Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ch..Ch..Chains and Devastation

My chariot awaits in the desolate, frozen wasteland.

Oh, how horrific the damage from our first "major" winter storm! Tens of dollars of damage, snow drifts up to at least 1/32" deep, wind chills harsh enough to make Midwesterners laugh scornfully!

The dire predictions of 4-6" of snow topped with a layer of freezing rain failed to show. It was almost as cold as my first wife, and nearly as windy as she.
Half-inch icicles... how much damage can we endure?

My thanks to the tireless efforts of our mechanics who chained our buses the night before, then had to un-chain them the same day when the storm pretty much fizzled in most of the district. It's brutal for them to battle wind, traffic, and everything else to do an outstanding job.

But the question remains as blase as a FaceBook meme... will we ever recover?

A poor tree buried in a snow "drift".

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Question to Settle

Time to ask you, dear readers, for your opinion.

When I first began writing this blog, I promised not to deluge you with ads. I abhor them. Whenever I try to read something of interest on the web, ads seem to pop out of nowhere. As if I fuggin' ask for them. Like most of you, I make it a habit of killing them as quickly as they appear.

Last spring however, I've seen my readership explode. In one day, my hits went from 25-30 to over 600 in a single day! Not sure if it was Al Margulies or a ton of FaceBook friends sharing it, but FTDS's popularity took off. It is humbling, and very exciting, to have enough people interested enough in the subject matter to actually read what I write. My words haven't had this much exposure since my early adulthood adventures in small-town journalism.

As of this post, I am averaging 2,650 hits per month. As of today, the ninth of November, there are 708 hits. Last year, the entire month of November scored a scant 78. It truly boggles my mind.

Of course, I hope to be able to continually produce decent material and further grow these numbers. Yet when I first began, I had no idea it would come this far in such a short period of time.

So here it comes. What say you, my beloved readers? Would I be a horrific eel if I allowed ads on here? Given my promise to not do so, would you be less likely to read in the future if I changed my mind on this issue? The lure of extra money is a major factor in this question. At the moment, I am the lone earner in my family. We could all use a little more dinero in the bank. If this blog continues to grow readership, it's fiscally irresponsible of me not to allow advertising.

Because of my stubborn reluctance to alienate any of you, the folks who have made this explosion possible, I will leave it in your hands. If you read this on a traditional computer, you will find the poll "Ads Yes or No" on the far right-hand side of the page in a hidden block of "gadgets".

For those of you who use electronic devices, for some reason these gadgets don't appear when you visit. So you could just tell me on the FaceBook post. I don't want any arguments between people as to whether I should or should not. I just ask you to speak up and tell me your thoughts on the matter.

So what say YOU, my dear readers, yay or nay? I eagerly await your response.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pains in My Butt

My butt hurts. Had back spasms last week, now my knees hurt. Bowels not responding well to circadian rhythm changes. Head to toe, and I ended up at the butt again. Just part of the job, I reckon.

This time, let's examine what it takes to be a good "bus operator". No, we're not "drivers" in the typical sense. Moving a bus down the road is much more than that. Once again, I mention Lars Larson's foolish comment that driving a city bus is "easier" than operating a school bus. From experience on the city bus side, I do not mean to diminish the professionalism or importance of a school bus operator, but my job is extremely more difficult and stressful. Their passengers are precious, to be sure, but there are far fewer of them and the routes are much shorter. Nor do their charges pay a fare. Regardless, my hat is off to those wonderful people who transport our children to and from school. Even as a parent of three, I wonder if I could keep from being too distracted by their joyful noise.

To be a "good" operator of a city bus takes many years to accomplish. My own tenure has taught me that there is something to be learned each day. I have always had the greatest respect for my trainers, but much more so now that I have a few years behind the wheel. Each day presents new challenges. We constantly need to adapt to ever-changing conditions. Maneuvers I once thought toughest to master are now second nature. Yet, I'm often presented with challenges requiring split-second reaction. One slip could result in somebody's injury or death. It is the same with school bus operators, true. Yet a city bus operator is usually in-service for eight to 14 hours as opposed to two to six.

I do not want to even hint at disparaging my brothers and sisters who operate school buses, so we'll leave them at this point.

At least once a week, a passenger will insinuate they know more about bus operation than I do, simply because they ride daily. Once upon a time, I thought so too. Having been a passenger both to school and work, my favorite operators made it look easy. On my first day behind the wheel, I realized how difficult a bus is to maneuver. Having driven a tractor-trailer rig across country, I believe a bus is harder to drive. There is only one "pivot point" on a bus, and that's the dual wheels at the rear. A truck has two: tractor and trailer axles. It is challenging to back a trailer into a dock around several obstacles, but the extra pivot point allows greater rear visibility. Bus operators cannot see behind a bus, and it's not advisable to even attempt backing up without a spotter. A friend of mine noted that tractor-trailer operators have cargo that doesn't talk back or offer driving advice.

While some operators navigate the same routes each day, others have different routes every day of the year. As an extra board operator, this is my life. I've done it long now enough to learn 52 lines. Even if you're familiar with a route, road conditions or construction can present constant challenges. Delivery truck drivers habitually park in the worst possible spots, and often make terrible decisions while driving. Marvin Mercedes and his buddy Beavis BMW are impatient so and so's. Pedestrians rarely look before darting out into traffic, especially if they want to "catch" my bus.

Recently I winced as a teenager darted in front of a pickup to cross the street so he could board my bus. The pickup driver had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting the kid and his girlfriend. These juvenile jaywalkers were oblivious to the stupidity of their actions, and were miffed when I chastised them. They were indignant, yet I would be haunted forever by the sight of their bodies being hurtled through space in broken and bloody pieces. Normally, I would let them get safely to the sidewalk, then drive off without them. I couldn't this time; maybe my bitching them out will make them think before they try this maneuver again.

So just because your operator makes it look "easy", don't be fooled. If their uniform is adorned with Safety Award patches, they deserve your utmost respect. If they bitch you out when you board, rest assured you did something that scared the shit out of them.

Now do you know why my butt hurts?



Monday, November 3, 2014

Early Board Gets the Prize

...and now I'm working early AM's! Didn't I just write about the yo-yo effect? Of course I've been called one many a time, and deservedly so, but I digress.

Spent my weekend sleeping a lot, recovering from last week's midnight sojourns. I went to bed last night to prepare for my early run, was too restless. I tried counting sheep, but they morphed into scantily-clad Roald Dahl characters hell-bent on robbing me of sleep. So I just drove eight hours by noon today, time for a nap then a three-hour tripper. Eleven seat hours today plus an early 9.5-hour run tomorrow equals a lucrative start to my week.

Odds are I'll be on PM's again in two days, but I'll take what OT crumbs they leave me.

Z-zzz-zzzzzz-zzzzzzzzzzzz.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

20,000th Hit Today!






In the span of 18 months, my beloved readers have visited my blog 20,000 times! It's more than I had imagined, and I thank you all for reading and sharing.

Lately, the comments have been coming in bunches. I apologize for not replying to you all. Usually when I see them I'm in bed preparing for the next day of driving. Please keep them coming, because I love hearing how these posts affect you. Your shared stories of the road or experiences as a rider are great!

Most of all, I want to thank my wife, Lady Blue. She helps me avoid great blunders, and has always been supportive of my efforts as a driver and as the guy who writes about it.

Thanks again, folks. The Googlers are wondering why I still won't allow their ads on FTDS, but a promise is a promise. Even when the 100,000th hit is reached, the blog will remain... AD FREE.

Peace, and be well my friends.

Affectionately,
DiB

A Battle Hymn for US All


(Deacon's Note: Please note my use of "operators of buses and light rail" does not intend to omit  service workers, mechanics, trainers, station agents, supervisors, dispatchers, spotters, and other dedicated co-workers. It's just expedient to do so. These brothers and sisters are all vital to our operations; and as such, will hopefully forgive me for including them under the "operator" label.)

Battle Hymn of the Republic -- Herbie Mann

So we have a contract. Amalgamated Transit Union 757's TriMet employees voted yes this past week by a majority of 82.7% to approve the contract terms, effective two years ago.

It has been a contentious battle. Retirees believe the terms give away what they were promised decades ago: health care provided in lieu of no raises in pay for active union employees. Nothing is truly "free". Like a coal miner who breathes toxic air his entire working life and dies penniless, a bus operator faces health crises and a fixed income with shaky financial security in retirement. An increasingly vocal public sector erroneously minimizes our skill level and health risks, simultaneously demanding we pay a "fair" share of our health insurance. It's this "class warfare" which endangers all workers, blue or white collared.

Our service is considered so vital to the local economy that our right to strike was legislated out of existence in 2007. Ridership in 2014 is up 10%*, with about 322,000 people riding MAX or bus daily. Imagine the scenario if we could strike: another 100,000+ vehicles on our roads creating hopeless gridlock, people without alternate transportation unable to get to work. However, without the right to strike, our bargaining position is tenuous. If we disagree with terms presented by the district and vote to reject, our fate lies in the hands of a state-appointed arbitrator. If our terms are deemed not in the best interests of the public or TriMet's financial stability, we are bound by the district's last "best offer". Fighting a battle with our collective fists bound behind us, negotiations are heavily weighted in favor of the district.

As an operator, it is easier to lose the job than it is to keep it. Standard operating procedures are often so ambiguous, they can often be a loose-fitting noose around our necks. With each misstep, it tightens. There is very little wiggle room. In a "fair" world, there would be counterbalances. We can be blamed for incidents that may not be our "fault", yet should have prevented because we're professionals. A growing portion of the general public, however, does not view us as such. We're actually trained to predict the future, based on constantly varying traffic. If a delivery truck smashes our driver-side mirror, we can be assessed a "Preventable Accident" (PA) if the bus is not completely within lane markers. Rack up five PA's within a two-year period and you're fired. Not many occupations are as stressful, yet we perform our jobs admirably, 365 days each year.

We're also expected to remain professional through situations in which we are pushed, spit upon, slapped, punched, stabbed, and verbally abused at gunpoint. Assaults on operators often don't even make (what passes for) the news these days. When one sister's attacker was brought before a judge last Christmas Eve, nobody from management was present. However, when a rider makes a complaint against an operator, it usually makes the news. Management will act very "concerned" and state it is "investigating the incident". The complaint review process can be insulting, especially given the fact people making these accusations purposefully omit accurate descriptions of what happened, let alone their own behavior. Another aspect of media coverage is the bruising lack of coverage regarding the countless good deeds operators commit each day. It's dirty laundry the corporate sector forces onto the airwaves and newsprint, and a hungry public gobbles it with greedy abandon.

It was highly insulting to read a recent comment posted by a local shidiot. This poster had the gall to state that transit operators are basically "low-skilled workers and their compensation should be commensurate with their skill set". This intellectual midget goes on to equate us with a "shuttle bus driver at the airport". He continues with "If you dont (sic) like your level of compensation than (sic) get a college degree or go into a skilled trade that compensates people at a higher rate based on what they command in the market. It really is a simple equation." When you consider a full bus or rail car transports a significant mass of people whose jobs make our economy tick, it is logical to assume our passengers are intrinsically more valuable to the local economy than one ignorant's luxury SUV.

The "simple equation" actually is the math describing the shrinking middle class. The blue collar worker was once an American hero. Largely consisting of the veterans who liberated Europe and stopped imperial Japan from controlling the Pacific theatre, the American middle class was celebrated. Unions were respected by workers who appreciated representatives negotiating with corporate powers. And the unions got the job done. Better working conditions, respectable wages and the hope of a decent retirement were the results of hard-fought battles unions waged for the benefit of millions. These millions produced the goods which American consumers purchased with their hard-earned money. The economy flourished until the greedy upper crust found a way to split the middle class and turn it against itself. Now, untold millions have been convinced it is somehow our own fault the middle class is shrinking toward extinction. Instead of fighting the corporate monster which created economic disaster, we've been tricked into fighting amongst ourselves. All the while, the puppet masters giggle gleefully at our self destruction and continue to stack the cards against us. Instead of fighting each other, we need to band together to fight the puppeteers.


The minimum wage argument is a prime example. If allowed to increase with inflation, the current minimum wage would now be around $22 per hour. The fact it remains at a paltry $7.50 is staggering. The Great Recession saw a massive loss of middle-class jobs. Many who made respectable salaries six years ago now fight for whatever low-paying jobs they can find. Those who do obtain college degrees are mired in a lifetime of student loan debt, with little prospect of employment paying enough to survive and make the loan payments. Interest on these loans is ridiculously high. Chances are, recent graduates won't be able to work long enough to pay off their loans, let alone achieve a salary level commensurate with the effort it took to earn these expensive degrees. The minimum wage job is no longer the exclusive domain of Joe or Sally Teenager. It's now held by Charlie the former computer tech trying to hold three such jobs just to make the rent because his decent job went overseas to ensure his former employer's shareholders can afford an extra maid whom they pay... you guessed it, minimum wage.

There is a heated debate over raising the minimum wage. Small- to medium-sized companies complain they can't afford paying higher wages. They're already squeezed by payroll taxes, over-regulation and shrinking markets. If the wage had been raised on a regular basis, the economy would have absorbed and grown with it. Plus, consider there is no maximum wage. For every action, reason demands a counter reaction. Those criminals who caused the Great Recession were "bailed out" because they're evidently "too big to fail". Too big to fail, or too rich to jail?

Were we the people given equal treatment? No. Instead, we were blamed for a mess we didn't create, and were left to fight over whatever crumbs remained. The auto industry paid us back for their bailout; the banks have not. Corporate executives have seen their salaries and bonuses increase to the point they make 331% more than the average worker. It's time the entire middle class got a raise, not to mention securing the retirement income of those who paved the way for the rest of us.
 
A bus or light rail operator is highly-trained. He or she has passed rigorous and grueling courses that would flummox the common driver. Over the course of several years driving a 20-ton, 8.5-foot-wide, 11-foot-high, 40-foot-long vehicle, even more valuable training is acquired through experience. We get so road-savvy we can accurately guess a driver's reaction to any number of situations. Our passengers' safety is of utmost importance to us. If you consider the millions of people who enjoy safe journeys because of our hard-earned professionalism, our contribution to the local economy is invaluable.

Which leads us back to this local ATU 757 vs. TriMet battle. Could we have done better for our retirees? Unless we reverse the trend of legislating against our own best interests, retirement is equated with extreme poverty. The once sacred promise of security after a lifetime of dedication may soon be a thing of the past. Someone who is promised a secure retirement, should not have to fear poverty due to the breaking of said promises.

This contract was voted upon by a scant 57% of active union employees. This is a pathetic display of apathy. That 43% which didn't bother to cast a ballot is too complacent to fight for its own best interests, or for those who came before us. We owe our retirees the respect they earned as operators who worked under harsher conditions than we endure, using equipment not nearly as advanced as what we operate today. We also owe future hires a commitment to fight for their benefits as well, in the hope they will someday fight for ours. It is also imperative we require TriMet to fulfill its commitments, rather than allowing it to make excuses for its financial shenanigans.

Whatever your opinion about the contract, a bigger fight looms. It's not about Democrats vs. Republicans. Instead, it's American Workers fighting each other, rather than collectively working toward a better future for all of us. We make the collective economy's wheels roll. Unless we learn to work together, we're all doomed to a fate beneath these wheels.

***************************************
*TriMet's Monthly Performance Report, September 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Operators the New Punching Bag

Dawn reveals most of our buses are already "out there", with operators safely delivering passengers.

Once again, one of our operators was attacked while de-boarding a woman described as "crazy". Apparently unprovoked, she punched, pulled the hair and scratched a driver's eye.

Crazy Rider has reportedly done this before. The road supe said she'd hit him recently and the police had arrested her five times in the past month! As for our victim operator, she reportedly continued on route. I wish she'd been removed from duty and transported for medical care, for her sake. It is a common mistake for injured people to bravely decline medical treatment. I truly hope she's okay.

This MUST be dealt with. But how?

Operating a bus is much more than it appears. We're tasked with taking fare and dispensing receipts, keeping watch over our passengers for their own safety, in addition to keeping those around our bus safe. As for me, I don't care whether someone shows me a lottery ticket or a bus pass when they board. I'm a fare informer, not a fare inspector. In fact, I'm told that breed of district employee is extinct. Since the position was eliminated by our unwise district management, I have not had a single authority figure check fares on my bus. Not once in over a year. If I give, on average, over 300 people a ride each day, then about 70,000 people have ridden my bus in that time period. Given the propensity for some people to cheat the system, you can bet at least 1,000 (or more) have shown me expired or otherwise invalid fare.

I don't care, either. Since I began driving a bus, several of my brothers and sisters have been attacked. Some have been critically injured. Do I think a simple bus fare is worth arguing over? Absofreakinlutely not. This latest attack on a sister, however, was reportedly unprovoked. Evidently, the passenger (I hesitate to use a more profane descriptor) was deboarding when she turned around and attacked the operator.

Luckily, I have never been attacked. Some people I know, not so lucky. How would I act? Male bravado dictates I'd open a 5,000 gallon barrel of whupass on the freak. I'm not so sure how I could do that while facing a knife, gun, brass knuckles or any other weapon. Chances are good the attacker would strike when I'm least prepared to defend myself. District operating procedures dictate we not leave the seat during an "incident". I suppose it's better for them if we're sitting ducks. Public punching bags. Fist targets. Spit receptors. Hair donators. Blood donors.

Are we poised for a fall, like this log?
Which leads me to the disgust I feel for the district's inaction when it comes to driver attacks. Sure, the media relations people spout off about how they're "very concerned with the operator's well being, and are conducting a thorough investigation". Usually, it seems they're investigating us rather than Joe Scumbag. When our sister Pamela was brutally attacked last December, my fellow ATU757 members were at the court hearings to support her. Where was anybody from the district? Nowhere to be seen. On my day off, Christmas Eve, I dressed up in my uniform blues and drove downtown with many of our fellow brothers and sisters to stand beside Pam in court as she faced her attacker. Where was our GM? Probably drinking eggnog and admiring his new light rail bridge. While they may wax eloquent to the press, mouthing "outrage" without actually expressing it, they let us down when it comes to enforcing our safety.

Evidently, it's a minor felony to assault a transit worker on the job. The district offers a piddly $1,000 for "information leading to the arrest" of suspects accused of assaulting us. It should be more like $10,000, and then perhaps people would pay closer attention. There should be an automatic jail term of at least 60 days for the guilty one, permanent exclusion from using public transportation, and lengthy probation and counseling. The district has repeatedly been asked to display photo posters of those excluded or charged with assaulting us. The most normal in appearance could be driver beaters in disguise.

If someone were to assault me, resulting in my beating the living shit out the attacker, the tables would turn. The media would headline "Bus Driver Assaults Innocent Rider". I could be fired, arrested, and sued in civil court. Except for union representatives at my side, I'd be alone, having to prove my innocence rather than the district backing me up. The "outrage" would be turned toward me, not my attacker.

Yes, we're very angry right now. The district is disrespectful of us, misrepresents our contract philosophy, and works harder to terminate than protect the very people who diligently make the wheels roll. They hire more managers while eliminating vital operations positions.

It's a dangerous job. We don't "just drive a bus", as Lars is want to say. It's brutally hard work, and deserves the community's utmost dignity and respect. We save lives, deliver people safely to their destinations, and show acts of kindness thousands of times each day. Yet out of 100 calls to customer service, it's estimated that less than five are complimentary.

I don't want a cage around me while I drive. Most riders are friendly, polite and respectful. They thank me for the ride, and wish me safety throughout my shift. I love 95% of the people who ride, and I don't want to be shielded from kindness. I just want to feel as if my safety actually means something to those whose salary is quadruple mine. And, I want to feel as if district management has my back, rather than being poised to kick my backside.

My hat is off to the Line 9 driver today. May you heal wholly, both physically and spiritually, from this horrible attack.

Peace be with you all.
DiB



Thursday, September 18, 2014

An FTDS BC

The Deacon has been leaving these in random spots around Portland!
You just never know where you'll find one... please share it when you do.

Hint: I lurk in bookstores quite often. You'll find them in some of my favorite books.

Friday, September 5, 2014

TESTing Our Compassion

Portland skyline one stormy afternoon.                                                                                Photo by Katy Philp           
 **********************************************************************************
It's rare to find people who actually care enough about others to do something. This week, I met such a person in Mike Luce. I know his son, and have both father and son as FaceBook friends, but had never met the former.

Mike Luce created TEST (Transit Employee Support Team) to help transit employees who are either injured or fighting a disease, and are unable to work. Spending thousands of dollars of his own money, he made his vision into reality in the form of a non-profit organization. Affiliated with United Way, TEST offers local transit employees the chance to contribute via paycheck deduction or cash donations. It has also partnered with Fred Meyer and other businesses so that a portion of each purchase by a registered participant goes to TEST.

In the past year, its notable achievements include providing financial support to a few of our own operators battling life-threatening diseases. It has also helped another who is recovering from injuries sustained in a horrible motorcycle accident last winter.

While TEST focuses on Portland transit employees, anybody can donate. We've had drivers stabbed, beat up and even threatened at gunpoint the past few years. These incidents are quite traumatic, often physically debilitating, for the victims. It is refreshing to know there is a group created by, and for the benefit of, Portland transit workers.

This is certainly worthwhile. Who among us hasn't asked "What if" when driving people of unknown emotional states? I shudder at the thought of my family trying to make ends meet if something catastrophic happened to me. So little as it may be, I am setting up a payroll deduction contribution.

The other day, I was speaking with a nice gentleman who happened to be standing with the younger Michael. We were discussing TEST, and he asked what I knew of it.

"Well," I stammered, quite off-guard, "not much except it was started by Mike Luce, Sr. and it's designed to help employees in need."

Having seen the cool hats sporting the TEST logo, the ads on some of our buses, and talk around the bullpen, I had made a "note to self" to find out more. Eventually. You know how that goes... life gets in the way and six months blow by. A minute later, Mike's son reminded his father he needed to get to his road relief, and realization struck me like a bus wheel bouncing off a streetcar platform. This guy was Michael's father! Another note to self: DUH.

While it was a tad embarassing, it was nice to meet this man whose dream has helped  his fellow operators in need.

Thanks Mike, for dedicating a large portion of your savings to creating this wonderful organization. May more of us donate with the same spirit of comradery, so that your devotion pays homage to the fact we are all family.
******************************
For more information, please visit www.ourtest.org, and like the TEST FaceBook page.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The "Duh" Chronicles

The Center Street Bus Yard in the 1940s.
In the past decade, we've slid downhill in the common sense category. We're plugged in, tuned out, and often oblivious.

An operator buddy approached me this evening, very troubled by what she'd seen earlier. Driving a line that had to detour earlier around a fire, she was already 20 minutes late when she serviced the stop in front of our garage. As she scanned around and in front of her bus prior to departing, she saw a fellow operator in the "duh" position. Head down, eyes glued to her stupid phone, texting away. Since the street has been in various stages of construction for more than a year, there are oft-ignored stop signs at this intersection. This doesn't actually stop traffic. Many vehicles either don't see the signs (doubtful), or think they don't apply (most likely) to theirs truly. Cars routinely zip right through without even slowing down. So here strolls Olga Operator, taking her dear sweet time crossing the street while my friend drums her fingers on the steering wheel, waiting until Olga's safely across before she can proceed. Not once does she look up from her silly task.

HELLO PEOPLE! Wake up, and look up! Step lively, while you're at it, or the next text you send could be from the ambulance on your way to the emergency room. If you're lucky. Good grief!

We see it all day, every day. People are so in love with their phone, tablet, iPod or whatever gadget that they forget basic common sense. What did Mommy and Daddy teach you? Stop, look both ways, and pay attention, you numbskull! For an operator to do this, in front of our workplace, is astonishing.

When I cross this intersection, I look both ways before proceeding. One motorist blew through right in front of me, so close my hair blew in the wind. I screamed at him, "THAT WAS A STOP SIGN, YOU IDIOT!", and I got an IQ-indicating salute in addition to words his young passengers shouldn't have heard. I thought he was slowing down, but he sped up at the last second, as if that stop sign was merely a suggestion. Also, deadheading and in-service buses by the hundreds stop there before proceeding. When I see this, I stop halfway through and wave them on. They're on a schedule, I'm early. Who's more important? That operator always gets precedence, even though I'm in a legal crosswalk. It's called etiquette, being considerate to my brothers and sisters. Common decency, even.

So when one of our own practices the stupidity we loathe, but are accustomed to, in front of our own garage, it boggles the mind.

How can someone walk down a busy street with their headphones on, jamming away to tunes rather than looking out for vehicles that would quickly end their life? Not to mention listening for them. Buses are quite loud, unless your Sonys are rapping your eardrums into oblivion. Conversely, some vehicles are very quiet yet capable of killing you nonetheless. Ever been surprised by the stealthy Prius?

When you calculate the mass of a moving 20-ton, 40-foot vehicle, the chances of surviving being struck by one are quite slim. Of course, any time this happens people automatically assume it's the operator's fault. Also, when a plane crashes, the news reporter almost always mentions the possibility of pilot error. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Pedestrians cross against the signal all the time. They get angry if you beep-beep to get their attention. They never thank us for saving their fool lives, yet we do this countless times every day.

We work very hard at being safe. But the responsibility isn't entirely ours. Save the earphones for when you're safely on the bus, unless you want to chance being under it. Texting should never be done while walking, driving or riding a bicycle. If you don't know why, then you're too stupid to ride my bus. Look for the next hearse instead... people are dying to get into those.

Duh.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Greedy Googlers

Now that I've hit some mystically magic number of hits, the AdDemons have "discovered" me and are bugging me to annoy you with ads on this blog.

Yes, I do like money. But more important, I like to keep my word.

When I began FTDS, I promised you I wouldn't allow advertising. Promise kept, even after 13,250 hits!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Changing Directions

First, thank you all for reading. Just like a musician, a writer wants to be heard. Or read, in this case. After a year of giving you a taste of what I've found "out there", and 12,700 hits later, it seems this blog needs a little zip.


Drivers who read this blog have told me that first, I'm one windy sumbitch. I knew that, but tend to get a bit defensive, as I call my lack of brevity being thorough. Still, I've been working on shortening up the posts a bit. I listen to my readers, even though I haven't had a comment on here in almost as long as our General Manager hasn't had a bonus. Also, the last thing a bus operator wants to do after a long shift in the seat is read about what they just went through all day long. Kinda like taking a bath after being in the pool all day, who wants to eat a prune when they look like one? Finally, I think I've cruised through so many driving safely topics you readers are about to smack me upside the head with a pouch loaded with extra paper rolls. That would hurt.

"I haven't had a comment on here in almost as long as our General Manager hasn't had a bonus."


So I offer you a new direction. To my beloved fellow operators, let me first say that in nearly two years working with you, I've developed a keen respect and true affection for you. Most of you, anyway. Some of you are more ornery than a cornered mama bear on steroids. The great majority of you have fascinating backgrounds with equally captivating life stories. Some of us have already worked several different occupations and landed here thanks to the devastating Bush Economy. Some have worked here their entire adult lives. We work very hard for our money, and we're scared at what the future might bring. Our retired fellows are terrified that their pensions are going away due to management not wanting to keep up its end of the bargain made over 30 years ago. Driving a bus is truly brutal to the human body. After years of being bounced around in a driver seat, the back, knees, colon and other body parts tend to break down quicker than your average paper pusher. We expect, and deserve, to be rewarded with a retirement free from poverty. Unfortunately, our management is union-busting, divisive, and seemingly immune to the trials we face on a daily, even hourly, basis.

Here I go, stretching things out again. The point is, the new direction I've decided to take is made up of three points. First, I remain the Deacon In Blue, an anonymous writer who happens to drive a bus for a living. It's kind of weird creating a new persona for myself, kind of like a manufactured second personality. But I do it for an important reason. I don't want the transit agency to know who I am, period. They may guess, but I will never confess; it's truly none of their fuggin' beeswax. Y'all might think it weird, and one friend has said they probably already know who I am. "Prove it, ya bastids!", is my second mantra. Those of you who do know me, please do not ever tell a soul my true identity.

Second, I've decided this blog will begin describing the lives of my fellow operators. We're in a fight for our very lives right now, and that war has moved to the battleground of public opinion. Our agency finds no shame in blaming its fictional financial problems on us, in every media outlet bought and paid for by the big money which owns the very government we've elected. People have been trained to believe we're spoiled, and have "Cadillac benefits". Bull. Freakin'. Shit. We are real human beings who live in the same communities we serve, attend the same churches, volunteer in our kids' schools, coach Little League and numerous other activities most of our top executives wouldn't be caught dead doing. So your Deacon wants to hear your stories. I won't publish your true identities unless you specifically ask me to. But your stories are real, and the public needs to see we are just like them.

Third, I am always open to suggestions. Problem is, y'all haven't given me any as of late. Give me a direction and I'll follow it like a politician chases money. The Deacon in Blue is your representative. Tell people about this blog, encourage them to speak out. If we don't start fighting the war for public support, we'll have none. You are as much a voice as I am, but we must work together to be heard.

Once again, thank you for reading. This is truly fun for me. While I may not be the best one-on-one conversationalist, I love to write. Evidently, you enjoy reading it, or you wouldn't be at the end of this post.

Please send me your ideas to deaconinblue@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

This Just In... New Poll!

Hey  fans, now you have a chance to vote for your favorite FTDS post. If you have one, that is. Either way, please vote.

You can find the poll at the very right side of the blog that looks like a black vertical bar... roll over it and click on the top icon.

Thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to see the results!

Your irreverently irascible Deacon In Blue

Thursday, May 15, 2014

10,000 HITS!

Thank you so much for all your support this past year, my first as a blogger! I am truly jazzed to have hit this major milestone.

I may not be the best, but I sure have fun with this. Thank you to my lovely wife, Lady Deacon, for her constant encouragement and love. And I thank my fellow driver sisters and brothers for being major supporters and helping me "out there".

Enough said, I gotta run to catch a bus. :o)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Quickie

Friday afternoon, typical manic traffic in a hurry to get nowhere fast. Going uphill in a 17-year-old bus, hitting every red light. Got to a transit center only three minutes down, halfway through the run. Nearly all passengers are accustomed to the drill.

As riders exit, I offer my customary "thanks for riding folks, have a great weekend!". That one customer, the jerk you get every once in a while, that hemorrhoidal itch on the scrotum of humanity, looks at me in disgust on his way out the door.

"Try stepping on the gas next time," he said with a snarl.

Considering these buses do 0-30mph in about a week and we were almost full to capacity, it was a marvel we weren't later. Much later.

Usually, it takes me a while to retort; not this time.

"This bus is old, but your manners are pretty fresh," I replied.

Good thing he left the bus quickly. Good thing I was driving and not him, or we never would have arrived. Good thing I'm patient. Bad thing some people are just plain ignorant.

To paraphrase an old joke, I may drive slow, but he's ugly and I can speed up.

Happy weekend everybody.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

All's Quiet on the Bus

Well, if there's nothing to say, don't say it. Words to live by.

I'm working hard, but the wheels have just been rolling along with nothing interesting going on. But my buddy Patrick has been writing again, and since I have nothing to offer, take a peek at his blog. We're close pals, known each other since early childhood. We argue over who's the better artist, and so far I have a narrow lead, only because I've been blogging longer.

So in the absence of a FTDS entry, I offer you Battle of Blades.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Waiting for Something Funny to Write...

Hello Beloved Readers,

Since my last posts were technical, I'm working on a more entertaining piece for my next major entry. In the meantime, I'm just driving and waiting for some new material to pop in.

Thanks once again to all those who read this. Hits have exploded the past month, and it's very humbling. I truly appreciate the shares and the kind words of encouragement. So far, we've seen over 2,500 hits in the past month alone! Overall there are 8,600+ hits all time, so my goal of hitting 10,000 by summer is becoming realistic.

Meanwhile, my pal Patrick has been busy too. We tend to have a competition where writing is concerned, even though we write different topics. He's into the creative side, while I've tended to rarely stray from the technical. We have a deal: he publicizes my blog and I tell y'all about his. We're both greedy, so the more readers the better. Plus, the more of you who read From The Driver Side, the more hits he's apt to get at SnickerDude. Lately, he buys most of the beer. But hey, from what he's written already, that trend might soon change!

Take a peek: SnickerDude: "After 40 Years, I Still Miss Pat"

The Deacon in Blue appreciates your time, and Patrick will too. I think you'll enjoy his writing. He's a bit more emotional than I am, but he's pretty good at it from what I've seen.

Meantime, I'll think of something entertaining to throw your way someday soon.

;o)
The Deacon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Readership EXPLOSION!

An amazing thing has happened here. In the past few days, this blog has had nearly 1,000 hits! Holy keyboards folks! I'm very happy to see there have been 8,000 hits overall. However, I'm perplexed. Where are these hits coming from? While a few have shared it on FaceBook, that's about all the advertising done for this blog.

So please, sound off... where y'all from? Anybody who knows how a blog can go "semi-viral", please clue me in. I'm just a writer, after all, not a computer genius. Would love to hear from some of you.

THANK YOU READERS!

Affectionately,
The Deacon in Blue

Monday, March 31, 2014

Celebration!

Since its humble beginnings nearly a year ago, this blog has had 6,600 hits! Woo hoo! I'm hoping to see the 10,000 mark by this summer, but I need your help. Another blogger I know has had about a million, so this is but a plebe compared to his worthy efforts.

Please share this with anybody you know who might be interested in reading the antics of a bus operator. I work hard to keep it politics-free, and my sole purpose is to describe what we go through out there... From The Driver Side.

Thank you for your readership and support!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Anemic Poll Results

A while back, my dear readers, you were asked to vote in a poll. It was designed to A) discern which entry was your favorite; B) to get a glimpse at what is most entertaining to you; and C) to provide a bit of an ego boost for yours truly.

Results are in. A whopping eight (8) of you voted on the choices provided! The two leaders were 'Twitterpating' and 'Other'. Since there was no way for you to pencil in which 'Other' you voted for, these choices will remain a mystery. Each garnered a blistering three (3) votes!

Since the results were miniscule in number, the Deacon's ego took a major shot. Of course, if you don't use a computer, even finding the poll was a challenge; it doesn't appear on tablet or "smart" phone screens. Until this blog space gets more creative in making "gadgets" easier to use for all, polls won't really serve their intended purpose. However, please leave comments on the blog itself or on my buddy's FaceBook page. He has been ever so kind as to publicize this exercise, and your comments are read and appreciated. In addition, there is ONE "follower" of this blog, so if you want to keep up-to-date on new entries please become a regular.

At this time, there have been 5,417 "hits" here. Each one encourages me to continue writing, and the number has substantially increased in the past two months. This itself is cause for the Deacon to celebrate, because he hasn't had this kind of readership since he began writing 30+ years ago.

For some bus operators, after driving the "beast" for an entire day, the last thing they want to do is read about it. They would rather "fuhgeddaboudit", so to you fellow drivers I give an even more enthusiastic "THANK YOU" for being here.

Truly, I thank each of you for taking the time out of your busy day every few weeks to peruse these lines. I hope to keep finding topics that interest you enough to continue reading. For now, it's time to head back out, to keep all 6 on the road, and to do my part to keep this metropolis rolling.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Avoiding Personal Pronouns in The Deacon's Abridged Biography

After some mind-bending and provocative thought in this aging brain, perhaps it's time to diverge from the well-trodden path and explore a different trail. For this entry, anyway.

The moniker 'Deacon in Blue' was chosen in homage to a favorite Steely Dan tune, and also because the uniform of local transit operators happens to be blue. It came quickly as the question of what pen name to use as the first blog entry was written. Now that it's been about a year since that initial foray, we can take a look into why the Deacon writes. Although he can sound a bit preachy at times, the term 'deacon' isn't linked to any one religious identity. Information here is put forth for your entertainment as well as practice for even more industrious future wordplay. Hopefully it is interesting, sometimes finds you laughing or at least mildly amused. If not, hopefully you will voice opinions of this nature and chastise the author for boring you.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on the 'Deacon Blues'

This will be a tough exercise, for the task today is to refrain from referring to the author in the first person. It can be said that someone who prefers to use the ninth letter of the alphabet too much is a bit vane and/or literarily lazy.


Having toiled at several diverse occupations, they have merely been a means of gathering material for the Deacon's true purpose. Since the tender age of eight, writing has always come naturally to him. Words dance into view and are plucked out of space, clicked to life on a keyboard and transmitted to you. Here. There. Wherever the reader happens to be. Once upon a time, these fingers clumsily clunked and clanged one-fingered exercises on a 1920s Smith-Corona typewriter. Yes, an old-fashioned relic then and antique now, it was a fascinating piece of machinery. Typing class in high school offered a chance to be one of four boys amongst 25 young ladies, and this was truly alluring. With the realization that none of these lovely girls would entwine their digits with mine came the epiphany that typing class had a deeper meaning. The skill these fingers learned propelled an aspiring wordsmith into a career of journalism and then typography.

While the young poet scribbled his lines with a pen, the journalist began in that form but his final product was typed. As typing speed increased, the quality of written material did as well. The words developed in the mind and were transcribed much faster than if they were handwritten. To this day, handwriting remains a slow and laborious practice reserved for thank-you notes and other items requiring a personal touch.

Back in the late 1970s, the college newspaper was produced in several steps, as opposed to current methods. Reporters would research a story, interview various people and take handwritten notes. A rough draft would then be typed and submitted to the editor, who would usually dissect it with a red pen and send it back for revisions. This pen could be wielded ruthlessly as to make the ink resemble bloody stab wounds in the reporter's proud creation. They would re-write the piece adhering to the editor's strict notes and submit a second and hopefully final draft. Once approved, all stories would be estimated for length and assigned column inches in that edition's design. Headlines would be crafted, photos would have captions created, and advertisements designed. Then the whole batch would be sent to the printer to be set in type. Photos would be re-imaged as "halftones", which meant the pictures would be transformed into an image that was a series of dots; the more dense an area of dots, the more ink would adhere to the paper in the printing process, creating shades of black, gray and white into a composite image the human eye sees as a photograph.
When the printer had finished the initial pre-press preparation, the galleys of type, halftones and finished ads would be sent back to the newspaper staff. At this point, "paste-up" would occur at the college newsroom. The pages would all be laid out to specifications of the editor. Columns of type would be proofread again and cut out of the galleys. Wax would be applied to the back, and the stories and ads would be affixed to a sheet with corresponding headlines. It was very precise work that required an artist's eye for use of white space and different page design. Important stories were allowed large headlines and prominent placement, while others might only require one column and "below-the-fold" obscurity. Careful attention was given to the layout, as baselines had to be straight and perfectly aligned to adjacent columns. Sometimes it would be necessary to cut between paragraphs to add space to a column so they aligned properly. If color ink was to be used in the edition, a "mask" was created for each page, where holes were cut on an overlay to show only the areas to be printed in a color. It was very time-consuming, but also rewarding to produce a clean, professional newspaper. Once all the pages were pasted-up, they were proofread a final time by two or more staffers before being shipped back to the printer for the final pre-press work and printing.

As computer technology advanced, this particular college purchased its own phototypesetting equipment. All type needed for the newspaper could be produced in-house. The editor often would write directly on the computer, negating the need for initial typewritten copy. Eventually, separate consoles could be added to allow several reporters the same luxury. Fast forward to today, and each reporter of a newsroom has a separate computer that feeds copy directly to the editor who designs an entire edition on-screen and can even go directly to press from there, eliminating all the steps once employing several people along the way. Evidently, the Deacon's college no longer produces a printed newspaper. This is becoming a trend, as newsprint gives way to the electronic age of websites.


Having found journalism in the professional world to limit creativity, the Deacon left that world. It also didn't help that he made a goofy mistake which got him fired from his job as a reporter. (Telling another how much one makes when it is more than the other, more experienced reporter is paid, results in an embarrassed and angry boss.) Somehow, it became more interesting to work in the pre-press and printing area, leaving the writing to people who didn't mind that mundane world of city council meetings and sewer projects. The Deacon found himself a typographer who could accurately keyboard at 100 words-per-minute with very few mistakes. It was very creative and technically challenging, and paid well. Writing became less a priority while earning more was vital as a young father. Short stories and personal letters became the Deacon's literary exercise.

As he found himself inching toward middle age, he found inspiration in the pages of Stephen King's book 'On Writing' and began creating his own GAN (Great American Novel). Some 16 years and 970 pages later, he hasn't finished this expansive semi-autobiography. The first 700 pages were produced in the first few years, while the remainder has come in fits and starts, coughs and burps. He wonders how so much time passed so quickly and whether his life experiences since he began the project have altered the mindset present at the book's launch.

There have been inspirations for funny stories, sad times of eulogies and self-reflection, happy times of love and growth. Each person has a story within, yet few find their voice to express themselves. Some think if they lack grammar skills, their story shouldn't be told. Balderdash and bullshit! That's what editors are for. Just write! Write what you know, as they say. Avoid agonizing over planning a story. Just write it down. Fix it later.
One might wonder what the Deacon did in addition to journalism and printing careers, but a smidgeon of mystery is healthy in the reader-writer relationship. Suffice to say, a series of fortunate events led to the creation of this blog. Along the way, he created a few pieces that have yet to be offered in this or other venues. He often questions whether he has "what it takes to succeed" in the literary world. Simply having the ability to write isn't enough; one must have the creativity necessary to hold the readers' attention. For this old boy, time is running fast. From the Driver Side is good practice, but he often wonders if those who read this find it interesting enough to afford his venturing forth with bolder offerings to publishers. The 4,700-odd page views are encouraging, but most who read mostly opt out of leaving comments. There have been readers who bump into the Deacon here and there, and he is surprised to find a few followers. Yet the true purpose of this exercise is to stretch and practice. Worrying too much about what one thinks about this blog is counter-productive.

Thanks again for reading. I'm happy we've had this time together. (Oops!)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

4000 and Counting....

Thanks everyone...since I began this bloggishness last spring there have been 4000 readers!