everyone down and cajoles a tepid apology from the smirking assailant, who then disappears into the crowd. The cop doesn't issue a single citation.

"People are pretty mellow here," he says. "They're either going home or picking up a relative, so they're usually in a good mood. We hardly have any problems here."

The Calderons offer another assessment.

"It's terrible," Leticia says. "I'm mad. People have no respect for each other out here. And the security guard just stands there and doesn't do anything."

"I hate it," Louis agrees. "I mean, just look at this: People all over. Buses turning in and out. People selling burritos from their cars. Is that safe? Now, don't get me wrong: These buses are cheap and convenient, but there's got to be a better way to do this. A two-year-old kid can run right into the street any time and get hit. I'll do whatever I can to change this. And you can quote me. And while you're at it, take a picture of the restroom, too. It's inhumane!"

Petra Vasquez stands beside a fence on the edge of the Limousine lot, nodding in agreement. Her son and his family will guide her through the mass of people and make sure she gets onto the bus safely, but she understands why everyone is complaining.

"I don't like it," she says. "Too many people and too much traffic. It looks terrible. I'm looking forward to going home. It's better in Mexico."

Tony Barrios, local manager of the El Paso-based Limousine Express, sits in his station's waiting room and carefully considers the complaints. He hasn't heard about any problems in quite a while, he says. As far as he knows, he's complying with all of the city's regulations. Still, he admits that the 36-year-old company has probably outgrown Park Avenue West.

"It is a pretty confined area here, and it has gotten pretty hectic at times," Barrios says. "But we are trying to deal with it. We are trying to find an arrangement that works for our neighbors, our employees and our customers."

But those customers must realize that if they want more amenities, such as parking and bigger passenger loading areas, they may have to pay for it. "We provide reasonably priced tickets," Barrios explains. "If they want more services, then the prices might go up."

Raul Ortega, manager of Americanos, says his business, too, has "grown so much that it's hard to handle everybody." In fact, now that Golden State has closed, the schedule is supposed to increase from eight buses per day to ten. To accommodate the extra customers, Americanos will remodel its Broadway station and modify the parking lot to improve traffic flow.

"Complaints?" he says. "We've had nothing. Nothing at all."

At Chihuahua bus lines, Jose Hector Nevarez leans across his broad white counter and shrugs. When he opened, the city gave him a long list of rules, and he's followed them, he says. His employees pick up trash. His buses park in an adjacent lot. His customers wait inside his station or on the adjacent blacktop. "I don't use the street," he says.

Like most of the other companies, Chihuahua started as a mom-and-pop operation. And it set up shop at Champa and Park Avenue West because that's where the other bus lines were. Customers already knew the location; Nevarez was simply following the business.

"I'm just doing the best I can," he says.

Jorge Oliva is a mechanic who runs GOP diesel on 58th Street, where Golden State serviced its fleet. He believes the bus companies are being treated unfairly.

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