Sunday, February 23, 2020

My Improved Roll Takes Shape

"A boy is born
In hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls
That ain't so pretty

His parents give
Him love and affection
To keep him strong
Moving in the right direction

Living just enough
Just enough for the city.

His father works
Some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet
He barely makes a dollar

His mother goes 
To scrub the floors for many
And you'd best believe
She hardly gets a penny

His sister's black
But she is sho'nuff pretty
Her skirt is short
But Lord, her legs are sturdy

To walk to school
She's got to get up early
Her clothes are old
But never are they dirty

Her brother's smart
He's got more sense than many
His patience's long
But soon he won't have any

To find a job
Is like a haystack needle
'Cause where he lives
They don't use colored people

Living just enough...
Just enough for the city... ohhh

His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his life walking the streets of New York City
He's almost dead from breathing in air pollution
He tried to vote but thim there's no solution
Living just enough, just enough for the city... yeah yeah yeah!

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don't change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, just enough for the city!"

--Stevie Wonder, Living for the City

(A song which awoke me from my childish slumber of white privilege.)

* * * * *

Deke's Note: Whew! What a week. It was one of the busiest in recent memory, given the Pacific Northwest's odd gift of sunny and warm late-winter weather. Still, it was a great one even though I suffered physically from the onslaught of 56 hours in service. Giving people rides is what I do, and I certainly did. It might have been a record-setting week for number of rides, but Deke's "Positive Thought for the Day" added a generous amount of positive passenger interactions. A rarity, I must add, was more than I had hoped for.

In an inspired bit of mid-week passion, I wrote the other night how excited I was about the reaction of my addition of uplifting quotes from inspiring people to my normally hushed roll as a transit operator. Tonight, after I invited the "plugged in and tuned out" populace aboard to take heed, I regaled them with today's picked-out-of-my-Oban Distillery-hat quote.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

A few times, it seemed as if the bus farts meant more than what I had proclaimed. Nobody seemed to notice my desperate attempt to engage the riding public with what I believed a truly-inspirational and uplifting message. Then, magic happened. As passengers exited from the back of the bus, they purposefully walked to the front and thanked me for Emerson's quote.

"That was really cool," one lady told me as she exited, "to give me that Emerson passage," one kind lady told me. "Thank you."

It struck me with a force of love equal to that with which I had offered it: honestly and with passion. Her tone was sincere, and the smile she left me with shone as bright as that winter sun we have been graced with this week. It warmed me just as equally. Yes, I had made a difference in her transit experience! YES! Faaaarrrr out! Isn't that what my employer brags about even though it has no idea who it manages, the very souls who drive Portland to and from whither they go?

After a week of this "experiment", all I can do is give thanks to he who reached out and helped me see the light I have shaded my eyes from all along: Tommy Transit. This dear man has uplifted thousands of Vancouver, British Columbia's passengers and also those who ride his Party Bus on Galiano Island, for three decades. It is borne from one kind, decent soul who decided his mission as a bus operator encompassed the unselfish desire to lift people from the despair of darkness into the light of love and positive thoughts. Tommy reached out to me just a few weeks ago. Since then, we have had several email and text conversations on the plight of bus operators who toil through the darkness without seeing the light of what could be.

Full-time city bus operators of worldwide metropolitan areas  have the grand opportunity of reaching millions of people just like us every day, each year. More than the Pope, the US President or Queen of the United Kingdom, to the often-rolled tune of 150,000-plus people just like US. Those who toil for infinitely less than our collective worth, just to stay afloat beneath the rich man's realm.

We collectively await the day our bank account is awarded the wages we have earned, only to see those precious pennies sucked away by the landlord or mortgage or student loan leeches and other  countless bills our tenuous existence depends upon. After all that is paid, we're left with the meager slop described by the Charles Dickens "Oliver Twist" character when he asks for just a wee bit more sustenance. Of course, Oliver is met with the cruel ridicule of the headmaster who mocks his cries for mercy... something we're all too accustomed to as hard-working slaves to the master of capitalism which ultimately enslaves us all.

I pay my countless bills which allow me the least of luxuries, levies galore even to the point of local transit tax extortion I had no choice to vote upon, and countless extra leechy-grabs upon the wages I slave to earn every minute I'm in service to our beautiful city. Whatever is left goes to food, gas and other necessities, only to afford me the crumbs I'm expected to be grateful for receiving while bowing to the master's feet each day of occupational slavery. If I'm lucky, these leftovers are enough to afford me the occasional trip away from the urban prison I call "home".

As a loyal citizen to my territorial prison, I'm expected to suffer pain and not complain. That's capitalism at its worst. Anyone who calls for anything better is labeled socialist. I'm sorry, but my life's devotion to hard work should afford me more than the slavery of working oneself to death for little more than basic sustenance.

All I can do is work. I have slaved thousands of hours over 40 years of service to Master Capitalism, without much more than the love I have tilled within the garden of my soul. This garden blossoms whenever one of my passengers reacts to the love I give them each time they board my bus. It's a respectful admiration, collectively-cultivated over decades of shared hardship and constant dreams of a better tomorrow. We all rise, shower and dress for the new day's prolonged torture, without much hope that anyone gives a damn whether we even make it home safe. News flash: I fucking care that you do.

You may not recognize it when you board my vehicle, but even through this dazed glaze derived from millions of miles in service to humanity, I am still there to see you safely home. That's what I'm paid to do, along with my thousands of brothers and sisters who do the same, hundreds of thousands times a day locally, millions of times worldwide. You only hear about transit when a rare occurrence of tragedy strikes while people roll. Without fail, local media assails you with the suggestion painting transit workers as tragedy's ultimate culprit. It doesn't matter how many millions of safe miles we provide each minute of every day; when shit goes down involving injury or tragedy, the headlines automatically blame the operator.

Transit workers are the most-defiled and least-defended of service personnel. True, there are others who toil at the mercy of the public yet are largely ill-afforded society's respect. Still, those who do the work of the capitalist victors are viciously pitted against one another. People today are encouraged to blaspheme the holy rather than assail the culprit. It has been so for millennia, and so it will continue until we RISE against the evil to whom we unfailingly bow.

Dem vs. Repub, blue vs. white collar. Rich vs. poor. White vs. black vs. brown vs. beige. It doesn't matter which flavor you favor, the opposition will fight you at the expense of us all. They will constantly build walls to separate us because if we could somehow all unite, their power over US would quickly dissolve. It's an ages-old tactic to pit us amongst ourselves, by those who stand to gain the most from it: those who have what they don't want us to. Blood between us will forever be spilt, as long as we agree with whatever media flavor encourages us.

One-hundred sixty-or more years ago, blacks were enslaved by ruthless masters who bought and sold them as worthless chattel. President Abraham Lincoln paid his dues to humanity by giving his life to ensure their lives would no longer be considered worthless in the minds of those who ruled the "moral code". That gave way to bigots working even harder to ensure those who didn't look like they did being held down for another century before Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Senator Bobby Kennedy sacrificed their lives in a collective sacrifice to ensure all voices mattered in our society. Today, we're still senselessly-separated by our once-realized victories of past racial wars. Even though people whose skin color differs from mine have provided valuable contributions to human kind's collective good, these values have been degraded by the ancestors of past slave masters who somehow maintain control over those they consider less than human. It has always disgusted my sense of what it means to be an American. We're all connected by the shared bond of what we based this country upon: that all men (and women) are equal. Let us be reminded of the sacred words of the United States of America's most beloved of all documents save for our Constitution:

"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. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Upon the power of these sacred words, our country could have been overthrown a few times already throughout our sordid history. First, we had to reaffirm that ALL people are created equal. Given the Bible's insistence that humankind was created from the loving coupling of Adam and Eve, who are we to argue what color these two were? Given the location of their meeting, chance itself dictates their skin color differed greatly from my own: white. Additionally, that would mean our Biblical origins suggests God Himself wanted from us his highest command: that we love one another.

I believe there is but one race: the human one. Please do not refer to me by my skin color. Rest assured I will not judge you for your own. We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of whatever God we honor. I love us all.

Once bigots realize they are truly equal to that other-colored mate who works next to them and shares their own daily struggles, they will finally accept we're equals in the society within we all toil. We're all of intrinsic value, yet we needlessly fight each other while the big fishes gleefully feast upon our unnecessary hatred. Those who have will tear at those who have not. For millennia, they have laughed at us as we do their bidding.

This is not a post supporting socialism: it's simply my description of the natural order of the powerful encouraging the lower masses to cannibalize ourselves to our ultimate demise. As we battle one another, they get richer and even more greedy as they pick up the crumbs our mutual self-destruction leaves behind. Once we're gone, nobody will remain to do their bidding, and humanity will eventually cease to exist. The coddled rich will not know how to fend for themselves without any type of caste system to support them. Perhaps that what Planet Earth needs most: the end of humanity. I hope and pray not.

I don't "hate" you for feeling differently than I do. Please stop using that word in relation to our differences... I really do love you. I'm sad we have lost our ability to compromise. Our current divide is over-amplified by a definition of those who rule the working class, rather than our shared beliefs.

Truly, I sympathize with our collective plight. I pray you find it within your soul to realize the least of us are being used for one purpose: to serve those who have the most. If we can unite long enough to realize our commonalities are stronger than the differences we've been taught that separate us, perhaps we could forge compromises to propel us into a healthier future. Instead, we're mired in a societal war not seen since the American Civil War. Still, we work, live and roll together toward a tenuous tomorrow. It's a shaky existence we drive toward, one which needs a reroute if our future is to attain any successful harmony.

I safely move those who either don't have their own transportation or unselfishly choose to ride public transit. Whatever the case, I'm here with, for, and living among you. Please treat me with the respect my millions of miles of safe driving deserves, and thanks to those of you who do just that. Yeah, I'm paid well. But I could be treated better by those I serve, and by those who oversee my dedication... the transit lords to whom YOU pay taxes to. See where it all leads?

So yeah, I drive a bus. It's not something to be looked down upon, or to be an accepted target for your collective frustration. I'm your equal, but also your biggest fan. We're stuck in this gene pool together, and I hope we can someday learn to find harmony together. That's why I have decided to regale you with my "Positive Thoughts for the Day". One step at a time, they say, may find our paths intertwine. And that, my friends, is where we become strongest.

Thanks for riding.

With respect, I am
Deke N. Blue

Friday, February 21, 2020

My 'Positive Thought of the Day' Update

Being a grumpy bus operator can be injurious, especially if you piss off the wrong person. I've been kicked, spit at, cursed, called every name you can imagine. Anyone reading here who has done this job can relate. However, there have been times when my overall attitude might have prevented abuse. It's easy to allow the stress of this job dictate my own behavior. After all, it is one of, if not the most, stressful jobs one can do. One moment you may feel fine and the next you find all rational thought and patience has flown out the side window. An insult or rude action can quickly provoke one who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From the initial contact, a point of no return can be instantaneous.

Unless they have done our job, many in management have no idea what it's like to be constantly in fear of an attack. We hear all this corporate bullshit on "de-escalation techniques" and "keeping your cool" but have little or no real training. We're not psychiatrists or psychologists but are expected to deal with the nuttiest branch on the human tree. After a while, we lose any ability we may have once had to cooly deal with potentially-violent passengers. In our mind, once verbally-assailed, we're in self-defense mode. The body's mechanism is called "Fight or Flight Syndrome" but management ignores it and expects us to be sugary and sweet, even though our antagonist might just have a .45 or 10-inch blade under their outer wear.

Prolonged periods of stress can turn a once-jovial bus operator into a snarling, drooling wildebeast in the time it takes a traffic light to change. Unless you have developed intense superpowers when dealing with stress, no amount of training is powerful enough to overcome PTSD. Over the past year, I've found myself often very surly, pouncing on the smallest insult to my tenuous equilibrium. If you know me personally, I'm sure you can tell that's not my normal demeanor. Usually, I'm the first to forgive a slight and truly sorry if I offend someone. Hugs, when allowed, are my chosen form of greeting. If we hit it off when I meet you, rest assured I will grow to love you and treat you as such.

Feeling very upset lately with the hardest part of my job (my greatest joy in former professions), working with the public, I was desperately searching for some catalyst to soothe and rebuild that relationship. Tommy Transit reached out a few weeks ago and we have quickly developed a trusting bond in which he is leading me away from the shadows. I'm still prone to quick temper, but I've taken the first step in reconnecting with those I serve.

* * * * *

The first day on my new path, I was very nervous. I do tend to have a little fun on the Public Address system, but it's usually short-lived. For the past three days, it has been more involved. On Monday, when I had a few minutes of drive time between stops, I keyed up the mic.

"Hello Portland!" I bellowed perhaps a bit too loudly. A few people visibly jumped. (Roops, I thought, and pushed the mic back a few inches. "Sorry about that initial outburst, but I'm really excited to introduce a new feature to you all: Deke's Positive Thought for the Day."


I was truly on stage now; ready to bounce, flop or ooze onto the floor like the stains left by empty beer bottles and spilled mocha lattes. A moment of stage fright took hold, but I shook it off. It was go-time for this grand experiment and I was fully-committed.

"This one has been with me since the beginning of my adult life," I resumed. "In fact, it has propelled me whenever I've set out to do what others have said I couldn't. Augh! Don't ever let someone tell you your dreams are impossible! Nonsense! This quote was penned by Richard Bach, who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of my most favorite inspirational stories. So without further ado, here it is:

"You are never given a wish, without also being given the power to make it come true."

To my great surprise and delight, someone began to clap. A moment later, most of my passengers were applauding. At first I was sure they were clapping for Mr. Bach. Then, some of them were discussing how some of their other bus operators were fun, interesting or constantly grumpy. As several of them exited at their stops, they smiled and thanked me. With this signup just over a week from ending, I had finally made more than a few special connections with my rush-hour crowd. It felt extremely uplifting, and that remained with me the rest of my shift.

People that evening were complimentary, chatty and for once, not as hypnotized by their cell phones. It was if we had gone back in time to the days of auld when folks actually enjoyed having conversations with complete strangers.

See? Just a little change in my modus operandi created a vastly-different environment in my rolling office.

On Tuesday, I plucked Neil Armstrong's folded-up quote out of my Oban hat.

"I believe every human has a finite amount of heartbeats. I don't intend to waste any of mine."

This one netted silence. Actually, my high school crowd that afternoon reacted more positively than the adults. It is from them I hope to get a bit more reaction, because of their penchant for dismissively ignoring me as they board.

Oscar Wilde"s statue in Dublin, Ireland
Today's Oscar Wilde's statement of individuality  needed little introduction, so I kept it short and sweet. Noting how I truly admired the statue of Wilde in Dublin overlooking his home there when I visited last year, I asked the students to take special heed of it. They are in the heyday of forming what type of person they want to be, and I remember being a teenager and wanting to "stick out" above the crowd.

"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."

While the initial reaction each of the four readings was quiet, a few people left with a nod of "thanks for the quote".

There are 15 more to go, and I'll be on my spring route before this well runs dry. If the experiment continues to be so well-received, perhaps it will become as solidified in my routine as The Mantra. I hope it does.

(Thanks Tommy!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Thoughts for the Day

"Strive not to be a success, but to be of value." -- Albert Einstein

Mistakes are the tools of future triumphs, I've always believed. Lord knows I've made more of the former than of the latter in this life. Yet I keep writing to the sky and believe I'll someday be a star someone can see tomorrow.

Kinda sappy, you say? Yeah, well. That's who and what I am: The Sap King.

Looking down as I walked down our street one day as a lad of about 10, a neighbor once told me, "If you're always looking down, you'll miss something of higher value."

I was probably looking for loose change, or something else a 10-year-old might find fascinating. However, Miss McNaught's words of wisdom stuck with me. Every time someone has told me I would never catch a dream I was chasing, I later showed them my prize. Hopefully, this inspired them to go a'hunting.

A new friend has inspired me to go a'hunting the bright rays of hope in others. So, I wrote down a few dozen inspirational quotes which have helped me. Into a hat they go. On my way to work, I'll fish one out and bring it with me. For the next three weeks as I drive a bus, I'll pick a special moment with my passengers. Then I'll unfold the piece of paper and read the quote aloud to them. With any luck, Tommy's "Thought of the Day" will become a tradition for the rest of my career.

I hope it inspires conversation as we roll together. To look into the mirror only to see heads bowed in prayer to their handhelds, I long to inspire connections be made and dreams turned into successes. Many are so obsessed with reading about others they forget to listen to themselves. If one person decides upon hearing any of these quotes to forge ahead with whatever moves them and finds their success, it will have been well worth any number of impatient sighs.

Stay tuned... I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tommy and Other Tidbits

I just watched a documentary on David Crosby. He was very sad, approaching the end of his life. He's still writing though. As I watched and learned about one of the phenomenons of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, a strong desire to write something/anything nearly stopped my own heart. It didn't matter what it was about, but when you have done something you love for many years, the urge is like that of an addictive drug.

This fall, I will turn 60. My pseudonym approaches its seventh birthday but I'm moving beyond anonymity. Writing as Patrick once scared me, but cowardice is destructive. Management may not always like what I write, but the feeling is sometimes mutual. Still, we both have transit jobs to do and I'll do mine as long as they (and/or my body) allow. Hopefully, I continue to improve in both my profession and art. Hell, many of you have chided me when these words crossed some invisible line of decency, and I deserved it. Your love and support though, have never wavered. Mostly, you have encouraged me to keep writing this blog. OK, you win.

Several times the past few years I've been ready to stop blogging, and even stated it was time to shut it all down. Each instance of this has been met with some cathartic interaction with a reader, giving me love and respect. It's kinda hard to stop when people support me, even when y'all say you would understand if I stopped. Lately I've discovered more transit blogs written by the folks who make wheels roll. That's so cool! Some of them write better than I do, with more intelligent takes on issues than I can offer. The more the better, I say. Our profession is so misunderstood and rarely portrayed. There are many talented operators in our world I'm surprised we're not flooded with blogs. When FTDS makes its final hoorah, I'm happy to know there are others who will easily fill the tiny void I leave.

Yesterday I read a comment from a brother asking why I keep posting my blog where he can see it. It was on a thread I'm not really related to except within our shared union brotherhood. He said he just skims right past my posts. That's okay. I'm not so egotistical to realize these words fail to entertain some people. It's life, it's real and honest. I offered to stop posting there, but the brother said he couldn't speak for all of the other members, and that he would just keep scrolling past. He told me to just keep being Deke.

What a generous gesture, I understood, and thanked him. Still, there was a bursting kernel of truth in what he wrote. I'm not vain enough to continue self-promoting. The two times I tried being a salesman were the only professions in which I failed. If someone truly feels the need to share what I offer here, then it should be up to you to make that decision. Begging you to do so is dirty pool. All I care about, man, is just to write one operator's truth to transit. Some of you will enjoy, agree or disagree... but your simply reading is enough for me. Thank you.

As another age milestone luckily lurks this year, I see my youthful musical heroes growing old. Linda Ronstadt lost her voice, but she still promotes the good remaining within. The greats are fading but they're not slinking into obscurity... they still perform their art. While I lag behind them one or two decades, it'll be a snap of the return key before I am where they are now. It's a bit scary but our constant progression is fact. Youth and mystery cloud our end-point when it seems too far ahead to fathom. If someone my age, or considerably younger, dies, I'm left wondering, "Why them and not me?" Truly, when it happens to me, somebody else might repeat these words. Unless I'm an asshole, of course.

Part of my daily work Mantra could all be summed up by saying "Just don't be an asshole." But it carries too negative a weight. Such a statement is best said in a more positive manner. So last week I added "Be Fun" in honor of my father also, James Taylor. Dad said "The secret of life is to have fun every day." JT wrote "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." Both are selfish pleasures, but both men have inspired a great deal of joy in my life as well as others with whom they shared their love.

So many possibilities to make a positive impact
in our world of interaction.
A new positive influence has entered my life recently. Tommy Transit is a former Vancouver, British Columbia city bus operator. He has an innovative manner of "getting into alignment with others" using what he calls "Seven Steps of The Art of Acknowledgement". He realized as an operator that people simply long to be acknowledged. A kind word can uplift someone where indifference puts others off. I've written many times about how discouraged I am when passengers don't even look at me when boarding. It makes me wonder if I exude some negative aura. Maybe if I adopt Tommy's art of shining my fun rather than allowing storm clouds to gather above, the sun will shine again on my bus. I have allowed the dullness of these years cut me off from scores of very decent human interactions. In an era of mass attacks on transit operators, this attitude of allowing separation could become deadly.

Tommy Transit may be done with Vancouver's transit system, but he dislikes the word "retired". Instead, he chooses to be "re-fired" with enthusiasm to continue uplifting people. He and his partner Michelle have launched "Bus Drivers On A Mission". It's a business concept based on traveling the world giving motivational speeches to scores of dumped-upon transit workers, hoping to help us discover a more-positive way of greeting our public. Full-time operators give about 150,000 rides annually. We personally interact with more people, he estimates, than the President, Pope and Queen each year.

"It's a chance for operators to brighten the world," he explains, "one compliment and smile at a time. If you do this, you can create a ripple effect which could echo goodness across the world."

Even a grinch can find his smile
when a hug comes along!
This is a cool cat, Tommy Transit. He also wrote a book, "Tommy Transit's Bus Tales: How to Change the World from 9 to 5" which I hope to read and review soon. In turn, he's currently reading "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." (Thanks to whoever loaned their copy to him!) When I come across someone whose goal is to spread smiles, my soul is drawn to them. We've had a few conversations the past few weeks, and they have greatly helped my attitude. I hope our new friendship is as beneficial to him as it already has been for me. Even now, I'm smiling at the thought of our new friendship.

There you have it. A post I hadn't planned. Just free-form writing from whatever lurked within. I don't expect to share it, nor will I ask you to. If people are meant to read my blog, they'll find it own their own or via my "Deke Writes" Facebook page. It's just me after all, and y'all know I'm just a goofy guy who loves to see you smile.

Thanks for riding along!


Monday, February 17, 2020

Roll With My Outbound Line 9

Deke's Note: The busiest trip of my Line 9 is the 6:30 roll through Portland's Downtown Transit Mall. After years of pushing my roll to meet the demands of an out-of-operational-touch management, I have learned to split each route into segments. Conquer one of them, and the next may fall into the positive as well. If not, Dad always taught me to have Plan B, C and D ready to implement. Often, it comes down to D. (For someone who thinks "D" stands for "Dumbass", you haven't lived the life of a transit operator. Sit back and take this lesson from one who constantly does.)

Whatever our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) dictate, the ultimate time I leave North Terminal is when I believe it is prudent to. I know what awaits my Beastie. Their needs, numbers and particulars. After two weeks in, I have already dialed their needs into my run time. Even if an upper-management-pressured supe is there to watch me depart, whether it be considered "early" or "late". Luckily for me, I know my Union brothers and sister Road Supes assigned there, and they have done my job.

On this run, I know Oscar awaits me in his wheelchair. If I'm rolling a 4000-series bus, it behooves me to ready the right-side priority seating in anticipation of his boarding before I begin the route. These new buses are extremely-difficult for him to lift the seats, given less-than-user-friendly controls.

Management seems resigned to the City of Portland's failure to intelligently-program the traffic signals on the north-end of the transit mall. Anything I can do to ensure efficient boarding time helps me be ready to go on the ridiculously-short green light at 5/Davis. If I have to hold longer than that, a MAX will surely pre-empt the next green light, making me wait an unbearable two extra reds. When this happens, I leave there a full two minutes late.

Once I finally roll the next five blocks into my next stop at 6/Harvey Milk (Stark), I'm a full 90 seconds late. If the MAX is one stop behind, chances are good it will again pre-empt the signal and roll ahead of me. My bus is often standing-room-only before I turn off the Transit Mall. If all works right, I can arrive at the 6/Taylor time point precisely on time. However, if that happens, chances are about 80% that Line 17 is already in the first position. If it's driven by a pro, they see me rolling up slowly behind, because I know their light is about to go green. (I hate to stop my bus twice: once in Position 2 and then again at the first.) They already have their doors closed and are ready to roll. If they miscalculated and ended up early, a true "pro" will roll on the next green to the next stop's fourth position, throw on their 4-ways, and make room for me to roll.

Our Scheduling Department seems intent upon ensuring Lines 9 and 17 arriving simultaneously at our shared outbound mall stops. Before management's "on-time performance" push came into play, schedules were a bit looser. This synchronicity was meant to allow passengers the opportunity to effortlessly transfer between lines. Bus operators would actually welcome these interactions. It was once called "the meet", an actual layover. In days of old, operators of both lines had enough time to leave the seat and stretch a few minutes, relating their respective stories with one another. This was an historic tradition between operators.

Nowadays, there's no time in either line's schedules to allow for anything other than let people off, board new passengers, and hopefully close the doors in time for the green to GO again! If a different line lingers longer than a veteran would, it delays the bus behind them and causes unnecessary stress and a re-calculation of schedule. If you're running to catch a bus which has closed doors as the light turns green, sorry... you missed it. That's the harsh reality of transit. Deal with it. At least you're early for the next bus. We have to roll, in order to faithfully serve those who arrive at their stops on time.

After the Taylor time point, if just barely-late by a minute or so, we have to wait as the Streetcar pre-empts a two-light cycle before we can cross Market. Gunning the accelerator after a smooth yet horribly-slow roll uphill from the Columbia stop, I can only hope for enough acceleration to safely pass through the next intersection, pass the stopped Streetcar to roll into Harrison after the 17 has departed. With the Orange Line a few stops back and a fresh red, I can board the roughly-20 people in ample time before the light goes green again. Whew! Dodged a bullet there.

Merging into the far-left lane to access the left-turn onto Lincoln, I allow a few car-lengths behind to make a safe lane transition. Turn signal flashing forever long, I have to not only pay close attention to my mirror but also to the view ahead, which typically involves dodging the law-breakers who believe Bus Only means "everybody except me".

Approaching the Lincoln Avenue MAX station, I survey the scene ahead. Of course, there are always awaiting passengers for either my 9, the 17 or 19. If there's a 17 ahead of me, I'm resigned to following them all the way to a distant Powell/Milwaukie stop. If they're behind me, they're likely thinking the same, with a similar sigh of acceptance. Whoever's in the "lead" will hopefully do our part to be efficient. If I arrive at 1st Avenue first, I'll delay my roll over the sensors as the light turns green to hopefully allow my following brother/sister to successfully follow through. If I'm lucky, they're of the same mind if I'm behind them.

A few minutes later, both buses arrive at the OHSU/MAX/Streetcar stop prior to the Tilikum Crossing. This is one of my favorite stops because it usually awards me with my most-gracious regulars. I'm usually a few minutes late there, but I know the paddle moving forward "bubbles" before my next time point.

"Welcome aboard!" I greet my favorites as they enter my mobile office. I value their patronage. Some may not acknowledge my greeting, but a few smile and make eye contact. This is something more treasured than they realize.

Many are medical professionals who work at Oregon Health Sciences University up on "Pill Hill". Their jobs are much like mine in the amount of human suffering they encounter. Once upon a time, I was a fellow of theirs as we entered our adult entry into Portland Community College's Biology 101 in pursuit of a better future. Torrey "Mad Hatta" is now a nurse at OHSU. While I failed to reach my then-dream of a career in the medical field of choice, Torrey persevered to earn his own. I am in awe of his accomplishment, but I do not mourn my failure because it led me into this fascinating opportunity to serve working Portland.

After passing over the awesome Tilikum Crossing transit/pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the majestic Willamette River, the only one of its kind in the USA, I roll through the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) stop. Then I push to arrive on time at Powell/Milwaukie.

The next 12 miles of my route are straight down Powell Boulevard. It is one of Portland's most heavily-traveled interior arteries. It's full of peril. Dark stops await, with transit-hopefuls crouched within half-assed shelters from the elements. Intending passengers expect us to see them in their all-dark clothing, and often call in complaints against us if we fail to catch their invisibility. Unfair? Of course.

I roll carefully, fully-expecting to service every stop up to 52nd, whether to allow passengers to exit or board new humans with fake "service animals". I have to be extremely vigilant. Traffic is heavy, motorists are intent upon finding any excuse to cut me off to arrive first at the next red light. Pedestrians are loathe to use crosswalks, and I am constantly scanning for them. Many a time I have stopped (smoothly, in honor of standees on the bus) in time to avoid hitting jaywalkers. Most have no idea how difficult it is to see them.

I'm almost a "veteran" bus operator. It has taken over seven years to get here, but I'm constantly learning. My eyes, my head, body and soul are working together so I can see and predict anything which might come into the path of my 20-ton urban assault vehicle. I don't like to think of it as such, but given the dangers we face, it's an unfortunate reality of this profession.

As I've gained the experiences learned through years and 150,000-odd miles behind the wheel of a city bus, one thing remains vital: to see what is and what could be as I push through the constant dangers presented every second.

Approaching the 72nd Avenue stop, I'm apprehensive. If someone requests this stop, it involves pulling into the right-turn lane near-side of the intersection. Thus hogging the right-turn lane, I have to be doubly-aware of the cars approaching on my left. Sometimes, a motorist will illegally use the travel lane as a right-turn lane, and make that maneuver directly in front of me as I prepare to merge back into traffic. Given the size of my bus, they cannot see those who have just exited and are crossing on the green pedestrian signal. There have been many instances where I have honked the horn in warning to both pedestrians and the motorists who cannot see my former passengers in the crosswalk. Luckily for all of us, nobody I've seen has been involved in this tragedy I constantly fear.

Once I arrive at the 82nd Avenue intersection, a choice awaits me. There, the near-side right-turn lane is also one legally allowing transit to use as a through-way to the far-side stop. If a car is poised there, I'll remain in the traffic lane. On purpose. Why? My passengers who hope to alight near-side will always ask. Because those cars are required to wait for passing traffic on the cross street, then also the opposite direction left-turning green arrow awaiters, not to mention the pedestrians waiting for the green "Walk" signal. Unless the right-turn lane is empty when I arrive there, I won't take it. This may annoy a passenger who needs to catch that ever-present Line 72, but their safety is my main concern. Sometimes they ask me to allow them exit from the travel lane, and I have to refuse. They may have to make an extra crossing, but I'm also concentrating on the path ahead and a full passenger load intent upon making their connections on time.

If I'm under five minutes behind at the 92nd Avenue stop, I breathe a sigh of relief. Then I must battle the myriad of law-breaking motorists to merge back into traffic. From there I'm allowed extra time to make the next time point near Powell Garage, and then onto the next one at 122nd. Usually, I can pass up a few stops in this stretch and make up a few minutes of late time.

From 122 to 136th Avenues, it's currently a massive construction zone. We never know when flaggers will delay us. Many a collective sigh can be heard over the overwhelming silence of a cell phone-hushed ride when we're delayed there. Sometimes we're speedily flagged through, but one or two days each week I have been forced to wait several precious minutes for construction activity to clear. Sitting there, I re-calculate the rest of my route's time. I'll look into the mirror and do a quick passenger count, estimating where I might make up the time I'm currently forced to endure.

Finally, I'm given the flag to proceed. Often, my calculations are corrected by requests for the next several stops. I just sigh in resignation. At this point, I know any possibility of making up the late time is for naught. Just roll with it, I tell myself. And so I do. The most important part of The Mantra takes center stage here: Be Safe.

RIP Freddi Evans...
your smiles and hugs remain with us forever,
along with your fierce dedication to the safety
of all those with whom you
so faithfully rolled with.
Along the way, I'm often given valuable moments of appreciation. Transit passengers may be glued to their phone screens, but they're very adept at multi-tasking. They see what's happening ahead of my windshield. When they reach their stop, they'll often stop before exiting to thank me and wish me safe travels. I gratefully acknowledge their parting words and roll again. It's another part of my mantra which reminds me to Be Patient and Considerate of their appreciation. It's important to be thankful.

When I approach the 181st intersection, there are often less than 10 passengers. The final fifth of the run lies ahead. Mindful of the reduced speed limit from when I last rolled this route, I concentrate on this extremely-dark stretch. If I allow myself to be complacent anticipating the next break, bad things can happen. That's where the Be Vigilant portion of my Mantra is most important. Often, operators can falter at this point of their run. Especially if vacation or their end-of-the-week awaits their arrival. We cannot afford to let down our guard, even in the last few feet of our run. Safety is the Operator's most-intense goal. Our very jobs depend upon our readiness to conquer the most-dangerous aspects of driving. Let down our guard for even a moment, and someone's life is ended or horribly-altered, as well as our own.

As I guide the Beast past the 2700 Block stop approaching Downtown Gresham, it's still very dark. I roll around the curve toward Birdsdale mindful of the nearside stop at that intersection. The light is green, nobody awaits in the pitch-black night wearing Portland's favorite color (dark), and I can make up at least one minute of the three minutes late showing on the CAD. A few moments later, I roll through the Eastman Parkway light and into Downtown Gresham. I navigate the turn onto a very-narrow Main Street and I hog the middle line. Oncoming vehicles are wary of my vehicle's size, except the pickups who think their 7,000-pounds outmatch my 40,000... their retractable rearview mirrors fully-extended even though they tow nothing behind them. I'm a bit of a bully here. Only if they stubbornly refuse to give an inch do I slightly-alter my steering to accommodate their lack of driving skill.

One more obstacle awaits: the MAX tracks just before I turn onto NE 10th Drive leading toward Gresham Transit Center. Some passengers ask why I can't just pull up another block so they can more-easily access their transfer vehicle, especially if Portland's winter skies are pouring wetness down upon us. Sorry folks, but this is the end of the line. I will, if pressed, explain why I cannot, will not, pull into the transit center proper. Usually, the pax know the drill. They ride every day and don't need any explanation as to why they have to walk half-a-block or so in the unforgiving elements to their next connection.

Finally! Relief! I'm alone, at long last. Abdominal gas passes, to my personal relief. I walk down the length of the bus, retrieving trash and left-behind items to be logged into Lost & Found. Someone spilled their coffee on a seat, I wipe it up. Future passengers need not be assailed by what is left behind. This bus is my office, and I like to keep it clean. It's respectful for me to offer the cleanest environment possible to my passengers.

The only time we can relax is once the bus is locked down and we're finally its only occupants. Texting or calling my Beloved is a welcome reward.

Stepping off my ride, I take an active part in my nicotine addiction. We're well-acquainted, and mutually-relieved to find ourselves again. About 85 minutes have passed, and we eagerly become re-acquainted. Unless I'm hungry. If that's the case, I munch on whatever I've brought to quench it, and wash that down with water or my ever-present supply of Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper. Afterward, the necessary rush of nicotine followed by voiding the bladder brings my bus forward to those awaiting my impending departure.

As always, I greet my post-break passengers with a smile. Some I recognize, others are regulars of my leader who missed my leader Bruce's ride.

After emptying the trash can in the bin outside, I walk the several yards between my vehicle and the stop sign ahead. I psyche myself up for the roll downtown. Often, these few moments involve a few more moments reassuring Beloved I have survived yet another Line 9 Experience. Then, I slip this modern ball-and-chain back into my pocket. It's set to "Do Not Disturb" yet left ON. If circumstances require, this status allows me to quickly call for help outside my bus if access to onboard radio is not possible. Safety first, management. I'd rather live rather than the horrific alternative. Given that we're always vulnerable to dangerous interactions, if I need to call for help I don't want to risk having to retrieve and then turn back on my lifeline.

Deke is soon rolling back toward Downtown Portland. It's a less-strenuous 75-minute run, often more relaxed and time-efficient than the eastward roll. Thanks for riding along!

Book Review: Portland Transit 50-Year History

Hey Portland Transit Management, we ALL exist for a purpose! Your first priority should be to support your Operations employees, the lug nuts of transit's wheel, in our most-valuable roles. It would be simple for you to be more humble, but you decided decades ago to diverge the once-parallel paths we traveled to create today's acrimonious environment. In an ideal world, we wouldn't need a union to protect us. That's your job, and you have failed in that regard. This book is a slap in the face to US; our efforts are largely-responsible for what you describe as your success.

Lest anyone forget, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 put out its own book a year ago, celebrating our 100-year history providing the intense labor of local transit. Unless my math is off, 100 years is twice 50.

I signed up for this job because transit operators perform a vital service to our city. Now after almost eight years, I have felt the sting of your disrespect in many ways, and I'm tired of it. We all are. Not only here in Portland, but transit workers worldwide have seen their own vocation insulted by those expected to support us.
Making History could have been a testimonial to the countless sacrifices union members have given Portland's transit system. We have worked miracles, yet in this book, management brags about how "it" expanded services and "remained under budget" for decades, without much but derogatory remarks about its Operations staff. I was particularly dismayed to find a chapter entitled "Labor Strife, Again" which vilified our union's struggle to negotiate better contracts in return for our professional and safe service.

It's depressing management regards union workers, the very backbone of transit, as troublemakers who demand more than we're worth. The book glorifies the politics which steered transit's path for half a century. It is full of historic photos, graphs and statistics showing how it has "grown transit" while virtually ignoring those who make transit work.

Sure, there were a few photos of our wonderful operators whom we hold dear in our hearts: Willie Jack, Cynthia Kassab, Andrea Dobson and James Hilliard. While I might have missed any further mentions of others who have done the "work" of transit this past century, the intent of this book seems to downplay our proud contribution to local transit.

The most striking chapter regarding labor relations was about the "showdown" between management and our union in 1985. Management wanted to replace retiring full-time workers in favor of part-time "college students, (who) would have fewer benefits and would not be long-term employees." Our union threatened to strike (legal in those days). City leaders locked up the decision makers in the downtown Hilton in hopes they would hammer down an agreement between the parties. It jokes about how "amusing" it was that our city's Mayor at the time, Bud Clark, was "dodging the press" while the negotiations at the Hilton raged on. "No one leaked a thing!" Mayor Clark's Chief of Staff bragged. Rather than strike, labor was able to hammer-out an agreement its members could agree to. Labor leaders had noted how management had installed "high cyclone fences" around Center Street garage in anticipation of a strike.

Then-General Manager Bud Cowen, according to the book, said "a strike would be disastrous not only for riders but also for the agency. He didn't think TriMet could recover from a strike."

Of course it couldn't! Portland has long-depended on transit, given its horrid traffic congestion and lack of parking. The loss of transit for more than a few days could cripple this city. Our union negotiates from a severe disadvantage. Without the ability to strike, we face management's slashing benefits and increasing insurance premiums while our pay fails to keep up with inflation. Our "Bored" of Directors increased the GM's salary by five percent last year; we'll be lucky to get a few percentage points with what it proposes. Our last pay raise was negated by the district's near-tripling of our insurance premiums as the contract expired.

We're at management's mercy, and we're suffering the pain of numerous stings from its acrimonious hive. Still, we do our jobs like the dedicated worker bees we are. Meanwhile, Portlanders simply stare at their phones, refusing to support those who provide them millions of safe rides each year.

Today, contract negotiations between transit management and our union are off-limits to the media. We bargain from a position of weakness, given Oregon's requirement that if both sides fail to agree on terms, Binding Arbitration makes the final decision. Arbitrators take both sides' proposals and decide whic is most-beneficial to the public. Either way, labor is punched bloody with our strong arms tied behind us. It's a rigged outcome, and we keep fighting. Transit passengers have seen what we deal with. However, they have said we're "unskilled" and "over-compensated".

Management has a disgustingly-long wish list of takeaways. The most striking is its misguided desire to eliminate the Maintenance Apprenticeship Program. This gives hard-working, entry-level workers the opportunity to learn and grow in their trade while simultaneously earning a living wage. Without it, those who yearn to attain Journeyman-level mechanic positions rack up thousands of dollars in student loan debt while struggling to pay their bills. Why should they be granted employment above those who are already learning via real-world training while on-the-job? I would bet my ride's dependability under the careful scrutiny of a Union Mechanic above a trade-school outsider any day. Even so, hundreds of our brothers and sisters are frozen in their dream of working their way up through real-world education. It makes no sense to hire non-union trained mechanics. In order to know how our system works, it's vital our workforce learn from those who have years of dedicated transit experience.

Unless of course, you're a corporate-driven upper management guru who sits comfortably in a six-figure salary they didn't earn by slaving away even one day in our shoes. Given today's economy, cutting the Apprenticeship Program is another insult to Working America.

Shame on you. This was a golden opportunity to make US feel included in the celebration of Portland's transit success. Instead, you chose to ignore us, and that's an insult this bus operator cannot ignore.

WE helped make the history you claim credit for. Yes, Portland transit has taken great strides the past century. We have taken innovative steps toward a stronger future. There have been many instances of success here, and for that we should ALL be proud. If we're the "family" you say we are, then we should feel collectively vested in the success this book describes. When you forget those who made your accomplishments possible, it's an empty victory.

We invite management going forward to come walk along the same path we do. Please stop fighting us, and instead join in a shared quest to keep improving our transit system.

From the beginning, there were horse-drawn streetcar operators who braved harsh conditions to give Portland Transit its humble beginning, and thus an opportunity to celebrate our success. Those brave transit pioneers fought hard for an enclosure to protect them from the relentless Northwest weather. We have been fighting for such basic decency ever since.

Our city has long-depended upon the dedicated individuals who have sacrificed to take Portlanders wherever they needed to be. Your disdain for our efforts is magnified in Making History. WE made this history possible. Thousands of earnest laborers are insulted by our exclusion from this celebration.

Therefore, my review of this book, even though it is full of flow charts and glorification of transit's corporate takeover, is a strong D. Perhaps it merits a D-Minus, but I'll spare you that because you had grace enough to feature a few photos of those of US who make your successes possible.

My hope is that the next 50 years see an uplifting for those who make the wheels roll. We make the brave sacrifices you take credit for. Get it right for once, will ya?

Friday, February 14, 2020

My Treasured Transit Valentine Gift

Deke's Note: Today, I feel ill. Is my body just tired, or is some bug which slithered aboard without my knowlege ailing me? Given the puke I was presented with when I relieved my line today, it's always a crap shoot. Either way, I pissed off my Station Agent by calling in sick today. Sorry, Brother. There are times when we have to weigh our body's limitations with the work load ahead. I tried to go to sleep on time... could not, due to a churning stomach and overworked mind... fall to sleep. If I try to operate a bus on less than six hours of rest, it's not SAFE.

Not wanting to disturb my Beloved with prolonged wakeful sighs, I arose to write this post. My belly isn't happy whether I'm sitting or lying down, so I might as well write to you, my Awesome Readers. Thanks as always, for being there. I promise to rest today and prepare for the Memorial of our Dear Sister Freddi Evans (RIP). Emotions prevent me from writing a memorial, because I tend to sob when eulogizing those I have adored, and she deserves a much-better light than anything I could ever shine upon her wondrous memory. Plus, I'm sure her family and even-closer friends already have it covered. I will simply be there out of extreme respect for Freddi and her incredibly-devoted husband, my dear friend and admired brother, Henry. 

It is with all this in mind that I offer this humble reflection of your humble bus driver, Deke N. Blue.

This morning, I write from a position of... cannot sleep. Feel horrible. Total physical, mental and soulful exhaustion. Can you relate? I'm sure many of you have been here. We figuratively "hit a wall" sometimes. This comes from the stress of management pecking away at our decades of blood and toil, while the public wages a not-so-silent war with us while also refusing to acknowledge our mere presence.

(Forgive me for "bitching", but this time I'll try to reward you at its conclusion.)

Bus is the vessel we know every inch of. Front to back, inside and outside. Every inch I scour at the end of the line, for trash or left-behind items someone may be fretting over. Wallets, phones, keys, umbrellas/caps/gloves... we dutifully log them in at the end of our shifts. Why? Who in their sanity would sacrifice a great job (albeit with quickly-dwindling benefits) for someone else's hard-earned valuables? Not this operator, nor the vast number of decent individuals with whom I toil. Whenever we find something left behind, it could be more valuable to the owner than we could imagine. Maybe Grandma bequeathed it to whoever left it behind, and she had just passed away. Perhaps those keys are the only copies available, and their owner had to spend the night at a friend's house as they frantically retraced each step in their previous day trying to determine where they had left them. Our phones are equally valuable today as is our wallet. I have lost two phones to transit, so I'm always on the lookout for such. Almost every item I find is tagged and bagged, in hopes it finds its owner. The rest is trashed, as that is its only logical destination. Bag of pot, lighter, crack pipe, smashed Bic pen... these end up in the trash because to do anything more with them is a waste of valuable transit workers' time.

Once, I came across a wallet of a later-frantic passenger which contained their monthly transit pass, a few hundred bucks, credit cards, ID and other valuables. Noting its contents, I turned it into the Station Agent with a Lost & Found card at the end of my shift. He counted the cash and made note of it, as I had not wanted to do so on the bus, even though I made sure the cameras followed my every move from discovery to placing it in the trip pouch. (I'm perhaps more paranoid than others regarding ca$h and other valuables because I was once closely-attached to a chronic thief). A few days later, I was uplifted to find a commendation in the mail from the lady who thanked me for recovering it.

Not only do I clean up every scrap left behind at the end of each trip, but I take great pains to sop up spilled drinks and wipe the seats of mud/possible animal excrement that might lurk upon a future passenger's alighting there. I take great pride in providing not only a smooth and safe ride for my passengers, but also as clean an environment as possible. It's a source of pride for me. My bus is my office in this profession. If it's presented as a clean environment, hopefully my passengers will treat it likewise. Mostly, this is what happens. Only the most slovenly treat it like their own personal trash pit. For the majority, I'm truly thankful.

On last night's cruise, several passengers boarded with obvious gifts for their Valentines. On occasion, I often jest with those who board.

"Oh what lovely flowers!" I said to a few in jest. "Thank you so much, I truly appreciate..." and sighed dramatically as they walked past me to find their seats.

Once I simply said "Well, somebody is truly loved! I cannot wait to see what my Beloved has in store for me when I arrive home!" It was met with exclamations of support, while others exclaimed "how sweet!" and other acknowledgements for she who reigns supreme in my heart.

One lady boarded with a plethora of gifts. I smiled at her "hearty" display. She grinned in return, one of few who do so each day I drive this busy Line 9. It was a caring, truly loving smile which warmed me on a cold, rainy Portland winter's eve. It warmed this soul's thermostat enough to turn off my driver side heater. It also made me anticipate seeing my personal Valentine, the gal who has Twitterpated me for 26 years now, and always will.

To my grand surprise, this dear lady stopped as she exited the bus, presenting me with a small stuffed bear.

"Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours," she said, beaming. I was stunned, and broke into a wide grin.

"Wow, really?" I stammered.

"Yes, really," she replied. "Thank you for what you do. And Happy Valentine's Day!"

I sat there, one hand on the wheel, the other clutching this tiny, soft gift from the heart of someone who may (or not) have ridden my roll before.

"Thank you, so very much," I said as she turned to exit the bus. And even if it may not have been heard so, I truly meant it.

I turned this soft little gift in my hands, smiling at the thought of being given such a cute lil' beastie. Propping him into the transfer-cutter-of-old to stare up at me as I drove the rest of my route, my eyes would drop down to him at each red light. Glancing down at Bear-with-no-Name-as-of-Then, I could only smile at this random act of kindness by one in tens of thousands who have acknowledged me with a physical gift.

In this blog, I have sometimes been harshly-judgmental of the riding public at times. Still, I try to illustrate random acts of kindness bestowed upon me. This moment was truly special, and stood out because it wasn't given by one I've seen every day. In fact, she may have ridden once or twice this signup, but if so, didn't make an impression. Until today.

So for this particular Valentine's/Oregon and Arizona Statehood Day, I will rest this body and rejuvenate. To operate a 20-ton vehicle takes the strength of one I cannot possibly duplicate today. My route will be taken by a (hopefully) fresher, younger Extra Board Operator. This will better serve our riding public, and so it shall be.

Thank you, dear Red-Haired Beautiful Fellow Human. Your loving gesture will reside within my Forever Transit Experience. I hereby name him Braugh Laddie, in respect for the human kindness constantly granted us while we enjoyed two weeks in Scotland last year.

Bless you, Portland. You're why I still do this job. Thanks for saying thanks as you exit... it means the world to us!