Deacon Who?

My photo
(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Thanks, George

Sometimes you have to stop and look,
or you fail to see the wonders.

It's a bit tricky, this dream we call life. Whenever you figure one part out, another challenge arrives. You don't get much time to celebrate the bit victories. It seems though, that we spend most of the time debating options even when the obvious solution travels beside you.

Am I sick? People ask me that and I have to wonder. I feel better now than several days ago. My soul, now that's an entirely different realm. It bounces between realizing each emotion I'm feeling. Too often, I'm angry. Surely, you've noticed that in my writing this year. It's usually directed at our upper management because I truly don't think they "get" what it's like to do this job, and it doesn't feel good to be called "heroes" when we don't believe we're treated as such. Sometimes, I'm too harsh in my criticism. For someone to understand this job, they must do it. That's the main reason I began writing about it. Now, I'm spinning my wheels in an angry ditch, and I'm stuck. Waiting for the tow truck of calm and reason to rescue me. I've put out the call, but the tow needs to come from within, or I'll keep throwing out mud instead of finding even ground again.

Hopefully, those of you who feel the anger in my words realize that some of it is pointed inward. I'm very hard on myself. My own worst critic. Whatever profession I've been in, except one (sales!), I have excelled. This bus gig requires not only a steady hand on the wheel, but a calm reserve and sociological precision. We have to deal with a myriad of personalities, phobias, socioeconomic and cultural differences. People test us daily, sometimes hourly. If we fail at one aspect, others are in peril. It's a constant juggling game, multi-tasking and emotional roller coaster.

Many believe we "just drive a bus". How hard could that be? Anyone who has done it understands how insulting that can feel. People may not intend to demean our profession, but unless they actually watch what we do and all this job entails, it just doesn't register. Once in a while, somebody stops on their way out the door to say "Thanks for driving, I appreciate what you do." To me, that makes up for those who don't acknowledge the service provided them.

Last week on a late outbound trip, I was feeling angry. Unappreciated. I just wanted to finish my run and be done. Earning my paycheck, but nothing more. Then, something wonderful happened: sincere appreciation.

A 20s-something fellow started to exit the front door. In my state, my only thought was to insist he exit through the rear door. After all, the announcement to wear masks, keep distance and then... he stopped as I held up my hand.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Impatiently, I slid the "protective" partition back and said "What? I didn't hear you. Would you please..."

"I know we're supposed to exit to the rear," he interrupted in a soft but pleading tone, "but I wanted to thank you again for what you said a few months ago. You inspired me to chase my dreams."

Immediate embarrassment on the grumpy bus driver's part. Shame. This kid was pleading to be heard, and I had pointed him to the back of the bus. I sighed, put my hand to my temple and drew a deep breath. Calm thyself, bonehead. Stop being a dipshidiot, Dekus Erectus.

I looked up him, acknowledging his need to speak. A tear formed at the corner of his eye, and I felt even worse.

"I told you that?" I asked, somewhat astonished given my current state.

"Yes, you did, and..."

"Oh yeah!" I replied, recognizing his kind face. "And you gave me a ten-spot in gratitude, which you really didn't have to. It was very kind... people don't usually respond like that. Let me just ask you though, did you?" I smiled at him then, for the first time.

"Did I what?"

"Chase your dreams? Are you doing so now?"

He smiled as the tear coursed down his cheek. "Yes, I did. But if you hadn't said what you did that night, I probably wouldn't have. Thank you, again. And, thanks for what you do every day. You made a difference in my life."

With that, he exited. "No," I replied as he walked away, "thank you."

Humbling moments like that tend to hit when we need them most. For months now I have abandoned my "Thought of the Day" because it seemed nobody was listening. Also, my mind and soul have been in turmoil and I refused to force it. I'm the open book kinda guy. You can always tell how I feel by the way I look. My frown needs to bounce the other way around.

The next day, I picked one of my folded up pieces of paper, determined to bring the better side of me to work. I smiled as I read it, putting it in my pocket. Good ol' George Carlin, RIP.

Later as I drove, I took a deep breath. Keying the mic, I read it aloud.

"If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?"

A few heads back there jerked up and stared at me. Sooo... you aren't actually plugged in and tuned out, eh? I said to myself. Then I just smiled, and left it right there. A couple of nods, then transit life returned to normal, heads bowed in homage to technological deities.

Thanks to my good friends Billy, Bruce and Tommy. You're right. Sometimes it helps us to just "put yourself out there" and let the passengers figure it out on their own. Evidently, it did hit home to one of them.

"Nice quote," she said. "George Carlin, right?" She smiled and winked as she exited... the back door. "Thanks, driver."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Testing 1-2-3-4...

Thanks to passenger Dean Turner for this photo.

1:30 a.m.

I was tested for COVID recently. Results within 24, they promised. A ticklish swab in each nostril. No big deal there.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” Tom Petty sang.

“Am I positive?” My first thought, ever since my first day off began.

Symptoms erupted. Then exploded. Not the ideal way to start a weekend.

“Nah,” my rational self answered. “Just another stomach virus, you’ll beat it just like when the kids were little and they brought every slithering bug home.” I nursed them all, my immune system impervious to these minor bugs.

For four months since the pandemic came to control our lives, I’ve braved crowds of people on the job. Who among them were infected? Wore my masks constantly; my ears have callouses. Washed my hands at every break. Used/abused the alcohol wash provided by the employer. Wiped down not only my driver's area, but the stanchions, doors and several other touch points a few times each shift. Kept the mask supplies abundant. Arriving home, I stripped and showered. Is it enough?

Nervous, am I? Yeah, a bit. More later.

* * * * *

4:20 a.m.

No, I’m not celebrating “420”. Just can’t sleep.

Took my temperature a while ago. Very low grade fever. It’s almost as low as those who damaged our city’s 120-year-old elk statue. Hopefully it settles back down to my normal cool range.

* * * * *
6:00 a.m.

Must have been the shortest "fever" I've ever had. Back to a cool 97.6 degrees. Feeling better too! Hope it's a constant trend. My immune system seems to be winning whatever it's fighting.

Still, I keep thinking of the selfish people who refused to wear a face mask on my bus, were rude and even threatening about it, shooting my stress level soaring beyond a bus operator’s limits. One of them an “ADA bully” and the other just plain stupid. Thanks, you assenheimers to the nth degree multiplied by infinity. I’ll pray you're not infected either.

* * * * *
2:05 p.m.

My test result was uncomfortably vague. COVID-19 was "not detected", my healthcare provider stated. Whew! Can I go back to work now?

Nope. They tell me I have to wait, symptom-free, a full three days until returning to work. Damnit, one more day off before I return. Started working on the COVID Leave form; gotta keep the bills paid. Called Station Agent to inform them of my return-to-work date.

* * * * *

Just to double-check on the correct date to return to work, I called my healthcare team again. The nurse put me on hold to consult with a team member a bit higher up. A few moments later, she told me the "new recommendation" was that I wait a full 10 days since my last symptoms before returning to work. Rats, I thought, my SA is not gonna like that.

You see, I'm not only at higher risk because of my age and health issues, but working with the public-at-large isn't exactly an ideal profession during a pandemic. It's best to be safe, which I try to be in all aspects of life. At this point, it's not wise to tempt fate. Plus, I don't want to possibly-infect my co-workers or passengers. What if I were to develop symptoms again, and I'm just currently asymptomatic? Not only does that scare the ear hairs off me, but I would also be worried about sharing this with someone else. My family is already at risk. What if a subsequent test came back positive?

Damn, what a mess. Not knowing if that pesky pandemic pesters my personal parameters, I have to find more stress relieving activities the next several days while monitoring the employer's response to my situation.

* * * * *

Many across the country are tired of the pandemic. Hey, we all are. That doesn't mean we can abandon precaution. That's why we discipline our children, so they learn right from wrong. Most wear masks, and I thank them. Yet some folks are refusing to wear them. They say their "constitutional rights" are more important than my health. Gee thanks, fellow Americans. I've seen articles about people who refused to wear a mask and were pushin' up daisies a week or two later. Brilliant, boys and girls.

Once upon a time, the rest of the world looked up to our USA. Now, they're worried about our sanity. Some have become too spoiled by our supposed "freedoms" and not very brotherly in their concern for others. It's scary enough to be exposed to an invisible assassin, let alone worrying whether my next rude passenger could anonymously kill me.

Thanks again Dean Turner!
My 60th birthday is fast approaching. I know the possibility of a celebratory bash is unlikely. I probably won't even go out to a restaurant. I'm much more concerned about making it to this birthday, and the next, and so on. My father lived until he was almost 92. I'm hoping to match, or beat that. He told me "the secret of life is to just keep having birthdays."

And so, my self-quarantine continues. Boring? Yeah, a bit. But I'll just pull on my Big Boy Pants and deal. If not just for my sake, but also for yours.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Hero, My Ass

Another mostly-empty bus; thank God for Saturdays.

It's difficult to describe my feelings right now. We're all in a strange place, and everything we know as "normal" has gone awry. Mostly what I feel is pissed off, for a number of reasons. I can't go into them all at the moment or I'll likely have a stroke. It has all been boiling and is often right at the point of blowing through my steam hole.

Here's just three points I'm dealing with right now as a Portland bus operator. There are dozens, but these are topmost in my mind.

1) Yes, we are "heroes" to risk our lives every moment we operate a city bus. No more, no less than many others who have endured to serve the past three months. True, Oregon's COVID-19 numbers are less than many other states' statistics. Mostly because we're trying to keep it at bay by adhering to simple actions set forth by health professionals. However, as the economy has slowly awakened\ we have seen a sharp increase in positive test results for the Coronavirus. The more people interact with others, the likelihood of catching the virus increases. It should scare the hell out of us. Given that under normal conditions, a full-time bus operator comes into contact with approximately 150,000 people each year, our chances of being infected are exponentially-higher than most. Given our transit agency's lax attitude toward our well-being and health versus its pampered "customer base", our infection risk is amplified a hundredfold. No hazard pay. No consequences for those who board and refuse to wear a mask. Of course, the economic conditions have rendered many jobless so no fare enforcement is a temporary economic reality. However, a great deal of people who can pay refuse to do so because they know they won't be penalized. A bus operator can tell the difference between a classic fare evader and an honest citizen who can't even afford to pay attention.

Anguish through art, captured upon the boarded-up Apple Store
 in Downtown Portland.
2) Our "Leadership Team" is anything but concerned for its frontline workers. Sure, it puts up pretty signs and floods us with slogans about how "Heroes Work Here". Its edicts and sanctions tell a much different story. I do give our General Manager kudos for replying to emails, but his wording is largely defensive and his methods reactionary. Am I supposed to feel relieved to know he is doing "everything we can to ensure the safety" of those who do the actual work of transit? I'm not. He was hand-picked by his inept predecessor, so that does little to bolster confidence in the new guy's abilities. Sure, nobody could have predicted the mess this pandemic caused. However, I wonder why there was no plan in place ahead of time. Simply because our "Leadership" doesn't know how to lead. It rolls through the motions like a fly zipping through my window, then stopping to wonder, "What the hell am I doing here and how do I get out?" It considers its union workers annoying speed bumps to its ultimate goal, which is to rid itself of its pesky human liabilities. A glaring example of its unpreparedness its inability to limit boarding/exiting to the rear door. OOPS! Can't do it with the new buses it replaced older, safer ones the past several years. Replace air-controlled doors with electronics, and passengers still can't figure out how to open them. If an emergency required a total shutdown, the newest buses are a death trap because you cannot open an electric door with no electricity. Duh.

3) This brings me to certain members of the GM's "leadership team" (not capitalized for good reason). For the past 10-15 years, our transit agency has morphed into some Orwellian Corporata, created by, and for, the benefit of itself. Its lax oversight by a Governor-appointed "Bored" of Directors means it can pretty much do what it wants, and to hell with the lugnuts of transit. Besides our smiling untouchable "leader", he has an axe man to do the dirty work. That's the current Director of Employee and Labor Relations. This fella is a doozy, folks. He's been quoted as saying "morale doesn't concern me", and flippantly saying he doesn't think public sector employees deserve a pension or retirement income. Great choice, Mr. GM. Perhaps "heroes" deserve a bit more respect than a boot print on our way out the door.

I could go on indefinitely. I've been verbally assaulted and threatened recently, disrespected several times each week. I was called a "white motherfucker" by someone I politely asked to wear a mask. He also threatened to pull me through my window as I refused to acknowledge his misplaced anger. My brother Henry was spit upon. Others have been punched, threatened and harassed, but the guy at the top of the chain doesn't give a damn about morale. My health insurance premium tripled last December, erasing all the previous pay raises our last contract afforded us. If I'm seen not wearing a face mask while on duty, now I'm threatened with suspension or termination, but my passengers fear no recrimination. I can't work from home, and it takes grit of superhuman strength to endure on the job in normal conditions, let alone under pandemic uncertainty.

Waiting to see the light in vast darkness.
We're not respected by "leadership" unless you consider coined slogans and public relations bullshit anything but unfettered pandering. I could die before the end of the year, and the only thing you'd hear is a collective sigh of relief. "At least we won't have to put up with this Deke guy any more." There might be a publicly-declared "moment of silence" in some awkwardly-worded public address system announcement "mourning" my death like the clumsy "white guilt" attempt at political correctness we heard a few days ago in memory of Mr. George Floyd and others needlessly murdered. Sadly, there has been no mention the past year of Thomas Dunn, a Tampa Bay Florida bus operator who was murdered by knife-wielding passenger a year ago this May. He pulled his bus over and secured it before bleeding out in the seat. All Mr. Dunn's "leadership team" could say afterwards was how "safe" its system was as Mr. Dunn lay on a cold slab in the morgue. Our GM had never heard of Mr. Dunn shortly after his death.

So... nah. My demise wouldn't be newsworthy save for the initial blood spill. Blood and gore draw media attention; working class anguish does not. I'd be replaced by some wide-eyed rookie with 10 minutes of experience. Hey, I might even get some mention on the local news. But a day later, it would be business as usual. No mention of my 200,000 safe miles, scores of commendations, or literary anguish via Blogger.

I'm no hero. I'm just another expendable body in the seat.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Tick Tock

One of humanity's final sunsets? Only math, and its
descendant time, will tell.

Deke's Note: Someone asked me recently what my thoughts were about working through this past three months. My immediate thought was: devastation. Everything we have held dear seems to have passed through a virtual shredder. Nothing is as it was in February. We could dine in restaurants, gather together in friendship and love, worship, travel, go to concerts or ballgames. A snapshot in time, just a few months ago, is vastly different than "the new normal", whatever that has come to mean.

The breeze of life has stopped. It no longer filters through any cognizant theme resembling our once-collective idea of "reality". Throughout mankind's history, one thing has remained constant: we're fighters, we're resilient, we're tough. No longer.

Humanity has fooled itself into believing it is the superhero of all evolutionary species. Instead, COVID-19 has hit our most vulnerable spot, that place where we felt secure: our dominance of this planet. Perhaps Earth is fighting back against mankind, given the horrific way we've treated her. Pollution, greed, refusal to protect her most delicate places... has our abuse finally caught up to us?

A third of this country lives in denial of science. Another clings to all types of educated opinion, and the rest don't know what to believe. It's as if we have abandoned intelligence for political nonsense, throwing common sense and searching for truth as it reveals itself into a messy game of whatever is in season. Science has become the boogeyman for some who believe that somehow the greatest minds of our time have banded together to fool everyone into believing their "facts" are "fake news". It's mind-boggling to believe that opinion has overcome logic and, in some cases, pure sanity.

Look, folks. We're more intent on killing ourselves through our refusal to acknowledge basic truths that politics could no longer matter. Science sent us to the moon, to Mars and continues to explore the outer reaches of our solar system and the great beyond of infinity. Mathematics are the study of something that has no end: numbers. Science uses math and the one thing that sets our species apart from the rest: curiosity and wonder. Once we abandon either of these, we're reduced to believing something that has no foundation in tangibility.

The Earth is known to be 4.5 billion years old. Modern humans have occupied this planet five one-millionths of its life (5/1000000), approximately 200,000 years. Our planet's life-sustaining time remaining is said to be about another 1.75 billion years. Given our species' disregard for natural resources, we are doomed to fail very soon. In Earth's lifespan, our presence here will be but a millisecond, a tiny pebble worn into sand upon the eroding waters of time.

We're arrogant to believe we're Earth's conquerers. But that's humans in a nutshell: arrogant bastards who would rather fight one another to the death for our misguided beliefs than band together, as any intelligent species might, to find a way to collectively enrich and therefore lengthen our existence. We're hell-bent upon destroying anyone who disagrees with us, because our false sense of superiority is more important than doing as our deity commanded: love one another, treat Earth as our temple, and leave a loving legacy. So far, we have failed on every count since our recent evolution. We've made intense leaps and bounds in discovery and invention, yet every step forward has resulted in 100 backward bounds because of the great mounds of rubbish we produce along the way. We've sacrificed ourselves through warfare, mostly those whose lack of wealth negated their voices in every conflict. You're either "for us or agin' us", or so the ages-old edict goes. The multitude has been against itself for eons, and that's why we're doomed to extinction. We'll kill ourselves long before some biblically-forewarned armageddon happens, and Earth will once again resume its peaceful orbit around the sun. Perhaps, before Earth enters an inhabitable zone closer to its star, humanity's horrid scars upon this beautiful blue gem in the heavens will be erased.

To those who somehow believe, even though presented with scientific facts which prove otherwise, that Earth was created 6,000 years ago, science dictates the "heavens" or infinite space has been around a helluva lot longer. What do you think "God" was doing in the trillions of years before our planet was born? He must have been pretty damn bored. That's why I believe there are billions of other life-sustaining planets scattered throughout infinity. To think our own tiny blue dot is worthy of an entire higher plane of existence known as "heaven" is horribly arrogant of us. Whether these places are inhabited by human-like beings or not, perhaps our deity has seen billions of existences similar to ours play out, and ours is just another of a trillion other bouncy balls our beloved "God" has experimented with.

Perhaps He (or She?) is trying to find the right mix, that one special place where its beings truly love each other and provide the best they can given the bounties at hand? At this rate, our lot will never figure it out. We're too busy killing those who even look different than we do, while condemning them for protesting their slaughter.

Driving a bus through this pandemic has forever changed me. It has had a similarly-drastic effect on every one of us. We've seen our once-great worldwide community reduced to a state of helplessness and despair, anger and betrayal. We have rolled through each minute of the transformation, and it has been an agonizing trip through our evolutionary downfall. Sadly, I doubt we have the toughness, the love for one another, to pull off another miracle. Having been through countless wars meant to improve humanity, we've only seen it slide even lower toward oblivion.

We could evolve into a nirvana-type existence if we only had the will. Unfortunately, from what I've seen of humans the past 50 years, I doubt we have the ability to make it work. We'd rather argue, then kill one another, than find common denominators in the mathematics time and reality have created. You can't kill math; it's infinite.

We're not being treated as "heroes", nor is any other group which sacrifices its health for the greater good. This spells doom. If we cannot work as one to benefit the greater good, then celebrating those who put themselves in danger to keep the ball rolling is like puncturing it, yet still expecting it to bounce.

Our air is spent, like the flatulence expelled in a left-cheek sneak. If this pandemic doesn't provide the wake-up call humanity so desperately needs, our extinction clock is ticking speedier than a doomed second. The dinosaurs went down to a meteor strike. Our downfall could very likely be COVID-19, or the next pandemic.

Tick tock.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Do "Heroes" Truly Work Here?

We're all broken; it will take a concerted
effort to repair the wrongs visited upon many.

Deke's Note: A friend of mine told me recently that she hoped my next book would deal with my experiences as a city bus operator during a COVID-19 riddled '20. I'm not sure that's even possible. Over the past three months I have battled nearly every human emotion short of mortal sin. Even then, I've come close several times. That's just what stress will do to the most level-headed human.

Having no other outlet than my writing, I'm stuck between describing what you already feel and have experienced, to the sublime luck of not having gone through what many of you have. I've been lucky, so far. We have lived only a third of the projected nightmare, only to find new disasters poking up through the river shore sands of what we never thought possible. Still, we endure. There's no other choice.

"Heroes Work Here," a sign in front of Center Garage confronts anyone who ventures through the front doors. Are we? It doesn't feel like it. We're simply pawns in a much bigger game than our work is given credit for. Pretty words ring hollow when you're on the front lines of a worldwide pandemic. The first time I saw that sign, I felt compelled to rip it from the ground and tear it into tiny shreds. I was so angry. Why, you ask? Isn't it nice to have a reminder that you're "appreciated" for your efforts? Sure, if the message is sincere. Our "leadership" fails to instill us with any meaningful support, with even the remotest sense of sincerity, that our efforts are worthy of "heroics". We're simply doing our jobs, within the most dangerous times of our lives. It's what we do, and proudly so. Still, we haven't seen any extra compensation along with anyone else who also puts their very life upon the line while doing the necessary work propelling modern humanity.

If I felt appreciated, I would see members of upper management on my bus, encouraging passengers to wear face masks as they are meant to be, covering their mouths and noses. They would point out the numerous signs on our rides which outline the most basic rules of transit, which simply point people to a sense of decency and respect for fellow passengers and the operators. But no, ours and others across the country hide from atop their gilded ivory towers or cowering in "self-quarantine" from home. WE cannot work from home, we're "essential workers". God save us all from our collective managements. If this job is "essential", I fear the worst for those who are not considered so, even though they also risk their lives for a paycheck.

"Leadership" carefully monitors complaint calls from miscreants and trouble-causers who constantly call in complaints against operators who insist passengers follow the rules of transit. When we're complained against, management is there to ensure our strict compliance to Standard Operating Procedures which change with the prevailing winds of a few whiny and misinformed nuisances which we're constantly in contact with. They can, and do, call in the most petty of complaints, some of which are outright lies or misrepresentations of what actually happens or is said as we commandeer 20-tons of steel and humanity through the unforgiving trials of transit.

  • "You can bring leaky bags of bottles and cans onboard, but if an operator refuses you a ride we will discipline them. It's okay."
  • "Strollers were once required to be folded and stowed, but since a group of you whined about this policy we changed our minds. Oh, and your little ones don't have to be removed. It's okay if they stay in the stroller; if the operator has to stop suddenly and your child's stroller is forcefully slammed into the front of the bus you will be adequately compensated and the operator punished. It's okay, poor little entitled whiny people, we have your backs."
  • "We require you pay fare; if you don't it's okay too. Even though we have bent over backwards to allow even the con artists of today to be eligible for reduced fare, we won't enforce policy because it adversely affects too many deadbeats. It's okay, our budget is shrinking because of your failure to pay, but we'll make the operators tighten their belts to convey you for free."
  • "Public demands for less policing determine our policy, so we'll de-fund the transit police division. The operators will just have to be more understanding when you attack them, and depend on non-existent policy enforcement. If they defend themselves, don't worry; we have your back. It's okay; we'll just discipline the operator."

Our jobs are managed by a wishy-washy group without apparent conscience or backbone to enforce the rules of decency or even support those whose "heroic" efforts make their own jobs possible. Yeah. "Heroes Work Here." Right. Prove it. Support us. Laud us for the hard-working essential cogs in the wheel of transit rather than hiding behind ridiculous edicts which have no place in the logical world. We're sick of disrespect, so your signs mean nothing to us.

* * * * *

We're unsure how many of us have tested positive for COVID-19. As a bus operator, my travels expose me to as many as 150,000 passengers each year. We are constantly exposed by non-mask-wearing people who pause less than two feet from us to ask us the stupidest questions the cell phone in their hands could instantly provide answers for.

Hey, who am I to complain about today's calamity? I'm just a lowly bus operator. No matter than nearly 200 transit workers in New York City have already died from this deadly virus. We are the unprotected "heroes" who garner little respect from the lackluster, blood-hungry media. I've begged our public broadcasting company to highlight the dangers we face, with no response. The other media touch upon our plight with zero zest.

While doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals get truly-deserved mention, little is said for those of us who toil every hour, every minute to do the work our society expects of us. The cops (who have been under intense scrutiny for the bad apples which shine a horribly-unfair spotlight upon the true servants), firefighters and EMT's who respond to every emergency, garbage collectors, janitors, and numerous other "essential workers" such as grocery and yes, liquor store employees among countless others, have sacrificed themselves for the normal workings of an American society that has come to value "freedom" over life itself. It's disgusting that we have devolved to a point where our country now has the highest amount of contagion while other nations have defeated the pandemic.

Americans are spoiled, shameless and coddled. We simply expect it all to go away, because... 'Merica! If we would just stop testing, then we would have very few cases, our listless "leader" tells us. If we could only rise to what our national standard once was, as the "greatest" country in the world, we too would have conquered this grave danger. This isn't a political statement, but a common sense plea for unity. Our country has withstood many calamities: a Civil War which ultimately preserved our Union, two World Wars, the Spanish Flu, tornadoes, hurricanes and countless other disasters. Now, it seems to be a political statement to simply wear a mask. Are you truly willing to risk your life, or even that of a loved one, just because you don't believe in taking simple precautions amidst a worldwide pandemic? Your "rights" do not allow you to put me or others in danger due to your selfishness.

I have friends on all sides of the political spectrum. Your lives are precious to me, so I wear a mask. Why? Because of all those 150,00+ people I come into contact with, I'm not able to pinpoint who is carrying this fearsome virus. Due to my exposure, I surely don't want to expose you to my possible contamination. It doesn't matter whether you believe as I do or vote for the same candidates. You matter to me, if only for our shared  humanity. Your simply sharing the same air is important to me. We can debate politics at any time, but if we all die, what's the point?

The past few months have been a nightmarish blur. Counting passengers, adding, subtracting, predicting where I might have to leave fare-paying people behind because some idiot boards holding a wad of cash in their hands that would normally be hidden, only to say "What, you don't take cash?" truly pisses me off. If I have to put "SORRY - BUS AT CAPACITY" on my overhead because over half of my 12-15 passenger load has failed to pay their fare while hard-working "essential workers" wait while two or three busfuls of fare evaders pass them by, I get steamed.

We haven't accepted cash since about mid-March. It's dirty, and those employed to count and process it would be unnecessarily-exposed if it remained valid fare. Still, there are those who have been riding the bus all the while who employ the same fake, empty expression when they see the three-month-old sign on the fare box stating we don't accept cash payments. Due to economic conditions, fare enforcement has been lax, except on light rail. Even then, exceptions are generally the rule versus citations. Even so, we hear the same old tired excuses on the bus.

"I guess I'll just ride at my own risk."

"What, you don't take cash any more?"

"What's a HOP pass?" (As if this form of payment was brand new, rather than two years old.)

"My HOP pass hasn't arrived yet. I just need to get to XYZ."

We've heard it all, or nothing. Some just jump ahead of a fare-paying individual struggling to stay afloat, yet still feel compelled to pay their fare, having procured a HOP pass. Decent, honest folks who are working or not, still feeling an obligation to pay for a service that has not, nor should ever be, free. And still, the fare evaders have to constantly be reminded to wear the FREE masks provided.

Yes, we're tired. Exhausted. We're bullied by those who have never before ridden a bus, feeling their "constitutional rights" are violated by our insisting they follow a few simple rules. Wear a mask. Maintain a six-foot distance from other passengers. Exit the BACK door. Simple, right? Nah. To hell with rules. People who are so self-entitled to ignore rules set forth by a transit system dedicated to pamper them safely to their destination for a few bucks and change.

Given this strenuous exchange with the sordid few troublemakers is the added difficulty of protests. I firmly believe in every American's right to peacefully protest. Especially with what has transpired recently, and also for the past 300+ years. Our racial strife, the murderous entitlement which has tragically mired our country's history, needs to stop. Finally, once and for all. It's disgusting how White America has treated anyone whose skin color is anything but.

In Portland, the protests have been occurring daily for over two weeks now. I get it. People are pissed off because of the needless on-the-site death sentences for supposed "suspects" who happen to be black. They have been killed in great numbers, sentenced to death without benefit of trial before a jury of their "peers", which more often than not have been mainly-composed of those they don't consider so. Transit has been halted quite often because of thousands-strong demanding to be heard.  Once and for all, they are rising UP: black, white, brown, or any shade in between. Their voices are loud, and rightly so. My minor inconvenience of being routed around them pales in comparison to the centuries of wrongs visited upon my fellow citizens who don't share my pale skin.

I recently made the personal mistake of stating I was "tired of the protests". How foolish, callous and indifferent that must have sounded to those who have struggled for even a tenth of the respect I garner just because I am white-skinned. A fellow sister pointed out my unintended insult to the plight of those who fear simply returning safely home every day. My being tired of the current war between "authorities" and "protesters" pales in comparison to the weariness our "minority" brothers and sisters must feel after centuries of homicidal treatment.

I cannot apologize for the body my soul came into when Mom gave birth to me. My personal struggles were many as a wee lad, but I was insulated from the violence many of my fellow citizens endured. Still, I was raised to respect people for their qualities rather than how they appear. The brother of a man with severe mental retardation, I learned early to accept people for who they are, rather than how they are perceived.

"Judge not, lest ye be judged," Mom taught me early and often. I was born with a brain injury, which required intense physical stimulation by a mother who refused to believe doctors who told her I'd never walk or talk. "Put him into an institution and forget about him," they told her. "Bullshit," she replied. Thanks to her refusal to give in to the prevailing "wisdom" of the time, I am here writing to you today.

This leads us to the current state of affairs. Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King implored his fellow Americans to believe in a day "that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Where is the "content" of our character, today as a nation? Wallowing in the jungle of foolish and outdated discrimination. Is our country one where people are killed on the street where they are detained, rather than taken into custody in hopes of a fair trial before a jury of their "peers"? Evidently, our country has not gained an inch since President Abraham Lincoln implored every ounce of our nation's character and goodness to compel Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Unfortunately, it failed to free people of color from the bondage of white privilege and further scorn, indenture and imprisonment. Of all the "free" countries in the world, it is horrific to understand, comprehend or truly appreciate the struggle of Black America throughout the past few centuries. Yet, here we still are, arguing over whether white people deserve superiority over anyone, let alone those whose skin color has been an active death sentence.

I do not blame people for their protests, even though it is inconvenient to those of us who roll the wheels of transit. The trouble-makers who infiltrate the peaceful masses do annoy me, but I simply roll the wheels. My job is to transport people, safely. That's what I do, and I'm proud to do so. If I tell you to do something, there's good reason for it. Just shut up and comply, and you're welcome.

* * * * *

Back to the "Heroes Work Here" argument. I only hope that once contract negotiations resume, our "heroic" efforts are recognized and we are amply rewarded for our constant dedication. Given management's antics, I highly doubt its ability to give us our due recognition. Sure, transit has suffered financial setbacks. "Tighten the budgetary belt" is one likely excuse to refuse rewarding our sacrifices. A loss of income due to not accepting cash for fare is another. However, in my experience over almost eight years, I've recently noticed most fare-paying passengers are using the HOP Pass as the most common form of fare. While the district pushes to eliminate cash in lieu of a more streamlined fare system, there will always be a need to accept cash. Not everyone has the ability to transfer funds to HOP via a cell phone, nor should they be forced to. It can be truly inconvenient. An "either or" system is mandated for any fair means of paying fare.

We do not normally consider ourselves "heroes". Yeah, we perform heroics every day we're on the job, regardless of conditions. We save lives every moment through sheer dedication, watching out for those who recklessly abandon their own safety. You don't hear about these "heroics" in the daily media, because only blood sells. Historically, transit has not rewarded us for our professionalism. Why would we expect it now? Hollow slogans are mere propaganda; it's what they're expected to say given the times we operate under. To echo its insincerity and slogan usage, "Where's the beef"? Meaningless words resonate with emptiness ever since transit management was overtaken by reckless Corporata. They have no business managing ours. Had our collective efforts been of any value whatsoever, Portland transit would be much more efficient and proactive than it has for the past decade. It would have promoted dedicated transit workers to manage a system we know best, rather than import those with no real-world experience.

Anyone with the slightest foresight would have planned for a pandemic. It would also have plans at-the-ready for the impending earthquake threatening the Northwest. There would have been stockpiles of medical supplies (made in the USA rather than in China, where this pandemic began) at the ready and people in place who would know how to react to any local emergency. Who would these people be, ready to respond to catastrophe? Battle-tested transit workers, that's who. People who have driven thousands of miles and millions of passengers. Those who know every pothole and irregular stoplight sequence across this city. People with experience through any weather event who understand the needs of operators and mechanics to efficiently react to whatever adversely affects transit.

Instead, we're inundated with a hopeless corporate mindset that has proven itself inept, unprepared and unresponsive whatever adverse conditions assail US. It's better at making excuses and hiding its failures than providing respectful leadership. While management bragged about its' supposed superhuman efforts to procure protective equipment, we had already been exposed to the pandemic... for weeks. By law, we're prohibited from even participating in a Blue Flu, let alone a labor strike in which we could have refused to work due to unsafe conditions. (Gee thanks, Oregon Legislature and certain members of our union leadership.)

Current "management leadership" is the group we're faced with as contract negotiations are stalled. Throughout this nightmare, we continue to serve our collective citizenry. With constant professionalism, despite unprecedented risks, and without adequate acknowledgement from media or  our increasingly-inefficient and bloated management. It has the media in a death-grip, and allows only management's opinion to flood the airwaves. WE, meanwhile, are strictly monitored for our contacts and comments to the media. Fuck that, I say. I write what I feel, as a taxpaying/transit-supporting citizen who is concerned for my fellow brothers and sisters as well as the public I serve. And I will continue to voice my opinion until it no longer matters.

When COVID has hopefully blown past our nation's sordid ridiculousness, caskets are buried and ashes blown to the saddest winds, we'll remain largely insignificant in management's nearsighted vision. Our "heroics" will be forgotten and once again we will find ourselves fighting for even a fraction of wage increase compared to ever-soaring inflation. We'll be portrayed in the media, once again, as "greedy" or "over-compensated low-skilled workers". False complaints against us, in which our honor and dedication are unfairly and often incorrectly portrayed, will run in the media whilst our "heroic" actions through pandemics and ice storms will be conveniently forgotten. In short, we're screwed no matter what we do. Just drive, and shut the hell up. Be thankful you have a job. Meanwhile, just sit back and bite your tongue, Blue Collar Chump. "We're in control now, and don't you forget it," their actions constantly proclaim.

Seeing that sign in front of our garages is insulting, knowing how our "leadership" treats us when some overly-entitled passenger texts a false or misleading complaint against an operator who has rightfully implored them to follow the most basic rules of transit which have ruled this profession for over 100 years. We're only "in the news" when something goes wrong. Instead of giving an operator the benefit of innocence before being proven guilty, we're reduced to being "under investigation". Once we're exonerated, we cannot expect any such comment freeing us from the supposed guilt we're automatically convicted of by management's inability to support its frontline.

Even when a passenger complaint is obviously fraudulent and disproven, it remains on our record. Most complaints should be trashed, never to see the light of day let alone forwarded to us after a long shift safely ferrying our fellow Portlanders to their destinations for a mere $2.50. It's a shameful situation thousands face every day, in every city across the globe that provides public transportation.

So yeah, even though I'm white, I feel for those who have suffered for centuries under a system that is heavily-weighted toward "entitled" segments of a population over any other. It hurts. It's unfair, and it erodes any worthwhile expectation of progress. ALL of it needs to just... STOP. Now. It's not something that needs "further study" or "investigation" or "committee meetings". We know the problem, but the only solution has been easily within reach for hundreds of years. Our failure to come together is only now blindingly-obvious as our collective misdeeds have become debts long past due.

Do you want actual "change"? Get rid of the status quo, and vote your fellow ground-level, blue-collar workers into power. Millionaires don't get it, and they don't care. Change comes from the ground up. "Trickle down" only means that we're showered in shit. And right now, things smell just like that.

Wake up, folks. No matter which party you vow loyalty to, the only "party" worth attending is your neighbor's barbecue. The rest smells horrible.

Peace, love, and continued safe health to you and yours,

Monday, June 15, 2020

Doomed or Resolute?

May God bless and keep us all safe in the USA.

Deke's Note: There's so much going on right now, I have struggled to know how to write what I feel as a bus operator and American. Most of all, I pray you ALL remain safe. Practice safety above all else. This is NOT the flu, and has killed many more than it should have. WE are at extreme risk, as are those who believe the economy is more important than our collective health.

I have SO wanted to respond to all the strife and division, but have felt intellectually incapable of effectively doing so. For weeks as a white man, I have contemplated my many advantages yet struggled to find the words to describe my anguish. I'm no more worthy of than anyone else whose skin is a different shade of mine. I realize my silence isn't supportive to those most affected by my race's horrific treatment of those who don't look like me. Truly, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to write that wouldn't sound hopelessly trite or condescending. Still, I cannot remain silent and retain anything resembling any dignity.

I'm sad our country, which has always lauded itself "NUMBER ONE" is anything but, in so many categories today. How can we RISE UP?

How can we, after nearly 250 years, fail to recognize the good in each human being, instead of diligently working to find fault in our collectivity? The white race is NOT superior. In fact, history shows our glaring faults each step of the way. Even though our presidents, save for one, have all been white males, our incredible achievements have been made by people of all colors and walks of life.

Our moon journeys were made possible in great part by the mathematic genius of black women who were not given credit for their work until their contributions were nearly 50 years old. Our national heroes have included men and women of all walks of life, to include George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Toni Morrison, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Louis Armstrong, Colin Powell, Aretha Franklin, Richard Pryor, Shirley Chisolm, Roberta Flack, Barack Obama (yes, even him, no matter your political persuasion... he tried to bring us together but many opposed his efforts), and my personal favorite, Mama Lucas.

This last person mentioned was from my hometown Florence, Arizona. When we first moved to this small desert town in 1969, my mother befriended this elderly lady. I was a lad of nine when I first met her. She was a beloved fixture in our new community. Her daughter was my younger brother Dan's Special Education teacher. Married to a Florence community leader, Reginald Sheppard (who heroically served his country in World War II even though racism ran deep in this country then as it still does today), Juanita Leos Sheppard was a deeply-committed educator of the mentally-disabled who loved her students and worked diligently to improve their station in life. Perhaps it was due to her upbringing in a home where her parents fought hard for the simplest respect in life. Whatever the case, Mrs. Sheppard was Dan's guiding light as a six-year-old with Down Syndrome. Juanita not only taught him, but she diligently advocated for the rights of the disabled, firmly believing every person under God's loving sight deserved the dignity every other human being did. Dan adored her, and when she died a few years later, he was devastated, unable to process the simplest facet of life: that we are mortal.

Mama Lucas told us a story one day as I sat at her table eating another of her generous offerings of food as I as a naturally-skinny nine-year-old lad all the Ladies of Florence always wanted to fatten. It started with her dreamy look of love, as she recalled her dearly-departed husband Lucas. She sighed as she began the story, perhaps it was that she was either the daughter or granddaughter of a slave, given her age. I remember she glanced at my mother, then smiled down at me. She caressed my forehead and scalp with her worn and gentle hands. I remember feeling so comforted by her presence. Her hugs were soothing and a great comfort which I eagerly anticipated upon our visits to her home. It didn't matter I was a little "white boy"; Mama Lucas had lived in Florence so long that the children of that town were all the same to her. Her husband's success as a restaranteur had granted her a comfortable home, and her years were numbered. Even so, she was calm and happy with life's blessings bestowed upon her final days. This next story resonated so deeply within me, it remains one of my favorites regarding one's grasping whatever dignity is dangled upon even the most-shriveled carrot.

"My husband and I owned a restaurant," Mama began. "Downtown Florence in the 1940s, serving Lucas' favorite dishes from down home to Mexican and American fare. Lord, how that man could cook! Anyway, in comes this Texan fella, dressed like the cowboy. I brought him a glass of ice water and a menu. He looked at me like I was the devil, lemme tell ya!" At this she laughed.

"Ain't you got any white waitresses?" he asked me. "Why nah sir," she replied. "I'm all ya got, so y'all just let me know what you want to eat and my man will cook it for you."

This, she remembered, struck a negative chord with the man. He was disgusted, and said as much. "I'll be damned if I'll eat at a nigger's restaurant!"

Mama told me she just raised an eyebrow and told him, "I'm sorry sir, but there's the door if you don't want to dine here. Florence folk don't seem to mind much."

With a disgusted snort, the Texan rose and strode toward the door. Little did he know, his actions wouldn't be rewarded in that dusty desert outpost 70 miles between Phoenix and Tucson.

Mr. Lucas had surveyed the scene from his view in the kitchen. A respected businessman in that small town, he knew just what to do. He didn't get angry, he just acted like someone from my hometown would have. As soon as the Texan walked out, Lucas Leos telephoned every other restaurant in town and told them what had happened. Between these calls, a plan was hatched.

When the Texan walked into the next restaurant, he was greeted by Mr. Leos himself. "Welcome, suh! How can I be of service to you?" The Texan snorted once again in disgust and walked out. Of the two or three other restaurants he tried that afternoon, he found the same Mr. Leos waiting for him. See, Mr. Leos had told his fellow businessmen of the Texan's words, and that didn't sit well with them. They all knew Lucas' dedication to his business, and he was accepted as one of Florence's own. That day, every restaurant in town, even for just a few minutes, was owned and operated by a Black man. This moment of solidarity taught one prejudiced man that his disgust for his fellow man was not to be tolerated in their town. He left Florence. Hungry.

This story has great historic and soulful meaning to me. It reminds me of how we were once able to work together to defeat racism's horrific disrespect. Even though some in my hometown still harbored racist beliefs, they were not welcome in that small town's close-knit bond. In Florence, if you were able to hold your own, then you were accepted as an equal.

Mama's eyes teared up as she told that story. Her love for Lucas was an emotion I had not yet learned, but I knew she needed a hug. She returned it with equal love, and it's one of my earliest, most treasured memories. It wasn't until much later that I realized its significance.

Our family, four white boys raised by loving and respect-demanding parents, lived next door to the same family of four girls and equally-demanding black parents. I learned early that we were not that different. I played with those girls, danced with them to the Jackson Five in their living room. The girls teased me, loved and guided me through the deepest the 1960s' racial divisions. I was naive, but they were wise. There was no doubt that we were friends, and that race never entered into our relationship.

One day, a friend of mine came to visit. He lived a few blocks away, but we always hung out. He was also white, the son of a local dentist. Somehow, we got into an argument with my next-door neighbor Sharon. She was gonna kick both our asses, and we knew she could do it. We climbed high into one of my yard's fruit trees to escape her.

Later, my father called me into the living room, stern-faced and angry.

"Did you call Sharon a 'nigger'?" he asked.

"No," I said, dumbfounded. "I would never..."

"Oh?" Dad shouted at me. I was terrified. I had never seen Dad so angry toward me. "Why did her father just come over and accuse you of doing just that?"

"I don't know..." I stammered. "I didn't call her that... I could never..." I had truly never heard that word before. Still, I was about to learn its meaning.

Dad didn't believe me. I was shocked. Having been taught that truthfulness was all my parents required, it was all I knew to offer. Still, whether Sharon had accused me for calling her something I never could have said, or that Dad didn't believe me; it didn't matter. I was spanked harder that afternoon than any other time in my life.

My father was raised an Illinois farmer in the Land of Lincoln, where people earned respect no matter what they looked like. My mother was raised by black nannies, the daughter of a Detroit auto manufacturer's advertising executive. Both parents were steadfastly against racism in every form. Dad, a professional musician, had served in World War II with people of all races and beliefs; Mom had been babysat by Mr. Bojangles, Sarah Vaughan and others while her mother performed in Vaudeville acts. They were horrified at the very thought one of their sons being accused of hurling a racist slur. I had not done the deed, but the fierce bare-butt spanking I received reminded me how painful such an offense could be toward another. I was horrified that Dad didn't believe me, and also that I had been falsely-accused.

From that point, I made an even greater effort to show respect for those whose skin color differed from my own. When I told Sharon what had happened, she was shocked and apologized, saying maybe it was my friend who had caller her that. Even so, I felt downright guilty for it. I was angry for being unfairly-punished, but the lesson was learned. Sharon and I remained friends, but there was a matter of trust that took a while to re-establish. I wish we could have a discussion today about that incident some 50 years ago. It shaped my respect for people of color, one which I still hold today. It's not about anger, but realization of our unnecessary differences. We're equal under the law, but are we in societal understanding? Not quite, given today's horrific circumstances.

As a horny teenager, girls were foremost on my mind. One in particular was Melanie. I found her incredibly beautiful, and yearned to tell her how much I was attracted to her. I visited her home regularly in my early teens, mostly to speak with her granny. Evidently, my lust for Mel was acknowledged by both my mom and Aunt Hazel, because I was sternly advised to abandon my attraction for a girl I found not only attractive, but lovely. I didn't understand why but was lobbied by both Aunt Hazel and my mother to not pursue my love interest. Later, I realized a union between us would have resulted in great pain for us both, even though our town was relatively peaceful and seemingly unaffected by the nation's racial tensions of the time.

Given my history, I know only the truths my life has afforded me in nearly 60 years. First, we must treat each other as God commanded: the same way you hope others would treat YOU. It's easy. The simplest form of respect, if you try. Why must one's color of skin require anything further? Unless you're ignorant, totally entrenched upon the centuries of racial hatred that has defined humanity, life could be so much more calm and peaceful. Whiteness has ruled America for far too long. It has defined neighborhoods and created a line too many have dared not to cross for fear of violence It's time to erase all boundaries and aspire to discover what it would be like to live amongst one another in peace and respect for all humankind. It's time we recognize the inherent good in all people, and discard the hatred of the past that has resulted in reckless violence and disharmony.

We enjoy each others' music, food and cultures. Why is it that we fear one another because of the color of our skin? Underneath the human epidermis lies a network of blood vessels, DNA, shared history and possible love. Why can't we finally embrace this? Other countries have, why can't the one which boasts a Constitution in which its preamble states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Now, nearly two-hundred forty-four years later, we're still arguing what this statement actually means by today's standards. It's truly ridiculous that a large segment of our population argues that it only applies to white people. Given our murderous treatment of Native Americans and enslavement of kidnapped Africans, it's about time whites bow our heads in shame and accept God's judgement for our sins. There is nothing in the Bible which gives white people superiority over others. In fact, my personal experience has shown those of color possess a greater intellect and compassion than those of my own race. It's despicable how our ignorance holds power over those who are usually more-intelligent than those of my own race, yet lord antiquated and ill-won dominance over others who only seek to level the playing field of equality.

Humanity in the United States is in severe danger of annihilating itself. Abraham Lincoln once stated that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". At the time, he was referring to the state of slavery in a young nation that needed to rid itself of an intrinsically-abhorrent state. Even though times have changed, the state of our collective humanity has not. People of color are held in prison in much higher numbers than their pale-skinned countrymen due to laws which specifically targeted them. Their neighborhoods were officially-deemed "undesirable" and subject to financial regulations which regarded them as poor investments. Hence, the "ghettos" were formed. Law enforcement has routinely targeted these neighborhoods and put many people in prison due to racial warfare, giving America the false impression that people of color are largely lawless individuals who are incapable of positively-contributing to society when they are actually more hard-working and earnest individuals (when given the chance) than people whose skin is as light as the night is dark.

I don't blame those who RISE up today because they have been held down for centuries. In fact, I feel to blame for their demise through my white skin's ability to avoid the trials they have faced. Not once did I have to counsel my children to be wary of their skin color when they ventured out as teenagers. I didn't fear they would be hounded down by the wrongful vengeance of those of a different color for their own race as they ventured out to be with their friends. It certainly NEVER entered my mind as a teenager that my life or freedom could be in danger just because I wanted to "hang with my homeys" on a hot summer night. The cops knew my family and that any frolicks were largely harmless. But what of that of my black friends of that time? Were they pulled over by some over-zealous cop with a hard-on to use that gun on some "black guy" who resented being pulled over just because his skin color did. But still, I wonder... did it happen nonetheless? It certainly did in larger cities. Were my classmates just lucky they lived where I did? Or was I simply blind to something that was happening beyond my white reality?

Today, we're faced with truly ridiculous demands because of the times we're living through. Still, we must not "defund" the police. Let us otherwise train them to recognize everyone's humanity and to choose peace above violence. When a black man reaches for something, it's not necessarily for a weapon but likely some form of identification to offer in hopes to ease the officer's suspicion. They don't feel so threatened when I as a white man reach into my glove compartment for my registration/insurance documents without fear. Why would a black person be automatically rendered a death sentence for doing the same? It's trained into white people to fear black folks, perhaps because of all the horrific shit we've treated them with over the centuries. Maybe our race is afraid of retaliation for our horrific sins. Make a sudden move in front of a cop, and they are primed to protect themselves. Why do they automatically assume a black man will point a gun, rather than documents, at them? Because they assume it to be so. They're taught to assume this. Good fucking grief. Cops should know better. Still, minorities are killed for this ridiculous notion more often than we have been told over the years. And that, my friends, is why they are beyond-the-pale pissed off, and rightfully so.

Our national political situation is in dire need of a powerful leader who can find a way for us to heal the divisions which have built up over centuries of denial and oppression, and a Congress with the balls to stand up above political idealogies to finally, truthfully... join hands in solidarity against racism.

Once the world's hope for all mankind, America has devolved into a cesspool in which respect for law and order has overcome a universal respect for "others". Where our once-hopeful "shining city upon the hill" inspired greatness across the globe, we have fallen into the horrific depths of "one versus the other, and to hell with anyone who objects". People armed with automatic weapons have threatened our statehouses and been granted their freedom of expression, while un-armed protesters have been met with teargas and pepper-spraying those hopeful of reversing the establishment's hundreds of years of systemic racism.

We CAN do this, America. If we stop cutting our country's soul in half and instead reach out a hand to those next to us, regardless of their race/sexuality/religion/politics, we already know we can achieve greatness. It has happened many times before. We once had the greatest nation of all time; now it has devolved into "us vs. them." Pink Floyd, of all bands, is now the prevailing voice of today's disaffected and enraged. Also, I'm reminded of the soulful sounds of Marvin Gaye asking nearly a half-century ago What's Going On and the Rev. Al Green's soulful voice imploring us Let's Stay Together. White people have always LOVED soul music, yet turned a blind eye to the grave injustices served upon their brothers and sisters as they grooved to their soulful tunes. Millions of "white" Americans reveled in the musical geniuses of Satchmo, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin and scores of other Black Americans, yet still considered them less than human. This disgusting double-standard has gone on without meaningful outrage for their collective plight. For not only decades, but centuries.

You wonder why millions of people have risen in outrage over the death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis? Turn to YouTube and search for the thousands of horrific instances of white "justice" against our black brothers and sisters. For centuries, we have laid waste to their anguished existence. Read the thousands of books devoted to the tragedy of racial hatred whites have visited upon our "celebrated" Black Americans. Venture into your own souls and ask how you, as an entitled white person, have remained silent as you witnessed injustice yet remained silent.

Damian Lillard, a Portland TrailBlazer, said it best recently as he rapped his race's agony over what we're now experiencing. He basically told whites that "whites staying quiet, you disabling the changes". His words finally brought me out from this horrible silence I've felt, not knowing how to respond to my country's horrific moment in history.

In 1865, the last American leader who actually cared about those who languished under an inhuman practice that had flourished in a supposed land-of-the-free, President Lincoln spent his final political capital in his lifelong mission to outlaw slavery. He pushed, cajoled and leveraged Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It finally outlawed slavery in our country. John Wilkes Booth made Abe's dream one he would never see ratified. It was, nearly eight months after his assassination.

Ever since, our country has been divided upon the issue of "equality" among the races. We decimated the Native American population, insulted the integrity of Japanese, Mexican and many other naturalized Americans while the whites flaunted a supposedly God-granted "superiority" not founded in the Bible over our centuries upon this continent. This despicable part of our history now has come to haunt us today. Given our .

Where do we go from here? I submit that we finally learn to love, respect and honor one another. No man or woman is higher than another just because of our skin's color. We each work for a living, hope the best for our children and their own. We live, we die, we love. Why not love and respect one another along the way? If we're "all equal in God's eyes", do we fight so evilly against each other whilst we're alive? When we arrive at God's Heavenly Gates, will you be interrogated as to your failure to love others as you did yourselves, or will your soul be free of such guilt?

You can fail some of the people some of the time, but you cannot con a Larger Being. When your soul is to be judged, will you be rewarded? Some of us lie to our own souls an entire lifetime, only to be exposed to the greatest Judge upon our deathbed. Did you love others as you did yourself? Did you show love and kindness to all you came into contact with, or did you harbor hatred and injustice?

I won't judge you; that's for you and your God. However, I pledge to you all that I love you no matter what our differences. Many of you assail me for my political leanings, judging me even though you fail to fully understand me. It's okay; I forgive you, and hope you offer me the same.

All in all, I sincerely hope mankind learns the wickedness of our past and diligently work toward a more-loving and inclusive future. When I die and you try to find the words which best describe my life, my main hope is that you realize that I loved you for who you are. I did not judge your faults because my own likely outnumbered your own. My life is only measured by the love I've shown those with whom I have come into contact with. To my Beloved, you have been the light which led me out of the darkness. To my children, I am SO proud of each of you; in your own ways you have delighted me in so many ways I could fill a thousand books of your wonders. To my friends, I can only say I lived a fuller life because you treated my soul with intense fun and wonderment; your individual contributions to my life will follow my soul wherever it chooses to travel, and that I treasure each of you to a degree you could never fully comprehend.

Let's Get Together, okay? Vote. Speak up. Be heard, Do not be afraid to be you... everyone else is already spoken for. Above all, remember that Deke, Patrick or that silly ass, however you choose to remember me, LOVED you however we interacted. If I didn't, I wouldn't have spoken with you.

I don't know all the answers, or how to proceed from here. Our economy is suffering, people are unemployed, frustrated and impatient for things to return to "normal". I read and hear that nothing will ever be the same because of a tiny and murderous virus. Will our impatience lead our country to its ultimate death? We're spoiled, entitled and pampered. The rest of the world has done battle with COVID-19 and collectively beat the curve. Yet the USA has failed to rise. Our numbers are spiking because some states believe their historic greatness rises above some tiny virus. We fail to test those who come into direct contact with a possibly-deadly public, for fear this will spike the numbers even more. Our heads are buried so deep in the sands of denial it's likely millions more will die, our economy could spiral into never-imagined depths which make us even more likely to fall victim to an aggressive takeover than we are willing to accept. By the time we realize our collective mistakes, it will probably be too late to correct.

We're at a point in time where we learn to live together and therefore RISE as one to defeat this lil' bastard, or our country dies. It's a legacy none of us wants to live through, but it's possible. Unless we learn to forget hatred, band together like we have countless times before and leave stupidity behind, China's flag could be flying rather than our beloved Stars 'n Stripes before too long.

Think I'm a bit alarmist? I've studied American history my entire life. Not since the Civil War have we faced such a horrific dilemma, but this one is much worse. We're more divided now than we were when Abe Lincoln stated "a house divided against itself cannot stand". Not only are we divided politically, but we are being decimated by a disease many do not understand or even fear. Unless we come to grips with this disease as seriously as the rest of the world has, then it will likely be our ultimate downfall no matter the politics. Our racial divisions right now are powerful, yet tiny in relevance to the threat of this pandemic. Would you rather band together to defeat a virus or fight one another over supposed racial superiority? In my mind, the choice is elementary, and I'm afraid most of you fail to grasp the significance of our collective peril.

Get your head out of your asses, Americans. Keep wearing your masks. Stop massing in great numbers to protest and instead get your VOTES on. Elect those who have ALL our best interests in mind rather than those who espouse ridiculous notions which could kill our country. We have yet to meet the USA's grandest potential. Our history is violent. However, if we learn to live with one another no matter what you look like, who you love or what church you do or do not attend, perhaps our Founders' ideals could come to fruition upon our 250th birthday six years hence. Otherwise, I suggest you invest in your own funeral, because it's surely a'comin. Most of us will surely join you if we fail to overcome this most difficult time in our nation's history. Don't agree with me? I beg you to reconsider.
Peace, folks. We need it now more than ever.

Love to you and yours,

Thanks, George

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