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.



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