Tuesday, June 27, 2017

We're All in Danger on Transit


A month ago, two brave men were brutally murdered and another seriously injured by a knife-wielding maniac on a Portland MAX rail car. The lives of several families were instantly derailed in the span of those few minutes. The aftermath finds everyone who uses, works for, or otherwise comes into contact with transit profoundly affected in some way.

This blog has chronicled the feelings of bus operators who have been threatened or assaulted, but transit safety encompasses all Portlanders and those who visit. We expect others to adhere to commonly-accepted behavior most would say is "normal." The past decade has brought about a riding public that is increasingly withdrawn. Most of my own passengers tend to find a seat and immediately enter the technology zone which I call "plugged in and tuned out." As one who rides transit to work each day, I've joined these ranks. It's easier for me, in full uniform, to ignore what's going on around me. I don't want to be bothered, so I retreat into a Do Not Disturb zone. People ask me the strangest questions, as if I'm always on duty or have the entire transit system's schedules memorized. They get angry, often insulting, if I don't have answers to their queries. I've even gone so far as to fake incoming phone calls in hopes they'll... just... leave me alone.

This behavior I once scorned is now how I conduct myself as a passenger. This has me feeling guilty and somewhat ashamed. Had I been riding that fateful MAX line, I might not have paid any attention to the scene around me. Yet what if I had jumped up, feeling duty-bound as an operator in uniform to join those three men who tried to stop the harassment of two teenage girls? Poor behavior is something we see every day, and to a point we're expected as employees to intervene. Signs on transit vehicles implore riders to "report any suspicious activity" to transit workers. Wearing a uniform qualifies me as a bona-fide transit official. Had I been riding that fateful train, it's likely somebody would have pulled me out of my protective shell, directing my attention to the offensive rant taking place. And yes, I would have felt compelled to intervene. As a transit worker, one who tries to be protective and sympathetic toward others. Also as a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, friend and membership in this odd affliction known as humanity. It is also likely I wouldn't be sitting here writing to you today. Instead, you might be remembering me with the other victims. Like those men who unknowingly risked their lives to help, I too wouldn't have recognized any imminent danger. Nobody could have.

We all know life is fleeting. Loved ones have been snatched from us without warning, leaving us stunned and grieving. One moment you're having a fun conversation with someone, and the next you're in shock, wondering how they could just be so suddenly... gone. Our hearts beat out a rhythm that can and does, stop without warning. Very early in life, I lost someone so special to me her death shocked me into a years-long mourning. Her laughter lifted me, her love helped nurture my soul. As years dropped away, I began to adopt her sunny outlook. Thanks to her, I try to help people smile, to laugh, and feel comfortable in my presence. I know she would have jumped up and tried to calm the aggressor in that attack last month.

Our society has allowed violence to blossom. We're politically divided to such extremes it's often too volatile to debate issues which face us all. If you don't agree with one or another rigid political platform, you can be verbally and physically abused. The days of debate, compromise and cooperation seem a dream of long ago. We're divided and argumentative to a point not seen since the American Civil War began in 1861.

At this point in 2017, local transit workers have been assaulted, threatened or menaced 35 times. Last year, we experienced 55 such incidents, so this year's total-to-date is on target to reach 70. We're all wondering if one of us will be murdered before somebody in authority stands up and takes serious action. Simple signs on vehicles aren't enough. Mild media rebukes and sensational reports only tend to encourage violators to take their violence to new heights. Assailants don't care about penalties, because some charges can be plea-bargained. If it were up to me, an aggressive act toward any of my valuable employees would result in the harshest of penalties. Evidently, we're not valued enough for this to happen. We've seen operators punished for biological responses to threats, blamed for passenger misconduct, and generally portrayed as poorly-trained and greedy nincompoops.

Even though I'm not superhuman, I continue to perform my job as best I can. I've been highly-trained and re-certified every year. My safety record is good, and I work hard to keep everyone around me comfortable through my smooth driving and calm authority.  But we're in a state of emergency that worsens every week. It makes me shudder to write this, but I believe one of us will die before drastic measures are taken to ensure a safer ride for all.

I honor the sacrifices of those who stepped up on that MAX train last month. As transit workers, we mourn with our city and the world for the two who died so violently. As members of this community, we plead with our union, transit management and legislative bodies to heed our call to take a stand for the protection of all. As a bus operator, I pray for everyone's safety and pledge to keep doing the best job I can. It's all I know to do.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Internal Clocks and Virtual Speedometers



When your body is strapped into a driver's seat, it undergoes many changes. Mine certainly has. The human's normal perception of time is warped into what I call... The Transit Zone. Compared to how I felt and believed at the start of this career, I'm a radically-altered person. This blog was meant to describe what it's like to be a transit operator, so here's a look at how I've evolved.

Keeping in touch with your body's needs and changes is imperative if you plan on living past this career. I've not gained any weight since I began driving a bus. In fact, I've beaten the odds and actually lost some extra pounds. The methodology however, isn't as healthy as my weight maintenance stats sound. There are many factors which determine this outcome. First, I just don't eat as much as I once did. I'm not a kid any more, and my portions are smaller I believe, because my metabolism is slower. While it does take physical energy to drive a bus, now that I'm a few years into it, my body is acclimated to the job. My diet consists of a hearty breakfast, several snacks during my route, then dinner when I get home. I found that if I eat a meal in the middle of my shift, I tend to get sleepy. This is not an ideal state when you're operating a 20-ton vehicle with precious cargo aboard. So I eat nuts or chips as my body asks for fuel. I drink copious amounts of water, and I bring soda along too. Sure, it's not the healthiest of diets. But it works for me. When I'm hungry, I eat. If things work right, I get enough fuel every day. Hopefully I burn as much as ingest. After I've been home a few hours, I strap on the snore inhibitor and snooze for nine hours before I rinse and repeat.

Time is a category that all bus drivers find is a major focal point, but one we treat differently than people in other professions. We have to be punctual (early) to work, and are expected to remain on time during our entire shift. It's a stressor we gradually adapt to. Yet as the years accumulate, time becomes something other than what we've been accustomed to. Days of the week change names depending on what days off you have. Some people take Tuesday/Wednesday off, so Monday is actually their Friday. When somebody asks me what day of the week it is, I have to think before answering, because my interpretation of the work week is entirely different than that of most folks.

I sign runs for about 10 hours a day. Anything more is too demanding. Already middle-aged when I signed on, it's important to pace myself. Years on the Extra Board added to the aging process. Other than that, the word "time" is broken down into "runs." One run, from one end to the other, takes "x" amount of time. I know the route is just over three round trips. The run is broken down into "time points." These are geographical locations along a route where the transit agency expects us to arrive as close to "on time" as possible. Between these points, I'm oblivious as to the actual time of day unless someone asks me. If you do a run long enough, you can pretty much tell someone what the time of day is without looking at your watch or onboard computer screen. I've developed a system for getting through a shift by breaking it into runs. Halfway through my day, I know there are two round trips left before the garage-bound deadhead. During a break, I may consult my watch to make sure I don't overstay my allotted time, but after a while I can tell when a break is about over just by my internal clock.

Speed is something I've come to feel without glancing at the speedometer. I'm too busy watching the scene in front of and around me. I check air pressure when I'm stopped, and other gauges as well. But when I'm rolling, I can feel when I've accelerated to just under the speed limit. My foot just automatically eases off the pedal. I watch the traffic lights and know when they will change. A line trainer once told me to keep my foot covering the brake unless I'm accelerating, and this advice quite often saves my posterior aspect. A stale green light is something I can predict changing about 90% of the time. Considering Portland's antiquated light synchronization system, that's pretty accurate.


One of our trainers told us that eventually, the "good" operator will be able to judge how long to stay at a service stop with a red light ahead. I am never in a hurry, unlike many other motorists on the road. I'll sit tight, and just when I see the left-turn arrow go green, I'll shut the doors and roll up to the intersection just as the through traffic light changes to green. I pass by all those busy bees who were frantically passing my bus as I patiently sat back and enjoyed a refreshing sip of ice water. This also adds to the comfort of my passengers. If I'm not racing to each red light and slamming down on the brakes as I get there, they are spared the forward-backward momentum swings this kind of driving produces. A smooth roll is part of my daily mantra, and I take pride in my ride.

Turning is another function that becomes routine, but no matter how experienced you are, this requires special attention. Veterans have become one with the bus, and know exactly when and how much to turn the wheel. Watching mirrors while simultaneously checking activity in front and to the sides is automatic. If we see something that isn't right, we stop. I've stopped a bus in the middle of an intersection for a good 10 seconds, blocking cross traffic that has the green light, because somebody has entered my safety zone. Doesn't affect me now, but it scared the hell out of me when I was green. Now I just stop and stare at the offender. Once they figure out how to get out of the way, I proceed. Usually these days it's fun to roll past people (with inches to spare) who have pulled up a bit too much, but not too far that I can't complete the turn. Their eyes get as wide as saucers, but if they just stay put, a professional can maneuver a vehicle safely around them.

Yeah, I can be cranky sometimes. I honk at danger, shake my head at everyday foolishness. Various parts of my body hurt, so I change my posture in the seat. When something scary happens, it's easier now to let it slide off my shoulder. Hey, I perform a vital function to Portland's economy. Gotta keep the wheels rolling. As long as my mind and body are in harmony, I'll get a thousand of you each day where you need to go. Safely, smoothly and all with a smile. That's how I roll.

Thanks for riding.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I'm Gonna Honk at Ya


Somebody asked today why I haven't posted lately. "You've been quiet," he said. Ayup. Sometimes it's best to give it a rest. With all we've gone through the past month, I needed time to reflect. Now I'm feeling a bit ornery again, so let's see where my fingers go today.

To honk, or not? 'Tis the dilemma we face. Management says DON'T. Veterans are of differing opinions, and probies are just plain nervous about it. I say, if it needs doing, HONK THE HELL OUTTA THEM. It's a teaching moment. It's warning people of impending doom. If you've driven a bus long enough, you know when that happens. If you've never driven a bus before, you're in upper management and your opinion will sway in the direction of what the public wants. Here's my take on it.

If you run into the path of a bus hoping it will stop in time to avoid making Imbecile Tartare out of you, but to actually think that driver will give you a ride, I'm gonna honk at you.

If you ride a bike without hands on the bars while you text away, then swerve in front of my bus, I'm going to definitely honk at your foolish ass as I brake to a stop to avoid hitting you. Count on it. No, BET on it. Maybe next time you'll attempt to think before performing such duh-worthiness.

If you're too impatient to wait behind my bus for 10 seconds while I drop off a passenger, then zip around me as I'm closing the doors to make a right-hand turn from the left lane as I start to roll, I'm not only gonna honk at you, I'm going to push the horn button so long and hard it damages the steering column and hopefully also your hearing. You might think this rude, or even aggressive. I think maybe my reaction might make you realize that waiting an extra 5-10 seconds could someday save your life, and that my honking wakes you to this fact.

If you pass my bus while the YIELD sign is flashing, and you're speeding up to close in on the 3, 4, or 5 cars who have already ignored it, then honk and flip me off when I lumber into the lane before you get there, then yeah, I'm using my horn. You don't have the right to endanger the safety of the 50 people I'm giving a ride while you rush to the next red light.

If you exit my bus, ignoring the sign above the door that reads "Don't Cross In Front of Bus," then do just that, even though the impatient fools behind me are racing around me across the double-yellow line, for your safety and my sanity, I'm certainly going to activate my loud warning device. Oh, and you're welcome for saving your life after you look up from your phone long enough to see Freddy 4x4 shredding rubber where you might have stepped a moment earlier when you heard my horn over your headphones.

Even though Portland is evidently so broke it can't re-paint lines and BUS ONLY on its transit mall (and too wishy-washy to enforce its own laws), if you disobey the still-legible (albeit ridiculously high and small) street signs warning you to stay the hell out of the two right-hand lanes, rest assured you will hear two mighty blasts from my horn. You'll most likely also hear an even louder horn from the 100,000 lb. light rail vehicle bearing down on you.

If you're an Uber/Lyft driver who insists the transit mall bus lane is the perfect place for you to pick up fares, I'm definitely gonna honk at you. Not only is it rude and against your company's rules to conduct business there, but it's extremely dangerous to your passengers. Expect to be honked at by MOST bus drivers if you make a habit of this foolishness.

When you see a bus stopped ahead for no apparent reason, but decide you're going to pass it anyway, I'm going to lay on that horn until even the dimmest of lights come on in your empty skull. Perhaps you didn't see my hand frantically waving out the window, or the 4-way flashers activate in a desperate attempt to get your attention. The pedestrian or bicyclist who was just creamed in the roadway doesn't need your wheels adding to their pain. Slow down and stop. I don't just stop for no reason. We see things most people don't. You look 10 feet in front of your vehicle's nose; we scan a 180+ degree view 12-15 seconds ahead of us. Pay attention, or yes, you will be honked at. Somebody's life could be at stake; maybe even your own.

If I pull over because an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens is coming in the opposite direction, and you plus five more bozos behind you decide it's the best time to zip around my bus before pulling over, I will honk at you. What if someone in your family is the one in need of help? Just do the right thing and get the hell out of their way; I will be out of your way soon enough.

When traffic is inching along at rush hour, and your light turns yellow, don't just roll into the intersection anyway and end up blocking traffic which has just been awarded the green light. You selfish punk, didn't your mommy teach you any manners? If I've been sitting through three light cycles only to finally have my progress delayed by your me-first impatience. Yeah, you'll get a special helping of Horn Swonkle.

If you just bought your nightly 120-pack of Bud at the 7-11 and expect me to allow you to inch into traffic when I've been waiting several minutes to make the light, don't just pull out in front of me while expecting a smile, a blown kiss and a bouquet of flowers. Nah. I'm gonna honk as a warning to keep your precious Prius pristine. Besides, I'm already late and letting you in when your wait time has been zero means I'll miss yet another green. Sorry, but I've already smoked your cigar, and I hate paperwork.

If you weave on your bike from sidewalk to bus lane, to auto lane back to bus lane and sidewalk, you'll hear a hearty honk. And when you flash that sign language temper tantrum for daring to alert you of the folly of your behavior, I'll add a polite little beep-beep. To me, it is the perfect response to your gesture; it sounds a bit like "ass-hole."

No, I'm not horn-happy. I typically have to honk every day, but if I didn't, there would be a lot of messes to clean up. It's a warning device. For those who politely co-exist with transit, I truly appreciate you. When you show me kindness and patience, I wave my thanks. With all five fingers.




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.