We're often lambasted for being "greedy", since all we do "is drive a bus around all day". Wow. Really folks, is that all we do? Everything we do is part of operating a bus, and there's a lot more to it than most are aware. We're not, after all, sitting behind the wheel of your fancy new Lexus, with a seat programmed to remember your pampered body. It's a monster of metal and glass, with a seat designed back when Abe Lincoln was driving a bus in Springfield. (Okay, so I sometimes exaggerate.)
This is an incredible responsibility. Each weekday, we transport nearly 400,000 Portlanders around the metro area. Professionals on their way to work, mothers with their beloved precious cargo, elderly headed to doctor's offices, countless others to whatever destination awaits them. People who use mobility devices, walkers or canes receive our special attention. Each passenger is our responsibility, their safety entrusted to our skill and instincts. No matter what Mother Nature throws at our windshields, we brave conditions to provide millions of safe rides every year.
The first weekend of January was particularly challenging after a few inches of snow were topped with a thick sheen of treacherous ice. We remember snow days of years past, when our fellow citizens were urged to stay home while we braved dangerous conditions just to get to the garage so we could slip and slide along our hilly town to safely transport friends and neighbors.
Sometimes, when I glide along in my 20-ton mega ride, I'm treated to a lovely sight. It could be a dazzling snowy Mt. Hood illuminated by a full moon, downtown Portland bathed in the shades of pink and purple during a grand Northwest sunset, or deer grazing along the roadside. I marvel at the kindness of my fellow Portlanders who see someone struggling to cross the street in their mobility device, so they push them to safety. Rush hour traffic affords the opportunity to observe the Portland "zipper", where merging vehicles are allowed in one at a time in a show of solidarity in our steadily worsening traffic. Yes, there are many good things we see out there too. Somehow the good balances the tougher moments of our everyday toils.
Just like any job, it's hard sometimes. Often, it's extremely difficult. It's also physically demanding. By the last day of my work week, it seems each joint of my aging body has been subjected to a triathlete's training regimen. One night I recently counted how many times my foot depressed the brake pedal to stop the bus. In one 80-minute ride, the busiest of my shift, I stopped 90 times at service stops, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings or stop signs. Since that's on the high end of things, let's say I average 65 stops an hour for a total of eight hours of driving. That means I stop the bus 520 times each shift. When you consider how many muscles in your lower back, hips, thighs, knees, calves and feet are used to perform this maneuver, you get a better idea of why we might be a bit grumpy at the end of the line. Our brake pedal isn't as soft a touch as a car's; it takes a few hundred pounds of pressure, plus intense fine motor control of our legs and feet, to smoothly stop a bus. By the end of our shift, it's best not to piss us off. Multiply 520 by five nights and you'll see I stop 2,600 times a week. Ouch. Yeah, our parts can wear out quickly, especially those of us who've haven't seen our 30s in quite a while.
So if you're in the general bus-riding community, hear my prayer. Call in with compliments more than complaints, recognize your particular bus operator's humanity, and remember that when we begin negotiating our contract again this year we're not the spoiled brats we'll likely be made out to be. He who smelt it usually dealt it. Or something like that.