The cowboy and the grandmother were both at the bus station. Arriving for a visit, she carried a paperback romance and a weekend's worth of clothes. Leaving for good, he carried his saddle and everything he owned.
When the 9:35 Greyhound from Denver had rolled into the empty parking lot at the rear of the Trail Cafe on Highway 87, the grandmother, Evelyn Ottley, was greeted with a hug from her daughter.
While the 9:50 to Amarillo prepared to leave, the cowboy, Samuel Wyndham, had stood alone on the step to the Greyhound office, his shaving kit balanced on a faded green overnight case containing chaps, spurs and gloves. Against the outdoor floodlights, he cut an age-old silhouette of hat, jeans and boots.
Both Wyndhan and Ottley had been drawn to the bus stop because in Raton, as in so much of rural America, the bus is the only public transportation. But today's intercity bus service is now threatened with cutbacks.
Such losses would deal sad setbacks to rural residents, particularly the elderly and the poor, for whom transportation is an integral part of efforts to improve rural life. "Transportation is a weapon against poverty," says Ira Kaye, a former rural development official with the U.S. govenment and now a board member of Rural America, a nonprofit group based in Washington.
"You can provide all the jobs and services you want," he added, "but the rural people have no way to get there."
Unlikely as it may seem, today's threat to rural bus service, according to the bus industry, comes from the success of taxpayer subsidized Amtrak in getting travelers to use trains instead of buses in heavily traveled routes between major cities.
This, the bus industry claims, has left the nation's intercity bus service - the Greyhounds and Trailways that serve some 50,000 communities - with less profit from lucrative urban routes to offset losses on lightly traveled rural ones. Greyhound, for example, says it losses 47.7 cents on each mile of its. Denver-to-Amrillo run through Raton.
Not, so, says an Amtrak spokesman, citing studies that train passengers have abandoned cars, not buses, for the rails. "There is no doubt that the bus lines are in very serious shape," says spokesman, Jim Bryant. "But Amtrak feels they need to do a better job of marketing, like making the buses more comfortable. If the buses were more comfortable, they'd get more passengers."
Whatever the blame, the hostages are the rural residents who have no other choice for transportation and the poorer and less mobile urgan dwellers who rely on the bus. "We serve the least affluent members of society," says Greyhound president Jack Kerrigan, and the practical effect on the guy in Louisiana, Texas, Idaho or wherever he is will have less service and pay more for it.
That outcome is almost certain, the bus industry says, unless the Congress provides subsidies, but the Senate last month struck a $200 million aid package fo intercity buses from the energy bill.
Kerrigan and the industry's trade group, the American Bus Association, have been waging war on the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for Amtrak service, which carries riders, Kerrigan says, who are twice as affluent as bus riders.
"It is eating into the hide of the bus industry," says Arthur D. Lewis, president of the bus association, citing a 20 per cent decline in intercity bus passengers over the past decade. Lewis himself is a former chairman of the U.S. Railway Association, which oversaw the creation of Conrail, the quasi-governmental organization formed to run seven bankrupt northeastern rail-roads.
The loss of passengers, he notes, has coincided with an increase in costs, and the result is lower profits for the industry. As a result, the industry's expenses, which amount to 85 per cent of its revenues, according to the bus association. Greyhound lost $8 million in the first six months of this year on its bus operations.
What the bus industry was seeking in the energy bill was $200 million a year in tax refunds for five years to buy new buses and to build new terminals as replacements for the often ready stations in the worst part of the center cities.
But the $200 million bus subsidy was defeated, 43 to 42, after Sen. H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.) argued that current bus industry profits appear adequate, that potential energy savings by helping buses attract more passengers were minimal and that there was no way to ensure that the tax credits would benefit bus service and not parent holding companies. (Trailways is owned by Holiday Inns and Greyhound is owned by the Greyhound Corps., which also owns Armour food, Dial soap, and Post House food service, among other businesses.)
Too, Heinz argued, there was no way to insure that the money would "help bus companies maintain unprofitable service to remote communities."
All the industry got was $17 million in relief - the energy bill removes the excise taxes that buses pay on their equipment and supplies.
Amtrak say it does not oppose subsidies for the buses but adds that the long-term solution is greater cooperation between the trains and the buses to get people out of the cars. For example, intercity buses could connect with train service and then trains could connect with buses at the end of the line. This would make train service available to people in communities without it.
Kaye, of Rural America, sess yet another level of cooperation - smaller feeder buses that would tie outlying rural communities to those still receiving intercity service.
"Nobody is saying Greyhound has to put a big bus [in service] and serve all these areas, but with a little resource, you could feel into these."
kaye says federal mass transit programs have provided $500 million for non-urban bus subsidies "but not a nickel has ever come out of it." The reason he says, is that the money is is for bus purchases, not operating subsidies.
"They have the buses," Kaye says of money rural communities. "They needed the ability to use them." Congress is considering allowing the money for operating subsidies as well.
All this is crucial, says Kaye, if rural residents are to take advantage of job opportunities and various services, such as medical care, which may not be nearby. He says many elderly people are eligible for Medicare but are unable to travel to medical centers, and thus "Medicare is a sterile right if you have no way to get to the doctor."
Some 88 per cent of the intercity travel in the United States is by auto. But for many like Evelyn Ottley and Sam Wyndham the car is not the answer, Ottley, who says there is no airline service and she is unable to drive from her home in Denver to Raton, notes that the Greyhound, as uncomfortable and cramped as it is, is at least "a way there and back." She adds, "I just wouldn't get down here without it."
For Wyndham, though, the bus is a part of his life, for he is, as he put it, a "drifter cowboy" who had just quit his job because he couldn't get along with the foreman. So he thought he'd try Florida, had his mind on a ranch in Ocala where they pay better and treat you better.
Finally, he boarded the bus, doffed his weathered black hat and settled into his seat, soon to asleep.