Saturday, July 14, 2018

55 or 12 on 6

Deke's Note: Life ain't normal, man. Not sure what that is any more. I just roll it all into a blur and somehow come to the weekend half-sane.

I roll through a sea of strangers and their faces all blend into one distorted view. Other operators, if not in uniform, could be my best pals and unless they snap their groovy fingers at me, they could be anyone. Music fills me as the six roll us all as one. Could be just a few, 12 or 50 but we're all on one set of six rubber rounds.

My mind controls these fingers on the steer, but my soul is groovin' to whatever sounds fill this soul. Everyone else on the bus can groove to their tunes as they roll. That's okay. I need to hear sirens, obnoxious voices loudly spelling t-r-o-u-b-l-e and engine noises. A loud thunk isn't from running something over... I'm too focused to allow that; it's most likely an illegal window opener allowing the cool air built over 20 minutes to escape.

It had to happen eventually. Caged like a cornered bus operator. Damned fool things, band aids on a still-gaping wound. Supposed to keep the vicious at bay, but it cuts me off from the people I love: the good, fun and funky. As regulars lumbered on, I clawed at the partition. Mostly, they frowned at my prison. Many were disconcerted at being cut off. Daring censure, I opened the fucker as much as it allowed. Can't be myself when I'm behind a barrier. Like I'm the one in jail. Don't touch the guy who is daily touched by the kindness of my fellow humans. Keep your distance from one who likes you close.

I did have some fun, a bit of demented experimentia. Raised a cheek and relieved that cramped abdomen to see if anyone heard, loud and proud, closely watching the pax mirror. Not a raised eyebrow or pained expression. My window vented any stench, although I steadfastly claim rose-scented flatulence. Granted, I had both dash fans on full blast toward my window and my AC vent on tornado. Nary a whiff of my gases snorted by the masses. Gotta find the good amidst evil when Devil's the only witness.

Damn barriers. I hope they cut down on the assaults, but I'm still pissed that we would need them at all. Top bar blocks my view of the back seats. Plexi reflects glare, but not as bad as I thought it would. Oh well, broken records seldom get air time. What's a better idea? Our "Bored of Direct-duhs" and GM getting on a soapbox and screaming (viciously) that they expect the riding public to show respect and that they won't allow the behavior to continue. A District Attorney willing to protect us by refusing to plea bargain assaults on transit workers would be a nice rhythm section. I'd ask they "grow some balls," but I've found testicles to be incredibly delicate. Vaginas are much tougher; they are the birth canal through which we all emerge. So grow a pussy, you balls!

Easing down the hard streets finds a homeless tent crime scene... a hard woman was previously screaming at a cowering male. A break room under renovation and porta-potty ovens baking in Portland's summer sun break, with a trailer serving as a temporary hiding spot for harried drivers... air conditioning unit dead straight outta box. Road work statewide, chasing traffic into my way. Typical. Portland has two seasons: Rain and Construction, and the skies are currently clear.

Don't follow me here... you won't arrive where promised.

It's cloudy here most of the year. Even though we belly-ache and moan throughout the drizzly months, summer hits sudden and hard. It wears on us, blaring down the blazes in atonement for the months of gray skies until we say "UncleDamnit!" By mid-September, when the grasses seem to be void of any water content whatsoever, we yearn for the cool and beauty of a Northwest autumn. Before we know it, the water spigot will open again and a brief "Ahh" will be heard before the collective dreams of starshine creep into weather rambles.

Yeah, I still love my job. Barriers or no, I still get to drive around this beautiful forest of a city. Even management can't spoil the best parts of it. Thanks for riding with me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

This ATU Member Stands for Unity

In careers past, I wondered what it would be like to have a union job. Throughout my life, I've  wished for a career in which I felt supported by my co-workers. Now that it's a reality, I've come to know how important unions are to blue collar stiffs like me.

I didn't finish college in my 20s when most students do. Instead, I married and started a family, which required me to get a job. For 30 years, I was employed in non-union positions. When I was hired as a bus operator, the responsibility of keeping people safe was balanced by the security of being represented by Amalgamated Transit Union's Local 757. Instead of being "on my own" as a private-sector employee, my local represents me if something bad happens on the job. Simultaneously, it also negotiates with management on behalf of ALL members to secure strong benefit and wage packages.

At first, I was concerned about the initiation fees and monthly dues ATU charged me, but overall it's a good deal. Considering the amount of taxes I've paid over my lifetime with weak representation of my interests competing with lobbyists arguing solely for the business sector that employs them, union membership is a much better deal.

Before becoming a union member, I still benefited from the victories of labor over the past 130-plus years. Weekends, holidays, sick leave, the 40-hour work week, overtime and other benefits are enjoyed by millions of other workers regardless of union membership. Labor movements and millions before me fought hard, had their blood spilled and/or gave their lives so that big money interests were required to follow fair labor practice standards. Otherwise, there would have been no middle class, or the coveted "American Dream." If protective labor laws had not been enacted, our working lives would be drastically different than they are today.

Union membership has declined steadily over the past half-century or more, weakening our ability to ensure fairness for the working class. Losses of good-paying jobs due to offshoring and outsourcing have done much for the corporate big-money interests, simultaneously increasing the number of working poor. Housing costs in Portland have increased substantially in the past decade, sometimes more than 10% each year, while many struggle in jobs where salary increases don't measure up. Service workers today are usually just one paycheck away from the street. This puts more workers nearing retirement in fear of not having enough money to survive after working a lifetime. At this rate, I'll retire into a casket.

Regarding Portland transit, a government within and of itself, it's logical to think management would reward Operations personnel for providing safe and reliable service. Unfortunately, it seems hell-bent on harassing its most valuable workers. Its policies are geared toward creating a hostile work environment. In the past decade, the agency has devolved into an Us vs. Them scenario that benefits nobody.

Now that the United States Supreme Court has handed down a decision on JANUS vs. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, we fear management's schemes could become even more harsh. SCOTUS's 5-4 decision for Mark Janus, a child support specialist in Illinois, overturned the 1977 case of Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education in which the court ruled that unions could charge fees to union workers to offset costs of collective bargaining, grievance defense and administration of contracts, but could not force some fees upon union members who disagreed with political platforms supported by the union. In the Janus decision, the Supreme Court ruled that not enough emphasis was put on workers' First Amendment rights of freedom of speech. Because of this, workers represented by unions are no longer required to pay any union fees or dues.

Justice Samuel Alito, in the Court's official opinion of the Janus decision, explains that unions advocating for political candidates violates the free speech of members who disagree with such political activity. Therefore, it ruled members should be able to opt out of fees/dues that fund the efforts of unions to negotiate on our collective behalf. While it's true that not everyone shares the same political views, and that a local's decision to support Candidate A while some members prefer B, then a union taking monies from a member to support a candidate that member opposes, is essentially violating their freedom of speech and expression. However, I believe that if a member doesn't support the union's political stance on candidates, he/she should be allowed to have the portion of their dues allotted toward political contributions deducted from their fair share deductions. Not having to pay any dues is an insult to paying members, and to those who fought to improve working conditions over the last century.

Even before this most recent case was ruled upon, nobody was legally required to join a union. However, the Court's latest decision creates a financial disability to chapters that negotiate for all its members. Therefore, those of us who choose to pay dues will foot the bill for those who don't contribute. This might lead to an even more divisive workforce. Justice Alito dispels the notion this decision will split workers into separate bargaining groups or exclude some from the same protections union members pay for.

"It is simply not true that unions will refuse to serve as the exclusive representative of all employees in the unit if they are not given agency fees," Alito wrote in the Opinion of the Court. He argues that it's unconstitutional for an agency to bargain with non-members for an agreement that differs from that which is agreed to by a union. This makes sense, as it would give one group an unfair advantage over another. In our case, this theoretically (and legally) bars the district from agreeing to separate contracts with union workers and non-members. I've already seen divisive discussions among our members who are advocating harsh treatment of "scabs" (those who refuse to pay dues). Once again, we see the age-old concept of divide and conquer rearing its ugly centuries-old head.

Loss of union dues would give management an unfair advantage in contract negotiations, grievance mediation and other valuable services. Union members in the past fought with blood to force the end of brutal labor practices. At the turn of the last century, the Industrial Revolution saw an unprecedented surge in production while those whose labors produced these golden coins were treated with disdain by the captains of industry. Working conditions were often horrific.

One notable politician of that era began his career firmly against unions, but eventually came to understand the working man's plight. His name: Theodore Roosevelt. He eventually came to approve of labor unions, as long as they didn't use violence to further their causes. Although a conservative, Roosevelt understood the need for unions, but at first mistrusted them. In fact, he actually fought against bills (New York State Assemblyman, 1882) to raise salaries of firefighters and policemen and also one to end the convict contract labor systems. He tended to side with employers instead of workers. One notable exception however, caused him to begin to see the "opposition's" argument in a clearer light: tenement cigar factories using women and children in production with little pay working in horrible conditions.

While he regularly condemned violent "mob" actions by unions, Roosevelt came to understand that unions advocated for better working conditions for laborers. As Governor of New York, he pushed for laws that improved working conditions in factories he considered "sweatshops." He toured factories during his term to ensure laws were being adhered to. Even so, he believed in using troops to quell violent labor disputes, which made unions wary of his motives. Legislation passed in his tenure included shortening the work day to eight hours for public employees, and he sought to end child and prison contract labor.

As our 26th President, he continued to press for labor reform. When coal miners went on strike protesting long hours and poor working conditions, Roosevelt threatened to put the mining companies under the direction of the US Army; this compelled the owners to ask for arbitration, which resulted in pay increases, shortened hours and a promise to improve working conditions.

President Harry Truman, when faced with a strike by railroad workers in 1946, also used strong-arm tactics to end strikes. He threatened to draft rail workers into the Army if they didn't come to an agreement. Again in 1950, he considered the railroad vital to the nation's security, and this time he did put the companies under the control of the Army until the strike was settled nearly two years later. He repeated this action when the United Steel Workers union went on strike the following year. While these strikes could have crippled the nation's security interests during the Korean War, the president did what he thought necessary.

A distrust of unions formed as charges of corruption prompted then-Senate counsel Robert F. Kennedy (and again later, as Attorney General in JFK's administration) to accuse labor leader Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters Union with corruption in hearings on Capitol Hill. While Hoffa would eventually be convicted of jury tampering and pension fraud, he was pardoned in 1971 by President Nixon. In spite of Hoffa's misdeeds, unions remained the working man's most-powerful advocate. Labor unions grew in number and strength until President Reagan fired air traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981. Then, approximately 20% of the American work force belonged to a union; by 2016, it had dwindled to 11%.

Over the past several decades, unions have been seen in a negative light. Public opinion swayed toward believing striking union members were "thugs and ruffians." Membership began to decline, and today the numbers remain lower than common sense would dictate in these times of economic uncertainty for the working middle class. However, unions continue to fight for better working conditions and wage/benefit packages.

Rather than losing members, we should be gaining. Several states have recently endorsed "right to work" philosophy, which is basically anti-union and pro-industry. The problem with this is that workers are often denied representation in these states, which discourage union membership. Essentially, "right to work" is political-speak for "unions not welcome here."

Women, children, and even non-members have benefited from union efforts. While I might not always agree with my local, I support its power to bargain as one for the benefit of every member. I also believe that we should all, as transit employees, contribute union dues. By not doing so, some refuse to pay for benefits guaranteed to every non-union employee. The simplest solution is to allow members to "opt out" of a certain percentage of dues allotted to political campaigns. However, unions tend to support politicians who promise to support legislation that benefits working people, regardless of their political affiliation.

We need to vote, in union and local or national elections. Demand that not only all votes be counted, but also that each member receive a ballot and encourage all to exercise their right to choose. Those elected should expect to be held accountable that their time in office be served with noble purpose. If we choose apathy, we're risking our powerfully-collective roar being tamed into a kitten's meow.

We're more divided now than since pre-Civil War days. Republicans and Democrats are so diametrically-opposed there is no more middle ground. Political debates often dissolve into childish name-calling and finger-pointing where there once was intelligent discourse and compromise. Coming together to find commonality and induce progress was first practiced here during the Continental Congress that led to the birth of our nation. Together, we should improve conditions for those who have already made this country great: the working middle class. Either we change this trend of negativity and divisiveness, or we are doomed to destroy that which our Founders so eloquently created.

The ruling wealthy class has achieved success in dividing us. We disagree on many fronts politically, and that's by design. We've been encouraged to fight amongst ourselves about religion, race and a political ideology based on fear. Instead of honoring and accepting our differences, we despise each other for them. The ruling class doesn't care about any of it, as long as they continue to hoard the wealth WE work to secure for them. It's senseless to fight among ourselves when the bigger picture urges us to band together. Union workers have always benefited in the power of numbers. Simply adding new members has come under attack over the last few years. Our management denied new operators the benefit of attending ATU 757 initiation during training, which has until now been a historically-accepted practice.

ATU International President Larry Hanley says transit agencies will continue "a full range of abuse as always from transit management." He also said we can "expect outright attempts to get members to leave the union." Still, Hanley recognizes not all management will follow this lead. "There are some managers who understand the role the union plays sustaining the industry, including their own employment," Hanley told me. "Although a smaller group, they will not abuse this."

The Janus decision also begs a few questions about loyalty versus representation. Should those who opt out of paying dues have the same rights to union representation as those who pay? Will the district somehow favor non-members? I don't know how unions will treat those who don't contribute a share of their salary. What I personally believe is that those who refuse to pay for a service shouldn't be allowed to benefit from it. If you don't pay your electric bill, you're not allowed to use that service until the bill is paid. There will be plenty of debate about this, and other issues that arise.

President Hanley says the SCOTUS decision means "we will need to spend more time building solidarity, and in the end, that's a good thing."

It is up to us, especially now, to improve our collective strength. We must protect our retirees, secure our future, and build up those who follow. A happy workforce supported by intelligent and supportive management, rather than that of a punitive micro-managing oligarchy, is good for all who use Portland's transit system. Working together in a positive atmosphere of trust and goodwill could once again propel us into prominence once again as the finest transit system in the world.

The benefits for all cannot be realized by the goodwill of a few. It's time to STAND, and by my union and as an  American citizen, I do.

In solidarity, I am
Deke N. Blue
ATU 757 and PROUD!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Just Workin' that Transit Roll

It's been a long, strange week. Well, that's a weak adjective to use. Perhaps it's better described as an intriguing exercise in weathering the temptation to explode. Since this is my therapy, I'll vent a bit, but it's mild, I promise.

Given my frustration with the Supreme Court's decision on the Janus case, which I will respond to in my next post, it was no surprise that I'd be on-edge this week. A lot of things swirl about my mind as I drive. It's mostly a way to keep focused, even though one might suppose otherwise. Yes, my focus is centered upon handling the beast. Yet that now occupies a mere 30% of my consciousness while rolling now. Rather than dwelling on the mundane, I tend to blog as I drive. The Janus case post has occupied me since it was announced, but if a play-by-play announcer was calling my route, it would resemble Bill Walton trying to stay on task during a basketball game. Following is an example of several days driving condensed into a few minutes.

Damn, that bicyclist is playing with a Zippo on a case of nitro. Came six inches within my back bumper when I stopped to avoid pulverizing that old dude who stepped out in front of the bus. (Will we lose union members because of the Janus decision?) Go ahead and run that red light, Bozo. Good thing you missed Fido as he stopped to sniff the dead nutria in the left lane as the pedestrian timer slipped to green. (What shenanigans await us as management rubs its hands in glee over this case?) Wait, is that light ahead stale red? Maybe I'll catch it this time... no, guess not. There's Freewheelin' Fernando zipping up to the stop in his mobility device flagging me down. Ramp it and stamp it, now it's stale green. Better wait, now we be late. (Should we stab a scab, or be cool with the fool?) Sweet, a freight train is inching along, I'm gonna get a transit green. Makin' up that time spent behind a newbie and zip into the long part of my route in the green for once. (Sure was fun talkin' with that radio fella in Canada; where's Deke gonna pop off next?)

Long ago and far away, on the board.
Uh oh, early afternoon and traffic is backed up worse than my colon on junk food... gonna be a few minutes down by the next time point if this keeps up. Oh well, my On-Time Performance stats ain't a gonna improve on a day like this. (Book sales need a boost, where's the marketing magic marker?) Wait, what's this message on my CAD? Turn off the HVAC and close the windows, there's another classic Portland protest a brewin'. (Maybe the Transit Spirit will blow the teargas straight over to DC and shove their heads up their asses... oh wait, I'm actually hoping for the opposite.) Left mirror shows Betty Beemer stepping on the gas in the left lane, about five car-lengths between my front bumper and the rear of Harry's Hummer on the left... she's gonna shoot the gap and switch lanes sure as shit, buzz in between us and slam on the braks just before eating Dusty's newfangled Duster. Yep, called that one, stopped smoothly before it happened, and you're welcome. Dumbass. (Amazing how many times I call people that in one shift... yeah they deserve it.) Saved another few lives today, especially the "Baby on Board" in the back seat. Bet that doesn't make it on the news tonight... another fool stepped in front of a MAX train earlier. Dirty laundry, Don Henley sang. Oh yeah.

Downtown behind, eastward bound and time to grind. DING! Service the stop, but with doors open and nobody departing, I get a sheepish "I meant the next one, sorry." (Your mama said that when asked if you were "perfection.") "That's an extra five bucks," I say instead with a smile, a few chuckles reward the joke. I roll to the next stop not a hundred yards hence. (Lazy bastard... how's about exiting HERE in penance for your pulling the cord too damn early? Try walking that distance and maybe you'll burn off that Whopper you slammed down before you exited.) Only running six down after the downtown shuffle, but I got a standing load. Easy on that brake, Goofus. Keep 'em standing. (Quiet as a bus full of convicts on their way to the slammer. People so plugged in and tuned out, it's getting worse by the day.) "Okay folks, I don't mind if you eat on board, but we have provided for your convenience not ONE, but TWO trashcans. Remember, the clean bus you're traveling in is the result of my gift to you, spending minutes of my break to clean up after ungrateful sloths. I'm not a maid, and I'm too ugly to be yo mama."

Sure would love trying to lumber across this beauty in a bus.
Sun in my eyes, last round trip. Clouds on the horizon dancing to Grateful Dead tunes in pink and purple leotards. (Wait, I don't drop acid, man. I'm a bus driver! Okay, yeah. I didn't. Honest.) Light bounces off a stop... is that a passenger or just a bum slumming in the shelter? He doesn't look up, I breeze by, he jumps up with his arms extended in a "Hey man!" gesture. Sorry dude, you weren't paying attention. Now maybe you'll be ready for the next bus. (Damn my shoulder aches. Is it bursitis or a quickly-passing stab of guilt for passing that guy up? Give me a sign, dumbass, if you actually want a ride or prefer to stare blindly into space looking for passing aliens.)

Last break of the night. Downtown has settled down into a more peaceful homeless shelter. Sleepers on the sidewalk no longer bum me for a smoke. I'm vaping, but that doesn't matter to the nicotine addict. "Can I toke your vape?" Hell to the fucking nah, dude. Keep your nasty lips on that hooker over there. (Wait, she's a he. Sorry; Lou Reed's song "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" still sticks here.) Still, no, you can't draw my vape

Rolling into the TC to drop off the lone guy snoring in that back seat. Legs splayed across the aisle onto the opposite seat. Remembering Operator Irving Levine (RIP) of Winnipeg, I hesitate before waking him in fear he'll stab me to death. Fuck it, I wanna go home. I rap on a stanchion with my wedding ring, and say gently: "Hey buddy, last stop. You need to wake up now, come on." He opens one squinty eye and focuses on me, just a few feet away. No danger in this guy with a hard hat in his lap. "Shit! I wanted to get off at..." We passed that stop half an hour ago. You work too hard, brother. Next bus is five minutes. "Thanks dude, sorry I worked 14 hours today, 15 yesterday. I'm beat. Rent, child support, you know the drill." I get it. Gotta work three times harder these days just to pay the man for a place to sleep a few hours before going back in to earn enough just to cover the taxes The Man won't be paying due to his one percent suckup deductions. Watch your head, bud, that's it. I'm sorry... if I knew where you wanted to be, I'd have come back and woke you up myself. Next time I'll remember. Working stiffs gotta stick together, brother. You're welcome, sleep well, see you tomorrow, eh?
Deke visits a remote Arizona canyon.
Mr. HardHat and I get out and smoke. Nice guy, smart and friendly after he wakes up a bit. Hangs drywall in another new apartment building no working stiff can afford to live in. I offer him a ride back to his stop, miles down the road. No need for him to wait another 10 minutes; my deadhead is back the way I came  anyway, so what the hell. He smiles, wearily grateful, and accepts with an offered handshake. Another friend made on the battlefield of transit. He falls asleep quickly, reclining in the Priority Seating area. He  thanks me five times after I stop and wake him at his destination. (It's truly my pleasure.)

We help each other "out there." Wish management had MY back like I had this guy's. All in a day's work. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Management's Unhealthy Attitude Threatens Transit

Deke's Note: Self-promotion is painful. It's the only way, unfortunately, for an author just getting his fingers wet. Wait, that sounds perverted. But writers do it with their fingers. I'll stop there, before I step in even deeper. Instead, I'll direct them elsewhere.

The book, as if you don't already know is, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. It was published last November, and so far book sales are in the hundreds. A rather slow start, but with the help of many -- mostly YOU, dear faithful readers -- it needs to reach a wider audience. The reason I compiled this tome of blog posts was to give the Average Joe/Jane a deeper understanding of what it's like to live in the operator's seat of a city bus. The perception of us is extremely biased in some cases, and truly uninformed in most. Here's a taste of what affects us.

Our transit agency, and those elsewhere, want to control the message. They portray us as unskilled, uneducated goofs who get more than we're worth. It's time we blast holes in that shrewd propaganda and become a force to be reckoned with. We are transit; they are overpaid bean counters bent on beating us into submission.

Transit agencies today are largely staffed with corporatists who have never been behind the wheel of anything larger than a BMW. Their attitude toward us is eerily similar to how ordinary motorists treat professional drivers all over the globe. Transit workers are a melting pot of experience not only in transit, but in scores of other careers. We've built things, organized, managed and excelled in other fields prior to becoming operators. Many who have operated in transit for years are often more qualified to manage our agencies than those doing it. In fact, it would be logical if management positions required applicants to have practical experience, but many of them would be lost behind the wheel. A construction foreman who has never driven a nail or textured drywall would not garner the respect of his co-workers.

Why do transit-novice management wonks think we should believe in them? They certainly don't "have our backs" when a largely-unforgiving public assails us on every front. In fact, their behavior suggests and supports the fallacy that operators are the "bad guys." Passenger complaints  often lack a basic understanding of transit procedure, filled with untruths and even sometimes passed on to the wrong operator. Because management spends very little on public education, we become targets for those who believe they know our jobs simply for having "ridden transit for years."

This push for "on-time performance," while maybe logical to the outsider, is a pressure-cooker for operators saddled with congested routes fraught with obstacles of many kinds. Traffic signals are often ill-timed and don't change to maintain a logical flow of traffic. They're on the same timer no matter the time of day. State officials punished an engineer who pointed out that lights are configured using 100-year-old algorithms. Perhaps they should hire some mathematicians and task them with bringing our traffic signals into the 21st century. Too much to ask, I suppose.

Schedules are now more important than safety or passenger service. If I'm late, that "runner" is out of luck. Why? Because I'm not willing to sacrifice my scant break time at the end of the line to pacify someone who is late to the bus stop. It might hurt my "OTP." If my stats show me late too often, I could be called on the carpet. So the runner is, unfortunately, shit outta luck. It's considered heartless, but also the nature of this beast. We can't achieve perfection, and feel lambasted for not doing so. Management coddles its "customers," who are simply passengers on a public conveyance that cannot be perfect.

Given management's lax attitude toward assaults on front line workers, it seems we're more a nuisance to them than one of the most important lug nuts on the wheel. Last count I saw was 45 incidents so far this year, in which Portland transit workers have been beaten, spit upon or otherwise assailed while simply doing our jobs. If we dare defend ourselves, we're "investigated." Some have been suspended, even when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ruled their biological response to an attack. In some cases, operators are harassed for time loss due to physical ailments from attacks. One operator was brutally stabbed, nearly died, and no longer works with us because he said he felt little or no support from management. His physical wounds were severe; his psychological scars will remain for life. This operator was highly popular with the community he served. Passengers still ask how he is, a few years after he retired. He had a powerfully-positive impact on many of them, and they miss him. In any logical environment, his impact would have had value with his employer. Logic insists this be truth. However, transit management has become anything but logical. Instead, it's devolved into a firestorm of contradictory policies and union-busting techniques which add to the incredible stress we already bear.

It's utterly ridiculous, yet we've allowed it to happen. Our ATU 757 election results bear witness to this. Despite the fact that perhaps hundreds of union members didn't receive a ballot in time to cast it, a mere 42% responded. Over half of us are so apathetic, we don't see the MAX train bearing down on us as we lie prone on the tracks. Unless we rise up and form a human chain of decency to fight the beast plotting our demise, we're doomed. Strength comes in loud and powerful numbers, not in individual whispers. They will be drowned out by the stronger voices of those in power.

Transit operators across the USA are experiencing much of the same treatment as we are here in Portland. It began with our right to strike being legislated out of existence, with apparently little or no resistance. Then we found that three decades worth of pensions had not been funded. Instead of taking responsibility for its decades-long deception, our "greed" became the focal point of blame. Management then secretly gave itself millions in raises, and the political puppets of a board wagged a limp finger but meted out no punishment. The GM who presided over this retired this year, but not with "Cadillac" benefits. He will live comfortably for life with Rolls Royce bennies including $15,000 per month and free insurance. I'll likely retire into the back seat of a rusty Pinto on the banks of the Willamette River, management's blade-tipped boot implanted in my behind for daring challenge it.

With unchecked power and no retribution for its clumsy misdeeds, management has grown in number. It says it wants to "improve efficiency," but it doesn't understand many of the basic concepts drilled into every trainee. It's flexing muscle it shouldn't have. We have a HR manager who is openly anti-union and a General Manager who, even though he was fired from his last job as head of a Canadian transit agency, was appointed by the board despite a healthy outpouring of objection from the union and the community-at-large. Transit managers in Portland have run roughshod over a hundred years of honorable service. We are dedicated public employees subject to daily abuse from those we serve in every element thrown (or spit) upon us.

As unions are assailed by a strong arm of the ruling corporate interests which currently run this country, it's time we stop taking punches. With some unity and decisive action, we could develop our own arm and throw a few knockout jabs of our own. Figuratively rather than literally, of course. I wouldn't want some over-sensitive passenger to read this and call in a complaint that I'm "aggressive." Yet, it would be fitting if management suffered a collectively-symbolic educational punch in the nose. Maybe they'd realize we all bleed the same color, and learn some empathy for those who keep them in a job.

It's time each of our individual 800-plus daily passengers learn to use their phone to appreciate us more often. That would sure be a nice departure from the hundreds of their petty whines we find awaiting us after long hours in a poorly-designed seat. Oh, but to dream...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

To Dad With Love

It's Father's Day. Having given you glimpses of my only hero throughout this blog and the book, I have stubbornly protected family details to continue the Deke Mystique. Today, I'll step out on that ever-weakening limb to pay homage to my nonagenarian father, as well as my beloved, departed  mother. It's impossible to separate the two, because they were undeniably one.

I was extremely privileged to have parents who refused to give up on me. I've written about it under my given name, and it deals with a serious prenatal injury that prompted doctors to encourage my parents to place me in an institution and "forget" about me. They refused, and here I am... writing to you rather than suffering the lonesome fate those doomsayers predicted for me. In fact, my parents worked diligently to ensure that I not only succeed, but excel. They didn't push, just simply encouraged. Some might liken my feeble literary efforts to that of an idiot savant. Still, these words have resonated across the globe. If not for that loving belief in me from both parents, I would be lucky to write my name.

Of my siblings, I wasn't the only one who benefited from Ma & Pa's dogged devotion. It's a story worth pursuing, even astonishing, what these lovebirds accomplished for their children.

My brother Willy would surely have died had we remained in the Midwest the remainder of that icy winter five decades ago. Dad and Mom decided he should live, and moved us to the Southwest within a few weeks.

Dad carried Willy to the car. They had little money, knew little to nothing about the Phoenix area, but they had only one goal: Save Willy. (Sorry about the play on words, but it works!) Six weeks later, the former invalid broke his wrist. Running in a race. "But I was winning!" the excited 10-year-old shouted as exultation overcame the asthma which had nearly killed him.

Finding no acceptable education in Arizona for their toddler with Down Syndrome, Dad and Mom decided Monroe should have the same advantages as "normal" kids, and co-founded a school for children with disabilities. That school remains, and I wish they'd rename it in honor of my tirelessly-devoted parents.

Dad believed dreams were simply future accomplishments. Ever since he was treated to a ride in a barnstormer's plane in the 1930s, he wanted to learn how to fly. In Arizona, he earned his pilot's license. He bought a 1947 Aeronca Champ, and restored its fabric outer skin. For my eighth birthday, he flew me to a remote lake. After a day of fishing (perhaps the last time I caught more than one tiny fish), we slept out under the wing of the 'Champ. Just me and Dad... yeah.

When my father's employer transferred him 150 miles away from our newly-established home, our folks decided he would live there during the week and return on weekends rather than once again uproot my high-school aged brothers. As a result, Ma was the sole parent ruling four unruly boys. I was third, four years junior to my next-oldest brother, and life was rough for me. In their wisdom, another life-altering decision resulted in two wonderful years as Dad's only child during the week, back to an entire family for the weekend. He even flew me to school on Mondays! We spent our time in a cabin nestled up against a beautiful wilderness area. It was the best time of my childhood, and I cherish the memories we made together.

Giving in to my incessant begging, Dad taught me to drive on those remote dirt roads. Knowing a youngster given the chance to drive would listen more readily than a teenager, Dad relented. His driving lessons remained with me in high school as I tore up Main Street and many a desert trail. They echoed within me whether I drove a big rig or the family car. They were also repeated by my bus driving trainers.

Each step of my adulthood, I've learned how valuable my parents' lessons were. I didn't know it then, but today and forevermore, yes. It was likely solidified on one of our countless wilderness walks. Dad put his hand on my shoulder in a tender moment as we kneeled at a wild stream than runs no longer. I was 12, happy and truly loved. Girls had not yet become my main focus... Dad still reined supreme.

"Drinking from this creek is a privilege you might not enjoy later in life," he told me. "Drink now, and remember it later."

I always will. Not only did I savor that sweet drink, I've never forgotten its taste. Thanks for truly being the best father anyone could have ever hoped for. If I work even harder, perhaps someday I'll become at least half the man you are.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Perilous Pendejos and Mangle Magnets

First week of a new signup, on a route that I haven't driven in a while, and a host of interesting (nice-word substitute) traffic behaviors to get used to. Yeah, I'm enjoying a tasty glass of the Irish tonight. Time for some keyboard therapy.

In the past, I've admonished motorists for their poor driving habits, but I think it's time to change things up. Instead, here's "New Road Rules Per Portland Motorist Majority (PMM)."

It doesn't matter, Operator Blue, that you're transporting 40+ people and I'm driving Mom's 1985 Honda modified to sound even stupider than it looks. You're in my way! Even though half your rush-hour load are medical professionals headed home after 12 hours patching up fools like me, I don't have time to waste waiting for you to let them off. I need to get to that red light first so I can tailgate the other slowpokes in my way. Your Yield light is a joke. Get a real job, Blue Shirt... like mine, flipping boogers into the burglet turds I fry all day. Besides, I have to beat my best score on the old-school Nintendo in Mom's basement while she cooks my food and folds my laundry.
Deke: Does she wipe your butt for you after you poop, too? Look Junior, I was driving before your mommy was a coke snort in her high school dropout papa's nostrils. My Yield light isn't a request or a suggestion, it's the law. One of these days, Perry Patrolman will catch you and make Mommy pay a hefty fine for your reckless driving. If you live that long.

PMM: What Crosswalk? Hell nah!
So what, I'm supposed to wait for you to load 10 people before I can make my right turn from the lane you're hogging? Get real. I'll just zip around you and turn right before you can get going again. Easy pleasy. OOPS! WTF?!? Why are your passengers walking in that crosswalk? Are they stupid? Hey! You almost just hit me as I made that right turn from the left lane! Aren't you guys supposed to be "professionals?"
Deke: Yes, we are professionals. That's why Mom's junker isn't a twisted piece of metal  with my passenger nurses trying to keep your blood from spilling all over the upholstery. It's another good reason Mommy won't let you drive her 2018 F-350 with dualies and a pair of man-danglies off the trailer hitch. That poor teenager was nearly splashed across your windshield. Good thing I honked at her to get her attention so she stopped just short of your front bumper. Dumbass. Did you flunk Driver's Ed in addition to fifth grade Reading?

PMM: Speed Limits Are For Sissies
Nobody drives the limit, that's only a suggestion for wimps like bus drivers and girly boys.
Deke: My ride is a 20-ton 40-foot-long unforgiving bastard. Hardly a machine "wimps" could handle. Put you in this seat and you'd hit something (or worse, somebody) within the first minute. Yeah, I'm tooling along about six miles an hour less than the speed limit. Why? Because I drive this road several times a day, and I've timed each traffic light on the route so I can tell precisely when that red light (with 10 cars waiting for it to change) will go green again. Using the air-brake pedal hundreds of times a day makes one conservative on its use. Otherwise, this foot I'd love to shove up your impatient ass would ache even worse than it does now. See that? You raced around me into the wrong lane, and now I'm sailing past with a shit-eating grin on my face. You lose, as usual.

PMM: That's Not a Turning Lane, It's MY Passing Lane!
Why should I wait in this single lane for you to do your stupid bus driving crap? I'll just zip by you, even when you're trying to get that big piece of shit rolling again and had your stupid "Yieldy Light" blinking for five seconds already. Screw you, I'll do what I want. See? Even that cop did it.
Deke: That cop is a lawbreaker too. If I had the power, I'd cite his ass for Failure to Yield, along with the five other cars that broke the law behind him. You nearly creamed that car head-on waiting to execute a perfectly-legal left turn as I left my stop. You were well behind me, but sped up and passed me in the turn lane. That's not only illegal, it's a maneuver that even a three-year-old would wince at. Your balls are bigger than your brain, Billy Beemer.

PMM: If I Pretend Not to See A Sign, It's Not There
Everyone knows the cops don't patrol your joke of a Downtown Transit Mall. I'm in a hurry to get to the big sale at the pot store. The joint I just finished in the Transit Lane the light previously was my last bud. That "bus lane" should be a right-turn lane, so I'm taking it. Oops, people are crossing, I'll just wait and make you miss the green light. I don't care you're honking, too bad.
Deke: My transit light just turned red, a MAX train is bearing down on your rear bumper, and I honked to warn that guy in a wheelchair that you're not watching out for him. Dude had to stop in front of a train about to cream him because he's invisible to your lane-and-crosswalk-blocking inattentive ass. That bicyclist in the transit lane behind you isn't helping me either. Try a CBD strain, and maybe you wouldn't be such a dork behind the wheel. May the fleas of a thousand camels breed within your tighty-whities, Leather Tongue.

PMM: You Almost Hit Me! I'm Calling to Tell on You!
You turned onto a street you're not supposed to be on! I was waiting to turn left and you barely missed me! I thought you knew how to drive that thing!
Deke: Stifle, Arrogant AudiBoy. I had to re-route because of some catastrophe further down on my route. We're often treated to route diversions, and my turn there was not only legal, but beautifully-executed. Due to several years of operating this beast, I know within inches where my bus will be at any given time. Yeah, our front bumpers were momentarily inches apart, but in bus driver jargon, I missed you by a mile. Give me a thumbs up for my incredible skill instead of a temper tantrum in sign language, you middle-fingered novice. I also managed to not scrape my rear end on two telephone poles and a fire hydrant as I gently rolled over the curb so my passengers didn't even feel the bump. How about instead, you call in and tell them how perfectly I executed that maneuver? I bet next time you rent a U-Haul, it comes back with fresh scrapes and dents. My bus was perfect when I rolled it into the yard that night.

PMM: When I Yell At You, I Expect You to Listen!
You almost ran into me when I had to stop unexpectedly. And when I got out of my car to give you a piece of my mind, you ignored me!
Deke: First, you passed my flashing "YIELD," then cut back in front in front of me before slamming on the brakes to avoid creaming the heiney of that Hyundai stopped at the red light. I was slowing, with several car lengths between me and your near-rear victim when you zipped unexpectedly from the turn lane and negated my 15-foot cushion. That space ahead of me is not intended to be an invitation for violation; it's my safety zone. Why would you make such a foolish move with Snoozin' Sally is in the back seat? Are you stoned? Most likely. As for your road rage, I can't tell who has a knife or gun tucked in their purse or waistband. Good thing I shut my window in time, because it diverted your lugey-spitball onto my mirror, a much better place than in my face. Thank me for saving Sally's wee little life, or shut up and get back in your dented-up rust bucket.

PMM: That Light Was Yellow When I Decided to Run the Red
So what I was following that tractor-trailer so closely I couldn't see the traffic signal was clearly red when I entered the intersection? You don't have to honk at me, you simpleton bus driver! My girlfriend texted me right then and she's more important than anyone else.
Deke: That light was so red when you zipped through, hummingbirds flocked to it. My light was already green before you even hit the near-side crosswalk. I honked because you almost slammed into the phone-stoned pedestrians who looked up from their screens long enough to see a green light, and stepped into the street without seeing you. Wait an extra minute and STOP. It won't hurt, I promise. If you'd hit those pedestrians, you'd be chilling in a 6x8 cell while they bled onto the sheets of a gurney. You're welcome.

* * * * *

Oh dear, I could go on and on and on... but you get the picture. Give Deke a week, and his words reek... of foolish escapades of those whose hands don't belong on a wheel. Now it's time for some kudos.

* * * * *

Big trucks. Wow, these guys and gals are some of the best on the road at any given time. Whether local or long-haul, they're aware. You don't always see it, because they're on-high you're on the down-low. But those eyes are constantly moving, making sure their 100,000 pounds don't ruin your day/life. I've seen so many instances of their saving lives "out there" that I can't let this professionalism pass without comment. Thank you, brothers and sisters of bigger beasts. You let me back into traffic 9.9/10 times more than Bubba Lil' 4x4 Wanna Be Big Truck it amazes me. I was you once upon a time, and I know how hard it is to maneuver those rigs. Good job!

Emergency Vehicles. You're trying to save lives, maybe even the mother of that bozo who won't get out of your way because the rap thump has damaged his hearing so much your blaring sirens don't even put a dent in his speakers' noise. Rolling into oncoming traffic lanes, weaving through ignorants who refuse to pull to the right, avoiding all kinds of danger to yourselves so you can aid someone in dire need. You're not paid enough for what you do. I will do everything I can to clear your path. Who knows? It could be somebody in my family who needs you. No matter; we're all in your debt. Thank you, and may you safely finish each shift.

Responsible Motorists. Words cannot adequately express my appreciation for you. When you flash your lights at me after four nincompoops have blown by my Yield, I give you a special wave of thanks. Slowing down ahead of me, I see you are trying to give a pedestrian at a risky crosswalk their legal right-of-way. Risking a rear-end collision from Road Raging Ronnie, you slow to stop when the light ahead turns yellow. In heavy traffic at a four-way stop, you yield your right-of-way to the bus who has a full load, likely running late, so we can turn when a spot opens after a two-minute wait.

* * * * *

There you have it. The good, bad and undeniably ugly of Portland traffic. I'm sure people all over our shared blue marble can relate. Unfortunately, those who recognize traffic hazards and react responsibly are becoming more rare. Still, it's possible to imagine improvement. I hope your travels are shared with those who see danger and protect you from it. Bus operators sure practice this every shift... we could use some help. Patience, my fellow grasshoppers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

VOTE! Your Union Depends On It

Don't let the sun set on your chance to make a difference.
Questions answered, project complete. The candidates have had their say here, and I'm happy to have had their participation.

Now, it's time for the union membership to decide who will lead us forward the next few years. It's vital to vote in these elections. There are some who are apathetic. They seem to believe their votes "don't matter." I've heard from a newbie who doesn't understand the complexities of the issues dividing the candidates, and asked me to explain them. Even after five years of blogging, I am not qualified to tell anyone how they should vote. I was confused as well when I was a rookie operator. It took a lot of questions, talking to experienced operators, and meeting the candidates before my votes were cast. Even then, questions remained. When it was all over, I felt it imperative to show respect to the victors and offer my support for the good of the whole. I still believe that way. As stated before, I believe that a divided union is a weak one. Harboring resentments creates negative outcomes; if you cannot forgive it's extremely difficult to accomplish anything positive.

Some are unhappy with the current officers, others believe one term isn't a sufficient amount of time for an officer to prove their worthiness. Another train of thought is that too many terms makes them complacent or stale. Still others believe those running for office should have some experience in union business to prepare them for higher office. However, that shouldn't automatically disqualify a candidate. Sometimes, inexperience can propel an enthusiastic and newly-elected officer to be a quick study and hit the ground running. Others who have fought battles for their fellow members are wise in the ways management deals with its most-valuable employees.

There are arguments for and against experience in a union position prior to running for higher office. Each candidate for higher office has described vastly-different ideas on how to move us forward. I agree with some, disagree with others. It is impossible for me to believe however, that any of them want anything but the best for the membership that is possible.

We are experiencing a volatile period in American politics on the national level. The country is so divided as to be reminiscent of the decade prior to the Civil War. In its aftermath, the union Lincoln so eloquently tried to preserve remained philosophically divided. Wounds from that war remain today. Even if President Lincoln had lived, would he have been able to bind this nation's wounds? Not likely. Given today's atmosphere, it seems we're moving backwards rather than coming together. It's vital to our survival as middle class workhorses to speak up and assert the power of a united front. If we continue to be divided, we are simply conquered.

Yes, your vote "counts." So does your participation. It would be nice to attend a union meeting during which solidarity reigns, but they seem to devolve into bickering between factions. Of course, members who have questions about how matters are being handled should voice their concerns. Leaders should listen, and I believe they do. But with such a diverse membership, leaders have to move forward based on their own beliefs about what's possible in dealing with a volatile management. Sometimes, this results in disappointment and lingering resentment. There are rarely easy answers to the issues we all face. Leaders are human after all, and therefore prone to making mistakes. Lord knows I've made plenty of goofs in my life, some very costly. Learning from them is what keeps me afloat.

For some, their voting decisions are simple. They either approve of the current leadership or desire a change in direction. It's cut and dry for them. But for those just getting their feet wet, they're afraid that a wrong step will land them in quicksand. Those of us in between veterans and noobs are still unsure sometimes. Nevertheless, our union is all that stands between US and management. Talk to your union reps, get to know them. Don't blindly follow one faction just to "go with the flow." Use your minds; we have to as transit workers. The lives of thousands depend on our ability to make sound decisions. If you weren't capable, you wouldn't be here.

My ballot is in. Whoever wins will have my support. I may not always agree with them, but I pledge to stand united in solidarity with those who represent US.

Newbies, your vote counts just as much as any other. VOTE!