Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bright White and Blood Red

Deke's Note: As I watched this blog's stats grow unnaturally by 10,000 hits in the past month, I realized it was an anomaly. I should just write, as usual, what came to mind. This blog's life ebbs and flows just like our lives. It was nothing but a blip in the stats. It was truly gratifying indeed, but not anything but the strangeness of the modern web and the weird phenomenon of virtual private networks. Someone found this blip and shared it. Nothing more. All I knew was the whine of wheels and air brakes on the city streets. This is what happened in between the stops.

It was strange, pulling up to a four-way intersection to find every car at every direction in an intersection was... white. Was I in some 1940s propaganda film? NO. Each one of them was from 1998 or sooner. Surreal, it was. Toyota, Mercedes, Range Rover, Buick, Honda, GMC, Ford, all represented. It felt as if I was part of a Twilight Zone episode, my multi-colored but white-based bus the lone exception.

The USA is an amalgamation of all colors of the rainbow, and Portland especially fits that specific range of demographics. Was it a sign, this sudden and unexpected sight? It was rather unnerving to be a white guy in a sea of white. Not just every car at the first position in each direction, but every... fucking... car... beyond it. I even heard the old TV show host Rod Serling speaking as I sat there pondering the odds against such a spectacle.

Drive a bus long enough, and the sights you're treated to multiply as the years pass by. Usually, traffic rolling by is multi-colored. As I sat at this red light, I searched for faces in this sea of blinding white. They were black, brown, white, and other colors as well. It's actually rare to see many white vehicles up here in the Great Nor'west. Mostly they're blue, red or black. To see a sea of white was blinding in more ways than one, and a bit unnerving as well.

Had I, to that point in time, witnessed cars of one other color in all directions? Decidedly not. As one who drives a 10-hour shift every five days of his week, I see tens of thousands of other vehicles. Just one weird occurrence on my part, but noteworthy nonetheless. I think. I still don't know what to make of it, except that it was one of those strange things that happens when you drive for a living.

* * * * *

A few minutes early to a transit center, I looked forward to a stretch and a puff on my vape as I rolled in. After welcoming new passengers, I informed my folks we were a bit early and I was going to enjoy the evening air while I stretched my aches and pains. As I exited, I saw a man face-down on the sidewalk just behind my bus and ahead of my brother who was at a layover.

Examining him, I noticed a pool of blood had collected beneath the poor guy's head. He was unconscious, and my attempts to revive him failed. Noticing my brother in the seat in the bus behind my idling ride, I walked up to his door. We've known each other for years. He nodded at the prone figure ahead of his bus and told me he had hit "Priority Request to Talk" and was waiting upon a reply.

"I can't rouse the guy," I said. "He's bleeding from his head and unconscious."

"Didn't see what happened to him," my buddy replied. "I've already sent a message and will request they send medical."

I knelt down for a close visual, and the man was breathing, but clearly unconscious. The blood continued dripping into the pool under his quivering lips.

"Hey buddy," I said, gently rubbing his shoulder, "help is on the way. I know you're not okay, but I'm here." No response.

Nobody else around, except me and the unconscious one. He didn't flinch or give any indication he heard me. That was worrisome. Then, I noticed two people standing nearby. I asked them to come in closer. One of them knelt down and spoke softly into the wounded man's ear, rubbing his shoulder simultaneously. This brought him about a bit. He looked up, but the man soothed him.

"It's okay," he said softly, "we're here to help you. Can you hear me? Don't try to get up, you're injured."

He looked up at me, and I just nodded. "Help is on the way," I said.

The wounded man was confused, and rose his head to look into my eyes. One of his pupils was dilated.

"Don't get up," I told him, my own hand on his shoulder. "You've been hurt, and we want to keep you safe."

"That blood on the sidewalk is yours," the bystander said. He took the man's sweater and placed it under his head. "Just lie down and rest."

Instead, the man rose to a sitting position. Mr. Bystander held him steady.

"Help is on the way," I repeated, watching my brother on the radio with Dispatch. "Just sit here and you'll be okay. We got ya."

When my brother affirmed that rescue units were en route, I told him I would roll. The bystanders assured me they would stay with the wounded man until paramedics arrived. There was nothing more I could do, and my passengers had to be somewhere. These Sidewalk Angels assured me they would stay with him until help arrived, so I waved to my brother and boarded my bus to roll again.

This is life as a transit operator. We see things we'd rather not, but upon any disaster, we respond. Who could deny a fellow human assistance in their time of need? I certainly cannot, nor do my brothers and sisters. Your professional transit operator simply cannot ignore disasters.

My operator's hat is tipped to the two bystanders who stepped in to assist someone in need, and remained with him until help arrived. I also applaud my fellow operator who willingly forsake his precious break time to help a fellow man in need of desperate attention.

"Go ahead and roll, I'll write the report," he said. An extra 45 minutes of time for him, but a shortened break on the other side of the line.


"Shepherds of the public safety," our brother the Rampant Lion often says, "sacrificing for the common good."

I hope he's okay, the poor fellow. His blood stain remained red as I passed through next time. Had he been knocked over the head and mugged? Did he trip and fall, hitting his head on his way down? He was too dazed to explain. All I could do was shake my head and hope. I thought of him, and prayed for his ultimate health, the rest of my shift.

That's enough for one week. I'm tired, and the sun is rising. Heading to bed, looking forward to a late-afternoon massage and the company of my beloved. Meanwhile, stay safe, ya mugs.



Monday, June 17, 2019

Why I Still Drive a Bus


Deke's Note: Yes, I'm angry. I admit it and am actively working to deal with this passing emotion. When I began writing this blog, I promised to document my life on six wheels. It's an honest admission, one which many refuse to admit feeling. This is an emotion I embrace, for if I did not, my life would be a fiery hell not worth living. It's just another speed bump in the life of a bus driver. Don't like it? Well what happens when I roll safely past? Will you not read again simply because I admit my anger? Are you afraid of the same emotion I describe? Stay tuned... your Deke is constantly evolving... as a bus operator AND as a human being.

When the route you drive is the last one to anywhere, especially to one of many light rail termini, the trip is usually a combination of all you have driven all day up to that point. Like Forrest Gump would say, "You never know what you gonna get."

Perhaps one of the few high points of this career is providing transport to those who are decent, hard-working blue collar workers. They ride the bus for collectively numerous reasons, the main one being it's a cost-effective means of transportation. Many have eschewed private for public transport. Rent is prohibitively-expensive in Portland, and owning a vehicle is an expense many simply cannot afford. Gas, maintenance, insurance... it can mean the difference between a decent pad or a grassy knoll in any assassin's lair. A great majority of our blue-collar populace depend upon our transit system to transport them safely from home to workplace, then back again. That's all we are... a service. If it's a smooth roll, all the better. Anyone who throws a wrench into our duals is met with righteous annoyance, simple amusement, or outright fury. The one malfeasant in a thousand who causes trouble is likely to experience it a thousand-fold if he/she interferes with the daily transport of those who actually pay for their ride.

The best part of my job is the connection I make with those who ride daily. They are sturdy people who work hard every day, scarcely-absent from the jobs which make our city. Whenever you marvel about the precision with which any metropolis works, think of those who toil for actual pennies a day (in comparison to what Big Money rolls in from our collective efforts), and those are the faces who ride my bus. They were raised by parents who also worked struggled every day of their working lives to pay the bills which only grew, while their salaries lagged behind. These people are the backbone of every economy the past 150 years. Our worries increase much more rapidly than what we are paid for our efforts, and the rewards dwindle with every generation. Still, we rise every day to meet the struggle of our working family. Gay, straight, whatever, we get up and trudge to the same torture each day for less and less. Our dreams fade with every sunset, our retirements become the  nightmares of what should be revitalizing rest. The Stairway to Heaven we envision as a reward for our toils becomes a Highway to Hell as we realize our efforts will not pay much of a reward when all is said and done.

People have said my writing is "angry." Yeah, you're absolutely correct. I'm pissed off as much as any other middle-class American could be. You vote for the wrong party when it makes nonsensical promises while raising your taxes, robbing your retirement for an already-mighty military, and denigrating those of us who have already made this country the most awesome land in the world. Both political parties have their faults, yet I hold my nose on Election Day and choose who I think is the lesser of evils.

Those politicians who use religion to bolster their position are false prophets, and are usually untrustworthy. If Jesus Christ Himself came back today, he would likely sleep with those under the Burnside Bridge than those who own riverfront condos and give freely to TV evangelists to fly worldwide on congregational-paid private jets. He would pull poisoned fish from the Willamette River for the obscenely-rich, while saving the wild salmon for those who suffer mental illness and have no roof over their heads.

That's why I don't like organized religion. If you're truly a "holy" being, you already know what's righteous. Your life reflects a time-honored decency and you don't need some preacher to explain. The problem with society these days is that it is too easily conned. There is very little independent thought, little respect for historical intelligence, and too much collective hatred for "others." We fear what we do not understand, therefore we push aside common sense and adhere to what we're told to think. Once we come together and have honest discussions, most people find that we have more in common than we previously believed.

I don't care who you love, it's not my concern. All I want is for us all to treat each other with the same respect you want your neighbor to do for you. If we all work hard, it should collectively count for something. When all we do is work with little reward at the final quarter of our lives, something is seriously amiss. If a group of people march or protest in honor of what they believe, only to be met by those who simply oppose what they feel is "wrong" because of what religion or popular belief dictates, therein lies a horrible disconnect in human harmony.

When you pee in a public restroom, do you look at the person next to you? Usually not. If you do, what does that say about you? It's an intensely-personal thing to urinate. Normal people tend to ignore those around us in a restroom. If you're actively searching for someone "different" in this moment, what does that say about you? I don't care if the person next to me is of the same sex, religion, race, creed, or sexual identity as me. All that matters is that I void the pressure in my bladder. If any words are exchanged with those on either side of me, they are banal or quickly forgotten. It does not matter what we say. We likely will never see each other again.

As I started writing this paragraph, one of my favorite tunes began to play. My father was The Leader of the Band. Dad taught me that everyone is unique, deserving of the same respect he commanded. He was of an era which endured a Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the dawning of the Nuclear and Age of Aquarius. As long as people are honorable and honest, he didn't care who they slept with. It's none of our business. If they defend his beloved country from aggressors and uphold their promise to defend the Constitution of the United States, they are free to have sex with whoever they damn well want. I happen to agree with Dad, wholeheartedly and without shame.

When somebody boards my bus, I smile at them. They are human, deserving of my initial respect and courtesy. They pay for their ride, or not. I don't care either way. I used to care about fare, but as my brothers and sisters became punching bags, it no longer mattered. It's not worth becoming a statistic, especially when Fare Inspectors will eventually weed out the fare evaders. My job is to safely drive a bus from Point A to B. It's only important that I comport myself with courtesy, pride and honor, and that I provide the safest possible roll. That's all. My beliefs are not important. There is no reason for me to judge someone, unless they become a danger to others. As long as my passengers abide by transit code and basic decency, all I have to do is roll six wheels. I've come to accept that I have no authority except that which resides in my soul. To impose this personal moral code upon my passengers is to invite the fury of our watered-down management. They want to please the public even if it means I'm beaten bloody or even killed. They'll protect you over me. Every... damn... time. If you kill me, they will search for something I did to provoke you.

If you insult me, fine. Just keep it on the down low, and we're okay. I'm big enough to realize you need to hurt people to feel good. You'll leave my bus within 20 minutes on average, and your insults will eventually be forgotten. Goodbye Dipshit, and don't let the door hit your nasty ass upon exiting. Fuck off and good luck with your sorry ass once off my safe ride. Bye bye. No biggie, you're insignificant in comparison to the decent folks still on board.

Once I roll into my final stop, whether it be on Track 25 or 95, I have successfully provided my city an invaluable service. After 125+ daily miles of safe travels, each insult has rolled off my shoulder. I will head home to a loving wife and family. And that, my friends, makes it all worthwhile. If you had half of the love I feel when I arrive safely at home, then you're twice as lucky.

Thanks for riding, and for having my back. I'll be back tomorrow, if you're ready to ride.




Friday, June 14, 2019

Dear VPN Readers:



Perusing my blog's stats this week, I found a massive surge in hits due to the phenomenon known as the Virtual Private Network (VPN). While I was once very tech-savvy, I've been out of the biz for a decade now, and I'm a bit confused.

FTDS is read around the world, which is very gratifying. But now I see VPN's account for the largest amount of hits, even more than the good ol' USA, Canada and others which recently made up my biggest audience. I know enough to realize people anywhere are bouncing off of servers all over the place, making their origin impossible to track. As an artist, this is both mystifying and gratifying. While these readers are very welcome, I don't know where you are. Are you actually reading my blog, or is there some sort of payback you receive from bouncing off my blog? Confess, you anonymous hitters, I'm curious!

I've seen my hits bounce up drastically from 50-200 on a non-posting "quiet" day to 500-1000. The artist in me wants to think my words are having an impact on a larger audience, while the realist in me wonders what's really happening here.

Can anyone explain this to me? If you don't want to comment publicly on this blog, please email me (yes, I know that's an ancient form of communication, but hey... I'm grey matter now) at deaconinblue@gmail.com.

Either way, thanks for reading. If you've read anything here at all, you know I'm white noise on the internet when it comes to transit. I try to keep you informed of one thing: what I'm thinking as I drive a bus for a metropolitan transit agency. That's why I'm here, period. If you think I'm doing okay, enjoy my self-therapy, or even wish I'd branch out (which I'm working on), please let me know. Artists need feedback to grow, positive or critical. I'm a big boy... and I can take it.

What say you, Virtual Readers?!? Don't be shy.

Respectfully and with gratitude, I am
Deke N. Blue
FromTheDriverSide

Badge 0202

Deke's Note: As promised, I've invited a few of our brothers and sisters to write guest posts on FromTheDriverSide during my hiatus. The first response was from Badge 0202, and after a few weeks working with this operator, I'm very impressed with his initial foray into bloggery.



Attack on

the Jerry Springer Express


by Badge 0202




THE ASSAULTS 

They've come home...

A few weeks back I was threatened with physical harm over a simple misunderstanding. I have had my hat knocked off my head while driving, been screamed at directly into my ear, called every racist name in the book and then some, and told I would be killed numerous times. What happens? The people are off at the next stop and you're in the wrong and left to pick up the shattered pieces. 

Recently a training classmate and dear friend was sexually assaulted. She was running a rough route late at night. Her assailant had been kicked off a bus previously by a Road Supervisor. As he was leaving the bus he ran his hands along her inner thigh. Where the whole story gets messy is here. This rider had been kicked off the bus, just two buses ahead for whatever reason. There was no heads up about this guy. No message over the CAD. Just silence. Our sister had no warning a possible assailant awaited her bus. It makes for a dangerous situation and an environment ripe for these type of assaults to happen.

Management will throw us under the bus any chance they can, they got a whole fleet of them too. Just wait your turn, it'll come. This agency has the local media on lockdown. This transit agency is deathly afraid of bad publicity. Management's No-Fare-Free-Ride policy, coupled with Oregon having the least mental health services in the country for two straight years, is putting its public service workers in great danger.

Two people were killed and one grievously injured two years ago on the MAX. A working Joe asks a few kids to turn down their music on the MAX. What do they do? They beat the hell out of him and break his jaw in front of his family.



THE UNION

Our union should be our greatest defender, and the public's as well! They're here to stand up to TriMet, to be our voice. We're left wondering: where are our leaders? It feels like their only interest is themselves.

I became a shop steward because I want to help my fellow brothers and sisters, and to be a strong voice on their behalf. I love helping my fellow operators. The Top Three Executive Board members need to go. They don't stand up for us. They continually dictate policy on bloated ridership numbers.

I'm tired of us being punching bags. I'm sick of my brothers and sisters being put in dangerous and hostile situations. I'm not afraid of authority. Actually, I despise it! You know that saying: "You gotta respect authority." B.S. Authority needs to earn my respect.



Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Music in the Key of Deke




Deke's Note: In my quest for peace and calm in this screaming soul, I usually turn to music. This post is a wander through the musical woods of my life, past and present. Wherever you see a link, click on it and take a waltz through one of my favorite tunes. It's just a good time for this post. I've hit the crossroads, and I'm changing directions. Mama always used to say: "If you have nothing nice to say, best not say anything at all." Hopefully, this will be a nice departure for us both.

As a newbie on this job, there were many new "Beginnings." First job which required I wear a wristwatch, but Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? It could be anywhere between 25 or 6 to 4, but during a Harvest Moon who cares? When I was the New Kid in Town, there was so much to learn, and write about in here. Now, I struggle within the Sound of Silence.

Someday I hope to shed this Deke pen name altogether, to stand up and shout I Am, I Said, even if... to no one there. If and when this happens, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Management might not enjoy this blog, but when folks read and comment, You Make Me Feel Brand New. I guess it will be time to "come out" One of These Nights. Doing this, however, might start a Wildfire, so I'll have to make sure I'm not Out In the Country.

Lately as I drive during rush hour, I softly sing Traffic Jam to myself. I would use the PA, but I hate tomato on my uniform. It's all I can do just to get to the End of the Line to enjoy a short break. We deal with so many who complain about our ride, or expect special favors for $2.50. I tell them they're free to take a Taxi, and then I would have One Less Bell to Answer. When they get uppity and rude, I don't put up with their bullshit. You'll never see the Tracks of My Tears, especially in the Summertime, when I kick you off. Walking is good for the temper. Of course to do something like that takes True Grit, because I would rather Shower the People who ride my bus with kindness. I'd rather they stay and have an intelligent conversation. In today's world of strife and violence, it's I prefer to preach like the Reverend Green, when he implores us: Let's Stay Together.

And When I Die, truly hope there is a Stairway to Heaven, because my heart is in the right place. That's The Way I Always Heard It Should Be, but I must hold on to my faith.

When it's Late in the Evening, how I wish there were Someone to Watch Over Me, as that would ultimately be Gentle On My Mind. Usually, my solitude is shattered by someone Killing Me Softly as they sing a horrible rendition of the classic Rubberband Man. I'd rather the Doobies get on board and serenade me with Southside Midnight Lady. Or if Dad could come back, I could thank my Leader of the Band for his masterful teachings and guidance. Maybe he'd bring Satchmo down with him and remind me What a Wonderful World this once was... I miss him too.

Your Deke was a wee lad when he first heard The Unicorn Song, singing along in his child soprano voice. When our family moved to Arizona, my mind wondered what would happen By the Time I Get to Phoenix. A few weeks later I found a wonderful TV show for kids there, and happily whistled along to the Wallace and Ladmo Theme Song every day after school.

As I grew into a man, I was often Head Over Heels in love with some cute girl, especially one with Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. Maybe her name was Suzanne, or even Judy Blue Eyes, but then Jesse broke my heart. There was surely a Melissa who ranked high, but then my Bear came along and we danced on a Sea Cruise. Later, I commiserated over past loves with my buddy Josh, and we sang Pancho and Lefty together as the whisky flowed over our heads.

Nowadays, I'm often one to Listen to the City as I wonder if my writing career will mirror that of the poor bastard Mr. Tanner. It's always possible I could become a Wichita Lineman, but it's more likely my beloved will whisper You Can Close Your Eyes as I enter into my final rest.

Thanks for hanging around so long. Hope you enjoyed my musical roll.

With love and appreciation,
Deke N. Blue


Sunday, June 2, 2019

My "Non-Post" Entry for Today

My office, caged in and treated with less respect
than a zoo animal. But I do the job with an honor
instilled upon me by the legions of those much better
at it than I could ever hope to be.
It's very hard for me NOT to write a post when I normally would. Just hang in there. I'm working on improving not only my personal self, but my writing personality as well. It's been six years since I first hopped onto this bloggery, and hopefully you've taken a ride with this bus driver explaining how it feels to drive "in the seat."

You may not agree with my writing, but that's okay. I've made mistakes along the way, but only because my opinion cannot always mesh with yours. I won't apologize for this. It's just one bus driver talking to others or our passengers, perhaps even the occasional visitor who is neither. Either way, I'm here. That's all I know, whether I entertain, or simply piss you off. I'm just here, man.

Six years and almost 300,000 hits is a pretty incredible run. I'm still employed by the transit agency I often emotionally abuse when their antics require criticism. If I fail to describe my time as a bus operator for whatever moment in time as I feel necessary, it's only because there's not much to say.

Just like this post...

Our Summer Signup begins today. I wish all the best for those of us who brave the violence "out there" while providing our fellow citizens with a safe and smooth ride for virtual pennies every hour they ride.

May was an extremely-sad month for all of us. We, as a worldwide family, lost two operators (that I'm aware of) to senseless murder. Frankly, it sent me into a downward tailspin that has required me to seek counseling. I'm depressed, scared and angry. It's not a good place to be in this occupation. I only want to provide a safe and friendly ride to my passengers. When I feel like this, it does none of us any good. So please bear with me. I readily admit when I need help, and have reached out for counseling. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and will actively seek professional help to help me better cope with this difficult time in my personal and professional life.

My posts may be sporadic, sometimes lengthy tirades, but still... I write for all of you. Why? Because through all the strife and turmoil, I will always love you. It's all I have, this tremendous feeling of comaraderie and fellowship we share as transit operators. It ranks a close second to the constant love and support from my incredible wife, children, brothers and sisters in blood as well as those in solidarity. If I don't keep in touch with my soul, it could easily be lost. If that were to happen, I would be but a soon-forgotten statistic to my employer, but an enormous hole in this beloved family we have collectively created.

Peace and safe travels be with you all your days, and for those who love you,
Deke N. Blue

Sunday, May 26, 2019

My Week As A Bus Operator

About as close a "selfie" as
Deke N. Blue
has ever come close to.
#BANDTOGETHER
IN SOLIDARITY!

Deke's Note:
Our recently-departed ATU International President Larry Hanley once told me he wanted someone to write a book about "A Day in the Life" of a transit operator. While I thought my book "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" fit that bill, it was a bit more broad than what President Hanley was thinking of. So this post, after a dreadfully-tense week of murder and untimely death, is dedicated to our departed brothers in the daily struggle known as "transit."

Monday: Back already? Is this a recurring nightmare, or was I in this torture chamber just moments ago? About 48 hours ago, actually. It feels as if I just set the brake in the yard and hopped out with a gargantuan sigh of relief... to be FREE again! But alas, here I go once more.

Up two-and-a-half hours prior to "go time." Shower, groom, dress, prepare lunch and drinks, check the weather to determine which outer wear is vital. Best to prepare for the worst; we say if you don't like the weather in Portland, just wait five minutes. Kiss and hug my beloved. Out the door and into the car. Get to the garage and find a parking place, transit to my road relief point 30 minutes early and earn that whopping two bucks and change relief pay; pennies per hour for an insult. Fill up the water bottle, chat with a brother or sister or several. Potty check (getting too old to say "Oh I'll just go later"). repeat Daily Mantra (yes, I still do after all these years), text my beloved sweet everythings. Climb aboard: water in bottle holder, backpack on the hook with flavored water in outside pocket. Log into display terminal, fare password input. Meanwhile...

"No reroutes, bus running fine, just the usual dumbasses and traffic freaks," the operator tells me, obviously relieved to be leaving. He's looking forward to retirement just weeks away. I'll be lucky if I make it that long. As I begin to roll, my body morphs into Bus Driver Guy mode. Minute seat and mirror adjustments take place the first five minutes. My gaze settles onto the road 12-20 seconds ahead and what lurks behind. I smile when a pax mirror glance reveals a face I haven't seen in a while; I nod and they see me, smile back with a friendly wave.

It's a relatively quiet day; time passes a bit more leisurely at the beginning of the week. Run on time most of the day, careful not to be too early, slip past time points "in the CADdy green." (I see no reason to be anal about being exactly at "0" as long as I'm not burning them too hot.) If people can't be at their stop 2-3 minutes early, it's their bad if I roll past them between stops when I'm 2-3 late. Our agency doesn't bother to lay down the law; it's up to us. If we were to stop for everyone who hails us like we're a cab, we'd never be on time, never get a break and everyone involved the worse off for it.

I roll how I do for a reason: efficiency. I drive the same late or on time... safely. Don't like it? There's always the next bus. You're also welcome to walk in the pouring rain. Makes no difference to me. I'm nice, friendly and pleasant... unless you cross my smooth and silky ride with rude stupidity. I'm not like my management: I have rules which must be followed on my bus, set forth by the laws of common decency. When you do throw a wrench into my lugnuts I tend to roar like my buddy the Rampant Lion. Watch out; I bite too.

Get back on time to the yard, set the brake, drop off the pouch. The same group of us arrive within minutes of each other. We exchange the usual pleasantries and bid farewell, thankful we're all there to do so. One down, too many to go.

So much for the much-heralded "barriers"
our transit agency, and others,
have begun adding to our buses.
Tuesday: Not a good night's rest. Troubling dreams about being stabbed, beaten, shot, any number of atrocities visited upon us. Two fellow operators were murdered last week; one in Milwaukee, the other in Tampa. Try not to tell Beloved all of it. She's heard enough of the dark side of transit, and I hate for her to worry. Still she does; of course it bothers her to wonder if I'll return safely... scares her terribly. But we all stress over the increasing violence: family, friends, our supporting spokes on the wheel in Operations and Maintenance all feel the constant tragedy. It grates and grinds, pushing blood pressure skyward and pounding the temples.

I try to force something nutritional into ye olde gullet before home departure. Stress-induced acid boils in my stomach, dulling the need to break my fast. Same drill getting there and started. Routine is comforting. Break any one of them and you feel an ominous drone following your bus all day. Be safe, I keep repeating when my mind starts to wander.

"Please keep all sounds OFF on your cell phones and other electronic devices," I ask. "Thank you," I add. Doesn't hurt to be polite about it. Isn't that part of my mantra? Oh yeah. What I want to say: "HEY you inconsiderate phone stoners, SHUT OFF THE TUNELESS NOISE SO I CAN HEAR MYSELF THINK!!!" One dolt has headphones on but his repetitive nonsense (is that really music?) is so loud I think there's a problem with the engine. He doesn't hear the announcement, so I SHOUT a repeat. His seatmate gives him a tap on the shoulder and motions that I asked him to turn it down. Off come the headphones. "What?!? I was wearing my headphones!" No shit? I'm tempted to say "We're on a reroute so far removed you missed your stop 20 minutes ago." Instead, I gently request he turn down his volume. Thankfully, he does so.

It begins to rain. I smile. LOVE rain. Keeps people home rather than crowding bus stops like when the sun shines warm. POUR, PLEASE! It does. Sun. Rain. Gets a mite chilly after sundown. End the day a few runs late but nothing serious. End of day, sigh of relief.

Wednesday: "Wacky Wednesday," Operator Dan likes to tease me. But where is he? Damn, poor lad must be fighting his constant ailment again. He tells me to eat okra, I tell him my gas is already deadly enough. Miss my buddy when he's gone... our banter is part of my routine. We share a FaceBook chat with our mutual transit teen pro Brett, who warns me ahead of time what bus my ride will roll on. We also discuss the Blazers... Brett sent me a short video of Dame's last-second shot heard around the hoops world, right after it happened. I was working and obviously couldn't watch and he kept sending me updates. At my last break, the phone was stuck at 11 seconds and wouldn't update. He filled me in.

This day is certainly wacky. People are testing me more, pushing the limits. They know our "help" is spotty and not very responsive. "I'll ride at my own risk," they say, glibly sidling by without a care. A teen shows me a screen shot of his online "pass." I chuckle at his covering up the day code, and hope Fare Inspectors lurk ahead, but I know better. Passengers give me gruff when I ask them to find the trash can three feet from their seat, keep their feet on the floor. They yell "BACK DOOR" at me when the light above their empty heads is brightly-lit green. Green means go, I remind them. Perhaps I should jump out of my seat and hold their little hand as I place it inches from the strip between the handles to activate the sensor which opens the door. It's not neuroscience, for cryin' out fuggin' loud. Shall I walk them across the street too? Get a grip, people... instructions are written on the door right before you.

Motorists are even more rude lately. They speed up when I activate the YIELD light merging back into traffic, only to slam on their brakes and scream obscenities I neither hear nor care about. More lug nuts on this here rig, Bucko, move it or pay for it in ways you don't want to imagine. Thanks, by the way, for telling me I'm Numero Uno with your middle-school sign language, and you're welcome for not sending you to the morgue when you zip in front of me and slam on your brakes. (That'll show that idiot bus driver, they think.) I was ready for it, as usual. Predictable, faceless, useless. Half of you would flunk my driver's test. Hey, should I go into business as a driving instructor? I'd make more money but probably die sooner. I'll just stay pat, deal.

We're ALL Americans in the US, Canada
and Mexico. It's time we act like it.

I'm 10 minutes late due to a road construction crew that doesn't seem to realize buses run on a schedule. They let cars go in the opposite direction a full eight minutes before finally allowing a long line of us to pass, then wave as if they did me a favor. I want to tell them they're Number One, but I'd rather do my job than theirs. Instead, I give a curt nod through gritted teeth, hoping they're not clairvoyant. Good thing our microphones aren't live... my window gets fogged for all the profanity I mutter towards it.

Next comes the hardest part of any operator's job: dealing with Sammy Scumbag. He stands at the stop impatiently awaiting my late arrival. His stuff is on the far side of the shelter, and the stop pole is in its opposite direction. Waits until I get there, then tells me after three other fare-ready passengers have boarded, to wait while he gets his "stuff." Then he leisurely saunters on, grumbling about having to wait so long. (Thirty seconds have passed since my doors opened.) Digs in pants for wallet, which doesn't want to leave his moldy pants. (Now it's 60.) He smells like old cow dung soaked in skunk juice, and he's either drunk, stoned or both. I sigh impatiently (at the 90-second mark).

"Please have your fare ready when you board," I make the mistake of grumbling. "How long were you standing there before I arrived?"

Oops, shouldn't speak my thoughts. Management expects us to be fresh as a jolly old robot, sans emotion. How dare I! Scummy takes offense. Starts in on me how I'm rude and he should drag me off the bus and beat me bloody.

"I wouldn't attempt that, especially right now," I growl. "You'll likely get more than you bargained for, and I can't afford that."

Another no-no. Once again, Micro Manager pipes into the background noise: "Customer Servicey Voice! Tsk tsk!" Come drive a bus an hour in service, MicroMike, then you'll run screaming into the night, never to be heard from again. (Hey, now there's an idea!) I get louder than Sammy Sleazebreath and advise him to sit down and shut his yap, because I'm only afraid of his stench. A few of my heroic regulars, who know I work hard to be safe, smooth and relatively-calm, spring into action.

"Sit down and shut up, or I'll throw you off myself!" a Vietnam Vet tells him. Sammy slams shut. Not so tough after all. But now, the day's beginning to wear on me. I've been late more than usual, missed vital break minutes, and Dispatch tells me Sammy will have to be dealt with en route, because he really hasn't broken any rules. Bullshit. He's broken mine. Guess it's okay that my so-far calmness has been shattered and I'm now rattled tight as a snake. Diminished capacity as an operator can spell disaster. But hey, I'm just another body... we're being replaced with people who are trained to be amenable to ritual insults from every direction. Sigh. (Newbies: take note of this. Don't allow yourselves to be pre-programmed for bullshit management practices. Your very lives depend on your intelligence-while-operating.)

Behave like a halfway-decent human being, or I'll let my passengers deal with you, Scumbreath or whatever other name I feel like calling you.

Somehow, I make it to the yard. My head falls into the steering wheel after I set the brake. I sit there a moment, breathing deeply and trying to realize half the week is complete. Vent to the wife as I drive home, she welcomes me with her patented warm hug. I don't allow myself a cocktail, even though it's a been a typically-rotten day. Lately, I hate my job. Not good. PTSD (Management: "What's that? Big deal!") is taking its toll. I refuse to become an alcoholic, always hated crutches anyway. I'll have a few this weekend, but never to excess. It is funny though... I never drank much until I became a bus operator.

Thursday: Watch out. Customer Service be damned. My boiling point is just a few degrees above freezing. My #BANDTOGETHER cheek bandage reads "41," the number of times my brothers and sisters and I have been threatened, menaced or assaulted this year. (I didn't realize that number was off by one or two already.) The past few days I had worn others for our lost souls of the road, never to be forgotten. I've been sad all week, on edge, too eager for battle. I'm fed up with the few bastards who make it hell on wheels for us, and our decent riders.

Be ready, be nice, or you can fucking walk. I wonder if this should become my new mantra. I'm in no mood for meatheads. But hey... traffic is light, the weather is lovely and still not a heavy load. My leader must be late again. I'll alert Dispatch to throw him into DropOff Only mode if I catch him. Poor dude's paddle smacks him every day. He gets tons of ADA pax, freight trains, drug dealer pimps and junky whores. I pick up his leftovers, mostly decent folks just returning home from work. They're good to me, say hello and thanks. I appreciate them more than they know; I hope they feel the same about me, but they rarely show it. Perhaps I expect too much... just drive, asshole.

All is fine, except for the traffic light on the most heavily-trafficked street of my route, with no rhyme to its lack of reason. Allows left turners a green arrow in the opposite lane (all three of them) to access a parking lot and adjacent Jack in the Box for about an hour. Then when it's our turn, the arrow is green for about six seconds. Three cars scoot through legally, after they are honked back to reality from Cellaroma, followed by a few red light runners too annoyed to wait again. Three light cycles later, I'm in the first position. Cross traffic light turns red, my arrow turns green and immediately slips into blinking yellow as I'm halfway into the intersection. Oncoming traffic rushes up to me, honking. Hey, I'm turning here! No way out of it, gotta go. Not my fault the City of Portland is asleep at the wheel where traffic light sequences are concerned. Horns aplenty, screams of "Stupid bus driver!" from hordes of phone zoners who had to be beeped at when the light turned green. At least my phone is OFF AND STOWED, ROOKIES! Ugh. I'd flunk 80% of any of these I taught, by the looks of their absent skills.

Traffic, nutjobs in and outside the bus, numerous delays, agonizingly-short breaks. Someone pees and/or poops her pants onboard, so I have to get a bus trade because of the biohazard. People ask why I don't kick her off; I can't respond. It's against my nature to publicly shame the offensive offender. It's a good bet she doesn't know she stinks so bad. They're on my bus for 20 minutes, I'm here 50+ hours a week. They see a shot, I smell the barrel. (Ready to drink a barrel, but Daddy taught moderation.) Sometimes, a shot more than I should have is required. Come drive a mile in my shoes and then you'll understand. For the next 48 hours, I don't want to see a bus. No crowd events, festivals, certainly no bus rides. I'll be back soon enough. Until that lucky lottery ticket wins. Ha! Like you, I relish the thought.

Deke was in Chicago earlier in May.
A bit later, I'm treated once again to the brightly-bushy-tailed construction flaggers, who hold me up once more. A decade of minutes click by. They finally wave me past with bright smiles. I glare, point at my watch and wish my bus wasn't zero emissions. Just like Freddy 4x4 and his extra-wide tailpipe spewing diesel smoke, I'd like to bathe their lungs in a blast of black. At least it's my last run. Their taxes will contribute to the hefty overtime I charge for their incompetence.

Back at the garage, I blast the parking brake and kick the farebox. I growl when someone asks how my day went. "Oh," she says, "I'm sorry." She retreats, I escape. Poor lady, she deserves my patented painted-on smile, at least. She was once beaten senseless by a scumbag fare evader and doesn't deserve my cold shoulder. But she gets it. I'm turning into a Grumpy Bus Driver. And they want ME to apply as a trainer? No way. Can't... won't... teach someone to be this guy. Grrr...

Friday: Could it be, at last? It rolls by, at the speed of dark. Yet today is another route, different faces, similar yet distant places. I've been absent the past few weeks, so this time I'm a bit incognito. Extra Board has filled it. In fact, I've missed quite a few of these this signup. Maybe they think I'm EB too. It's just as well.

It's raining. Finally. The Northwest is in spring mode again. We had an early summer flash, and now the sky is cooling us off and adding to the brightness of our emerald forest. I love this, after an earlier life of heat flashes half the year. I hear my dear departed Lady Guttersnipe admonish me for feeling grateful I only board one person using a mobility device all day. Immediately, I feel guilt. Plus, I miss her every time I pass her former home as I drive this route. In fact, the only reason I chose this line was because I miss her... ever so horribly. Lady G taught me what it's like to be disabled on transit, and how to be more patient and helpful to those who need me to understand. Still, I'm able to stay on time all day because the passenger load is relatively light.

Days like this remind me of the fun I still find on the job. People are thankful when I wait as they rush through a downpour to catch my ride. They smile more, chat a bit and cheer me. Folks chat about the weather, the Blazers' latest success, how things were once upon a time, and compliment me more often than usual.

"That was the smoothest ride I've ever had on this line," one man told me on his way off the bus. That meant more to me than 100 customer service commendations ever could. I work very hard to roll smoothly into stops. Even when I predict some bonehead's ill-advised move in traffic, my braking seems just part of the roll, not forced or sloppy. If I do make a mistake, I apologize into the microphone. "Sorry folks, that one was a bit rough. Y'all okay back there?" They appreciate this, because unfortunately, some of my predecessors aren't apologetic whatsoever. It's yet another of Daddy Blue's lessons: always strive to make sure your passengers feel comfortable and safe with you behind the wheel. Check, Dad. And thanks.

As I roll into my assigned track in the yard at the required 5mph, I throw Big Bumpkis into Neutral and let her roll into the first position before I (once again) smoothly bring her to the final stop. Set the brake, flip the air off, make sure all electrical accessories are shut off too, then throw the main switch into OFF position, for the last time. Until... the next time.

Whew.

Can you see now why Deke is in therapy? Closing in on seven years at this gig, trying to find my way out of the gloom. Don't worry, I always land on my feet. They're pretty big.

Thanks for sticking with me. It may have taken you several minutes to read this, but it took me a full week to write. I appreciate you hanging in there. It is for YOU that I still do this. I say it again: thanks, and I truly mean it.