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.


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

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
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.