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 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.


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).


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.