Monday, January 13, 2020

My Snow-Doubtful-Yet-Wary January 2020 Roll

Deke's Note: Forget them not, the Maintenance Warriors of the road valiantly toiling in all types of conditions to come to our rescue when the bus or train suffers a mechanical failure. In that vein, your bus or rail operator rolls to you regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way. Transit is 24/7/365 or 366 (as this leap year affords us), no matter what. Leave your car at home, ride with us for a safe roll to wherever your life needs you to be. Along with my thousands of my brothers and sisters, I will brave whatever elements prevail to give you a ride. Oh yeah... you're welcome.

As contractual talks endure the increasing insults and incessant demands of cozily-coddled transit management, let us remember those union brothers and sisters who bravely fly to our rescue when something goes wrong. Operators are largely insulated from the elements through which we drive. Our Maintenance brothers and sisters sit in trucks, ready to respond when something goes awry. They are exposed to whatever Mother Nature throws down. I know many of them, having had them rescue me when I could not move further... safely.

This coming week, weather reports have snow falling heavily or lightly, most likely not at all. Still, our Maintenance personnel are ready to respond. They will be ready to lay their backs into the depths of winter's frozen slush as they chain our rear duals in response to untold inches of winter's brutal offerings. As is often the case, our management waits until the snowflakes have fallen for hours before responding to the obvious, giving our valiant fellows little or no warning before sending them out on a chain gang experience in the worst possible conditions.

I remember several years ago driving the 8 as an Extra Board Operator, when I rolled up behind my leader who couldn't maneuver her bus up the slight slope approaching 5/Broadway. Sitting at the bottom of this slight slope, I watched many the ill-advised motorist plow by me while I waited for my sister to urge her unchained Beast up to the stop. When she finally was able to muscle it up the slope, she had to hold just prior because some dumbass didn't know the right lane there is a bona-fide bus stop.

Precariously perched just above that slight incline, she waited until the jump-light shone green to give the accelerator the heave-ho before I floored my own pedal. By the grace of whatever being guides us all, I slipped up that slippery slope and rolled through the intersection without slamming into the scores of vehicles precariously perched within my path. However, when I turned right at the next light, I found myself stuck behind my sister, who could not navigate the left turn onto 6th. Each time she tried, the rear end of her bus slid precariously close to the parked car at the right curb. As she realized the futility of her attempts, she wisely stopped-and-locked. I opened my door to her as she walked back to my door amidst a flurry of hefty white flakes flooding our path.

Beaming with solidarity, Sister clambered aboard my bus. Addressing both myself and those few aboard, she proclaimed: "We're not going anywhere soon.... I'm stuck and unable to proceed, so here is where we'll all sit until rescued."

For the next 40 minutes, we became acquainted. My passengers quickly abandoned the stranded bus. We enjoyed a video encounter and wondered how long it would take before our rescuers arrived. After five minutes, my follower hiked up to join us, followed by his own and that behind him. We discussed our situation and realized we were stuck until help arrived. It was fun getting to know one another.

A few trainers happened to come upon us after 45 minutes of being stranded. Chris had bags of kitty litter, one of which he spread in front of my leader's duals. She was able to slip-slide-crunch and make a right turn back onto 6th from Caruthers. Upon her success, Dispatch advised us all to proceed to North Terminal, where Maintenance was busy chaining the rear duals of buses. Management had once again failed to take heed of the weather warnings, and had sent crews out after the 4-inch/hour snowfall had begun to throw chains upon our vehicles. Several of us sat waiting our turn at North Terminal while dozens of buses took that few minutes to use the restroom and enjoy a respite from winter driving. Once the metal surrounded our duals, we radioed Dispatch with our "Ready for Service" messages and were directed to our points of service.

Tonight, three years after the last major snowstorm hit our fair city, I sit here comfortably-numb, enjoying a stream of Irish libation as I remember the slippery roll of 2017. I hope the weather gods are good to us and the predictions of many inches of white stuff followed by treacherous freezing rain are replaced with the typical cold rain we normally see this time of the early new year.

Over the years driving this 20-ton beast of a vehicle, I have learned its abilities and limitations. The tricks of many veteran have guided me through feet of frozen slush, and I will persevere to give you a safe ride when even your 4x4 is left at home during the worst Portland winters present us.

If the forecasts are blown to the wind and a foot of snow falls, I hope y'all are as happy as I am. However, rest assured that even though we'll be late, your bus will eventually show and provide you a safe ride. If you leave the car at home and depend on us to get you there, please be patient. When we're chained, 25mph is our top speed. Given that and the road conditions we face, it's all we can do to just arrive at your stop, no matter how late we are. Please treat us with kindness, because winter conditions require every ounce of skill and patience our experience affords.

Transit operators are prepared for the worst. If conditions warrant, we sleep at our respective garages. When roads are largely-impassable to passenger vehicles, we're still there to drive our buses or operate Light Rail Vehicles to their destinations. We may be later than usual to your stop, but our job demands we be there regardless of whatever conditions confront us. While our management sleeps cozily in fuzzy blankets, we brave the elements to provide you inexpensive and safe transport. If we sleep at our garage, management won’t provide cots, blankets or food. Remember this whenever our union enters into contentious negotiations with transit management that hopes to replace our diligence with automation. Your fellow humans keep our Beasts tamed and on the straight and narrow while our fellow Portlanders slip slide into the ditches.

We're proud of our skill, and so you should be of us. It takes a lot of training, skill and concentration to guide 20-tons of steel and glass pointed straight to your homeward destination, and we're proud when you exit with a word of thanks. Your constant pats on the back when you exit combined with calls of goodwill to our Customer Service Line (503-238-RIDE) remind us that you care about our dedication to safety in the best AND worst of conditions.

If it's snowing to beat Paul McCartney's band and your long-awaited bus stops in the middle of the street even though you're standing directly at the pole, please walk out to the bus when it stops. We cannot roll to the curbs piled high with winter's bounty, for fear of becoming stuck and stranding y'all. We'll stop, lower the bus, and wait for you to slip and slide out to our beckoning warmth in the void of the Northwest's chilliest temps. Take your time, and carefully step toward us. Warmth and friendliness beckons within.

Even when you trudge through the heaviest of heavenly snowfalls between bus stops, I will slow and beep my horn at you. Don't have fare? I don't care. Just get onboard. Fare inspectors be damned, I'll give you a free ride. You're likely cold and wet, having just finished a long shift at work. If you're appropriately thankful, I'll also slip you a free pass. I'm a human being too, regardless of city lore describing me as a heartless "over-paid bus driver". I've been in your sodden, frozen shoes many a time in my own life. Just get on board, give me a smile of appreciation and settle into the warm depths of my smooth ride. You are, most definitely, welcome.

And that, my fellow beloved Portlanders, describes your average transit operator as winter wreaks havoc upon us all. Even if I have to miss the loving arms of my beloved, I'll sleep at the garage just to give my fellow citizens the ride they have come to expect and (hopefully) appreciate all the years I've been behind this keyboard and its associated wheel.

Be safe this winter's week in the first month of the year within our Lord, 2020. I certainly aim to be, in your collective behalf.


Deke's Postscript: Even as I wrote this, the Portland weather forecast switched to just another week of cold rain. With any luck, it will hold true. I'll likely shiver in the wet dreariness awaiting my Line 9 at the road relief point this week, grateful the slippery stuff avoids us once again upon our winter's transit reality.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

My Musical Roll to Your Fantastic Good Night

Deke's Note: When I locked into the first position on Track 22 tonight, it was the end of yet another long, eventful but quickly-forgotten week behind the wheel. Except for celebrating FTDS's 400k hit, that is. Let's see what else I can remember...

I'm currently enjoying a healthy dose of Irish medicine as my Friday night winds to a close. After 55+ hours as a bus operator, my weekend has become a celebrated respite from the hellish reality recently completed.

Given the constant addition of Dipshitus Erecti's sudden excursions immediately in front of my bus, this has been a typical week behind the wheel of 20 tons of glass, steel and related urban foolishness.

I'm currently watching/listening to Dan Fogelberg's The Leader of the Band, a song dedicated to his beloved father. We shared heroes, Dan and I: our fathers who now art in Heaven. Once, as a young lad and citizen of Boulder, Colorado, I had the opportunity to see Dan walk past me as I waited in line to see his friend Tim Weisberg's concert at the Boulder Theatre in 1981. A smartly-dressed and handsome man of about 5'10" walked past as I stood just about 75 yards past the entrance of the theatre. He was shy, guarded and trying not to be noticed. We made eye contact. I smiled and nodded silently in respect, and he responded in kind. There was no need for me to say anything, and his eyes pleaded so. Knowing his presence was enough for me; evidently NOT for those behind me in line.

"HEY! THAT'S DAN FOGELBERG!" some dumbass behind me blurted out. I shuddered. How ridiculously childish, I thought. Everyone in Boulder knew Dan's face, there was no need to call him out. He was shy and widely-known for valuing his privacy. It was a local norm to give Dan (and any other musical phenom like many who enjoyed that funky town) his space out of respect for the wonderful music he created.

Dan was as much a part of Boulder as the song "Same Old Lang Syne" had become. This was the time in which he released "The Innocent Age," an album magical in time and scope. It was sad that some dolt felt entitled to call Dan out as he quietly walked past the line waiting to enter the concert hall. However, it's part of the reality he had accepted as a widely-known musician. Quickly with a side nod to those who applauded while he walked across the street against traffic (exit, stage left!), I felt he appreciated my silent nod of recognition. I was happy to give him the respect he deserved. His prowess as a musician reminded me of Dad's respect for classical guitar and voice; their words often intertwined especially via their shared love of Christmas music.

Later that night, my fan's devotion at having spent an hour standing in line for General Admission seating to Tim Weisberg's concert was not only rewarded by Tim's incredible performance but also for his encore. As Tim came back onstage, he introduced Dan Fogelberg. The entire hall stood and cheered in appreciation. From my fifth-row seat, I was reduced to an open-mouthed howl of delight. After earlier making eye contact with Dan, one of my favorite artists of all time, here he was... 20 feet in front of me once again, acoustic guitar in hand, settling onto a bar-stool. He filled the auditorium with the opening guitar notes of "I'm Wasted, And I Can't Find My Way Back Home," and I was instantly mesmerized. He tapped his right foot to keep time. For the next 10 minutes, Tim stood by playing his flute as his friend dominated, pulled each note from that musician's hard-tuned  soul and incredible tenor voice. Dan had each of a thousand ears hanging upon each soulful note, every vocal nuance magnified within an eagerly-intent audience. I swayed in tune with every note, standing in respect via my musically-induced trance. It's a moment nearly 40-years hence which still resonates within my soul... magical in nature, a wonderful moment in my musical life's repertoire. Second to Dad, Dan Fogelberg's music will always resonate supreme within me.

When some youngster boards with their own music blaring, I gently ask them to turn it off. The music of my soul is humming within. Anything that competes with the Gillig motor's noise or typical human conversation, I cannot abide. The bus noises are constantly in need of attention. To monitor passenger conversation tones while simultaneously hearing music or YouTube video noises is impossibly horrific to my concentration. Gently and politely, I ask people to mute the sounds on their electronic devices. Their favorites likely don't match the tastes of their fellow passengers. They certainly cannot compete with the music which drives my roll. Try Heart's rendition of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven if you want to hear me sing along. Or Dan Fogelberg's hearkening to days past with his Same Old Lang Syne ringing in yet another new January 1. Please mute your YouTube or whatever cell noises lure your attention while riding with a bus full of people who could care less what drives your musical tastes. Your music or other audio delights likely don't agree with the tastes of the operator or your fellow passengers. SILENCE! That's the best way to roll on transit.

Oh, how I wish I could drive to the tunes which have delighted me throughout my almost 60 years! It would make the miles roll so much easily. Sigh. Only within the mind I have left. Given the disgust I'm afforded as a transit operator, a musical escape into Chicago Transit Authority or Linda Ronstadt or Chuck Wagon and The Wheels or Neil Diamond would be a heavenly relief. But no, I need to keep in tune to the sounds of the bus and the street noises surrounding me as I drive. The only music I hear is within the soul I've listened to my entire life. It's intermingled with the constants of transit, and I hum its constant tune while paying diligent attention to those who fail to. After seven years, I've learned to hear what's necessary and tune out the white noise. That's the only way I know to drive this bus.... peacefully, smoothly and always attuned to the constants which surround my vehicle.

Now, it's my weekend. Y'all's bus noises have faded into the past, like your Hop passing avoidance of a personal greeting. I have saved many lives and struggled to remain kind during the hours prior to your boarding. Still I roll these dark city dangers in my quest to provide my fellow Portlanders whom I'm paid to: a safe and smooth roll to your collective destination.

You're welcome.


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

My New Favorite Cuss Word

Several times each shift, I mutter under my breath or sometimes aloud, various cursing insults directed toward the public outside my bus. Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters, or those annoying "for hire" scooters or mini-bikes.

Usually, it's a "dumbass", "dipshit" or "idiot" which emerges from my tightly-knit lips as I recover from yet another potentially-disastrous maneuver I successfully avoid. The other day, a new blended insult escaped my mouth, quite by near accident.

"Dipshidiot," I said after predicting a speeding car on my left nearly rear-ending someone in his lane, just a car-length in front ahead of me, cut directly in front of my bus. He had to slam on his brakes to avoid another rear-end collision with the car three car-lengths ahead of me. Because I was scanning my mirror and recognized what was about to happen, I applied just enough brake pressure to smoothly stop and avoid turning said "dipshidiot's" car into a twisted piece of fatality.

I like it. This has become my new go-to insult. If you have other creative curses for those dipshidiots in your area, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

My Personal Hell Versus Friday's Visual Delights

Deke's Note: Here I return, instead of to that novel to which I long to finish. Ahh, beloved blog readers, here I am once more. Writing a new book is fraught with fright. It could fail miserably, but here, my words are welcomed worldwide. Some of you may even look forward to what I present every week. It has become somewhat of a crutch, an excuse to not journey into the unknown and often-cruel world of fiction. Here within my real-world reality is where we have known each other nearly seven years. It's comfortable, comforting, my accepted and peaceful realm. It seems cowardly to write here, rather than to creating another world in which dreams rule over thoughts and reality. You have been my sole support as a writer all this time. It's hard to believe I will excel elsewhere within the written world. Many of you probably only read this blog because it deals with the realities we face together. To dream that you would follow me upon a literary path other than this is a larger leap than I could ever hope you would take. This blog has become so deeply-ingrained upon me it seems more a habit than simple foray into the mind of a simple transit operator. It inhabits my soul, which is a bit troubling. I'm no longer "hidden" among the depths of our lives. I've become part of it. Whatever "it" is, I'm invested within, and also upon the responsibility to describe how this bus operator feels as I drive a 20-ton Beast. Here I go again, this time delving into personal terrors while transporting my fellow citizens.

Transit is indeed one of the most stressful jobs, but it's not always bad news. The greatest difficulty I think we all face is not knowing when the toughest parts of the job come a haunting.

Today was my Friday. Generally, this is cause for celebration. Saturdays, depending on the route, can be either busier or much more laid back than weekdays. On the 35, weekends are a bit more relaxed than during the hectic work week. That's why I've driven it Saturdays for several years. (Yeah, the "mysterious Deke ruse" ain't workin' so well these days, folks... I'm "out" for all impractical purposes.) How I wish the upper reaches of this roll afforded me the opportunity to stop the bus and take a few photos from the majestical heights of what I see: Mt. Hood in its winter white blanket, the middle-Portland stretch of the Willamette Valley and the wooded hills from there to Estacada. Although brief, I'm afforded brief glimpses of the wondrous beauty my forested home bestows upon a 35 operator.

So. Lately, I've come to dread work a few, if not several times, each week. I don't always know why, but often I do and don't want to admit the source. It's a foreboding sense of doom I fight off like a little dog attacking my ankle. There's little to base it on except for the constant stories worldwide of abuse waged upon transit workers. Not only operators suffer the wrath of an unforgiving minority of passengers. Supervisors, maintenance workers and others are treated to violent outbursts which wreak havoc upon us all. When one suffers, so do we all. It's a pandemic, and I'm not sure anyone truly has all the answers to prevent the increasing violence against us. Even management has awakened to a fraction of our woes, having begun installing weakly-effective barriers to help protect us. Thanks for that. If you created a legal department tasked with aggressively prosecuting those who assail us amidst your outrageous growth of middle management positions, that would help even more. Given that there's rarely, if ever, a presence of our transit management in court proceedings when those accused of assaulting us are on trial, this addition would be greatly appreciated.

Many of us suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some do because they have been violently assaulted either physically or verbally. While it may not seem as intense as being beaten, verbal assaults can shake us to our core. Because we're "public servants" it seems we're fair game for people to thrust upon us their frustrations and anger. Maybe it makes them feel better to punish us for whatever sins have been nagging them, or whatever has happened to them. You can smile at someone, heartily welcome them to your ride and have them unleash on you like you just kicked their ugly dog (or brother).

For me, such an attack is an intense ride into yesteryear, and then my own PTSD kicks in.

I was married once upon a time, to a very abusive, sexually-abused as a child and chemically-dependent person. We were deeply in love for a brief moment in our youthful selves. This devolved into a nightmare scenario where I never knew when violence would strike. Taught never to strike a woman, all I could do when the violence burst out from her personal nightmares was to fend her off. It was devastating to have someone I adored above all be so violent toward me. I loved her so much! How could she do this to me?!? A very young, innocent lad who had only loved a few times before and never so intensely up to that point, it was a searing pain I believed nobody had ever felt. As the years worked to ease the havoc it had wreaked upon my soul, I realized millions like me (mostly female, but sometimes male) had endured it for thousands of years. Seems human nature is very cruel to its own, especially to those we believe "love" us. Stevie Wonder put it most poignantly to me when he sang "All in Love is Fair".

Life for years after my divorce at the tender age of 25 was pure hell. I was angry. Trust became something only a trusted few could earn from me. Only my closest friends could get through the hard shell I passionately-lashed out from my hardened soul. They remain with me today, loved ones who guided me through hell and into my present. After enduring eight years of a few brief passionate encounters, my final love gently eased her hand into the cracks of my broken heart. I welcomed her gentle massaging the embers of anger smoldering deep within me. Now, the anguish of my youth is a memory thanks to the sage patience of my Beloved.

We celebrated our 25th anniversary in Edinburgh, Scotland last year. This time, it was us and Father Andy in St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, our love but one of thousands echoing the past four centuries of marriages within its sacred depths. Given what we have endured, it was fitting we pledge our undying love for one another here, where the echoes of love's constance shines from its sunshiny rays of stained-glass windows. It gave us hope that our love will echo there in its constance, at least until we reach it again some years hence.

At times however, a nightmare can squeak past her protective grasp of my tranquility. This only happens when someone on my bus rekindles those horrific memories. My breath quickens, my face hardens into a mask nobody who knows me today would recognize. Flashes of torturous nightmare scenes flood my mind. Ancient wells of fury burst to the surface and I'm unable to control them. Those who provoke me could be asking for troubles not equivalent to what I suffered. Granted, this only happens when one pushes me beyond the limits of reason. Usually, I can soothe the minimal rants or raves with a joke or heartfelt word of compassion.

Years of service as a transit operator have taught me to recognize when people have had a hard day. We all know what that's like. It's when that 0.5% of habitual troublemakers board who remind me of "It Who Shall Not Be Named" that I tend to have trouble calling upon my reserves of patience to deal with. Those of you who read this with more than 40 years to your experience upon this blue marble will know what I'm talking about. Some younger may have an inkling, while anyone under 25 has yet to truly experience life's darkest trials. Whatever the case, we all have a common knowledge that life becomes increasingly harder to bear between 20 and 40 years. It's how we deal with the deepest adversity which shapes our adult logic.

At these times, which are rare, I've learned to recognize what is happening. I'll pull over, tie up the bus and warn whoever is misbehaving they have two choices. 1) Take a moment and stop the offensive behavior; 2) Get the fuck off my bus; their behavior is not tolerated among a group of good people, and; 3) You can leave voluntarily or in handcuffs. If I don't do this, things can escalate quickly. If my words fail to communicate, I surrender the "power" of my position to one much higher up the chain of command. I am not violent by nature, never have been. If I were to be physically attacked, I cannot guarantee any measure of control. It is this scenario I constantly strive to avoid.

Humans have evolved over millions of years. Throughout, a biological constant has remained. From  earliest times whenever our species has been attacked, our DNA has a built-in protective element. It's called the "fight or flight" syndrome. When faced with physical danger, our bodies respond by a heightened sense of alert. Our heartbeat increases; blood and energy pools in the center while the muscles and senses are multiplied. In a word, we physiologically become prepared to fight to the death or retreat, whatever our innate senses feel poses the best chances for survival. It is no longer within our control to prevent this biological state; it just happens, and we're not able to call upon lawbooks or transit precedent while dealing with imminent danger. We're faced with simple survival, and our biology takes over, plain and simple.

In the case of my first wife's attacks upon me, my main goal was to protect myself. A few times, I truly believed she was intent upon killing me. I was terrified. Being attacked by someone you love beyond description is something I hope none of you ever experience. Only once did I strike back in anger, and I felt so bad afterward I vowed never to do so again; it's a promise I've kept. My gentle father always taught me never to hurt someone of the opposite sex. While unfortunately my life has seen me "hurt" ladies, it hasn't been physical in nature. Early on, my amorous nature injured the feelings of girls I truly adored simply because I couldn't remain faithful to one while courting another. I eventually lost the love and respect of both. When I saw the pain my actions caused them, I vowed never again to be false to another. I have kept it since, and promise to, forever.

I have sought counseling to deal with the residual anger from my first love. Lasting wounds linger and at times interfere with my interactions with the public I serve. This job requires a steady hand, not one raised in anger toward someone who doesn't deserve the wrath of some distant past. While I've managed not to engage in physical combat with another since that fateful relationship, I fear the residual damage it caused.

Having been threatened, verbally assaulted on many occasions, goaded into unnecessary confrontations, spit upon, cursed and insulted so deeply I wanted to commit violence, I'm thankful to my father's guidance. I have avoided returning what I've received, and found it within myself to forgive those who hurt me. Also and most importantly, I have the love and constant support of my Beloved, the guiding light in my life, who reminds me what Tom Petty wrote, "don't sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff".

As I walked to my road relief today, that overwhelming sense of dread attempted to overtake my peaceful preparation. My Beloved was asleep; usually I can depend upon her love messages to prepare me for what dangers may lurk, but I could not interrupt her doze. A few weeks ago, so was rear-ended by a mindless teenager and she now has whiplash and PTSD of her own to deal with. To awaken her healing slumber is something that would make me feel guilty in the face of the pain she feels. Adding my fears of the unknown to the terrors of her present reality just seemed unfair. While she would gladly rise up from her own discomfort to ease my own, my love her forbids me from putting more stress upon her loving plate. Only for her can I always be strong and resolute, and this was definitely a day deserving such loving diligence.

I took a deep breath as I eased The Beast into the Transitway for the first time on the mall, released it, and repeated The Mantra for perhaps the 7,350th time in my career, I gave myself up to God and any remaining goodness transit has to offer its' frontline workers. "Be safe, be kind, be courteous, be thoughtful, be polite, be patient, be considerate, be vigilant, be calm... be smart, be smooth, but above all, be safe." A few blocks down the road when my panic seemed all but assured, I repeated these soothing 12-points. Another deep breath, hold... release. That did the trick, and the wheels within my pent-up soul rolled free once more.

Ahh, another Saturday roll on Line 35. Downtown, south over the Willamette's western banks and mid-town hills, back down into Lake Oswego, a roll through the rude streets of West Linn and into heroin-addicted fools constantly inhabiting Oregon City Transit Center. All went smoothly. People were glad I rolled into their stop on time through a driving wintry rain, and that their operator welcomed them with my patented (and genuine) smile as they boarded. I was at peace, loving my job and those with whom I serve, including those I provided a safe and smooth ride to all day long.

The panic attack which greeted my work day was forgotten as I rolled into a stop and lock in the yard tonight. All was well, my work week complete. The yard was silent except for the rumble of my bus engine. A Maintenance brother greeted my arrival, ready to roll my bus into the fuel lane and wash rack. He was kind and happy to hear it was my Friday, wishing me a great weekend. We exchanged New Year's greetings, and I trudged wearily toward the garage, absently tugging on my vape after two hours behind the wheel. It only took one deep drag; my lungs had already been assailed with exhaust all day long, so it was a fair trade.

Dropping off my pouch and Lost and Found items with our dear Station Agent, I wished her a peaceful evening and proceeded into my end-of-shift ritual. Pee, wash the bus off my hands and face, breathe, greet fellow night-shifters and walk to my welcoming and much-more-comfortable car seat. Afore-mentioned seat swallowing this aching body a few precious relaxing moments before propelling it homeward. Ahh... sweet freedom!

As promised, I have fulfilled what I set out to do from the beginning of this blog: to write what it feels like to be this bus operator. Hopefully, you feel my words. If not, peace be with you as always. Thanks for reading, once again.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Lil’ Deke Spreads His Idyllic Wings

Deke’s Note: 394,000+ hits, this first day of the year 2020. Wow. When I was a child, I thought cars would fly when 1970 arrived. In fact, perhaps I could as well! 

As an eight-year-old, I put my theory to its ultimate test. Shuffling my sandal-clad heels upon the curb of my sidewalk, closing my eyes and willing it so, I channeled Lost In Space, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. I dreamed of self-flight.

Dad was taking flying lessons from a crusty old crop duster pilot, and like my only idol I yearned to sprout wings and soar into that sunny Arizona winter-blue cape. A breeze playfully noogied my inch-deep crew cut as my upturned face savored the sunshiny heaven. We had migrated west just two years earlier; no way would I have stood on a sidewalk the first day of January wearing shorts and tank top in northern Illinois.

Gathering myself, I wondered if I should flap my arms for added lift once airborne. Imagining what that spot of Tempe sidewalk would look like from 25, 50, 100, 1000 feet, I braced for liftoff. Willing every millimeter of my physical and spiritual being to take the form of our feathered fellow beings, I invited the wind to lift my mortal gravitational bondage.

Eyes closed, mouth upturned at its right corner (my still-trademarked smirk), I took that magical leap. And landed in the street.

So much for youthful dreams. It was there I grasped the meaning of gravity, and except for about 200 hours of flight time with Dad in a tail-dragger Cessna, I’ve been grounded ever since.

Happy New 20s, my friend. May we all learn to soar above the trials we’ll face during this new decade.

Monday, December 30, 2019

My Top 10 for a Happy '20

Deke's Note: What have I learned as a bus operator this past 2019? Perhaps there are many more than I can describe. Yet, it's always within me to describe what strikes home harder than a Kenyon Yovan fastball (Go Ducks Baseball 2020!).

As this year winds down, my aging self finds itself nostalgic for what's past and hopeful for what's to come. Each day I drive a bus, my constant desire is to learn something new. This keeps my skills fresh and improving. Daddy Blue taught me to be very cognizant of what's happening around any vehicle I'm in control of. Driving a 20-ton megaBeast, this becomes a constant reminder of how vital it is to be centered, focused and intent upon the safety of all within and around my vehicle. Even though my transit experiences have become second-hat, it's vital that my attention is so focused on what I'm doing that anything new in this transit experience is immediately recognized and documented within. Otherwise, I'm just not paying enough attention.

So, what have I learned this year? While it's difficult to separate incidents from one year to the next at this point in my career, there are many points to discuss. However, only the most important remain. Here's my Top 10.

1) Customer Service often only travels one way. If you stop my bus downtown to ask a question easily-answered by the convenient reader board just a few feet from where you stand, don't expect me to be overly-friendly. Our routes are tough, schedules often strictly-regulated upon conditions not allowing for foolish interruptions. Use that cell phone you're constantly staring upon to answer the most obvious questions you have about transit in Portland. Download "PDX Bus" which will give you any vehicle's location within the past minute, and your query will be answered. Please don't waste a bus operator's time to ask us when the bus we're not driving will arrive at the stop upon which you're waiting. A few finger taps will give you the information you need without delaying those upon my bus who are smart enough to ascertain the electronically-obvious.

2) Fido is not a Service Animal. Quit lying to us. Leave your mutt at home. Otherwise, find some other mode of transportation. We don't need your snarling beast on our ride, making law-abiding passengers feel any more unease than transit management dictates. The Americans with Disabilities Act (do you even know what this is?) does not give you permission to lie about your vicious pet being a Certified Service Animal. No, you're not allowed to bring it on board as a "companion animal." Every pet is a companion to humans. That doesn't qualify it as a highly-trained and expensively-maintained professional. Even though our government and loosely-affiliated transit agency is wimpy where it comes to enforcing code, we care. Leave your pets at home, and stop lying to us about Fido's certification. Someone with a true Service Animal needs to feel safe on transit, without fear that your untrained and unrestrained beast will attack their truly-trained SA without provocation.

3) I don't care if you have fare. That's the realm of Fare Inspectors, who could be awaiting your excuse-laden butt at my next stop. Go ahead and risk a $200 fine for your lack of $2.50. It's not my job to lecture you about our transit agency's fare policy. If you have it, show it or pay without delay. Your lame excuse about how you "lost" or "forgot" it makes no never mind to me. All I care about is rolling my ride on schedule. That way, I'll have time to pee, eat, vape, and breathe at the end of the line before taking on the next trip. I truly give not one minuscule damn about your long-contrived tale of woe. Unless you're a regular who has truly made a mistake, your excuses mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. Hey, if you're nice about it I might even print you a ticket. Just don't expect me to make this a habit.

4)  Sometimes a bus is delayed. It's not my fault. If the overhead sign reads "Drop Off Only," I expect you to understand there's an in-service bus a few minutes or less behind me. This status is only granted buses when they are extremely late, and need a chance to make up the deficit. I didn't put that sign up there myself just to piss you off; Dispatch did. As passengers exit, don't curse me for not allowing you to board. This has been a transit constant for decades. Traffic and passenger loads dictate how I roll. No, I'm really not an "asshole". Get over yourself, look behind me and see my follower rolling in to pick you up. You're welcome. Have as nice a messed-up day as you just wished me when I shut the door in your rude face.

5) Don't expect me to board you in between scheduled stops, especially if you're downtown on our Transit Mall. Each stop is clearly marked with the routes serviced. We have rules we must follow, especially there. If my doors close, that means you have missed the bus. Once that light turns green, I will not stop and re-open them just for you. Why? Because if I do that for you, then another two or three will expect the same, making me miss the green and delaying all the great people on my bus who were on time to their stop. There's likely a bus behind me waiting to service the First Position, and you're simply late. You can call in a complaint, but I don't care. I won't even give management the satisfaction of showing up for a "come see me" due to your inability to show up on time. Your connection was late getting there? I'm sorry, but he or she was fighting traffic and slowpoke boarders just like I have. Transit is not, cannot be, perfect. You're a big boy/girl, learn the ropes and deal.

6) Please use headphones or turn off the audio on that precious cell phone. Your electronics do not rule over my need to hear the many audible details I monitor while driving The Beast. I'm listening for motor sounds, air brake compressor audibles, traffic queues, emergency sirens and other details competing for my attention. Your music video does not take precedence over anything. When I make a PA announcement, I'm usually annoyed you're unaware your nose-maker is competing for my attention while also likely annoying fellow passengers. My request to turn the audio OFF your device is actually a polite command. Would you argue with an airline pilot, train conductor or boat captain? Yeah, I thought not. Please treat me the same way. Your own safety could depend upon your compliance. Thank you.

7) I will not speed to help you make a connection. I drive my bus the same way whether I'm on time, early or late: safely. Circumstances will not ever change my roll. If you have to wait for the next bus or train, so be it. You're welcome for the safe ride.

8) I'm human, just like you. Some of us might be more friendly than the other operator, but whatever the case, please do not expect miracles from any of us. You're unaware of the miracles we've performed prior to, and even during or after your ride. Unless you'd prefer the bus to be guided by automation (a dangerous scenario being debated by Portland transit as I write this), just appreciate there's a trained human at the controls. We have to eat, use the restroom, take a sip or enjoy some quiet time between rolls. We truly treasure our rare moments alone. In these precious few minutes, please do not approach us unless it's an emergency and/or life-threatening situation. If we're on the phone, it's likely the first time in hours we've had the opportunity to speak with our loved ones who are worried about us as we navigate these dangerous streets. Wait for us where it's expected we'll board you. If you have a question for us, wait until our doors open for business. Otherwise, ask other transit passengers. Often, they have the answers you need. Give us our precious breaks, will ya?

9) Watch what we do in that unforgiving seat. Did you see that dually 4x4-truck cut us off, flip us off and almost run head-on into the car it couldn't see as it passed me across the double-yellow line while my YIELD light flashed brightly-red in their impatient face? See how I stopped to allow it passage rather than starting to roll which prevented a head-on collision with that oncoming and humanly-full family minivan? Did you look up from your Instagram feed as we smoothly rolled to a stop and avoided hitting a dark-clothed lad darting across the street just inches distant from our 20-ton bumper? We're always scanning 180-200 degrees to avoid any dangers to you or those outside our vehicles. If you watch what we do while you ride, perhaps you'd be more appreciative of our daily toils.

10) Give us a break... we care. This last one is the hardest. Often as I write something along this vein, tears begin to fall. Mostly, it's because I care about what I do, and for all in and around my bus. That's why I write my thoughts here; it's my therapy. I see so much inhumanity, foolish actions and horrific injustice between humans I have become uncomfortably numb. The job of transit operator is one of the most stressful known to humanity. Why? Because we're constantly on-the-job providing as safe a ride as possible in the most impossible conditions. Between traffic foul ups and inconsiderate passengers, weather and tight schedules, our job can be truly depressing. Still, this bus operator still begins each shift with an 11-Point Mantra designed to put my mind into full focus upon the vital job you expect from me. I'm out there 10+ hours, five days (and no more, thank you very much) each week, struggling amongst the many obstacles thrust before me, to safely convey you to your destination. My biggest nightmare is that somebody could be hurt, or (God forbid) killed, by the vehicle I control. It's a humbling responsibility each of us take very seriously. When you disrespect or assail us, we still return. It's an unspoken code amongst us that we persevere no matter what's tossed our way. Why? Because we're proud, caring and sensible humans who accept the harsh realities of this job and strive to do the best we can despite the circumstances we have become conditioned to endure.

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What do I most wish for 2020? Above all, that transit passengers across this shared blue marble, learn to appreciate the work all involved in transit do for each community we serve. We're a human who has likely been spit upon, verbally assaulted nearly ever day, often assaulted or otherwise insulted, yet still rises to the seat in which we earn our daily keep. We do care, but expect compliance to the most basic of societal rules: treat your fellow humans with decency and respect. Please do as asked, without argument or debate. That's what keeps us all rolling, and if you can accept this we'll all get there safely.

May peace be granted upon you, along with all the love you expect and deserve. Rest assured that when you board my ride, you'll be greeted warmly. If you return my love, thank you. If you wait until you exit, you're welcome. I'm happy when you return to your loved ones after my smoothly-safe ride. That's all I hope for when my shift ends. My family is nervously awaiting my unscathed arrival as well.

Have a safe and Happy New Year. Like hundreds of thousands of other transit employees worldwide, I'll be there working hard to make your trip a smooth and safe roll home. Oh, and it's a free ride after 8 p.m., so that will make it even more interesting.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I love you all. Well, most of you, anyway.

With love and greatest regards, I remain your
Deke N. Blue