Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dear Wayne

Not too long ago, I had an interesting email dialogue with a new friend, and reader of this blog. Thought I'd share it for your perusal.


Thank you so very much for your email. Truthfully, it’s the first contact I’ve had with a reader in quite a while. Sure, I get the occasional blog comment, but nobody seems to connect any more. We’ve lost the ability to communicate. My blogs are written with a great deal of emotion and thought, but they rarely inspire others to engage. 

Lately, I’ve considered ending the blog. At first, the response was enthusiastic. People read with interest, offered feedback and advice. Now it seems FTDS has exceeded its 15 minutes. Do people actually READ anything any more except about Hillary’s emails and Donald’s failed business ventures? It’s a cutthroat world, and it’s extremely discouraging. The working public is at each other’s throats instead of banding together to fight the big money interests which are strangling us with every election. Nobody wants to engage, unless it involves the latest America’s Got Talent contestants or sports team of the moment. The Information Age has seen us devolve into a seething mass of idiocy. Fact checking has morphed into people believing whichever brand has indoctrinated them. There is little original thought. Nobody reads Frost or Dickens or Twain, or Michener, the works of Lincoln. The level of civic undersanding is pitifully low. How can we expect our government to work for us if we don’t collectively understand how it’s supposed to? 

This also relates to book publishing. Very few people read these days. I’ve had to shorten my posts; not only because I’ve been practicing literary brevity, but also because people have such a short attention span. An editor has told me to “dummy up” my language because I “use words that are beyond the normal comprehension level.” Sigh. I remember when expressing oneself intelligently was revered. Now, it’s considered “uppity” or even outdated. To publish a book today requires funding but also a willing audience. While people around the globe have graced my blog with their eyes, how many are willing to buy an entire book written by a bus driver? I’ve found myself straying from the printed page, drawn to the IPhone and the internet like a moth to the flame. My spare time was once devoted to reading actual books. Now I piddle around on the computer as if my world revolves around it. My books gather dust. I’m not sure my publishing FTDS would garner enough interest. 

As you can see, I’m highly discouraged. My blog was meant to do one thing: chronicle the life and feelings of a bus operator. My 21-year-old son recently told me he had read a few of my posts. His critique was simple: “You bitch too much, Dad.” So I read over the previous posts and had to agree. Gone is the upbeat humor, the insights I once had. The job is no longer an interesting challenge. Instead it has become a drudgery, a paycheck. I’ve actually interviewed for another job outside of transit. Sure, I’ve hit the proverbial “wall” as a driver. There’s a chance I’ll rebound. But the future of this job is anything but rosy. Our union leadership is stagnant. They make a little noise and expect the membership to be supportive. Instead of the mighty voice labor once had, it’s more like a mousy squeak before the wheels crush it. There’s just not much to be excited about.

How you did your job for so long is hard to fathom. Having a knife stuck in me over a $2.50 fare is not how I want to leave this world. Being locked behind a cage while driving would insulate me from the very people I enjoy giving rides to. How would this give us any semblance of authority or respect?

So yeah Wayne, it was truly invigorating to get your email. I know, my response probably isn’t what you expected. But if I’m anything, I’m honest with people. This is how I feel. The book is in the editing process. The first round resulted in a 7,000-word reduction! LOL… I told you I’m practicing brevity and it’s a good thing. I sure was a wordy bastard while I wrote many of those posts. It will also include a glossary of transit terms which I hope people would find interesting. Shopping around for self-publishing companies that are actually worth the money. As for the title, I’m not quite sure yet. 

On a more positive note, I’ve started a novel. The idea for this project came about while I was drivng across the Tillikum Crossing one day. It made me chuckle, then laugh. It’s fun… something I haven’t been having enough of the past year. So stay tuned.

Seriously Wayne, thank you for reading. Most of all, thank you for caring enough to not only respond to me via email, but also to contact Rep. McLain’s office and support my brothers’ attempts to spur our legislature to action regarding operator assaults. If our own transit agency still thinks it should remain a misdemeanor to assault one of its own, then it’s time we threw a punch.

Please spread word about the blog. Since my FaceBook profile has been shut down, my reach is dwindling so I rely on readers to help get it out there. Keep an eye out for a new post… it was an interesting day on the road!

Take care and thank you again.

With affection and regards, I am


Monday, November 28, 2016

My Operating Philosophy

A friend of mine contemplates life as an operator.
The last few weeks of a run I enjoy driving are particularly hard. Especially when you know this one is no longer available to a full-timer. You get to know the people who ride, anticipate their boarding, wonder what's up when they're absent, share their life's triumphs and tragedies. Sure, it's good to make changes here and there, to not become complacent by doing the same thing each day. Yet often that's what makes this job endurable.

Each manhole cover and pothole become ingrained memories, and your hands guide the steering wheel around them without jostling the passengers. Your body feels the road. Instinct tells you where each stop is, no matter how cleverly hidden by the city. Eyes are constantly watching for those who refuse to exercise caution. Traffic lights become predictable, so much that you know exactly when each will change. Your feet are in harmony with the nervous system. The bus slows as the green becomes red, creeping along as the masses behind become irritated. They are loathe to be behind the lumbering mass of steel and glass, zipping around you to be FIRST at that light. You've slowed to 25, 20, 15... the turn arrow goes green 200 yards away. Ten miles per hour becomes five. Just as your mind predicts, the light turns green and you amble past the long line of Brake Master junkies and roll smoothly to the stop on the far side of the intersection. Passengers stand in anticipation, knowing I will not stomp on the brakes and send them flying. The doors open, and they are free. Delivered safely to Safeway, free to dip under the freeway to MAX, clinging to their last few bucks entering the Dollar Store.

It can be risky to allow your mind to roam on a run you know well. Complacency causes mistakes. Being professional while listening to your soul requires mastery and precision. Daydreaming normally happens when your eyes become focused on a fixed point. You cannot allow this to happen. Scan, scan, scan... it's the only way to provide a safe ride. My soul flies with the wind outside; my central nervous system drives the bus. When asked a routine question or for idle conversation, part of me returns, but only enough for professional courtesy. There are certain people who bless my job with their presence each day. I value them by fully engaging in conversation while concentrating on everything in the vicinity of my bus and that which might come close to it. Some people are a striking nuisance; they are dealt with by the machine rather than the soul.

Kind of zen-like, wouldn't you think? If you look back in this blog, early on I was so focused on driving. Then there were a few years when all gradually blended together, amidst the bumps and dings associated with becoming a veteran. I recently hit the "wall," one so high I didn't know what lay beyond. The job became painfully dull. I was offered another job in the private sector, one I truly wanted, but they couldn't match the pay or benefits. Had it been close, I would have taken it. But alas, the driver seat beckons again.

In the past few weeks I've had an epiphany. I am a bus operator, proud of where I am and confident in my abilities. It's a decent job, one some might describe as a noble profession. "Thank you for what you do," I hear quite often. This is elixir, affirmation, and validation all rolled into a neat little package.

There are other facets of me I've had to make time for as well as the profession. "I am a writer who drives a bus," I recently said to one man who asked for a more detailed explanation of what I do.

He was quiet for a few moments. Then he said, "Quite a job for a philosopher, wouldn't you say?" I didn't know how to answer, other than to agree. Somewhat.

"There are many operators who are far more qualified to answer that," I replied.

In a week, I'll move on to a different route for three months. Maybe longer. It's not my top choice, but at this point, they're mostly the same. It's a bus route. I drive, stop and pick people up or set them afoot. Many are thankful, some are not. There will be problem passengers, to be dealt with as the situation requires. Others will intrigue me enough to engage. People fascinate me at times; others challenge me to use skills I've learned over a half-century. I'll miss my regulars on today's route, but they already know how to keep in touch. Hopefully, they know by now that I love them. These relationships will continue as life allows. If not, memories will be kind to these relationships.

This guy, a philosopher? The dictionary defines that as someone "deeply versed in philosophy." Nah. Sheeit. I'm just a lowly ol' bus driver. And finally, a happy one.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Readers

I've neglected you by not writing a post in a while. As everyone can be this time of year, I've been busy with other pursuits. Plus, the FaceBook debacle has drastically reduced either interest or readers' ability to locate the blog. Either way, readership is way down. It's hard to write when you don't think many people will read it.

There are a few post ideas rattling around inside me. The book has been through its first edit, and thanks to an operator brother's hard work, the second round is coming. Then I have to decide how to publish it. I don't really enjoy the business end of it. Then there's the pen name problem when it comes to marketing. I can't easily go around doing book signings in a dog costume.

Excuses, excuses... I know. I can't expect people to come to the blog just to read old news. Maybe I'll work on a new post this weekend. This post, however, will not be broadcast. If you see it, then you're actually paying attention to the blog, and not FaceBook. Patrick has provided me with a page linked to his account, since the FB gods have nixed my "alias" page.

Stay tuned. This ol' dawg ain't done yet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My Peace

Presidential elections and new administrations have always excited this American history buff. Usually a heady time, one filled with promise of a new future and a changing of the guard that has endured over 240 years.

This is the first time in my conscious memory, however, it has created bile in my throat. Oh sure, I've watched presidents take the oath who I didn't vote for. It rankled a bit, having argued my favorite's case for months prior to Election Day only to watch the victor claim what coulda/shoulda/woulda been your candidate's to celebrate.

It's not just that the other guy won over my choice. But having read about those 44 before, I can't think of a single one who didn't have the chutzpah to do the job. Except (and I hate to say this because it will appear as pure partisanship to some of my friends), for the one entrusted with our next four years.

As a bus operator, we not only drive a bus. We hear life stories producers dream of writing into today's sordid mass of reality television. People who are living the lives our politicians say they understand, ride our bus to whatever chores their lives depend upon. It is a badge of honor to safely and competently guide a 20-ton behemoth through narrow city streets built long before vehicles had rubber shoes. People entrust us with their safety, and we endeavour to give them a ride wherever, for just a few bucks. They are sometimes rich, mostly hard-working poor, often homeless or hopeless, but they're my fellow Americans. My neighbors and friends. You drive a route long enough, you learn their names and if you're lucky, make some acquaintances with some of your life's most fascinating individuals. People who drive a bus, or risk their lives in your service as firemen and cops, those who answer telephones or stock store shelves or clean the downtown transit mall... we spend time together in ways politicians can only imagine. Each is unique, with good qualities and bad. We differ in ways each other cannot possibly always understand. Yet most of us guard our differences and silently judge each other based on what someone else decrees.

I do not hate anyone. People are people. Some good, others not. What I cannot fathom is how this great country has come to exploit hate and foster harm more often than focusing on what is right and good for all. To say another is less than you are because what they believe, feel or experience is an absence of humility. It elevates the judge to a status mere mortal man cannot possibly achieve. To see somebody's skin color as inferior to yours, or allow your personal disgust for another's lifestyle obscure your vision of that person's potential to add value to your life, is a personal crime against nature. We're human. Each of us has wonderful traits no others do, and we all have made mistakes. We're often our own worst judges, but when someone cannot bear the truth about themselves, it can often manifest outwardly in the most horrid of ways.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

We've become a prison state. As Orwell predicted, our every move can be documented. Each point of the moral compass has become imbalanced with the illusion there is only one way to achieve goodness. You're either Party A or Party B, and only someone "in authority" can say which is the right one for decent people to support. The fallacy here lies within the fact that neither is right or wrong. Each choice has strengths and weaknesses. The challenge humanity faces today is how to reconcile our own faults while honoring the strength we see in others. The word compromise is an idea nearing extinction. We've been conditioned to believe only one side is right, therefore it is vital to abolish the other. What a horrid existence we've chosen for ourselves.

Call me a hippie, or a dreamer. I don't care. In my life, all I've learned is that you can give more than you receive and know peace. If you're the recipient of some harsh tragedy, isn't it imperative to correct the imbalance by doing something beneficial for another? To remain in some grey area wallowing in self pity is cowardice. To help another, even in the most minute of ways, is the elixir of a balanced and happy soul.

I guess what I'm trying to say is no matter how bitterly sharp this divide has wounded us, we still have the power to watch for, then capture, something good of it. And conversely, of each other. Whatever that may be.

One of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, has a profound line to remember. Andy Dufreme tells his friend Red, who worries about Andy's well-being at a crucial scene,

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

It is time to do just this. Peace be with you all.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Are We Valued Or Not?

My fellow bus operators are truly amazing people. Of course we all work hard to take Portland safely to their destinations. We make transit WORK, along with rail ops, station agents, supervisors, dispatchers, maintenance workers and trainers. Yet the nagging question in my mind is, why do we feel under-valued?

The reason I feel this way is you rarely hear anything GOOD about union employees. As we head into contract negotiations, management feeds the media negative images. We're portrayed as secondary players between progress and the sun, and the resulting darkness is supposedly our own fault.

Overpaid. Greedy. Cadillac benefits. These are just a few of the terms used to describe us. Does it sound like management believes we are valued when you hear these things? To me, it's painfully clear they think we're just a pain in the ass.

Almost every day, I get thanked by passengers for the smooth and safe ride I provide. It feels great! It's a validation for the effort I put into creating a stress-free and comfortable experience for my passengers. Rarely do they call in and offer their praise on the record, which can be a downer. But as an operator, I've learned to accept it as one of many facts of life. When someone takes the time to pat me on the back and thank me for not jerking them around like a kernel of corn in the popper, it's validation enough.

If management wanted to value us, it would be all over the airwaves informing the public about the 44 assaults on transit workers (so far) this year. If I were the general manager, I'd be visiting every media outlet and screaming my outrage. I'd also offer to pay the victims for their pain and suffering in addition to compensating them for as long as they need to recover, without time loss or fear of being fired. My attendance at court proceedings held for those accused of committing assaults on transit employees would be obligatory. I'd visit every site and listen to the operators who make the big wheels roll, the maintenance garages where our outstanding mechanics keep the fleet going, and everyone else who is instrumental in the 24/7/365 operations of this agency. I'd be on the transit mall, looking for ways to improve it and bugging the city to patrol for traffic violators. I'd find a way to thank my employees EVERY day, in person and anywhere else possible. Because without everyone else, I'd have no job.

One night recently, I dreamed I was the GM. My first day on the job, I cut my salary in half and reduced my benefits to match what union members get. My position was restructured to require I drive a bus in-service a few weeks every year. I moved my office from up on high to the lion's den, where it once was, and kept my door open so anyone could come in to chat. Complaints weren't just heard, they were acted upon. Customer service was re-structured so that operators had real-time reports and could explain many of the nonsense calls or flag them for the circular file (trash can). In my new position, I believed it was vital to show the Operations Staff just how truly valuable they are.

In my first day I also formed a task force to ask the state legislature to enact laws protecting transit employees from attack. I asked the Governor to make the governing board an elected body, answerable to the public in elections every two years. To end this first day, I visited the ATU757 office and apologized for past transgressions and asked for a new beginning, a partnership of trust and cooperation.

The results in my dream were outstanding morale, a resurgence to being the Number One transit agency in the USA, and the confidence borne of knowing I was doing the right thing by my truly valued employees.

But hey, I can dream can't I?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Please Pass the Salt

It had been a steady stream of passengers on-edge. It seemed everyone had a grudge. My attempts at humor failed miserably, and the mood was chilly.

My normal weekday run is a busy one. Each trip out of downtown is full of commuters. The trip in the opposite direction serves an entirely different clientele. A young couple boarded, and I was feeling ornery. Again.

"Two adults, please," the nice young man requested as he put a fiver in the till. I paused a moment, appreciating their cheerful demeanor. A definite departure from the rough and smelly juvenile delinquents I had recently dealt with.

"Sorry," I replied with a slight grin. "We had a couple on board, but they got off a few stops ago."


And then there's this...

Bambi's pop just had to go and get shot. Ignorant buck, to let this happen. He should have known better. Now his fawn had no father to warn him about the dangers of city life.

Operator Kay Lady warned us about this wayfaring young lad. He seems to have staked claim to a dark stretch of a winding highway. You'd think sister's near miss would have scared him to greener pastures, but that area must offer some tasty tidbits not yet laid waste by our rapidly cooling weather.

So here I was, tooling along the highway just under the speed limit. This stretch of road is a bubble in my paddle where I make up time burned downtown by pokey streetcars and errant pedestrians. I was making it up nicely as I neared a hilltop. Luckily I had my brights lighting up the distant roadway, because without them I wouldn't have seen Bambi doing La Bamba in the middle of the darkest stretch 50 yards ahead. It's also a good thing my foot was already covering the brake pedal. Instinct pressed my foot down hard, like I was stopping a downhill fall during a drunken ski run. The bus slowed. Rapidly but steadily, from 44 to 15 miles per hour as Bambi wisely skittled right. If he had trotted left, it would have been messy.

The funny thing is, I had just thought of Kay's tale of narrowly missing a deer on that stretch of road. Perhaps that's why my foot uncharacteristically moved from accelerator to brake while going uphill. I don't remember consciously doing so.

Moral of the story: if your foot mysteriously meanders from one pedal to the other, there's a higher power guiding your bus, and it's a safe bet to trust it. Otherwise, you might have Bambi Tartare splattered all over your windshield.

Thanks for the heads-up, Kay Lady. None of us need a trophy on the bike rack.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Whale of a Job

It's my Friday, and I have my favorite run of all time to end the week. It's a nice departure from my weekday work, and the view from my office seat is often splendid. The passengers sometimes engage me, but today I was treated to a phrase that delighted me.

One stop is particularly difficult to service. It's a temporary one, due to nearby construction. It's usually occupied by legally-parked cars near some popular eateries. As I approached it, a passenger requested the stop. To ensure their safety when exiting or boarding, I cruise past the stop to the curb, finessing my beast into a tight fit. Those exiting thanked me on their way out, always a nice thing to hear.

A young lady boarded with a bounce and a beaming face.

"I just gotta say, sir," she said, "that the way you gracefully glided this traffic whale to a perfect stop was a sight to see."

It made me pause. I guess a bus somewhat resembles a whale. To think of it as graceful though, is a bit of a stretch for my imagination. It's huge, often hard to maneuver, and unforgiving if you mess up.

"Wow," I said, stunned. "That's nice of you to say. Thank you!"

Another passenger chuckled at the mammal reference, but I didn't hear another word. So with a smile and a nod, I glided that monster back into the roadway. One who drives a bus rarely thinks of it as graceful, especially when you're walking back to it after a break and it releases excess air from the tanks in what I refer to as a 'bus fart.'

As if you couldn't tell, I've been a bit down lately. It was elixir to my soul to hear such a creative compliment. Operators who truly care about giving a smooth ride rarely hear praise. Not only was it the last trip before my weekend, but it came with an unexpected bonus. I made sure to thank her again as she departed.

"Thanks again for the 'traffic whale' compliment," I told her. "Have a great evening!"

She turned around just outside the door and added, "Not just that, but a graceful traffic whale. Thank you and have a safe night!"

My remaining passengers noticed my grin as I shut the door.

"Now," I told them, "if I could only learn to dance as gracefully as I drive, maybe I could impress my dolphin at home."