Monday, November 13, 2017

Putting Myself "Out There" for You


Marketing a book is walking a fine line between art, and pissing people off so bad they won't even consider buying it. I'm not good at it, so I appeal to the masses who read this blog for whatever reason.

I'm a bus operator. I make a decent wage, but I'm by no means "rich," as many passengers seem to think. To publish this book, I took out a personal loan. In order to pay it back, I need to sell "x" amount of books. Anything after that is gravy. Nobody who self-publishes their first book can realistically expect to make a mint off of it. Unless, of course, they're the 21st century version of Mark Twain. Wish it were true, but reality tells us he remains one of a kind. While many people give me praise and kudos, I don't know; maybe I'll strike a chord, maybe not. People are fickle these days. Thirty-second sound bites are their collective limit. Is this the bill for me? Just thinking it's a possibility is an impossible claim that is easily contradicted by today's online judiciary. I can only hope my words resonate with the masses as I hit you with new blog posts and upcoming books.

Someday I know it's going to come out. Publicly. "The Deke's real name is..." When it happens, I'll claim it. It would be cowardice to hide any longer. The blog is nearing five years of age, I've left clues to my true identity that any idiot could pick up on. It's as if I'm begging to be "outed." Even so, my employer cannot reasonably find cause to fire me for speaking my mind. They may own my body five days each week; this soul belongs to me.

I'm constantly in awe of fellow bloggers who write using their true name. That takes cajones grandes, man. There are times I feel like a coward, and ask my readers whether I should reveal my true identity. The overwhelming consensus is a raucous "NO!" Why is this? Because my anonymity allows a certain sense of freedom. I can write more honestly about the job we do out here. Fellow bus operators enjoy when I land a bullet in the mid-section of our reality. Al Margulies, one of my biggest supporters, advocates that I lose the pen name and tell the world who I am. While I'm honored by his constant support from the beginning, I bow to the majority who disagree with him. For now. Robert in Florida supports me, and he writes a fantastic blog as himself. Why must I hide? It's a personal conundrum, and the energy it takes to keep the myth alive is a bit tiresome. This pseudonym secrecy is bound to end. The only question is, will Deke die with his integrity intact, or just fade away?

Hey, it's just a book full of blog posts. Just like this one, almost. It's not earth-shattering, just honest. What's it like to be me? Read the book. That's all. I don't presume to speak for every bus operator. Many disagree at times with what I have to say, most assuredly. However, they respectfully reserve their opinions for whatever reasons. It's a strange web woven by a man who ended up in this profession at the dawn of my fifth decade and decided to write about it.

I am about to distribute copies of my book to the local media. Our International ATU President Larry Hanley has one, and I eagerly (with trepidation) await his review. I'm putting myself "out there" for critical review. Some will be positive, others not so laudatory. Whatever the result, I'm ready. It's "showtime," folks. Not all reviews will be five-stars. As a writer, I can only hope to sell some books while avoiding the appearance of a simple blue-collar wannabe artist.

Some love us, others do not. We're portrayed more negatively in the press than what we truly are. "Shepherds of public safety," my brother Tom Horton says. I repeat this phrase ad nauseum because it accurately depicts transit operators worldwide. We are constantly vigilant, keeping our fellow citizens as safe as they allow us to. Each time we grab the steering wheel of "The Beast," be it bus or train, our passengers depend on a safe and smooth ride. Many take us for granted, as if we're their servants. We are not. Quite simply, we're just humans who provide time travel for our riders. Without us, they'd have to walk, and that's just not feasible. We're vital cogs in each city's economy.

When I smile and greet you, remember it's not because I serve you; it's because I truly enjoy my job and I want you to know that I'm here to provide you a safe journey. We might even strike chords together. We're all just people, you know. It's a privilege and joy to drive you... not just a paycheck.

Peace be with you, wear bright clothing, and be well. I'll be happy to roll with you, if you choose to be seen.

* * * * *

Buy my book here...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deke Writes the Bus

Sometimes, I'm not even conscious that I'm "driving" a bus. There are times when it's just automatic. My body's in the seat, but my mind is traveling. Sure, I'm scanning, smiling and rolling safe. I truly enjoy the job. Unless you ask me a question or otherwise engage me, my soul is elsewhere.

Until today, I took a week-long hiatus from writing. My mind, body and soul are exhausted. It's been a very long 18 months producing JUST DRIVE. I've felt elation, jubilation and exhilaration while also feeling anxious and self-doubt. Each night after work, I've vegetated in front of the TV, which has become rare. This book has been my main focus for so long, once it became available I heaved a massive sigh of relief. My mind was unable to wrap itself around another blog post. Until now. Watch out, mugs... no telling where this one will go.

Let's begin with the severe lack of brainmanship exhibited lately by the motoring public. ME FIRST is the prevailing wind, and it's as odoriferous as what comes out their biological exhaust pipe. When the clocks turned back an hour last Sunday, it was if everyone around here decided they need to rush everywhere, especially the next red light. Twice this week, testosterone-charged mudbrains have cut me off, then flipped me off for no reason. Hey folks, buses stop then go again. It's as common as screen-addled pedestrians on a blind date with doom. Deal with it. When a bus pulls over, and it's safe for you to do so, go ahead and pass us. We expect it. As we finish servicing the stop, we're going to Yield-Light you and pull back into traffic. That's not the time, especially when there's a double-yellow line in the middle of the street, to pass us. You risk plowing into oncoming traffic, duh. There's also a severe chance of pulverizing the dunce who exits and pretends I'm a school bus with a STOP sign and red flashing lights to protect them from your foolish lack of PATIENCE. You meatheads! It might just save someone's (including yours) life. Imagine your family's life this holiday season while dealing with your untimely death. Suicide might be legal here, but that doesn't mean I should have to assist it.

(Ugh, just had to get that off my mind.)

* * * * *

UBER DRIVERS: STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE BUS LANES DOWNTOWN! It wasn't designed for your poor business practices. (Hell, the Transit Mall is unsafe for everyone when all the rules are obeyed.) It's dangerous for you (and your fares) to be there. Don't let riders out in the auto lane either. When someone exits your pseudo-cab on the passenger side, your door swings open precariously close to the Transit Lane where buses and trains operate. Traffic behind you is also tempted to swing into our lane (without mirror-checking to see a 10-foot-tall vehicle bearing down on them). Your fares are also prone to leaving the car and dashing across the street between blocks rather than going to the crosswalk 10 yards ahead. As a general rule, you should NEVER conduct business on 5th or 6th Avenues downtown. It's rude, dangerous and foolish. Our BUS ONLY lanes are there specifically for our mega-ton beasts rather than your Precious Prius.

(Sorry to my oldest son: I'm bitching again. We transit operators have a LOT to complain about "out there" sometimes. I've held off a while, but it's been a rough week. Sometimes the wheels roll smooth; others, we hit many a speed bump.)

* * * * *


My apologies to a MAX driver this week. I was tired, flustered, and that's a bad place to be driving a bus. I didn't notice my jump light remained red as the transit lane went green, and I started out from a mall stop when you were a half-block away. Instead of running the light, I stopped. Problem was, my nose was precariously close to your Dynamic Envelope. This is extremely rare for me, but it happened. I allowed myself to become distracted, but that's no excuse. Thank you for doing me a solid by stopping, honking and signaling me to go ahead in spite of my error. I'm human, and I appreciate your recognition and patience. The next chance I had, I stopped and locked, got out and walked to the back of my bus to re-calibrate myself. It took a few beats to the engine compartment cover before I cleared myself to roll again.

* * * * *

HEY PORTLAND TURN YOUR LIGHTS ON!!! It's dark out there, folks. Can't see you, keep you safe, if I can't see your vehicle. Thank you.

* * * * *

That's about it for today. I'm tired. It's been a long and trying week. Last night's verbal tussle with a self-entitled passenger about pushed me over the edge, but I persevered and finished the week in spite of it. If he doesn't call in a complaint within the next week, maybe I'll tell you about it. Until then, it's sack time for this bus driver. Next time, maybe I'll have something a bit more entertaining to bore you with.

Monday, November 6, 2017

I Saved His Life Today


"Thanks for saving that man's life earlier," my departing passenger said.

It startled me. Although the event he spoke of had happened a full half-hour earlier, I had already moved on. It happens. We're "shepherds of the public safety," as my brother Tom Horton says. Sure, it was a massive sigh of relief I breathed when it happened, but we do this every day. It's old hat. People today are incredibly unaware of impending doom, and we regularly save lives in the course of a day driving bus or operating a Light Rail Vehicle. It's just what we do.

The incident in question happened as I was servicing a downtown transit mall stop. My light was red, and people had just finished boarding. Scanning around me in preparation for departure, I noted several danger spots. As my eyes rounded to the crosswalk eight feet from my front bumper, I saw a man in a wheelchair enter the crosswalk. But the pedestrian signal for him was RED. Already aware of an approaching MAX train, my mind immediately sensed the danger. This man was wheeling toward disaster, directly into the train's path.

We're not supposed to "honk downtown." For some strange reason, our management frowns on us barking at idiots in the wrong lane, but they do allow us to warn people of impending dangers. This time, I laid on the horn. Warning the pedestrian, I also alerted the approaching train. The alerted operator stopped, and the pedestrian did so as well. He saw the front of the train, mere inches from ending his life, and shook his head as he wheeled back to the curb. When the train passed, he still had a red hand warning him not to cross. He did anyway, just as my light turned green. He just rolled across in front of me, not acknowledging my earlier warning which surely saved him from a painful end to his life.

I missed that green light. It's okay. They have a habit of changing back to green after a half-minute or so. That man didn't have an "extra life," but I had a few seconds to spare. Especially if it meant he'd keep rolling into the night, rather than becoming a bloody senseless transit pancake. On my next trip downtown, I saw this same gent jayrolling again through a different intersection, once again oblivious to the dangers of such folly.

When my passenger thanked me later, I was startled. People are usually so intent on their phones these days, I'm surprised when they see something notable. This gentleman's comment was a rare yet welcome highlight to a bus driver's day. Hopefully he called Customer Service to report my vigilant awareness, but chances are against it. People are more prone to complain than they are to praise.

It's okay. I'll do it again countless more times in this career. That's how we roll.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I Held My Book Today

"If you're a young band, and you have a choice about whether you're going to do this or not, you're in the wrong business, you know? I never had a choice. I would do this anyway, and do it if no one liked it, if no one came, I'd still be doing it."
-- Tom Petty, 1995

Like Tom says, I'd write even if none of you read my words. We all have something to say, and I've said plenty. Some of us share a bit of ourselves with whoever will pay attention, even if none of you do. Luckily for me, I've gained an audience. It's not incredibly huge, but it does keep exponentially expanding every year. For example, the first of this year my hit counter read 85,000. That was after 3.5 years of blogging. Today, it stands at 177,230 with nearly two months before 2018. So in one year, I will have over 100,000 reads. Considering how excited I was to get Hit #1000, it angers me when I take each for granted. Each one of your "hits" is still as meaningful to me today as when Tom first heard his music on the radio over 40 years ago.

Artists live for the thrill of performing. As I write, that's my performance. You don't need to see my face, it's the soul and feelings I share. If you know me, it's rather obvious I'm not the most prolific conversationalist. I'd rather listen, make mental notes. Discussion is awkward for me, always has been. Put me in front of a keyboard, then I can do something worthwhile. Put me behind the wheel of a bus, I'm competent, fairly smooth. Parties? No thank you. The possibility of doing interviews regarding my book scares me foolish. So does the possibility it might not sell as many copies as I hope. It's the creative mojo that rolls my wheels, sticking to the shadows and speaking through my fingertips. If people knew my face, it would be awkward and distracting. Writing to you is what I love doing... others can perform in front of you, but I prefer to communicate from the comfort of my home office when the world is asleep.
"It's the only time in my life when I really feel comfortable, and when time really stands still and I'm lost in that moment." -- Tom Petty 
Finally, my book (Buy it Here!) came to me in today's mail. I wasn't there to receive it. Had to drive, work first... always. That's why it's taken a year and a half to accomplish what I wanted to 32 years ago. Still, when work was done, I had more important plans before celebrating this dream come true. My youngest turned 20 today, and he's infinitely more important to me. Nurturing my children has been my main focus, and they have grown into wonderful people. I miss their child selves sometimes, but still see them that way in momentary glimpses. They are each very good, caring and dedicated individuals. I'm proud of each. My youngest amazes equally as much as his siblings, and I adore each of them.

Al Margulies, one of this blog's earliest and
most vocal supporters, holds his copy
of my book. Thanks, Al... for
always being there and
giving constant
encouragement.

Once the birthday boy had retired, I finally picked up my book. Leafing through it, I checked the pagination, enjoyed my designer's polish, and marveled at the physical affirmation of my labors. A lifetime of emotion engulfed me. My mother encouraged, almost begged me to "do something" with my writing. Now she's been gone nearly a dozen years and I have finally heeded her advice. Tears fell because she's not here to tell me, "Good job. It's about damn time, Deke." I've always been a bit pokey, but when I set my mind to something, amazing things have happened in my life. Stubborn like Ma, determined like Pa. Convincingly me, no matter what success that might bring. When I held the result of 18 months out of my nearly three-score years, the tears burst forth like a dynamited dam. Ecstasy, grief, relief, anxiety, accomplishment, and finally, peace.

If I die tomorrow, this book would be a pretty good pinnacle. While not some earth-shattering literary masterpiece, it exists. I have no illusions of grandeur, as do many who write a book and consider it the best since Great Expectations. Putting sentences together is easy, but creating art takes a master. I'm no Tom Petty, but I'll always look up to him. He defied the status-quo and made a career just being himself. And that, as history has already noted, was a helluva great gig.
"Yeah, I'll be king, when dogs get wings. Can I help it if I still dream time to time." --Tom Petty, It's Good to Be King" 
I'm not done yet though, that's for damn sure. You haven't heard my last song. Soon, I'll leave Deke behind. Shred the shroud and be me for the rest of this elusive illusion we know as 'life.' As many of you know, my back-story is quite inspiring. Mom gave me the means, and now her soul is nodding in peace. Damn the doctors of yesteryear, just like Tom's torpedoes. We've blasted through frustrating obstacles the cosmos puts in the way of progress, and the road ahead is filled with potholes... but at least it's visible now.

Thanks for putting up with me. I hope you enjoy the ride half as much as I have. If management fires me for speaking my mind, I'll still have the wonderful feeling that you and I connected... if even for a few minutes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

So You Want to Write A Book, Eh?

It's been a tough roll these past 18 months, but my book is published. At long last.

People don't realize how much work goes into such a project. In this case, it took several steps. First I read each post I had written and made a list of possible book entries. (Simultaneously, I kept writing new posts.) Once this was done, I decided to list them chronologically, and began transferring them into a document, editing as I went. Since I only had an hour or two after work each night, this stage took several months.

After choosing the posts, I decided to write a glossary of transit terms to put in the book, which added another month. Once all this was complete, the word count was around 150,000. My problem with brevity necessitated a heavy first round of editing, which took about a month. My own red pen chopped about 30,000 words. Just by substituting three words for five, four for seven or eight, I kept the original intent of each post while ensuring you wouldn't fall asleep halfway through a chapter. Then I sent it to a fellow bus operator, who made some valuable observations and suggestions. Referring to his notes, I chopped another 10,000 words. Afterward, I sent the manuscript to five family members and friends asking them to read it and offer edits and criticism. Only one took the challenge, and he ripped me a new body part. A professional writer in his own right, Roger was painfully honest, which is just what I needed. He and I have known each other since grade school, and that deep bond between us kept me from wanting to strangle him. (Writers have a love/hate relationship with their editors.) After I made another long list of changes, my beloved wife read it and found several other gaffes needing correction. Then it was back to Roger, and just for good measure, I had a college student put the manuscript under his finely-tuned microscope. Good thing Justin read through it, because he found some errors that would have been quite embarrassing.

By August of this year, I believed it was ready to go and hired a designer (Heidi North Designs, New York City) for a professional look. (Even bullshitters hire professionals, so I plunked down a chunk of cash and found a great one.) The book's cover was the first go-round, and she gave me three choices. When you present me with choices, I have to tear my hair off in chunks because decisions are terribly difficult for me. Finally, I picked one design. The interior took longer, because there are features I thought you would enjoy that needed to look and feel different from the chapters they referred to. Some of your comments were added in a section I called RAW (Readers Always Write). Several of the chapters needed a prelude to explain either how I felt as I wrote the post or added some other insights. These are called Deke's Notes.

Heidi and I discussed different styles, and I chose a font I've loved since I was a typographer, called Palatino. A classic typeface designed in 1949 by Hermann Zapf, Palatino is very easy on the eyes, and its italic form is visually orgasmic. I've used it on each of my poems, and was on my company letterhead and business cards when I ran a family typography business. She delighted me with the use of drop caps to start each chapter, which highlight Palatino's simple elegance.

When I received the first pass, it looked wonderful. The manuscript still needed some tweaking, which she did marvelously even though my methodology and software did not lend itself well to marking up the changes. The final mechanical process was made extremely difficult by Amazon, but we managed to come up with a final product that jived with specifications. There were variances of .6667" that drove us both insane. After many sleepless nights and fretful trepidations, Amazon finally accepted the files, and my book became a reality after 18 months and about 1,600 hours of painstaking work.

Releasing a book to the masses is not only a lot of work, but a grand leap of faith. Many people say they're going to write a book but don't; others write it but don't put it out to a worldwide audience; and some take the giant step of putting themselves out there. I've never been one to turn down a challenge. I would rather run into the field of battle knowing I could be struck down by an errant sword instead of cowering on the sidelines muttering "what if?" to myself for an eternity. My life has always been that way. If I charge up a hill with a roar, I've been able to plant my flag at the top and enjoy the view. Sure, many a time I've been knocked down. When that happens, I just jump up, dust myself off and keep fighting.

This project has pushed me back and kicked me in the balls so many times I have scars. Nightmares have been harsh; in one I was lynched by an angry mob of management trolls who left me hanging naked in the yard for all drivers to see. Hopefully, this isn't an indication of what's to come. The book pokes at management, but I tempered the language because my goal is to educate and inform rather than infuriate. Actually, I skewer pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists more strenuously than management. If I don't piss someone off, then I'm not doing my job correctly. It's the same thing for writing as it is bus operations. My greatest hope is that someone reads the book and changes a few habits, ultimately saving lives in the process. We see so many ridiculous gaffes out there and save countless lives on a daily basis, all around the world. It doesn't matter if you drive in Sydney, London, Barcelona or Boston... human beings exhibit much the save behavior as they do here in Portland.

My original goal was to publish my first book at the ripe old age of 25. Missed that deadline by decades. I hope you buy a copy (or two!). If you've read my blog a while, you'll recognize some of it. This version is cleaner, more professional. It's truly a labor of love. The blog has grown by almost 100,000 hits this year, which is notable because on January 1, 2017, it had 85,000 hits. You've been with me through some of the roughest spots in my career, and I appreciate your patience with my fits and rants. I've tried to add different avenues to the blog this year, and in May I will celebrate my fifth anniversary as a blogger. There's no telling how long I can keep this up, or whether my audience will continue to read it. Either way, it's been a helluva ride and I can't thank you all enough.

If you want a signed copy, come and find me. Or, mail your copy to Just Zakanna Productions with a SASE (old-school acronym meaning "Self Addressed Stamped Envelope"), and I'll sign it and mail it back to you. Just remember, Deke's identity remains a union secret. Be subtle, please. I'm still a bus driver, and need to concentrate on the road. If too many people know who Deke is, it would be distracting. My main goal is to remain kind, respectful, polite, thoughtful, patient, vigilant, calm, smart, smooth and above all, safe. That's pretty hard to do in normal conditions; if my head grows past its humble limits, it wouldn't be pretty.

Thanks for reading, and for your support and kindness. Meanwhile, it's time again, to JUST DRIVE.

Order "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane"

Monday, October 30, 2017

Phone Blunder


Sometimes I do things my wife doesn't even hear about, until she reads my blog. This incident, which I most certainly did not report to Dispatch, is a life lesson for those of us who pay too much attention to our phones instead of the immediate task at hand.

When I first bought my "smart" phone a few years ago, I found myself doing truly stupid things. Like when I was reading a text and walked smack dab into a power pole. (Nobody saw that one... I hope.) From that point on I promised myself to be more vigilant about being aware of my surroundings. I've seen texting bicyclists, motorists and skateboarders tooling along on a path of unknown disasters, some with painful results. Smug in my own belief I no longer paid more attention to my phone than what I was doing, I've been vocal in my disdain for such actions by others.

The other day however, I entered a toilet stall, closed it and removed my pants, all while reading an email from my book designer. Instead of performing the normal checks prior to relieving myself, imagine my surprise when I sat on the toilet without checking to see if the seat was down. Yeah. It wasn't. SPLASH! My butt and its neighbors took a bath.

Now you must remember what other pre-trip items one checks before sitting on the comfort station. Yeah. No toilet paper. No seat cover tissues.

Bus operators are fairly innovative and resourceful people. Deciding I should forgo the normal routine, there was one dilemma facing me: how to dry the derriere. Knowing the hand-washing station doesn't feature paper towels, with only one of those annoying air-blowing hand-dryers, and also aware that my follower would be arriving and entering the bathroom in a few minutes, I had to act fast.

Hip-hopping to the dryer, I held the front of my pants up while exposing my hind end to the dryer. Even turned it on with my butt cheek. I was hoping (and praying) nobody walked in to see me like that. Satisfied with the dryer's efficiency, I zipped and fastened in record time. Butt cheeks were still a wee-bit damp, but the dripping was over and I could walk out of there with my head held high.

Almost walked right into Brother Chris on the way out, not revealing a thing. Walked to the customer service counter of the business establishment and complained about the lack of toilet paper in the men's room.

They say even the lower primates could do my job. Perhaps this time, it was true.