Monday, December 14, 2015

My Christmas List


This time of year can be particularly stressful for some. Many of us see it as a time of reflection, a season to show our loved ones how much they truly affect our lives. Already, I've had the greatest Christmas present a blogger could ask for. Since this time a year ago, FTDS's hit counter has almost doubled itself! Of course, it helps the numbers to piss off a certain segment of the public, but oh well. The news is, this blog has reached over 21,000 hits in 2015 alone, with readers all over the world. I'm flabbergasted at all this attention, but it feels good... a great boost to my confidence.

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

People from Russia, Australia, Canada, Japan, Belarus, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland(!), and Poland have read my words. I am truly humbled. It seems bus operators the world over experience a lot of the same feelings as we do here in Portland. Even though we're scattered across this gorgeous blue marble, we're also united by the one thing we do for a living. I realize not all the readers are operators, but I hope by reading this blog, you understand us just a little bit more.

Bus operators, I'm sure you can tell after reading a few of my posts, can be a particularly persnickety and ornery bunch. I poke, prod and outright smack people with these words. If you've taken offense, I apologize. It is advised that you take my tomes with a grain of salt. Usually these posts are written after long hours in the seat, and that's an extremely stressful place. Someone once suggested I seek "therapy" because they thought I was downright aggressive. Well, phooey. THIS is my therapy. I get out my frustration, anger and over-zealous self-righteous indignation in this blog. It's an exercise in breathing, literary profanity. Once I've finished a post, I feel much better. If you don't appreciate being the subject of my sharp-edged barbs, might I suggest a tougher coat of armor? My personal shields grow stronger with every mile behind the wheel. I'm flipped off, honked at, and cursed in many languages every day. Just for doing my job. So yeah, I get to be mean in here because to do so "out there" isn't keeping you safe. Blowing off steam is good for the cardiovascular system, and if I let the occasional literary fart here and there just hold your nose; this too shall pass.

So what do I truly "want" for Christmas this year? I've already had to change the heating system in my house. Santa told me in passing one day he had to order a rail car to deliver all the coal to my house. (Talk about grumpy old men!) So that leaves me at your mercy, dear readers. Hope you can help me out. Here's a list of 10 things I would love for Christmas, and the entire year.

Pay it forward. When someone (like a friendly bus operator) does you a "solid", do somebody else a favor down the line. I believe in the domino effect. It's amazing how easily you can do the only positive thing all day long for somebody, and the result is often one of the biggest smiles and greatest appreciation you'll ever see. Even if your efforts aren't immediately appreciated, kindness goes a long way to heal broken souls.

If a bus operator growls, barks or outright yells at you, stop and think a moment. There's usually a hidden lesson here. That operator's demeanor is likely the result of something you did that any normal human would categorize as downright stupid and dangerous to your well-being and to your fellow passengers. Whatever you do, don't argue. If you'd like an explanation, first apologize for whatever you did, then ask nicely what you did to deserve such a tongue-lashing. Remember, your infraction has already passed through the operator's busy task list. Chances are it's forgiven. We can't hold on to things very long because our emotional trash can has to be regularly emptied so we can concentrate on giving you a smooth ride. Be humble, and be honest with yourself; your safety is truly our number one concern.

Call our Customer Service Department (503-258-RIDE) when you see an operator do something nice. Or when we save someone's life. Out of each 100 calls, 99.5 of them are complaints. Surely we deserve more than half a compliment out of 100. People dearly love to bitch us out, yet ignore the positive things.

Put your phone away for a trip, and watch what we do.
Put the earbuds away. Watch how other motorists treat us. Chances are you'll see something that evokes wonder, shock or even awe. Imagine how you'd feel sitting at the helm of a 20-ton, 40-foot-long, nine-foot-wide and 11-foot-tall mega beast. See how many things your driver did just to make a simple turn? Did you see that pedestrian dart out from between parked cars? The resulting sudden stop which would normally entice a scowl from you glancing up from your phone to see what happened only to have missed it, will look (and feel) entirely different if you watch in real-time.

Read the signs on the bus, and do what they say. They are there for a very good reason. Most are to ensure an efficient, smooth and safe ride.

Be kind to your fellow passengers. Treat them as you would a revered grandparent, even if they're rude to you. Fights on the bus involve police. Police involvement requires lawyers. Lawyers ain't cheap. Physical aggression can be painful, no matter how badass you think you are. Hospitals ain't cheap either.

Remember that just because someone appears "different", doesn't mean they are any less a human being than you are. We're too divisive and judgmental a society these days. Practice kindness, and it is often returned to you a hundred fold. Whenever I've pre-judged someone by their looks alone, I've often felt like a fool.

Smile. It's good for you. It takes more muscles to frown that it does to smile, and the health benefits are abundant. I try to smile at everyone who boards my bus. The basic human response to a smile is to return it with one of our own. I love it when I see a bright smile!

Even though you're having a rough day, week, year or life, remember there's always somebody else who has it worse than you. Had a bad day at the office? That guy in the seat across from you who smells bad hasn't had a bath in a long time. Why? Because he's homeless, and that's not necessarily his "fault". That lady who just hobbled on to the bus and took extra time to sit down may have recently had surgery, making every step painful beyond your own scope of understanding.

Just... be... careful. Please. This is my most important wish. There are people at home who love you. They count on your coming home safely, every day. What would happen to your loved ones if you actually got hit by that train or bus because you wanted to shave a few extra seconds off your commute and did something foolish? They would be devastated, and so would the vehicle's operator, the investigating supervisor, the transit dispatcher, transit and city cops, the station agents and all the fellow operators as well as those on the vehicle. We're all a team, and we want you to get "there" safely. It's simple, folks. Safety is keeping aware of your surroundings and following rules even if they seem ridiculous. Remember, those few extra seconds you shave are nothing compared to a great deal of pain or the loss of your life.




There you have it. It's actually an easy list, and won't cost you a thing. I'm a cheap date, or so Mrs. Blue says. It will be a fun Christmas this year, especially when I turn the Grinch movie off just as he's finished stealing all the goodies. This is where I tell my kids the story ends. They know the game now, though. I'm kinda like that ol' Grinch. Even though I growl and scowl in here, my heart is actually full of love and kindness.

Merry Christmas, Happy Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever holiday you celebrate. May all the peace and joy of life fill your days and nights as long as we are blessed to have you here with us on Earth. Peace be with you and yours.

With love and deep appreciation, I am
db

Friday, December 11, 2015

Time for Some Innovative Ideas


Portland's Transit Mall downtown is a mess these days. For decades it's been a major hub of our transit system. North-going buses, light rail and streetcars use 6th, and southbound use 5th. But the signage instructing motorists is horrible at best.

There are three lanes in most places on the mall. Painted onto the street are "BUS ONLY" or "LRT BUS" with double solid white lines as recommended barriers between transit and other vehicles. Signs at streetlight level inform motorists the right two lanes are for transit vehicles only, and that right turns are not allowed, but they are not nearly enough to keep confused (or illiterate) motorists from obeying the lane restrictions. The result, especially at rush hour, is pure madness. Vehicles regularly clog our service stops or transit lanes in hopes to beat the long line of obedient motorists to the next light. Bicycles weave in and out of the traffic and transit lanes, perilously run red lights, and often turn right directly in front of bus operators leaving service stops. Pedestrians routinely ignore the walk signals, or simply refuse to look up from their iPhones long enough to deduce it might be unsafe to cross. And then there are the skateboarders, daredevil mobility device users, and kamikaze delivery trucks.

When I was in training, a good deal of classroom time was spent learning all the rules of our transit mall. Next came the practical training behind the wheel. A bus driver's senses, which are always on high alert, perk up even more once we turn onto the mall. One missed scan at any given moment can spell disaster for anybody we share these streets with. The average person doesn't realize how many safety protocols are involved in a single block of operating a transit vehicle through the mall. 

All this begs the questions I'm about to ask.

Why have there been no publicized safety assessments of the transit mall, with suggestions as to how to fix the many problems? Most likely, it's easily summed up by our city leaders by the age-old excuse: we don't have the money. Bullshit. Where the public safety is concerned, I'm sure an enterprising grant writer could find the funds necessary to make vital changes.

Why does local law enforcement turn a blind eye to blatant traffic  violations on the transit mall? From what I hear, city government is afraid of offending tourists by issuing citations. What a flimsy excuse, when you consider how truly treacherous it is to navigate through our bustling downtown area. You'd think our city leaders would spend a generous amount of time coming up with better ways to keep tourists and our fellow Portlanders safer in the downtown area. Plus, many of the law breaking motorists are most likely repeat offenders, especially if they have OR or WA plates. I can understand if Randy Retiree from Mayberry, South Dakota doesn't understand the lay of the land in our big city transit mall. However, 'BUS ONLY' is spelled the same throughout all English-speaking municipalities worldwide.

Why isn't our transit agency leading the way in innovative solutions, which is what once made it the best in the country? We just spent $1.5 billion on a seven-mile new light-rail line without safety features designed to keep intending passengers from walking directly in front of approaching trains at its southern-most terminus. The transit agency was busted a few years ago for not funding its pension responsibilities, then saying it didn't have enough money to meet its obligations. Not only did our pensions suffer, but so did our retirees. Contract negotiations were brutal, and promise to be even worse next time. If leadership had truly innovative and creative minds, it would have long ago improved the "culture of safety" it spouts at every media opportunity. It would prove a commitment to safety rather than giving this wonderful-sounding concept mere lip service.

Here's a few of my ideas, take 'em or leave 'em.

An artist's rendering of a possible city street utilizing solar roadway
lighting, from http://www.solarroadways.com.
We see solar panels popping up all over, especially at transit stations. They power lights and other electricity-hungry devices. So why not try something truly innovative, such as solar roadways lighting and signage? Instead of those hard-to-see puny signs on the mall, wouldn't it be truly forward-thinking of us to pioneer on-street signage? Imagine a street lit-up with easy-to-see lane markers, instructions and crosswalks, powered by solar cells located directly in the roadway.  Anyone in Portland knows that when it rains (and that happens a LOT here, especially the past few weeks!), the painted lines in our streets all but disappear. Although it happens rarely, snow obliterates these painted lines until it melts or is plowed away. These new roadway panels have heaters that melt snow and ice, eliminating the need for plows, which likely can damage switches and rail connections. Hey, it's not proven yet to be totally problem-free, but maybe it's worth looking into.

These solar panels have other benefits as well, such as modularity making them easy to replace; being impervious to potholes; can treat, store and channel storm water; eliminate 'dead zones' for cell phones; to name a few. Our country once prided itself on innovation. These days we seem to wait for others to take the chances, waiting to see the results rather than taking the bull by the horns and holding on for the ride. We built the first transit and bike/pedestrian bridge in the country, why not test this innovative new technology? Perhaps the long-term savings could be used for additional benefits for all.

Start issuing citations to motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians who blatantly break the traffic laws downtown. If people knew Portland was serious about "safety", perhaps people would take notice and look up from their cell phones long enough to pay attention. If they paid a few fines, it might just save their lives further down the line. I say quit being passive about it. If 'BUS ONLY' is spelled the same way across the country, isn't 'DON'T WALK' as well?

Build the damn bridge across the Columbia already, and charge tolls on all the bridges between Oregon and Washington. If our neighbors won't pay their fair share willingly, then it's time to force them. I recently read the current bridges are built on timbers, some over 100 years old, and that they could collapse in a seismic event. It's time to take action, not whine about our neighbors' refusal to pay its share of replacing these disasters-in-waiting. Plus, the tolls might help pay for street repairs. I don't know if you've noticed our crumbling roadways, but we collectively feel each pothole thousands of times a day.

As things are today, it seems Portland does not care about the safety of those they choose not to offend. Tourists are at risk, as well as our own citizens, because the city keeps cutting law enforcement which in turn gives rise to blatant law breaking.

Sure, maybe I'm just a crackpot bus operator. What do I know, anyway? Well here's one thing I do know: we waste money dreaming of bridges to nowhere that we could be spending on those which already lead us somewhere. 

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.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rants and Reviews

HAPPY THANKSGIVING YA TURKEYS!


Wow, what a week. First, this blog was reviewed by Jonathan at bikeportland.org. While on one hand I appreciated the publicity and many great comments which gave me insights from the cyclists' point of view. On the other I was amazed at how many of those readers are simple boneheads. They can't distinguish satire from reality, for one. Others are liberally-infused with an unhealthy dose of hypocrisy.

While many appreciated what we do 'out there' while keeping people safe, others questioned our methods. Somehow, we're expected to be emotional robots when we avoid colliding with them, saving their lives whether they realize it or not. As our adrenaline level rockets sky-high after a near-miss with an errant bicyclist, we're often treated to the one-fingered salute. How many of you can honestly say that if you saved another's life and they flipped you off, you would nod and just say "Bless you, child"? Not many, I'll bet. All because you used your 'warning device' (aka 'horn') to alert them of impending disaster. It's silly, childish, and contraindicative of the majority of intelligent and attentive bicycle-riding public. Because I have the audacity to call stupid behavior just that, I'm labeled "angry" and "horn happy".

My good friend and brother, The Rampant Lion, was astounded someone would refer to us that way. In fact, he took it a step further.

"If you're a f-ing scofflaw, and you're doing something stupid and unlawful, like riding your bike across a crosswalk, then, without either signaling or looking first, you swerve back into the traffic lane in front of my 40,000-lb. machine, you bet your sweet bippy I'm gonna honk at your ass!" The Lion roars a lot louder than I can.

So for those who cannot maturely interact with the world into which they blindly venture, I'll jump back a few years and treat them accordingly. I'll wash their 'binky' in a politically-correct organic antiseptic, so no nasty old bus driver's epithets won't infect their fragile temperaments. (We're cursed and belittled all day, every day by ignorant ne'er do wells, but we tough it out.) Then I'll buy them a soft little bunny to cuddle. (Personally, I prefer my bunnies fried or in a finely-seasoned Welsh Rarebit.) Then, I'll give them a ba-ba infused with ganja juice to mellow them out. (Some of us resort to a fine scotch after a week of work, but are unable to taste the forbidden THC fruit, as per federal law.) Finally, I'll tuck them in wif a rancid blanky made of street detritus, singing James Taylor's Damn This Traffic Jam until they settle into a fretful nightmare.

Folks, I won't sugar-coat what we face out there. If I wake a few people up or even piss you off, I'm doing my job as the author of a transit-related blog. Maybe you'll read something that could possibly save your own life. I truly want to help you be safe. You're 100-200lbs. on a 20lb. nearly-invisible two-wheeled self-propellant sharing the street with a 40ft., 11' tall, 9' wide 20-ton monster operated by an attentive and vigilant professional. You're most likely safer near a bus, if you follow basic common sense rules, than you are around cars or delivery vehicles.

We're actually very nice people. We go to church with you, coach Little League, salute the flag, vote in elections, and feel sad when one of you is injured (whoever may be at fault) in an accident with a transit vehicle. If my 'ranting' offends you, I heartily invite you to read elsewhere. I'm not always negative, but as traffic gets worse each year, our jobs become proportionately harder. Sure, I pounce on stupid behavior. But you may notice I have a softer side. There are some funny bits here and there, so I've been told. I'm not a growling, spitting, finger-bending ogre who eats little kids for dinner with cute kittens for dessert. If you don't like it when my truths offend your fairy tale image of life, too damn bad. Go tell Stephen King to knock it off when his characters chop off limbs or think firestorms upon various pissers-off. You don't see him acting these stories out in real life, and to lambast me for it is just ludicrous.

Yeah, I "rant" in here. It's great therapy! It keeps me safe, sane and able to treat passengers to a courteous and safe ride. Before the crybabies chimed in when FTDS was reviewed, I had 42,000 hits. An overwhelming majority of comments have been positive. Many of my readers also drive a bus, and they say my writing usually mirrors their own thoughts. Operators and passengers all over the world read this blog to the tune of 4,000 a month. From humble beginnings to this point, all has gone well. I'm very grateful for this opportunity, and I thank you for your honest opinions, agreeable or not.

One thing this experience has taught me is that I've reached that point in a bus driver's career where I need to step back, take a deep breath, and not allow things affect me so deeply. If I seem angry to you, it's only because my fellow Portlanders practice ignorance at the worst times, and when they do so around my bus, it's highly stressful. Any sane person would be affected by a near-miss. If you believe these are all the fault of bus operators, you're horribly mistaken.

For the first time in my career not long ago, I had to stop driving in the middle of a shift because I was verbally assaulted. Nobody has ever spoken to me in that manner, tone or with such rudeness; not even my first wife, and she was a doozy. Sure, I've been verbally abused before, but this time I was so upset and angry that had I driven further, the incident would have caused such a distraction I couldn't have kept my passengers safe. When I stepped off the bus, my hands were shaking, my soul was in turmoil. I was glad I made the decision to call it a day. Even though they were inconvenienced by my decision, those riders understood. Some even thanked me, and said they were sorry I was treated so poorly. Such kindness brought tears to my eyes.

Peace be with you this holiday season, and I hope all your ups and downs are in bed.


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.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Road Relief

Evidently, people from all over the world are readers of this blog. Many of you share my occupation, so you understand when I say we're not paid enough of the hours we're actually in uniform.

When you meet your bus en route, also known as a road relief, operators here are expected to not only be on time, but to arrive early. If you take public transit to your road relief, you're expected to be two buses (or trains) ahead of your scheduled run start time. However, we're only paid pennies on the dollar for road reliefs. A couple of bucks is not proper compensation for getting there early and waiting. If your buses only run every 20 minutes, you can arrive up to 40 minutes or more prior to your road relief time. So for 20-40 minutes each day, I'm actually giving my time away.

Hey I don't expect to be paid for travel time from home to work. But if my actual "work" begins before my scheduled time and I'm not being paid for it, there's a problem. While waiting for my bus to arrive, I am asked questions at least five times a day. I'm in uniform, expected to represent the agency, but I'm not being compensated for my time. If I get relieved on the road, I should be compensated for the time it takes to get from the relief to my home garage because only then am I truly "off the clock".

Just throwing in my two cents here. But I'm curious... of you readers who hail from transit agencies around the world and in this country (USA), what is your road relief pay? What are your thoughts on compensating operators for all the time we spend in uniform but are not being paid? Please either comment under this post, or drop me a line at deaconinblue@gmail.com, or on the FaceBook post this article appears under.

Thanks and stay safe out there folks!

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.