Deacon in Blue
"If you don't like the weather in Oregon, wait five minutes..."
We hear this a lot. Sure, we get about 35 inches of precipitation each year, most of it as rain. This past weekend, it came in the form of an inch or two of the frozen white stuff. Snow? Yeah, that's it. We get some every few years. Two years ago, we got a shitload of it. This time, just a dusting. What came afterward however, was hours of freezing rain. That's when things got treacherous.
Fellow operators in other parts of the world may laugh, but when Portland, Oregon gets a snowstorm, the aftermath is anything but picturesque. It is usually followed by freezing rain. We call this a "Silver Thaw". If we only got the snow, then sunshiny warm temperatures to melt it away, life would be grand in our lovely city of rolling hills and narrow winding streets. But no. Snow is easy to drive on. Ice on top of it makes for white-knuckle driving. It sticks to the bus mirrors and windshield wipers. Sidewalks instantly turn from safe havens to broken bone magnets. Power lines become encrusted with the stuff, making light rail travel unreliable. Tree limbs, already saturated with the 15 inches of rain that fell in December, freeze and become so heavy and brittle they break away in the accompanying 50mph winds. Our fearless power company workers get kudos from me for all the emergency situations they've handled (so far) this winter. Tree limbs seem to love falling onto power lines.
It takes a lot of mental toughness just to operate a bus in normal conditions. When you add ice to the equation, along with motorists who have no idea how to drive in it, our job's difficulty is compounded 100 times. When you're maneuvering 20 tons of a 40-foot vehicle around on icy streets, it's miraculous when you set the brake at the garage after it's all over and you've done so without a scratch. I saw numerous cars slip and slide, crash and smash; 4x4 big truck drivers (boo yah!) who hadn't a clue how to let their vehicle do the work for them; people slipping and falling in the worst possible places; and numerous stupid stunts showcasing humanity's lowest common denominator. I was so exhausted after this day's shift I slept 10 hours straight.
My day was almost over. I was maneuvering through a busy mall parking lot to our break area, artfully avoiding pedestrians and sliding cars, when a perplexing incident unfolded before me. An oncoming bus and mine were stopped at an intersection when from off to my left, a little teenager's car started spinning donuts in between us. This driver narrowly missed the other bus as he attempted to show the world what a "pro" he was. He zipped past a few terrified onlookers and headed for a deserted patch where he continued spinning around like a dizzy bumblebee. Dumb shit kid, most likely.
Instead of Mrs. Blue daring the horrific conditions to ferry me home that night, I took the rail home. Stood in the freezing rain 40 minutes waiting for it, but it came. We were within 200 yards of the end of the line when it stopped. For another 30-45 minutes, we endured a fascinating game of back-and-forth as the operator and a supervisor worked to inch the train forward. Ice on the lines was interfering with the electric current. They delivered us to our destination and a bus whose operator graciously waited for us.
My stories of this "event" pale in comparison to some I've heard. But the hard work of everybody shows just how dedicated our transit community truly is. From the mechanics and chain crews, to the heroics of operators, tremendous support of supervisors, tireless coordination of station agents, incredible organization of dispatchers and rail controllers, and invaluable advice from trainers... it all worked out in the end. We kept Portland moving in the worst conditions possible.
I'm sure we'll hear kudos from management when it's all said and done. They're supposed to say the right things. But one has wonder... will they remember our heroics when contract negotiations begin? Probably not. By then we'll be back to being "greedy union thugs with Cadillac benefits". But for now, let's enjoy a well-deserved pat on the back.
Good job brothers and sisters! We take Portland to work!