It was a dark and stormy night, and Alice Trotta and her mother were hopelessly lost in East Baltimore.
She and her 65-year-old mother had taken the wrong bus from their Inner Harbor hotel. They wanted to get to dinner at Haussner's Restaurant, but ended up at least a half-mile away.
Getting stranded in an unfamiliar neighborhood is bad enough. For tourists, the experience can be terrifying.
"Panic was running through us," says Ms. Trotta, a high school janitor from Malaga, N.J. "We didn't even have an umbrella. It was terrible."
Fortunately for the Trottas, their bus driver was a man named Maurice Spain whose late father, a steel worker, taught him values.
Chief among them, Mr. Spain says, was that "men are supposed to look out for women who are put in a position where they might not be able to take care of themselves."
He noticed the Trottas were upset and asked what was wrong. When they replied, he told them they should have taken the No. 10 bus that goes down Eastern Avenue instead of the No. 20.
But rather than leave it at that, he offered them a lift.
Knowing that he was about to get an hour lunch break, Mr. Spain suggested that the easiest course of action was to drive them over to the restaurant in his own car. The women agreed, but offered to pay him. He politely refused.
Ms. Trotta was so overwhelmed by Mr. Spain's generosity that she dispatched letters to the Mass Transit Administration and to this newspaper.
"When we got back to New Jersey, people asked us if we were crazy to get in a car with a strange person," she said. "But there was something about the man. He was doing it out of the generosity of his heart. You just have a feeling about things like that."
Mr. Spain, 35, is a bit embarrassed about receiving recognition for helping the Trottas. He couldn't imagine having done otherwise.
"You like to go home with a clear conscience, that everything went perfect that day," he says. "Leaving women alone like that would have bothered me. The thought, 'Did those people get to the restaurant or not?' would have preyed on me."
Ten years ago, he found $500 in cash in the back of his bus. He had only been on the job a few months. (Situations like that don't tend to come up in training.) He decided to turn in the money rather than pocket it.
Mr. Spain is the fourth in his family to work for the MTA. His older brothers, Rufus, Phillip and Ralph, are employed as chief supervisor of buses, a dispatcher and a bus driver, respectively.
MTA Deputy Administrator James F. Buckley said he is proud of Mr. Spain's actions, but not surprised by them.
"You may not realize it, but people who become bus drivers -- the kind who stay with it -- do that kind of thing," Mr. Buckley says. "These are people who genuinely like people."
Metro escalator often out of service
Michael Soloway is not a happy Metro rider.
The Owings Mills resident deserves better. He is, after all, the kind of commuter the MTA claims to covet.
Mr. Soloway is a double-user of mass transit: He takes the Metro to Lexington Market and switches to light rail to get to his job at USF&G; in Mount Washington. His wife is also a transit devotee, riding the Metro to her job at 7 St. Paul St.
His problem centers on the ups and downs of Metro service -- or perhaps, the lack of ups and downs.
Before he ever gets on a subway train, Mr. Soloway often encounters an "out-of-order" sign blocking passage on the escalator.
"There isn't a week that goes by that an escalator at the stations we use is not in working order," he writes. "To make matters worse, it usually takes from a couple of days to a couple of months for the escalators to be repaired."
Mr. Soloway sometimes sees older commuters who are affected. One elderly man was seen huffing and puffing as he walked down an out-of-service escalator. An older woman was trying to get down steps with her oxygen tank.
"As ridership drops on the Metro, state officials scratch their heads and wonder why," he writes. "Things like broken escalators must seem an inconsequential part of the reason why but to those of us who face that inconvenience day after day, driving downtown to work becomes a more attractive option."
Mr. Buckley of the MTA admits that escalators occasionally are broken. But, he says, the repair rate seems to be in line with what any business would face with escalators exposed to the elements.
Over the past several years, the MTA has taken preventive ZTC measures -- putting canopies over outdoor escalators, for instance. But as long as there is wind and rain, the escalators won't perform as well as the ones at Macy's, he says.
A review of the records shows that the MTA averages one or two service calls a day on escalators and elevators. Last year, there were 628 service calls, 651 in 1991 and 613 in 1990.
"I think we have a good record," Mr. Buckley says. "It's been a consistent expense for us."
Maintenance and escalator repairs cost the state agency $600,000, and 65 percent of the out-of-service days are for preventive maintenance, not for repairs, Mr. Buckley says.
When an escalator is taken out of service, the MTA usually reverses the track on the station's other escalator so people will have to walk down, rather than up.