Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Manny Can Ya Hear Me? Manny, Can You See Me?

Deke's Note: Driving a city bus can be entertaining and enlightening one moment, terrifying and tense the next. We deal with every known or imaginable personality type, requiring us to think fast and act accordingly. One missed signal from a passenger could land us in the hospital or in hot water with management. We play a finely-tuned balancing act that is heavily-weighted against us. One topic we're discussing in Portland right now is whether to allow management to record audio and video of drivers in the seat. Here's my take.

Every so often, I see footage from a bus in a locale other than my own. It invariably shows some sort of assault, or a heart-warming story of a bus driver rescuing some wee lil' one from certain disaster. In my city, this is not (currently) possible, for the cameras pointed toward the operator's seat are turned off. By agreement with my union. No spying allowed. For now. But what if they were activated? Would I be spied upon while driving my daily run? Should such intense scrutiny of my performance be allowed? I am, after all, a "public" servant. Those who pay taxes think they pay my salary. In some small part, they do make a contribution to my paycheck. Not enough to tell me how to do my job, mind you. Nevertheless, they do have every expectation that I diligently abide by transit code and transport them safely to their bus stop. If they believe I stray from "the rules" as they perceive them, a quick call to "Customer Service" is their likely weapon. One that is held above my head as a constant threat by the ever-watchful riding public, and supported by a management that is extremely overbearing in its oversight of frontline workers.

The abuse of video and audio of our daily interactions with passengers is a very real possibility. Our management often drops the ball in its relations with us. Complaints which should never fall anywhere but into the trash bin are routinely filtered down to drivers. Untrue and unsubstantiated, many of them reach us in interoffice mail. They can be as petty as "he didn't smile at me when I boarded" to "she was too cheerful." It's extremely demoralizing to people who carry a large swath of humanity to wherever they need to go for a scant $2.50 (or less). We're highly-trained, vigilant road warriors, who by pure chance also happen to be fallible. Prone to mistakes, members of your community, human to the core. Some minor indiscretions should never land in our personnel files, but they do, even when largely untrue.

We are expected to be better than perfect. I've covered this before, so let's just say we're held to a much higher standard than our fellow beings. Maybe in 100 (or less) years, our job will become automated, but for now it's just a regular Joe or Jane just trying to earn a living. A decent one these days to be sure, but still just a job. We don't consider ourselves above reproach. We just try to get through the day with as little mayhem as possible. Sometimes though, (sh)it happens. And without much training for the perils that can pop up, we do our best. Unfortunately, that "best" just isn't enough to satisfy the Monday Morning Quarterbacks who run this transit agency.

A question was posed to current Portland operators recently, asking if they support audio and video of the operator's seat being activated. The response: about 60-40 against.

Let's explore why operators here are so opposed to being recorded. First, we heartily distrust our management. That is a sad fact. Why? Management should be focused on the safety and comfort of those who do the nitty-gritty work of transit, from the operators to the maintenance workers, supervisors and everyone else who interacts with the public we serve. Instead, it focuses on spreadsheets rather than reality, sometimes at the expense of safety. Over the past decade or more,  corporatists have overtaken us. Our dim view of those entrusted with our safety is relatively new, considering Portland has had transit for over 100 years. Once upon a time, I'm told, management and union members worked hand-in-hand and cooperated with one goal in mind: safety.

Sure, there were some disagreements. But then our right to strike was legislated out of existence, which is un-American in my view. Gradually, our benefits eroded during a media onslaught portraying us as greedy when management mismanaged and mangled our pension funds. They blamed us for their failure to fund a pension they promised in lieu of raises over the years. Secretly gave themselves raises while a bored Board of Directors sleepily nodded agreement and ignored management's misdeeds. Remained silent as assaults on frontline workers dramatically-increased, while laying the blame on our feet like an anvil of disgusting weight. Instead of screaming to an abusive public that assaulting/slandering us is unacceptable, they upped the ante of blaming operators by making it even easier to file falsely-scurrilous complaints. Suspended us for defending ourselves, even when operators suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Allowed the local media to air one-sided assassinations of our character, while dispatching its media spokesman to add insult to injury by failing to support us in a typically-corporate speak statement implying our guilt: "We don't condone this type of behavior... we are actively investigating the complaint."

Why then, would we trust management to not abuse recordings of our passenger interactions? Their training regarding abuse is limited to shielding our faces from impending punches we can't usually see coming. We're told to "diffuse" situations by keeping calm and not provoking violence. Human biology itself denies management's weak stance on operator safety. "Fight or flight," the result of millions of years of human evolution, takes over when danger is imminent; we're often unable to react as management insists we should. Instead of supporting an operator's authority on an agency vehicle, we are undercut by impossible standards dealing with the mentally-ill without proper training. Hell, even someone with a PhD in psychology would have trouble dealing with the vast array of dysfunction we encounter in one 10-hour shift!

We're expected to show up for work, no matter
the conditions, so we can get YOU to work.
Whenever an "incident" occurs on or near our bus, the data pack recording every press of accelerator or brake, interior and exterior video, turn signal activation and speed (in addition to a myriad of other functions of the vehicle) is pulled from that bus. Every action we take is then subject to intense scrutiny by committee. Although we act instinctively, we can be disciplined for doing what we think best in the moment. Sure, we make mistakes. Some can be over-zealous in our actions, others less so. Either way, we're stymied in the moment wondering what micro-managers will do to us when all is said and done. Based on its past dealings with frontline workers, we often don't know what the right thing to do really is. It comes down to the moment, when there's no management telling us what to do, or a library of precedent not readily available.

An operator's decision in the moment should be respected. If we make a mistake, we know what the consequences could be. Not having the benefit of adequate psychological training, it's a crap-shoot whether we choose the "right" solution to any problem. Unless our actions are outright bullshit, we should be supported. Instead, we're trained after-the-fact and expected to know ahead of time what the hindsight professionals will tell us. It's pure bunk, and any level-headed individual would likely agree.

The other side of the equation? There are some who believe recording us could support our explanation of a given situation. The possibility of management "spying" on us is relatively impossible with current staff capabilities. One Station Agent explained there are but two people charged with the duty of reviewing data packs pulled for any number of reasons. Since there are hundreds of buses/trains in service at any given time, the thousands of hours of data would be impossible to review unless a few hundred more people were hired to monitor us daily on a full-time basis. It's just not cost-effective, nor is it morally-acceptable to pay for such intense scrutiny. Many in management actually do appreciate us, even though it's hard to believe given the pressure we feel to be perfect in every aspect of a very difficult job.

Having an accurate digital record of a violent incident perpetrated against us would help prosecutors convict our aggressors. Instead, they're faced with trying a case without much evidence. Anyone with a basic understanding of our legal system would agree this is a conundrum. Additionally, we might win an argument against a false accusation in a complaint if digital evidence upheld our account. There are many instances where recordings could support us in this often unforgiving profession.

We scream about the injustices we face, yet our refusal to be recorded sometimes acts against our best interests. If we do our job as honestly and diligently as humanly-possible, we shouldn't fear constant recording of our actions. Yet, we do.

Management itself is the major stumbling block in Portland. It remains so, despite its plodding attempts to appear supportive of us. Next month, it will roll out a 70% effort to show us its support in its "Lame Attempt at Transit Operator Appreciation Day." Night workers are largely ignored on this annual dog-and-pony show, while day shifters are treated to praise and on-the-ride appearances by the top brass. Big deal. Want to show us you truly do appreciate your frontline workers? Drop the bullshit and start picking up after yourselves, because you're missing the biggest piles. Then maybe we'll trust that you wouldn't misuse the recordings of our actions in the seat.

Trust us to do the right thing, and show us honest respect. Quit giving the public unfettered access to a faulty complaint system. Defend us in the media, and encourage positive coverage of the good deeds we do daily for those we serve. Drop the obvious falsehoods instead of allowing them to reach us after a long day dealing with those who create them. Train your customer service reps to filter out the white noise. Properly investigate any reported incident before summoning us to face the music that is too often an off-key rendering of a recurring tune. Entrust operators to review some of these complaints before they reach operators, to see if they pass a smell test. We can employ common sense to any scenario people call in about. Most of all, we should be afforded the benefit of the doubt; a great majority of us try to do what's right, even on a bad day.

Show us respect, or we'll continue mistrusting you, Management. Until then, no video, no audio. The rest of the nation allows it, but you're failing at the job of supporting frontline workers. Until we can trust you actually do have our best interests at heart, you're not worthy of watching me fart in the seat.

I truly appreciate you reading my blog,
whether you agree or not. Thanks to your

support, FTDS just recorded its
275,000th hit!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nopocalypse '19

It was actually snowing as the sun shone under a bright winter's sky.
As if to say, "Ha, WeatherDude, you failed."

Deke's Note: Sometimes, you just gotta drink until the pain goes to a place that doesn't bother you. No, I'm not an alcoholic. I wait until my week is done, then I tip a few whiskeys (or whiskys) to alleviate the aches and pains of an aging bus operator. This is simply a writing exercise performed following a 54-hour week behind the wheel. I'm under the influence now, but not then. Here's my take on the snowstorm that never was, or might still happen when the weatherman is under the influence and feeling invincible.

When I was a newbie, each day was an adventure. Now it's a race to see if I can make it to the end of another day of driving. The past few days have been an exercise in faith (of my own intuition) vs. the sensationalism of (fake) news weathermen wreaking havoc with hysterical weather forecasts. I should trust myself more than I do them. While January was nice and dry/sunny for this time of year in Portland, I knew something would come about to slap us upside the head weather-wise in February. Here it is, and instead of the face-slam, we were treated to a HAHA in which the weatherman was drastically incompetent... again.

Mr. Weatherman gave the grocery stores a windfall when he predicted "14-18 inches of snow on Saturday and Sunday." Even that dreadfully-tasting hipster kale was stripped of Freddie's shelves by Friday night, not to mention the cheapest 18-racks of brewskies. Knowing the folly associated with heeding the predictions of Portland's overpaid weather dudes/ettes, this Homey didn't buy into that game. We've been burned by sensational forecasts before, only to have a real snowstorm catch us by surprise when nothing was forecast. Besides, my apartment's management is too cheap to provide us with a freezer big enough to simultaneously stock much more than a few bags of veggies or fries. It's more cost-effective to wait it out, then walk over as necessary and purchase whatever remains on the shelves. (They couldn't even give us a fridge with a rack inside the freezer, let alone one that's wider than my pansa.)

There's a grammatical error here...
Picked up my bus today just under 10 minutes late. Kudos to the driver I relieve. That's pretty good, considering she was running with full chains on dry pavement all morning. (Thanks, Mr. Weatherdude Failure.) I can't blame management (this year) for making the call to put hard chains on our duals, because every channel seemed to be screaming "SNOWFALL OF THE CENTURY." Turns out, a few flurries here and there, but nada everywhere else. I just shook my head and told myself, "you've got this Deke, whatever Ma Nature feeds us." Turns out it was just another Super Sale advertisement for the grocery stores. As a newbie, I might have shivered a bit in anticipation of a rough day. Now, it's an exciting challenge to ensure I avoid sliding into trouble. It turned into a disappointing chunka-thunka roll into unnecessary bondage.

I rolled hard chains onto dry streets all day. It was 25mph the duration of my 12-hour roll. Luckily, my normal onslaught of Saturday passengers chose to stay cozy at home, and I ran on-time about 90 percent.

Waking earlier than usual after my late-night weekday run, I stumbled out of dream nirvana shortly after the first snooze alarm to squint through the blinds. Whiteness flurried about, my car sitting under four inches of powder. Big freakin' deal, I thought. Still, it didn't mean I could slack. No telling what the rest of town looked like after last night's Snowmageddon '19 forecast. Better get there early and not risk an oversleep if something en route to work slowed me down.

After a scant five hours of pillow time, I stumbled into the shower and dressed myself a full 45-minutes earlier than I normally do. Gotta get to work, it's the transit operator's code, I said to myself. No snow days for bus drivers. Those are for corporate wussies, not front line transit workers. It's a matter of pride to a seasoned operator: show up no matter the conditions, and do your job. We take working America to work, and take pride in it. And they depend upon us to get them there. Nurses, maids, construction workers, doctors, restaurant personnel, transit management... we get you there. Corporate America, students, teachers... you can take the day off if an errant snowflake drops into your yard, but everyone else is expected to be there. And we're your ride.

As I rattled along the dry pavement all day, I marveled at how few people believed the forecaster. My bus was only half as full as a normal weekend day. Just as well. At 25mph maximum, I rolled along on time all day until the end. My last run just happens to be the final full-length run of my line, so running late is okay. I don't want to leave anyone behind, or they can expect an expensive Uber or Lyft ride home in freezing temps. So late I am, on the last run. No big deal anyway... I get paid by the minute either way.

Rolling to my road relief 45-minutes earlier
than usual.... it was all for naught.
Most people were simply the normal "thank you" riders. It seemed our weather was a total letdown. All the preparation and hype warranted not a single "thank you for working today." It was just business as usual. "You got me there, good enough," was the vibe I felt from the passengers. Nothing special, just another weather anomaly, nothing to get excited about. Just as well... after 40 hours on a Jerry Springer route, this is my chillaxation roll.

SNOWpocalypse '19... so far, it's "NOpocalypse." I could be wrong, but my bones tell me it's just gonna be business as usual in Portland the next few weeks. My forecast: cold, windy and wet. The rest is pure speculation. Typical Northwest weather. But mark me: next winter holds a special sequence of slippery shit. We're due for a big one. Just not this year.

Don't slip when you happen to diss the weather dude, y'all. It might hurt ya.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Wherefore Art Thou?

Very few comments on this blog any more, here. What gives, oh readers of Deke's posts?

When you say something, I read it, and usually I respond. So what gives, y'all?

I see hits from Canada, and I hear YOU. Rarely any words from my own country. And what about those of you from beyond? Ireland? Spain? The United Kingdom? Russia? You tease me with your presence, but you remain silent. SPEAK!

Damnit, please.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Operator Exonerated, Hooray!

Can you see an operator in the seat here, without zooming in?
If so, your vision is better than my corrected 20/20.

Deke's Note: Fair is fair. In my book, I pledged to continue working with our management in hopes we could forge a positive relationship. This post is dedicated to the notion that good can happen when the facts are honored.

Some time back, a young operator I've become very fond of was unjustly accused of having a cell phone in his hand as he drove a bus. This complaint came from someone high in management, new to our transit agency. I was furious as I listened to the operator explain to me he did not, in fact, have a cell phone in hand as he drove bus.

"Are they fucking crazy?" he exclaimed. "We were taught from Day One not to do that. What, just because I'm a 20-something kid in their eyes, I automatically have to have a phone in my hand even when I'm driving a 20-ton machine?"

He was frantic. A very dedicated, serious and intelligent guy, he feared for his job. What he had in his hand was actually a route description, since he hadn't driven a Line 15 that included a difficult U-turn in the middle of a narrow street. He didn't want to miss a critical point, and was periodically checking the directions as he drove. We've all done this, in fear we would end up in a place that's very difficult to get out of without assistance.

The "management" guy supposedly "was positive" as a pedestrian of our lad's holding a cell phone, even though he witnessed the driver from across a street, through a windshield that's very difficult to see through from the outside. It was an obvious lie... nobody can see that well; and I know this operator well enough to be assured of his honesty.

He appealed the case, after he was suspended for five days; on the simple word of a pedestrian with supposedly super-human vision, across a busy street. Upon further investigation, onboard video could not support the claim our operator had a phone in his hand. His appeal was successful, and his suspension was overturned.

In all fairness, I must applaud management's decision to exonerate the operator. We're often subject to false accusations without a fair assessment of the facts. Many blatant lies are called in as complaints, and remain on our records, often resulting in harsh and unjust discipline. The SIP (Service Improvement Program) is the punishment we receive performing under extremely difficult circumstances while dealing with outrageously-ridiculous passengers. They make stuff up on a daily basis, just to show us "who's boss." We tell them to obey transit rules, they retaliate by calling Customer Service and completely fabricating a situation, conveniently leaving out their own faults or misdeeds. Unfortunately, management tends to side with the passenger. If we weren't honest, we wouldn't have passed their silly personality profiles in the hiring process. It's a program that often leaves us feeling as if we're automatically guilty, and our own evidence is disregarded.

Passengers are often incredulous when I explain they can also call in compliments and commendations to the same line on which complaints are lodged. Management simply fails to inform the public of this. By simple wording, commendations are not encouraged. People are quick to criticize, slow to commend. It's sadly just human nature.

In this case, management came through for our young brother. It saw there was no evidence to convict, and exonerated him. I applaud this action. It gives me hope that it is possible to win even when someone in management is the false accuser. Hopefully this transit newbie manager learns a lesson here: we are the professionals, and management should be working with us, rather than against us.

Here's hoping this silly SIP process gets a much-needed makeover, because it's pretty ugly as is. Our management should do more to support us instead of vilifying us for silly and unjustified shenanigans. We know how to do our jobs, and expect to be supported. In this case, justice prevailed. Thanks, management.

Trained to Avoid Tragedy

Deke's Note: One of my reviewers recently wrote that I "ranted" a lot in my book, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. Yes, I did, and sometimes I still do. Repetition tends to get the point across. This blog began as a simple chronicle of the daily life of one bus driver. Me. It has become my therapy to write about what happens "out there" as I guide a very large vehicle through an oft-unforgiving world. This time, I offer you a glimpse of my thoughts on a tragic Portland story which began nine years ago...

A group of friends left a comedy club, likely laughing and talking about the show they had just seen. Some blocks away, a bus operator was driving her route, scanning for any number of people or vehicles that could suddenly appear in the danger zone just ahead, or to either side, of her windshield. There's no telling how many lives she had saved prior to this next few moments, but that became null in the minds of the constant and unforgiving jury we face as bus operators.

Moments later, two people lay dead under her bus, three of their friends injured. It was a tragedy for all involved. We all live with this possible nightmare, hoping and praying we can avoid it. For the driver, it's something she will always see in her rearview. She was vilified for what happened. Every action she took that night was minutely-scrutinized, and she ultimately became another victim in the horrific aftermath.

Every time I ride a bus operated by one of my brothers or sisters, I'm picking up some safety tidbit from them. We're masters of predicting possible outcomes just by watching the unfolding movie that plays every time we start our vehicle. Over the years, we hone our skills of scanning and predicting/reacting to countless scenarios. Prior experience comes into play, which aids us in making split-second decisions that save lives every moment we're in service.

Remember, our bus is 40-feet long and weighs 40,000 lbs. It has an air brake system which requires a steady and firm application of the pedal to smoothly operate. This is a very heavy object which can kill someone at speeds as low as 5mph. Multiply weight by speed and it gives you the mass of a moving object. A 20-ton vehicle moving at 5mph pushes 200,000 lbs. of mass. Yes, it's a deadly machine.

When this tragedy occurred, much was asked about how we're trained. It's understandable that when anyone is hurt by a professional driver, their training and safety record is questioned. A former tractor-trailer operator, I thought bus operator training would be easier and less demanding than that of my former occupation. However, I found that it's even more detailed and intense. Not only do we deal with human cargo, but we are constantly operating in high-density traffic conditions versus the over-the-road truck driver, who covers vast distances via mostly freeways. Our trainers are very serious about the dangers bus operators face every second.

What fails to be mentioned after a tragedy is how many thousands of safe, incident-free miles are logged by the operator involved. Although we undergo an intense training regimen and are constantly under the microscope of an over-zealous management, little is said about how amazingly safe we actually are. Safer than private motorists by far, given the amount of "fender benders" not involving transit vehicles compared to incidents which do involve us. We're considerably safer than for-hire driving services, delivery vehicles, police officers, and others with whom we share the road.

Yes, we are safe drivers. We have to be. So are school bus operators, who carry even more precious cargo. We need to be vigilant not only to keep our jobs, but also because we know how dangerous our vehicle can be. Drivers who continuously make mistakes without correcting them face suspension or even termination. A good bus driver is constantly self-evaluating and trying to correct mistakes before they happen, ultimately saving thousands of lives over a career. For me, it's a daily regimen to work on aspects of my driving that concern me, so that I can be as safe as humanly-possible every time I'm out there. We are also bombarded with safety messages about dangerous points on specific routes, construction schedules and traffic changes city-wide. If you want to be a safe driver, sign on to be a bus driver. Our safety tends to follow us into our personal vehicles as well.

One fact I've mentioned here before is the sheer numbers professional transit operators compile each year. On a 10-hour route, I've calculated that I stop my bus about 800 times or more a day, 4,000 times per week. That's not just at service stops but also includes intersections, to avoid disasters involving bicyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, pets, jaywalkers and others. Multiply 4k by 52 weeks, and we apply stopping brake pressure approximately 208,000 times in a year.  The average bus operator drives a bus over 100 miles each day, as opposed to the average motorists who logs about 20 or less. We do this without distractions such as cellphones or thumping stereos, but also deal with unruly passengers who have no idea their shenanigans could cause us to miss something serious which could lead to injury or death. Without a doubt, we are as a group, the most conscientious motorists on the road at any given time.

Yes, mistakes happen. It's an unfortunately inevitable statistic. When you consider the incredible numbers involved in transit, it's a testament to the professionalism of operators how many incidents we avoid. We move over 330,000 passengers each day in Portland. To expect sheer perfection is inhuman, but it's expected of us. And yes, we deliver the safest ride at the least expensive price of any people movers. Unfortunately, the father who wants us tested or trained even more, lost his precious daughter. It's a devastating tragedy that will follow him to his last day, a nightmare every parent fears.

Every time I get into the seat, I say a silent prayer for all who will be on or near my bus that day. I repeat a mantra developed early in my career which helps me remain focused on the serious job ahead of me. Those transit workers who read this can probably attest to the fact that most drivers have something similar which helps them remain focused on safety. Transit operators are what we are; keeping people safe is what we do.

So the father of one who was killed in that downtown crosswalk in 2010 is supporting a bill in the Oregon Legislature requiring bus operators take a written test every time we renew our license. I'm not against this measure, but I think it should be amended to include all who renew their licenses.

We're required to keep abreast of laws and safety procedures, and we're trained each year through recertification and check rides. No other profession I'm aware of is as intensely-scrutinized for our driving skills and practices as transit operators. Private motorists take instruction as teenagers, develop terrible habits, become road-raging maniacs as they age without further training; yet we're the only ones who should be tested? Any logical-thinking person would agree this is a backwards, lopsided philosophy.

It's getting so crazy on our streets I would support a bill that requires extra driver training for anyone renewing their license every second interval. Also, anyone caught road-raging or being cited for outrageous stunts on the road should be required to attend an intense regimen of driving safety classes. Some citations warrant immediate suspension of driving privileges. Any vehicle is a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. And folks, there are a lot of hands on steering wheels these days.

Safe travels, dear readers. And peace to those who have lost loved ones on the road. We all mourn with you.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Jerks and Scotch

Deke's Note: Wondering what happened to me? For a while, I did as well, wandering around in a writer's haze. Burnout? I thought so at first, but nah. I just needed a break. When you blog for several years, it becomes an addiction. How many hits today? Are there any comments? I just needed some time to rest, to read, work on my new book. But tonite, it's time to reconnect with my old friend, FTDS. I've been refining my passenger interactions and overall driving. Bad habits are too easily overlooked, until something bad happens. It's best to catch them early. Thanks for reading, and for your patience.

What is it with suicidal motorists lately? They're in a hurry to go nowhere fast. Glancing in my left mirror, I prepare to leave a stop. Yield light blinks on as soon as I flip the door handle and I'm gauging speeds of oncoming maniacs. Long ago as a truck driver, I learned the "turn signal, three seconds, GO" rule of driving a large vehicle. In a bus, I allow four seconds, if the car is an acceptable distance behind. The problem comes when Barry Beemer sees my OBEY THE LAW blinker activate, he speeds up and zips past only to slam on his brakes to avoid slamming into the car ahead of him. Instead of slowing just a bit to let me out, he's got to show me who's boss.

I've learned not to humor these fools. I just pull out when I determine the distance is plenty enough for Billy to slow down. It's fun to guess exactly when he'll lay on his horn (fingers snap), and I play out in my mind the furious meltdown he's having back there. Bellowing and honking, as if I care about his tantrum. Too bad Billy, I hate BMW's, and you're driving one. If a cop ever was around when he blasts by me, maybe he'd get a ticket. If cops actually cared about that particular law, that is. Anyway, Billy gets extra points if he passes me with his IQ showing out the window, then cuts me off as if to say "I'll show you, asshole bus driver!" Of course, then he has to slam on his brakes because Granny Goosethumper lumbers along just ahead at 25mph under the limit. Someday, Billy's gonna have his asshole meet his mouth when he pulls that maneuver and the bus slams into his trunk.

It takes years of driving to constantly predict the antics of Beemers, Benzies, BigTrucks and various other Boneheads. Sometimes, it's the only thing to blast the monotony, and at that point it becomes my spectator sport. I drive carefully, but when you're hitting every stop on a busy road, it pays to be efficient and precise. I'm simultaneously welcoming passengers with my other eye on the rearviews, gauging my re-entry point. Tractor trailers get an immediate pass; it's monumentally more difficult for those drivers to slow down than a passenger vehicle. Various delivery trucks (UPS, US Mail, etc.) are also afforded leniency because they too are on a schedule. Certain large 4x4's are actually very attentive and blink their lights at me, giving me space to merge. They get a courtesy wave out the window, even when it's pouring down rain.

Once in a while, even autos give me the go as well, and it's refreshing. I'll throw on the 4-ways for two flashes as thanks. But I can tell just who in that mirror doesn't give a tinker's damn about safety, the law or my schedule. They're more important than everyone on my pokey bus, and drive a devil's pace in a rush to their own funeral. If I safely piss them off, oh well. Hey, if our transit agency won't engage in a traffic safety promotional campaign other than illegible stickers on the back of our bus along with cutesy-wootsie signs with childish slogans, then we're the Eddy-cashun Committee. On my route, if you don't assert yourself, you're 10+ minutes late every run. And this Homey don't play that game.

* * * * *
Driving the same route every day, you have routine passengers and then you're surprised with a gem. This guy boards one afternoon, a wee bit older than I, using a cane due to bad knees. His sweatshirt amplified his coolness. It made me chuckle, then laugh aloud. Two words: "Service Animal." We struck up a chat, and it was immediately obvious this cat was cool. He told me he's lived in several countries including Scotland, Ireland, England, Spain, Italy and Greece. I may have missed a few. Said he got drunk one night and joined the U.S. Army where he stayed for 20 years. He's in Portland visiting friends and being doctored at the VA Hospital.

Of course, we hear all kinds of stories, most of them likely tall tales. They come from people who don't know when to shut up, but continually drone on in boring-tone using words which don't belong in an inanely-sordid tale. These types evoke the biggest of yawns from me, and sometimes that does the trick. I don't care what you went to jail for or what your old lady did with the neighbor while you were in lockdown. (Yet another reason I dislike "Orange is the New Black.")

But this guy... he didn't try to impress. He just knew how to speak. He was engaging, often fascinating. Then he told me this joke:

A Scot walks into a bar and tells the barkeep: "I want you to line up 10 shots of your finest Scotch whisky."

The barkeep obliges, somewhat surprised by the order. No sooner than he pours them, the Scot starts slamming them down as quickly as he can.

"Whoa lad," barkeep says. "That's me finest Scotch whisky! It's meant to be sipped, savored, not thrown back like cheap stuff."

As he's about to down #9, the Scot shakes his head. "Aye lad, but you'd drink fast too if you had what I have."

The barkeep looks shocked, and asks, "Oh dear... what is it that you have, lad?"

"About 75 cents."

Monday, January 7, 2019

We Are As We See We Are

"I am I said
To no one there
and no one heard at all...
not even the chair."

--Neil Diamond

No matter how hard we try to avoid it, or whatever else we do in life, our jobs often come to define us once we've done it several years. Luckily for me, I've been a number of things in my life.

Bus operators are often looked down upon by society-at-large. The reason why escapes me. We're so many things other than bus operators prior to driving The Beast. Thousands of operators have had previous lives, have earned degrees, served in honor for our country and earned accolades in other eras of their lives. They certainly don't define themselves by this job, but there's no dishonor in doing so. We are who we believe ourselves to be.

Am I "just a bus operator?" At this moment in time, yes. And I'm proud of my profession; no, that's not all I am. Professional athletes move on in life after their bodies cannot endure the physical torture required by their jobs. People still think of Michael Jordan as a basketball player, but he's moved on to new ventures and may be surpassed by today's greatest player LeBron James. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Earl Monroe and Wilt Chamberlain remain great alongside all who came before and after them. President Carter is considered a "weak" president even though he brought Egypt and Israel together in their peace accord, but today he's viewed as a great humanitarian who helps build houses well into his 90s. As for me, I'd be honored to be remembered as a bus operator and strong union supporter in my life, but I aspire to be worthy of praise as a writer before the Reaper breaks this grip on my loving soul.

Whatever your great love in life is, I heartily encourage you to live your love. So many people are afraid to fail, but if you've never tried and failed, you're only living to die, rather than truly living before you die. It can be a dreary existence to sit in your easy chair wondering "What if?" All you need to worry about impressing is the reflection in your mirror. Sometimes, it's all we have.

Daddy Blue was my example of how to live. He always told me to "have fun every day, no matter what's going on." Even in great pain the day he died, he found a way to have fun. I admire that passion so much it's become my life's work to emulate it. Not only in my art, but when I'm driving you and 800+ other folks around during the day. Some may not respond, or could be having a hard day (see Sad Dad...), but there are a few every day I feel a link with when I blink and crack a funny ha-ha.

There was a recent passenger who, upon boarding my bus, began complaining about how  she couldn't walk the mile home. Yeah, I can empathize as we all probably can. Life can be brutally tough, and while I felt a certain amount of pity for her, it also pissed me off a bit. Don't whine, because someone else is likely having a harder day than you can even imagine. Of course, each life is chock full of its own agony. To bemoan your own pitfalls usually doesn't earn respect.

So Whiny Wanda kept a running dialogue the entire 10 minutes she rode. I could feel the eye rolls of several people who likely had their own hell to deal with. A collective sigh of relief followed her off the bus. Feeling ornery, I keyed up the microphone.

"When someone reminds me of my first wife," I said in a droll tone, "my first instinct is to get her off the bus... quickly."

My passenger mirror revealed a half-dozen heads snap up at that comment.

"No," one grizzled veteran roared with laughter in his voice, "you didn't just go there! But yes, yes you did!" He joined a few others who found humor in my biting joke. I smiled, because he did.

Making people laugh is a challenge, and I enjoy seeing people smile. It's good for you to smile and laugh. Life gives us enough to make us frown or be angry. I learned long ago to let the bad roll off my shoulder and try to give some folks a lift up whenever possible.

"It may sound kinda cruel, but I've been silent too long, so Thank God and Greyhound you're gone," I sang, a nod to the late, great Roy Clark. The ride was much more fun and lively afterwards.