Sunday, August 18, 2019

I Detest Portland Protests!

Local cops were likely really tired of trouble-causers after a full day
of protesting miscreants. My bus was simply delayed. The poor sap
driving that Line 8 had a front-row seat to whatever
transpired at 5/Pine. I rolled out 20 minutes late
from the 2nd position, with permission.

Deke's Note: I really should get to bed. It was an excruciatingly-long week and I'm beyond exhausted after 50+ hours in the seat. However, I feel a strong need to... JUST WRITE. So here's a snippet describing another wild day as a Portland bus operator. 

When I turned in my pouch Friday night, I asked the Station Agent about possible reroutes due to Portland's planned protests by the Proud Boys and those opposed. He was understandably vague. He knew what I was getting at... what was I getting into as we rolled into the next service day? I immediately understood that he didn't want to fan the flames of a collective unease about yet another Portland Protest. I looked into his eyes and noted the general weariness of a Station Agent with a hint of a plea: don't mark off, please.

With a heavy sigh, I promised him I would faithfully report to my impending run. While the bullpen that time of day is normally quiet, the sense of transit doom pervaded the entire building. Knowing the incredible effort our agency's nuts-and-bolts Operations staff would be faced with, I felt a duty to be one of its' trusted and experienced operators on the road during yet another tumultuous Portland Protest Day. While I dreaded what lie ahead, I felt a sense of pride and determination to roll through whatever is thrown our way. Heavy rain, snow, ice, extreme heat, violent protests... I've driven through it all.

First though, I met with my dear friends Tom and Michelle for lunch. Their 23-year-old son, a young man I coached when he was a middle-school basketball phenom and had ridden my bus regularly earlier this year, died recently. We had not seen each other for two years, and it was a cathartic event for us. I returned Joseph's identification card to them, retrieved from our Lost and Found Department the day after he died. It was sad for us all, but we passed the time away remembering all the good times we've shared, rather than crying over the dear lad we lost. Michelle turned Joseph's ID in her hands, and I avoided looking directly at her, feeling the pain and tears she will always have for losing her youngest. It's a nightmare none of us ever think we could endure, but these two are doing it. Hugging them both, I hoped they felt the love and sorrow for them and their four remaining sons which I've held inside since Joe died.

With this heavy heart, I left them and headed into the storm.

Gratefully, the protesters were usually far-removed from where I drove. My second run through downtown required a reroute down a street buses usually don't roll. Promising my passengers to find safe places for them to exit, I rolled carefully behind a 44 bus. At one tricky point, an ADA passenger in a wheelchair flagged me down. Positioning my bus as carefully as possible, the ramp was lowered to street level, which makes for a steep angle. Luckily, Lady ADA rolled expertly up the ramp to my sigh of great relief. Although she caught my bus traveling in the opposite direction from what she desired, I was able to safely deposit her within two blocks of the bus she needed.

From that point, the rest of my run was devoted to catching up on time lost during the reroute. At the end of the line, we arrived only a few minutes before I was scheduled to leave. But hey, I had to pee. Hitting "Restroom Delay" on the CAD, I briskly walked to the bathroom and made it back only two minutes late for departure. A few puffs of nicotine en route prepared me for what I believed could be a rush through a tear-gassed battle zone. As I started the engine, I bowed my head in prayer and a new confidence shone through my soul. Slipping The Beast into gear, I rolled back into the fray.

Luckily, the downtown reroute was suspended shortly before I arrived downtown. My sigh of relief must have rivaled a bus fart. When I got to the end of the line, I was customarily early and thus extended my normally-brief break. Fortifying myself with a meal break and call to my Beloved, I knew the rest of the day would transpire as usual... quietly.

Until the last run out of downtown, that is. As I rolled into the second stop on this final run, I was blocked by a bus in the first position and a clusterfuck of cop cars. Some crazed fool had started something with another guy, and it got ugly really quick. A quick-thinking somebody called the cops, and within moments, our first Transit Mall stop was aswarm with police cruisers and about 20 officers. Five buses were blocked while Perp was tased and subdued. Since we were stuck, bus ops and supervisors, along with passengers and standers-by congregated to find out what the buzz was. It gave me an extended vape break.

One guy passed and pointing to my ride, informed me "that's my bus."

"Oh yeah," I replied, "did you just buy it?"

"Uh huh," he said.

"Okay," I replied with a laugh, "where's my fucking paycheck then?"

He kept walking.

I time-slipped for the time lost, and slipped into another wonderful respite from this lifestyle I've come to endure. I'm temporarily free of the bonds which keep me captive five days a week.

Work my day off? Nah, I'd rather our Canadian GM take a shift behind the wheel. Maybe then he'd realize what WE go through.

Later, transit. I'm deep into a bottle of 12yo Singleton, and it's time to sleep off the week's trials. My Beloved just awoke and found me still at the keyboard. She's understandably upset with me... I've devoted more time to my readers than I promised.

Deke's in trouble again. Good night.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

My Random Thoughts for Today

A retiree pounced upon a driver's post about passing up an intending passenger for flipping him off. He seemed to think it was our duty to give this person a ride. I disagree.

Given the public's, and our own management's, penchant for disrespecting us both literally and figuratively, we are not going to give certain people a ride. Take a foolish chance to catch a bus, and you're too stupid to ride. Not only are you risking an accident from motorists having to brake suddenly to avoid hitting you, but certainly in peril of becoming part of the pavement. If we do stoop to this irrational level of "service to the community," we're actually doing a disservice. Not only is flipping a bus driver disrespectful to the nth degree, it amplifies a pandemic of horrific treatment of those who provide an invaluable service to our fellow citizens. It also gives those on the bus reason to say, "Hey, it doesn't matter what we do, they're gonna give us a ride anyway."

Usually those who mistreat us are not working and contributing to the common good. They are also more apt to cause trouble once aboard. Why should they be treated the same as those who are at their stops on time, and pay their fare even though they're usually one check away from the street? Are they less important than likely freeloaders who defy their own safety to disrupt an operator's smooth and trouble-free roll? Fare payers are infinitely more valuable to this operator than the miscreants who make our lives miserable. Sorry, Honored Retiree, but we have to make judgment calls all day, and some are likely to be unpopular. Like one operator said, "Would you expect a cabbie to give you a ride if you flipped him off?" We do a very tough job, but we're human nonetheless. So far, we've been attacked in many ways, over 60 times so far in 2019. Don't expect a miracle for your misbehavior... ain't gonna happen.

* * * * *

Had my on-time roll assaulted by the same guy at least three times today. He was drunk in early afternoon, expected other passengers to help tote his several bags on the bus, taking at least three minutes the first time to board. Each time he came aboard, the delay became progressively-longer. He was rude, and increasingly more drunk as the day progressed. On my final run, it is crucial for my passengers to reach a MAX station before the train leaves. This time, this obnoxious guy delayed us 15 minutes as he struggled with his overloaded cart. Granted, some folks have to tote their life's belongings with them to safeguard against theft. But they are usually respectful, timely and efficient. This guy tested the limits of my patience and was rude to me and the kind people who pitched in to help him. I had to leave the bus while he exited because I was so frustrated it was all I could do not to explode.

We all do "transit math" as we execute a run, predicting how long it will take given the excruciatingly-tight schedules we're expected to maintain. Factoring in a few slower boardings is expected. When one ill-prepared drunkard ruins your predictions, you are alone in shouldering the burden of those who are inconvenienced due to such a deviation. Some may think me hard-hearted, but too damn bad. I serve the masses, but reserve the right to be angry at those who fail to think of others. This guy was unable to think of anybody but himself. If I see him alone at a stop next time, I'm highly-tempted to roll right past. The only problem is that he will just cause my follower grief, and I hate to do that to my brothers and sisters.

* * * * *

My days are full of compassion, kindness and patience. These values are part of my 11-point daily mantra which I recite before each day behind the wheel. When I'm tested, it can take a lot of strength to remember patience. I do this because I take immense pride in what I do, and constantly strive to do better than I did the day before. Every day. Sometimes, I fail at some point. All I can do is strive to improve.

"You're one of the best drivers on this line," a lady told me earlier in the day. "You actually care about us."

"Thanks," I replied, "but my fellow operators care about you too. We just show it differently."

When you assail my good side, you're apt to see my temper foul quicker than if a BMW cuts off the bus. The majority of my passengers know the rules, respect them and are polite in their interactions with others. I'm not very sympathetic with the selfish. I was married to It, once upon a long ago time.

* * * * *

Our management is back to its typically-arrogant and operator-blind ways. As of April 1, our shoes must only be black. Forgive me, but I don't remember signing up for the military. If they truly gave one damn, management would realize comfort is the main concern. If our feet are confined to one type of shoe, we're not entirely safe. I wear a boot of two currently-acceptable colors: brown and black. It is capable of being shined, but I refuse to do so. My uniforms are clean, neat and worn with the respect afforded my position. There are many more points needed its poorly-guided notions, such as our collective safety. Give me the right to dictate management's uniform, and we'd see how quickly they realize how silly a notion that would be. Utter foolishness deserves the same in return. Shame on them for puffing up with unwarranted self-importance instead of supporting those who do the real work of transit. What's next, the color of our underwear?

* * * * *

The subject of a future post will be directed toward a new metro-wide committee whose task it will be to "investigate" collisions with transit vehicles. Once again, it's an obvious ploy aimed toward blaming US for the public's lack of safety awareness. Sure, transit operators are human, therefore subject to failing to predict another's foolish actions in our paths, just a millisecond too late before the "victim" makes contact with our vehicles. What the worthless local media is ignorant about is how many lives we save every day. But hey, let's face it: only blood sells.

Let that thought fester in your minds whilst I ponder further.

* * * * *

As I've progressed as an operator, each shift has become a lesson in extreme vigilance and patience. Before most of you read this, I'll be deep into Proud Boys vs. Antifa Part Ad Infinitum, protected only by my wits and sheer will to persevere against impossible odds. I hope when you read this, you are safe. My own safety is always in peril, as is that of every one of my brothers and sisters worldwide who provide safe rides to millions every hour of every day each year. Remember that when you berate us for the least popular decisions we have to make.

Guest Post: Shut Up and Sit Down

All photos by Deke N. Blue

Deke's Note: Way cool, I have a guest post from a transit passenger! He's been hot on the trail of your Deke a few years now, and I'm honored he submitted this piece for the blog. As I read it, I found it a refreshing change of pace for FTDS. I've blasted y'all with what it's like to drive the masses, but we rarely hear from a really cool rider. He's wise to our ways, yet understanding just the same. It's a well-written look at our profession from one who has ridden since he was a kid. I hope you enjoy this piece. I sure did. Thanks, CosmicCharlie! 

Shut Up and Sit Down

by @CosmicCharlie97

Back when I was a teenager, pondering my future options, I’d contemplated becoming a bus driver.

I loved to drive, and was good with people. One little catch: I also loved the devil’s lettuce, my “girlfriend Maryjane.” Since government agencies frown on their drivers firing up before a shift, my career as a twenty-ton land-yacht captain would have to wait for more ‘normal’ times. We’re still waiting for that clear patch on the ol’ drug test.

In the meantime, I’ve been known to drive a cash register at a convenience store in the heart of beautiful downtown Portland. It’s a lot like driving a bus, people-wise. Babysitting, massaging bosses’ egos, etc. You have your nice ones, your sweet ones, your strange ones. And your scary ones. At least at my job I don’t have to drive them home.

But I do have to get to work, a 100-block journey I have not yet been forced to walk. Thanks to TriMet, I get delivered within a mile or so of my targets every day.

They used to call the bus-pass the Passport to Adventure. For me, it still is. I’ve been riding  TriMet since the mid-1970s, riding the #74 from Sandy, Oregon to Gresham, switching to the #44 Sherwood/Banfield Express, passing Lloyd Center and transferring to the #6 Union Avenue bus for a ride up the future MLK Blvd to Jantzen Beach, where a $1.25 double-feature awaited. I’d commute home in the evening, last bus out of Gresham left at 6:35; be there or be stranded. My parents trusted me. I’m surprised they trusted the outside world as much, but they let me venture forth. I learned a lot about the real world on those bus rides, and am grateful for the education.

One day, as I was being pressured to choose a career at the Youth Program where I was enrolled, my supervisor needed cigarettes, and pulled up to a Plaid Pantry in West Linn. NOW HIRING! I looked inside. The clerk was sitting on the counter, smoking a cigarette and talking to a girl in a bikini. “I can do that!” I thought, and I’ve pretty much never looked back.

These days, my commute starts before school gets out, and finishes after midnight. I watch the Transit Tracker. Even though my house is three blocks from the bus stop, I must leave with six minutes on the tracker, or the bus will pass me. Even though I can walk the half-mile to the MAX stop in eight minutes, getting around the corner takes most of that time in TriMet’s universe.

I have three options for getting downtown and back, two bus lines and the MAX. Weekdays before 7 PM I can catch the bus three blocks from my house, otherwise it’s a walk under the freeway and over to the transit center where all the buses leave. They all arrive downtown within 35-38 minutes, dependent upon route and time of day. Do I want the pretty scenic view (MAX), the residential Portlandia-looking route, or good old Hawthorne, where everything is wacky?

We’ll do wacky on the way home. To the MAX!

I sit on the fire plug across the street from the bus stop, watching for the bus. On Transit Tracker, six minutes meant six minutes, and I see the headlights off in the distance. I cross the street, and wave my pass at the driver. I am always polite, give a nod. I understand if you don’t want to talk. Sometimes there aren’t enough words in the day. I still acknowledge. Usually I ride all the way to town, but this day he drops me at the stop by the freeway, down the hill from MAX. Past the homeless camps, making sure to walk against traffic, (flying bicycles) I reach the top, tap the Hop card and choose the end of the platform that matches the old-fashioned MAX tall-car. I have to climb stairs, but the view!

The MAX has an eclectic mixture. A woman applies makeup. A couple high-schoolers hit on a vape pen, pretending no one will notice. (No one but me does.) A special-needs kid calls a homeless woman a monster, leading to loud crying and awkward learning moments for all involved.

I stare out the window, opting out of music. I once heard a bus driver say, “Silence is the one music we can all agree on.” There was a time when I needed a soundtrack to my life, but I have come to appreciate the sound of nothing. I decompress, and we are all the better for it.

When the silence lacks, and I feel like I’m on a date with elderly Juggalos, I will tune out the world. I have an MP3 player the size of a Zippo lighter that holds 120 CDs with everything from Slayer for the rough nights, to Isaac Hayes for when I want to fall in love. The complete collections of Tool, Slipknot and Steely Dan. (I have nodded out to Aja more than once, and woke near home to Deacon Blues.)

Most of the time, though, I enjoy the live theater-on-wheels, groovin’ to the music in my head.

* * *

Past midnight, after 12 hours on my feet, I just want the day to be over. I work in the center of downtown, the buses to my neighborhood run on the south end. I have a minimum of eight blocks to the bus stop, with three options. None of the buses turn down the mall, so I have to hustle up the hill. I used to relish the exercise, but now I resent it. The older I get, the farther they make me walk! I remember when buses stopped every other block, by cracky!

The Tigard bus driver has shown pity on me. He’s seen me busting ass up the mall, and will sit for a second and wait to give me a lift. It’s one stop. (Eight blocks in seven minute walk for me.) The man is a God. The Hawthorne driver also is a buddy. He’s sat until the last possible second to keep me from being stuck downtown for another half-hour with the lovely folks I’ve been babysitting all day. I serve those drivers steaming heaps of praise.

Instead of collapsing at the finish, I meander up to the bus stop, after a couple puffs of attitude adjustment. (The Hawthorne bus doesn’t really always smell like weed; only when Hassan and I are riding.) The usuals are milling about, and the wait is rarely long. Using my Honored Citizen card like a club, (ladies first, tho) I snag a seat in the far back, where the windows open and the scary people sit. (You know, those guys who smell like weed…)

I love my fellow commuters, but I’ve just spent ten hours being nice to strangers, and I am tired of talking about the weather. I’m coming down from the rush of work, and tell people, “It’s the half-hour commute that keeps me from going home and kicking the dog.” I know how annoyed I get when there’s one loud couple on the bus; I don’t want some drunk eliciting my life story for every passenger to force-memorize.

If we must talk, we do so quietly. Sit over here, and keep your goddamn voice down.

There’s Buttcrack Bentley, a quirky fellow who looks like the Jeffersons' neighbor. His trousers are worn hip-hop style, though unintentional. And then the gal from the burger joint, whose schedule is a carbon copy of mine. (Almost every commute, both ways. Portland weird.) There’s Bluto, the old closeted redneck who hates rap. He once threatened a black kid’s radio, and got shouted off the bus. Welcome to Portland.

There are some I would like to get to know. The Latina who appears to be between 25-40 but is probably 50, and got stuck sitting in the back with us. She smells nice, and even waved at me when she got off the bus. I’m officially twitterpated! But because we all have to ride this bus, I will always be a gentleman. My commute is traditionally a quiet, safe one. It should be like that for everyone. I’m not going to creep the nice ladies out by bothering them.

I used to know, I mean really know, the drivers. Currently there are several I know by sight, but not by name. That will change if they last. Every three months there’s a new batch, as their schedules change. The long-timers treat me well, and the newbies learn to. Although, I swear there’s a conspiracy where on the last two weeks of every sign-up the drivers get even by being one minute early, leaving just as you hit the back bumper, etc. By the time your complaint is filed, they’re on a different run. Is that why drivers take vacation days during the first part of sign-ups?) Snopes please…

Half my Facebook friends are former bus drivers. A small sampling:

The Rampant Lion, who drove the “Loove Buus” from Northwest Portland. He’s still around, complete with sultry-voiced announcements.

I could text Biggdaddy or Blythers and say, “I’m late, go!” or “I’m one block away.” Although I’d never stop to text if I was one block away. Time is of the essence when there are only two more buses at that point of the night.

Cici was like everyone’s mom, yelling to “get on the floor!” when gunfire erupted at the door-line of Copper Penny.

There was David Crosby, who smelled slightly of patchouli and took his time, yet ended up on schedule anyway.

And Dan Booker, who would tell jailbirds looking for a free ride, “Telling me you just got out of jail lets me know one thing. You are an unsuccessful criminal. Come back when you can pay like a respectable citizen.”

They’ve all retired. I guess I’d be as well, had I gone the bus driver route.

Nah, they’d have fired me for smoking weed…

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wanna Ride with Deke? Just Peacefully Step Aboard

The world is upside down; those who have,
versus those of us who have something,
versus those who have nothing.

Deke's Note: Perhaps I should have written this earlier, but I have in bits and pieces over the years. Hopefully, my words haven't been overly-negative toward the homeless, but I'm afraid it's a social ill we all tend to gloss over. Surely, many of you reading have either been there or perilously close. Here, I finally pay homage to those we often look past while hoping we don't fall victim to their plight.

They ride my bus, and often they do pay their fare. Sometimes they politely beg a ride. Others just brush past me without a word; perhaps they're tired of explaining they have no money. If they're short some amount, I don't care. You drop a few coins in the fare box, I print you a ticket. I've grown to realize life is too short to squabble over pennies. Our management doesn't care, why should I? My job is to provide rides; it's management's job to give a shit whether people pay.

We're victim to some of their horrific antics: abuse, insult, injury via assault. They assail us more than "normal" passengers. Still, our office is filled with those of all socioeconomic strata, every walk of the paths humans traverse.

I too have been homeless and also close to it, in my own life. As a newlywed 20-year-old who moved to Boulder, CO just for the hell of it, I was woefully ill-prepared for life. Neither of us had a job when we arrived, but we managed to find decent ones after a disastrous stint as encyclopedia salespeople... one in which we starved while begging people to buy into our less-than-honest pitch. After a few weeks of banging on doors, we gave it up and sought "real" jobs.

The deal-basher for me was when I knocked one day to find a little girl in a black dress opening her door to me.

"Hello," the kid said.

"Hello," I replied, smiling. I've always loved kids, even when I was one myself, which at that time I pretty much was. "Is your mommy home?" This was the best play, as the ladies were often more interested in the education of their children.

"No," the little girl answered. She looked directly into my eyes. "My mommy died today."

"Oh," I managed, choking. I took a step back. "Okay... I'm so sorry honey. Peace be with you." I turned abruptly away, shocked and feeling terribly guilty. I heard the door close softly behind me. Although my own mother would live another quarter-century after this episode, at that time I dreaded it. Luckily, my parents had survived through my childhood and would continue well into my middle-age.

I sat on the curb just down the street contemplating my next move, fearful how horrendous our financial situation was. We were living out of our Datsun pickup, stubborn in our desire to live on our own. However, this gig wasn't cutting it. After two weeks on the road, I sat on the corner of some residential district in Bumfuck Nebraska. I had under 10 bucks in my pockets, my wife had even less. We hadn't made a cent on this fool's errand, not likely to any time soon.

The little girl had really shaken me. It was that moment I decided to quit. Sitting there, I heard loud rock music coming from the house across the street. It was a "what the hell" moment, and before I could knock on the door, it opened to a wild-looking but smiling young man.

"Dude!" He looked genuinely concerned as he studied my face. "I saw you sitting in front of the Jensens' house, and you looked totally freaked out! Mrs. Jensen died today in a car wreck! Sweet lady, major bummer. Come in, you look like you could use a beer!"

"Yeah," I managed. "I believe I could."

I don't remember the rest of that afternoon, except that I made it to the pre-arranged pickup just on time, or I would have been stranded there. Reeking of beer and God-knows-what-else, my wife and co-workers quizzed me.

"Almost had a sale," I lied. "But they were too buzzed to give a damn about encyclopedias. Had a good time though!"

My supervisor wasn't impressed with my , and my fellow salesmen seemed a bit jealous of my good time. When I told them what had happened, everyone quieted for quite a long while. We rode in silence a good 10 minutes or more.

Had I not quit when we arrived back in town, I'm sure they would have fired me. I refused to go out selling any more in the few little towns we preyed upon afterward. In one town, I found a park and sat there smoking cigarettes and flirting with squirrels. It was impossible for me to knock upon another door. That little girl haunted me too much.

A week later, I found a job at a printing plant and began earning a paycheck again. We still lived in our truck. My wife worked at a health club, giving us somewhere to shower. By the end of my week, a soak in the jacuzzi revitalized my young body. She worked days and I nights. She'd pick me up at 6:00 a.m. and I'd drop her off at work, shower and head up into the mountains where I slept the day away. Come evening, we'd switch roles.

It was fun, in a way. However, we felt scared and lost even though the adventure of it was initially alluring. Our meals were meager, but regular. There was a sense of freedom in the midst of fear. Neither of us had suffered the loss we now lived. It didn't last.

Even though we lacked a proper roof over us, we could have tucked tail and headed home at any time. We fought through it and found a basement to rent. We survived.

Shortly before I met my beloved (current, and final wife), I was a lost and disillusioned single father of the wonderful child my first marriage produced. I made just enough money to pay rent and bills, and food for the weeks I had my daughter. Many a time, I starved myself to make ends meet. One time, I was cited for not having auto insurance after an illegal left turn in front of The Man. (This was my last ticket... 26 years ago.) I told the judge it was either pay for insurance or not feed my daughter. He basically told me to starve... it wasn't against the law to do that. Then he levied a fine and ordered me to buy into state-sponsored extortion otherwise known as... insurance. Pay in with no expectation of an invested return. There was no option.

Today, I remember how lucky I was in comparison to many who languish in today's hellish economic reality. Many are mentally ill, without the ability to work. There is little society does for these poor folks... they get by as empty-bottle peddlers, beggars. Others are just dopers who don't care what happens to them; they have given up any hope of a "normal" life. Some just don't think the battle is worth the fight. They have enough money to survive, and live wherever they can pitch their tent for the night. Given today's lack of empathy and compassion, it's easy to understand. When a two-bedroom slum costs over half the minimum wage doled out to the working masses, where's the allure?

The vaunted American Dream is as dead as half the Beatles. The Greatest Generation sold out to the rich man's party, the Greedy Old Patricians, leaving us fighting amongst each other over the crumpet crumbs dribbling down from the richest. Trickle-down economics efficiently emaciating the masses. Hard-working, decent people are pitted against those who do the same work for a mere pittance of what it costs to simply survive. Unless a major paradigm happens to shift, we're doomed to continue this slaughter of each other in misguided self-loathing rather than rise up and say: ENOUGH! Example: mass shootings too numerous and excruciating to delve into here. Their cause? Divide and conquer, beloved readers of all beliefs. We're ferociously pit against one another, too blinded by exaggerated and falsified bullshit to see the irony of our rage.

I'm one of the few who can legally ride transit free. It's a great benefit of the job I do. My salary is enough to keep housed, fed and insured. This writing gig doesn't earn shit, but I continue out of love for my brothers and sisters. Our management surely won't give us our due in pay or respect, so I write in hopes my words simply give us a voice. Without that, what else is there? Either way, we are the collective Oliver Twist, who dared utter: "Please sir, can I have some more?"

So, when poor folk clamber into my rolling office, it matters not whether they pay. While I don't agree transit should ever be free to the masses, I cannot help but feel solidarity with those who cannot pay. If they do, am I insisting they ride in exchange for some paltry meal? Is it that important they pay, even when some poor working stiff scrapes together pocket change to honestly offer full fare? It's truly a conundrum, but I favor compassion over a rich man's faulty ideology, any day.

The rich want us to fight each other: those who have a bit versus those who have little. It keeps them in power, and us arguing over petty bullshit. Remember this when you vote. I certainly will. Even though I "work" for a living, to what ill dreams has it provided? We're living proof of what has become the American Nightmare. I'm still one paycheck from those who beg a ride. We're not much different; I'm just a tad luckier than they.

Pay when you can. If you can't, on my bus I'll understand. Been there, somewhat... done that. Welcome aboard, just humbly accept and we're good. It's the least I can do.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Let's Turn Here

We marched in support of Oregon HB 2677.
Please join us, for if you think
we're not deserving then
you should
Deke's Note: I've passed along many "Deke" business cards to people the past month. Hopefully at least one of you is a new reader. After six years of bloggery, I strive to give new readers a carrot on which to feed on as followers of this blog. I write what it's like to be me, in the driver seat of a city bus. This is truly one post in which I describe my feelings to you, and hope it resonates within the cognizance that we are just like you... except a wee bit more vigilant than most are where their own safety is concerned.

The past week, let me see... drunks, flirts, decent working people just wanting to arrive home after a grueling day serving those masters who underpay them. It's my sincere pleasure to serve, even when I'm insulted by their indifference and rude (yet perhaps unintentional) lack of greeting or eye contact as they board.

I'm numb to such insults now. It's simply a beast we can never tame. Where I was once insistent on every facet of code being adhered to, my only concern seems to be the continuance of my patented smooth roll. Feet off the seats, please. In fact, everything I say now is prefaced with "please" and punctuated with "thank you." My mantra dictates that everything I say to people be polite and respectful. It is my hope they will return this consideration with some modicum of reciprocation. If not, that's when I get chippy.

After seven years of this career, I have learned volumes about human behavior. You can never win an argument with one bent upon raising hell. The only hope you have is to control your own temper and use cunning to outwit your adversaries. Luckily, I haven't had anyone challenge my polite requests as of late, so I believe this approach is working. So far...

My fall run during the week leaves me feeling apprehensive. I've done this before, during the same period of the year. It is a fascinating mix of passengers: professionals with a mix of working class folk, occasionally the smartass high school kid or errant drunken fool. It's a challenge I must face each year, instead of remaining on one line constantly. It teaches me the value of not becoming complacent while also exposing me to a different mix of Portlanders. And I do love my fellow citizens so much... it's a breath of fresh air to experience an entirely-different bunch on occasion.

Perhaps I'll see, once again, those I befriended the last time I rolled their way. Given my constant penchant for promoting JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane and this blog you're reading, there will likely be new friendships made and mistakes I must learn from. If you go through this career dreading any change, you're missing the wonderful opportunity given those who choose to transport their fellow citizens to wherever they must go. Complacency in any career is something we must all be wary of. It breeds laziness and the possibility of making grave mistakes. As a driver, I must always be vigilant of the dangers others present. They likely are blissfully unaware of the damage my vehicle could cause them, but I am always aware of the nightmare their loved ones would endure if we made contact. Knowing the terror I have of losing a loved one, especially having lost my only hero, Daddy Blue, last year... the fear of my taking someone away from their own family terrifies me. I would never be able to console myself given the horrific grief they would experience.

Sure, I honk at people. My horn is a warning device. Sometimes, my "beep beep" is code for "you're a dumbass, be careful!" which my management frowns upon. They, however, don't have to fear the results of a fatal accident. They're insulated from our reality, but I'm laid open to a public scrutiny they'll never know if my vehicle causes a fatality. They would rip me apart rather than defend me. This is a reality we all know as bus operators. Why our management treats us as "other" is beyond apprehension. Their goal should be to support us, but the past decade has shown them to be unnecessary adversaries. It makes me sad, knowing that if I'm ever "involved," I would be thrown under the very bus I've driven safely all these years. No matter how many safety awards or commendations I've received... if I am involved in a collision that results in grave injury or death, I become personae non grata in their judgmental eyes.

Yet, I digress. Given the feel of a keyboard, I could go on ad infinitum, and that's where you've grown weary with my writing. So I'll stop here.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Peter's Pennance

We roll daily into dangers known or unimagined,
into the shadows of what lies ahead.
Deke's Note: If you're still paying attention, you have noticed over the past year my growing weariness. I waffle, wiggle and squirm, all while wrestling with whether I should continue blogging.

Your comments of support have been extremely uplifting. Knowing you are with me either way is inspiring. My writing has always been a catharsis to whatever trials I face. It soothes me like a favorite song, a scene in the wilderness of my many traipsings, or the soothing touch of my beloved. Having a writer's dual personality is a horrible way to treat myself... always struggling with weighing reality versus fantasy. What it all boils down to is that I cannot stop blogging. My initial goal was simply to exercise my "chops" while describing the life of a bus operator. It has evolved from surprise and wonder, to weariness and frustration. I must grate on your nerves at times. This is evident by the lower numbers of you who read. I call this Deke Fatigue. "Oh God," you say so loudly I can hear you in my dreams, "Deke is bitching again. Next..."

Readership has evolved along with my tenure. Some of you have read since I was born (wherefore art thou, Nedwell?) into this identity; others have come and gone, and there are still newcomers to my brand of bloggery. I make no apologies or promises now, except that I offer myself and thoughts to you as the muse calls me back. Lately, it has been sporadic, yet a bit predictable. You know that on Sundays, Deke has assaulted the internet with yet another prose on transit. I sit here at the end of another 50+ hour week behind the wheel and continually blast you with what blows up my mind in the five-day aftermath of being... Deke N. Blue, Portland transit operator. Thanks for putting up with my ramblings.

Henry Beasley preaches as Dr. King did;
for passage of laws protecting
the very well-being
of public servants.
It's not fair of me to ask you whether I should continue. Only I can answer that. The words will keep coming no matter who reads them. As this writing exercise began, little did either of us know it would evolve into a habit I am powerless to overcome. Maybe when I retire, these fingers will stop chronicling my transit-related thoughts. Meanwhile, I veer away from this six-wheel tome to revel within the freedom of fiction-writing. My new book will be a fantastic departure from this style. I'm really digging the relief I feel while pulling dreams from the whispers drawing my soul out of the doldrums of reality. It's so freakin' fun!

Back to you, Dear Reader. This one is for you. I've heard your desire for the Deke which initially drew you here. Hopefully, I can inspire your intellectual side, inspire a chuckle or tickle your humanity while also digging into the common thread which inspired this experiment. Thanks for everything... it is not only for me I do this... but mostly for the thousands of my brothers and sisters who share the wheel with me. My hat is doffed to you in respect.

It was a good week, except for the horrifying wrinkle which began it all. My dear son Aaron (all my children are dear to me, so I refer to each thusly) was a passenger in a car which was rear-ended. Buckled in the back seat (thanks for taking Dad's advice on seatbelts buddy!) of his roommate's car, he was playfully goofing off with her 3-year-old daughter when they were hit. Long story short, my son was turned when the impact happened. He suffered a severe whiplash and concussion. Contacted a day later by the guilty party's insurance company and told he wouldn't be paid because the resulting crash was an "act of God," my son wisely thought "bullshit" and contacted an attorney.

Aaron is a waiter, and his job requires him to be very active, carrying trays of food to waiting patrons.  He is constantly on the move, and at least once per shift he is verbally assaulted and/or stiffed on tips. At this time, he can barely stand, let alone carry anything. He will miss at least five days of work, if not more. In today's reality, that's about $500-$1000 he cannot earn. His mother and I anxiously monitor his recovery, ready to help him with some money so he doesn't end up homeless. Early in his childhood, we were dangerously close to the despair of homelessness, which befalls many in today's economy. We are fiercely devoted to each of our kids, as our own parents were for us when we were newlyweds. Family comes first. We're very grateful he wasn't injured worse than this, but we would do whatever necessary to ensure his health and well-being, and he is aware and grateful. We all share a common love no matter how desperate circumstances become. Please join me in hoping Aaron's speedy and full recovery, along with that of his roommate and her dear sweet child. In my deep gratitude for his painful yet fortunate escape from death, a chance meeting with a complete stranger reminded me of the extreme possibilities life sometimes deals some a harsh blow.

Driving my weekly route, I was more attentive to those who rode than the problems operators face. I was treated to a few stars within the hordes of humanity who stomp into my ride. One day, a pleasantly-worn face beaming from underneath a Festus-type slouch hat smiled at me as he boarded. My habit is to look into the eyes of those who board, always wary for the crazed. Having become seasoned over several years, I can usually tell who is likely to cause trouble with simple eye contact. Peter's eyes shone with gentle scrutiny. His smile was easy, and the face-wrinkles beamed friendliness. His story, however, once again gave me pause as I constantly ponder the wonders of humanity.

"I accidentally killed someone," he confessed with a sigh. We had been exchanging the experiences people of like ages are wont to share. His was indeed one which caught my immediate attention. A silence hung after his statement. I knew not how to respond, as it fell during the week of our March on City Hall in support of Oregon House Bill 2677. This bill would make it a felony for those accused of assaulting any transit worker in the scope of employment, rather than the misdemeanor it stands today.

"Oh?" I managed.

Peter sighed, but I knew more was to come. We were talking about life's consequences, and he surprised me with his own story.

"I served eight years for an accident," he told me. This was not the usually-boastful jail time story of the fools I routinely give free rides to as I roll past a local jail. It was a true confession from one I felt an instant connection to. He was kind, mindful of mistakes he had made and not in the least ashamed. He took responsibility, which is more than I can say for many of those who make excuses for not paying fare. This man paid in full, and that inspires respect from me.

"How come?" I asked, wanting to know more.

"That's not important," he told me. "I accidentally took someone's life, and I paid a heavy price."

What he revealed next was truly inspiring.

"I once had a nice home, a family, all that goes with it. In an instant, it was all gone. Now I'm homeless, but there's a sense of freedom in that after the price I paid. I'm free, but I'm not. I paid for it even after I got out of jail."

"Sounds like you may have overpaid," I remember either thinking or verbalizing.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Not eight months after I got out, my own young son died at the hands of a lady in exactly the same way I took the life of another."

I almost had to pull my bus over, the shock of this was so intense. Every parent fears most the loss of a child. A very close friend of mine recently lost a son, a boy I coached 10 years ago. His loss has been very difficult for me... not only because I was fond of him, but also because his parents are extremely dear to me. Joseph's identification remains in my backpack, because I promised to retrieve it from our Lost and Found Department and hold it for his parents.

Karma seemed to have dealt Peter a very unfair blow. What he said next brought me to tears.

"When she went to trial for taking his life," he said softly, not wanting everyone else privy to his revelation, "I asked the judge for leniency. I didn't want her to sit in a jail cell as long as I did for the same mistake I made."

I choked back a sob. Tears blurring the road ahead, I imagined this man's grief, wondering if the Karma Queen had ordained so horrific a payback. There is no way to feel empathy for such a situation: only those who have suffered so could understand its levity. We remained silent a few moments. Although I couldn't see Peter's face, our combined silence spoke chapters.

"That's... very noble of you," was all I could manage.

"Nah, bullshit," he replied. "All I could think of was how I suffered so long over an accident. This lady's fault was the same as mine. How could I ask a judge to meter out the same punishment I went through? I knew how she felt. That accident will play through her mind, as mine does, every day of her life. That's punishment enough for anybody."

"So," I asked, curious. I couldn't find anything within me which negated his stance. "Did the judge agree?"

"I served eight years of my 10-year sentence," he replied. "She got one year."

Immediately, as a bus operator who feels scorn and is under-appreciated on a daily basis, I could only imagine this woman felt overwhelmingly-appreciative for Peter's mercy.

A few nights later, Peter boarded my bus on its final run. We exchanged greetings, but nothing more. Except, that is, for an eye-lock which acknowledged that moment in which we connected. My heart aches for his loss, because I like every parent hope my children live decades past my own demise.

Peter's eyes held only kindness as ours locked. I acknowledged him by name and smiled in return. Nothing more needed saying. I thank him for sharing his story, as it's one that bears repeating for its aching relevance in today's society of heartlessness. I only hope this blog post did it justice.

Newbies take notice: judge not those who board your ride. You will likely learn more from your passengers than from any official training. Treat others with respect. They have lived miles of heartbreak, deceit and pain than most of us will know in a lifetime. Our job is simply to give people a safe and smooth ride. Do they have fare? Do you truly care? Try walking a bit in their shoes... it's worth a stride or two, in order to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have a good job and loved ones who await our return.

In this vein, I feel pity for those involved in my son's accidental injury. I am extremely grateful he is still with us. Joseph's loss fresh upon my soul, Peter's story and Aaron's own escapades as a teenager remind me how lucky I've been not to experience the extreme grief I fear most. Losing a parent is difficult, yet expected. To lose one's child is akin to the death of our own soul, a grief we all never want to live through.

Bless you, Peter. I hope to see you again. Thanks for sharing the grief and joy which propels you through this dream (or nightmare) we know as life. And my dear son Aaron, remember your pain is physical; it will heal. My hopes and prayers are that you live a long, rewarding and blissfully-happy existence long after I have become one with the soil of a tree that outlives our great grandchildren.

Peace be with you all, and I pray you and yours remain safe, happy and blissfully loved.