Pilgrim Cafe

Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit


Allen Simons

Raised in Huntsville, Texas. Cloistered in the segregated south. Recieved undergraduate degree in Music Education; Graduate degree in Theology, Perkins School of Theology, SMU Dallas, Texas. Served churches in Texas and Colorado. Was a Minister of Education for many years, then adjunct professor at The Iliff School of Theology, then Director of Youth and Camping Ministry and Church Leadership Training for the Rocky Mountain Conference. Prior to retirement was pastor of the Fruita United Methodist Church in Fruita, Colorado (west of Grand Junction). Now retired and living in Grand Junction where I drive a Grand Valley Transit Bus and play. Passions are poetry, music, religious and spiritual study, hiking, photography and and 4 wheeling. I love western Colorado. The varigated landscape of Mountains and Canyons, streams and rivers calls to something deep in my soul. I am passionate about religion without being religious. I live on the border of doctrinal faith, seeking the connecting spiritual links between all persons..


I left professional ministry several years ago. Leaving behind the daily responsibilities and rituals of ministry, began a personal journey involving an opportunity to review the question, “Who am I really?” Its not that, while formally engaged in the profession, I consciously awoke each morning and told myself “You are a minister today.” I didn’t. In fact I remember just the opposite. I remember feeling more uncomfortable with the title than that the shoe fit. When introduced in social situations I often felt compelled to offer some disclaimer to the introduction. I would say something that I hoped would separate me from what I imagined to be the other’s unflattering association with one bearing the title. “I’m still a fun guy” or “I can party down as well as anyone else,”I would think, even if I didn’t actually utter the words. Its not that I consciously sought validation from the job to define my spot in the universe, or how I could actually draw a salary for doing something that I so thoroughly loved.

The French called it raison d’étra or one’s reason for being. It seems to be a common human experience to asks, “Why am I here? Why do I take up space on this planet?” It is also common for persons to associate purpose and meaning with roles that they assume even for a short time, and when those roles vanish, to wonder “why am I here … now?” Such quandary grows more prominent as we grow older and seem to be passed by for everything meaningful. Unless we morph our, career long, reason for being into something more appropriate to our current station in life, we find a creeping since of doubt and depression eating away at the fabric of life

This is so for a number of my friends who have chosen mass transit as a retirement career. There is a definite satisfaction in helping others get to work or appointments or simply get from one point to another in their daily bustle. It does seem that bus drivers have a helpful role in our suburban society, even in the canyon country of Colorado’s Western Slope. When one lives in Fruita, the gateway to Utah on I-70 west of Grand Junction and works in Palisade, nestled at the foot of Mount Garfield and the Grand Mesa, east of the small city, and has no car, the bus is the common denominator. Even youth live on the opposite end of the Grand Valley from their school of choice and must take the bus. As fuel rises and populations grow, mass transportation will be even more of a necessity for communities like ours to function.

Ever since I first explained my background to passengers on route three the title has followed me like a hashtag. “Have a good day, Reverend,” might be occasionally offered as a passenger I didn’t even know left the bus, or “Big Al was a preacher before he became a driver,” was offered by a familiar passenger who was showing a newbie the ropes of transit service.

One day, however, a regular rider asked in earnest, as we jostled down the uneven street, “Big Al, are you still a preacher?”

“What was that?” I replied, not hearing as well as I used to. “What did you ask?”

“Are you still a preacher?” they repeated.

“Well not anymore,” I replied. “I retired.”

There was a moment of silence signally the assembly of an added question in the inquirers mind. “Can a preacher really retire?” I popped a glance in the rearview mirror noticing the expression on the questioners face. It was if I had suggested that Mother Nature herself, on some particular day, were to stop attending to the natural order that keeps the universe in balance.

“Well, I guess what I mean is that I no longer have a congregation.” I attempted to correct myself.

He was, again, silent for a spell and then from the rear of the bus came the words, “We’re your congregation! Isn’t that right?”

The Power of Humility

The river and the sea can be kings of a hundred valleys,

Because they lie below them.

That is why they can be the kings of a hundred valleys.


If the sage wants to stand above people,

He must speak to them from below.

If he wants to lead people,

He must follow them from behind.


When the sage stands above people,

They are not oppressed.

When he leads people,

They are not obstructed.

The world will exalt him

And not grow tired of him.

Because he does not resist,                       None in the world resists him.

                     Te-Tao  Ching #66




Drivers on city buses must sign an agreement that they will not text or talk on the cellphone or listen to cell music while in the drivers seat. Failure to comply with this regulation is grounds for immediate termination. 

Transit and Paratransit drivers also learn from the getgo to honor the Triple LC principle (LLLC). Safety behind the wheel requires a driver to LOOK AHEAD, looking at least 15 second ahead of the vehicle for immediate developments in the encroaching roadway. A driver must LOOK AROUND, being aware of all that is in front, on both sides and is likely approaching from the rear of the vehicle for emergencies waiting to happen.  A driver must ideally change his or her view by looking in a different mirror every 3-5 seconds, moving forward and backward in the drivers seat to remove obstructive views at intersections then looking left, right, and left again before proceeding. Finally, a driver must COMMUNICATE by using the horn, blinkers and signals to impart their intentions other drivers and pedestrians. Drivers are trained, retrained, reminded, and reported to keep these safety conserns fresh in mind.

It is amazing, though, as one with almost seven years attempting to replicate the safety principles expected by quality transit companies, how I have become increasingly aware of all that goes on around me. Awareness opens our eyes. 

To attain a glimpse of what the transit experience is like, try the following experiment. Leave your cell phone at home, turn off your MP3 and car radio. Cancel all other distractions. Then drive the same fixed route nine times on a single day and record all that happens along the way. You will, I guarantee, have an eye opening experience. You will be amazed at the occurances of which you have not previously been aware. REMEMBER, you must cut out all distractions and stay as alert as possible during the entire experiment. If you want to simulate a fixed route drivers experience even closer, you can also lay out a twenty-five minute course across town (one way) and at the other end turn around and drive back to where you started. Repeat this round trip nine times, you got it, going over the identical course 18 times in the same morning or afternoon uninterrupted. Additionally you must drive it as though you were expected to make it within the time allotted, driving the speed limit safely or disappoint your imaginary passengers on either end. If you would like to carry the simulation further, you can choose 6 stops  (eventhough a real route for GVT will have 20) each way. At each Stop wait 10 seconds and take off again. You must do it safely and quickly as possible. 

Being more alert behind the wheel, I have experienced many helpful and supportive passengers but I have also noticed behaviors that concern me. Many of these are related to new technology. Cell phones, tablets, Ipods, Mp3s, even laptops, are in many ways our friends when it comes to connecting with others that are not present, but they can also be serious distractions and can even threaten our welfare and that of others. 

You may have noticed that EDs (electronic devices) don’t remain in our scabbard, purse or pocket until we are ready to use them. They actually seem to intrude into our lives. They ring at awkward moments distracting all within earshot. There are signs in public places that ask that cell phones be turned down or off.  My church has a slide on the screen that reminds worshippers to quell their devices before the Sunday service. EDs seem to demand immediate attention, and offer the opportunity for immediate contact. I have passengers that board with a device inserted in their ears, never hear instructions, never make contact with other passengers. They are seemingly in their own little world, water walking inside a plastic bubble. I have seen parents order their children on board while fixed on a cell conversation while oblivious to the welfare and behavior of their crew.  I have seen passengers deboard only to immediately pick up their ED and walk directly in front of the bus on departure. Debording passengers are always to walk behind a bus so that they can be visible to oncoming traffic.

Passengers have deboarded, deracked their bikes only to pickup their EDs and ride away engaged in a saddle conversation. EDs, used while in transit, are definitely liabilities, they are not our friends in that particular setting. Now I will admit that there are times when EDs are helpful if used appropriately while seated. Passengers, make appointments, check on arrangements, field emergencies and do research all on their EDs. They carry on important conversations with family, friends and work associates. Youth connect with other youth diverging from another direction at a single point. All use phones to check on bus schedules and times. Of course our focus here is personal safety, and we are lifting up practices and behavior that aide in getting to your destination safely.

Waiting behind another car at a traffic light, I notice that it does not move when the light changes. I tap my horn gently, only to discover the familiar hand motion in the driver seat informing me that the driver was texting at the intersection. (How many different ways can texting at the intersection put you and others at risk?) Not being optimally allert at the intersection (remember the LLLC) can place you at risk when you touch the accelerator to start again, or when something goes wrong.  I have seen tragedies unfold right in front of me that I avoided only by being allert. Be allert. Use EDs at a time and in a manner that does not put yourself or someone else at risk. Texting while … driving, parenting, walking, boarding a bus, biking, skate boarding, running or engaging in activities that require you to be allert is truly not a risk worth taking. 

Shortly after I began driving for GVT, one night, I had a mini emotional breakdown. I came home and jumped on my bed and wepted. I was overcome with the reponsibility of carrying passengers and driving half million dollar carrages on public streets. It was and is a weighty responsibility that each driver willingly assume when they sighn a contract, even though, like me, the full weight may not dawn until sometime later. The company has training and supervisoral support to help you sholder the load. An umbrella of insurance covers you as long as you are not at fault. To protect yourself you must Look Ahead, Look Around, Leave Room and Communicate. This is the best path to success as a transit driver and passenger, O yes, and leave the cell phone turned off in our pocket.

It Hurts!!!

It was a routine day. A woman and man I recognized as a couple, quietly boarded the bus and took a seat together in back. Several stops later a woman, I also recognized, boarded and quickly chose a seat near the front. In process of taking her seat she hurriedly glimpsed through the cabin to discover the man and woman who had previously boarded. Visibly disturbed she took her seat mumbling under her breath. Soon, however, she could no longer hold her feelings.

” You lying S**of-a-B****,” she screamed as she rose from her seat and turned toward the couple, “So that’s the  b**** you’re with.” She paused to gather steam taking advantage of the sequestered aduience many of whom had also been objects or perpetrators of similar tirades. “He left me for that b****,” she continued, at the top of her lungs. And, if it was not already clear what had occurred, she yelled, “He – is – my – husband and he left me for that B**** .”

 The air hung red in anxious expectation. Riders squirmed or sank deeper into their cell phones and earbuds keeping one eye alert to evade any airborne objects. It was a moment worthy of Homeland Security. A situation that most drivers hope to avoid, but, like it or not, a moment that occasionally breaks out among people whose lives have been intertwine for generations. 

In addressing what I call such Manic Moments, I have learned to rely on gentle firmness. I driver wants to clearly direct the perpetrator to regard others who are collateral witnesses and are attempting to reach their chosen destination in the calmness of routine safety. So now it was my turn.

“Ma’am, I can tell that it hurts, but this is inappropriate for the bus,” I reminded. “You will need to take your seat quietly.”

” That lying SOB left me and f***** her!  I will not be quiet,” her full fury exploded.

” Ma’am, you have a choice, sit down and be quiet or leave the bus. (I paused but received no immediate compliance)  I am stopping,” I said louder.

Obviously wanting to tear his hair out by its roots, the lady decided to heed my warning, to reach her destination. She took her seat. She simmered in troubled silence occasionally casting fiery glances over her shoulder at the couple, but less animated. 

Eventually, we came to her stop and she fumed off the bus to the sidewalk where she let him know once again how she felt as we drove away. The couple sat in sheepish quietude eyes fixed on the floor beneath them.

This dramatic outburst was enough to shake the relative calm of passengers on their way to work or returning to the solitude of home. Subsequently, I have come to discover many could have identified with the woman’s fury, but, in the setting or moment were uncomfortable with her indiscretion.

It is easy to forget when our pressing agenda may not always be greeted sympathetically by others who may otherwise feel our pain. It is difficult to remember in times of great personal stress that we are the ones experiencing the feelings and not others around us.

The woman had obviously been hurt badly by the behavior of the coupled trapped in the back of the bus and wanted to expose the perpetrators without regard for the needs of those in her wake or, frankly, for her own welfare. In public, there are often other predators witnessing ones emotional vulnerability.

One is seldom hurt by discretion. 


Thanks to National Frontier Trails Museum,


The Jennings Papers / WEST is a masterful work viewing the endurance of members of a family that moved from Pennsylvania to California in the mid 1800s.  

I picked the title from Amazon because of the simple,  “diary” appearance of the cover,  read the preface and couldn’t put it down.  The Allen family, of which I am a proud member, looks to a diary by Sarah Chinkle Allen to unravel its roots.  My family moved from Pennsylvania,  and the Carolinas to Texas during the same period. Our story is repleat with accounts of endurance to rival that of the Jennings. 

For someone who thinks he is camping out when he gets a room at the Comfort Inn without a coffee service, the experience of their kind of endurance is now far from me.  I am soft by their standards.  

When the challenge appears, however, I have to remember that their inspiration is an immediate resource. Theirs, is the stock from which I evolved.  I still have relatives who live closer to those roots than I. A fact of which I am eternally proud. 

Many Americans don’t need to look more than a generation or two for such inspiration.  We are a people hewn from the pith of adventure, unquenchable hope, an earthy faith in our Maker and an inner endurance that embraces the unknown. Such an active memory is the marrow in our bones.



“I’M BLESSED!’ He announces when he boards my bus each day. And then upon leaving he blesses all within earshot.

A passenger, not a street preacher, this affable retired black guy bubbles as he bounces from stop to stop. Obviously interested in the lives of other passengers, he find an open seat in the rear of the bus and engages. Laughter and caring exude as he inquires into the lives of others sharing the blessing of his interest in these brief encounters.

As a younger man, he found employment throughout the Valley as a male model, thats what I said, a male model for our covey of artists and art photographers. In fact, I was browsing a gallery of older pieces on North Avenue, not long back, when I saw him, in the buff, peering back from the canvass of one of our locals. He was once married but now lives singly helping to support a college bound son. This year has seen him through serious illness and hardship but never draining the “blessing” from his veins.

Everyday I settle into the drivers seat I find myself looking forward to our daily encounter and his almost certain blessing.


It’s an age old issue for western civilization, “we want what we want when we want it” and that is that. Echart Tolle has observed that the ego (the driving center in the heart of most western individuals) wants to want more than it wants to have. Acquisition seems to be innate to Western “civilized” individuals. It has been the driving force of the dream of Manefest Destiny, the promise that populated the Americas, the self centered belief that THE WEST was ours to tame and have irrespective of the destiny of current inhabitants.

Noam Chomsky’s work has shown the disgusting nature of this national ego as it reaches out to acquire what we want from others around the world, irrespective of their desires or needs. If we can get it, we should have it, the world, even the future of our world and its people be hanged.

Wendell Berry reminded us that “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow from our children.” It could also be said that our current international relations perspective seems to be we won’t have what we want without impacting the needs and rights of others, and we seem to believe that is alright since we have a right to treat them in anyway that is useful. What would it mean for us to learn to live within self imposed limits as individuals and as a nation?

Admiring the Shepherd

“The four o’clock school jam,” I think, gazing at the caravan of cars inching ahead of me. It is mid-afternoon. The elementary schools, along my route were now releasing students to scramble homeward. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nannies, friends and neighbors all arrived to provide definition to what, otherwise, would be a chaotic ritual release of pent up energy awaiting the final bell of the day.

The release, slows traffic below the posted 20 mph and fills the narrow roadway with little bodies darting this way and that. A well posted intersection with yellow dedicated crosswalks and signs on four corners offers official protection for students, crossing the roadway, to northern neighborhoods.

Approached from east or west, the three block gauntlet appears like a branding chute to drivers who must each slow to a creep and await their turn to navagate. Potholes and collapsing shoulders test the agility of driver and vehicle. Pedestrians, traveling single file on both sides of the walkless roadway, daily scurry perilously sharing personal space with bicycles, adult tricycles, scate boards, scooters, and wheelchairs. It is a personal challenge fourteen times an afternoon, and I cannot avoid it.

Today, I recognize an old Mexican woman laboriously preparing to cross the roadway. She is twenty feet from the crosswalk awaiting an avantageous opening is the caravan of impatient drivers. Her flock of grandchildren have already begun jaywalking ahead of her. “Why doesn’t she gather them to her and use the cross walk,” I mumble as I slow down to give them plenty of room to clear the roadway. Her little ones dart between oncoming vehicles sending shivers up my spine.

This is not our first meeting. I have watched and grumbled about her display of oblivious caretaking for months. I flashback to navigating a sixty-eight passenger school bus around the streets of Monterrey, Mexico in the early seventies. Mexican streets, then, were loosely organized mayhem according to most Norte Americanos. No cross walks, or traffic lights. Intersections operated on a first-to-honk principle. Drivers weaved on both sides of thoroughfares. Pedestrians navigated like crows choosing the straightest routes to their destinations. “This was most likely her experience of origin,” I think, “I should be more understanding.”

I feel embers of admiration beginning to reignite as I think of her being here every day after school to sheperd her flock. She moves awkwardly, with a walrus hobble, eye on their every move, ignoring her obvious painful locomotion. She is faithfully helping her children care for their’s. Parents are most likely attempting to hold down one or more jobs to make ends meet. She provided the same attention to her children when they were young and now that they have little ones of their own, she is again there for them. There is strength in her care giving hobble. Joints worn rough by years working at low end jobs cleaning rooms and making beds for unappreciative strangers who are totally unaware that the one providing them hospitality also cares for a family as did ancestors before her. She bears a tradition that continues generation after generation shaping her young as they, even now, scatter before her.


Kick starting a process of personal transformation, some venturers launch themselves on pilgrimages to ancient sites like Machu Piccu, Mecca, or Santiago de Compostele. Some, submitting themselves to nature’s chisel choose extreme destinations scaling Himalayan peaks, traversing the Australian desert, or crossing the Antarctic. Other foolhardy souls transplant to new environments inviting changes that reshape them as they confront the challenges that unfold.

Laura Bell, not to be confused with the actress Laura Bell Bundy, or the Australian teenage fantasy writer, chose to move from a well defined scholastic circle in Kentucky to the wilds of Wyomings Bighorn Basin shortly after graduation from college. Todd Wilkinson of The Christian Science Monitor describes her work.


The Christian Science Monitor
By Todd Wilkinson

For the past few decades, the American West has asserted itself as a powerful muse for contemporary, place-based memoirs, giving voice to a group of remarkable women writers that includes Annie Proulx, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Clearman Blew, Judy Blunt, Linda Hasselstrom, Gretel Ehrlich, and Annick Smith, among others. “Claiming Ground,” Bell’s debut, marks her elevation into that group.

Bell’s metamorphosis slowly unfolds in prose that is both rustically piquant and lyrical. She begins her journey as a wet-behind-the-ears college-age idealist, smitten with the dream of finding a real cowboy. But what she learns over time is that wisdom is hard earned and marked by humbling indifference from the natural world.

Perhaps the sweetest revelations are that, amid all her searching and setbacks – which include a failed marriage and death of a loved one – Bell’s parents never judge or abandon her. She realizes that next to family, the only thing resolutely permanent and undeceiving is the land.

Her theologian father validates her eventual decision to work as a professional environmentalist during a chat about redemption: “The idea of redemption has meaning in terms of the work you do, in terms of conservation,” he says. “You pay the price and redeem the land for future generations; the land is freed, saved.”

In both “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad,” Homer teaches us that the secret to enlightenment does not necessarily reside on the other side of the world. Rather, it is revealed through introspection, the kind distilled by Bell. Such introspection brings the simple, invisible elements – the important ones ready to be discovered at our feet – into focus.

Todd Wilkinson lives in Bozeman, Mont., and is writing a book about Ted Turner.
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