Monday, February 27, 2017

Union First!


(This was featured in Labor Press recently. Decided to share it with you in case you missed it.)

OUR job is to safely operate a bus in this district, and I am proud to be part of a century-old tradition here in Portland. It takes a gritty spirit and nerves of steel to persevere in this profession. Our livelihood depends upon presenting a united front. Otherwise, we are as vulnerable as summer’s fat and lazy housefly, slow to react and easily squashed.

We are often an unfocused and cantankerous group, prone to debating sometimes insignificant issues while neglecting the most vital. In order to achieve successful bargaining, it is important we aim toward a common goal. That is, to ensure fair compensation for this vital service we honorably provide our community.

What constitutes “fair compensation” is a hotly contested point. The District acts as if we’re overpaid and greedy. They inject this propaganda into a largely unsympathetic public mindset via local media. The last time, this tactic was successful for them. Most of those whose valuable support management hopes to secure however, have not endured hours in the seat. They haven’t been screamed at, spat upon, threatened at gunpoint, punched or stabbed. Their bodies have not been subjected to the repetitive motions which gradually wear us down. Numbers and innuendo are management’s game. Yet upper management isn’t as vital as we are in competent transit operations. We could still efficiently do the job without them; they could not do our duties and simultaneously manage themselves.

We negotiate from a collective strength earned by safely operating transit vehicles thousands of miles each month. Comparatively, humanity benefits from honey, yet rarely are bees given credit for their crucial role. Instead, industrial humanity destroys them to the brink of extinction. Upon the bees’ final exit, politicians will “study” what happened while we slowly starve in the absence of sufficient pollination. We are now being pushed toward the first stage of extinction. Remaining strong we can push back against this attack upon our livelihood while also improving the lot of retirees. If management is allowed to gradually pick our bones dry, someday only ash and dust will remain.

It is up to each union member to collectively form a united front. Elections are over. Our internal bitterness needs to stop. It is time to cleanse our collective palate, spit, and fight in unison. Let us leave politics behind and work together toward our common goal. There are many strong minds amongst us which could be valuable assets to the cause. We have lost much over the years, yet we still provide exceptional results from our labors. If we regain the public’s support, our chances to prevail improve considerably.

None of us expect to live in grand mansions, but we do deserve a decent living without fear of poverty in retirement. We can’t win if we’re collectively holding each other back. When we fight amongst ourselves, we become weaker and management gleefully rejoices.

In nature, the strong survive. Often, the weakest of the herd is executed by its own. We’re in danger of not only losing forward momentum, but also of being replaced by non-union outsiders.


Peace be among us, brothers and sisters. Together we are strong, divided we become a memory. Let our efforts become legendary and victory an enduring legacy.

No Free Ticket for Transit Safety



Opposing forces do not always create a positive outcome. Contradictions naturally occur, but when purposely thrust upon people, they result in anger and frustration.

On one hand, we're being told to drive safely and the schedule is secondary. Now we're being held accountable for being late. And finally, because abuse of operators has exploded the past few years, our agency is now addressing operator safety. (Of course it took two brothers petitioning our state legislature for stiffer penalties for those who assault us before the agency stepped in.) If you stress the schedule, you're not driving safely. If you concentrate on safety (which they repeatedly say is "our core value"), you save lives but are counseled about On-Time Performance. In this business, you can have one, but usually not both.

Rolling into a transit center on my route last week, I noticed a road supervisor sitting in his vehicle. I thought nothing of it. They're always out supporting us, taking care of issues that develop over the course of a transit day. Dealing with trouble-making passengers, investigating collisions involving our vehicles, and otherwise assisting operators, is their job. Later, I heard we're being scrutinized over schedules. Management is harassing operators who are consistently late. Of course, nobody's perfect. However, it's hard to fathom why we're being pulled by opposing forces, when the obvious end result is a figurative severing of our head from the body. We are held to unrealistic expectations by the public, police and our transit agency. Driving safely encompasses many concepts. Expecting us to risk tragedy to satisfy a largely ungrateful public borders on villainous.

There are numerous reasons for running late. It is nearly impossible for schedule writers to know exact ridership on any given day when addressing route timing. Some days are busier than others, so we are forced to drive slower. Traffic problems are not predictable. Thanks to January's Snowpocalypse, we have pothole-ridden streets that make a sleigh ride over a lava field seem smooth in comparison to a bus ride. Mechanical issues can pop up at any time, as can passenger misbehavior. Boarding people with disabilities takes time, especially when we employ protocols designed to ensure their safe transport. Passengers waste precious time who wait 10 minutes at a stop, then meander on board and begin fumbling for their fare. Weather can play a major role, especially when you drive into a dense fog bank and have to slow to a crawl because of... safety. 

There are many other reasons we can run late, but none of them warrant the agency berating operators for being human. Especially given that public transit anywhere is anything but perfect. Still, we pull the rabbit out of our hats more often than not. We work hard, sometimes cutting short a break to keep the wheels rolling. We know our regulars have connections to make. They are, after all, a lot like we are. They're working stiffs, and damnit, they want to get home. There are times when I've had a bad day that I'll just say: "to hell with them, I need a full break." Yet we deal with a myriad of guilt complexes. People depend on us. I want to do right by them, even though they rarely call in a compliment and are quick to complain. I have great affinity for many of my regulars. Most are courteous, and remember the challenges our winter weather threw at me a month ago. I didn't get stuck, kept all six on the road and hardly slid. I kept them safe and warm. However, I've only had ONE commendation called in because of all I try to do for my passengers. Their indifference makes it easier sometimes to make that decision to take a full break.

Transit's public face is much different than what we see on this side. A friend recently told me the agency asked her to complete a survey. It asked, among other things, if she feels safe at bus stops and on transit vehicles. She honestly told them no. If our passengers feel unsafe just waiting for a bus, imagine how operators feel at the end of the line. Some of these places are infested with humanity's roughest characters. We're constantly asked transit-related questions on breaks, as if we're supposed to have the entire system's schedules memorized. I'm often harassed for money, smokes (even when I vape), or a "free ticket," as if we just carry them around to pass out like candy. When you say NO, it often evokes a violently negative response from these not-so-lovely beings.

When I hear the big wheels spouting a rosy picture about our "improving" safety, I tend to stiffen. It truly pisses me off that our agency hasn't a clue what we face every day. If they walked even a few feet in our boots, they'd run crying for mommy. But hey folks, my Mom died a decade ago, and she taught me to stand up for myself. Too bad my employer doesn't allow that.




Sunday, February 19, 2017

The End of the Line


This job is dangerous. We lost a brother transit operator in Winnipeg this past week. He was stabbed while on the job, and died from his wounds. I'm sure my words echo the feelings of bus operators worldwide. Our deepest condolences and truly heartfelt prayers go out to his family and fellow operators. When one of us is killed in the line of duty, we all feel it.

We deal with every kind of human there is. Sometimes we are faced with such danger we're unable to think rationally, to do the right thing. When threatened, our bodies automatically prepare for fight or flight. There's no luxury of sitting in a comfy chair with a video of what's about to happen. There's no pause button so we can deliberate the best response while sitting at a table with a group of fellow professionals.

It's a purely biological question, not mental. In fact, when presented with a life-threatening situation, only those who are trained to deal with this actually know how to respond. People in the military are far more equipped to repel attackers than bus operators. When they're attacked, they're expected to employ deadly force. If a bus operator were to use force in self defense, the Monday Morning Quarterback team of lawsuit repellant managers would frantically search for anything we did wrong in the heat of the moment. The attacker isn't their problem, it's ours. Problem is, they don't bother to train us to properly deal with threatening situations. They simply insist we "stay in the seat." Just sit there and be beaten to death, then we won't be fired.

Imagine we were given self-defense courses which prepare us for being attacked in our extremely-vulnerable position: in the driver seat of a bus. If we used force that resulted in our attacker being seriously injured or killed, would they defend our actions? Of course not. I've heard of operators being suspended because the Hindsight Committee deemed their defensive movements to be "aggressive." If someone comes at you like they mean you harm, are you supposed to kiss them on the cheek and read them a cute story? No. Human biology dictates that your body will prepare itself to fight back. We're supposed to have the supreme ability to overcome millions of evolutionary years? This would require a complete reversal of our physiological makeup, yet we're portrayed as simpletons performing a job someone once said "a monkey could do." I don't know anybody who could take a punch, a stab or a slap without at least putting a hand up to prevent further abuse. Yet we face discipline for doing so. I'm shaking my head so damned violently at this I'm dizzy.

Which leads me to Mr. Irvine Fraser of Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. It's reported that he was stabbed when the last passenger refused to exit his bus, and an argument ensued. I don't know Winnipeg Transit's procedure, but if someone here refuses to leave the bus, we call for help. Sometimes it arrives quickly, but there are times when resources are thin. We're left to deal with situations until the cavalry comes charging in. Those few minutes can be deadly. Sadly for Mr. Fraser, it didn't come quickly enough.

This could happen in Portland. After 55 assaults on transit workers here last year and seven so far in 2017, we're all nervous. If it did happen to one of us, would management blame the corpse? The way we're treated when assaulted makes us wary of their soft and fuzzy yet toothless "safety" messages. They say we're a "family," but it sure feels like a dysfunctional one.

If it does happen, I think we should take an old bus and paint it black. Put black lace curtains on the windows. It should serve as a hearse. The funeral procession should have a full police and transit escort. We're public servants, and there's no guarantee we'll make it home safe each day. Our jobs put us in touch with violent criminals. Many people ride the bus who are armed with guns, knives or both. It's a crap-shoot, our safety is. I pray we never have to mourn a Portland bus operator lost to a violent "customer" as Winnipeg did this week.

RIP Irvine Fraser. We're all deeply saddened at your untimely death while simply doing your job. Rest in peace, it's the end of the line.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Illumination Issues


The days are getting longer now. The frigid dark mess of winter is beginning to fade. With all the weather excitement of the past few months I had forgotten to write this one. But today's antics of those with whom we share the road set me off today.

TURN ON YOUR LIGHTS YA BONEHEADS!!!

When it's dark, headlights help us SEE. This is important. Especially driving while our nearest star is shining on the other side of this globe. Your car is equipped with a switch labelled "Lights" and is relatively easy to use. Just turn it and watch what happens. Presto! The scene in front of your vehicle is suddenly awash in light! Now you can see where to point that thing you're driving, that is of course, when you're not looking at your stupid phone. And also, now we can see your car. Cops see someone driving with no lights after sundown and it's a sign they may have been drinking. A sure way to check to see if your lights are on is to look at the bumper of the car in front of you. If you see a reflection of your headlights, they are on. If not, you might just want to flip that switch.

You also have a control for how bright your headlights shine into oncoming traffic windshields. This too, is important. If your brights are on and another vehicle is approaching, please dim it down. Unless you prefer to be a dimwit, of course.

Some vehicles come equipped with extra lights below your headlights. They are used to help you see when it's foggy out. So if it's not foggy, why are you driving with them on? You think it looks cool, you say? Maybe you just got stoned, your eyes are slits and you dig having those extra lights. Faaarrr ooouuuuuttttt maaaaan. Sorry folks, this is just plain rude. Save the fog lights for your brain. Give other drivers a break and only use them when necessary.

Driving without lights is just careless. If you can't see pedestrians or cyclists, you're putting them in danger. If other vehicles can't see your vehicle, it stands a much better chance of being physically altered. Basic elementary stuff here. Sorry, but some people seem to need a refresher course in common sense.

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes one to teach its own citizens to drive. But what if the village is populated by idiots? I'd hate to believe that's the state of things here, but sometimes I wonder.

Be safe folks. People are counting on you.




Monday, February 6, 2017

So Hard to Let Go

I've been in denial for over a year now. When he left us, Glenn Frey had been such a mainstay in my musical history it just didn't seem real. My teenage years were awash with Eagles tunes, and Glenn's voice was like their narrator. His death crushed the last grasp I had on a fading childhood.

Sitting here editing my book, I've been enjoying a DVD of the Eagles Farewell Tour. When Glenn sang the opening line of Lyin' Eyes, my eyes welled with tears. For a year, I've been too shocked to mourn him. Suddenly, it was like a floodgate of irrigation water was running down the desert wash that has become my aging face. It's always been hard for me, but once again, I had to let another piece of my younger self go.

You see, I grew up in a small Arizona town. The desert was my solace, surrounding me with comforting silence whenever the noise of teenage angst grew too loud. I could drive a few miles eastward and be extremely alone. I knew exactly where to hide when I wanted to be alone. Except for the calls of quail and hawk, the breeze and faraway wheels on dirt roadway, I found peace. Drinking a beer and lighting a smoke, I'd start to sing. Softly at first, growing in confidence as the alcohol loosened my vocal chords. Glenn's voice was what I strove to copy. Soaring on high notes and sultry smooth country twang arose into the darkness as I sang my blues to the sky.

"She gets up
and pours herself a strong one
and stares out at the stars
up in the sky
another night, it's gonna be a long one
she draws a shade and hangs her head to cry
she wonders how it ever got this crazy
she thinks about a boy she knew in school
did she get tired
or did she just get lazy
she's so far gone she feels just like a fool
my oh my you sure know how to arrange things
you set it up so well, so carefully
ain't it funny how you knew lies didn't change things
you're still the same old girl you used to be."

(Glenn Frey and Don Henley)

I was too young to know what he was singing about, but I loved the lyrics. My "problems" back then were simply excess hormones rushing around, confusing the brains of the child I still was. Life was good. With a sweet, pretty girlfriend who loved me and friends galore, any issues were self-imposed. Yet even though we're blessed with many gifts, we still find something we want... something far away and seemingly out of reach. While my singing voice wasn't going to take me there, I had chosen an art form to follow.

Glenn and his Eagles buddies played for many a mile of crusin' Main Street, helped me win the hearts of girls, and gave me years of musical joy. But the boy did become a man. Eventually. Now looking at the opening lines of a golden age, they're a fading echo of what once was. We all mourn our youth, because all of a sudden we awake to find it left us long ago. So eager to hold onto it, letting go was just never an option.

The Eagles are no more, but I've become Deke and my words are reaching around the globe. Not as prolifically as the boys on the wing, but I have big plans. The time to soar has come. Thanks Glenn, and I hope you're resting on the wings of an eagle gliding over the desert I once roamed.

90,000 Hits!

Tweedle Dumb

Safely delivering passengers to their destinations is a challenge I enjoy. Usually I can tune out some of the painful conversations they have with each other, sometimes not. Those who speak loudly are truly the ones who should whisper. They're often drunk, drugged or otherwise overly impressed with themselves. It's a rare and welcome thing to have intelligent discourse happen.

After hearing one conversation on a subject neither person knew diddly about, I shuddered. While their ignorance made me wince, it did give me the chance to invent a new word.

Dum-bass-ian: (n., doom-bass-e-un) Inhabitant of the planet Ignoramus, is notable for the ability to walk with its head firmly implanted in its rectum. Should have attended at least a few classes in high school, but was too busy getting ripped.

* * *

Many passengers exit with a heartfelt "Thank You." To me, it's an acknowledgement of my giving them a safe, smooth ride for a couple of bucks and change. I truly appreciate this, and try to reciprocate with a farewell greeting of my own. Problem is, coming up with something innovative isn't easy. I used to wish them a good day/night. Then I saw George Carlin's YouTube clip about how he hated to hear people say "Have a nice day!" He went on a tirade about how sometimes maybe he'd had a string of "nice days" and was due for a truly terrible one. Basically, this phrase can grate on my nerves because of its overuse. I try to say something different out of respect, like "Thanks for riding." It tends to get a better response than the nice day thing. People hear that so much.

Here's something else that just chaps my hide: "I'll be honest with you." What? You mean you've been standing there telling me whoppers the past 10 minutes? Are there times when you're honest with me and those you are not? How can I tell the difference? Perhaps when you say this, you're trying to hide the fact everything you say is actually a line of bullshit.

Of course, there's one every run: "When does the 19 stop here?" As if we have the schedules of every one of 85 runs ingrained into our memory. My favorite response is "About every 15 minutes."

Next, it can be so rainy out even beavers are buying flood insurance, and folks will tell me "Stay dry!" Well of course I will, Einstein. I'm in this nice cozy bus and you're the one heading out into the deluge. If I said this to you, would it qualify me as a dumbassian? I promise to stay dry, as long as you have your cerebrospinal fluid checked for acidity.

The past six weeks in Portland have been almost as cold as my first wife, and nearly as windy too. Yet people will insist that I stay warm. What if I'm too damn hot? I might just strip off my uniform and go streaking across six lanes of traffic and back again just to cool down! It might actually get you to look up from your phone long enough to see a short show. Ugh, really folks. You stay warm, I'm just fine.

But possibly the worst thing someone could tell me on their way out is "Drive Safe!" What the hell? Have I just spent the past 25 minutes driving like your drunk uncle? If I didn't drive safely, what makes you think I'd be allowed to give you a ride home? They don't let just anybody drive these things, you know.

At least those who leave me with a "Thank you, I appreciate you and hope you have a safe evening" put some thought into it. Theirs feels more genuine and thoughtful.

Thank you for reading. We now return you to your regular diet of staying warm, dry and having a nice day.