Monday, April 6, 2020

My Transit Prayers For Us All

We are strong... we are OREGON!

Deke's Note: As a transit operator, all I feel right now is fear. It isn't something one wants to share with the world, but it's there. The toughest among us cannot help but feel it. This is not a time for the macho 'I fear nothing', but more one of 'I fear for those I hold closest to my heart'. Whether you ride my bus or drive a transit vehicle, my wish is that you and yours remain safe through this horrific dilemma we live through. No matter your political or religious persuasion, I heartily pray for your safety as we roll through this most-perilous time... together.

Call me a sissy, I don't care. So much is given to the male's supposed "superiority" through centuries of ill-guided missives dedicated to our supposed strength, yet most of us collapse in horrible grief when our mothers leave this world.

If not for my mother, I would not be writing to you now in this time of great peril of humanity. We're faced with an invisible assassin which ignores race, sexuality, political affiliation or religious affiliation. It only knows one reality: it serves to kill any human affected. In this mass assault, we have finally become more closely-connected than ever before. In its quest to eliminate our billions, we have finally become ONE. How horrifically ironic.

We have been separated by whatever the corporate mindset has decreed. Now, we're simply humans  assailed by a common virus intent upon killing as many as it possibly can. Still, we remain so separated we assault one another for toilet paper. Such a shitty thing, eh? Truly.

Still, as a bus operator in one of America's most-loving cities, I glimpse tiny yet abundant sights of kindness which inspire me to keep on keepin' on. We have the ability to love another enough to rise above yet another challenge to the human genome. There is love aplenty amongst us, and I have seen it in grand moments while doing my job.

Young men gesturing to an old man in insistence he board even though a sudden rainstorm leaves him waiting for the next bus as we can only allow 10-15 passengers on our rides. An elderly gentleman giving up his seat for a mother and her newborn baby. Fellow passengers picking up spilled grocery items for another with napkin-protected hands. People thanking me for driving in spite of this damned virus' dangers. Motorists finally acknowledging the Yield signal upon my attempt to merge back into traffic after servicing a stop.


I pray that we once again see Portland's streets
surge with vitality and a renewed promise...
to move forward once again!



How sad that it took a worldwide health emergency for these things to happen. Sure, they occur on occasion when all is safe and well; however it seems that people have become more "human" as humanity itself is so threatened.

Yeah, we are simply "government employees" as I saw a Facebooker comment upon one of my posts on Oregon CityChitChat 2.0. As if that means we're simply willing pawns to whatever disaster befalls humanity. Still, I am human, just as FB Asshole Who Anonymously Comments is. That should allow us the simplest degree of respect. If the government is faceless and sub-human in its service to those who pay my meager salary in death's possible grasp, perhaps I also deserve an equal amount of compassion whilst providing one of humanity's most-vital of services: inexpensive, safe transportation wherever you must go.

All I can do is what I am trained to. Once that commanding wheel of 20-tons is in my grasp, all I can do is roll as years of service has taught me. With resolve to avoid any dangers which present themselves. To keep those within my 40-foot professional prison safe from harm while they ride, simultaneously avoiding mishaps with the irresponsible motorists with whom I roll amongst. That's all I do... as just any bus driver does.

We are constantly assailed. You don't read news accounts of airline pilots, ship captains or train conductors who insist their passengers adhere to their edicts regarding safety. You only read about bus or rail operators who seemingly "fuck up" when someone doesn't pay attention and ends up injured or dead. The headline always reads "Bus/Light Rail Vehicle KILLS Pedestrian" rather than "Pedestrian Fails to Heed Warning and Ends Up Injured/Dead". It's always assumed that it's our fault that someone is injured or dies due to their own inability to ensure their own safety.

Before this stupid bug caught our collective attention, our local government decided to employ a panel of local busy-bees to "investigate" transit-related mishaps, as if our own internal investigations aren't enoughTruly. We are assumed guilty, having to prove our innocence even in the most obvious cases of our supposed "victim's" inability to sense the danger of several tons of doom headed their way. It's as if personal responsibility is a thing of the past. We're held responsible for the most ridiculous of humanity's failures. I remain incredulous, given my constant vigilance for those who fail to take their own safety into account. Why not employ a board which investigates the stupidity of those injured by their lack of vigilance for their own safety?

We are simply human. Although intensely-trained and constantly vigilant, we're only able to predict the obvious, often even past the least of what our imagination may suggest. Sometimes, even our most-intense vigilance fails to catch the most ridiculous of failures. Imagine the horror my fellow operator felt a few years back when a bicyclist slipped and fell into the rear duals of a bus, only to be chopped into bloody road kill pieces. Rolling up to a bus pulling away from a service stop, the cyclist made the fatal mistake of using one hand to bang upon a moving bus in hopes of stopping it, only to slip and fall into a 20-ton killing machine. That operator was not at fault; the cyclist did not realize the danger of simply touching a moving bus, and died because it. From that fatal moment on, the bus operator has had to live with that fatality, not of their own making.

Someday, Roger and I will once again
enjoy a friendship that has lasted
nearly half a century.

We work through the worst of conditions. This pandemic is the worst any human has had to endure. Police, firefighters, EMT's, healthcare professionals and vital-retail employees along with transit operators and are the most endangered. We go to work fully-cognizant of our collective peril. Still, WE endure. WE cannot "work from home" or escape the pandemic's constant threat to our health or that of those loved ones we might infect without even knowing we do so.

Even as transit management believes it is doing all it can to keep us "safe" from this pandemic, transit workers everywhere are constantly exposed to COVID-19. Masks and gloves alone cannot keep us safe... this bug knows nothing but how to kill. It will seep into US as long as we endeavor to keep the wheels of transit rolling.

Those of us who kick this bug's ass will long remember its' horrible grasp upon our collective resolve to endure. We will mourn those lost, hopefully small in number, incredibly dear to us even so. We must resolve to angrily demand our management consider us VITAL to its "Mission and Objectives" forevermore, rather than relegating us to budgetary items left to bottom-line negotiators.

WE move transit. WE are worthy of respect over and above simple budgetary concerns. For over a century WE have been the face and nuts-and-bolts of transit, and will always remain so. WE attend the same churches as our passengers, coach their children in sports and other endeavors. WE are the human FACE of transit, not simply some number on a list. Once this nightmare is past, please remind those who "manage" US that we are much more valuable than our ATU757 members are given credit for.

When you next board a transit vehicle wearing a mask, having had to wait an additional 15-30 minutes because the previous bus already bore its' maximum number of passengers, PLEASE do not berate the operator for your "inconvenience". That operator has likely been verbally-assaulted by several passengers a few stops back. Their stress level is likely MUCH higher than yours. Not only have they endured the normal stresses of operating, but also the stones of frustration thrown at them from those previously left behind.

I hate leaving people behind, having done so during normal operations. Given today's necessity of "social distancing" we are under enormous pressure to protect not only those already on our vehicles, but also those who wait in the rain hoping we have room for them. We are not heartless assholes who enjoy your pain as we inform you there isn't room for you to board. We're simply trying to do our jobs under the most stressful of conditions.

We will get through this. It will be difficult at the least, painful most likely, horrific and depressing for the next few months. Still, I pray our fellow Portlanders will prevail through a collective strength gained over nearly two centuries of perseverance that remains our local source of pride. Throughout our history, Oregonians have been resilient. We were the first settlements of the United States' Pacific Coast push.

Our ancestors endured the unimagined rigors of westward expansion to settle a region once only known to the Natives who peacefully resided here at least a thousand years before our arrival. Our ancestors settled here, faced hardships none of us could imagine in our now-pampered existence. They paved former wagon ruts into highways so future settlers could further-enrich this wondrous land of rich soil and wondrous vistas. We robbed its former inhabitants of their lands, and owe our prosperity to those who endured long before our arrival. We owe them a promise which we have constantly failed to provide: peace and prosperity. We can only repay our debt by a collective resolve to do right by one another, and to finally fulfill that promise.

It was my dream of a better tomorrow that I moved my family here nearly two decades ago. Once upon a long while ago, I rolled a tractor-trailer through Portland in amazement and awe of its incredible beauty. "I could live here!" I exclaimed as my truck rolled through the Columbia Gorge. Passing the misty wonders of Multnomah Falls, I yearned for the chance to stop and throw some bait into that wonderful river I rolled alongside. A few years later, I brought my young family here from Arizona, and we loved and grew alongside you all.

Now, I share a worldwide concern that we simply survive this pandemic. Given my constant exposure to those of you I love and work beside, only my Irish luck and centuries-constant American grit pushes me onward. I will continue doing my job until my body forces retirement. Until that time, all I have is what I do... write my truth to this profession. If this body falls victim to the bug we all fear, then so be it. However, I'll fight that little bastard with all I have. My ancestry bids me to do no less. We have lived on this continent since the early 1700s. I fear not, for my ancestors faced much worse. My will to persevere is imbedded in my DNA. I'll do what I must. It's all we have, isn't it? We  must not fear anything but fear itself, as Franklin Roosevelt implored us nearly a century ago.

This is OUR World War; our common catastrophic event. It encompasses the entire planet, all of humanity. Throughout my journey, I promise to write. Even if this little bastard invades my body, I'll fight and write it. With God's help and hopefully His guidance, I will do my best. However, my prayers remain with my family and also with YOU and your loved ones. May we finally find that inner strength to come together rather than constantly fighting amongst ourselves. If we fail, then kiss humanity's ass goodbye.

In the past week, I have seen many signs of Oregon's strength and commitment to our fellow citizens. A few days ago, we sent 100+ ventilators to New York, our country's most-densely populated cities and therefore virally the most hard-hit. Because we have been practicing social distancing for weeks now, our infection rate has lagged below national norms. In a gesture of goodwill, we give freely to our fellow citizens across this beloved continent in absence of our own government's response to collective agony. If our federal government cannot help its own, then it becomes the will of its people to rise above political ridiculousness to save itself. It's truly sad to witness the federal government's failure to take decisive steps to safeguard its own citizens in favor of an economy that cannot survive if we all die.

I pray, with all I have ever before, to see you on the "other side" of this. Peace, safety and health be with you all. May this Easter have special meaning for everyone, Christian or otherwise, as we collectively pray for humanity's renewal.

My enduring dream is that my Beloved
and I return to Edinburgh and
all of Scotland's long-lasting beauty.

With my deepest love and hopes for your enduring lives, I remain your
Deke N. Blue

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Bit of Fun In Spite of COVID-19


"You smell like..." he sniffed at me as he boarded. "Alcohol," he blurted out after a haughty nostril-flaring investigation.

"Of course!" I responded with enthusiasm. Like a drunkard's pride at having downed a fifth of cheap whiskey in as many minutes, I smiled as crookedly as possible. My passenger's disdain mixed with fear as he boarded my mostly-empty COVID-19 era bus.

"I should report you!" the over-dressed-for-a-pandemic exclaimed. In his expensive suit, complete with a Scottish-plaid bowtie, I was surprised by his condemnation.

"Go ahead!" I replied with a glee which equalled his disdain. "Such is the life of a transit operator serving the public during a worldwide emergency."

"What?" he asked, clearly perplexed by my refusal to cower to his threat. "I clearly smell alcohol on you! Why should I ride a bus whose driver is apparently drunk?"

I chuckled. "Why should you, indeed?" Punctuating this statement with a hearty laugh, I thoroughly enjoyed this exchange.

He was aghast, then enraged. "You should be arrested!"

"Why is zat?" I responded. "I'm shimply doing my j-job." (*burp*) Purposely slurring my words, I was amused at this fussy-britches for taking the bait. Also, I was a bit perturbed at how he so quickly questioned my professionalism.

"You're.. driving... a bus!" he said, speaking slowly so that his emphasis was amplified. "I'm going to call in a complaint to not only your employer, but to the police, if you so much dare to drive this bus an inch further!"

It had already been a horrid week, and the promise of one shot of Scotch beckoned several hours into my future. It steadies my nerves, calms and soothes me whenever a shift has challenged my inner calm. A good friend and fellow bus operator had just died that day. I felt honor-bound to play this arrogant prick to his utmost extension.

"Go ahead," I told him. He almost jumped back a step, but managed to hold his supposed-high ground. "I'm given a bottle of this distillery-grade stuff every week by my employer! In fact, they insist I use it several times each shift. Call away, dear sir!"

Mr. High Horse's mouth dropped open.

"I don't believe..." he stammered.

"Why sure they do!" I said, regaining control of the conversation. "Do you think they'd let us operate without benefit of alcoholic protection, given our current predicament?"

"You... are a... public... servant! Of... all the... nerve!" he exclaimed. In shock, his cell phone in hand, he was unable to dial 238-RIDE.

"Want me to dial the number for you?" I offered, in my most-pleasant, pseudo-drunken Customer Servicey voice. "I'd be ever... zo (hiccup) happy to oblige."

Mr. Horse was aghast, unable to speak. I had to punch his horse a bit harder for it to bite.

"In fact," I said, suppressing a grin, "my employer insists I use this bottle with regularity, as often as possible! Calms my COVID-blasted nerves, it does."

(I added a bit of Irish brogue to my voice for emphasis.)

Once again, his mouth agape, my passenger could not utter a response, except a barely-heard "Wha...ttt?!?"

I couldn't hold it in any longer. I laughed. Long and heartily. It was a great release of all the stress that two days' tensions had built up within me. COVID-19 and my own mortality threatened, coupled with the loss of a dear friend and mentor... it had all been like a steam kettle warming on a hot stove, the whistle insisting I take it off the heat and let it calm. Instead, it sat on high-heat and was ready to explode. This fellow had tested my ability to control every bit of steam my inner kettle possessed.

Sensing we were approaching that point of ultimate battle, I held up my bottle of hand sanitizer.

"April Fool's," I said with an exaggerated wink.

For a good four seconds, Mr. Horse gaped at my hand's innocent version of distiller-grade Ethanol. He snorted. Then he burst into laughter.

"You bastard!" he exclaimed. "I thought you were drunk at the wheel!"

"You know what they say about the word 'assume', eh?"

"Yes," he replied, still laughing, "but I'm afraid you marked me the 'ass' here. Good one, man."

I smiled, having earned another gotcha. My ruse had worked its magic. One ornery moment during a bus operator's roughest time of all, come wondrously together after moments of tense anticipation.

"Longer than that, mate," I replied. "You were ready to call in the cavalry!"

We both laughed, exchanging pleasantries and fun conversation until he exited 10 minutes later.

"Thanks for that bit of fun," he told me, pausing at the front door.

"No," I replied. "Thank you for being such a good sport! Want a spurt of sanitizer, or a wee dram of it at least?"

He winked and shook his head, his wide smile sparkling into a dark good night. I wished him good health and safety, and he bade me the same.

Ahh... my ornery side had once again had a positive response. Sometimes, it's worth a complaint, if only to have just a little fun.

Thanks, Mr. Pax... my horseplay gave us both a much-needed laugh!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Day Two: Back at Work

Many long for the time we can once again
see life from outside our windows.

It was "early" in the Coronavirus timetable that my son self-isolated while my wife and I self-quarantined. Now two weeks ago, I remember how worried I became as the days whizzed by and my return to work date grew closer. Glad we weren't showing signs of the bug like my son initially reported.

We were safe as could be, cleaning up the home, taking care to scrub our hands 20-30 seconds several times a day, sanitizing the kitchen after every use. Sure, there's always something you can miss, but fretting about things increases your risk as the stress takes over. We did what we thought was right, and that had to be enough. Sam told me that upon his return from a workday, he immediately stripped (ooh baby!), threw his clothes into the wash and took a hot shower. Not only did that sound relaxing, but it's a good idea. We don't know how long that lil' Covid-19 bastard hangs on to our clothing or skin. It may help, and any cleansing after a day in a filthy seat is worth a shot.

As my "safety zone" grew to its end, of course I was glad to remain un-symptomatic. However, my stress level began climbing into the stratosphere as my return to the perils of transit drew ever near. Social media tends to over-emphasize the worst of any situation, and I had to distance myself from it as much as possible. An Admin of a local operator FBook group, I felt guilty after a month ago resigning from the position. It had positive effects for good reasons, but it put the onus on those I left behind. Watching our Founder scramble to restore order where I had failed, I also found new admiration for those souls I left to do the work I left behind.

Only on Christmas have I ever seen a mall parking lot so deserted.
There is a lot of misinformation, falsehoods and politically-misleading bullshit out there right now. It's hard to tell what's true. Are nSAID drugs like Ibuprofen and Aspirin really putting people at risk if they are infected with the virus? Will perhaps millions of Americans die from this pandemic, or is it "just another misinformation campaign" designed to further separate the voting public? I doubt the latter and fear the former. I rely on science rather than opinion when seeking the truth, and my age and health concerns place me smack dab in the middle of those most at-risk.

Politicians from any party are often pushing agendas. However torn apart we are politically though, I have a very hard time believing either side would purposely allow our economy be torn apart and millions of lives be lost for political gain. Color me naïve if you wish, but we haven't come this far to be annihilated by a microscopic assassin. People tend to believe whatever their political agendas implore them to. If someone writes truth to any subject, they can expect to be torn apart by those who disagree with their political stance. This is wrong and needs to change. Truth is truth, no matter which angle is assailed by its insistence. There really is no such thing as "fake news"; we are simply bombarded by false information which serves to further drive us apart.

Gaining the seat again, I found the stress, fear and anxiety wash away as the Beast began to move at my command. It felt natural, soothing. Unlike hiding at home, I felt some control return to my life. The wheels' hum and the bus farts were calming. I was in control of myself again, behind the wheel which provides the bacon my family feasts upon. Without a phone in my hands or the imprisonment of a computer screen, I was once again comforted by the breathtaking sights of the city I love to serve.

It was another beautiful early-spring day in Portland. Showery at times with hail stones mixed in. Sunny skies quickly replaced by threateningly-black cloud banks. With traffic mostly vanished, the air was fresh, clean... devoid of the fossil fuel fumes of the impatient multitudes. I could actually smell the flowers blooming in all directions. That nasty haze that often pushes down upon us was gone. Rainbows sprouted all over, and I actually drove through the end of one, something I've never before experienced.

I opened all the windows on the bus and snarled at anyone who dared close one.

"But it's cold!" one rider complained.

"Not as cold as it would be if you were walking," I reminded him, frowning. "Please remember, most people ride a bus an average of 20 minutes. I'm on here for 11 hours. It's for your protection and mine." That shut him up.

It was eerie today, driving through largely-deserted streets at rush hour. Instead of 30-40 passengers, the most I ever had was 12. I felt guilty that for the past two days my "Thought for the Day" has disappeared. Given our precarious situation across the globe, I haven't felt the ability to be inspirational. However, people were kind, thanking me more than usual. Even other motorists gave my lumbering bus the space to merge back into traffic. I guess they're no longer in a hurry to get to their own funeral.

I hope this pandemic brings us back together. It's nice to hear people talking again, encouraging one another and wishing well upon those they might normally ignore. It will likely become quieter. People will grow ill and disappear for a while. I know you join me in praying that most recover, but mostly that we learn from this tragic tear in our history. May we learn how to better prepare for something even worse.

This scenario must never happen again. We want our grandchildren to flourish together, not blame one another for what our arrogant complacency and failure to compromise ultimately produced.

Although I could not find it within me to share a quote from a noteworthy inspirational historic figure, one from within beckoned.

As I told my passengers today, the same I wish for you all: "May you all be blessed with good health and safe passage through this perilous moment in our time."

Main Street in Oregon City: deserted
the first time I've seen.





Tuesday, March 31, 2020

ONCE MORE, LOUDER NOW!



Transit operators are being forced to expose themselves to the Coronavirus. Since few people know they have this killer until tested or begin to show symptoms, every time we sit in the operator's seat it's like playing Russian Roulette.

Work from home? Not unless you're in a non-union position which doesn't entail driving a rolling virus factory. Take doctors and nurses to work we do? I doubt many of them want to be anywhere near a bus or light rail vehicle these days.

SHUT IT DOWN! At least for two weeks. Let the infection curve begin turning downward quicker than predicted.

We have an unprecedented split Spring-2 Signup happening this week. Our transit agency has decided that with dwindling numbers of available operators it needs to cut service until at least the end of May. Problem is, we keep hearing about operators and other fellow employees being tested positive every day. Those infected are exploding in number, and most of us wonder not if, but when, it'll infest our own bodies. This may be all for naught; if a majority of US are infected, there may not be ANY available operators by June.

I have faced many challenges in my life. This is the first time I remember ever being scared out of my wits. My blood pressure is constantly climbing. Perhaps that's what killed my friend Dan last week... the stress of knowing our chances of being infected are magnified in the thousands every time we go to work.

Yeah, I'm actually frightened to go out, let alone drive a bus for 10 hours every day. My age and a few health factors put me at greater risk than some, less than others. Many of our brothers and sisters are at exponentially-higher risk than I am. It's difficult to fall asleep at night, knowing the next day I could come home and infect my wife and son, or even the passengers I'm ferrying around town.

The Governor wants us to stay at home, and has so decreed it. Millions across the world have lost their jobs and some have died. What's worse? Can public transit "survive"? That's not nearly as important as whether WE will.

Throughout this pandemic, our agency has reacted rather than taken major, proactive steps to protect us. Salem just shut down its Cherriotts bus system and it won't be long before other agencies take this drastic step. It will save lives, but will our own? Finances may be important under normal circumstances, but this has grown way beyond that.

Do the right thing, Management. Save our lives and SHUT IT DOWN!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Day's End: Return from Self-Quarantine


As I awaited my Saturday roll, Downtown Portland
was oddly silent. Thankfully, its residents largely
remained at home to combat this pestilent
beast COVID-19 as our beloved city
endured an eerily-quiet vigil.
May our collective power once again propel
our fellow citizens with a renewed spirit of strength
and renewal, through our powerfully-inclusive spirit.

Deke's Note: In any collective history, the most difficult challenge leads to an uplifting victory. For two weeks, I self-quarantined in fear my son would develop more symptoms after being exposed to a COVID-19 carrier. My youngest child has always, just like his two siblings, has always emerged victorious to any challenge. Still, he self-isolated in serious concern for his "aging" parents and anyone else with whom he could come in contact with.

As a quickly-aging "Boomer" I have at least three health factors which place me in a "higher risk" population to the world's most-invasive viral threats. The last three days stuck at home rattled me more than any other catastrophe I've faced since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Blood pressure soared as I contemplated what could happen. As a lack of symptoms, perhaps due to my son's devotion or simple ancestral luck over almost 300 years as Americans made it clear that our family's nucleus was past immediate danger,  I confronted returning to my job as a bus operator. Fear and consequences be damned, it was vital that I regain the seat. Besides New York,  the Northwest is one of the hardest-hit areas in our country and Canada. There is, literally "danger in the air out there", yet the work of transit knows no vacation from any of humanity's constant perils. Thus prefaced, I give you this operator's return to service after two weeks where my brothers and sisters have faced what I temporarily could not.

As I remained sequestered except for an occasional grocery jaunt, my subconscious treated it as a vacation. Knowing I would burn up the rest of my sick leave and May's signed vacation week, what else could I do but enjoy it? Spending time with Beloved, we also supported friends and other family members who have been severely-affected by this pandemic.

Finally, I found time to read again. Oh, how I missed caressing the pages of a paperback! To engross oneself in reading a work of fiction is pure bliss. For the past several years, I have toiled upon this blog while also writing short stories both fiction and non-, and until I moved into apartment hell, gardening. Returning to turning pages has brought me great comfort during this viral interference.

In the past decade, society has evolved into nonsensical-cellularism. Anything pre-cellphone is now considered quaint or antique. True, our internet dependence has allowed information to flow through our fingertips at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, too much of it is laced with nearly- or somewhat-factual nonsense. Most of it may be designed to inspire great fear. Paranoia. In the past few decades America has moved from honoring each others' differences to fearing and sadly at times, hating them.

Divide and conquer as I have often mentioned, makes us all slaves to the Masters' Plan to seize even the slightest of our collective dreams. As we battle this tiny bastard Covid-19, our fears allow THEIR control of US. We fight each other for life's supposed necessities, but our heartless masters fear little. They have little to lose, but we could be rendered completely helpless. We constantly fight each other while gaining nothing from it except further nightmares. Why? Because we are conditioned to do so.

From the beginning of humankind, as agriculture separated the dishonest from the working class,  those who have control others who have not. The latter has always envied what the former controls, and therein remains our constant struggle. Problem is, the former has never wanted to share what the latter produced. Each time the supposedly-weaker have risen in protest, the stronger have held the advantage through dishonesty, bribery, threats culminating in ultimate power. Humanity's rise has rewarded the misdeeds of a few whilst the masses doing their bidding suffer the most. 

I hear that four-letter word all too often now. Before hate, came compromise. However, the former has replaced the latter with growing intensity. Why? Because the weakest minority of humanity's soul has replaced the majority's ingrained goodness. Whenever we have worked together, greatness has been achieved. When we fight amongst each other, we lose in many ways. Our freedoms, resolve and ability to rise together can be rendered fait ridiculi with a singular stroke of some YouTube video appealing to the basest, least-Godly ideals occupying humanity's most-horrific depths. Unfortunately, America seems to be negativity's biggest fan. Our revered founders must surely be spinning in their hallowed graves at this point in our history. 

Fear-induced hoarding has left grocery shelves empty, as if the rest of humanity doesn't deserve its daily bread, let alone tomorrow's. I was always taught that God commanded us to love one another, no matter our differences. I don't see much of that right now. My own brother seems to consider me an enemy of the state, even though his earliest ideals of equality and justice buoyed my own political party switch in the 1980s.

The past month has evolved too quickly to keep pace with what "shoulda" been done yesterday if we "coulda" known what we "woulda" if only facts had been presented us. Now, many are left with little while others gloat through soaking the needy with their greedy excesses. It saddens the kind-hearted and maddens many others.

Whatever. I seem to have wandered again. It's a luxury I have claimed through luring you via this blog for so long. Hey, I'm trying not to hit too many keys in this journey but sometimes it just happens. You know me, or should, by now. Brevity only reduces my heart's desire to explore this soul's ethereal journey. A writer's prerogative, the poet's lament. Whichever I am, both inspire these words.

So I take you back to the original intent of this missive. My journey back into the bus operator's seat after two weeks of viral terrorism propelled me to write this post. Yeah, the lead-up was hell, but the return itself once again brought me peace.

I lost a friend this week, the second in a month. My brothers and sisters have gathered together to fight the beast which still seems to control US even though WE do their bidding. To gain that mystical seat I have fought so hard to be honored with was one comfort which perhaps I needed most.

Sellwood Bridge was mostly-empty for the first time
I have ever seen it as I returned to my seat
within
The Beast we all serve.

You see, there is more fear when we do nothing, than when we hide from what needs doing. I thought my self-quarantine shielded me and my beloveds from the dangers "out there," but it simply staved off the inevitable. When we do what we feel necessary through hysteria, consequences render past decisions ridiculous. Yet on occasion, we are glad to have acted in haste rather than agonizing later over not having done anything at all. Either way, it's a wash. Our survival depends upon that innate, DNA-driven desire to survive. While my immediate past self-quarantine may have saved me from COVID-19's initial infestation, it could also become my ultimate demise through the future's delicacy. Only time, as they say, will tell.

"So, I got a chance to sing, to find my voice on stage, and I TOOK it. And I still take it. Every single night, in front of every single audience. And I never, EVER take it for granted. When I leave this Earth I will look back with great love, because I got the chance to sing." 
-- Ann Wilson of "Heart" during the band's induction to the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame

As my two weeks of fear culminated the other evening, a soothing voice implored me to just be calm. There is no escape from the inevitable. We either embrace doom and dive right into it, perhaps to emerge even stronger on the other side, or hide from it and suffer anyway. We are not entitled to any protection no matter what precautions avail themselves to us. Each soul is given a finite time on Earth. My own is no more protected than yours. However, my whole life has implored me through faith and love to pray for your safety over my own. He bade me early in life to constantly pray for others, and through this action I might find my own salvation. Even though my faith has suffered years of hardship, I still find solace in One more powerful and holy than anything else I've found in these nearly-60 mortal years. This belief has empowered me to hold all others above myself: family, friends and everyone in between. Only through my deep love of others is the only way in which I have ever found peace.

When I returned home tonight from this viral hell transit workers constantly endure, my Beloved had me strip out of the uniform, place it into the washing machine, shower and don fresh bedclothes before I could even eat me dinner. Then, we snuggled together to watch the latest Outlander episode. This epic literary series propelled us to our wonderful Scotland/Ireland trip. It is our favorite foray into fiction.

Hopefully 30 years hence, when my heart beats its last, Beloved knows part of my ashes must be strewn within Arizona's Galiuro Wilderness and also along Isle of Skye's mystical beaches to join the Gulfstream winds of this world we now grace together.

We watched as Jamie and Claire's love sustained them through constant hellacious forays through future and past anguish. This is how we have always lived: together through many turbulent moments in collective time. My own has endured over a dozen years longer than hers, but Beloved's strength propelled me past intense pain and gave me hope for enduring happiness. Perhaps we have both time-traveled to always find each other. If this be simple fantasy, it is ours. Together. And as so, we shall always remain.

As my love for Beloved will forever endure, please remember I have love enough for you all. I wish you peace, safety and health through this hellish nightmare everyone now endures. If I remain when it passes, my prayers will hopefully aid those left behind. If I fail to defeat this tiny assassin, then it is my hope that these words will somehow sustain and propel you all to the greatness I know you are capable of, together. Within and among each other, you are strong. Divided, you will constantly fail. Pull together and STAND. As ONE. When you do, please remember my words imploring you to do so.

Meanwhile, you are sentenced to my transit soul's literate journal as one of many bus operators serving upon God's one Blue Marble. Peace, and all-encompassing safety, be blessed upon you all.

Always,
Deke




Friday, March 27, 2020

Just DRIVE, Deke


I've met some of the most amazing people in my life as a bus operator.
Here I am having a great time with two of my favorites!
I pray they both, ALL they love, and also those
with whom we proudly serve,
remain SAFE through this horrific pandemic.

Oh, and BTW, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SAM! Love you buddy!
Deke's Note: Today is my brother's birthday, and that of my dear friend Sam. In their honor, I'm taking a WTF approach this morning. WTF not? Dwindling readers demand brevity, but a shortened word count does not necessarily result in this operator's truth to transit. Thanks for reading, and safety/wellness remain with you and yours.

Yeah, my post last night was alarmingly-alarmist. However, it was meant to send a message to our management that WE are more important than ITS corporate "financial forecasts". Nobody dared discuss the "nuclear option" so I felt it necessary to do so in my last post. Still, I took great pains to discuss it to highlight the dangers we drive into while others "work from home". As so many of my brothers and sisters have proclaimed, "WE CANNOT DO SO".

Still, I must convey even the least bit of hope to those who have done the nuts-and-bolts work of transit since its inception over a century ago. WE ARE TRANSIT, not management. "It" exists only to propel US forward. Unless those who "lead" have held the controls of a bus or light-rail vehicle in their hands could they ever fathom the dangers we have bravely endured. Instead, they deal in numbers, corporate earnings forecasts, and dreams of all-metropolis-encompassing routes driven by faceless "valuable contributors" to THEIR visions.

A visit to this 18th century Scottish cathedral
led me to pray not only for my immediate
family, but also for those with whom I share
this great profession we serve.
I will once again slide into an operator's seat tomorrow after a two-week self-induced quarantine. It is with regret I have been absent while my fellows have recently endured novel-COVID-19 horrors. However, I am (like you) more concerned with my most-vital mission to safeguard the health of my most beloved. I cannot stress how our loved ones we leave behind each day remain our main concern while we dedicate ourselves to a profession that concurrently depends upon, demands of, and also denigrates, US.

We're merely badge numbers while our years of service are only awarded respect when we remain on the job no matter our health concerns. As long as we daily grasp the controls of transit vehicles, then we're "valued" and hollowly-rewarded with some strange "Master Operator" bullshit. I don't mean to denigrate the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those who attained this honor. Their dedication however was not properly-awarded in light of their sacrifices. If something happens which renders us unable to perform our job, we are simply replaced by a new body. "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya," they seem to say in their indifference to our personal horror flicks. It tends to negate my desire to achieve such an award.

Still. There are no engraved memorials in either of our three Portland-area garages offering respect to our predecessors' sacrifices. I'd rather see such a long-deserved memorial than ever boast some managerial decoration. My love and respect is much better served in honor of those who gave the best years of their lives while failing to enjoy the just-rewards of their honorable devotion. Like Stewart, a longtime trainer who suffered his untimely demise just weeks before he and his beloved were to enjoy their retirement in Spain. Like lovely Freddi, who suffered a sudden onset of late-stage cancer without our even knowing it, passing away just a few months ago to our horrific grief, leaving my dear friend Henry missing forever the love of his life. There are countless other remembrances of those who passed while in service whose loving presence is greatly-missed most by those with whom they so valiantly served.

My dear friend Dan Wilson passed away yesterday after complaining the day prior about not feeling well as he drove his Line 70. Medical professionals could not save him. After years of suffering from abdominal maladies and countless FMLA leaves of absence, his heart failed. Dan was loved by not only US, but also by the thousands of passengers his smile and heartfelt messages of concern and fellowship bestowed upon them. We mourn him as we fear this horrible pandemic. Maybe Dan was lucky; he won't have to worry about catching it because he escaped its deadly wrath.

RIP, brother Dan Wilson. We're already missing your smiling face!
I knew Dan in some of his greatest pain. He told me one day as we visited in the Milwaukie break room that he didn't know how he could safely drive his bus. Lacking any more sick leave, he bravely held on for that next 20 minutes before being relieved at Center Garage on his final Friday run. He only envisioned that mystical, magical retirement promise we all hope gives us but a few more years with our loved ones before death strikes. I'm so very sorry Dan failed to see his due after nearly 30 years in service to Portland transit. He will forever live within my heart as one who encouraged me to see the light in every passenger who enters my bus. Even in horrible pain and discomfort, he had the strength to find joy in his profession.

RIP, Dan. I enjoyed every minute we shared together. You gave me more than I could ever repay. Your dedication reminds me how I so very much love my fellow operators, maintenance workers, supervisors, station agents, trainers, non-union workers, sanitation workers, fare inspectors, and everyone else who keep the wheels of transit rolling. WE are a team of invaluable proportions. I hope management finally recognizes today's pandemic may render their "financial projections" all for naught if they do not take the unprecedented (yet wholly-vital) step of shutting us down for the first time in history. It might save not only ourselves, but also a great number of our fellow Portlanders. It would also do justice to Dan and all those who have passed while providing such a vital service to our fellow citizens.

If I'm still alive when this pandemic disappears, I will gladly celebrate with you. It's my dream to speak to you in person, en masse at either the Union Summer Picnic at Oaks Park, or at the Labor Day gathering this September. If my untimely demise for whatever reason renders this impossible, I implore you to please remember my ONLY goal for writing this blog has always been to simply write my humble truth to transit: as I see it, From The Driver Side.

Bless you ALL in safety and health.
db
Oh yeah, I wrote a book. So what?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

SHUT IT DOWN!


Deke's Note: Historic. Unprecedented. Hysteric. Yeah, we keep hearing all these horrible words we cannot ignore. The entire world is in a state of chaotic emergency, but we are spinning rather than taking decisive steps to safeguard humanity.

The Oregonian's article, Transit Union: TriMet Not Doing Enough to Protect Union Employees...,  dated March 21, describes the debate between our union and transit management. In the article, ATU757 Vice President Hunt is quoted stating the agency isn't "doing everything I think we can do." VP Hunt suggests that more emphasis be put on sanitizing buses and re-assigning some union workers toward that effort.

Management states in the article that an emergency declaration could delay action because it "would need to get the union's support and agreement on some of its emergency responses". Transit's spokeswoman was then quoted by The Oregonian that working with our union "would decrease our ability to respond quickly and would likely have significant financial implications for the agency". This statement emphasizes management's long-standing habit of casting US as obstacles rather than finding constructive means of working together for the good of all. This debate is a needless power play, one that threatens rather than protects. Given this situation, I'd like to see every suggestion considered, not just those from those who think they know it all.

Both factions need to discard this acrimony and work together for our immediate safety. It's imperative management trusts us throughout this pandemic and learns to implement solutions from all angles. We do the vital work of transit and possess great intelligence within our masses. To move forward without our input is not only disrespectful and arrogant, but blatantly irresponsible.

Portland transit stepped up sanitizing procedures as the virus hit, but once someone touches a surface it is no longer sanitary. You cannot ride a transit vehicle without touching something within it. Grab bars, stanchions, stop request cords, door handles. They should be wiped down at the end of every trip, several times a bus is in service, not just at the end of the service day. Finding the manpower to do so is the trick. I've read where this happens in Broward County, Florida as a matter of course.

Another article in the Oregonian quotes our GM's concerns about "ridership declines" and Mr. Kelsey also said "I'm trying to take a six-month lens for planning purposes". Well sir, it's imperative that a short-term lens, like one which emphasizes the now should be your sole focus. Monetary issues won't matter if there's nobody left. Planning then becomes a moot point, right?

Our media spokesperson stated our agency "has the necessary tools to handle the pandemic without having to invoke any sort of declaration" of emergency. We do? What is this world event then, that  threatens the planet's population? Not as emergent as a snowstorm, perhaps? Or a flood, tornado or volcanic eruption? I'd say a pandemic is extremely-worthy of an emergent declaration.

We cannot implement a comprehensive "back-door entrance" policy here, as other agencies have because, well, our newest buses have electronic doors. Once the operator has flipped the release handle for the back door, passengers must stand close to it and break the downward-pointing laser-beam, which then opens the door. Many passengers are confused by the changes and slam into the back door, push on the handles or simply scream at US to open it for them. The older buses, before design was "improved", featured back doors that automatically opened with the operator's touch. Presto. Perhaps they became a maintenance headache over the years, but we're certainly missing the "old days" now. Is there any way to alter this laser device so the doors open without passenger interaction?

We could wipe things down at the end of a trip, as I did before my self-quarantine took me off the front lines. However, there's a great shortage of wipes, gloves, masks and many other antiseptic tools. Credit our agency for securing some "600 gallons" of hand sanitizer, but could quickly run out before they find another source.

Transit upper management seems too concerned about "future" budgetary issues, while frontline workers charge into this viral hell our world has become.

It's obvious, though nobody will say it. So I will.

Shut it all down.

Temporarily, at least until we've passed the curve of explosive contagion. It has become apparent (to me) this may be our only hope of survival. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but I cannot ignore the obvious. I'm scared, we all are. No matter what "job" we have, this is beyond anything we imagined possible.

Transit has been declared a "vital service" by the Department of Homeland Security. First responders, medical personnel, police, firefighters and other such professionals depend on transit for transportation. However, many of them have their own vehicles even though some may not. Perhaps I'm being selfish, but I believe such an action proactive. Many bus operators come into contact with thousands of people every day. By continuing transit, we're giving an invisible viral assassin a ride wherever it wants to go. We should deny it this ability to board.

What if we lose so much of the world population there won't be any need for transit in a few short months? There should be no discussions about "future financial projections" until we have killed this deadly, tiny beast. Dire circumstances call for extreme measures, unprecedented ones, to safeguard us ALL. Otherwise, all the world's advances will be for naught, because humanity could become extinct.

A friend of ours recently relocated to Tucson. Laura is a nurse. No kids. She decided to take over her hospital's wing treating COVID-infected patients, hoping her action saves someone who does have family. My heart goes out to her, my greatest respect. My niece-in-law is a nurse too, with two young sons and my nephew to think about.

There are people all over the world sacrificing themselves to help others. Their determination and dedication should be something we all embrace. Transit workers do it as a matter of everyday life. So do countless others. Some however, take it all for granted, do what they want no matter who might be affected (or infected).

Our leaders should shelve conventional "wisdom" and take every possible step to protect everyone. It's ironic that throughout history we lived through plagues, world wars, financial and natural disasters and faced nuclear annihilation, only to have our very existence threatened by a lack of protection.

It's time for the brass everywhere, not just in Oregon, to shine, not whine.