Friday, December 30, 2016

New Moons and Jaywalking Fools

It was a strange day. Felt like a full moon, but it was only a new one.

First, it's funny how I've transformed in the past few months. Comparing how green I was when this blog was born to how I view the job today, the difference short-circuits my thought processes. A few months ago I hit "the wall." Didn't want to do it any more. Interviewed for a different job in the private sector, found the money wasn't right. I re-focused my energy toward being happier and more positive in this life, and found myself liking it again. The short temper is being replaced by calm acceptance that there are just too many battles one can lose, and those fought are usually ridiculous. Hey, I still don't take any shit, but for a while there I was throwing it back. Now it usually just slides down the back of my shoulder, into a puddle near the door and dissipates when a new passenger boards. It just ain't worth an argument.

Which leads me to today's work. Lighter traffic than normal this week has allowed me to relax. In this job, you know this can be dangerous. A young man I once coached in rec league basketball boarded, and we had a great conversation reminiscing about "the old days." (I have to laugh at this; it was just a few years ago to me, but half a lifetime ago to him.) After I dropped him off, I was re-playing a championship game in my mind. I had stepped in to coach for my buddy who had health issues, and we lost a hard-fought game. It still bugs me, six years later, that I didn't have the team apply pressure defense early enough in the fourth quarter. Anyway, I was tooling along in overdrive when something disastrous nearly happened.

Early in my career I learned the value of covering the brake approaching an intersection. Once again, it saved not only my bacon, but that of two foolish jaywalkers as well. They darted across six lanes of traffic against a solid red DON'T WALK signal. My light had been green a good five seconds. I was in the far right lane, wondering why the two left lanes weren't moving yet. Just as I approached the point-of-no-return line, I caught two dark silhouettes in my peripheral vision. I hadn't seen them in my previous left-to-right scan. Luckily I keep my head moving, which preserves the peripheral vision. Since my foot was already covering the brake, the lack of an extra second of reaction time saved these idiots' lives. A quick, controlled brake and extended application of the horn kept me from smashing them flatter than a bloodless tick. It was a smooth, and nobody fell out of their seat, but it was sudden enough so that many passengers saw a catastrophe averted.


Avoiding use of the plentiful curse words floating within and behind me, I loudly exclaimed how stupid those people were. Several passengers agreed. A few minutes later, I pulled into a stop and stepped off the bus for a much-needed breather and nicotine infusion. Then I did as all bus operators do daily. I let it slide off my shoulders and resumed the route.

A few years ago, this incident would have ruined my day. Today, I count my lucky stars and remind myself that daydreaming while working is strictly boneheaded. Sure, we all have our thoughts while driving, but you learn to multi-task operator functions with higher-level brain activity. It becomes automatic after a while, but that's not necessarily good. If you're on auto-pilot and something like this happens, you may not be as lucky as the last time. The tiniest lapse of attention can allow your 20-ton beast to wreak havoc with disastrous consequences.

Some things you learn only by experience. Here's a few:

* There's no such thing as "luck" as a bus operator. All you can rely upon is your driving skill, your ability to make a split-second decision based on many factors all at once, and whatever higher power you choose to believe in.

* People will do amazingly stupid things without a clue as to the consequences.

* Impatience kills at least seven of a cat's lives.

* A motorist, given the chance, will make the stupidest, dumbassed move possible. You learn to predict it, so be ready with a Plan B, C, D and E. (Especially those in the smallest, most vulnerable vehicles.)

* Management will not back you. Period. They're only interested in risk, avoiding lawsuits and making overall numbers look good. You are only a fraction on a large stat sheet. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, ask the union's help. It's our best, and often only, defense.

* No matter how wild an incident you've just been through, somebody else has experienced the same thing. Talk to your fellow operators. You are never alone, unless you prefer to be.

* If your body says STOP, listen to it. Take a break, no matter how late you are. Walk around, stretch, pass gas, yell at the heavens if you need to. Dispatch would rather have you late than driving impaired.

* This job is not "stress free," as our brother said in the agency's latest recruitment video. It is not for the weak, faint-hearted or boastful. We age a good two or three years for every one we work this job. Take time to be you. Enjoy your time off, be with those you love. Don't work more than necessary. You can only spend money while you're alive, and if you're not careful, that won't be very long.

Peace be with you all, and have a safe and prosperous 2017.




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ho, Ho, Slow


I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, as long as it's on TV. The past week was exhilarating at times, but mostly exhausting. It takes great effort and concentration to guide the beast in good conditions. When snow and ice enter the equation, it becomes much more challenging.

Luckily, I usually drive one of the newer buses in our fleet. They have a nice drop-down chains feature, which means the chains can be dropped or raised at the flick of a switch. In snowy conditions with the temperature below freezing, the roads are easier to negotiate in a 20-ton vehicle. When you have to drive up a hill, it's usually not so bad with chains. You just don't stop until you've conquered the incline. Passengers quickly realize when we zip past their stop on a hill that they're in for a longer walk home than usual. The wise ones don't complain; rather, they know from experience that a bus can slide in any direction if the driver attempts to stop on an incline or decline. They're patient, and wait until the hill has been conquered, and thank the driver for a safe ride as they depart.

It also helps if other motorists employ the most basic common sense, which they usually don't. People are in a hurry, especially during the holiday season. Those who know what they're doing behind the wheel are usually safe. Combine poor driving skills with wintry weather and a need for speed, and dangerous situations occur. Zipping around a bus just beginning to negotiate a hill, when you don't know how to properly guide your own vehicle in these conditions is a recipe for a messy ending.

A few years ago, when I was pretty green, a passenger berated our transit agency for "not training drivers how to drive properly in adverse weather conditions."

"This is my training, you dolt," I replied. The best way to learn is by doing.

It's strictly on-the-job, because there is no other way. Operators glean winter driving tips from veterans. We also learn tricks from experience. Trainers are extremely valuable resources. During snowstorms, they're out there hustling to rescue operators who have become stuck. Zipping around with shovels and kitty litter (for traction), I know of several operators who were rescued by training supervisors. They also offer advice at each garage.

Bus operators learn patience is the key to many situations. I've found that simply stopping before entering a challenging situation, studying the road's condition and traffic, and making sound decisions based on the information before me to be the best method of safe winter operation. As we drive a route, operators make mental notes on each section for future reference. Hills are obviously a great concern. My route meanders from one hill to another, with flat stretches in between. I knew the moment snow flurries would arrive thanks to my weather app, and I was already predicting what would happen on certain stretches before I started. It's the surprises along the way that require calm problem-solving and precise driving techniques only learned behind the wheel.

Before starting up one particular hill that snowy eve, I stopped at the bottom. Up ahead I could see good Samaritans pushing stuck vehicles and offering advice. On top of the hill, watching from that viewpoint, was a fellow bus operator doing the same thing I was. Waiting for the opportune moment to say "it's now or never, get the hell out of my way because here I come." Since he had arrived before me, and also because I wanted to watch how his bus reacted, I waited for him to come down. He did so nicely. Slowly. Deliberately. Nary a slide, skid or waver. Nicely done Coop, I thought. He stopped and we chatted a few moments.

"I don't know how you're gonna make it up there without getting stuck," he said, shaking his head. "I barely made it up last time and now things are worse."

"Yeah," I agreed, "but there's only one way to find out, because I ain't backing up."

He wished me luck. I waited for my opening, dropped the chains, and began the ascent. Low gear, no sudden acceleration, and a clear path later, I topped the crest and breathed a sigh of relief. Already 25 minutes late, I wasn't concerned with schedule. The return trip however, would be a much different story. The snow was coming down harder and the road surface was getting worse by the minute.

After a brief break at the end of the line, infused with nicotine and invigorated by a brisk walk in the snow (with ice trekkers on my feet, of course), I muttered my mantra and started back down the road. Just as I thought, the 25-minute interval between runs had turned the hill into a sledder's paradise. Not so fun for the several cars which were stuck on either side of the street, and much more challenging for bus operators. I stopped at the top of the hill and observed the scene ahead. The operator just ahead of me had curbed his bus and promptly been rear-ended by a compact car. He wasn't going anywhere until a road supervisor arrived. Judging by conditions, we agreed that would be a good wait. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill another bus waited where I had earlier, watching and waiting. Cars zipped past her and found themselves getting stuck. Smarter motorists turned around when they saw what happened to those in front of them. I flashed my brights at the bus down below to say "go ahead when you're ready, I'll wait." A few moments later, that bus started up the hill. I crossed my fingers and sent forth good luck. Just as the bus started its charge, a motorist passed her, sliding sideways. The bus operator braked. Her rear end slid to the right, duals over the sidewalk and treading nothing but air. To her credit, she avoided a collision with the bonehead, who didn't make it up either. Now there was a bus blocking the bottom of the hill, its front end just a few feet from the opposite side of the street where another car was parked.


I sighed, pulled the parking brake and set the transmission in neutral. "We're not going anywhere now, folks," I told my passengers. They sighed in frustration, but they knew the score. Those who didn't came forward to ask why. I patiently explained, with a full illustration gracing my windshield.

"How long will we be stuck?" Depends on how long it takes for a supervisor to arrive and assess the situation.

"Can't you detour around?" Not on these hilly, residential streets already piling up with traffic taking their own alternate routes.

"How far is the transit center?" Down the hill a mile and to the left.

"Can I have a free pass for the inconvenience?" This one didn't merit a reply. As if inspectors would have time or a reason to check fares on a night like that. Shook my head silently.

We waited an hour. Then 90 minutes passed. Neighborhood residents graciously allowed a few passengers to use their restroom. One guy took a short and quick walk, reminding me of a distant Frank Zappa tune.

During this interim, I noticed a young lady running up and down the hill. She bounced up to my bus and informed me a supervisor was downhill attempting to free the stuck bus. This quick-witted marvel then recommended I put out my reflective triangles to warn traffic behind me that I wasn't moving. Great idea. The other two triangles I placed in the middle of the street at the very top of the hill, hoping this would give motorists a hint that trying the hill just wasn't a good idea. She waved several cars down and warned them not to try it. Even if they made it down, there just wasn't enough room to get between the stuck bus and the parked car. One monster truck on high decided he didn't need to heed, and made it down. I didn't see him maneuver around the bus, but he must have made it because Joey Jeep went down next, barely missing my heroine as he sped by. Then Miss Zippy ran down the hill for an update from our heroine road supe and then back up to tell me the supe couldn't get the bus out and was coming our way. Our white-shirted sister then assessed the rear-end collision and dealt with it before trudging up to me.

After greeting my former manager and now-awesome supe, she told me I needed to turn around and head back to the transit center.

"I need you to do a five-point turnaround in this intersection and take all these passengers back to the mall," she said. "Are you up to it?"

What self-respecting operator would say no? Granted, I had my doubts. I was parked just a few feet short of the cross street. The maneuver would entail a button-hooking wide turn, encouraging a slide if not done just right.

"Aw hell boss, I got this," I said, puffing up. I got in the seat, closed the door and said another silent prayer, between cursing myself for what I was about to do. Taking a deep breath, I released the brake and put it in low gear. Making sure there was nobody coming up behind and that nobody was in the street, I took my foot off the service brake. There was no turning back, only turning around would suffice. I rounded the turn okay, got pointed straight and just barely went up the incline before stopping. Slip sliding, I carefully got her stopped. Lady Liza the Supe walked up to my window.

"Doing okay in there? I noticed a skid before you got 'er stopped."

"Yeah, I thought it would do that, but I'm good. Let's back this beast up."

She back-stepped to the rear of the bus, made sure it was clear, and motioned me back. Already on an incline, I just put it into neutral and gently rolled back until she gave me the stop signal. Into first gear, I turned the wheel as far to the right as I dared and guided it to a safe distance from the curb. If there was such a thing. Now my front end was lower than the back. I had to put it into reverse. Luckily, there was no more skidding. I backed, went forward, backed again and cleared the curb as I went forward. Onlookers cheered. I brought the bus to a stop as near the curb as I dared, earning me a sideways glance from Liza.

"I hope you can get going again being that close," she chided, adding "but that was a great job! Awesome, Deke!"

So as I puffed in some much-needed nicotine, she guided passengers back onto my bus. Outside, I remained humble as people patted me on the back. On the inside, I felt damn lucky that 40,000-pound monster didn't go sliding down to meet the bus at the bottom. When I got back into the seat, my supervisor told the passengers where we were headed and how the reroute would take them to their destination. She also encouraged them to call in "and congratulate Deke on the great job he did getting this bus turned around." Aw shucks, ma'am. Much ado about nothin'. Sheeit.

The rest of the night wasn't nearly as exciting. The hill on the other side of my run had been shut down, so my break at the other end was nearly an hour long each trip. We had it easy; our passengers who needed to get up that hill were stuck, and I felt bad for them because I had nothing to offer.

Such is the way of winter weather transit in Portland, Oregon. A few inches of snow shuts everything down. The media plays the same game each time it happens. "What lessons can we learn from this?" My suggestion is that you actually do what should be done. Period. It happens every other year or so. Haven't you learned these lessons yet? Employ emergency crews to plow the main streets, not just the freeways. Sand the hills. Chain the older buses before the snow, not during. Also, it's a good idea to remove the chains once the snow melts. I don't mind the resulting overtime, but the 25-mph speed limit and constant thumpity-thump of the chains on dry pavement is extremely annoying.

My advice to new operators who aren't familiar with driving during winter weather conditions: take it slow, be patient, be smart, be vigilant, ask questions, use common sense. The rest of it is either skill or pure luck, but most likely a combination of both.

I have a feeling we're in for a much more severe snow event. Or several. Mother Nature is a fickle lady. You never know what surprises she has in store for us.

Great job out there, brothers and sisters. Mechanics on the chain crews, operators, supervisors, trainers, station agents, garage managers and especially our awesome dispatchers, you ALL performed splendidly. Upper management, once again, most likely rode the storm out in front of a cozy fireplace. I hope they remember this as they negotiate our new contract, but they have short memories.



Sunday, December 11, 2016

Holiday Shorts

Short-lived snowfall, before the ice storm arrived.

I received an early Christmas gift today. A lady who works in the office where we're allowed rest room privileges had her sons with her, and she called them out when I arrived. "Boys, I want you to meet my favorite bus driver!"

Wow. I've waited years to hear this. I've wondered if anyone felt that way. Well thanks, Lady Claudine. You made my day!

***************************************
The snow is pretty cool. The ice that follows it isn't.
My normal weekday route is one of those "Jerry Springer Runs." Drama unfolds almost daily between the unwashed who live among us. By the end of a week, my customer service well runs beyond dry. Especially after driving 10 hours through a typical Portland ice storm.

"You're late," a drunk told me as I opened the doors.

He was right. By then I was on my last run. I'd been held hostage several minutes by a pokey freight train, caught every red light, played dodge-the-dumbass at a mall parking lot more than once, and dropped or raised my chains so many times I wasn't sure where they were. I had nothing left in the tank. I thought hard for a few seconds for a witty or artfully-crafted comeback.

"Duh," I finally said.

***************************************

I love teasing kids. This time of year, it's especially fun. One lad of about seven boarded my bus and was excitedly talking about Santa.

"Do you believe in Santa?" he asked.

"Why, sure I do!" I said. "He brings me something every year!"

"Wow," he said, wonder lighting up his cute little face. "See Dad? I told you he was real!"

I glanced at Dad in my mirror. He was not amused. I grimaced and told my driver window, "Ruh roh, Daddy's pissed." Since I was on a roll, however...

Santa's Headquarters on the left.
"Actually," I told the boy, "Santa and his reindeer were on my bus just a while ago. His sleigh was in for repairs and he had to go to Macy's so he rode my bus."

This time, the lad wasn't so sure. "Nuh uh. Santa doesn't ride the bus."

"Actually," I said, painting myself an incredulous look, "he drives a bus too. When he's not delivering toys, that is."

"No way!"

"Yep," I said. "Seriously, if you go into Macy's and ask Santa if he's ever driven a bus, I'll bet he'll wink and tell you he certainly has."

They got off downtown just across from Macy's. Dad scowled at me as he departed, but the holiday spirit returned and he managed a half-smile as he walked by and said, "Gee thanks, buddy."

(So, Santa Mark Lawson, but please tell me if some lil' blond boy asked for your résumé. Oh, and hopefully the sleigh repairs are being covered by the transit agency. Just make sure you submit your expense report before the end of the month.)






Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dear Wayne

Not too long ago, I had an interesting email dialogue with a new friend, and reader of this blog. Thought I'd share it for your perusal.

Wayne,

Thank you so very much for your email. Truthfully, it’s the first contact I’ve had with a reader in quite a while. Sure, I get the occasional blog comment, but nobody seems to connect any more. We’ve lost the ability to communicate. My blogs are written with a great deal of emotion and thought, but they rarely inspire others to engage. 

Lately, I’ve considered ending the blog. At first, the response was enthusiastic. People read with interest, offered feedback and advice. Now it seems FTDS has exceeded its 15 minutes. Do people actually READ anything any more except about Hillary’s emails and Donald’s failed business ventures? It’s a cutthroat world, and it’s extremely discouraging. The working public is at each other’s throats instead of banding together to fight the big money interests which are strangling us with every election. Nobody wants to engage, unless it involves the latest America’s Got Talent contestants or sports team of the moment. The Information Age has seen us devolve into a seething mass of idiocy. Fact checking has morphed into people believing whichever brand has indoctrinated them. There is little original thought. Nobody reads Frost or Dickens or Twain, or Michener, the works of Lincoln. The level of civic undersanding is pitifully low. How can we expect our government to work for us if we don’t collectively understand how it’s supposed to? 

This also relates to book publishing. Very few people read these days. I’ve had to shorten my posts; not only because I’ve been practicing literary brevity, but also because people have such a short attention span. An editor has told me to “dummy up” my language because I “use words that are beyond the normal comprehension level.” Sigh. I remember when expressing oneself intelligently was revered. Now, it’s considered “uppity” or even outdated. To publish a book today requires funding but also a willing audience. While people around the globe have graced my blog with their eyes, how many are willing to buy an entire book written by a bus driver? I’ve found myself straying from the printed page, drawn to the IPhone and the internet like a moth to the flame. My spare time was once devoted to reading actual books. Now I piddle around on the computer as if my world revolves around it. My books gather dust. I’m not sure my publishing FTDS would garner enough interest. 

As you can see, I’m highly discouraged. My blog was meant to do one thing: chronicle the life and feelings of a bus operator. My 21-year-old son recently told me he had read a few of my posts. His critique was simple: “You bitch too much, Dad.” So I read over the previous posts and had to agree. Gone is the upbeat humor, the insights I once had. The job is no longer an interesting challenge. Instead it has become a drudgery, a paycheck. I’ve actually interviewed for another job outside of transit. Sure, I’ve hit the proverbial “wall” as a driver. There’s a chance I’ll rebound. But the future of this job is anything but rosy. Our union leadership is stagnant. They make a little noise and expect the membership to be supportive. Instead of the mighty voice labor once had, it’s more like a mousy squeak before the wheels crush it. There’s just not much to be excited about.

How you did your job for so long is hard to fathom. Having a knife stuck in me over a $2.50 fare is not how I want to leave this world. Being locked behind a cage while driving would insulate me from the very people I enjoy giving rides to. How would this give us any semblance of authority or respect?

So yeah Wayne, it was truly invigorating to get your email. I know, my response probably isn’t what you expected. But if I’m anything, I’m honest with people. This is how I feel. The book is in the editing process. The first round resulted in a 7,000-word reduction! LOL… I told you I’m practicing brevity and it’s a good thing. I sure was a wordy bastard while I wrote many of those posts. It will also include a glossary of transit terms which I hope people would find interesting. Shopping around for self-publishing companies that are actually worth the money. As for the title, I’m not quite sure yet. 

On a more positive note, I’ve started a novel. The idea for this project came about while I was drivng across the Tillikum Crossing one day. It made me chuckle, then laugh. It’s fun… something I haven’t been having enough of the past year. So stay tuned.

Seriously Wayne, thank you for reading. Most of all, thank you for caring enough to not only respond to me via email, but also to contact Rep. McLain’s office and support my brothers’ attempts to spur our legislature to action regarding operator assaults. If our own transit agency still thinks it should remain a misdemeanor to assault one of its own, then it’s time we threw a punch.

Please spread word about the blog. Since my FaceBook profile has been shut down, my reach is dwindling so I rely on readers to help get it out there. Keep an eye out for a new post… it was an interesting day on the road!

Take care and thank you again.

With affection and regards, I am

Deke

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Readers

I've neglected you by not writing a post in a while. As everyone can be this time of year, I've been busy with other pursuits. Plus, the FaceBook debacle has drastically reduced either interest or readers' ability to locate the blog. Either way, readership is way down. It's hard to write when you don't think many people will read it.

There are a few post ideas rattling around inside me. The book has been through its first edit, and thanks to an operator brother's hard work, the second round is coming. Then I have to decide how to publish it. I don't really enjoy the business end of it. Then there's the pen name problem when it comes to marketing. I can't easily go around doing book signings in a dog costume.

Excuses, excuses... I know. I can't expect people to come to the blog just to read old news. Maybe I'll work on a new post this weekend. This post, however, will not be broadcast. If you see it, then you're actually paying attention to the blog, and not FaceBook. Patrick has provided me with a page linked to his account, since the FB gods have nixed my "alias" page.

Stay tuned. This ol' dawg ain't done yet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My Peace


Presidential elections and new administrations have always excited this American history buff. Usually a heady time, one filled with promise of a new future and a changing of the guard that has endured over 240 years.

This is the first time in my conscious memory, however, it has created bile in my throat. Oh sure, I've watched presidents take the oath who I didn't vote for. It rankled a bit, having argued my favorite's case for months prior to Election Day only to watch the victor claim what coulda/shoulda/woulda been your candidate's to celebrate.

It's not just that the other guy won over my choice. But having read about those 44 before, I can't think of a single one who didn't have the chutzpah to do the job. Except (and I hate to say this because it will appear as pure partisanship to some of my friends), for the one entrusted with our next four years.

As a bus operator, we not only drive a bus. We hear life stories producers dream of writing into today's sordid mass of reality television. People who are living the lives our politicians say they understand, ride our bus to whatever chores their lives depend upon. It is a badge of honor to safely and competently guide a 20-ton behemoth through narrow city streets built long before vehicles had rubber shoes. People entrust us with their safety, and we endeavour to give them a ride wherever, for just a few bucks. They are sometimes rich, mostly hard-working poor, often homeless or hopeless, but they're my fellow Americans. My neighbors and friends. You drive a route long enough, you learn their names and if you're lucky, make some acquaintances with some of your life's most fascinating individuals. People who drive a bus, or risk their lives in your service as firemen and cops, those who answer telephones or stock store shelves or clean the downtown transit mall... we spend time together in ways politicians can only imagine. Each is unique, with good qualities and bad. We differ in ways each other cannot possibly always understand. Yet most of us guard our differences and silently judge each other based on what someone else decrees.

I do not hate anyone. People are people. Some good, others not. What I cannot fathom is how this great country has come to exploit hate and foster harm more often than focusing on what is right and good for all. To say another is less than you are because what they believe, feel or experience is an absence of humility. It elevates the judge to a status mere mortal man cannot possibly achieve. To see somebody's skin color as inferior to yours, or allow your personal disgust for another's lifestyle obscure your vision of that person's potential to add value to your life, is a personal crime against nature. We're human. Each of us has wonderful traits no others do, and we all have made mistakes. We're often our own worst judges, but when someone cannot bear the truth about themselves, it can often manifest outwardly in the most horrid of ways.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

We've become a prison state. As Orwell predicted, our every move can be documented. Each point of the moral compass has become imbalanced with the illusion there is only one way to achieve goodness. You're either Party A or Party B, and only someone "in authority" can say which is the right one for decent people to support. The fallacy here lies within the fact that neither is right or wrong. Each choice has strengths and weaknesses. The challenge humanity faces today is how to reconcile our own faults while honoring the strength we see in others. The word compromise is an idea nearing extinction. We've been conditioned to believe only one side is right, therefore it is vital to abolish the other. What a horrid existence we've chosen for ourselves.

Call me a hippie, or a dreamer. I don't care. In my life, all I've learned is that you can give more than you receive and know peace. If you're the recipient of some harsh tragedy, isn't it imperative to correct the imbalance by doing something beneficial for another? To remain in some grey area wallowing in self pity is cowardice. To help another, even in the most minute of ways, is the elixir of a balanced and happy soul.

I guess what I'm trying to say is no matter how bitterly sharp this divide has wounded us, we still have the power to watch for, then capture, something good of it. And conversely, of each other. Whatever that may be.

One of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, has a profound line to remember. Andy Dufreme tells his friend Red, who worries about Andy's well-being at a crucial scene,

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

It is time to do just this. Peace be with you all.



Monday, October 17, 2016

80,000 Hits!

80,000 posts as of today, October 17, 2016. Thanks everyone. Hopefully I'll find some interesting tidbits to share with you soon.

You Complain, I Listen

I just posted my latest blog entry, and in the span of two hours, there have been 50 hits. If FaceBook had not cancelled my online persona, there would be closer to 200. No, it's not ego. It's the truth.

Where have you gone, oh thousands of readers? I mourn your loss. By now, I should be closing in on 90,000 hits. Instead, I'm just a few hundred shy of 80k.

In life, you win and you lose. I've lived long enough to learn this. For over a year and a half, I was overjoyed at seeing 5-6,000 hits a month on my blog. It's been a lifelong dream to reach a wide readership. Perhaps my writing doesn't warrant such a bonus, but I'm an artist. Maybe not the best, not worthy of wide acclaim. But I am, nevertheless, better than some. Not as good as others, but still. Is it unseemly for me to say this? Too damn bad.

I've spent three point five years pouring out my heart and soul to the transit world, and I'm sensing the end of a run. My book is nearly ready for publication. Will you, will others, buy it? Will I make enough to pay for the investment of self-publication, or am I simply a dreamer? Writers are judged by not only how many people read their creations, but also by our critics. Have I reached the pinnacle, gone as far as my meager talents will allow? Is there hope for me not only as a bus operator continuing in the profession, but as a writer?

At the end of my bus line the other night, I found a customer complaint awaiting me at the garage. This person berated me for not being sensitive to a local protest downtown recently. Yeah, I was pissed. These folks, while exercising their rights as Americans, held up my bus and many others. They were protesting the injustice stemming from the outrages of law enforcement against our fellow Americans' of "color." I heartily agree, as a Caucasian, that my race has sinned against our brothers and sisters of different shades. For millennia. I am certainly guilty of enjoying "white privilege." Whatever this person heard was construed as possibly racist, even though I count myself as one who believes skin color has no merit in determining another's value. Our nation's founders dreamed of a future in which all are equal. I've read extensively about man's inhumanity to itself, and it has only spurred me to be that which my fellows haven't been. Humane toward others. Compassionate. Loving. Did I allow my frustration of being a late bus operator betray my supposed true self?

Perhaps I don't have the right temperament to be a bus operator. Maybe this customer was right to call in a complaint. I don't always think before I speak. For that, and for insulting anybody's right to protest, I sincerely apologize. My beliefs are such that if you want to change minds, you find ways that inconvenience, to challenge, those whose minds you aim to change. Maybe my mind still needs to evolve in a manner I'm not quite sure of at this time. But I sure try, and I realize the human condition is forever in need of perfecting. Had the complainant engaged me, asked what I meant by my grumblings, perhaps we could have had an in-depth discussion. By doing so, I'm sure this person would have left my bus with a much greater understanding of who I am and what I stand for. Instead, they assumed. They took the very stance the protesters railed against. They stereotyped me. Because of my skin color? I hope not, because that would be a hypocritical position: exactly what the protesters are against.

Like I've said, the wall we all come up against is upon me. I cannot see over it at this time. Going to work is no longer something I look forward to. Instead, it's a chore. There's a great chance I will soon leave it to those who are better at it than I. For now, I'm just biding my time and working very hard to keep everyone safe. Maybe I deserved the complaint, but I've also earned the respect of those whom I deliver safely to their destinations every day. While the satisfied thousands don't bother to call in a compliment, I'm satisfied in knowing I've served them to the best of my ability.

As always, thanks for reading. Peace be with you, and safe travels to you all.


We Have to Fight for Our Safety!


Assaults on operators weigh heavily upon me. Not only that they happen with increasing regularity, but also because our transit agency is so utterly quiet about them. Not a peep in the media. Why?

Perhaps the agency is ashamed, but I doubt it. Management seems more concerned about our response when attacked rather than the effect on the assaulted operator. It's a very uncomfortable subject for them, yet far more so for us. 

We hear about how concerned the agency is about assaults, but we wouldn't hear about how operators can be suspended for fighting back, leaving the seat, allowing our emotions to overrule the edict of "de-escalation" and "non-confrontational discussion." This leaves the logical thinker to wonder why the agency doesn't stand up and loudly proclaim its full support of all operator assault victims. A responsible media, which once employed actual journalists, would inquire as to how the district cares for an operator who has been assaulted. The answers from on high would be usual corporate doublespeak, but the media isn't allowed to ask US how we feel. We're not allowed to talk to the media without permission and, I would guess, likely coached on guidelines on how we're expected to respond.

One day I drove a fellow operator to his road relief. We were discussing the assaults, and he had an interesting question.

"What actually constitutes an assault?"

According to Oregon Revised Statutes 163.165, Assault in the Third Degree is a Class B felony, only under these circumstances: "Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes, by means other than a motor vehicle, physical injury to the operator of a public transit vehicle while the operator is in control of or operating the vehicle."

Interpretation of this statement, while best left to more adept legal minds than mine, leads me to believe what I've been told by supervisors, that the vehicle must be in motion to qualify as a felony. Otherwise, it's a misdemeanor. As an operator of a transit vehicle, any time we're in the seat, we're in control of that vehicle. Unless a trained operator is at the controls, the vehicle could move. If a vehicle of that size moves, it endangers anyone in its vicinity. 

Back to my brother's question. He told me about an operator who was assaulted one night by the lone passenger on her bus. The passenger did not strike her, but he made an unwelcome physical advance. She repulsed him, and he exited. For several days, she didn't report it because she wasn't sure his action was actually an assault. I'm not sure what the outcome was, and I didn't press for more information. It did leave me feeling angry, because we're not actually trained as to what actions by passengers can be defined as "assault." Nor are we taught how to legally defend ourselves while facing forward in our seat.

Since this operator, as I understand it, did not sustain physical injury other than emotional distress, there would probably be no charges filed. Her waiting to report it isn't something to scorn. If she drives the same route every day, perhaps she believed nothing would come of it. Perhaps she believed that our agency's management wouldn't back her up, and that a police report could incite the offender to boldly step up his intensity at the next opportunity. Whatever her reasons, it's sad to feel so isolated on the front lines of transit.

A troubling point he offered was, "How many operators never report things, because they don't know if they were (assaults)?" Hmm... good question. A shove on the way out the door? Knocking off a hat, threatening language? Any number of instances might qualify, but I'll bet many operators shrug it off wondering if it's worth reporting, or fear it could bring retaliation later.

After an operator was spit upon a few days ago, the number of reported assaults on Portland transit employees has risen to 42 thus far in 2016. In 2015, there were 41 reported assaults. We still have 11 weeks to go. At this rate, operators are reporting just over four per month. If this trend continues, we're looking at 52 by the end of the year. That's an average of one each week. What if there have been another 50-100 incidents that might qualify but were not reported? It's an epidemic that will only worsen unless drastic measures are taken.

While we're not feeling the love from management, two of our brothers (Fred Casey and Mike McCurry) are working with Oregon Representative Susan McLain (District 29-Hillsboro, 503-986-1429) to sponsor a bill making assault of any transit employee a felony. I urge whoever reads this to call her, or if in another state your own representative, and support this drive.

If we can't physically defend ourselves without having a law degree to know what constitutes "reasonable self defense" in that moment we're attacked, should we simply just allow ourselves to be bloodied? It is a human's biological response to protect ourselves. It's in our physiological makeup, dating back to our evolutionary beginnings. As operators, we're expected to sit back, remember that others have been disciplined for defending themselves even though it's a natural response to a threat. Someone who is high on drugs, or drunk, doesn't have the psychological ability to know when to back off. They don't recognize our authority as Captains of the Ship. So if they hit me, I have to assume they will not stop assaulting me just because I ask them to cease and desist.

If (God forbid) anyone in management were attacked at their desk while safely within their office, surely they wouldn't be in fear of losing their job if they fought back. Our office has six wheels, and we're at risk every day. It's getting so bad that I wonder sometimes not what if, but when I'll have to defend myself. 

Since our agency won't fight for us, we have to make our own case to lawmakers. Hopefully these efforts will score a legal knockout punch. Even with this change in the law, it would still be nice to believe management is in our corner. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Silent Drums of Our War


the drums of war against us
played out daily on the bus
no fare, no fair
they pull our hair
pay your fee
and don't assault me
take a walk
or better yet, a taxi
then let's talk;
but instead he attacks me.

no, no, we cannot walk
our safety takes a back seat
to words softly spoken
from lofty heights on harrison street.

swords are nice to carry
yet forbidden by prince harry
no mace
bruises on your face
no defense
makes no sense
stay in the seat
don't wield your feet
just drive down the street
no parry, no thrust
the silence is unjust --
we're just nuts on the bus.

put us in a cage
like animals in a zoo
it's another outrage
nothing better to do.

no, no, we cannot walk
our safety takes a back seat
to words softly spoken
from lofty heights on harrison street.

--deacon in blue

Monday, September 26, 2016

I've Hit the (Figurative) Wall

The path ahead is foggy, unknown, but passable.
It's been six months since my last vacation. Luckily, my wife and I were able to escape the city for a few days this weekend.

Family and friends have mentioned that I've been "bitchy" a lot these days. Introspectively, I agree. It has been a rough year. No, I'm not whining. This blog is my therapy to deal with the rigors of the career I chose. Sometimes I report on the good. There is a lot of bad that happens, and some is downright ugly. In this job, it's common for operators to "hit a wall" before their fifth year of service. With me, it has been a gradual wearing down of my resolve to have a good day, every day. The ugly has overshadowed the good, so I'm re-training myself to put the blinders on.

Over the past year, my body has changed too. There are aches and pains I've never had before, and they're directly attributable to driving a bus. (If you're able to convince a Workman's Comp board of this, let me know the secret because I hear it's nearly impossible.) Posture is important, and being aware of poor positioning is vital. My foot, for example. Servicing bus stops requires a firm but smooth application of the brake pedal. If your foot is too high on the pedal, there is an initial "jerk" which can force standing passengers off-balance. Place your foot too low on the pedal, and you don't get enough force to generate enough stopping power. The trick is to find your "sweet spot" on the pedal and come to a smooth, gradual stop. I've found that fine motor control can be achieved by using my big toe as a means to finesse the vehicle. In fact, many of my passengers have remarked on how smoothly I drive. It's a source of pride, and when it doesn't happen I'm unhappy with my performance. Unfortunately, when you start and stop a bus upwards of a thousand times a day, your feet take a beating. Your entire body does. Soreness dictates slight deviations from the sweet spot and well... you can't be perfect all the time. Now the tendons in my right foot's big toe are inflamed, so I've had to adjust once more. Even still, I work hard each day to provide a smooth landing at each stop.

Once a month I get a full-body massage. I've tried yoga and meditation as well. But this weekend I indulged in a natural mineral hot springs, where I soaked for hours. It was pure bliss. At first, my inflamed tendons screamed in protest. Gradually, the minerals and heat loosened and relieved many of the sore spots. Walking in the forest was beneficial to heart and soul, as this wonderful land has soothed me for many years. Long talks with my beloved wife helped me deal with this turning point in my career. We spent a weekend free of this blog, social media and phone calls. It was also a nice break away from editing my book. Not thinking about driving a bus was blissful. Plus, having no cell signal is a healing escape to today's constant barrage of information. Spending time with the person who knows me best and has the ability to soothe when necessary is the best medicine I know.

Frankly, I'm considering other career interests at this point. Writing professionally for a living has always been a goal, but reality dictates I treat it as a hobby for now. We'll see how the next few weeks pan out. I'm about a month shy of my anniversary as an operator. Whether I continue is based on several factors, but financial stability in an unstable economy is vital. Conversely, it's also important to weigh the effects of bus operation on my health. The stress is evidenced by an increase in my "bitchy" demeanor. Constant stress on my neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees and feet leave me questioning if I'm actually tough enough to continue. I started this job well into middle age, and it feels as if I've aged five years for every year of service. One thought is recurrent: I don't want to retire into a casket, as many operators have.

This blog has chronicled nearly every step of my career as a bus operator. Along the way, it has been accessed over 77,000 times by people all over the world. These words have described what I've experienced. The events of the next few weeks will determine whether I can continue to describe life as a bus operator. If not, it's been a hell of a ride and I thank you all for sticking with me. If I decide to continue, hopefully some good stories will come out and your Deacon will find a way over the wall.

Until then, I'm climbing the ladder to see what's on the other side. Stay tuned.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Twilight Zone


Late one night I pulled in to service a very dark bus stop. A young man paid his fare, but I noticed a woman in the shelter who stood up, so I waited to see if she was going to board. This one took her time, but when she finally walked up to the door, she didn't get in. She looked me up and down as I waited to see what her story was. It made for an uncomfortable few moments.

"What are you doing," she asked, "planting a field or just sitting around?"

Totally out of the blue, about as nonsensical a question as I've ever been asked. It took a moment to analyze, but I recognized a potential for trouble.

"Isn't it obvious what I'm doing?" I replied, trying to conceal my growing irritation mixed with a healthy dose of "Huh?!?"

"Well I'm not sure what you're doing, so it's my right to ask," came another ludicrous statement. This one isn't playing with any aces in the deck, I reasoned.

I took a deep breath to calm myself. She reminded me of someone I don't like to think about, who is sadly afflicted with some serious mental disorders.

"Well okay then," I said. "I'm driving a bus tonight. Either you're riding or you're not. You have two seconds to decide."

She then began an eerie soliloquy I deemed unnecessary to hear. I shut the door after a generous five seconds and drove off. A few passengers audibly sighed and a single "Thank God he didn't let her on" was uttered. Someone told me this woman is a regular trouble-causer, and they were relieved I denied her service.

This person seemed non-violent, but as bus operators we realize even the sanest-looking people can be totally unpredictable. Say the wrong thing, and SNAP! You could be assaulted without warning, and being restrained to the seat, you have little if any means of self-defense at your disposal. If you want to keep your job, that is.

Instead of finding out whether this person could have been dangerous, I made an executive decision, from the seat. We're told we are Captain of the Ship while we're in the seat, and I decided this person could have caused trouble on an otherwise peaceful ride. So I left her there.

To paraphrase a cliché, that's called 'thinking in the seat.'

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Divine Intervention

As I began my Friday work, it was hard to get in the mood to drive a bus. My whole body ached, as did my soul. All week I had read many discouraging reports about my brothers and sisters being slandered, insulted and assaulted. Not just in Portland, but everywhere.

While thankfully I've narrowly escaped a few dicey situations without a scratch, I've had my share of insulting and rude passengers. On this day, I was asked by a passenger if I'd allow him to get out on the near side of an intersection. The bus stop was far side, and my light was about to turn green. Although I normally would allow this if the light was going to remain red and conditions were safe enough, I knew it was a short cycle. So I politely told him no, just as the light turned green. After I crossed with the light and smoothly came to a stop, I started to explain why I denied his request.

"It just doesn't matter," he snapped. "I don't need to hear an explanation that won't make sense anyway."

Well, I thought to myself, at least he didn't spit on me, or curse me out. "Have a nice day," I managed to say. To my abused driver's window, I quietly muttered a curse and let it slide off my shoulders. Realizing he wouldn't have been very appreciative had I missed my light and granted his request, I shrugged and moved on.

Later, my mood was dramatically reversed by a sweet lady who boarded with a baby stroller while I was on a break. Assuming what the stroller contained, I asked her to remove the baby from the stroller, as per agency policy. She chuckled and explained "there's no baby, it's jut an easy way to transport my stuff". Since she had such a kind voice and manner, and also because I knew this run wasn't bound to involve a full complement of passengers, I didn't ask her to fold up the stroller. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I answered a question or two. My Friday was progressing without too many problems, and it was refreshing to have her on board. Little did I know, she would make my day.

A short time later, I noticed her writing something down. She looked up and saw me glance at her in the mirror. Oh boy, I thought, I must have annoyed her somehow and she's gonna call in and complain. It didn't seem likely, given our interaction up to that point. So I took a chance as I waited for the signal to change.

"Is there anything I can help you with ma'am?" I asked in a gentle tone.

"Yes," she answered, "what time did we leave?"

Ruh-roh, I thought. I'd lolly-gagged a bit on my break, texting with my beloved, and had left a bit late. It's usually not a problem, as this route generously allows "bubbles" in the paddle and I can usually burn off any late time before reaching the next transit center.

"We're scheduled to leave there at 4:45 p.m., but I may have left a minute or so late," I said in a cautious tone. "Why, is anything wrong? Do you need to make a connection to another bus line?"

"Oh no, nothing's wrong," she said, waving her hand and laughing. "I'm just writing down a few things to make sure I get them right when I call in and say how gracious and kind a driver you are."

BOOM! Man, did I feel like a dork. I didn't think I had been gracious or kind, but rather suspiciously trying to recover from some unknown faux pas.

"Why thank you," I said, smiling. "That makes my day, my week even!"

"Oh it's no problem, really. You drivers don't get nearly the credit you deserve."

Then she told me a moving story about one of our retirees.

About 20 years ago she began, a message came that her father was dying. Since she lived on the opposite side of town and her soon-to-be ex-husband refused to let her use their car, she and her young son raced to a bus stop and caught a ride. Extremely distraught, she explained the situation to the operator.

"Not only did he do his best to get me to my connecting bus," she explained, "but he radioed Dispatch and explained my situation, asking they hold the bus we needed to catch until I arrived."

After nearly two hours of anxious travel, she reached her father's side in time to say goodbye. "He passed away 20 minutes after we arrived," she said. "I was so grateful, I wanted to call in and let them know that if he hadn't made that call, I wouldn't have been able to say goodbye to my dad. Unfortunately, in my rush to get there, I failed to write down his name, and I couldn't even remember the route. I had no information on this man, and I felt so bad I couldn't thank him for what he had done."

It's normal to hear about complaints, but people aren't as quick to show appreciation. So you'd expect this passenger might have just let it go. She didn't.

"I looked for this operator for five years," she continued. "But he must have switched routes. I'd watch drivers downtown, looking for this one guy who had done so much for me. I just wanted to thank him personally. If not for him, Dad would have died before we got there."

Then one day, she spotted the operator and boarded his bus. She asked if he remembered the incident, but he didn't. She thanked him and let him know just how important his actions were not only to her, but also to her young son who had accompanied her that day. Then, he told her something completely astonishing.

"That driver just shook his head and smiled. He said, 'Thank you for telling me this, because I'm retiring today.' "

I shook my head in amazement. What a wonderful story to hear, just when I needed it most. Just before I rolled to her stop, on time as I had promised, she gave me another gift.

"That's why I write down your bus and route numbers," she told me in a soft voice. "You people do a wonderful job, and I try to let the agency know. In 30 years of riding, I've only complained five times. Thank you for what you do."

I was nearly moved to tears, and thanked her for riding, and for telling her wonderful tale. Fate is an amazing thing. Not only did she find this kind-hearted bus operator, but she did so just in time. It makes one wonder if there was some divine intervention at work here. It sure helped me smile the rest of my day. It will again, every time I remember this story.



A Declaration


Dear FaceBook,

For three years now, I've had a profile as the Deacon in Blue. I used it to promote my blog, because it allows access to a global audience. In this time I've made some wonderful new friends and exceeded my wildest expectations for hits. Now all of a sudden, my page is gone. I don't know if somebody turned me in to the FB police or what, but I find your censorship abhorrent and restrictive.

I never used your network to do anything illegal or immoral. Instead, I joined groups of bus operators around the United States and the rest of the world. We've shared ideas and enjoyed stories of the road. Because of my transit agency's penchant to discourage operators from exercising our First Amendment rights by speaking to the media without its approval, I've kept my identity private. I've used this social network to express my opinions to what has been an exponentially-expanding worldwide audience.

In a free world, people should be allowed to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal. It's unfortunate we've devolved into a mass of seething, snarling beasts who can't agree to disagree. Instead, some choose to make it their life's goal to vilify people whose opinions are such that it "offends their morals". Well folks, my morals may not be perfect, but I've yet to find a flawless human. So to judge another based upon your own moral code is like being invited to a party nobody else attends. I've learned to disagree with people without sacrificing our friendship. Some conversations can be harsh and biting, but in a civilized world you shouldn't expect opposing parties to be so vindictive as to attempt censorship. Many of those with whom I disagree have taught me valuable lessons in areas where we have common ground. They are good, decent people who have earned my respect and love.


“Friendship that insists upon agreement on all things isn't worth the name.” -- Mahatma Gandhi


Over the past week, I've mourned the treasured friendships lost because FB couldn't bring it upon itself to warn me of its impending censorship. I could have made a list of those whom I've "friended" and brought the profile down gracefully. Instead, you required me to identify myself. Well, you can kiss my hairy blue butt, because I refuse.

So be it. You have created a monopoly, and I am but one user of millions, perhaps billions. It will do me no good to argue the point. However, I've lived over a half-century now, and I'm pretty damn resourceful. I don't stay mad for long; I just jump back up dust myself off.

Sincerely,
The Deacon in Blue

Monday, September 5, 2016

Deke's FaceBook... Gone!

Oh that damn FaceBook! It requires people to enter an "acceptable" name to have an account. Of all the nerve.

Now I will figure out what to do, after three years and 75,000 hits, but I've always landed on my feet. Please help me by sharing my future posts on our regular groups and on your pages too.

As always, thanks for your support!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Me


"I'm only riding a few blocks, is it okay if I only put a dollar in?" The lady asked me this with a sneer in her voice, daring me to challenge her.

"Sure," I replied, "if you want to risk a citation for 'theft of a public service.' "

"Well then, can I have a transfer?"

"No, a transfer costs $2.50."

She gave me one of those 'are you kidding' looks. "If I'm only going two stops, then it's only worth a dollar."

If you go into a sandwich shop, order a full-size sub with everything on it, then tell the cashier you only plan on eating half of it so you're only paying a third of the price, they will laugh you out of the store. Likewise, if you go into a grocery and choose 20 items but tell the clerk you really only need 10 of them, you still have to pay for every item. Why do people consider transit fares different from any other purchase?

I'll tell you why. Because we don't command the public's respect. They think we're a joke. Criminals assault us, and our agency blithely offers a thousand bucks for someone to rat out the suspect. Later, a judge accepts the plea bargain while slapping the offender on the wrist. Gently, as to not injure the poor baby's sweet blood vessels. Hey, it's only a bus operator, after all. The media insults us, telling its audience how a monkey could do our job.

Our own transit agency, which should be our biggest defender, instead offends us with regularity. It hires union-busting henchmen while whittling away at retiree and operator benefits and hiring as many people it can under a contract that screws them. It seems they're out to replace us once they have successfully murdered a benefit package that was once commensurate with the job we do. It sees how many of us are being assaulted, and instead of lobbying the legislature for stiffer penalties for those who commit the crime, they find another way to waste money by caging us into an already-cramped operator seat. This not only separates us from the decent passengers we ferry to and from work, but it also says "We give up; you're going to assault our operators anyway, so there's nothing we care to do about it except cage them in." Well guess what? We have to get out of the driver seat eventually. Even monkeys have to pee.

Any other agency, when busted for not funding a pension for 30 years, as it promised and was legally obligated to do, would have been hung to dry. Yet ours is lauded for doing so, and encouraged to keep finding ways to pare down those "greedy" union benefits packages. All this while management is pampered with golden parachutes awaiting their cushy retirement. I'd have to work until I'm 90 to bring home what some upper managers can expect, yet I'm the greedy one. Hmm...

It's insulting to know that if I fight off an attacker with what I consider "reasonable defense", I could be fired by my agency over any interpretive discrepancy of this purposefully-vague term. It enrages us that we can face stiffer penalties for defending ourselves than those who commit the assault. It's also maddening that fare inspectors were eliminated and operators became punching bags because the public realized fewer would be checking to ensure they're obeying the law.

No, I don't want an unreasonably-high salary, even though we deserve it. Of course I realize there are limits to how lucrative our benefits can be. But I should be able to expect our lot to get better, for our management to have found a way to reward us for weathering the economic storm and performing feats many of them have never attempted. Instead, we're told we ask too much and that it's time to be "more realistic in our expectations."

Well I know something we should realistically expect and deserve. It's called R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and as Aretha Franklin put it, they should find out what it means to me. I won't hold my breath or think about it too long, because it's infuriating. I have a job to do. One which our local economy depends upon my doing without distraction. It takes skill to whistle a tune while I drive. And I've never seen a monkey do it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I'M TELLING ON YOU! MOMMY!!!

Millions of people around the world ride public transit each day. As with any time somebody is transported somewhere for money, there is a tendency to be hyper-critical of the driver. Ask almost anyone about their prowess behind the wheel, and they will most likely say they consider themselves a skilled driver. (Even those who have lost their driving privileges believe they are more skillful than bus drivers.) We're all quick to criticize these days, but slow to compliment. The problem is, people will complain even if they don't understand the nature of a given situation.

Passengers are not "customers." Public transit is a public service, a privilege rather than a right. The difference between the two is, privileges can be revoked, while a right is inherent and supposedly inviolable. We provide this service with pride, and are expected to follow the rules set forth in our Standard Operating Procedures. When we enforce these rules to someone refuses to follow them, we expect any complaints to be ignored by management and for the passenger to be instructed as to their appropriate actions in the future. What often happens however, is that many false complaints go into our personnel file. It's like charging someone with a crime, even if they're obviously innocent, just because you don't know what else to do with the complaint.

If its employees were truly vital,the agency would totally re-vamp this "customer service" nonsense. Sure, if a complaint is found to be justified in that we have made an error, the operator should expect a courteous correction. We're not perfect, we're simply human. The pressures of this job can turn the most decent human being into a jaded one in just a few years of service. It's not something we consciously try to do. Yet we are constantly bombarded with news of other operators getting the shaft for no good reason. Too many complaints disqualify us for hard-earned rewards for being safe drivers. And yes, we are the safest damn drivers on the road, bar none.

Many operators are notified of complaints against them that are unquestionably F-A-L-S-E. Perhaps those who field the calls simply don't have the tools (or the time) to examine the facts prior to sending complaints on to management. There are also several times when management has failed to fully investigate whether the operator in question was actually operating the vehicle the complainant was actually riding. I've certainly had a few instances where I had to make them remove a false complaint against me simply because I wasn't driving the bus when said incident occurred. Sure, humans are fallible, but our complaint system needs an entire overhaul.

When we're driving a bus, we're expected to follow Standard Operating Procedures. For the great majority of us, this is exactly how we operate. We're also told that while we're behind the wheel, we are Captain of the Ship, and our decisions should be upheld as long as we operate under the provisions we are bound by. Just because Mad Mommy doesn't want to fold up her stroller and hold Screaming Lil' Cindy on her lap while riding a bus does not give her the right to lodge a complaint against us that remains in our personnel files. By enforcing this rule, we are following procedure. Mommy can piss up a rope, and she should be told just that. Many complaints such as this should end up in the trash. Instead, our reputations are trashed.

We all hear tales of the horrible bus driver. However, these tales are usually told by passengers who are woefully ignorant of the rules of transit operation. When a passenger starts bitching at me about their previous operator, I try to get to the real story. People have a tendency to stretch the truth, to put it politely. Many neither care about the rules and responsibilities of being a passenger. Too many are pushy, rude and think only of themselves. On several occasions I've been told "Just drive, asshole. You don't have the right to tell me what to do." Well folks, it seems our transit agency thinks the same way. Problem is, they're both wrong.

I've made it a habit to only check my interoffice mail at the end of a shift. If I get a passenger complaint, I don't want it to piss me off while I'm driving because it's a distraction. Management says it's concerned about distracted driving, yet it doesn't seem to mind being the cause of said distractions. By allowing so many complaints to filter through to us, many without merit or having been fully investigated prior to being thrust upon us, management is not providing a stress-free working environment.

Instead of "thank you," I would assume.
To be a productive part of the transit system, passenger complaints should be properly vetted prior to making it to a manager's desk. Was the driver following SOP's? Who was actually driving the bus where the incident occurred? During investigation, was a follow-up call initiated to ascertain the validity of the complaint? So many complaints we're assaulted with are not only blatantly false, they're often invalid because the operator was simply following protocol. If we stray from our expected path, then yes, perhaps a well-worded and informative note to the operator is in order. Still, these complaints should simply fall off after a year if we do not consistently make the same mistake. 

It's nice, yet very rare, that passengers call in to tell us what a great job we're doing. In fact, out of 100 calls to our agency, 99 of them are complaints. We're out there 365 days a year, in all kinds of impossible conditions, taking people safely to their destinations. You'd think they'd be a little more thankful. People love to complain, but are loathe to compliment. I don't know why that is. Someone is highly likely to want to complain without even considering their own behavior. Yet we treat thousands of people decently, go out of our way to ensure a smooth and safe ride, and rarely hear about it. We're expected to do that, many say. It's our job, say others. Well, yeah. Of course. But turn it around on someone and they most assuredly would say they're also woefully under-appreciated. Our society has become a bitchfest, and it's sad.

Humans are fallible. Bus operators are human. Managers are as well. We all work very hard, are mostly sincere and honest people who want to do a good job. We should be rewarded for improving, not have minor incidents follow us constantly and hinder our possibility of upward mobility. This job is hard, and we have a right to expect management has our back, rather than having them on our backsides. In a just world, it's a valid expectation. But hey, we're just bus drivers, eh?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

You Need to Relax!


Our bodies are abused daily as we drive. Some of us head to the chiropractor, others to the gym or masseuse. I've tried all three, with a monthly massage being my favorite. Today though, I stepped into the realm of exercising the body, mind and soul: yoga.

My wife has found yoga to help her in many ways, and I've always been interested in it. Already a fan of meditation, I finally stepped onto the mat today and put my body through a relaxing regimen of stretches. While my main complaints are usually lower back, calves and right foot pain, today I discovered my hips whispering "help me". During a five-minute stretch of that area, the new pain gave way to to a gradual relaxation and awareness of how this part of an operator's body is crucial to the mechanics of our job.

Driving "by the seat of your pants" isn't just a tired cliche. If you spend hours every day in a bus operator's seat, your hips are the lower body's command center. Hit the brake pedal, and the femur pushes against the hip socket. It takes a few hundred pounds of pressure to smoothly brake a bus. If you multiply this by the approximately 750 times we do this per shift, it seems likely you're going to develop some pain from all that pressure. Turn the steering wheel, and your body weight pivots with the directional force involved in the bus changing direction. Accelerate, and not only is your foot pushing away, the body is simultaneously settling backward. These conflicting pressures also cause stress on the lumbar portion of your spine and the associated muscles. A constant shifting in the seat is a natural part of a bus operator's day. Sometimes, unless sudden movements accentuate the common stress your body feels, you don't notice how tense the lower body becomes after a 90-minute workout in the seat. Until, that is, you reach the end of the line and you stand up from that seat. Then your body screams "Hey wait a minute, what's going on here?" As you return to an upright homo sapiens, new stresses are compounded by what your lower body has become accustomed to while driving, and those first few steps make me look like a drunk lurching home after several shots at the bar.

For me, the hip irritation is a silent pain, or one I've been able to ignore because there are other stress points my brain centers on. Silent until today's yoga class, that is. Thanks to the meditative state you enter during the stretches, you can concentrate on what parts of the body need attention. I sent warm, healing oxygenated waves toward my hips during two particular stretches. After the first few excruciating minutes and a few minor adjustments in the pose, I felt the tension melting away. It was a wonderful feeling, and I hate to use the term in fear of seeming vulgar, which was nearly orgasmic in nature.

Once upon a part timer's world, I had a daily workout regimen. Working a few hours in the morning with a six-hour stretch before my afternoon shift, I could fit in a full-body workout. Then I could enjoy a leisurely lunch and a nap afterward. Operating a bus was virtually pain-free. When I went full time and ended up on the Extra Board, all that changed. Even though there were long stretches of time when I wasn't driving, there was a short leash around my neck. I couldn't leave the report area or I'd be unavailable when my name was called. Now that I have regular work thanks to a seniority level earned by a few years of longevity, the luxury of taking care of myself isn't always available.

You've read how my mind and body have reacted to this job, and my soul has suffered at times as well. To have the opportunity to soothe all three in one hour of gentle physical therapy is one we should all make time for. Until they find a driver's seat design that adjusts adequately for every body type and size, it's up to us to take care of ourselves. If we don't, and the body breaks down, the mind and soul suffer from worry about how to pay the bills.

I've talked myself into it. Yeah, yoga helps. Now if I could only stretch my butt back into shape, I might feel as good as I did as a mini-runner. Ah, the good ol' days...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blowing Off Steam, and Bestowing Fleas


Back to the fun gig, described as "Write Drunk, Edit Sober" tonight. It's my Friday, and it's been one helluva week, so thanks to my designated driver Lady Blue (she HATES that name), I'm home safe after driving about 650 miles in a bus in five days. Got off my bus, changed out of my uniform, and went straight to our hometown bar for some scotch, rock, and pool to unwind.

Everything hurts, down to my soul. Today, we all heard that an off-duty cop was involved in a motorcycle collision with a bus. We're all concerned not only for the motorcyclist who was Life Flighted from the scene, but also the bus operator. It's not known, or important at this time, who was at fault. All I know is that our thoughts, prayers and love go out to those involved. Motorcyclists can be so hard to see sometimes, we all shudder with the realization that it could be any of us who could make a split-second decision that ends disastrously. Perhaps it wasn't the operator's mistake. The media doesn't usually key in on that particular point, because the money-maker headline is usually "Bus Hits Motorcycle" which condemns us from the get-go. But like I said, who's at fault isn't the point; we're all hoping the motorcyclist fully recovers. We also send the operator our love and support, because he or she must be having a terrible nightmare of a time right now.

When you consider how many thousands of passengers we safely deliver to destinations every hour of every day, our collision rate is minuscule in comparison. It would be nice once in a while for the transit agency to tout our safety record as one of the best in the world, which I'm sure it is. We're expected to drive perfectly, yet the public only hears or complains if we dare to show a flaw of the tiniest proportions.

Today, for example, I had one customer who complained about something that was totally out of my control. He made a point to write my bus number down on his grimy, sweaty palm in front of the bus. I felt like he was a whiny child pantomiming "I'm telling Mommy on you! Mean old bus driver jerk! WAAAAHHHH!" It mattered little to me. He could piss up a rope for all I cared. I was polite, mindful of the myriad of Big Brother spy cameras and microphones on the bus. Plus, being my Friday, I wasn't going to let some pond scum ruin the day. I smiled, told him "I hope you have a nice day", and waited for the door to close before commenting to my buddy the operator window: "May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your weeks-old underwear, you ungrateful schmuck."

The full moon approaching, my riders were some surly rotten eggs today. Many of them, anyway. Some were downright rude, yet a few were refreshingly supportive and kind. But the schmucks did their best to shake my resolve to the bone, lemme tell ya. I politely asked a 20-something bicyclist to have his fare ready when boarding, instead of fumbling with the bike rack, then coming on board and rummaging through his designer-ripped jeans for the correct change. You'd think I had farted loudly for 10 seconds on an elevator upon which he was the only other passenger, the face he made at my politely-worded comment. "I'm working on it! Geesh! You can go anytime you know." After an interminably-long 90 seconds, he finally put the fare in the box and snatched his ticket while giving me an animated stink-eye. The fact that he could actually count to 250 amazed me. I waited until he was past the priority seating area, as usual, before moving the bus. Once again, I silently invoked the fleas, begging them to freely mate in his nether regions.

Later, coming up to a busy stop with a full bike rack, another 20-something stood forlornly with her two-wheeler after the last passenger had boarded. "Can I bring my bike on board?" she whined. "No Miss, I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait for the next bus because transit code says you can't bring a bike on board with you." She looked like she was going to wail, but a primitive moan came instead. "But that's not for another 20 minutes!" (Lie... my bus is frequent service, meaning the next one was about eight minutes away, seeing as I was seven minutes late by then.) "Have a nice evening," I said with a smile, as the door slammed in her face. Cry me a river lady.

We do "favors" for people all the time. The only good it does us is the satisfaction of being kind. The general public doesn't give a tinker's damn, nor do they realize half the time, the nice things we do for them. They'll call in a complaint, or Tweet a misunderstood faux pas, quicker than a politician takes a bribe. But telling the world what a fine job we do in the worst circumstances? Fuhgeddaboudit. 

I recently had the great pleasure of spending time with one of our road supes while waiting for a mechanic to diagnose a mechanical issue on my bus. We discussed the current situation of the mess Portland calls its Transit Mall. His words were music to my ears. "It's a testament to the professionalism of our bus and rail operators that so few people are injured or killed. It's a miracle, really." Thanks to our brother, we got the kudos we work so hard to hear but rarely do. I was speechless for a minute. "Thank you brother, it's nice to hear that. We sure try to keep people safe." His reply was equally heartwarming. "I'm sorry you don't hear it enough."

To all of you who work on the road and rail, I know it's hard a tough row to hoe. We're under-appreciated by the public and our management. When one of us suffers, we all do. We're a brotherhood, and we understand what we all go through. What I've described tonight is nothing new. Many of you probably nodded when you read this rambling, having surely gone through something similar many a time yourselves. So thank YOU... for doing what we do, and for doing a damn good job of it.