Friday, July 3, 2015

We're The Good Guys

Recently, one of my fellow drivers came upon a fight in a North Portland street. Somebody was opening a 55-gallon of whupass on a kid, and our heroine 'Scout' (somehow she reminds me of this nickname) didn't like what she saw. With bus horn blaring, she scared the offenders off. Scout deserves kudos for this, but knowing her generous and kind soul, she's not the type to toot her own horn. Just the one on her bus to give aid as needed.

Bus operators are often denigrated, maligned and falsely accused of any number of heinous acts. While we're not perfect, we work very hard at keeping those around us safe. On the bus or on the street, we consider it our sacred duty to protect folks from the possible carnage caused by their inattention. Downtown on the transit mall, pedestrians dart out into the street against the signal. Light rail, buses and streetcar operators keep a constant eye out for the errant jaywalker. When you hear about a tragedy occurring involving transit, it's as if we're automatically to blame. Yet there are no headlines about the hundreds of lives we save daily. It's a sad commentary on our society that we'd rather see the gore rather than the miracles of life.

Each vehicle has a horn, which we're trained to use only to warn of danger rather than out of anger. Plenty of people test our patience, many times each day. To resist the temptation of honking at them and throwing a one-finger salute is difficult. If we give in to this urge to blast away, the "offended" party will likely call in a complaint and whine about it. This results in unnecessary counseling by our managers, who are forced to scold us even when they know the complaint is likely bogus.

Of every 100 calls to our customer service line, about 99.5 are complaints. Compliments are rare, but prized. On my bus one day, two very nice ladies were talking about the "horrible" bus operators they've experienced. They continued, ad nauseum, until I couldn't take it any longer.

"When was the last time a driver did something nice for you?" I blurted out.  "I mean, are you saying we're all assholes?"

Silence. I feared the worst. Had I overstepped, earning myself a complaint for complaining about their complaints? At this moment, I felt more ornery than a badger with hemorrhoids. Yet simultaneously, more nervous than a hungover groom at a shotgun wedding.

"Well," one of the ladies said a few moments later, "no they're not. I mean, you aren't."

"Thank you for that, I was beginning to worry."

 "But the other day," the other lady began quietly, "I was waving for a bus to stop because I was late, and he just kept on going." By the last syllable, her bravery returned along with the volume in her voice.

We discussed this further, and I discovered that she left her house late, and was across the street on a busy avenue at rush hour.

"You know why he probably passed you by?" I offered.

"Yes," she replied testily, "because he's an asshole, and he made me late to work."

"Is it true that he's an asshole for possibly saving your life?"

"What?!? He didn't stop!"

"Sure, I get that. But you admitted you were late, that's one mark against you. Another, you weren't even near your stop. I wouldn't have stopped either, and here's why: Unless it's a time point and I'm early, we don't service empty stops. Since you were across the street and not in the crosswalk, you were only a blip on the radar. To stop would have encouraged you to cross that busy street against the light, possibly not even in a crosswalk. You could have been injured or even killed."

"Hmm," she replied thoughtfully. "I didn't think of that."

"We're not taxis, you know."

"Yes, but it's your job to pick us up! I'm usually there and he's late!" Her anger had returned.

"Our job, ma'am, is to ferry our passengers safely to their desired locations. Everyone on that bus had evidently arrived at their stop on time. You, on the other hand, were simply early for the next bus. Was this your regular driver?"

"I don't know, what does that matter?"

"If it wasn't, he didn't know you're a regular."

"Don't you people talk to each other? I mean, about who rides the bus?"

"Only when they're rude or dangerous," I shot back. "If the driver is on the Extra Board, the regular driver didn't make it to work that day. The sub driver has no way of knowing who rides the bus. There are nearly a thousand of us, and it's statistically impossible to know every regular on every line. Plus, we usually only have 10 minutes to prepare for a run off the board."

The air seemed to have left her argument. She seemed to take a minute to digest this information.

"Nobody's ever explained these things to me, and I appreciate your kind manner."

This shocked me. I thought my pissed-offishness was shining brightly. I decided to tone it down a bit.

"We're mostly concerned for your safety. We're sorry if you miss the bus, but we can't risk your safety, or that of others."

By that point, we were at the end of the line. The two ladies thanked me, a bit more profusely than I likely deserved. I wished them a nice day and moved on down the line.

A month or so later, I received a commendation from one of these ladies. In their comments, they mentioned that they didn't realize how many drivers are complained about. They complimented my driving and my patience. I was humbled, because I had interrupted their conversation and thought I was a bit testy. Perhaps I touched their guilt button and my transgressions were forgiven.

Often, I wonder if Scout's interference was ever appreciated via a commendation. She, and our many other drivers who do good deeds daily, deserve many more than we receive.

I was lucky that day. The next week somebody complained that I flipped them the bird. I don't do that, but at that point I wished I had. They probably deserved it.


  1. Wow !! Good job

  2. I sure appreciate your stories. Thanks, Deacon!

    1. And I truly appreciate your reading them and commenting GrannyBud!