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?


  1. No longer driving a bus, but I've noticed that pedestrian jay walking is at an all-time high in PDX. These things used to go in cycles, but I'm not sure any more that Portland PD will do a push to reduce it for a while. There's a whole bunch of pedestrians who will step out into the street, depending on the pedestrian right-of-way laws to get traffic to halt for them. And these are not just the angry, agitated street people you could always depend on to display this behavior.

    1. Nedwell! So nice to hear from you again! Jaywalkers annoy me more than tampon commercials. And Portland PD? Don't get me started. If they would only stake out the downtown transit mall, they'd write enough tickets to buy back the name of our Rose Garden. And that's just the bicyclist citations! Jaywalking while plugged in and tuned out has reached a dangerous high, but now that pot will be legal it's gonna get worse! Faaar out maaannnn...

    2. "Tampon commercials..." ??? Ewwwww...

    3. The sight of a bus still results in a prayer.

      Your Tucson brother.

  2. I'm new to your blog and I have to thank you for saying what is on all of our minds! This entry reminds me of the time I had a guy deboard my bus, run right in front of it without looking, and nearly get smoked by a five ton truck speeding up on my left side. Of course he was crossing against the light, and I swear I saw his hair touch the front of that truck. Both myself and the driver of that truck got out and blasted that kid for being so stupid. Did he get the message? Probably not. Thanks again for the blog. I'm making sure that I share it with as many people as possible, including my "white shirt" husband, who has seemingly forgotten what it's like to drive a bus since he became a supervisor!