Sunday, December 6, 2015

Quick Note

Sorry folks, been really busy lately, no time to write much these days.

Also doing some serious soul repair, because my writing evidently was becoming 'rantish'.

It's my favorite time of year, and I need to work with St. Nicholas to find some smiles for the miles I have yet to go.

Don't forget the reason for the season this year my friends. Slow down, smile at the kids, do something special for someone who's not expecting it.

Be careful when you're driving, walking, biking, skateboarding, etc. Your loved ones want to see you home safely, and so do your bus and train operators.

Peace be with you all.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Recertification Rambling



Sometimes, when my creative "well" is, well, a bit dry, I just sit at the keyboard. And type. So this is one of those times, and please bear with me.

Not that I have nothing to say, but if you've kept up with this blog you know I'm usually too damn wordy. But y'all support me as I ramble, and I appreciate it. We all know just one day in service shows us more than the average city dweller sees in a year. Although the media refuses to report it unless forced, we're portrayed as overpaid and grumpy civil servants who always want more than we deserve while we constantly save lives. We are actually underpaid, when you consider the quality service we provide to an inattentive and jaded public.

I recently had "recertification class", in which we sit  and watch the mistakes of fellow drivers and learn how to avoid repeating them. We watch film of accidents and discuss whether they were preventable from a driver's standpoint. The GM makes an appearance (on film, of course) and says what you'd expect him to say: "Safety is our Number One Concern!" and blah blah. As if his saying it makes this even more important than we already know. We practice it daily. It's ingrained into our senses. We're always watching for dangers, predicting behaviors, altering our speed or making slight alterations in our course to avoid accidents. People do stupid things around our buses so often we're used to it. Safety is second nature to us. But when it comes to OUR safety, drivers are nearly unanimous in our belief the district is more concerned with its image and bottom line than with our actually "being SAFE". We're on the front lines; management sits in the ivory tower making decisions it thinks are best for passengers first. We feel like a destitute fourth cousin at a filthy rich relative's wedding.

I know a driver who was verbally abused and threatened recently. He's around 60 and has concerns this person could physically assault him. One punch could kill literally kill him. Hell, just thinking about whether the guy is waiting for him at a stop could cause a heart attack. Yet he was asked to give the passenger a ride anyway, because he was on good behavior for the supervisors. To his credit, the driver refused. As captains of these ships, we should have the right to refuse service to anybody who threatens us because that person also is a danger to other passengers. Drivers who are distracted by obnoxious passengers are not fully in tune with what they need to be doing. It seemed this driver was being pressured to serve someone who is potentially dangerous, and that's also insulting. What about his safety? Isn't that as important to management as it is to us?

As for the class, it's interesting and sometimes sobering, but I always leave with a renewed sense of purpose: to keep it SAFE out there. Riders are largely unaware of what we do in the driver's seat. They have this misguided notion that all we do is "just drive a bus". True enough. Yet they haven't the tiniest notion, most of them, what it entails. Constant scanning around the bus and the stresses other vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles put on us take their toll. Stopping and starting several hundred times a day puts intense pressure on the feet, ankles, knees and hips. One eight hour shift (or more) can leave us Strained and Drained (SAD, as I like to call it). Although most folks give us a nice "Thank You" as they head out the door, I know they don't have an inkling of what it took physically and mentally to get them from Point A to B. Once in a while, such as during a recent Portland gully-washing storm, I get a pat on the back and a heartfelt "Thanks for driving, I truly appreciate what you do every day". The gratitude I feel when I hear this is indescribable. Unfortunately, it's also very rare.

On my recertification check ride, which is where a trainer has you drive while watching your operating behavior, I was very careful. I am every day, but we're always trying to impress the training staff with our professional techniques. Scanning constantly, watching the mirrors every 5-8 seconds, covering the brake at intersections, making good square turns and executing perfect service stops is something we do every day. All day. Yet after a few years of driving, even the best of us are prone to slide in some areas, or pick up bad habits. My trainer corrected a few of mine that I was unaware of, and I appreciated her input. It will all go into my "bag of tools" I use as I maneuver the behemoth bus down the road.

Once in a while, a driver will make a bonehead mistake. I certainly have, and I'm extremely hard on myself and work hard to avoid further occurrences. We're nowhere near perfect. Compared to other drivers though, we're damn close.

Be SAFE out there fellow ops, and for you riders, here's some advice: next time you're on the bus, unplug your headphones and put the phone away. Watch the operator and observe what they're doing in relation to their surroundings. What you see might just give you a greater appreciation for that person in the seat.

Monday, September 28, 2015

New Olympic Events

Next weekend, our transit agency is holding its annual "Bus Roadeo". I don't participate in this because I think it's just another media event for management, but I don't begrudge my fellow operators for participating. From all I've heard, participants enjoy this event. If the union were the sponsor and not our agency, I might feel differently and participate.

Bus operators get a raw deal from a public that has at many times stated "a monkey could do that job". Bullshit. A monkey couldn't even wash floors correctly. Why? Because they lack the human sense of "work". So it's terribly insulting to compare a bus operator to a monkey, and having a "roadeo" to me is like putting elephants to work in a circus.

What we should create is a new Olympic category: Bus Operation. Athletes train for years to attain the level of proficiency to put them at the top of their game. So do bus operators. We drive anywhere from six to 14 hours a day, five days a week. As we operate a bus, certain skills become honed, because we practice constantly. Knowing a pedestrian will enter a crosswalk against a signal, creating space to allow the stop sign-running motorist to turn right onto the street directly in front of us,  knowing a bicyclist will unlawfully pass in spite of a blinking yield light; all these incidents, and many more, qualify us as professional drivers. No "roadeo" is needed to prove this indisputable fact.

I've read articles about buses that drive themselves. What a load of baloney. Sure the technology may be coming, but it takes human judgment to save lives. Also, if you create robotic solutions to relieve labor disputes, pretty soon there will be no humans working at all... only machines. When that happens, how will anyone be able to buy the goods and services which business markets? The idea of machines doing the jobs of experienced professional humans is something we should all be concerned about.

So I'm in favor of adding a few events to the summer and winter Olympics. Here's a sample of how the play-by-play might go for Passenger Pickup. I can just hear Bob Costas now:

"Okay here comes Deacon Blue in his customized 2001 New Flyer, approaching the multi-line stop at top speed, hundredths of a second behind our leader. There's nobody at the stop but an old lady with a walker, and she's looking at her cell phone! No wait, she just looked up, and is now back to looking at her phone again. No telling if she wants his bus, but The Deacon let off the accelerator at just the right moment, saw her body language and hit the pedal again. Wait, here it comes... WOW DID YOU SEE THAT? The Deacon hit that mud puddle at 35mph and just obliterated that old lady in mud just as she raised both middle fingers at him! Well done! Now he's rounding the corner as his lane is about to end, and here comes a Prius, hell-bent for blowing past him. Deacon floors it and leans into the turn to force the Prius into a position behind the bus! Wow, this guy is incredible! Okay, a bicyclist has blown a stop sign and moved into the transit lane instead of the bike lane. What's he going to do? Oh no, he STOPS COLD! Deacon stops with three feet to spare! WOW! Listen to that crowd! One more turn to go with the finish line ahead, he floors it, looks right and left as he clears the final intersection and crosses the finish line in what...might...be... record time. AND... the judges are conferring... YES IT'S OFFICIAL, HE JUST TOOK THE LEAD FOR FIRST PLACE!"

We could also see these events: Difficult Detours, Best Stopping Distance, Boarding Drunks, Wheelchair Securement, Snow/Ice Slalom with Chained and un-Chained Divisions, SIP (Self-Important Passengers) Handling, and Parallel Parking. Yes folks, I've actually seen a bus operator (with many years of experience) back his bus perfectly, in one shot, in between two buses at a layover! It was some of the prettiest driving I've ever seen.

Hey, I can dream, can't I? Shut up, bean counters. Even monkeys don't want your job. I get to drive a bus every day!

Friday, August 7, 2015

How About a Shout Out?

With over 100 posts under my belt (along with some extra/unwanted baggage), it's fun sometimes to take a look at my 'audience' and revel in the fact I have readers all over the world! 

If you take a peek at the stats below for the lifetime of FTDS, you'll see that besides US 'muricans' and our friendly northern neighbors, there's quite a spread over this entire blue marble. What I'd like to know is, who are you folks in Poland, Russia, France, England, Ukraine, Australia, and Germany? Why are there no compadres de Mexico? Am I too brash for Japanese readers? Not brash enough for Spaniards or Greeks? Of course I don't want to gloss over my biggest audience right here in the USA though. I'm a curious type of George. Pleased as pumpkin pie to have all you wonderful folks reading my ramblings, but I often wonder what brings you folks back time after time? Surely it ain't abundant 'talent', because Lord knows that's in short supply.

I know some of you must share these posts, and I thank you. My goal was 100k hits by the end of this year, but I'd have to write several posts a week to come close to that. If you're a bus operator, you know our lives don't allow enough idle time for that to be possible. Besides, I'm not that greedy. If there's nothing to write, I refuse to post just to see more hits. I'm not that cheap, no matter what Mrs. Blue says.

So would you do me a favor and chime in with a comment and let me know who and where you are? It would be fun to get to know some of you, hear about your experiences and grow a community of people via From The Driver Side.

Thanks for reading!

;o)
D. Blue

Pageviews by Countries 

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
EntryPageviews
United States
27129
Canada
4624
Russia
450
France
276
United Kingdom
136
Ukraine
121
Germany
116
Australia
77
Ireland
62
Poland
55

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bus Driver's "Vacation"

A day before Nevada... south central Oregon in all its liquid splendor.

Nevada

No way to spend a vacation, driving through such desolation. Now I know why smart people fly over it. One day into our grand driving adventure into the abyss, I'm suddenly regretful. Dull, brown, grey, dust. Even the trees are dead. Granted, it's February. But still. What the hell am I doing here?

"The shortest distance..." Pat starts to say.

"Shut yer yap," I interrupt. "The journey is supposed to be the fun part."

After leaving the vast Northwest forests we call home, the vast Nevada alkaline wasteland is a severe disappointment. We drone on all day between Reno and Vegas. We're assaulted by endless ribbons of asphalt lines separated by grey vistas of nothingness. The only color is the sky, and even it seems to lack enough oxygen to keep it pleasantly blue. My eyes burn from the blazing overhead star. It's supposed to be life-sustaining, but not here, where even the birds are absent. All it does is force me to buy clip-ons for my new glasses, which aren't even the correct prescription. Decades earlier, I traversed the state on a compass setting west to east. It was surely more palatable than the north-south route.

"Let me drive," I say. "You're slower than a snowbird on Valium."

"I'm doing 75," Pat grumbles. "I get a speeding ticket 10 miles over, and my license is extinct. Besides, I want good gas mileage."

"The way you drive, you'll get cited for loitering. That cop 10 miles back passed you doing 90."

Pat sighs and tunes up the cruise control a few ticks. Still too slow. His beloved Stacey snores contentedly in the back seat, oblivious to our bickering. Having known each other for decades, I am one of the few who get away with calling him "Pat". We've spent a lifetime debating one another, and it's apparent he enjoys the banter as much as I like giving him shit. As Portland bus operators, the last thing you'd think we'd do on vacation is drive. But Pat's dad is getting old, and he wants to visit his family. Instead of sitting around drinking scotch -- alone, I've  chosen to join these lovebirds. To Arizona, home of the stoned conservative dust bangers, burial throne of the irascible genius Abbey, 1,500 miles or so distant from my lush rain forested domicile. With gas prices low, we decide to break in Pat's 2015 Hyundai Tucson with a grand road trip. Only this part of the map doesn't incite any of the romance the road once held.

The first day was fun, rolling through scenic southern Oregon and briefly skirting the tip of California before entering the Silver State and Reno. Not a bad place, Reno. Very nice motel rooms for modest prices, because they want you to sell your soul to a slot machine. Only we don't fall for the ruse. A whopping $5, and Pat is done. My wager is $1.50, and that's plenty. The cheap buffet is our main calling, and we call it a night after a few over-priced watered-down drinks. A relaxing bubble bath for us all -- not together, of course -- and a good night's sleep are supposed to prepare us for the next day's 682-mile drive.

Linda Sings 'Willin'
Fast forward to Tonopah. I've always wondered what it looked like. Lowell George's wistful truck-driving tune, Willin', has always been a favorite. "And I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehatchapi to Tonopah... driven every kinda rig that's ever been made... driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed..." Linda Ronstadt's voice is easier to listen to than taking in this craggy outpost of an old mining camp. We roll through it after grabbing some cheap gas and lumber on.

Las Vegas at rush hour isn't as bad as Portland this time of day. Within 30 minutes our trusty new steed is closing in on Arizona and more interesting scenery. Problem is, the sun has left the scene. Into the black we zip into the Grand Canyon State. A blazing billboard welcomes us to "Arizona Wildcat Country", some 350 miles northwest of Tucson. Two hours later, after bouncing down a rough stretch of I-40, we arrive to find Pat's 88-year-old daddy nodding off in his rocking chair. He is genuinely pleased to see us, especially his third of four sons.

I'm pointed toward the Dickel while Pat and Stacey visit with Pop. Stepping out into his expansive yet barren back yard, I'm immediately awarded with a blazing panorama of twinkling stars. The air is a brisk departure from the new-car smell I've endured all day. As I down a couple of shots of delicious bourbon, I can almost see life on other planets. The stars are close, the air still. It's eerily quiet. I enjoy peaceful contemplation, and my thoughts wander back toward youthful days on the ranch. Old lovers call out through the silence, soothing a sudden melancholy. For the first time since I became a bus operator, my soul is at peace. A coyote calls half a mile away, the neighbor dogs add some harmony. With this canine lullaby my meditation is cut short, so I find my way back inside and sleep a good nine hours. In a bed, Pat tells me, in which four generations of his family were born.

Mogollon Rim

Another failed "selfie". Damn camera!
Leaving Pat and me to our own devices, Stacey chooses to ride with their daughter to Tucson and her parents home. We will be reunited a day later, and after lunch with their family, we hit the road again.

Pronounced mug-a-yawn, or mo-go-yone depending on lingual preference, Arizona's Mogollon Rim is basically a 200-mile-long fault ridge separating each side of it by three- to five-thousand feet in elevation. The highway we chose wound eastward from the interstate, upward from the high deserts of Camp Verde through several climate zones. If you've never visited Arizona, this route introduces you to a wide variety of landscape few outsiders are aware of. From scrub oak to pinyon pine to the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, the vistas inspire even the most hardened skeptics who believe the state is devoid of anything but cacti and illegal immigrants. The sleepy hamlets of Pine and Strawberry inspire us, for once, to slow down and enjoy the ride. Having driven this route years before, even Pat is awed by the beauty. He finds a pullover which winds far enough from the highway to allow us a private rest area. We tramp around a hill, rewarded with a deep canyon that pitches and yaws as far as we can see. It's a quiet time. I can tell Pat is wistful, so I leave him to his woolgathering.

Further down the road we encounter Payson, at a cool 5,000 feet in elevation. While it's a cute town with plenty of tourist traps, we're not biting. Several others flash by as well, but Pat is on a mission which doesn't include town worship. Our destination is a small hamlet miles distant, which he begs me not to mention by name, out of respect for the anonymity of his close pals we intend to visit. The open road offers us plenty of deserted stops, however, and we take advantage of a few. Besides tapping our kidneys and stretching, we make tracks for the home of these friends he'll only refer to by their affectionate yet vulgar nicknames.

Upon arrival later that afternoon, these warm farmers happily welcome us with hugs, beer, and mesquite-broiled steaks. The rest of the night is a hilarious blur, and as a cliche-ridden rural newspaper would likely report, "a good time was had by all".

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TO BE CONTINUED

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

I'm Back, and Relaxed

Perhaps you saw my FaceBook posts, but I just returned from a 4,000 mile "vacation". Wow, simply splendid. The scenery, except in Nevada, was awe-inspiring. 

Stay tuned for a more detailed synopsis, but here's a few pics from the 2015 Arizona Oddyssey.