On the road: Cold, crazy nights on the RFTA show | AspenTimes.com

On the road: Cold, crazy nights on the RFTA show

Jeff Bear
The Aspen Times
The author spends plenty of time on the RFTA buses, and sometimes he just wants out of the cold air and crazy rides.
Nina Morningstar/Courtesy photo

The young man showed great strength and agility while balanced between two high bars, then he flipped and came back to a balanced position again. We all stared up in awe; everyone clapped, cheered and encouraged him to continue his gymnastics routine — on the overhead handrails of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus.

It was X Games week in Aspen, and that meant thousands of teens and 20-somethings — ramped up on Red Bull and legal weed — turning every bus into “Party Central!” As a daily, late-night, downvalley bus rider, they sometimes made me question the evolution of the human species.

Those inward-facing seats near the front of many RFTA buses are the best people-watching perches in all of Aspen, but sometimes they place you uncomfortably close to the action — in the middle of a freak show you didn’t want but unwittingly paid for.

In my two-and-a-half years of riding the bus from Carbondale to Aspen and back, I’ve seen enough obnoxious drunks, lovers’ quarrels, angry riders, lewd gestures and Technicolor waterfalls to fill a series of graphic novels.

One night I stepped on the bus and was immediately accosted by a young man with 80-proof breath who wrapped me in a bear hug and told me he loved me. I was actually touched by his amorous gesture until I saw him do the same thing to every passenger who boarded the bus after me. When a young woman who was equally as inebriated boarded the bus, it was like a match made in, well, Aspen. They sat and slobbered at each other while the rest of us turned our ear buds up and looked away.

I have to say, though, that RFTA drivers are my heroes. They put up with all manner of shenanigans while keeping that 10-ton beast perfectly between the lines. Their styles vary from simply looking the other way to actively engaging the perpetrators of mayhem, but their focus never leaves the road, and for that I’m grateful.

One driver, whose grit I admire, conducts the passengers on her bus like a lion tamer facing a pride of ferocious felines. She admonishes the cellphone users in the first few rows for casting a glow on the windshield, tosses passengers she suspects are riding past their paid stops, and gives detailed instructions to boarding passengers about where to stand while holding the reflective placard.

I have a great deal of gratitude for the service RFTA provides. They’ve allowed me to live in this valley without driving a car, thus reducing my carbon footprint. They also provide a public-health service that we should all be grateful for: They keep the drunks and those distracted by their phones and friends off the road, which has probably saved countless lives over the years.

I just wish, sometimes, that they’d turn the air conditioning down. It’s freezing in there!

Jeff Bear is a copy editor for The Aspen Times.