Monday, September 26, 2016

I've Hit the (Figurative) Wall

The path ahead is foggy, unknown, but passable.
It's been six months since my last vacation. Luckily, my wife and I were able to escape the city for a few days this weekend.

Family and friends have mentioned that I've been "bitchy" a lot these days. Introspectively, I agree. It has been a rough year. No, I'm not whining. This blog is my therapy to deal with the rigors of the career I chose. Sometimes I report on the good. There is a lot of bad that happens, and some is downright ugly. In this job, it's common for operators to "hit a wall" before their fifth year of service. With me, it has been a gradual wearing down of my resolve to have a good day, every day. The ugly has overshadowed the good, so I'm re-training myself to put the blinders on.

Over the past year, my body has changed too. There are aches and pains I've never had before, and they're directly attributable to driving a bus. (If you're able to convince a Workman's Comp board of this, let me know the secret because I hear it's nearly impossible.) Posture is important, and being aware of poor positioning is vital. My foot, for example. Servicing bus stops requires a firm but smooth application of the brake pedal. If your foot is too high on the pedal, there is an initial "jerk" which can force standing passengers off-balance. Place your foot too low on the pedal, and you don't get enough force to generate enough stopping power. The trick is to find your "sweet spot" on the pedal and come to a smooth, gradual stop. I've found that fine motor control can be achieved by using my big toe as a means to finesse the vehicle. In fact, many of my passengers have remarked on how smoothly I drive. It's a source of pride, and when it doesn't happen I'm unhappy with my performance. Unfortunately, when you start and stop a bus upwards of a thousand times a day, your feet take a beating. Your entire body does. Soreness dictates slight deviations from the sweet spot and well... you can't be perfect all the time. Now the tendons in my right foot's big toe are inflamed, so I've had to adjust once more. Even still, I work hard each day to provide a smooth landing at each stop.

Once a month I get a full-body massage. I've tried yoga and meditation as well. But this weekend I indulged in a natural mineral hot springs, where I soaked for hours. It was pure bliss. At first, my inflamed tendons screamed in protest. Gradually, the minerals and heat loosened and relieved many of the sore spots. Walking in the forest was beneficial to heart and soul, as this wonderful land has soothed me for many years. Long talks with my beloved wife helped me deal with this turning point in my career. We spent a weekend free of this blog, social media and phone calls. It was also a nice break away from editing my book. Not thinking about driving a bus was blissful. Plus, having no cell signal is a healing escape to today's constant barrage of information. Spending time with the person who knows me best and has the ability to soothe when necessary is the best medicine I know.

Frankly, I'm considering other career interests at this point. Writing professionally for a living has always been a goal, but reality dictates I treat it as a hobby for now. We'll see how the next few weeks pan out. I'm about a month shy of my anniversary as an operator. Whether I continue is based on several factors, but financial stability in an unstable economy is vital. Conversely, it's also important to weigh the effects of bus operation on my health. The stress is evidenced by an increase in my "bitchy" demeanor. Constant stress on my neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees and feet leave me questioning if I'm actually tough enough to continue. I started this job well into middle age, and it feels as if I've aged five years for every year of service. One thought is recurrent: I don't want to retire into a casket, as many operators have.

This blog has chronicled nearly every step of my career as a bus operator. Along the way, it has been accessed over 77,000 times by people all over the world. These words have described what I've experienced. The events of the next few weeks will determine whether I can continue to describe life as a bus operator. If not, it's been a hell of a ride and I thank you all for sticking with me. If I decide to continue, hopefully some good stories will come out and your Deacon will find a way over the wall.

Until then, I'm climbing the ladder to see what's on the other side. Stay tuned.


7 comments:

  1. Hang in there Deacon! It took me a whopping 9 years to start questioning my career choice. I even had another job lined up but the paycheque, pension and benefits at transit were enough for me to stick it out. I am now in my 18th year, and I am signing straight shifts with weekends off. Don't get me wrong, I still have days where I want to drive that bus off a cliff, with everyone except me in it, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. 9.5 years to go, and I can retire at the age of 55 with a full pension and then go do something I actually enjoy! I love reading your blog and can't wait for the book to come out. All of us lowly bus drivers relate to everything you say. It lets us know that we're not alone out here in this crazy world!

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    1. Thank you Janice! I appreciate your encouragement and support. My hat is off to you for all your years of service, and I salute your professionalism. But "lowly" we are not lol. We may be treated that way, but I'm awed by people like you. Problem is, for someone who began this gig in his 50s, has only a 401k for retirement instead of a pension, putting 20 years in would make me 70-something. If I live that long!

      Thanks for reading, and for your support.

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  2. I was really frustrated when I went from mini run to full time because I didn't get a second week of vacation this year when others in my class did because the were able to go three weeks ahead of me. I just finished my second year and have not had a vacation in 18 months and I am burned out.

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    1. Michael, it doesn't take long to burn out. I know how you feel. Keep your chin up and take it one run at a time. We've all experienced that vacation drought, but it will come... someday.

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  3. Smooth operator! When you mentioned the big toe, I couldn't help but think of a ballet. The way we have to work both feet, whether turn signals or gas and brakes, it does seem like a dance. When passengers comment on a smooth ride, I realize I like (and need) smooth rides too. The ultimate proof is when you find a sleeper at the end. Well, that and all our worn out shoes...

    Love the forest photos.

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    1. YES! A ballet is the perfect way to describe the actions of our feet. While they don't support our weight while we drive, their orchestrations give passengers either a smooth or choppy ride. Thanks buddy.

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