Monday, December 14, 2015

My Christmas List


This time of year can be particularly stressful for some. Many of us see it as a time of reflection, a season to show our loved ones how much they truly affect our lives. Already, I've had the greatest Christmas present a blogger could ask for. Since this time a year ago, FTDS's hit counter has almost doubled itself! Of course, it helps the numbers to piss off a certain segment of the public, but oh well. The news is, this blog has reached over 21,000 hits in 2015 alone, with readers all over the world. I'm flabbergasted at all this attention, but it feels good... a great boost to my confidence.

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

People from Russia, Australia, Canada, Japan, Belarus, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland(!), and Poland have read my words. I am truly humbled. It seems bus operators the world over experience a lot of the same feelings as we do here in Portland. Even though we're scattered across this gorgeous blue marble, we're also united by the one thing we do for a living. I realize not all the readers are operators, but I hope by reading this blog, you understand us just a little bit more.

Bus operators, I'm sure you can tell after reading a few of my posts, can be a particularly persnickety and ornery bunch. I poke, prod and outright smack people with these words. If you've taken offense, I apologize. It is advised that you take my tomes with a grain of salt. Usually these posts are written after long hours in the seat, and that's an extremely stressful place. Someone once suggested I seek "therapy" because they thought I was downright aggressive. Well, phooey. THIS is my therapy. I get out my frustration, anger and over-zealous self-righteous indignation in this blog. It's an exercise in breathing, literary profanity. Once I've finished a post, I feel much better. If you don't appreciate being the subject of my sharp-edged barbs, might I suggest a tougher coat of armor? My personal shields grow stronger with every mile behind the wheel. I'm flipped off, honked at, and cursed in many languages every day. Just for doing my job. So yeah, I get to be mean in here because to do so "out there" isn't keeping you safe. Blowing off steam is good for the cardiovascular system, and if I let the occasional literary fart here and there just hold your nose; this too shall pass.

So what do I truly "want" for Christmas this year? I've already had to change the heating system in my house. Santa told me in passing one day he had to order a rail car to deliver all the coal to my house. (Talk about grumpy old men!) So that leaves me at your mercy, dear readers. Hope you can help me out. Here's a list of 10 things I would love for Christmas, and the entire year.

Pay it forward. When someone (like a friendly bus operator) does you a "solid", do somebody else a favor down the line. I believe in the domino effect. It's amazing how easily you can do the only positive thing all day long for somebody, and the result is often one of the biggest smiles and greatest appreciation you'll ever see. Even if your efforts aren't immediately appreciated, kindness goes a long way to heal broken souls.

If a bus operator growls, barks or outright yells at you, stop and think a moment. There's usually a hidden lesson here. That operator's demeanor is likely the result of something you did that any normal human would categorize as downright stupid and dangerous to your well-being and to your fellow passengers. Whatever you do, don't argue. If you'd like an explanation, first apologize for whatever you did, then ask nicely what you did to deserve such a tongue-lashing. Remember, your infraction has already passed through the operator's busy task list. Chances are it's forgiven. We can't hold on to things very long because our emotional trash can has to be regularly emptied so we can concentrate on giving you a smooth ride. Be humble, and be honest with yourself; your safety is truly our number one concern.

Call our Customer Service Department (503-258-RIDE) when you see an operator do something nice. Or when we save someone's life. Out of each 100 calls, 99.5 of them are complaints. Surely we deserve more than half a compliment out of 100. People dearly love to bitch us out, yet ignore the positive things.

Put your phone away for a trip, and watch what we do.
Put the earbuds away. Watch how other motorists treat us. Chances are you'll see something that evokes wonder, shock or even awe. Imagine how you'd feel sitting at the helm of a 20-ton, 40-foot-long, nine-foot-wide and 11-foot-tall mega beast. See how many things your driver did just to make a simple turn? Did you see that pedestrian dart out from between parked cars? The resulting sudden stop which would normally entice a scowl from you glancing up from your phone to see what happened only to have missed it, will look (and feel) entirely different if you watch in real-time.

Read the signs on the bus, and do what they say. They are there for a very good reason. Most are to ensure an efficient, smooth and safe ride.

Be kind to your fellow passengers. Treat them as you would a revered grandparent, even if they're rude to you. Fights on the bus involve police. Police involvement requires lawyers. Lawyers ain't cheap. Physical aggression can be painful, no matter how badass you think you are. Hospitals ain't cheap either.

Remember that just because someone appears "different", doesn't mean they are any less a human being than you are. We're too divisive and judgmental a society these days. Practice kindness, and it is often returned to you a hundred fold. Whenever I've pre-judged someone by their looks alone, I've often felt like a fool.

Smile. It's good for you. It takes more muscles to frown that it does to smile, and the health benefits are abundant. I try to smile at everyone who boards my bus. The basic human response to a smile is to return it with one of our own. I love it when I see a bright smile!

Even though you're having a rough day, week, year or life, remember there's always somebody else who has it worse than you. Had a bad day at the office? That guy in the seat across from you who smells bad hasn't had a bath in a long time. Why? Because he's homeless, and that's not necessarily his "fault". That lady who just hobbled on to the bus and took extra time to sit down may have recently had surgery, making every step painful beyond your own scope of understanding.

Just... be... careful. Please. This is my most important wish. There are people at home who love you. They count on your coming home safely, every day. What would happen to your loved ones if you actually got hit by that train or bus because you wanted to shave a few extra seconds off your commute and did something foolish? They would be devastated, and so would the vehicle's operator, the investigating supervisor, the transit dispatcher, transit and city cops, the station agents and all the fellow operators as well as those on the vehicle. We're all a team, and we want you to get "there" safely. It's simple, folks. Safety is keeping aware of your surroundings and following rules even if they seem ridiculous. Remember, those few extra seconds you shave are nothing compared to a great deal of pain or the loss of your life.




There you have it. It's actually an easy list, and won't cost you a thing. I'm a cheap date, or so Mrs. Blue says. It will be a fun Christmas this year, especially when I turn the Grinch movie off just as he's finished stealing all the goodies. This is where I tell my kids the story ends. They know the game now, though. I'm kinda like that ol' Grinch. Even though I growl and scowl in here, my heart is actually full of love and kindness.

Merry Christmas, Happy Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever holiday you celebrate. May all the peace and joy of life fill your days and nights as long as we are blessed to have you here with us on Earth. Peace be with you and yours.

With love and deep appreciation, I am
db

Friday, December 11, 2015

Time for Some Innovative Ideas


Portland's Transit Mall downtown is a mess these days. For decades it's been a major hub of our transit system. North-going buses, light rail and streetcars use 6th, and southbound use 5th. But the signage instructing motorists is horrible at best.

There are three lanes in most places on the mall. Painted onto the street are "BUS ONLY" or "LRT BUS" with double solid white lines as recommended barriers between transit and other vehicles. Signs at streetlight level inform motorists the right two lanes are for transit vehicles only, and that right turns are not allowed, but they are not nearly enough to keep confused (or illiterate) motorists from obeying the lane restrictions. The result, especially at rush hour, is pure madness. Vehicles regularly clog our service stops or transit lanes in hopes to beat the long line of obedient motorists to the next light. Bicycles weave in and out of the traffic and transit lanes, perilously run red lights, and often turn right directly in front of bus operators leaving service stops. Pedestrians routinely ignore the walk signals, or simply refuse to look up from their iPhones long enough to deduce it might be unsafe to cross. And then there are the skateboarders, daredevil mobility device users, and kamikaze delivery trucks.

When I was in training, a good deal of classroom time was spent learning all the rules of our transit mall. Next came the practical training behind the wheel. A bus driver's senses, which are always on high alert, perk up even more once we turn onto the mall. One missed scan at any given moment can spell disaster for anybody we share these streets with. The average person doesn't realize how many safety protocols are involved in a single block of operating a transit vehicle through the mall. 

All this begs the questions I'm about to ask.

Why have there been no publicized safety assessments of the transit mall, with suggestions as to how to fix the many problems? Most likely, it's easily summed up by our city leaders by the age-old excuse: we don't have the money. Bullshit. Where the public safety is concerned, I'm sure an enterprising grant writer could find the funds necessary to make vital changes.

Why does local law enforcement turn a blind eye to blatant traffic  violations on the transit mall? From what I hear, city government is afraid of offending tourists by issuing citations. What a flimsy excuse, when you consider how truly treacherous it is to navigate through our bustling downtown area. You'd think our city leaders would spend a generous amount of time coming up with better ways to keep tourists and our fellow Portlanders safer in the downtown area. Plus, many of the law breaking motorists are most likely repeat offenders, especially if they have OR or WA plates. I can understand if Randy Retiree from Mayberry, South Dakota doesn't understand the lay of the land in our big city transit mall. However, 'BUS ONLY' is spelled the same throughout all English-speaking municipalities worldwide.

Why isn't our transit agency leading the way in innovative solutions, which is what once made it the best in the country? We just spent $1.5 billion on a seven-mile new light-rail line without safety features designed to keep intending passengers from walking directly in front of approaching trains at its southern-most terminus. The transit agency was busted a few years ago for not funding its pension responsibilities, then saying it didn't have enough money to meet its obligations. Not only did our pensions suffer, but so did our retirees. Contract negotiations were brutal, and promise to be even worse next time. If leadership had truly innovative and creative minds, it would have long ago improved the "culture of safety" it spouts at every media opportunity. It would prove a commitment to safety rather than giving this wonderful-sounding concept mere lip service.

Here's a few of my ideas, take 'em or leave 'em.

An artist's rendering of a possible city street utilizing solar roadway
lighting, from http://www.solarroadways.com.
We see solar panels popping up all over, especially at transit stations. They power lights and other electricity-hungry devices. So why not try something truly innovative, such as solar roadways lighting and signage? Instead of those hard-to-see puny signs on the mall, wouldn't it be truly forward-thinking of us to pioneer on-street signage? Imagine a street lit-up with easy-to-see lane markers, instructions and crosswalks, powered by solar cells located directly in the roadway.  Anyone in Portland knows that when it rains (and that happens a LOT here, especially the past few weeks!), the painted lines in our streets all but disappear. Although it happens rarely, snow obliterates these painted lines until it melts or is plowed away. These new roadway panels have heaters that melt snow and ice, eliminating the need for plows, which likely can damage switches and rail connections. Hey, it's not proven yet to be totally problem-free, but maybe it's worth looking into.

These solar panels have other benefits as well, such as modularity making them easy to replace; being impervious to potholes; can treat, store and channel storm water; eliminate 'dead zones' for cell phones; to name a few. Our country once prided itself on innovation. These days we seem to wait for others to take the chances, waiting to see the results rather than taking the bull by the horns and holding on for the ride. We built the first transit and bike/pedestrian bridge in the country, why not test this innovative new technology? Perhaps the long-term savings could be used for additional benefits for all.

Start issuing citations to motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians who blatantly break the traffic laws downtown. If people knew Portland was serious about "safety", perhaps people would take notice and look up from their cell phones long enough to pay attention. If they paid a few fines, it might just save their lives further down the line. I say quit being passive about it. If 'BUS ONLY' is spelled the same way across the country, isn't 'DON'T WALK' as well?

Build the damn bridge across the Columbia already, and charge tolls on all the bridges between Oregon and Washington. If our neighbors won't pay their fair share willingly, then it's time to force them. I recently read the current bridges are built on timbers, some over 100 years old, and that they could collapse in a seismic event. It's time to take action, not whine about our neighbors' refusal to pay its share of replacing these disasters-in-waiting. Plus, the tolls might help pay for street repairs. I don't know if you've noticed our crumbling roadways, but we collectively feel each pothole thousands of times a day.

As things are today, it seems Portland does not care about the safety of those they choose not to offend. Tourists are at risk, as well as our own citizens, because the city keeps cutting law enforcement which in turn gives rise to blatant law breaking.

Sure, maybe I'm just a crackpot bus operator. What do I know, anyway? Well here's one thing I do know: we waste money dreaming of bridges to nowhere that we could be spending on those which already lead us somewhere. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Quick Note

Sorry folks, been really busy lately, no time to write much these days.

Also doing some serious soul repair, because my writing evidently was becoming 'rantish'.

It's my favorite time of year, and I need to work with St. Nicholas to find some smiles for the miles I have yet to go.

Don't forget the reason for the season this year my friends. Slow down, smile at the kids, do something special for someone who's not expecting it.

Be careful when you're driving, walking, biking, skateboarding, etc. Your loved ones want to see you home safely, and so do your bus and train operators.

Peace be with you all.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rants and Reviews

HAPPY THANKSGIVING YA TURKEYS!


Wow, what a week. First, this blog was reviewed by Jonathan at bikeportland.org. While on one hand I appreciated the publicity and many great comments which gave me insights from the cyclists' point of view. On the other I was amazed at how many of those readers are simple boneheads. They can't distinguish satire from reality, for one. Others are liberally-infused with an unhealthy dose of hypocrisy.

While many appreciated what we do 'out there' while keeping people safe, others questioned our methods. Somehow, we're expected to be emotional robots when we avoid colliding with them, saving their lives whether they realize it or not. As our adrenaline level rockets sky-high after a near-miss with an errant bicyclist, we're often treated to the one-fingered salute. How many of you can honestly say that if you saved another's life and they flipped you off, you would nod and just say "Bless you, child"? Not many, I'll bet. All because you used your 'warning device' (aka 'horn') to alert them of impending disaster. It's silly, childish, and contraindicative of the majority of intelligent and attentive bicycle-riding public. Because I have the audacity to call stupid behavior just that, I'm labeled "angry" and "horn happy".

My good friend and brother, The Rampant Lion, was astounded someone would refer to us that way. In fact, he took it a step further.

"If you're a f-ing scofflaw, and you're doing something stupid and unlawful, like riding your bike across a crosswalk, then, without either signaling or looking first, you swerve back into the traffic lane in front of my 40,000-lb. machine, you bet your sweet bippy I'm gonna honk at your ass!" The Lion roars a lot louder than I can.

So for those who cannot maturely interact with the world into which they blindly venture, I'll jump back a few years and treat them accordingly. I'll wash their 'binky' in a politically-correct organic antiseptic, so no nasty old bus driver's epithets won't infect their fragile temperaments. (We're cursed and belittled all day, every day by ignorant ne'er do wells, but we tough it out.) Then I'll buy them a soft little bunny to cuddle. (Personally, I prefer my bunnies fried or in a finely-seasoned Welsh Rarebit.) Then, I'll give them a ba-ba infused with ganja juice to mellow them out. (Some of us resort to a fine scotch after a week of work, but are unable to taste the forbidden THC fruit, as per federal law.) Finally, I'll tuck them in wif a rancid blanky made of street detritus, singing James Taylor's Damn This Traffic Jam until they settle into a fretful nightmare.

Folks, I won't sugar-coat what we face out there. If I wake a few people up or even piss you off, I'm doing my job as the author of a transit-related blog. Maybe you'll read something that could possibly save your own life. I truly want to help you be safe. You're 100-200lbs. on a 20lb. nearly-invisible two-wheeled self-propellant sharing the street with a 40ft., 11' tall, 9' wide 20-ton monster operated by an attentive and vigilant professional. You're most likely safer near a bus, if you follow basic common sense rules, than you are around cars or delivery vehicles.

We're actually very nice people. We go to church with you, coach Little League, salute the flag, vote in elections, and feel sad when one of you is injured (whoever may be at fault) in an accident with a transit vehicle. If my 'ranting' offends you, I heartily invite you to read elsewhere. I'm not always negative, but as traffic gets worse each year, our jobs become proportionately harder. Sure, I pounce on stupid behavior. But you may notice I have a softer side. There are some funny bits here and there, so I've been told. I'm not a growling, spitting, finger-bending ogre who eats little kids for dinner with cute kittens for dessert. If you don't like it when my truths offend your fairy tale image of life, too damn bad. Go tell Stephen King to knock it off when his characters chop off limbs or think firestorms upon various pissers-off. You don't see him acting these stories out in real life, and to lambast me for it is just ludicrous.

Yeah, I "rant" in here. It's great therapy! It keeps me safe, sane and able to treat passengers to a courteous and safe ride. Before the crybabies chimed in when FTDS was reviewed, I had 42,000 hits. An overwhelming majority of comments have been positive. Many of my readers also drive a bus, and they say my writing usually mirrors their own thoughts. Operators and passengers all over the world read this blog to the tune of 4,000 a month. From humble beginnings to this point, all has gone well. I'm very grateful for this opportunity, and I thank you for your honest opinions, agreeable or not.

One thing this experience has taught me is that I've reached that point in a bus driver's career where I need to step back, take a deep breath, and not allow things affect me so deeply. If I seem angry to you, it's only because my fellow Portlanders practice ignorance at the worst times, and when they do so around my bus, it's highly stressful. Any sane person would be affected by a near-miss. If you believe these are all the fault of bus operators, you're horribly mistaken.

For the first time in my career not long ago, I had to stop driving in the middle of a shift because I was verbally assaulted. Nobody has ever spoken to me in that manner, tone or with such rudeness; not even my first wife, and she was a doozy. Sure, I've been verbally abused before, but this time I was so upset and angry that had I driven further, the incident would have caused such a distraction I couldn't have kept my passengers safe. When I stepped off the bus, my hands were shaking, my soul was in turmoil. I was glad I made the decision to call it a day. Even though they were inconvenienced by my decision, those riders understood. Some even thanked me, and said they were sorry I was treated so poorly. Such kindness brought tears to my eyes.

Peace be with you this holiday season, and I hope all your ups and downs are in bed.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Blame Sharing for Tragic Incidents

My most recent post came out of a "Re-Certification Class" our agency has once a year for all bus operators. This one will delve into more detail about what constitutes "safety", and whose responsibility it is in regards to transit.

Our local transit-blog muscle man, Al Margulies, recently posted a video on this subject. (See TriMet Refuses...) A retiree, he is well-known for blasting Portland's transit agency, TriMet, for its blunders and shenanigans. It's good to keep grinding the agency for dragging its feet, especially where the word "safety" is concerned. Also, while he's correct in lambasting the agency for its lack of action in lieu of a passel of fancy words and finger-pointing, my blog's mantra is "Safety is a Two-Way Street".

I've stated many times that bus (and MAX) operators SAVE lives every trip, every line, every single damn day. You won't hear about that in the media, because "safety" doesn't sell. Unless, of course, something bad happens. Then you hear about how TriMet needs to "train its operators more" or "study safety solutions" and blah blah blah.

Oh sure, once in a while you get the "Operator Good Guy" feel good story, but most of us don't tell the Public Information Office (PIO) about all the good things we do. Why? Because it's all part of our job. The "news" would most likely not be interested if it were inundated with "OGG" stories, and most of us are just simply... well, too modest to talk about it. After a shift is over, we just want to go home and be with our loved ones, putting that day's work behind us (if we can) when we walk out of the garage. The next day, we often forget what happened the day before. This is also how we deal with the shit thrown at us by rude and abusive passengers every day. In order to drive safely, we have to let it all just roll off our shoulders, good and bad.


So when you hear about tragedy in our fair city, such as Lady Doesn't Look, Loses Her Leg, people are quick to point at the operator, especially our local media. Do you think my "headline" for the link in the last sentence is what the media would say? Of course not! That would be putting the blame on the poor lady who lost her leg because some bonehead operator ran her over! Now wait a minute, we operators say, what about the lady's responsibility in this matter? If you read the quote by a police officer, it speaks volumes about "blame".

"Witnesses stated (she) had a hoodie on, and looked to be wearing earbuds as she crossed the tracks", directly in front of an oncoming train. A train that sounded its horn in warning, a signal everyone else but the victim, seemed to hear.

We see this type of behavior every day. Downtown. On Division. In Beaverton, Gresham, Oregon City, St. John's, Gladstone, Tigard, Tualatin; everywhere we operate buses or trains. People just act as if the world around them is responsible for their safety, and if they wear earbuds it's up to someone else to watch out for them. Bicyclists especially are guilty of taking foolish chances around transit vehicles. However, when we alert them of our presence with a firm "beep beep" of our horn, their idea of thanks is often an extended middle finger. Oh, how I'd love to bend those fingers back until I hear a "snap", just to teach them a lesson! But no. Can't do that. We're not allowed to respond. At all.

Yes, I get a bit testy when the public, or the media, questions our "safety training". It's quite adequate, thank you. The public's, however, is severely lacking. There are no media spots on How to Ride a Bus (for Dummies). I never see any Public Service Announcements on how to BE SAFE. People won't even read Signs on the Bus! I get it. It's a personal responsibility thing. But wait... whatever happened to that? It blew away with the advent of the smart phone, I'll betcha. Plugged in and tuned out. That's what we are, as a society.

When something bad happens with a transit vehicle, BAM... blame it on the operator. They're overpaid monkeys anyway, right? I mean anybody can drive a bus! Well evidently not everybody can walk down the street without doing something stupid, but that's beside the point, I reckon.

Yeah, I had a Recert Class recently. The trainer was very informative, as usual. He was a veteran with many years behind the wheel, someone I respect and admire greatly. I learned some things that can truly help me become even safer. Bus operators are human. We develop bad habits that need correction. We need to be kept informed about different safety procedures. This class is really a good idea, even though the district probably wouldn't have done it if not for a fatal incident a few years ago. Yes, we get regular training. But does the public?


One thing about the class that bothered me was a demonstration by someone who works in the "Safety" division. We were subjected to a terribly patronizing video outlining such things as what constitutes a "fall", or a "trip" and other such things we all learned as children. We listened politely as this chap told us how "safety is our culture", yet the talk of the town was how this lady had lost her leg when she was hit by a train when she didn't look before crossing. We all had the same reaction to this corporate double-speak: bullshit. Show this tripe to the riding public, and I'll bet their response wouldn't be nearly as politely restrained as ours.

The only people at TM truly concerned with "safety" are the operators. Management seems to just like the sound of it. It's a pretty word to them, but when they're slapped in the face with obvious safety-related fixes, they "study" this word. Sometimes they study really hard, for a long time. But then they fail the test.

Take our beautiful new Orange Line, for example. Cost to build: $1.5 billion dollars. Yet with all this money, and a supposed "safety culture", the end-of-the-line boarding approaches are straight lines with feeble warnings (on the ground) to "Stop and Look". No herding passengers left, then right, before crossing the tracks; like they have on some of the remodeled approaches on other lines. Brand new line, horrible design where safety is concerned. No gates, little to save people from their own stupidity. Sure, the trains there are poking along at 5-10 mph. But if you get hit by a slow-moving object that weighs 100,000 pounds, it's definitely going to ruin your day, if not lose you a limb or two, or flat-out kill you.

Even though this post seems a bit hard-hearted toward the dear lady who lost her leg recently, I can safely say that all operators feel terrible this happened. Especially me. Whenever we hear about an injury, or a fatality, you can be assured that at least a thousand operator voices are raised in prayer for the victim and family. We're human, we truly care about our riding public.

Pay attention folks. We sure do.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Recertification Rambling



Sometimes, when my creative "well" is, well, a bit dry, I just sit at the keyboard. And type. So this is one of those times, and please bear with me.

Not that I have nothing to say, but if you've kept up with this blog you know I'm usually too damn wordy. But y'all support me as I ramble, and I appreciate it. We all know just one day in service shows us more than the average city dweller sees in a year. Although the media refuses to report it unless forced, we're portrayed as overpaid and grumpy civil servants who always want more than we deserve while we constantly save lives. We are actually underpaid, when you consider the quality service we provide to an inattentive and jaded public.

I recently had "recertification class", in which we sit  and watch the mistakes of fellow drivers and learn how to avoid repeating them. We watch film of accidents and discuss whether they were preventable from a driver's standpoint. The GM makes an appearance (on film, of course) and says what you'd expect him to say: "Safety is our Number One Concern!" and blah blah. As if his saying it makes this even more important than we already know. We practice it daily. It's ingrained into our senses. We're always watching for dangers, predicting behaviors, altering our speed or making slight alterations in our course to avoid accidents. People do stupid things around our buses so often we're used to it. Safety is second nature to us. But when it comes to OUR safety, drivers are nearly unanimous in our belief the district is more concerned with its image and bottom line than with our actually "being SAFE". We're on the front lines; management sits in the ivory tower making decisions it thinks are best for passengers first. We feel like a destitute fourth cousin at a filthy rich relative's wedding.

I know a driver who was verbally abused and threatened recently. He's around 60 and has concerns this person could physically assault him. One punch could kill literally kill him. Hell, just thinking about whether the guy is waiting for him at a stop could cause a heart attack. Yet he was asked to give the passenger a ride anyway, because he was on good behavior for the supervisors. To his credit, the driver refused. As captains of these ships, we should have the right to refuse service to anybody who threatens us because that person also is a danger to other passengers. Drivers who are distracted by obnoxious passengers are not fully in tune with what they need to be doing. It seemed this driver was being pressured to serve someone who is potentially dangerous, and that's also insulting. What about his safety? Isn't that as important to management as it is to us?

As for the class, it's interesting and sometimes sobering, but I always leave with a renewed sense of purpose: to keep it SAFE out there. Riders are largely unaware of what we do in the driver's seat. They have this misguided notion that all we do is "just drive a bus". True enough. Yet they haven't the tiniest notion, most of them, what it entails. Constant scanning around the bus and the stresses other vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles put on us take their toll. Stopping and starting several hundred times a day puts intense pressure on the feet, ankles, knees and hips. One eight hour shift (or more) can leave us Strained and Drained (SAD, as I like to call it). Although most folks give us a nice "Thank You" as they head out the door, I know they don't have an inkling of what it took physically and mentally to get them from Point A to B. Once in a while, such as during a recent Portland gully-washing storm, I get a pat on the back and a heartfelt "Thanks for driving, I truly appreciate what you do every day". The gratitude I feel when I hear this is indescribable. Unfortunately, it's also very rare.

On my recertification check ride, which is where a trainer has you drive while watching your operating behavior, I was very careful. I am every day, but we're always trying to impress the training staff with our professional techniques. Scanning constantly, watching the mirrors every 5-8 seconds, covering the brake at intersections, making good square turns and executing perfect service stops is something we do every day. All day. Yet after a few years of driving, even the best of us are prone to slide in some areas, or pick up bad habits. My trainer corrected a few of mine that I was unaware of, and I appreciated her input. It will all go into my "bag of tools" I use as I maneuver the behemoth bus down the road.

Once in a while, a driver will make a bonehead mistake. I certainly have, and I'm extremely hard on myself and work hard to avoid further occurrences. We're nowhere near perfect. Compared to other drivers though, we're damn close.

Be SAFE out there fellow ops, and for you riders, here's some advice: next time you're on the bus, unplug your headphones and put the phone away. Watch the operator and observe what they're doing in relation to their surroundings. What you see might just give you a greater appreciation for that person in the seat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Newer Rides, Older Joints




Well the verdict has been in for quite a while on the "new" Gillig buses. Many of them have 100,000 miles or more, and most bus operators would much rather drive the older New Flyers.

Somewhere along the line, a design team decided to add a few feet to the front of the bus. This added more vision barriers. We already have to "rock and roll" in the seat to make sure we don't miss someone, but with several more barriers to scan around, it's more like "bob and weave while dancing to a Michael Jackson tune" on the new buses. Doing this activity is actually dangerous in itself, because we're not stable while moving around in the seat so much.

In addition to the added vision barriers, the driver's seat is still uncomfortable. If you're over six feet tall, the edge of the seat cuts off circulation just above the knees. The adjustable pedals is a nice touch, but on some models the turn signals are too close, making it so you have to actually move your foot onto the turn signal rather than pivot the heels.

The kneeler control is on the dash on many models, requiring the operator to lean forward in the seat to lower the bus. On a typical route, we can kneel and raise the bus hundreds of times a day. Drivers are suffering from repetitive motion injuries, because it's quite a reach even when you're a long-armed monkey like me. If you're shorter of stature, it's more than just a reach. The newest Gilligs have the kneeler and mobility device ramp controls combined with the door opening lever. This is much more ergonomically-correct for the operators.

We're supposed to be impressed with drop-down chains for the maybe once-a-winter snowfall in Portland. However, one driver said he had to crawl over a curb and it broke the chains. Show me a driver who has never driven over a curb, and I'll show you a true service animal: they're both pretty rare.

Another thing I've noticed about the newer buses is the back door opens differently. Instead of pushing when we activate the door, passengers are supposed to just touch it. Since few of them bother to read Signs on the Bus, sometimes they slam through the doors. Problem is, these newer buses don't like a heavy hand, and they tend to slam shut on the unsuspecting illiterates without warning. This earns us angry glares as the boneheads walk past after de-boarding, as if it's our fault they can't bother to read simple instructions.

There are some good things about these newer buses. They burn cleaner and have more fuel-efficient engines, leaving a smaller carbon footprint. When you add the fact that most riders on the bus have left their car at home, riding a cleaner-burning bus is an even greener way to go. The route signs are easier to see, because they're larger and have bigger letters/numbers. Also, curb lights come on when we activate turn signals, making it easier to see our way around tight corners.

So next time we order buses, let's have flat-faced New Flyers that incorporate the operator-friendly features, rather than the ugly new Gilligs with fat noses and too many blind spots. But hey, I'm just a bus driver... what do I know?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Use Common Sense to Avoid Tragedy


While my job as a bus operator pays me well, there are often times the income doesn't keep up with the bills. So the outcome of my income disparity leads me to be a taxi driver on my nights off, in my personal car. Of course, I'm still bound by Hours of Service rules, but in this signup I have plenty of wiggle room so I know my hours won't put me in violation.

The other night was Halloween, which is a very lucrative time for taxi drivers. I must have ferried a few dozen inebriated and costumed revelers in various states of intoxication. It was fun. Unlike those drunken slobs who ride our buses daily, these people were kind and considerate. Since I'm a professional driver by trade, I find it comforting to know I'm providing a valuable service to our community. The partying crowd is becoming more responsible. Even though a ride can get a bit pricey late at night, the other option is the very expensive and dangerous choice of driving while intoxicated.

Just before 1:00 a.m. that evening, as I drove two fellas to their home off Lombard, we came upon a ghastly sight. A man lay motionless in the middle of the street on Lombard at Peninsular, and a vehicle sat nearby, on fire. We safely detoured around this horrible scene, having arrived moments after it occurred. A witness was checking the man's pulse... but he evidently died at the scene. Later I found the news story (Pedestrian Killed by Suspected DUI Driver), which confirmed my suspicions. My heart was heavy, and I was sad to know the family of the deceased would be informed of this senseless tragedy in the middle of the night.

As bus operators, we constantly see people taking foolish chances in traffic. A few weeks back, an 11-year-old girl darted in front of the bus (on Lombard too) she had just exited, into traffic. Even though motorists can't see around a bus, they speed around us all the time. This time, a car struck the  child, seriously injuring her. The bus operator saw it happen, and was devastated.

When people do stupid things just to catch my bus, I cannot help but comment. One bicyclist actually said it was none of my business she blew through a red light just to dart in front of my bus and put her bike on the rack. But it is, damnit. Everything that happens in or around my bus is definitely my business. I'm charged with ensuring the public's safety, and if someone does something stupid in the vicinity of my vehicle, it's my responsibility to avoid hitting them. Many of us refuse to reward stupid behavior, and pass up the fools. This gets us in hot water with the transit agency, which sides with the public much of the time. They don't want Clueless Cindy to make a scene, so they actually tell us to give people a ride who truly don't deserve one, in the name of safety. I'm sorry, but if you're too stupid to follow basic safety procedures, you're too stupid to ride my bus.

If only the motoring public had the same training as bus operators do, they might understand how to drive safely. Perhaps those who think they're "better drunk drivers than sober" should wise up. It could save their life, or that of the poor pedestrian I saw lying in the street the other night. Call a cab, and let a professional get you home. It could prevent your loved ones from answering that dreaded late-night knock on the door.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Hit the Jackpot! (Not.)

The recent readership explosion of this blog has also shown a marked increase of advertising revenue. Numbers of "clicks" have exploded, leaving me with a giddy sense of excitement thanks to added income to my struggling coffers.

This has me dreaming of possible vacations. Shall I return to Hawaii? A trip to Ireland, Italy, Spain or the coast of Marseilles? Will the Deacon realize his dream to emulate Steinbeck's cross country odyssey in a brandy-new camper-adorned pickup truck? Can I finally roam carefree in our nation's capitol, spending a week or two exploring the Smithsonian and all of DC's wonderful sights?

Sigh. I guess not. Since I sneakily allowed ads on my blog earlier this year, I've made a whopping buck-fitty or so. Not exactly a bundle. More like a haphazard mound of pennies. Just about enough to plunk a few quarters down and take a few spins on the Redneck Retirement Plan slot machines.

Seems I'd have better luck dressing in ratty clothes, sporting a makeshift sign out of cardboard reading "Anything Helps...My Retirement Fund is Woefully Short" and standing out on the street with a tin cup.

So it's off to the shower with me. Time to don the uniform blues and make my way downtown to catch... er drive... a bus.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Instant Karma Strikes Again!

"Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin'
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin' at fools like me
Who in the hell d'you think you are
A super star? 
Well, right you are!"


--John Lennon, Instant Karma



Two amusing "karmic" things happened while driving my office today.

After an excruciatingly rough week, I managed to remain courteous and upbeat. It was my Friday, and I was determined to make it a nice day. Of course, there's always someone to make it challenging.

When an aggressive driver zipped past both my bus and the car stopped behind me as I pulled from a service stop, she broke three traffic laws. First, she was speeding and driving aggressively; she passed in a turning lane; and she failed to yield to a transit vehicle. A minute later as I scanned ahead leaving the next stop, I saw her truck sideways in the turning lane, with another vehicle angled in front of hers. Although their vehicles weren't damaged, she was screaming at the other driver through his passenger window while banging on his car for emphasis. The other driver appeared to be calling the police. After I cruised by this road rage a cop car sped past, evidently en route to the scene. My only regret is I didn't stop and offer my services as a witness. The cameras on the bus surely captured her antics, but I didn't see what happened. Hopefully, she was cited.

Later as I boarded passengers at a stop shared by different lines, Azzho #2 stood with her back to the bus door talking to someone. She made no effort to board my bus. Nor did she signal that she wanted to board. So I closed the door. At this point she gave the common arms up "HEY!" response, so I reopened the door. Big mistake.

"You're two minutes late and I need to get to work!"

"No ma'am, I'm exactly on-time."

"Don't argue with me, you're late. Now just shut up and drive." Then she walked to the back of the bus, an apparent move by the ignorant arrogants to show they need not treat me with respect, that they're safe in the back of the bus where most shenanigans happen anyway. But I shrugged it off. One more run and my weekend was on. Her rudeness rolled off my shoulder into the trash can.

After I made the right turn onto a major street, this passenger jumped up and said "Hey this is supposed to be the 79!"

"No ma'am," I replied with a smile, "it's the 33." I realized I was going to enjoy this next exchange.

"Your sign said it was the 79."

Well Ms. Dipstick apparently hadn't looked at the overhead signs, so I locked it up at the next stop, got out and checked. Sure enough, the signs were both correct.

So not only did I let her off several blocks from the nearest 79 stop, I made sure not to give her a courtesy stop. You don't treat me like crap and then get a bonus. So her rude behavior resulted in her walking four blocks to catch a bus that would surely be gone by the time she finally got there.

She disregarded all safety concerns and darted across five lanes of a busy street, cursing me the whole way. As if it was my fault she's a jerk, idiot and an imbecile all rolled into one.

Not sure who lit their fuses, but I would imagine both were pretty short to begin with. It was rewarding to see the results.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Drive... Asshole


It's been a particularly rough week. Without going into details that might later reveal my identity, let's just say I was the victim of a brutal verbal assault. It happens from time to time, but rarely on my route.

As a bus operator, I'm used to it. People seem to think I'm there to serve them, as if I'm their personal freakin' chauffeur. What they don't understand, or even believe, is that riding a bus is a privilege, not a right. Just because you plunk down a few bucks plus change doesn't give you the right to boss me around. Quite the opposite is true, especially if they decide to make their own rules.

When I'm behind the wheel, it's my bus. Not the transit agency's, not the taxpayers, not those riding in it. I am the captain of the ship. It is my duty to safely transport passengers on a specific route to their destination. Abiding by our Standard Operating Procedures, I am paid to operate a vehicle that is difficult, at best, to operate. In addition to following the law, something most motorists refuse to do, it takes a professional to maneuver 20 tons of glass and steel along narrow streets originally designed for horse-drawn carriages.

A person of average intelligence might deduce it isn't in their best interest to annoy, harass, insult or even assault a bus operator. Most people do not. But there's about one percent of the riding public which seems to delight in it. Professional assholes, you might say. They might be mentally ill, but whatever their excuse, they still don't have the right to put the entire bus in danger. Unless our attention is strictly focused on safely operating our bus, we become a "distracted driver". This is the most dangerous of all the species of humanis operatus, but the most common of the average auto/truck/delivery drivers. The safest of the lot are 100% in tune with their vehicle's surroundings, and constantly predict dangerous behavior in and around it. This requires complete concentration with very little distraction.

Sometimes, I will chastise a passenger if they're chatting a bit too loudly on their phone, or if I can hear the music in their earphones. It's distracting, and takes me out of my safety zone. General conversation on the bus is white noise, just like the diesel engine. When a passenger erupts into a vile, profane and ignorant tirade when a bus operator asks them to abide by agency rules, they have put the entire bus at risk, and everyone within it.

So when Jim Jerkoff, who is highly impressed with himself or on dumbass pills, decides he doesn't have to obey me, things can turn sour. Fast. By cursing, shouting and screaming at me, he hasn't just dented my safety zone, he has demolished it. Rather than elaborate on our heated exchange, here's what I dearly would love to say to one of these imbeciles, but cannot if I want to remain employed.

JJ: "Shut the fuck up, don't tell me what to do. I pay your salary so shut up. Just drive Asshole." (Comma omitted on purpose.)

Me (over bus intercom): "Ladies and gentlemen, at our next stop I must ask you all to disembark from this bus. I've been instructed to 'just drive Asshole'. Since there's only one person on this bus fitting that description, I'm sorry but all you polite and decent people must leave so I can carry out his command. Thank you for riding, be sure to thank Asshole for this inconvenience."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Signup Shenanigans


Signups are a stressful deal, especially here these days. For the first time in years I was able to jump off the Extra Board into some work I truly enjoy for this signup. I was dreading the next one...

As you put in years as a bus driver, you expect a few things to happen. First, the more you drive, the more experience you gain. This makes you more valuable, and above all, safer. Years of driving are also supposed to give you seniority. I've been climbing the ladder gradually, but I defer to those of my brothers and sisters who have toiled at this for centuries. (One year as a driver can age us 3-5 years, so if someone has been doing it 20-30, yeah I'd say it must feel close to 100.) With seniority should come the "plum" runs, the juicy ones that are off early and pay nicely. Senior drivers have earned the right to pick these.

When your transit agency alters runs so that senior drivers are now getting what they aptly describe as "shit", they have a tendency, and a right, to be angry. A sister friend of mine said she had to sign something that's out six hours later than she did this time. Six hours later. That's not right. She's been an operator for many years more than I have. Now she has to scramble to rearrange her life because some bean counters say so?

Apparently, there were supposed to be two options hung at the garages, so operators could compare, then vote on their preference. This did not happen.

I've only driven under a handful of years, so I don't expect the cream of the crop. We all have to bide our time, put in the years and climb up the seniority ladder. However, this time I ended up with three runs which give me over 10 hours overtime a week. This is something I shouldn't expect for a few years yet. Even though this is good for my bank account, I feel as if I'm cheating my senior brothers and sisters out of something they should have.

One of the "powers that be" at our agency is on vacation this week, so no resolution is immediately foreseeable. An option for this mess is to scrap the whole signup and start over again, or to keep what we have and try to change it for next time. The latter solution is certainly not a popular choice.

If this is a ploy by the agency to set union members to squabbling amongst ourselves, it's a pretty good plan. The union meeting a few nights ago was full of grumbling senior operators. The executive officers could only tell us to fill out the survey forms and voice our frustrations there. Since they agreed to this mess, the membership is pretty put off by their actions.

The newest drivers seem to have the best picks this time. I've benefited where I shouldn't have. While I truly like what I picked, it feels cheap... stolen. After putting in 10-15 years or more, I would feel cheated if I were one of the senior operators. I hope that once I get there, I'm not thrown under the bus like they have been this time. It's a terrible way to treat the most valuable operators we have.

Sorry, my brothers and sisters. Fair is fair, and I will fight for your seniority. You've earned it.




Friday, October 2, 2015

Road Relief

Evidently, people from all over the world are readers of this blog. Many of you share my occupation, so you understand when I say we're not paid enough of the hours we're actually in uniform.

When you meet your bus en route, also known as a road relief, operators here are expected to not only be on time, but to arrive early. If you take public transit to your road relief, you're expected to be two buses (or trains) ahead of your scheduled run start time. However, we're only paid pennies on the dollar for road reliefs. A couple of bucks is not proper compensation for getting there early and waiting. If your buses only run every 20 minutes, you can arrive up to 40 minutes or more prior to your road relief time. So for 20-40 minutes each day, I'm actually giving my time away.

Hey I don't expect to be paid for travel time from home to work. But if my actual "work" begins before my scheduled time and I'm not being paid for it, there's a problem. While waiting for my bus to arrive, I am asked questions at least five times a day. I'm in uniform, expected to represent the agency, but I'm not being compensated for my time. If I get relieved on the road, I should be compensated for the time it takes to get from the relief to my home garage because only then am I truly "off the clock".

Just throwing in my two cents here. But I'm curious... of you readers who hail from transit agencies around the world and in this country (USA), what is your road relief pay? What are your thoughts on compensating operators for all the time we spend in uniform but are not being paid? Please either comment under this post, or drop me a line at deaconinblue@gmail.com, or on the FaceBook post this article appears under.

Thanks and stay safe out there folks!

Monday, September 28, 2015

New Olympic Events

Next weekend, our transit agency is holding its annual "Bus Roadeo". I don't participate in this because I think it's just another media event for management, but I don't begrudge my fellow operators for participating. From all I've heard, participants enjoy this event. If the union were the sponsor and not our agency, I might feel differently and participate.

Bus operators get a raw deal from a public that has at many times stated "a monkey could do that job". Bullshit. A monkey couldn't even wash floors correctly. Why? Because they lack the human sense of "work". So it's terribly insulting to compare a bus operator to a monkey, and having a "roadeo" to me is like putting elephants to work in a circus.

What we should create is a new Olympic category: Bus Operation. Athletes train for years to attain the level of proficiency to put them at the top of their game. So do bus operators. We drive anywhere from six to 14 hours a day, five days a week. As we operate a bus, certain skills become honed, because we practice constantly. Knowing a pedestrian will enter a crosswalk against a signal, creating space to allow the stop sign-running motorist to turn right onto the street directly in front of us,  knowing a bicyclist will unlawfully pass in spite of a blinking yield light; all these incidents, and many more, qualify us as professional drivers. No "roadeo" is needed to prove this indisputable fact.

I've read articles about buses that drive themselves. What a load of baloney. Sure the technology may be coming, but it takes human judgment to save lives. Also, if you create robotic solutions to relieve labor disputes, pretty soon there will be no humans working at all... only machines. When that happens, how will anyone be able to buy the goods and services which business markets? The idea of machines doing the jobs of experienced professional humans is something we should all be concerned about.

So I'm in favor of adding a few events to the summer and winter Olympics. Here's a sample of how the play-by-play might go for Passenger Pickup. I can just hear Bob Costas now:

"Okay here comes Deacon Blue in his customized 2001 New Flyer, approaching the multi-line stop at top speed, hundredths of a second behind our leader. There's nobody at the stop but an old lady with a walker, and she's looking at her cell phone! No wait, she just looked up, and is now back to looking at her phone again. No telling if she wants his bus, but The Deacon let off the accelerator at just the right moment, saw her body language and hit the pedal again. Wait, here it comes... WOW DID YOU SEE THAT? The Deacon hit that mud puddle at 35mph and just obliterated that old lady in mud just as she raised both middle fingers at him! Well done! Now he's rounding the corner as his lane is about to end, and here comes a Prius, hell-bent for blowing past him. Deacon floors it and leans into the turn to force the Prius into a position behind the bus! Wow, this guy is incredible! Okay, a bicyclist has blown a stop sign and moved into the transit lane instead of the bike lane. What's he going to do? Oh no, he STOPS COLD! Deacon stops with three feet to spare! WOW! Listen to that crowd! One more turn to go with the finish line ahead, he floors it, looks right and left as he clears the final intersection and crosses the finish line in what...might...be... record time. AND... the judges are conferring... YES IT'S OFFICIAL, HE JUST TOOK THE LEAD FOR FIRST PLACE!"

We could also see these events: Difficult Detours, Best Stopping Distance, Boarding Drunks, Wheelchair Securement, Snow/Ice Slalom with Chained and un-Chained Divisions, SIP (Self-Important Passengers) Handling, and Parallel Parking. Yes folks, I've actually seen a bus operator (with many years of experience) back his bus perfectly, in one shot, in between two buses at a layover! It was some of the prettiest driving I've ever seen.

Hey, I can dream, can't I? Shut up, bean counters. Even monkeys don't want your job. I get to drive a bus every day!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Butt Hurts


Dad was right. He told me when I smart-assed him one day as a teenager that all he did was "sit all day", that I would find out someday how tiring it can be. Yeah, he was right all right. My butt after an 8-hour shift is so sore I can't sleep on my back. Which is a good thing because Mrs. Blue says I snore like a backhoe.

There are things out there however, which make me smile, cheer and generally forget about my pain in the ass from time to time. Today on the downtown transit mall, another Washington driver was in the bus service lane for several blocks. I beeped at him and opened the door when he rolled down his window.

"Sir, do you see the signs up above that say 'No Turns' and the ones on the street that say BUS ONLY?"

"No, I didn't. And I don't care." Window goes back up. Smug little prick.

So he blithely continues down the service lane with me bearing down on him, trying to pull up to the stop to discharge and board passengers. Evidently this prompts him to look at the multiple signs instructing drivers how to behave on this street, and he swerves in front of two cars to get into the auto lane before anyone else can get to the red light ahead of him.

HERE'S YOUR SIGN, DIPWAD.

Later, heading the opposite direction on the mall, I see another Washington driver in the Transit Lane I'm trying to merge back into after a stop. This time, I see a cop in the auto lane. I motion to cop as in, "See? Can't you help me out here?"

Cop flicks on his blue and reds, pulls into Transit Lane behind the offender. Driver turns right, directly in front of me and beneath the "NO TURNS" sign, with cop right on his bumper. Cop turns on his siren, pulls Mr. Ignoramus over and cites him (I hope).

VICTORY!

So there is some yin and yang out there. Poetic justice. But hey, it's the first time I've seen a cop pull someone over on our transit mall for breaking the law! The first time. That's pretty incredible, after years of doing this.

Like I've said before, the city's coffers would be overflowing if the cops staked out the Transit Mall. On bikes, horseback, in cars, or on their silly-looking upright doo-hickies (I always forget what they're called)... the cops could catch hundreds of dumbasses every day breaking the laws of the road, writing tickets left and right. In fact, if I hadn't pointed out that offender, the cop would have just let it ride. I see that all the time, along with yield-light ignoring cops themselves.

I just wish I could have heard the conversation between the cop and motorist. It might have gone just like this:

Motorist: "Sorry officer, I'm from Seattle."

Cop: "Don't they spell 'Bus Only' the same up there?"

Here's your sign.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Just a Bus Driver


Holy shit, I'm pissed now! Sorry for the profanity, but some fuckwad said something truly foolish on social media. He insulted bus operators everywhere. Stomped on our profession, smashed us into the dirt and kicked us when we were down.

"Any trained orangutan could drive a bus," he said.

Really? You could train an animal to do this job? I've heard they might have buses drive themselves in the near future. But an orangutan as a professional operator? Puh-leeze. If you think human drivers are a surly lot when passengers test our patience, imagine a primate's response if it gets spit on or assaulted! Transit agencies worldwide would be broke from lawsuits stemming from the instincts of a wild animal fighting back. They bite, too. All we're allowed is "reasonable self defense", whatever the hell that means. Orangutans don't have the mental capacity to gauge the response necessary to safely stop the bus while keeping attackers safely at bay. Any self-respecting primate would jump on the violator with a frenzy known only to a hungry fat dude in an unguarded donut shop.

It takes a lot of energy, skill and fine motor control to navigate a 20-ton, 40-foot vehicle through the maze of city streets we call home. Even though we have power-assisted air brakes, it takes a few hundred pounds of pressure on a downhill to stop these beasts. At the same time, we're scanning over 200 degrees of a visual plane for possible dangers. Passengers create distractions by thrusting their trip planners into our faces at the most inopportune of times, asking "Where do I get off the bus if I want this address?"

A typical bus line can run from 45 minutes to two hours in length. In that time, we navigate hundreds of intersections, guiding the vehicle into bus stops every few blocks on average. To travel 25 miles, our bodies expend great amounts of energy on precisely-coordinated movements. Our knees take a beating, our nerves are tested by impatient drivers, unskilled bicyclists, and countless distracted pedestrians. We save many lives each day by predicting foolish maneuvers by other people, while working diligently to ensure the safety of our passengers and those around our bus. This is never reported in what passes for "news" these days, because the media is only interested when a bus comes into contact with another object. Then we're drug tested, investigated and subjected to humiliation for none other than doing our job.

So yeah, I was sorely pissed at this guy for saying that. I won't even reveal my profession to some people online because their response is generally disrespectful. This fellow even whined at me when I un-friended him, saying he wants to continue "sparring" with me about political issues. Hey, I'm open to good-natured ribbing, but when you diss me and my beloved fellow operators, I show no mercy. We work extremely hard for long hours every day. Our bodies are subjected to such abuse our profession is one of the highest for repetitive-motion injuries. We're supposed to smile and remain calm, even when we're abused.

I read recently where a driver in another city was attacked as his bus was in motion. A passenger with a doctored pass was angry when the operator wouldn't honor the fare. So the passenger grabbed the wheel of the bus and repeatedly struck the operator as he tried to safely stop the bus. With the aid of other passengers who briefly subdued the attacker, he finally brought his bus to a safe landing. He was battered and injured, but he was able to get in a few "self defense" smack downs himself. Instead of being concerned about the driver's well being, his transit agency actually suspended him for five days without pay. Why? Because he didn't take his beating courteously. Talk about adding insult to injury! Not only was the operator traumatized and injured by the assault, his transit agency refused to back him up, instead choosing to demoralize and insult their own "valued employee".

So yeah, my Irish went haywire at this "friend's" remark. Needless to say, he's no longer welcome to discuss anything with me, let alone my profession. If I ever saw him waiting for a bus, I'd tell him to wait for the next orangutan to pick him up. Good luck, buddy.




Monday, August 24, 2015

Singers and Complainers


There are all sorts of characters who ride our buses. I've heard wild stories about particular exploits, arguments between passengers, and seen extraordinary acts of kindness just when I was losing faith in humanity.

As operators, abuse comes with the territory. We get yelled at for being late, even if it's just two minutes. People who don't pay attention and miss the bus because their phone is more important than watching for us call in and complain if we drive by their inattentive asses. But this complaint takes the cake.

I recently had the pleasure of driving Line 30 to Estacada, a small town about 20 miles southeast of Portland. It's a pretty drive, through forests, along a curvy stretch next to the Clackamas River. There are farms, wildlife and wonderful vistas to behold. The passengers are usually nicer than the inner-city folks I usually pick up on different routes.

As we entered the city, a gentleman startled me by coming up behind me as I did a traffic check over my right shoulder.

"Whoa!" I said. "Howdy there, sir."

"There's a guy back there singing," he said softly.

"Yeah?" I glanced at my passenger mirror to see a young man with headphones, softly mouthing the words to whatever song his iPod was playing. I could hardly hear him over the bus noise.

"And this bothers you?" I asked.

"It's terribly inconsiderate," he replied.

Well, now. Considering it was pretty quiet that morning, I hardly thought this was a problem. People are louder on their phones than this guy was just singing to himself. Conversations which can be quite lively create more noise pollution than this feller did.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," I said, and left it at that. The passenger sat down. I glanced at him in the mirror; he saw this and pointed at the musical criminal. I just nodded.

As I drove, my ears were more finely-tuned to this 'problem singer'. He wasn't going to win any talent contests, but he could hold a tune. I didn't recognize the song, but it wasn't profane and nobody else complained. I just let it ride and concentrated on safely operating my 18-year-old bus.

A few stops later, the young man exited the bus. Afterward, the older guy repeated himself.

"I think it was just inconsiderate of him to be singing," he said.

I just nodded politely.

"Sir," I said a few moments later, "I've had a lot worse happen on my bus. People scream at each other, or at me. Crazy people give live lessons in their particular brand of nonsense. Couples have arguments over what to have for dinner. Several people try to impress me of their knowledge of how I should do my job. But seriously, a young fellow softly singing to himself is not what I'd consider a problem."

"Well," he said, "I just thought it wasn't very polite of him."

"Duly noted," I growled. "Just be glad it wasn't me doing the singing, or you'd really be upset."

I could have broke out some of my favorite old country-rock songs. One by my beloved Chuck Wagon and the Wheels comes to mind. Sometimes on my deadheads, sans passengers, I'll let loose my warbling voice on the unsuspecting ghost riders. It goes like this:

"How can I love you, if you won't lay down?
It's not romantic, the way I have to chase you around!
You say you love me, well talk is cheap.
You'll never prove it honey, standing on your feet."

Truly, if I had belted out this tune, there would have been numerous calls to Customer Service that day. Regardless, I thought his complaint was silly. If that's the only problem I have to deal with on a run, I'll take it!

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Happens When the 'Big One' Hits?



How much would this view of downtown change if
'The Big One' were to hit?
Ever wonder, fellow bus drivers, what it would be like if The Big One hit Portland? According to seismologists, we're due for a major earthquake in the Northwest. A big 'un, so they say. And when it happens, things are gonna be a mess.

A fellow driver asked me if I knew our transit agency's plan in case of a disaster. I don't, and I doubt if the talking heads do either. It would be pretty chaotic, to say the least, if disaster struck our fair city. When you consider there are hundreds of buses out at any point every day, we would be the eyes and ears for emergency crews needing to know what routes remain undamaged and/or passable. Depending on the time of year, we could have our buses utilized as shelters or first aid stations.

Chances are, if an earthquake of major proportions strikes this part of the world, we're in for a lot of devastation. Scientists lately have been really talking this up, and it's a major concern for many of us. However, I haven't heard much in the way of disaster planning from our city leaders or, disturbingly so, from our own transit agency.

Earthquakes, to my limited knowledge, shake the hell out of everything. Bridges collapse, freeways become impassable, tsunamis tear up the coast. People are stranded, their homes demolished, cell towers are inoperable and we're unable to contact loved ones. And of course, many are injured or killed.

So, what if? I could be tooling along on my route on a rainy winter's night when all of a sudden the road starts moving side-to-side. I slow down and stop, but things are still moving. Everyone on the bus is scared. Bridges are swaying, some of them collapse. A huge fissure opens a few feet in front of my bus and we start sliding down toward the Willamette River. Whoa, what the hell?

First, I'd want to make sure my passengers and I are as safe as possible. Unless we're upside down or under water, I'd urge people to remain inside. A bus weighs 20 tons and is about as structurally safe as anything you could find in that situation. With powerlines likely down all over, I'd hate for someone to run screaming from my safe haven right into a human cookout. If our radio system remains online, I'd have instant communications with Dispatch and therefore the rest of Portlandia. We'd most likely sit tight and offer refuge to any wandering or injured souls who venture near.

Most of our bridges were built before codes were in place for ensuring building stability in case of earthquake. They will likely collapse. Except for our new Tillikum Crossing, which also has water lines running on it. The new Sellwood Bridge, if complete, is engineered with a large subduction event possibility in mind. For the most part though, our roads and bridges will likely be out of commission for months, even years.

Depending on the scope of the damage wrought to our fair city, we could be stranded for days. How would we survive? There are no emergency provisions on board, except for the snacks and water I keep in my backpack. We're not allowed to keep weapons on our person, so we'd be at the mercy of any crazed survivalist wanting to score notches in his gun. I'm sorry, but the thought of fighting off a lunatic armed with a fire extinguisher gives me the willies. The possibilities of nightmare scenarios abound. Finding out if our loved ones are secure will be vital to us all.


Road conditions here suck, in the best of conditions. The idea of anyone "evacuating" in an emergency is a sick joke. We would all be worried sick about our loved ones, hungry and tense. While buses can run a whole day on the fuel on board, once it's gone the comfort zone disappears. Once conditions become safe enough, we could all be facing a long walk home.

The City of Portland has thought of the 'what ifs', and they have a very informative and helpful preparedness guide ('The Big One' Survival Guide). I have not been able to find anything put out by TriMet as of the publication of this post regarding bus operations, but there is a Standard Operating Procedure for Rail Ops (SOP055).

Surely my readers have wondered this same 'what if'. If our transit agency has, it's a secret to me. I'm curious to know what our southern neighbors in California have to say about transit worker preparedness. I'll bet at least one reader has dealt with emergency situations in their community. If you have, please feel free to contact me via this blog (comments), email (deaconinblue@gmail.com) or on FaceBook (Deacon Blue).

Except for my fellow operators, I doubt if any management from our transit agency will venture to offer any info, but I'd love to hear it.

In the meantime I'll just keep on tooling along, ready for whatever happens.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Busted!


A dear lady friend, whom I haven't seen in quite a while, approached me at the garage as we finished our runs the other night.

"Can I ask you something personal?" she asked.

"Well," I replied, "I suppose so JuneBug. What do you want to know?"

"I was reading From the Driver Side the other day, and I think I made a connection. Are you the Deacon in Blue?"

Wow! Pow! Slammo! Zing! Bam!

Busted. So much for that pseudo anonymity that has led to my self-perpetuated dual personality. There was no question as to which one of me would respond.

"Um," I stammered, "what makes you ask that?"

"Because, if it IS you, and I think it really is, you talk just like you write. It is you, isn't it?"

There it was, laid out on the table. My dual persona, ready to be devoured. Yet all was not yet lost. Several people know my true identity, and JuneBug is about as safe a friend with my 'secret' as anybody. It was just a bit unnerving that she was able to make that connection. I mean, we're friends true enough, but we haven't spent much time getting to know each other very closely. She's one of those people though, who make you feel as if you've known each other for years. Easy to talk to, really sweet and friendly.

"Well," I told her, "You guessed right then. But I had no idea..."

JuneBug laughed. "I knew it!"

"Really though?" I asked, incredulous. "I actually write how I speak? I had no idea."

Evidently, I do. My wife doesn't see it, but perhaps that's because she's so close to me. It's fascinating though. I've written since I was about 10. It's always come naturally to me, and I reckon my style is akin to you and I just sitting here having a conversation. It seems comfortable if I just write as if you're right across this desk watching me type.

Only problem is, I hate people watching me write. Somebody might just guess who I am.

Friday, August 7, 2015

How About a Shout Out?

With over 100 posts under my belt (along with some extra/unwanted baggage), it's fun sometimes to take a look at my 'audience' and revel in the fact I have readers all over the world! 

If you take a peek at the stats below for the lifetime of FTDS, you'll see that besides US 'muricans' and our friendly northern neighbors, there's quite a spread over this entire blue marble. What I'd like to know is, who are you folks in Poland, Russia, France, England, Ukraine, Australia, and Germany? Why are there no compadres de Mexico? Am I too brash for Japanese readers? Not brash enough for Spaniards or Greeks? Of course I don't want to gloss over my biggest audience right here in the USA though. I'm a curious type of George. Pleased as pumpkin pie to have all you wonderful folks reading my ramblings, but I often wonder what brings you folks back time after time? Surely it ain't abundant 'talent', because Lord knows that's in short supply.

I know some of you must share these posts, and I thank you. My goal was 100k hits by the end of this year, but I'd have to write several posts a week to come close to that. If you're a bus operator, you know our lives don't allow enough idle time for that to be possible. Besides, I'm not that greedy. If there's nothing to write, I refuse to post just to see more hits. I'm not that cheap, no matter what Mrs. Blue says.

So would you do me a favor and chime in with a comment and let me know who and where you are? It would be fun to get to know some of you, hear about your experiences and grow a community of people via From The Driver Side.

Thanks for reading!

;o)
D. Blue

Pageviews by Countries 

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
EntryPageviews
United States
27129
Canada
4624
Russia
450
France
276
United Kingdom
136
Ukraine
121
Germany
116
Australia
77
Ireland
62
Poland
55