Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Words to Your Eyes

John Denver once spoke about how songs just came along and he just played them as if they'd been there along, just waiting to come out.

"I had nothing to do with it," he said. It's like that with my writing. I just sit here at the keyboard, eyes closed. Thoughts just flood through my mind and out my fingertips. I'm just telling you what I've seen, like you're sitting here with me and we're having a conversation. One-sided, that is. You're just listening as my hands relay my mind's wanderings.

Sometimes while driving the bus, I have the greatest urge to just tell you what I'm thinking at that precise moment. It's mind-blowing, folks! The best stuff I've thought of to date! By the end of the day though, those wonderful ideas have faded with the sunset, and I'm left with my aging mind trying to recall them. By the time I'm sitting here at home, being soothed by my music and working at my great aunt's beloved 90-year-old oak desk, I just close my eyes, breathe deeply and let the words come forth. Like Denver said, mostly I have "nothing to do with it."

Feelings. They're honest and open, if you allow them to be. Unlike opinions, which are crafted and deliberated upon. If you sit back and let them escape, feelings surprise you more often than not. Held within, they are nothing but a cancer. Cleansing the soul allows good or bad to fly free and ramble. Maybe that's why I'm such a long-winded bastard. If I allow what I feel to remain bound within this lapdog of a soul, my voice would never be heard but more important, I couldn't sort the good from what truly bothers me.

As I put the book of blog posts together, I noticed how my tone changed over time. From glowing about the excitement of a new adventure, I gradually descended into melancholy and anger. "Bitch, bitch, bitch," my son told me, "that's all you do. I can't read it Dad... it's too dark." He hadn't noticed how I tried to boost the tone with the good I saw. Still, I heard his warning. I heed it still, but as of yet I haven't found how to blast through wall I've come up against.

Bus operation requires one to be honest with oneself. How you treat passengers has a major impact on the tone of your day. Even in my darkest of moods, I can still find a way to help people smile. Waiting for a mother carrying a toddler while dragging 40 pounds of groceries is more important to me than keeping to an unrealistic schedule some corporatist insists I follow to the nanosecond. It does my soul wonders to hear her say "Thank you... waiting another 20 minutes for the next bus would be an eternity I don't want to endure right now." Hearing her laugh when I say, drily with an exaggerated sigh, "That'll be an extra $29.95, ma'am" is worth more to me than any positive blip on a stat sheet.

It's these moments I live for, yet I tend lately to mostly remember the bad. The nasty, the dreaded, the worst the job has to offer. That's why it's vital I take a step back right now. You don't want to be bombarded with this crap. Drivers deal with it daily, so why would you want to read about it? Readership has dropped, and it's my own damn fault.

Time out. Stay tuned, I'll be back. I want to entertain again. Make you smile, laugh and wonder. When I started this blog journey, I promised to let you know how I feel, from the driver side. You've seen the best, read about the worst. Give me a little time to find the funny and uplifting once again. I won't get there examining transit management, because cranial-rectal inversions are too deep for my taste.

Thanks for indulging me, even when I don't deserve it. I'll be back.

Friday, August 11, 2017

We Need Some Love

Sorry I've been so... seldom seen. This book project is my main focus. But then, there's also w-o-r-k to contend with. Another four-letter word ending in "k." It's wearing me down lately. Gee, I could sure use a vacation. About 35-40 years with full pay would be superb.

I recently read a study that shows transit operators to be the most depressed group of workers. I can vouch for it personally. Lately, I've been pretty blue. Wait, I'm Dekie Blue, and far from pretty. But seriously, the job has been taking its toll. If it's not management pressure to be perfect (whatever that is), it's the public's attitude toward us. People in traffic are more rude than usual. Passengers are surly. Maybe it's the weather. It sure has been hot and sticky lately. Either way, any operator is apt to wear down after a while.

A dear lady operator friend of mine this evening looked truly sad when I walked into the garage and the end of my shift. She's usually smiles and cheeriness when I see her. Tonight she looked up at me to reveal her sweet, expressive eyes were rimmed with tears. Instead of the usual "Hey how are you," I just asked if she could use a hug. She hung her head a moment and sighed. "Yeah," was all she said.

As I embraced this battle-worn lady, I felt a world of sadness all around her. She seemed empty, spent. I know what that's like, but I usually hide it pretty well. Tonight, my friend could not. So I just held her an extra few seconds. Sometimes actions are more helpful than awkward phrases nobody in that state wants to hear. I walked away silently so she couldn't see my own tear dripping downward.

On my route today, as I was scanning the side of the street, I saw a man sitting in a wheelchair. He looked up as I rolled by, and held up his middle finger at me. I'd never seen him before. He wasn't near a bus stop, so it wasn't as if I was passing him by. It was just a cruel gesture, and it summed up how many people have treated me this week. Normally, I could laugh off something so childish and silly. Today, it seemed to become a thousand-pound weight that plopped down on my already-drooping shoulders. Maybe the guy is mentally ill, or he had an imaginary friend tell him I'm an asshole. Either way, I took it as his general outlook on bus operators.

We don't just sit and roll around easy-pleasy every day. Transit is grueling, it's often painful, and it's humbling. Our management tells the media how "valued" we are, but treats us as if we're mere annoyances to be dealt with. Like pigeon shit on their expensive suits, rather than vigilant professionals who provide millions of safe rides every week. If not for US, there would be no THEM. We're no longer a team, but a divided mass of radioactive waste.

Last I heard, there have been 52 crimes (assaults, menacing, etc.) on my brothers and sisters this year. In 2016, there were 55 total. Yet management boasts how "with reported crime on the system low," they don't feel the need to issue their new lame threat of permanent exclusion. I'm so not impressed with how they're dealing with our being pummeled in the seat, spit upon, threatened and menaced just for doing our job. Let's not come down too hard on the criminals; it's easier to whip up on a few thousand union workers by not bargaining in good faith in contract negotiations.

Management keeps making noise, but it's the kind a human might make if he were three inches tall. A mere whisper among our bellowing pleas for help. Exclusions are very difficult to enforce. They could provide a board with photos and descriptions of those troublemakers, but instead choose to leave us blind. By the time help arrives, one of these battering dipshits would be long gone after beating us for refusing to give them a ride. Then they'd just catch a different bus and be in the wind again.

In their crime stats, I didn't see any incidences of management personnel being assaulted. They treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as if it doesn't exist or matter. We're suspended for leaving the seat to defend ourselves against aggressors, and sometimes no reports are taken. Their only solution is to cage us in, but they forget we have to leave the seat eventually or pee our pants.

There's a virus spreading within our ranks, and we're all catching it. So yeah, that guy flipping me off brought me down. Maybe he was a paid protester. Whatever. Back at ya, greaseball.

Ladybud in the garage tonight, no explanation necessary. I get it. Love and peace with prayers to all my ATU brothers and sisters. We could all use a hug right now.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Deke Sweats the Week

It's 4:10 a.m. on this bus driver's long-awaited Friday night. Many of you are already back at work while I sit here, drowning the hottest week of the year in Irish whiskey. Nah, I'm not drunk. I don't have a problem with booze. It soothes me, and I use it in moderation. Not during the work week. Only to soothe the heated and throbbing nerves I've felt the past few weeks. I should go to bed, but I haven't written to you in two weeks and the Typing Jones is crippling me. So here's a synopsis of the last few weeks.

It hit triple digits three or four days this week in Portland, depending on the location. Just eight months ago, I was shivering in the snow awaiting the arrival of my bus in gonad-shriveling Fahrenheits. It took several minutes for my hands to warm up enough to perform fine motor controls. It was an exciting challenge to keep all six road-bound as I slid around icy turns and fishtailed up snowy hills. Yesterday, I stood in the sweltering sun, breathing exhaust toxicity and wood fire smoke from a forest burning miles distant. No breeze, except for that emanating from passing trucks and black-belching diesel wannabe bad boys in their oversized shiny toys. The smoke from Canada's and Oregon's massive forest fires hung like a grey blanket over a wet campfire. Our air quality hung heavier than that of Mexico City and Shanghai. It was dangerous to breathe, yet alone work in this sludge formerly known as air.

I moved here to escape 100-degree-plus summers, so I should be okay with a week of this crap. No, whining about it seems to be the norm for the normal Nor'westerner. I reckon my home is here now. Once the mercury tops 90, I bitch like everyone else whilst my desert family chuckles at this short-lived misfortune. I gave up summer sweat for rain nearly two decades ago. My soul is at peace in a drizzly, cloud-shrouded rain forest.

It was brutal operating a bus with Earth's hazy star assaulting me directly ahead. The front few feet of our newer Gilligs absorb heat like a politician sucks money. Turn on the fans and they spew forth a furnace of hot. Throw the driver's AC vents on high and it's like a hurricane of semi-coolness assaulting every facial nerve. Even though these beasts are set to 70 degrees, the sweat trickled down my neck and wetted the shirt back until it stuck to the vinyl torture chamber of my operator's seat. I felt like cookie dough slowly baking in a convection oven.

Each time I opened the front door, a blast of hot air rushed in and the brief buildup of cool air escaped outward. Unlike in cold weather, passengers didn't greet me with gushing gasps of gratitude. Instead, I was berated for being late even though I managed to keep the clock in the green most of the week. People are surly and unforgiving in the heat, gracious and thankful when frozen. They smell worse too.

Management did its best to add to the misery. In its ill-conceived quest to be everything the unforgiving public expects it to be, fare was FREE during the heat wave. Part of it was due to a system failure, the rest of it a public relations snafu that had the corporate-controlled local rag informing the public they didn't have to pay for the value of a transit ride. The classic screw-the-worker bee, let 'em ride free. This allowed many who would normally wouldn't ride enter our vehicles without as much as a hello or any thanks. Transit operators everywhere can attest to the fact that those who are not financially vested in a service won't respect it.

We had a few more assaults on our brothers and sisters, and tons of rebellious foolishness. Yet there wasn't a hint of it in the ridiculous excuse for our local media. We've had around 50 assaults so far this year alone, while last year's total was 55. Still, no outrage from management, or our union. We're alone out there, as usual. Our screams of rage fall upon ears which refuse to hear.

Rant over. M'lady came out to find me pecking away at nearly 5:00 a.m. I have a full weekend planned with my beloved. Transit will not interfere with my solitude. I leave you with a mental image of Portland's growing disrespect for the transit workers who make the city's economic wheels roll.

"Go ahead and call Dispatch," one passenger told me. "They can't hear you anyway. I know the system's down. Just drive, motherfucker."

Hmm. Sounds like the title of my upcoming book. Sigh. I did as he so rudely suggested. He melted into a pool of sweat and quieted down, so I relented. It was too hot to argue.