Sunday, February 19, 2017

The End of the Line

This job is dangerous. We lost a brother transit operator in Winnipeg this past week. He was stabbed while on the job, and died from his wounds. I'm sure my words echo the feelings of bus operators worldwide. Our deepest condolences and truly heartfelt prayers go out to his family and fellow operators. When one of us is killed in the line of duty, we all feel it.

We deal with every kind of human there is. Sometimes we are faced with such danger we're unable to think rationally, to do the right thing. When threatened, our bodies automatically prepare for fight or flight. There's no luxury of sitting in a comfy chair with a video of what's about to happen. There's no pause button so we can deliberate the best response while sitting at a table with a group of fellow professionals.

It's a purely biological question, not mental. In fact, when presented with a life-threatening situation, only those who are trained to deal with this actually know how to respond. People in the military are far more equipped to repel attackers than bus operators. When they're attacked, they're expected to employ deadly force. If a bus operator were to use force in self defense, the Monday Morning Quarterback team of lawsuit repellant managers would frantically search for anything we did wrong in the heat of the moment. The attacker isn't their problem, it's ours. Problem is, they don't bother to train us to properly deal with threatening situations. They simply insist we "stay in the seat." Just sit there and be beaten to death, then we won't be fired.

Imagine we were given self-defense courses which prepare us for being attacked in our extremely-vulnerable position: in the driver seat of a bus. If we used force that resulted in our attacker being seriously injured or killed, would they defend our actions? Of course not. I've heard of operators being suspended because the Hindsight Committee deemed their defensive movements to be "aggressive." If someone comes at you like they mean you harm, are you supposed to kiss them on the cheek and read them a cute story? No. Human biology dictates that your body will prepare itself to fight back. We're supposed to have the supreme ability to overcome millions of evolutionary years? This would require a complete reversal of our physiological makeup, yet we're portrayed as simpletons performing a job someone once said "a monkey could do." I don't know anybody who could take a punch, a stab or a slap without at least putting a hand up to prevent further abuse. Yet we face discipline for doing so. I'm shaking my head so damned violently at this I'm dizzy.

Which leads me to Mr. Irvine Fraser of Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. It's reported that he was stabbed when the last passenger refused to exit his bus, and an argument ensued. I don't know Winnipeg Transit's procedure, but if someone here refuses to leave the bus, we call for help. Sometimes it arrives quickly, but there are times when resources are thin. We're left to deal with situations until the cavalry comes charging in. Those few minutes can be deadly. Sadly for Mr. Fraser, it didn't come quickly enough.

This could happen in Portland. After 55 assaults on transit workers here last year and seven so far in 2017, we're all nervous. If it did happen to one of us, would management blame the corpse? The way we're treated when assaulted makes us wary of their soft and fuzzy yet toothless "safety" messages. They say we're a "family," but it sure feels like a dysfunctional one.

If it does happen, I think we should take an old bus and paint it black. Put black lace curtains on the windows. It should serve as a hearse. The funeral procession should have a full police and transit escort. We're public servants, and there's no guarantee we'll make it home safe each day. Our jobs put us in touch with violent criminals. Many people ride the bus who are armed with guns, knives or both. It's a crap-shoot, our safety is. I pray we never have to mourn a Portland bus operator lost to a violent "customer" as Winnipeg did this week.

RIP Irvine Fraser. We're all deeply saddened at your untimely death while simply doing your job. Rest in peace, it's the end of the line.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Illumination Issues

The days are getting longer now. The frigid dark mess of winter is beginning to fade. With all the weather excitement of the past few months I had forgotten to write this one. But today's antics of those with whom we share the road set me off today.


When it's dark, headlights help us SEE. This is important. Especially driving while our nearest star is shining on the other side of this globe. Your car is equipped with a switch labelled "Lights" and is relatively easy to use. Just turn it and watch what happens. Presto! The scene in front of your vehicle is suddenly awash in light! Now you can see where to point that thing you're driving, that is of course, when you're not looking at your stupid phone. And also, now we can see your car. Cops see someone driving with no lights after sundown and it's a sign they may have been drinking. A sure way to check to see if your lights are on is to look at the bumper of the car in front of you. If you see a reflection of your headlights, they are on. If not, you might just want to flip that switch.

You also have a control for how bright your headlights shine into oncoming traffic windshields. This too, is important. If your brights are on and another vehicle is approaching, please dim it down. Unless you prefer to be a dimwit, of course.

Some vehicles come equipped with extra lights below your headlights. They are used to help you see when it's foggy out. So if it's not foggy, why are you driving with them on? You think it looks cool, you say? Maybe you just got stoned, your eyes are slits and you dig having those extra lights. Faaarrr ooouuuuuttttt maaaaan. Sorry folks, this is just plain rude. Save the fog lights for your brain. Give other drivers a break and only use them when necessary.

Driving without lights is just careless. If you can't see pedestrians or cyclists, you're putting them in danger. If other vehicles can't see your vehicle, it stands a much better chance of being physically altered. Basic elementary stuff here. Sorry, but some people seem to need a refresher course in common sense.

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes one to teach its own citizens to drive. But what if the village is populated by idiots? I'd hate to believe that's the state of things here, but sometimes I wonder.

Be safe folks. People are counting on you.

Monday, February 6, 2017

So Hard to Let Go

I've been in denial for over a year now. When he left us, Glenn Frey had been such a mainstay in my musical history it just didn't seem real. My teenage years were awash with Eagles tunes, and Glenn's voice was like their narrator. His death crushed the last grasp I had on a fading childhood.

Sitting here editing my book, I've been enjoying a DVD of the Eagles Farewell Tour. When Glenn sang the opening line of Lyin' Eyes, my eyes welled with tears. For a year, I've been too shocked to mourn him. Suddenly, it was like a floodgate of irrigation water was running down the desert wash that has become my aging face. It's always been hard for me, but once again, I had to let another piece of my younger self go.

You see, I grew up in a small Arizona town. The desert was my solace, surrounding me with comforting silence whenever the noise of teenage angst grew too loud. I could drive a few miles eastward and be extremely alone. I knew exactly where to hide when I wanted to be alone. Except for the calls of quail and hawk, the breeze and faraway wheels on dirt roadway, I found peace. Drinking a beer and lighting a smoke, I'd start to sing. Softly at first, growing in confidence as the alcohol loosened my vocal chords. Glenn's voice was what I strove to copy. Soaring on high notes and sultry smooth country twang arose into the darkness as I sang my blues to the sky.

"She gets up
and pours herself a strong one
and stares out at the stars
up in the sky
another night, it's gonna be a long one
she draws a shade and hangs her head to cry
she wonders how it ever got this crazy
she thinks about a boy she knew in school
did she get tired
or did she just get lazy
she's so far gone she feels just like a fool
my oh my you sure know how to arrange things
you set it up so well, so carefully
ain't it funny how you knew lies didn't change things
you're still the same old girl you used to be."

(Glenn Frey and Don Henley)

I was too young to know what he was singing about, but I loved the lyrics. My "problems" back then were simply excess hormones rushing around, confusing the brains of the child I still was. Life was good. With a sweet, pretty girlfriend who loved me and friends galore, any issues were self-imposed. Yet even though we're blessed with many gifts, we still find something we want... something far away and seemingly out of reach. While my singing voice wasn't going to take me there, I had chosen an art form to follow.

Glenn and his Eagles buddies played for many a mile of crusin' Main Street, helped me win the hearts of girls, and gave me years of musical joy. But the boy did become a man. Eventually. Now looking at the opening lines of a golden age, they're a fading echo of what once was. We all mourn our youth, because all of a sudden we awake to find it left us long ago. So eager to hold onto it, letting go was just never an option.

The Eagles are no more, but I've become Deke and my words are reaching around the globe. Not as prolifically as the boys on the wing, but I have big plans. The time to soar has come. Thanks Glenn, and I hope you're resting on the wings of an eagle gliding over the desert I once roamed.

90,000 Hits!

Tweedle Dumb

Safely delivering passengers to their destinations is a challenge I enjoy. Usually I can tune out some of the painful conversations they have with each other, sometimes not. Those who speak loudly are truly the ones who should whisper. They're often drunk, drugged or otherwise overly impressed with themselves. It's a rare and welcome thing to have intelligent discourse happen.

After hearing one conversation on a subject neither person knew diddly about, I shuddered. While their ignorance made me wince, it did give me the chance to invent a new word.

Dum-bass-ian: (n., doom-bass-e-un) Inhabitant of the planet Ignoramus, is notable for the ability to walk with its head firmly implanted in its rectum. Should have attended at least a few classes in high school, but was too busy getting ripped.

* * *

Many passengers exit with a heartfelt "Thank You." To me, it's an acknowledgement of my giving them a safe, smooth ride for a couple of bucks and change. I truly appreciate this, and try to reciprocate with a farewell greeting of my own. Problem is, coming up with something innovative isn't easy. I used to wish them a good day/night. Then I saw George Carlin's YouTube clip about how he hated to hear people say "Have a nice day!" He went on a tirade about how sometimes maybe he'd had a string of "nice days" and was due for a truly terrible one. Basically, this phrase can grate on my nerves because of its overuse. I try to say something different out of respect, like "Thanks for riding." It tends to get a better response than the nice day thing. People hear that so much.

Here's something else that just chaps my hide: "I'll be honest with you." What? You mean you've been standing there telling me whoppers the past 10 minutes? Are there times when you're honest with me and those you are not? How can I tell the difference? Perhaps when you say this, you're trying to hide the fact everything you say is actually a line of bullshit.

Of course, there's one every run: "When does the 19 stop here?" As if we have the schedules of every one of 85 runs ingrained into our memory. My favorite response is "About every 15 minutes."

Next, it can be so rainy out even beavers are buying flood insurance, and folks will tell me "Stay dry!" Well of course I will, Einstein. I'm in this nice cozy bus and you're the one heading out into the deluge. If I said this to you, would it qualify me as a dumbassian? I promise to stay dry, as long as you have your cerebrospinal fluid checked for acidity.

The past six weeks in Portland have been almost as cold as my first wife, and nearly as windy too. Yet people will insist that I stay warm. What if I'm too damn hot? I might just strip off my uniform and go streaking across six lanes of traffic and back again just to cool down! It might actually get you to look up from your phone long enough to see a short show. Ugh, really folks. You stay warm, I'm just fine.

But possibly the worst thing someone could tell me on their way out is "Drive Safe!" What the hell? Have I just spent the past 25 minutes driving like your drunk uncle? If I didn't drive safely, what makes you think I'd be allowed to give you a ride home? They don't let just anybody drive these things, you know.

At least those who leave me with a "Thank you, I appreciate you and hope you have a safe evening" put some thought into it. Theirs feels more genuine and thoughtful.

Thank you for reading. We now return you to your regular diet of staying warm, dry and having a nice day.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Beep Beep! I See You, But Who Else Does?

What is a horn? It's activated on a bus by pressing the center portion of the steering wheel. But why is it there, and when should it be used? Apparently, some passengers think we use it for the wrong reasons.

An operator recently had a passenger exit the bus, then walk directly in front of it. She was, of course, legally entitled to use the crosswalk. Let's stop the tape right there. First, nobody standing on a curb in front of a 40-foot-long vehicle can see through or around it well enough to see the cars about to zip past in the oncoming traffic lane. Which of course they do any time a bus stops in front of them. People just don't want to be behind a bus, period. No matter if the bus zips along at the posted speed limit, with a red traffic light just ahead. Patience is evidently not an option. Even though today's buses are close to zero emissions and leave no little exhaust fumes in their wake, people are too impatient to remain behind them.

So let's use the eyes of the driver behind the bus. Can he see around the vehicle to note the person standing at the curb, or actually walking in the crosswalk? No. It's too big to see around, and it's certainly not transparent so he can't see through it either. In the worst case scenario, driver of car zips around the bus just as pedestrian clears the driver side of the bus and they have a fateful meeting. Pedestrian loses this argument every time, sometimes at the cost of their very precious life.

Now roll the tape again on this incident. Former passenger steps off bus, and without even hesitating to look for traffic in either direction, enters the crosswalk. Bus operator honks as a warning. Luckily for the pedestrian, no traffic is coming in either direction. A passenger still on the bus takes exception to this action.

"That pedestrian has every right to be in the crosswalk," he says, more than a touch of anger in his voice. "You should never honk at someone like that. They are legally entitled to be there!"

Exiting the bus, this second passenger never gave the operator the option of explaining his use of the horn. Feeling righteous indignation, the operator watches, stunned and speechless, as the passenger notes the bus number. A cowardly and ignorant excuse for common sense, this one.

Had the passenger asked nicely why the operator honked, the conversation most likely would have been:

"Well sir, the reason I honked was to warn the pedestrian to look for approaching traffic," the operator would have said. "Since she wasn't looking, my honk was a wake up call. If you watched her, you noticed she didn't hesitate and certainly didn't look for traffic approaching in either direction. She assumed the bus would protect her, but that's not right. Impatient motorists are always speeding around our buses, without looking to see if someone might be crossing in front of the bus. Since they can't see through or around it, there's always a possibility the motorist will hit the pedestrian."

Non-professional drivers usually assume a horn is used as an expletive. Most people use it as an anger outlet when somebody pulls a stupid motorist move in their vicinity. Bus operators are trained to use a horn for the exact reason it was invented: to warn people. It's usually a beep-beep rather than a five-second blast. Two beeps is considered a polite way of saying "Hey, watch out!"

The operator did have time to ask the second passenger to read the sign above the bus doorway which reads "Don't walk in front of bus." This didn't impress the guy, and the operator will likely receive a complaint in his interoffice mail. Another unnecessary insult from someone who doesn't understand how many lives we save every day simply by warning people of imminent dangers.

I've warned many people of impending disaster in instances just like the one described above. On a busy four-lane road a few years ago, a lady exited my bus and immediately walked in front of it. It was a dark corner without a crosswalk. She paid no attention and began to cross into traffic. Seeing cars rushing toward us at 40 miles per hour in the lane she was about to walk into, I laid on the horn, startling her. Luckily, she looked at me as I frantically gestured for her to stop. Right as she did, four cars zipped past. Her hand went to her chest in an "Oh my God!" gesture. I waved her back to the curb and opened the door to make sure she was okay, and reminded her that's exactly why the sign above the bus door says what it does, and to please wait until I left to safely cross the street. Judging by her expression, she realized she had nearly become a human hood ornament.

School kids are trained to cross in front of a bus because it has barriers, flashing red lights and a STOP sign that swings out. Motorists are legally obligated to stop in both directions when a school bus is loading or unloading its precious cargo. Some fools still ignore the law, and sometimes kids are injured or killed as a result. Although they've been trained to cross in front a bus, a city bus doesn't have these safety devices to protect people. A few years ago, an 11-year-old exited one of our buses, ran in front of it and was struck by an impatient motorist. She was seriously injured and nearly died.

The brain of a human up to their mid-20s is not quite capable of discerning possible life-threatening situations. They harbor the false belief of invincibility. Adults however, should have acquired enough firing synapses to apply common sense in dangerous environments. City streets certainly qualify, because many motorists are in a hurry to get to the next red light.

The second passenger was correct. The lady who exited the bus does have the right to be in a crosswalk. He fails to acknowledge that rights come with responsibilities. It is our responsibility, as professional bus operators, to keep people safe who ride the bus. By honking at her, the operator wasn't in any form denying her any rights; nor was she taking responsibility for her own safety.

Yeah, we use our horn. We use it for the reason it was invented. So don't walk in front of a bus unless you appreciate the sound of a loud horn section over the music in your headphones. You might just live long enough to take another bus ride.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Post Snowpocalypse Notes

Gnash it, melt it, blast through it!
(Thanks to Tom Patterson, Artist)
A few final notes on Snowpocalypse '17 before leaving it in the gutters.

* First, even though the overtime will help my bank account, I'm damn glad it's over. (For now, anyway. No telling what more Ma Nature has in store.) Some people take for granted what service workers in this city endured to keep things running, but I've traveled that messy street in previous posts.

* For those who did not appreciate our efforts and berated us for being late, let's take a moment to examine your rectal-cranial inversion. When city streets are not maintained during a snowstorm, it takes massive effort to maneuver a 40-foot/20-ton bus around the obstacles left behind. The chains on our rear tires require us to travel no faster than 25mph. In many areas, going even close to this speed can result in a ghastly demolition derby. Considering our schedules are tight under normal conditions, it is logical to assume your expectations of our running on time are simply ridiculous. Even though you've waited for a bus in 20-degree weather for an hour, it is not cool to berate us when we finally arrive because you had to walk to the bus in the street. Mind your poor manners snow-weevil, and just be glad we made it at all. Don't stand there whining, pay your damn fare! Yeah, it costs a whopping $2.50 to purchase an extremely slippery ride across our icy city. Oh okay, we'll wait while you continue your tirade whilst searching your pockets or purses, only to find out you're even less-prepared than most. No, we don't give change for a $20 bill. Not since the days of Jackie Gleason, anyway. You didn't think to use that phone to figure this out before hand, but you're going to use it to send in a complaint. Fine. Sit down, shut your rude mouth, and count your blessings. We delivered thousands of passengers safely to their destinations in the worst of conditions. I'm sure you wouldn't get such a great deal with a taxi service. (Whew! That felt good to get off my chest.)

* Hey homeless dudes, yeah we care about you too. You're outside in harsh conditions, and it's sad. But when one of my brothers took pity on you and gave you a ride on his deadhead after completing yet another treacherous shift, you weren't very grateful. This operator, who does his best to be kind to all, left his backpack in a seat for the deadhead back to the garage. You grabbed it as you bolted out the door. Of course you probably threw out his logs, papers relating to his job and tools useful only to him. And you wonder why bus operators hesitate to go out of their way to do nice things for people they really don't have to? This despicable act merely qualifies the thief as a waste of precious oxygen.

* Thanks to the many professional transit riders with caring souls and the will to do good deeds. I saw so many helping others in trouble out there the past few weeks, it renewed my faith in humankind. Strangers helping people with disabilities get on the bus. Residents shoveling snow away from bus stops in front of their homes, or offering stuck bus operators a rest room and a warm refuge while awaiting rescue. Those with 4x4 monster trucks pulling stuck motorists out of drifts, flashing their lights at me and allowing me to leave a bus stop after servicing it, your actions are greatly appreciated. To the countless passengers who gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder, thanking me for doing my job, I truly appreciate your kindness. In fact, kindnesses and kudos were so plentiful it helped me ignore the rudeness of others.

The melting, is the longest part.
* Oh city and transit agency leaders, this one's for you. Why is it, that storm after storm, you are consistently unprepared? We expect action, not studies. Yes, salt is corrosive and can damage vehicles and in some cases, the environment. But how often do we get such a storm? Every 2-5-10 years. It washes off. Yet every time, I see the inevitable query on news station websites: "What Can We Learn From this Storm?" First, you could learn from the past 20 of them. Snow falls on streets and accumulates. It makes travel nearly impossible if not properly plowed and treated. (See Seattle, our sister city to the north which gracefully loaned us equipment to deal with our leaders' ineptness.) Get a grip on reality, city leaders.

* We have a transit mall downtown. When snow or ice accumulates there, it takes days or weeks for it to go away. The result is a hairy mess for the 40+ transit routes which service it. How is it that we can spend $1.5 billion on a new bridge and seven-mile light rail system, brag that it came in under-budget and on time, without a hint of preparation for snow and ice conditions? Is this a good use of that money if you have to re-route the two bus lines which use the bridge whenever we get more than a few inches of white fluffy stuff? Street signs giving motorists directions on how to use the transit mall are blotted out in the snowfall, along with the pitiful street markings which often read "_US O)LY." As I've stated many times, this area deserves a major design overhaul. Your failure to clear this vital area results in a horribly dangerous nightmare not only for transit operators but also the thousands of people who share the roads with us. The rest of the streets can be (finally) clear, but the transit mall remains a mess long afterward. But wait, I forgot. "Safety is Our Core Value." Not quite yet, folks.

* Hello Portland Pedestrians! You love to wear our official city color: DARK. We can't see you standing near a tree with your hooded-head bowed as you peruse the many abusive transit Twitter feeds. Look up! Wave a light or your phone at us. Be seen! It is also advisable, knowing cars cannot always stop on icy streets, to use marked crosswalks AND obey the signals. Several times during the mess, I had passengers exit, walk right in front of my bus looking down at their phones rather than checking for traffic, and nearly get hit by a startled motorist. Not only is it impossible for the motorists to see through or around my diesel beast, but if you don't even check to see if someone is ignoring my YIELD signal, as they do 90% of the time, your chances of becoming road kill are magnified a thousand percentage points.

Finally, released from our chains.
* One last tip: If you don't absolutely have to be somewhere when snow hits, don't go out. Especially don't drive if you have inadequate ability or lack proper equipment on your vehicle. That's a great time to ride transit. We're chained professionals. (That last statement is meant to inspire creative interpretation.) When you do catch our ride, use that precious phone of yours and be prepared. Need to be somewhere on time? Leave much earlier than you think is necessary. When we do stop in the street, be glad we didn't pull to the curb at the last stop and get stuck, or you wouldn't see another bus for perhaps an hour or so. Be informed and have your fare ready. Be nice to us. You're welcome.