Monday, June 19, 2017

Newbies, Listen Up!



I've met a few "newbies" lately. They remind me of what it's like to come into this job, a tad nervous and learning from those who have been here a while. I encourage them to ask me anything, because any question they might think "stupid" can't be anything as foolish as my initial inquiries were. The only "dumb question" is the one never asked.

Just to get where they are is an accomplishment. A trainer once told me that of 50 applicants for an operator's job, only one is hired. Of approximately 20 hired for each class, only 15 make it past probation. We're screened and vetted more thoroughly than a politician, and this job pays considerably less. An applicant's personality and ability to deal with the public is more important to management than driving skills, although a clean driving record is obviously a must. Our trainers can take a new hire from terrified behind the wheel to confidently rolling the wheels of these 20-ton beasts. Line trainers show them the "real world" scenarios they'll be experiencing, and how to safely maneuver through six months of intense probation.

Transit operators are some of the most intensely-trained drivers in the world. Once we leave the nurturing guidance of trainers, we glean reams of information regarding our job just by doing it. We're also required to attend annual recertification classes. I've also heard now we'll all be evaluated once a year by trainers who will be giving us "check rides" to ensure we're maintaining safe driving practices. No other professional drivers are scrutinized or trained as thoroughly as we are, yet our agency rarely trumpets our professionalism. All they hear is what the media's talking heads want them to, which is negative. Whenever there's a collision, major injury or incident, someone is always muttering about how we "need more training." Actually, the texting motorists not paying attention who mostly cause these collisions are those most in need of instruction.

Life at Center before the remodel.
With the exception of some people who begin this career at an early age and continue through their retirement, many enter this field later in our working lives. Many have led successful careers in radically different professions. Strike up a conversation with a "newbie" in his/her 50s, you'll often find they've had amazing paths in life prior to working in transit. I've spoken with some operators who earned PhD's to find themselves as bus operators, simply for the benefits.

This is an intensely-more difficult job than most think it is. Transit operation is one of the most deadly professions today. It takes an immense toll on a person's mind, body and soul. Just a few years into the job, my physical health has quickly deteriorated, making me feel about 10 years older than my actual age. I've felt pain in parts of my body that have until recently were fine. An operator's seat may appear comfortable, but it is truly a torture device. After just over an hour at a time in this seat, I often leave it limping like an octogenarian who is leaving his bed for the first time after hip replacement surgery. In one 75-minute stretch, my right foot depresses the brake pedal at least 250 times. It takes a lot of finely-tuned pressure to smoothly stop a bus, and when you perform a physical operation over 1,000 times a day, it tends to ruin body parts. Tell that to a Workman's Comp doctor and they'll insist it's from a "previous injury." Do yourselves a favor and indulge yourselves in regular massages and trips to a chiropractor.

New drivers who read this might think, "this guy should just retire, he's just another bitchy old-timer." Seriously, I'm simply a realist with a few years in the seat. There are things I need to be doing to offset the damage this job causes my body, and I'm working on exercising and stretching more often. It's too easy to become complacent and not listen to the body's needs. Unless you want to retire into a casket, heeding these warnings is crucial. You need money when first starting this job, because the initial pay is dismal. You tend to work more days, sign the Extra Board, and find other ways to chase that first paycheck comma. After a while however, it will catch up to you.

Pre-remodel brothers enjoying a game.
These days, I just roll over and go back to sleep when I see a phone call from my garage in the middle of the night. They're just begging people to work their days off. Sure, I could use the extra money. The government gets a big chunk of it, and this guy just wants to live long enough to spend what he already makes. That's usually just enough to cover the monthly essentials.

Take care, you newbies. Congrats on making it this far. Stay safe, don't take unnecessary chances, and never be afraid to ask a veteran driver that question you might be embarrassed to ask. It might just save you a shitload of grief. Just remember we've all been where you are. If you're smart and cautious, someday you'll be where we are.



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Another Slap in the Face

Gee, let's protect those who harass transit workers
and disrupt service, like this guy.
I'd rather not.

A few months ago, several Amalgamated Transit Union 757 members testified before an Oregon House of Representatives committee on House Bill 2717, which increases penalties for those convicted of assaulting public transit employees. As it stands now, an assault on one of us is only a serious crime if we are rolling wheels while in the seat. The new bill broadens the scope to include assault on any transit "employee... assaulted while acting in the scope of employment."

The new bill would provide more protection to operations employees who may not be driving at the moment of an assault, but are performing duties related to transit. This would (hopefully) include operators who are waiting to relieve another operator, supervisors in the field, and mechanics making sure our wheels keep rolling. It's a step forward, considering an increasing number of people think nothing of punching, stabbing, slapping, spitting on or threatening us simply for doing what we're paid to do.

Earlier this year, the Oregon Senate decided to sponsor SB 357A, which is another criminal-coddling measure that will reduce the penalties for those convicted of Interfering with Public Transit. Several people have testified in support of this bill, saying that the law as it stands disproportionately affects people of color. One person in support of the bill states "Fear-based protective measures which are achieved through the increased criminalization of poverty have been proven not to protect society, instead only increasing the historical burdens weighted upon the shoulders of communities of color and low income." I'm sorry, but breaking a law isn't the fault of society, but of the person who commits the crime.

Interfering with Public Transit has little to do with "poverty." Sure, poor people can't always afford to pay, and jailing them for fare evasion is similar to a form of debtors' prison. Why not separate Fare Evasion from IPT? To reduce punishment for the larger problem of troublemakers interrupting the flow of transit would only encourage more mayhem on our rides. Our transit agency has a new habit, as a brother of ours states, of "trying to be everything to everybody, while failing on every front." Management has eroded any sense of control of our vehicles, when it was once understood that we were truly Captains of the Ship. This bill would further erode our ability to maintain a peaceful and safe atmosphere for the majority of those who pay their fare AND behave in a civil manner while riding, by coddling people who don't pay. Fare evaders are often the main source of trouble and disruption of our duties. It doesn't matter what color their skin is, or the amount of money they have. I've had miscreants and social mutants of all points on the socio-economic scale.

Instead of further weakening penalties for criminals, shouldn't we be working toward a safer transit system for all? Those who shout obscenities, harass other passengers, insult and assault operators and other transit employees are like ragweed growing in a park once graced with flowing, perfect grass. Nobody wants to get down on their hands and knees to remove the problem plants, but failure to do so allows the weeds to reproduce on a greater scale. Many fare evaders I deal with ask if they can ride free, and are usually polite about it. As the district has instructed us, I no longer refuse rides for lack of fare. I still warn them they're riding at their own risk, but this falls on deaf ears because the word is out: nobody in management or law enforcement seems to care if you pay.

Separate the two, but don't lessen the penalties for troublemakers. In fact, since incidents are mostly caused by those who have mental illness, why not increase funding for their treatment? Jail sentences don't do anything for their ailments or lift them out of poverty. However, insisting that operators act as mental health professionals while continuing to erode our benefits is beyond insulting. We're the scapegoats, it seems for every negative transit occurrence, be it mayhem, murder or collisions. It's easy to blame us, rather than take responsibility for poor management and legislative failure.

Whatever happened to common sense in government? Oh wait, those two terms shouldn't be used together, because they rarely happen concurrently.

Deke's Note: Please remember to call your state legislator and voice support for HB 2717, which stiffens penalties for those who assault us. The bill is moving slowly through the House, and is now languishing in the Ways and Means Committee. No vote has been scheduled, but now is the time to add your voice. If we don't speak out as ONE, we can't blame anyone but ourselves for allowing it to fail.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Challenge to Management

"Operators should be better trained at de-escalating tense situations," said the public several times after the horrific murders on our light rail. As if these things wouldn't happen if only the drivers had better training.

What a load of crap. How about this, folks? We drive a bus or a light rail vehicle. In order to properly handle the mentally ill passengers who ride transit daily, we'd need a PhD in psychiatry. A few classes here and there ain't gonna give us the ability to talk a tweaked-out druggie or a mentally-disabled person out of creating mayhem.

People don't realize that when we're operating a vehicle, we're constantly performing calculations, precise physical maneuvers, and watching every which way for potential trouble. When problems arise on our vehicle, it's usually one person making everyone else's life miserable. We stop the bus, determine who the troublemaker is, and ask them to leave the bus. This requires a certain amount of finesse and a loud, authoritative voice. If the person becomes violent because they choose not to respect our position, they will often assault us. How we react is scrutinized ad nauseum by a management team that has little or no empathy for us.

My suggestion is for management to train the public, to warn them not to assault us or they will take drastic measures against our transgressors. It's called "having our backs." Instead, they usually kick our backsides. It's inhumane to those who make the wheels roll, but we seem to be easy targets.

I've been told by many who have worked transit for decades that there once was harmony between management and the union employees. There was respect, even some admiration flying in both directions. Not today. Now we're subject to review and suspensions if we fart in the wrong direction. This must stop in order to restore our transit agency to the top spot, but it won't.

I challenge our top management, and its rubber-stamping governor-appointed governing board, to do the right thing. Take our training and actually drive some miles in the seat. Perhaps then you'll understand what it takes to do our job. Unless, of course, you're chicken. You're pretty safe in that ivory tower.

BRRAAAWWWWKKKK!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Switching Lanes and Obscenities

Self portrait.

It gets a bit boring for me to do the same route every signup, so I tend to switch back and forth. Driving the same route all the time tends to make the job dull and predictable. It also allows for complacency, a trait that has only brought me sorrow.

This week I bounced into a route I haven't driven for a while. It's a bit more challenging, with more rush hour traffic, different people and a change of scenery. Some of the passengers remembered me and were surprised when I opened the door at their stops. It's nice to be remembered and to catch up with them. Some of my former regulars have altered schedules from when I last saw them.

Driving a different route is also a good way to address bad habits one develops over time. Various body parts have been giving me trouble lately. Sore shoulders can point to poor posture and hand placement on the wheel. I've switched to using my weak hand, which is weird but places less pressure on the side which is sore. You don't realize bad habits until something starts to hurt. Regular massages help, and that's become more of a necessity than a luxury for me. Operator seats are not as comfortable as they appear. You'd think a machine that costs half a million smackers would include a seat engineered with the operator's comfort and health in mind, but they don't. Of course, there are all shapes and sizes of us, and what works for one person can be a nightmare for the next. The newer buses accommodate a larger person easier than the older models. Driving a newer bus, even though it might be a tad comfier for a big guy, presents driving challenges with the expanded front end. I still don't know why they added a few more feet to the front end. It presents vision barriers which have been proven to be deadly. They also make turns a bit more difficult.

Many of us rarely get the same bus every day. It takes a while to remember (by feel) where certain controls are located. Once you feel comfortable, it's usually toward the end of a shift. Then you get another model the next day. So not only are you struggling with seat controls to find the "sweet spot," but your left hand is roaming around the side panel like a teenager's clumsy first attempts at petting. Sometimes you find the right button, others involve a painful rebuke.

The first day was pretty easy. Traffic was light and I was able to make some valuable observations. I studied the paddle (schedule) and found the "bubbles" where it's possible to make time and where it might be necessary to burn some extra minutes. These things were stored deep in memory and all came flooding back as I drove. Since management has its tighty-whities in a bunch over schedule, I've been paying closer attention to time points and such. (The schedule-bangers still piss me off, but it's not a battle I'm gonna win, so I just do my best and keep driving safely and smoothly.) It seems I'm doing something right, because my OTP (on-time performance) numbers are at 90%. That's pretty damn good, and if they think they can do better, it would be fun to watch them try.

Some passengers actually said they missed me. That's nice to hear. I work very hard at providing them a smooth ride. Evidently, some of their recent operators have been of the bump-and-grind variety. Passengers have also noticed I don't tolerate much more than passing obscenities. When language becomes too predictably vile, I tend to creatively steer them toward more polite discourse. This seems to have resonated with many of the regulars, because younger people have a limited vocabulary. One guy found this out the hard way. He cursed me and was immediately invited to revisit the sidewalk. "Fuck" me, you say? Nah. I'm exit-only. Tell it to the mirror and find the nearest exit, Rudy.

The word "fuck" has many uses. It can be a noun, verb, pronoun, adverb, adjective; it's also a common form of punctuation and even a prefix. However it's used, this expletive has become too common. It's unnecessary. Problem is, many think it's "okay" to verbally fornicate with regularity. They often , and their "freedom of speech" is at stake. My position: learn better grammar. Read a fucking book, dumbass. Preferably a classic, when profanity wasn't as common as goose turds in downtown Milwaukie. Maybe then, your vocabulary will improve. Otherwise, keep your gutter mouth outta my damn bus. Try watching Mr. Rogers reruns for cryin' out loud.

My summer work is hard, but a refreshing change. I was late a lot this week. This aging body is feeling its age. But I get to regularly view our city skyline from a uniquely picturesque vantage point. I no longer dread going to work. Learning a new schedule has my brain engaged on a higher level. My next book is based on this route. The wheels are moving in new directions, my tanks are charging, and I hope to meet more interesting people over the summer. The paycheck should improve a bit, and with any luck, my book will finally hit the online shelves.

Summer's almost here, and I'm all for it. Let the sun shine, and will someone please turn off the fucking rain? Thank you.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

JUST DRIVE! The Book Is Closer

I thought, "Gee, I've already written the posts. Putting a book together should be easy." Yeah right, Twinkle Fingers. After a year of work on it, the book "Just Drive -- Life in the Bus Lane" should be available within a month or three.

The first part was easy. I pored over my blog posts, selecting those I thought were good candidates for the book. It was fun reading my early, sometimes yawn-inducing and clumsy pieces. It was interesting watching my career unfold from greenhorn to hardened road warrior. When I had the list finished, I began to pull the posts into a file and giving them the first edit. This took a few months, because this aspiring author also had to, well, drive a bus. It's hard work and takes a lot out of a middle-aged perfectionist. About three nights a week, I'd be up late bringing them up to par.

When I started this project, the blog had about 60,000 hits. I didn't want to stop writing new posts, so it was a challenge to both work on the book project while also writing new material. When I had my first draft done, the blog was nearing 80,000 hits. Then it came time for my first hard edit. They say you should clean up 10-30% of the word total in editing. My first run thinned the book by nearly 20%. Two of my buddies then took it and offered edits, and I knocked off another 15%. Not quite sure it was up to my standards, I gave it another run and killed more unnecessary words, phrases and entire posts.

The final edits were finished a few months ago. It was 97% ready, but my wife read it and found a few typos and other oddities. The manuscript was finally done. Unfortunately, the work had just begun.

Writing with a pen name presents many challenges. Convincing a brother to help me out, he agreed to set up the business end. Problem is, he has a job too. Setting everything up is a major undertaking and patience is a must. We worked on a cover design, and finally found one we like. Now it needs to be set up in a file format that the publisher can work with. There's a question of whether some artwork will be included. My buddy Tom has some fun caricatures of my alter ego that might find their way into the finished book.

While one of us is setting up the business, this guy is studying how to prepare the finished files to send to Amazon. It's a slow process, but if we don't do it right then it could just end up a big old sloppy flop. So patience is paramount. It's always been my dream to write, design and publish my own book. The finish line is coming into view. Soon I'll know if all this work ends up making us a few bucks. Maybe we'll end up with enough for a few bottles of good Irish whisky, or perhaps more. Either way, it's been a learning experience. Thanks once again to you all for your support these past four years.

Oh, and since I started the book the blog has doubled in its hit counter. We're now up over 125,000 hits!

I've seen many of you, and heard your question, "Where's the book, Deke?" Answer is, soon. Thanks for your patience. I'll need your help with marketing, please. And for those of you who know me by sight, please remember to keep the secret amongst us. I'll sign yours, "Truly, Deke."


Sunday, June 4, 2017

BAM! End of Spring Runs


So ends another signup. It's become routine, but it was once an occasion. This time, I set my brake and shut 'er down in the yard at shift's end without even thinking about it. But wait. I must think about it, or I'll end up at the wrong relief point on Monday. That would be troublesome.

Usually, the last day on a run is routine. Not this time. I was faced with many challenges. Luckily, none of them required a call to Dispatch. I did, however, find myself close to screaming. It took sheer willpower to remain calm. I must have recited my mantra 12 times throughout the day.

"Be safe. Be thoughtful, kind, considerate and patient. Be vigilant, be calm. Be smart, be smooth. But above all, be safe."

This calms me. Just when I'm about to shriek, tear off my uniform and go streaking down Unemployment Lane, I shake my head. Rinse and repeat. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it doesn't just pour, it dumps. There were no truly gravity-defying incidents, just a random double handful of common annoyances that usually take weeks to happen, not just one day.

Running late at rush hour, I serviced a transit center. Briefly. Open doors, people depart, new passengers board. Nobody else appearing to need my ride, doors close. I pull from the curb and my right mirror check reveals one of many resident bums running up to my moving 40,000 pound machine and punching it. I stopped, and one of them appeared at my door. Well sorry Dicky Dumbass, but you're too stupid to ride my bus. I shooed him away like he was a lazy fly. He didn't like it, but I didn't care. Once I pull from the curb, you're early for the next bus. I don't care if you were just getting your buddy's girlfriend's sister's phone number for a possible transient center romance in the rubble, I gotta roll the wheels. Management hates us being late these days, so goodbye "customer" service.

First, there were several passengers who stood like statues at the stops, silhouetted in the shade by trees or telephone poles. When the sun is directly ahead where the visor can't block it, some of these folks are just invisible. It's like they're the undead. They appear to be made of stone, not moving until you open the door to investigate for signs of life. Then they amble on board and begin the "I have my fare somewhere..." routine. I wave them to a seat. Hey, if my employer doesn't care about fare, neither do I.

I was on time nearly all day, until the last round trip. That's when life gets interesting on my run. It's also the part of the day when I'm the most tired, sore and grouchy because of it. Two teenagers boarded, without fare, of course. Soon, they began a boisterous conversation. Yeah, the kind where the "f-word" is more common than vowels in every sentence. I asked them to tone it down, they did for a few minutes, with apologies. Then they began to berate a lady sitting near them, and the word reared its ugly sound once again. (Hey, I say "fuck" quite often, especially in an incredulous tone, to myself, when driving around the imbeciles who shouldn't have come close to being issued a driver's license. But in public? With little kids around? I try to keep my language polite.) When I called them out again, the lady thanked me. The boys then came up and apologized, explaining that the lady "went all Strangelove" on them. I was impressed with this retro analogy, and with their apology.

Soon after they all departed, a puffed-up peckerhead boarded while talking on the phone, a pet-peeve of mine. People who do this are dismissive of their bus operator, as if I'm supposed to read their mind as they stand at the fare box, having put in a strange amount of money. I just printed him an adult pass and let it slide with an exaggerated eye roll. Next, he's sitting halfway back, having a loud and fiery conversation, using "f" in every possible context, inserted every other word. It was quite obnoxious, so I decided to fight fire with a blowtorch, and keyed up the PA system.

"While riding my bus," I said very loudly in order to interrupt him, "please refrain from using language that would be unsuitable in front of your grandmother. Do you fucking get it? Thank you." Larry Loudmouth actually asked his party to hold a moment and apologized to me. His conversation continued, still amplified, yet sans most ordinary curses.

Then it came time for "We are about to board two people using mobility devices. Please vacate the Priority Seating Area if you are able-bodied." Considering it was full of chatty teenagers, it was a rather obvious request. As I left my seat to run the ramp and prepare to receive our new guests, the teens looked up as if I was interrupting the most important rap since Hammer Time. I repeated my request, and about 75% of them moved. The rest were plugged in and tuned out, gazing into Nowhere Land as if I was Nowhere Man making all my Nowhere Plans for Nobody. "HEY!" I shouted. They jumped back to reality. Must have been some wicked-good weed they just smoked. They didn't just smell like it, I believe they grew out of the ground wrapped in sticky stems. They looked annoyed, but moved. Luckily for me, neither of my new passengers wanted to be secured, so I was able to zip out of there in 90 seconds flat. Unfortunately, I was already seven minutes down when I arrived at the stop.

Not long after our wheeled guests departed, a family boarded. I've been giving them a ride for a week. A middle-aged couple with an 11-year-old and his little sister, a two-year-old hellion in the making. It was rather late for a toddler, and she was understandably weary. You know how little ones act when they should be in bed. Kind of like a transit management who's been proven wrong and doesn't want to admit it. Loudly reminiscent of five pieces of chalk scraping simultaneously on the board at the tone of "Lord please make it STOP!" She would run from seat to seat, wanting first her brother (who would pull her hair and find new ways to antagonize her as Mommy sat transfixed by her phone), then her mother (who ignored her, except to half-heartedly beg her to "stop misbehaving"), to her father-grandfather-uncle whatever, who seemed way over his head in the parenting department. Finally, I'd had enough. I pulled the bus over and told the parents, "Either you control that child, have her sit and remain as quiet as possible, or I'll leave the seat and take an extended break until she's asleep and I can then continue driving. Otherwise, she's become an extreme distraction, and I cannot deliver you safely to your destination under these conditions." I set the brake and put the tranny in neutral. My last nerve sat under the feet of a toddler, and I was craving nicotine. The bus went silent. Then Mommy put down her phone, and sternly corrected the Tiny Terror. Mr. Papa cleared his throat and offered a muffled apology. Other passengers shifted uncomfortably in their seats. With a sigh, I released the brake and threw it back into drive. We sailed along in silence for a blissful 23 seconds. Then the chalkboard screeched again. "QUIT PULLING MY HAIR! MOMMY!!!"

Thankfully, they only rode a few more stops. I felt bad, because as they left, both parents profusely apologized. I was an ogre. But I was a grateful one. Perhaps I should keep some parenting booklets to hand out on such occasions.

My bliss was short-lived, of course. Not two stops later on the return trip, I picked up about eight rowdy fellows and an exhausted hag who had just been released from prison. Do the gatekeepers of the jail find one bus driver and say, "let's pick on this sorry bastard?" I've pushed "Fare Evasion" at this stop so many times they might rename this message "Deke's People." No biggie. I tell them they ride at their own risk, and if we happen upon fare evader stings, they're on their own. They all thank me, and immediately begin a bus party in the back, regaling each other with stories of their jailhouse escapades. Very loudly, with gusto. I fire up the microphone again, and I'm ignored. So I shout. "HEY! YO! I'M TALKIN' HERE!" There. The bus goes quiet. "Congratulations on your release. However, today has been a very rough one for your bus operator. I have but one nerve left, and you're currently stomping on it. Please, avoid rough and lewd language, and keep your conversations at a respectable level. Otherwise, I'll turn this bus around and drop you off where you boarded, and I guarantee you won't like your welcoming committee. Thank you."

I saw them raise their eyebrows. Several of them called out. "Sorry sir. My bad. We'll chill for you, it's cool." I smiled and waved to them in the mirror. Then I turned to my driver's window and muttered some choice words under my breath. Recited my mantra for the 12th time. Inhaled deeply, held it a moment, exhaled. Then I rolled again. Former inmates began exiting, but a handful remained for most of the run. Their conversations centered around what they'd do upon arriving at Grandma's, the Ex-Old-Lady's, or Mom's House. They all swore off the pot. Some were gonna get drunk as a punk. Others fantasized about sleeping on "a real bed." All the while, I missed the geezer lady inmate sawing logs in the creep seat. She had to be awakened at my last stop. She made it about 35 feet before she decided the sidewalk would work and that's where she resumed her nap.

There were bicycle boneheads exiting the rear door and jumping in front of me as I started to roll. Friday Freddies tailgating Priuses to keep me from leaving a stop, even though the traffic light ahead was red. Cellphone-conversing cops ignoring every traffic violation nearby. Shopping cart thieves crossing against the light, making me skip through a red. A wine-bottle juggling critter wearing a purple dragon mask and a kilt on a unicycle weaving across an intersection. (I kid you not. If you're from Portland, you know this is possible.)

As a late-night driver, my bus happens to be the last one to complete the line. This time, the first in years, I approached a stop where two bicyclists waited. Their shoulders dropped as they saw the single bike on the rack. Only two bikes allowed, folks. It's a long ride from that stop to where they were headed, with several steep hills to master in between. I opened the door, and saw they were a couple. They smiled, and I returned the favor. I sighed, then told them they could bring one on, since mine was the last bus to service the line. They lit up like children on Christmas morning. I sure hope one of them calls in a commendation, because it would sure make a hard day worthwhile.

The nicest thing to happen was a gent who approached me on my last break. I nearly put my phone up to my ear to fake an incoming call, but he appeared friendly. With a lengthy, heavy sigh, I looked at him over my reading glasses. He must have seen the weariness in my eyes.

"I'm sorry to bother you sir," he said. "But to be totally honest (I hate this one. Why wouldn't you be honest with me?), I have no fare. I do have a lot of jokes to tell you though. If you'll let me ride, I'll try to make you laugh."

His jokes were lame, but I gave him a free ticket. What the hell, he offered me a reason to at least smile. And there you have it. I'm off that line for a while. There are new antics soon to be revealed, so stay tuned.




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It's the Driver's Fault... Of Course





It takes me time to wrap my feelings around tragedy. I suppose it does for a lot of people. Now the blood has dried, yet Portland's (and the world's) tears still flow for who we lost. And also, now the transit agency kicks out its knee-jerk reaction with promises of safer rides. After, that is, another tragedy that perhaps might have been prevented... if it had only listened to the chorus within it in the first place.

Words are easy to write or say, but tough to act upon. Many times I've shouted from the keyboard for management to do something to protect us. They came up with cages. They suspended drivers with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for protecting themselves when attacked. They blurted out predictable phrases which sound drafted from some disjointed corporate memo. The problem remains, and that is they do not, cannot, understand what it's like out on the front lines. Insulated from mental illness by an office building far-removed from the trenches, they don't feel the fear that visibly emanates from those of us who make the vehicles roll.

I often wonder about the operator of the light rail vehicle the recent stabbings took place upon. What a nightmare scenario to have run through your head. It must be similar to people who constantly watch the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. While operators can't actually see events as they happen behind them, the facts have been described in brutal detail. None of the reports focuses on what the operator must feel. They largely focus on the bloody act, the murderer, witnesses and the lone heroic survivor. Only a transit operator can imagine the anguish and grief this brother must feel. I hope he was granted a few days off to recover, but given the agency's lack of understanding, it's easy to doubt. Next comes the public's desire to find someone to blame for allowing such horror to happen.

This evening, I watched a KATU news anchor say (See Transit Increases Patrols) the agency is "working to make its transit system safer, in the wake of the deadly attack." Once again, our agency is reactive, instead of proactive in implementing  changes. It took tragedy for management to sit up and take action. A reporter at the transit center where the murders occurred said the agency has deployed more officers at light rail stops throughout the system. He also stated the agency "plans on hiring an additional 15 officers," and that "riders say they're seeing more transit officers on the MAX." The agency had planned on hiring the additional officers prior to this tragedy, but says this addition will now be expedited. Nothing about the bus system, which tends to experience one or two assaults on operators each week.

Suddenly, the news report mysteriously changes directions. It's one we're all too familiar with: blame the operators. The reporter interviews a few passengers, settling on one who states that "drivers should take de-escalation classes, rather than making things worse." A light rail operator cannot see what's happening in the rail cars. Passengers can alert the operator of possible trouble, but unlike on a bus, operators don't always have personal interaction with their riders. This statement seems to shift blame for the tragedy from the suspect to the operator. As if he could have magically ended the incident with some well-placed Michael Jordan-esque psychological moves, without even having eyes on the scene. During this segment of the report, images shift from light rail vehicles to buses. It makes no mention of the 22 assaults on transit operators so far this year.

Then we hear from our illustrious GM, who of course agrees and says he will see that we operators take "additional mental health training" to "actually grow their confidence to deal with people and provide a really welcoming presence, a safety presence to everybody on the transit system. (Coughing fit here, excuse me but I must gag as well. There, thank you.) I doubt that even a bouquet of roses and a key to the city would have stopped the suspected murderer from committing his bloody acts.

Every time someone enters my bus, they are greeted with a smile and a hello. They get at least a smile and a nod even if they're wrestling with pockets or purse to find money or ticket that should have been ready when they boarded. That's what I was trained to do originally, and constantly throughout my career. Direct eye contact helps me determine the passenger's mood, giving me a hint of how I might deal with them if trouble erupts. We've already been trained on "de-escalation" even if Polly Public in the interview thinks we're always "making things worse." They often haven't a clue of what's going on because they're usually plugged in and tuned out until a situation gets interesting.

Many times, I've calmly explained the rules to unruly passengers, asking nicely that they comply. The escalation usually comes from the passenger, who hasn't been taught the basics of transit code, has learned that they control the ride rather than the operator because the agency rarely backs us up, or refuses to accept we're supposed to be Captain of the Ship. (We were once upon a time, before our hands were zip-tied behind our backs.)

We're expected to bend over sideways, break our backs so we can reach down and kiss the rude bastard's ass, then present our vulnerable bodies for physical abuse, because arguing or fighting back can get us suspended or fired. Hell, that last sentence could get me fired, because it wasn't cleared by the information officer before I dared write it. Screw that. Somebody has to speak up and it might as well be your anonymous Deke.

If we're then assaulted, the Monday Morning Quarterback team is assembled to watch tape (something we can't do) and nitpick our every move. Very often, the operator is severely reprimanded for something said, a movement made, or a biological reaction to a threat. This from people who either haven't ever driven a bus, or haven't in a long time. It's infuriating at best, disheartening for sure, and has operator morale at an all-time low. We're not protected, we're disrespected, and we're suspected... all while doing our job: safely transporting our fellow Portlanders.

Now we'll apparently be given "additional mental health training." So in addition to being berated and beaten at an alarming rate, we're supposed to become mental health counselors. Hmm. I hope our union is listening to this and bargaining for at least $10 more per hour for this new professional requirement. Will we be allowed to bill the passengers for this service? Can we hang a shingle outside the bus door with our new certifications and fee expectations?

Before I go further, let me do something our management or the local media hasn't done: I commend the light rail operator, whose professionalism has so unceremoniously trashed by the agency and public in this skewed news segment. You are not to blame for this tragedy. It was a senseless act of violence by a suspect who is obviously mentally deranged. No amount of "training" you would have prevented it. You were simply doing as you do daily: safely operating your vehicle. Short of leaving the seat (whoa!) and putting yourself between the victims and the knife, you had no control of the situation, nor could you ever be expected to. My soul feels empathy for you, because you are a silent and conspicuously absent victim. Peace to you as you heal from this incident on your train.

Instead of taking a stand and supporting the brave and steady union workers who make this transit agency hum, our GM threw us under the bus. Once again, the problems are our fault. Not a peep about assaults. No mention of pride for his valuable workers. No wonder Portland doesn't respect us... our own management acts as if it thinks we're incapable of safely transporting 330,000+ passengers a day. Wait a minute, we DO that!

Cage us. Demean us. Blame, suspend, discard and abuse us. This is the new transit agency human relations strategy. We cannot simultaneously drive safely, remain on schedule, provide exemplary customer service, AND physically or emotionally protect every person who rides with us. It's inhuman and foolish to expect anyone to live up to this irrational set of standards.

Sometimes, it's the most down-to-earth people I deal with every day who understand life the most clearly. When Abraham Lincoln ran for the Senate, he constantly amazed people with his homey yet profound stories. Many would groan when he'd say "This reminds me of..." One story of his that stands out deals with basic common sense. It goes something like this:

"I was riding circuit one day when I was approached by two men who asked me to settle their argument. One was a long wiry sort of feller, the other short and stout. The long one said a man's legs should be long so he can see far above a crowd. The short one his legs were stronger and able to better support his body. They wanted to know my opinion. 'Well fellers,' I said, 'I believe a man's legs ought to be just long enough to reach the ground.' "

This is the story I thought of when one of my riders put it simply: "You can't stop crazy, man."

It seems we've come to a point where our legs have been knocked out from beneath our hips, and we're floating in limbo between reality and a surrealistic ground we're supposed to tread. We're like a snake that's lost its head... writhing and twisting in agony while the head keeps snapping. We need somebody or something to step in and sew up the pieces. Otherwise, this disconnect could kill us all.




Monday, May 29, 2017

Tragedy in Heroism

This tragedy reflects on all of us.

"Have you heard the news?" a supervisor asked as I walked into the break room Friday afternoon.

"No," I replied, "but I'm sure it's not good news."

The past month has brought us more operator assaults, a bomb scare near a transit center, other stabbings and shootings. Now this.

"Three people were stabbed on a MAX train," he informed me, and two are dead."

I was stunned. Not that it had happened. I'm becoming much too accustomed to hearing these things. Numb, is closer to how I felt. There's an increasing intensity of violence in our transit system, and I shuddered with the reality that two innocent passengers had died as I drove a bus a few miles away.

Later, I learned the three victims had tried to intervene when a man berated two women wearing hijabs, a traditional Muslim headdress. These men didn't realize they were risking their lives. They were just trying to help ladies in distress. Heroes act without regard to their own personal safety, they just act. One never knows if the guy berating another is armed. Good people step in and protect others, not because they're trying to be heroic, but because it's the right thing to do. In this case, three people stood up for complete strangers, but only one survived.

One of those who died was a retired military veteran, the other a young man just getting started in life. News media reports state another man was also slashed by the assailant, but he is expected to survive. His life however, is forever altered. All three deserve to be honored for their heroic acts.

The gory details are in the news stories, and don't need to be further explored. It's reported that the accused assailant is a white supremacist, affiliated with groups whose only mission is to spew hatred to those of a different color, religion or background. This is pure madness, but it has intensified a hundredfold the past year. We're in greater danger of terror attacks perpetrated by those of the domestic variety than ever before. The world responded to this attack with expected horror, yet lately we seem incapable of preventing such horrendous acts.

Our country was founded upon the principle that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." First, this includes women. Second, notice the wording of "endowed by their Creator," a nod to what became our country's freedom of religion. Third and perhaps most important, our rights to live our lives in peace and to pursue "happiness." At least three Portland families have been denied this basic tenet of America as outlined in the Declaration of Independence written 240 years ago.

We all see God differently. There is no one correct way. Some may think so, with strong beliefs that their own religion is sacrosanct to others. I don't agree that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists or Christians are superior to anyone by virtue of their beliefs. Religions preach peace and goodwill toward others. Yet there are those of every faith who are extremists, and that's where the infection festers. It's like they never grow up. Because they so fervently adhere to a certain set of values, they believe everyone else should as well. To them, respect is a dirty word, or one they truly don't understand. Those who don't agree with them are shunned, shamed and attacked.

Remember as kids, how we tended to pick on those who were somehow "different" than the majority? Children don't understand diversity until or unless they are taught. Some never get the training. When I was young, there was a period when I was taunted because my brother is developmentally disabled. I stood up for him, but I became ashamed that I blamed him for something he had no control over. Once I realized how terrible this was, I began fighting back in his defense. Gradually, he was accepted by my peers, but I couldn't forget the pain for many years. When my peers began to understand, they learned to accept. Today, society is less focused on understanding each other. Now we're talking about walls and isolation, rather than realizing our differences could make us stronger. Like I tell my friends with whom I disagree politically, "I'm not always right, and you're not always wrong."

Our country was built upon diversity, yet some of its builders were shunned by those they served. Villagers abroad were ruthlessly kidnapped and brought here as slaves. Even after slavery became illegal, many remained in bondage due to oppressive laws and other circumstances. When they rose up to demand respect and equality, they were violently rebuked. As they fought back, they were imprisoned by the millions in a move designed to stifle their upward mobility. When poison candy is thrown to the curb in a parade, it should be no surprise when it is thrown back.

I've heard the word "hate" thrown around so much that its very definition has been skewed. Many bus operators are accused of "racism" if we insist violators behave. Black operators are also labeled "Uncle Tom" when they refuse to take sides based on their skin color. Women, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and many other operators are berated and abused by people who seem to have been denied discipline as youths. Those who are not white are often told to "go back to your own country." According to our Constitution, this is their country too. Not just one race has fought and died for our freedom.

Common decency is now the predominant minority group. The transit profession receives a dwindling amount of respect from the public. Sadly, this is often compounded by a management that is out of touch with the very people who roll the wheels.

Those who commit violence do not make the world a better place. They magnify society's inability to peacefully co-exist. No decent person I've ever known has told me they "hated" others because of different belief systems. We don't have to always agree, but every great domestic achievement has come through the art of compromise. As long as we all practice the basics of love and respect, there should be plenty of room for all. Hatred is a strong emotion, but it is terribly destructive. Nothing good has ever come from it.

We seem to be at "war" with a lot of things lately, and now we're slitting the throats of those who defend others from hatred. This is a poison piece of candy that shouldn't be thrown back; it's a disease that must be destroyed.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tune Into The MaddHadda

Taking a left turn here, deviating from normal transit bloggery, to pay homage to my friend Torrey "MaddHadda" Dooley. We once took a Biology class together. He was determined to become a nurse, and I had designs on a different medical career. Torrey saw his goal through, while pneumonia ended my chances for a 4.0 GPA and entrance into the school I aspired to attend. My hat is off to this bright young man, who now cares for people with his intensely kind and gentle manner.

There is a generational divide between Torrey and me, but right away I saw his potential to be a shining star. In class, he was attentive and curious. He always brought a smile and his patented positive attitude, even when it was obvious he was exhausted. He drew fellow students to him with a warm and attentive personality. Though we were separated by at least two decades in age, I admired his fierce loyalty and determination.

Just about a year ago, we became connected through FaceBook. It was heartwarming to see that he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing and has a good job in the medical field. It's even more notable to learn he dropped out of school at 15, then later decided as an adult to achieve this all with a 3.7 GPA. Now he also blogs about his work as a nurse. Using language that speaks to young people but resonates with positivity for all, I've found his blog to be a valuable communication tool he uses to encourage people to take positive steps in their own healthcare.

MaddHadda's blog can be found at TheHoodNurse.com. Congrats Torrey, and thanks for being the man you are. Lord knows we could use more like you.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

YOU Keep Me Going. Thanks!

So I went off on a tangent the other day. It was my tribute, albeit a clumsy one, to Orson Welles. Thanks for all the kind comments, but I am anything BUT a "great" writer. I only type what I think, and any of my friends can attest to the fact (though bless them, they won't say it) that I'm just an ordinary guy. Kinda boring, in fact.

I've always tried to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. It only makes me better. My mother and father gave me the courage to believe I'm capable enough to excel. In my life, my only enduring accomplishment is love: of my wife, my children, my parents, grandson, brothers and every friend who has helped me along the way. I may be able to construct a sentence, paragraph or a piece which makes sense. Beyond that, only time and much more practice will tell. Creativity is a gift, or a goal to which I constantly strive to achieve. I write because it's what I do best... second. First and foremost, I provide for my beloved family. They come first. Not this job, or the transit agency. The most enduring legacy one can achieve is those we leave behind. I don't know that my example is worthy of praise, but I've always done my best. It's all I truly have. It's also paying tribute to those who gave me the gift of life, an homage to their sacrifice.

Many of my friends disagree with my politics, and I theirs. But we communicate our ideas. These points may be disjointed. They can be divisive. We can be extremely feisty in our debates. But I separate my political beliefs from the values which draw me to these wonderful people. We all breathe the same air. Our blood is the same color, no matter what spectrum our skin falls under. I am a firm believer in the proposition that debate breeds common ground, something today's political climate severely lacks. There is no absolute, except for decency. There is, however, room for compromise. There is also love, which we could all learn to share a bit more.

Since I was a wee lad, it has been my goal to write and publish a book of my own words. I could never have imagined it would be about driving a bus. But it's done, folks. It only awaits the creation of a business, which my publisher is working on. I won't beg you to buy it; I will only ask for that honor. There's already plenty of marketers out there pleading with you to click on this, buy that, extend yourself beyond what you can afford. I am just a writer. If you buy my book, it will be a compliment of the highest order. More valuable to me that any award or commendation on my humble skills. It will mostly be a tribute to everyone who has encouraged me to do this for many years, and to my stubborn mother.

There you have it. No bitching about my employer, motorists or passengers. I've enjoyed seeing my hit counter click to 120,000 this week. It's my turn to thank YOU for hanging in there with me these four years. So thank you. I don't know where this blog will go from here or how long it will last. I hope I'm still employed after "Just Drive, Life In The Fast Lane" is published. Most of all, I just hope I can keep writing. The keyboard keeps calling me near, and I respond with keystrokes. As long as you keep reading, I reckon I'll be around a bit longer.

For now, it's time to drive a bus. Safe travels everyone.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dire Warning of Looming Disaster!

The vessels of our impending doom.
At first, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I thought the man from Harrison Street was sent as a hoax some friend had elaborately planned. This entire story had the feel of some science fiction nonsense, like a movie straight out of early Hollywood. My early training as a journalist however, led me to investigate further. What I've found is so chilling, so terrifying, that I report it now in fear of my life.

Writing as Deke N. Blue has afforded me a cover the past four years as I prepared to report this devastating news. It's all been a sham designed to throw agency spies off my trail while I gather information specifically for this article. It is perhaps time I reveal my true identity, to protect myself from certain recriminations for what I'm about to inform you, but that will come in time. First, prepare for the most outrageous of schemes by not only our transit agency, but of our own transit agency as well as others around the globe.

I write this from a secret bunker deep in the hills of the Cascade Mountains. My exact location is camouflaged by an intricate network of servers administered by freedom lovers worldwide. Any attempt to locate me could endanger the worldwide network we all know as "the CAD." Since time is running short, I will get to the point.

Bus operators have unknowingly become key elements of a plan to eliminate dissenters of a cabal whose intent is worldwide domination. With the steady decline of the middle class has come an increased wealth of the elite. This tiny number has come together to launch such a diabolical plan as never seen before. With the Earth's resources stretched to the limit with nearly eight billion humans competing for sustenance, we have reached the breaking point. The well is running dry, and those at the top are on the brink of putting into effect the most horrific chain of events mankind has ever known.

Millions will be put to death or imprisoned and sentenced to lifelong servitude. Only certain "chosen ones" are to reproduce the future's civilization. Even as I write this, the first phase of execution is about to begin. This blog has made me Public Enemy #1005, which puts me in this initial elimination group. Any bus operators who have history of defending themselves against outrageous policies will be the first chosen, without their knowledge of course, to assist in implementing this plan.

Notice how many transit operators have been lured into this once-honored profession the past five years, only to find benefits have systematically declined in the same time period? There is a reason. Management, under direct and highly-secret orders from the Department of Transportation, has put into effect policies that force operators to adhere to schedules to the fraction of a second. The reason? Because transit operators are part of the first elimination phase. Timing is precise, as massive amounts of people will need to be quickly transported to disposal plants, in order to create the element of surprise.

Buses are secretly being programmed to revise routes at certain intervals. At precise moments in a route, busloads of sacrificial passengers will be rerouted to thousands of hidden encampments around our country. Operators are to have no control of their vehicles once a specific time point has been reached. The HVAC systems will suddenly produce a sleep-inducing vapor that will affect all within the vehicle. An autopilot device will assume control, and several different bus lines every hour will experience this deviation in the normal schedule. Buses will immediately roll to their predestined encampment, usually located in sparsely-populated areas as to eliminate suspicion from locals. Upon arrival, the HVAC systems will deliver a wake-up call for the passengers, who will be given a few minutes to revive. Doors will not open until that moment at which the passengers become aware of their surroundings.

Passengers will be forced to exit the buses into tunnels which lead deep underground. Once they arrive in the processing center, they will be evaluated by transit personnel. Those found fit for productive enslavement will be spared. Rejects will be executed by firing squad.

The first wave is scheduled in about a week, my source reports. It will be a massive undertaking, with an estimated 20 million Americans taken to camps the first day. By the time the first wave has been found missing, martial law will have taken effect and mass incarcerations will follow. Within two months, survivors will be given their new, lifelong work assignments. There will no longer be "retirement." People will simply work until they die.

Media and journalistic outlets will be silenced the end of the first day to quell dissent. Protests will be strictly forbidden, with military outposts defined immediately following the first wave of removals. Those not taken the first day will be served with a strict curfew. Anyone without management credentials found outside past this time will be immediately executed.

Transit operators, known for over a hundred years for their efficiency and professionalism, have been chosen as conduits for the first phase. Contract negotiations have been stalled and outrageous proposals from management put forth to further stymie any progress during the planning phase. So-called "protective cages" around operator seats have been installed on some buses, but are to be installed on all vehicles by week's end. When the bus is scheduled to reroute, the cages will lock the operator within so that any escape attempts are futile. Operator windows will be sealed shut, making the driver a captive in the seat until his/her own fate is decided at their encampment.

I understand your disbelief, shock and amazement. When this plan was laid out to me by my informant, I also felt it too crazy to be true. Yet the recent militarization of transit agencies, especially locally, in the past few months, adds credibility to the claim.

Strict adherence to certain policies has lately been insisted upon by management. Operators not in compliance with uniform standards have been disciplined and counseled. Our on-time performance has been scrutinized and operators have been written up for the tiniest infractions. We've been systematically trained to withstand passenger abuse and torment, and any self-defense by operators has been met with suspensions or other punitive measures. This seems to be a ploy to beat down our resistance and foster a sense of military discipline within our ranks.

That $11 million our transit agency says is to be used to improve transit police facilities is actually a secret budget line item which is being used right now to construct an underground encampment and human disposal facility deep underneath in our own city. The ruse of repairing light rail tracks in our downtown is to mask the final construction phase of the camp, which is a modernization of the shanghai tunnels built in the 1800s. An offshoot of the MAX line will funnel thousands of my dear fellow citizens to their certain deaths.

By fall, the entire world will be transformed to near-prehistoric times where slavery and population domination will be the new norm. The idea of self-government will be a history no future generations will ever learn. Our civilization as we know it has only days before total "sterilization."

How did we get this far without even knowing it? Mostly, and sadly enough, this is a product of our own ignorance. Allowing transit agencies to govern themselves has created a global catastrophe. Where past generations theorized of intelligent life from beyond coming to annihilate our civilization, initial plans for this genocide began shortly after the Roosevelt presidency. Decades of misinformation, divide-and-conquer tactics, assassination of the political center, religious fanaticism and insensitivity to human decency have all been part of this plan. Our conquerors and executioners are of our own creation, conceived in a collective refusal to simultaneously embrace both logic and compassion. A mass infusion of technology has removed intellectual curiosity; it's been replaced by compliance, voter apathy and acceptance of sensationalism. We stopped reaching for stars, and instead grabbed each other by the throat in an attempt to reinforce the incredible falsehoods we have accepted as our own personal truths.

There is so much more to write, but I haven't the time. I must move after publishing this post to another safe location. From there, I will try to send out more warnings. If strange occurrences start to happen, it could be a prelude to the impending disaster. If so, DO NOT ride transit. Save yourselves!

For now, wherever you are, I implore you not to dismiss this post as the insane ramblings of a Pre Annihilation Tragedy Reformation Informing Conspiracy Killer.

Make peace with each other. Enjoy what we have left. Once this contract is signed, we're all doomed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Happy Birthday Deke!

My pen name and the blog are now four years old. I guess that makes me the youngest smartassed anonymous bus driver in town. Or maybe just an aging hippie who doesn't know when to shut up. Either way, it's been an interesting run, and I thank you all for continuing to read. In fact, more people read my words than listen to me speak, so maybe I'll just shut up and write some more.

Hummin' along in the seat, sometimes I wonder what I'll write about next. There's always something that happens which could spur a post idea. Often times, I forget what it was when I sit here to write. As I meet more drivers, they will tell me stories of their own which might inspire me or just piss me off. Usually, that's because management is great at finding new ways to mess with us. But hey, I've had quite a run of bitchy posts, and I'm tired of being angry. Imagine Don Rickles on uppers, without his humor. Not a pretty sight when I get pumped up.

Then there are things I want to write about, but figure I just shouldn't. Might offend someone. But you know, some people don't think twice about offending US, so screw it. People are so damned touchy these days. You can't pick on anyone in a fun-hearted but wicked way lately, or their panties get twisted. Others get so huffy their sphincters tighten so much when they fart it's like compressed air trying to penetrate a footlong pin prick in a titanium wall. Even when it's not even registering in the deepest recesses of our minds, we're accused of racism, sexism or who-knows-what-else 'ism if we lay down the law to code-breaking riders.

People can be such downers. It would be so peaceful if I could just drive the beast without picking anyone up. Imagine the looks on their faces when I'd whiz by and just wave! Hey, at least I'd be on schedule.

It would also amuse me if my passengers would all open the windows and photograph rude motorists who zip past across double yellow lines or against my flashing Yield light. That way, I could just innocently shrug when they blast by honking their annoying little testosterone-lacking horns.

We're currently in the midst of contract negotiations with the transit agency again. One of our main sticking points is our Service Improvement Program (SIP). You'd be amazed by the amount of blatantly-false complaints called in about us on a regular basis. Oh, how I'd love to have a phone number WE could call to complain about impatient and oblivious boneheads in traffic. It would also be cool to have access to the camera footage on our buses to use against them when they call in false complaints.

"Oh," the Customer Service Rep would say to a caller, "the driver of Bus 3599 flipped you off after cutting you off in traffic? Hmm... let me just pull up that tape. Okay now, it looks like you were paying attention to your phone rather than the road and the driver's professionalism saved your sorry ass. And there's no flipoff from the driver. Thanks for calling, but I'll be sending this footage to the local police department and you should expect some citations in the mail next week."

There I go, dreaming again. Next time you drive by a smiling bus driver, there's no telling what he's thinking about. Especially this one.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Amazing Bike Race

Sometimes, people really need to be somewhere. There was one young fellow on a bicycle who had missed the last stop I had serviced, but I soon found out how desperate he was to catch my bus.

There was already one bike on the rack, as Zippity Zane pedaled away hell bent for leather alongside my lumbering beast. The next stop was on the far side of the intersection I had stopped on the red for. Zane sped up to the corner and frantically waved at me. Up at the stop stood a man with his own bicycle. Ruh roh. Only room for two bikes on the rack. This was shaping up to be a showdown.

Zane pleaded with me to allow him to put his bike on the rack as I waited for the green. A moral dilemma for a bus driver? Not really. I don't board passengers unless I'm at a bus stop, especially when they have a bike to load. Besides, it's not safe to load a bike at a red light. I shook my head no at Zane, who dropped chin to chest, defeated. At first, I thought Zane would race up to the stop and compete for the bike rack with the passenger who was already waiting for my bus to arrive. To his credit, Zane rolled up just past the man at the stop, turned and watched to see if the other cyclist would get off the bus. He never said a word to the man who loaded his bike in the second spot. Then, Zane sped off ahead.

Zane rolled along, ahead and behind my bus for another mile. I was hoping my other cyclist would exit because I started feeling sorry for this kid. He was really working hard to keep within striking distance. He beat me to a transit center and was waiting as I rolled up. His face was a mixture of dread and expectation. But alas, the bike rack remained full as I finished servicing the stop. He bowed his head again, and I gave him a look of sympathy. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled at me, saying "Oh well." I waved and mouthed "I'm sorry" at him. He just smiled and waved back.

Considering I've seen people actually push and shove to get that coveted bike rack spot, this kid was polite, persistent and patient. It looked like he was about 16, and raised by parents who taught him manners and humility. Except for the part where he asked if he could board before I made the stop, I think he was pretty cool about it. He seemed to realize this was a rude move as soon as he asked.

I wish many of those who are his age were more like him. Most of them won't even look at me as they board. People like Zane make me want to bend the rules sometimes. This wasn't possible however, on a busy rush hour run. Plus, it would have been rude for me to do so, considering the man ahead was already at the stop.

Kudos to Zane, for obeying the unspoken rules of decency in transit. There are people who could learn a lesson or two from this young gentleman.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Busted! Hair, Not Fare, Cutter Caught

They caught a bad guy this week. Nasty dude. Likes to masturbate and wipe the mess in ladies' hair. Or he'd cut their hair with scissors and run off the bus. Glad he's off the street. Again.

Funny thing how our transit agency will turn over boulders and mow down trees to ensure a passenger assailant is brought to jail. It protects its passengers, occasionally. Still won't clean the buses, but if someone cuts your hair you can be confident they'll be hauled in by a vigilant public and dirty laundry media.

Hit a cop? We've seen what happens then. Beat up an operator? Oh well, that's just part of the job. Suck it up, buttercup. Nothing here to see folks, keep moving along.

Whenever an operator is assaulted, our agency should provide the media with photographic evidence just as they did in this last incident. Our assailants should be captured, arrested and tried for their crime. Then they should be permanently excluded from riding transit. Surely, if someone assaulted one of our management team at their place of work, that assailant would be punished to the extent of the law.

Last year, we had 55 reported assaults. There have been at least 20 this year to date, that I know of. Probably more that haven't been reported. No photos on the news. Nothing from the news. No screaming from the union leadership to the news outlets. Not a peep out of management.

Just drive, people. Nobody cares, is what the amplified silence suggests. Well I care, damnit! Don't you? Do you care that people are being assaulted and told when they use self defense that they're not allowed, and could lose their job? Do you care that operators who do defend themselves are often suspended, even when their actions are justified and legal?

I care. Come on, transit and your paid-for media, do your job and protect us.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Ride Naked? My Ass!


OK, so now management thinks it can toy with our short hairs, does it? Adding to the latest insults, it has slapped another sweaty mess into our increasingly-toxic gas chambers.

This message came down to all buses this week: "4:28p *FYI to ALL.. with the warmer weather just know that (agency name here) DOES NOT have a policy that passengers need to wear shirts or ANY clothing for that matter. Any questions see your Station Manager."

This removes the operator's ability to exhibit professional judgement. I'm surely not alone in my disgust when a female passenger reaches into her bra to pull out a wad of sweaty, crumpled bills and shoves them at me, as if I'm supposed to insert them into the fare box. Now imagine unbridled boobs possibly swaying into my No-Go Zone. I don't need to see bare chests on anyone while driving.

Even though Oregon has a fairly-relaxed attitude toward nudity, each municipality's code can override state law. Portland's City Code (Code 14A.40.030) states: "It is unlawful for any person to expose his or her genitalia while in a public place or visible in a public place, if the public place is open or available to persons of the opposite sex." 

We're told from training onward that when we're logged into a bus, we are considered Captain of the Ship. Guided by rules of the road and standard operating procedures, we're allowed certain latitude in decisions which affect all those within the confines of our vehicle. Operators are trained in skills of operation, and in dealing with a large cross-section of the public. It takes experience to accommodate this diversity, and a particular ability to empathize with this grand swath of humanity. We must often put aside personal beliefs in order to serve the common good -- a balance that must be kept to allow personal freedom while protecting others from behavior that could provoke or endanger them.

"Many times we find ourselves at odds with the confusing edicts of managers who, with little or no practical experience in transit, simply cannot fully understand the context in which we operate," said one of my brother operators. "Because they have never been city bus operators, how can they possibly be our respected or effective leaders?"

This "riding naked is okay" policy is ill-advised. It sends the message that it's one's "right" to offend the sensibilities of the majority. We are not an Adults-Only nightclub. Our buses and trains are horribly unsanitary  --  to the point of life-threatening toxicity -- due to the lack of routine cleanliness. This policy forces an already-vulnerable public to be further exposed to potentially virulent biohazards. There must be a line drawn which separates acceptable transit behavior from the unsanitary.

Art which is considered inappropriate by some is beautiful to others. This is a freedom most understand and accept. But people have the opportunity to avoid exposure to art or opinion with which they do not choose to experience. Conducting one's business while nude in public is a visual assault upon an audience not given a choice in the matter.

Children ride our buses, and they should not be subject to nightmare-inducing visions of Harry Hubert's ample arse. A bus or train should not be considered the same as a locker room. People already suffering from life-threatening diseases ride to and from health treatment centers, and the slightest exposure to harmful germs can be a death sentence. Elderly people, whose immune systems are already weakened, could be infected by the additional filth now thrust upon them.

How would our passengers feel if they boarded my bus to find me wearing nothing but boots? Of course, this would be in violation of our uniform policy. Complaints about my "behavior" would skyrocket.

What does Safeway do if a customer walks in with sweaty genitals dripping on the floor, on the fruits, vegetables and meats? I think their bread is made with a much more healthy brand of yeast, and don't need Polly Natural's added variety. No, these customers understand the concept of "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service."

"Because children come into our store, and for other health concerns, we require that people have to be appropriately dressed," a Safeway employee responded to my inquiry. Thank you, and I will continue to shop there, as always, completely and appropriately dressed.

Of course, as summer nears people are apt to wear more revealing fashions in an effort to keep cool. Swimsuits? Sure, as long as everyone (especially juveniles) covers up the nipples. It's discriminatory to insist women cover up while not also expecting men to do so.

How would you feel, standing in line at the bank or library, if another person walked up and stood next to you and your children... nude? Hey, we're all "sexual beings," right? Not necessarily. It can be terrifying for children to view exposed adult genitals. It can be equally distressing for the operator of a public transit vehicle to be forced to allow nude exhibitionists to ride. One person's "rights" should not infringe upon basic societal norms. Unless you ride or work in transit, apparently.

I'm no prude. With a healthy libido, I am long-married and happily monogamous. Of course, I enjoy the sight of an attractive human body. If I enjoyed staring at nude people, there are appropriate venues for this. How many people outside of the adult dancing or nudist colony industries are expected to endure a hostile work environment because their employer refuses to enforce basic human decency? Sure, not all my fellow operators will agree with my stance, but I'll wager the majority consider nude passengers a further erosion of common decency in our workplace.

In Portland, it's evidently legal for people to conduct themselves in the nude, in public. We have the upcoming "Naked Bike Ride" in June. Mildly amusing for many, not so for others. It's an example Portland's vexing habit of coddling a minority while offending the majority.

Clothed passengers, the overwhelming majority in transit, could be offended by transit nudity. They might blame the operator for allowing it, and possibly cause a disruption in service. What if we pick up a naked rider in one town where clothing-optional is legal, and drop them off in a nearby city where it is not? Doesn't that make us an accessory in a public indecency charge? How are we to know whether a nude rider isn't a child sex offender hoping to claim more victims? Of course, this isn't to say that exhibitionism is a sign of mental illness. It is in my opinion however, extremely narcissistic and selfish.

In the past few months, the transit agency has told us that people cannot be denied service for lack of fare, that we must continue to provide excellent customer service while also strictly maintaining schedules, and that we will be suspended for defending ourselves when attacked. Now people can ride butt-naked too? What's next? Lap-grinding strippers giving pole dances? Open urinals on buses and trains? Mattresses made available for open sexual encounters?

I'm weary of this rampant series of insults upon those who perform one of this city's most vital jobs. I'm figuratively thrusting my arm upward in self-defense, even though operators are suspended for this move. It's the only decent thing to do.

Cover up Portland, if you want a ride. Nobody should have to see your birthday suit.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

RISE UP AND FIGHT!

In my post "Defend Us, Don't Suspend Us!" I forgot to add we've been shot at too. Yeah, with actual bullets. I'll bet our upper management gets squirmy if anyone even raises their voice at a meeting. No wonder it moved its offices far away from the action... it's too hot for them.

I've simply had it with this kangaroo court management suspending our drivers, most of us suffering from some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, for defending themselves. According to our union reps, they totally ignore PTSD and armchair quarterback every situation. Safely, in the past tense. Study videos of the incidents and such. We can't tell an assailant, "Now wait a minute before you attempt to murder me. I have to call our GM and ask him what an appropriate response would be."

"You should have done this, not that," they say later, smugly condemning us for doing what comes naturally. Easy for them to say.

Instead of management having a caring response at our most vulnerable moments, we're suspected of wrongdoing. Many who have been assaulted are never even asked of their well-being. You'd think management would be interested in making sure we've been properly cared for. Instead, our feelings and human biology are ignored, even allowed to continue driving in service when we should be home. Then we're suspended if we vaguely resembled a self-respecting human being by defending ourselves or striking back. Instead of recovering, we have to worry if our self defense tactics will result in a suspension or worse.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is defined as a "disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event." Most bus operators, supervisors and rail operators have it, I can assure you. These events happen every day in transit.

The NIH also adds "It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation." After the event, for months and even years later, the effects are still felt. In fact, they may "feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger."

Management, if you're reading this, I hope you feel ashamed. How many operators, after an assault of any kind, are asked to continue in service? Many of us have. The result is distracted driving. I know from experience, the event is the only damn thing you think about the rest of the shift, and often for days afterward. It's even worse when an operator is severely injured, as they wonder what they could have done differently, or how they could have defended themselves if not for being afraid of what discipline awaited. It's simply maddening that we're having this conversation, as it defies all logic and human understanding.

PTSD is real, but management ignores it. Soldiers are the biggest group of victims. While we're not faced with what they experience, we're still unarmed worker bees in a volatile environment. We can't use anything as a "weapon," or face possible termination. If we "leave the seat," we're suspended, possibly fired. We're not allowed to carry anything like mace or pepper spray. Just take your punches they say. Reasonably. Even cops say they wouldn't do our job.

WHERE IS THE UNION?

Where is the outright outrage, indignation and union strength that once beat the crap out of anyone that dared challenge it? I'll tell you where... it's gone. We're a shadow of what we once were. There is no more backbone. It seems all we do is compromise. And talk. Well I say to hell with that crap. Ten, 20 years ago, these criminals would have faced a union army for assaulting us. Management pampers the criminals and punishes the victims, the very people it says it "appreciates."

I'd like to see our union officers hit the airwaves and the print media, demanding management be held accountable for its inaction. All it has right now is a plan to cage us in. What a pitiful, weak move. If someone wants to get at us, they will. A barrier to an assailant is an insult. It simply won't work. Self defense courses would help. Plus getting off our backs and letting us do our jobs without number hacks wailing about "On Time Performance" adding to our stress would be nice as well. We have enough stress out there, and schedule shouldn't be one of them. Finishing a route safely is our number one goal, not metrics.

How many of you reading this would be able to just cower and hide if someone attacked you for no reason? Not many, I'll bet. You'd at least throw up an arm to block a punch. How many of these managers would fight back if they were slapped, punched, spit on or threatened with a knife or a gun? They wouldn't have the luxury of first watching video and discussing what constitutes the bullshit term "reasonable defense." They'd either fight back or shrivel into a whining, whimpering ball. Fight or flight is a natural human response to any threat. There's no time to rationalize the proper response, you just react. You don't have the mental capacity to determine what is "correct," you can only do as your body commands.

We're supposed to instantly short-circuit millions of years of evolutionary biology to satisfy some ridiculous corporate doublespeak.

I suffer from PTSD due to several incidents that have happened while I was operating. Some of them happened years ago, but they still pop up when I pass by certain places. Where I was once easy-going and affable, I find myself irritated and angry, sometimes for no obvious reason. It isn't a fun way to live, and my body certainly isn't taking it well. It's harder to pleasantly interact with passengers, and I have to grit my teeth when I smile at them somedays. Stress is a killer, and management seems to invent new ways of adding to what we already go through. Gee, thanks guys.

The time is now to rise up as one across the world. Shout to the media and demand we be given more respect. Insist the Beasley Doctrine be adopted, and not only here but everywhere good men and women take the wheel of a bus every day. If management can't complete this humanely-vital task, it should be replaced.

I'm tired of having sand kicked in my face. Aren't you? We're being threatened and punished by the very people whose job it is to protect us. There's more of us than there are of them, and we're the reason they have jobs to begin with. It's time to shake things up. Enough is enough.

Deke

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Just Yield Already

Oh gee, let's just cut off that bus before he gets to the stop. No big deal.

Deke's Note: I'm interested in hearing from bus operators all around the world on this subject. Please let me know your area's laws regarding yielding to transit vehicles. It's interesting to know how you all deal with this issue.

I found an interesting post on FaceBook yesterday. An operator shared a photo of our Yield signal along with the law regarding motorists being legally obligated to allow a transit vehicle to merge back into traffic (ORS 811.167). This post brought about some road rage against us, so I've decided to address this issue... From the Driver Side of a bus.

First, the law itself:

"A person commits the offense of failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic if the person does not (do so) when: A) A yield sign is displayed on the back of the bus; B) the person is operating a vehicle that is overtaking the transit bus from the rear; and C) the transit bus, after stopping to receive or discharge passengers, is signaling an intention to enter the traffic lane occupied by the person."

There was a lot of anger directed toward bus operators. One comment stated, "within .02 seconds of turning it on (yield signal) they pull out." Of course, this person was using exaggeration to make a point. I say "touché!" Let's explore traffic patterns a bit.

On heavy routes, let's say the 33 for example, since the post in question was from a driver on that line, the bus runs much of the way on McLoughlin Blvd. It is also known as State Highway 99 East, and is heavily traveled all hours each day. At rush hour, thousands of motorists inch along between downtown Portland through Oregon City. Not only are there cars, but factor in tractor-trailers, motor homes, buses, delivery trucks, skaters, motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles, it's a very dangerous road at any time. Of any 100 vehicles at any given point, approximately 10-20 percent are operated by professional drivers. (Professional meaning a driver who is heavily trained in safety procedures and must hold and maintain a Commercial Driver's License with current medical certification. They receive regular training and evaluation. Private motorists are trained as teens and rarely have further training.)

Another 20-30 percent of motorists are inexperienced young drivers who are often the most impatient. They take outrageous chances with your life, and their own. The rest are most likely people who have driven between one and six decades. Many are not focused on the task at hand. They employ tunnel vision, not taking the time to fully scan the road around and behind them, let alone 12-15 seconds ahead. When you don't keep your head and eyes moving, your peripheral vision virtually disappears within three or four seconds. This is a very dangerous, sometimes fatal, mistake. When accidents happen, one of the most common things people say is "I never saw them!" Sadly, if they had been scanning their surroundings properly, they would have seen and probably had enough time to avoid the collision.

Only a small percentage of motorists are safe and courteous. They see potential hazards before they need to react, and take appropriate actions to avoid disaster. Of course, this annoys people behind them, who don't even realize the guy they just honked at saved another's life. My hat is off to those people who get what safe driving is all about.

A bus operator's job is one of the most stressful of all positions, just below firefighters, police officers, and air traffic controllers. We're constantly watching around us for possible dangers. It's not nearly as easy as many think. Giving rides to people is only one part of the many facets of this job. My eyes are constantly scanning. See that kid up ahead on the sidewalk? What if the ball he's tossing around rolls into the street, and both he and his dog chase it directly into my path? I'm watching him, the bicyclist charging up on my right side, the traffic ahead of and behind me, my time clock, passengers within and waiting just past the kid, and the intersection immediately ahead. I'm making calculations on braking distance for the possible kid's actions and the bus stop while keeping watch over the bicyclist. Once I've let the cycle past, I can ease into the bus stop, load passengers and wait for them to sit or hold on before I put on that left turn signal and the annoying yield light.

This is where it gets tricky. Imagine scanning traffic in a rectangle and determining speeds and distances of approaching vehicles of various sizes while also keeping track of the scene ahead and all around the 40-foot rig you're captain of. The yield light warns motorists to avoid colliding with us. It's a motorist's responsibility to watch for our signals and react responsibly and lawfully. We stop and then merge hundreds of times a day. When others do their part it becomes a finely-tuned symphony and a time-lapse video would show a harmonic flow of cooperation. When motorists don't cooperate, we can get frustrated. We're trying to do a job, but Junior is just headed to Fred's for pancake syrup and Fritos. Is it really important for him to zip past us just because he can? That traffic light ahead is turning red... why race around a bus to get there first?

If we're late, especially lately as management pushes us to put on-time performance ahead of safety, it adds enormous pressure to an already intense job. Every time a long line of vehicles blatantly ignores our yield light, it adds up in time lost on the run. This, along with passengers not having fare ready upon boarding, bicycles going on our rack, people who use mobility devices needing assistance, and traffic jams all contribute to our being late. So it's not surprising those who complain about us pulling back into the road in front of them would have plenty of time to facilitate these merges, if they were paying proper attention to what's happening ahead. Maybe some operators push the limits, but they're infinitely more patient than 95% of those with whom we share the road.

It's a matter of perception. When we look in the mirror and see a car far enough behind for us to merge, with the yield light signaling our intentions, then notice the front end of that car lifting in acceleration rather than lowering in a braking maneuver, we might just go anyway. It's called being "politely aggressive." It's something every professional driver knows as an unwritten code. We have to be this way sometimes or we'd always end up an hour late. The following car is being "recklessly aggressive," because by speeding up to overtake us, they're risking not only their own safety but also the other obstacles they might encounter by attempting such a foolish move. A car can slow and stop much faster than a bus. Unfortunately, motorists are annoyed by buses and increasingly adopt a "me first" attitude. We see this attitude magnified on Black Fridays in big box stores around the nation.

Another point motorists largely fail to consider is the guy who just left the bus. If he's a few pennies shy of a nickel, he'll bounce right out in front of the bus and walk right into traffic. If you zip past thinking "I'll show that bus driver to get in front of me!" while a pedestrian pops right in front of the bus despite my honking to alert him of this horrible choice, you might hit him. Think of how late that will make you. We have a sign over the front door that reads "Do Not Cross In Front Of Bus." Guess how many people ignore it? That's right, most of them. I'm constantly warning people about this who have just left the safety of my ride. Just last week a guy almost got bumper-checked this way. They think the bus will protect them, but motorists cannot see around or through a 40-foot monster. Kids just out of school have been taught it's not only safe, but legal to cross in front of a school bus; they have signs too. How many motorists reading this can honestly say they always stop for a school bus with signs and lights activated?

We have limited time to do a route. Efficiency in boarding passengers is vital to keep on schedule. Most of our time servicing a stop is spent merging back into traffic. If everyone works together, we all arrive safely at our destinations in a timely manner. A few seconds lost to yield to a larger vehicle than yours is not only logical, but practical too. You'll make up those few seconds the next time the bus stops and you zoom past it. Make the wrong decision, and you (and others) could die. Pretty simple choice, right? Obey the law by doing the right thing and you're safe. Challenge it, and you're looking at trouble.

When you're coming up on a bus that is pulled over to the stop, ask yourself these questions. Did it just pull over and people are boarding? Which turn signal is activated? Is the yield light flashing and is the bus moving? Is that traffic light red ahead? A truly attentive motorist asks these questions automatically and makes proactive decisions based on the answers. This person is keenly aware they are in control of a potential deadly weapon, and drive safely. People who "just don't care," like one who commented on the FB post, are collision magnets.

It would be great if police departments actually enforced ORS 811.167. Milwaukie is aggressive when it comes to speeding. Sure, speed kills. But so does inattention, recklessness and outright rudeness. Put yourself in my seat, and you'd see things From the Driver Side. Until then, please just give us a "brake." It might just save your life, and someone else's too.