Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mantra Revisited

Center Street Garage before the remodel, circa early 2013,
 about the time I wrote the first Mantra trilogy.
Oh what a difference a few years can make! Shortly after I began this blog, I wrote a piece about the mantra I say every day before driving my shift. In the time since, it has evolved along with my driving skills (and attitude).

For those who might have missed it, my earlier posts were some long sonsabitches. So long in fact, I had to stretch out my mantra description into three parts. The first part described the first and last piece of the mantra, and as I read it tonight it seemed I wrote as if I were a 19th century author being paid by the word. Good thing I'm learning brevity these days. By the time I read the middle piece, my eyes were blinking from exhaustion, and when I finally finished reading the doggone thing my wife had to elbow me because I was snoring. Three excruciatingly-long parts to describe a 12-point mantra that takes as many seconds to recite? Guess I was a bit over-eager back then.

So here's an updated version. I've added a few points to the mix. Over the years it's become necessary to amend and improve it due to experience and many hours of contemplation. I usually drive my car with music; while bus operating, my mind tends to wander in other creative directions.

Temporary quarters for Lost & Found, 2013-2014.
THE MANTRA: Be safe, be kind, be courteous, be considerate, be polite, be thoughtful, be patient, be vigilant, be calm, be smart, be smooth... but above all, be safe (again).

In adding "be courteous", I've learned that when I'm running late and somebody stands at the bus doorway as the light changes to green, it's not a good idea to slam the door shut in someone's face. Bad for business. But when it happens on the transit mall downtown with three buses waiting for me to shag ass down the road, I really have to struggle with the door handle. I grit my teeth and show a smile that would signal people who know me to hurry the hell up, I have miles to roll. Usually, the answer lies on the reader board they've failed to notice, so I point them to it.

What I want to say: "I have no idea when the next 19 bus will be here, I don't drive the damn thing!"
"What the hell, are you daft or slow, or both? Do you see 'Schedule Guru' tattooed on my freakin' forehead? Isn't that a smart phone in your hand? Amazing, because you're too damned stupid to use one! Figure this one out on your own, Gates."

What I do say: "There should be one coming along any time now." This is a much more courteous, albeit somewhat misleading, way to answer their question. If I knew the schedule of every line and train, I'd be too damn smart to work here.

This is also where polite comes in. When you're tired, or as my brother Dan Christensen describes it in his magnificent blog, in "fourth gear", this is an excruciatingly difficult part to practice. On my Friday night, I have to vigorously restrain myself from answering the inevitable schedule inquiry in a manner that could find me in big trouble with the bosses.

There are times when I can combine parts of my mantra. Tonight I realized it can be efficient, polite, thoughtful, and considerate to be courteous in traffic. By Nellie, I knocked five of them puppies out in one maneuver! Part of my route runs on a two-lane highway; one lane of traffic in either direction for several miles. If someone wants to turn left, traffic backs up for blocks. Tonight I let off some passengers, and as I scanned coming out of the stop, I saw ahead there was a bus coming the opposite direction stuck in a long line of traffic behind a left-turner. So I blocked traffic behind me and stopped so the motorist could hang a Larry and get the hell out of Ollie Operator's way. I was early anyway, and the car had been waiting to turn for over a minute. I could almost see Ollie's fingers tapping impatiently on his wheel. All it cost me was someone behind me flipping me their IQ salute at my next stop, but hey... I'm used to the bird.

When you won't find me stopping for another motorist is if I'm trying to make it through an intersection that has an annoyingly-long stoplight sequence. They can just sit there and wait all night, thank you, rather than cut into a line I've been inching forward in for several minutes. Try the next guy, lady... I'm working here! What are you doing, Polly Prius, going to have your butt hairs trimmed? Sorry Polly, no cracker for you.

I've added vigilance to my daily tool basket because sometimes it's just so damn hard to remain focused. You have to be a vigilant scanner, or you could miss something potentially disastrous. You know how it is when you're at work. Sometimes we have a tendency to daydream, the mind begins to wander and you catch yourself waking up from a mini excursion to napville a few minutes later. (Drool dripping from the beard hairs isn't very attractive, so I've been told.) If that happens on our job, the results could be deadly. So yes, it is important to remain vigilant, on the outlook for dangers that pop up. When you drive something that weights 40,000 pounds empty, it's vital you stay in top form. Much better that, than on top of somebody.

Finally, I added be calm. There are so many stresses out there we constantly deal with. When we're bombarded with several of them in a short time, it can truly put our game in jeopardy. People curse us for being late, even though they can see the line of traffic inching past them as we try to reach their stop. They will also stare at their phone until we're passing their stop, then yell at you for not stopping on a dime. Folks will say things in hopes they truly irritate you, just for fun. Or, they'll get into arguments over the most mundane topics. This is when I take a deep breath, hold it a second or two, then slowly exhale. Not long ago, I'd explode at them. Show them who's boss. But that's a recipe for professional indigestion. I'm supposed to be good at customer service, but mediating civil disputes is Perry Patrolman's job. Now I just let it play out. If they want to duke it out, I'll suggest they use the nearest exit.

Whew! This installment is much shorter than my 3-Part Series on Mantra Sense was. Hope it resonates with some of you. We have a very tough job. However, once you find your own way, it becomes easier. The hardest part for me nowadays is dealing with the body aches associated with sitting in a seat for eight or more hours. And they want me to work on my day off?!? I'd rather watch Polly Prius's butt hairs get pulled.


  1. thanks for more enntertainment and mindreading;)

    1. Thanks Gloree! My next post will explore taxes on employees to pay for transit. Grr...

  2. I hadn't found you yet when the first "mantra" rolled, (or perhaps had to be pulled from) the presses, but reading this after being retired neatly 13 years, actually created flashbacks to my very first 5 years of driving. I have discovered that if an operator makes it past the first 5, he/ she will probably be a lifer. The first five, operators evolve as they hone their skills as drivers/people pleasers.
    That's the time we install the HEAVY DUTY, INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH "FILTER", necessary to survive and actually flourish in this occupation. I personally developed, my own "computer voice" or tone, when answering the famous " what is the fare" question, from the SAME passenger, at the SAME stop, at the SAME time, for TWO WEEKS. I found a neutral tone, and VERRRRRYYYY VANILLA language, in which to respond to these TEDIOUS, ALBEIT (yes there are) STUPID QUESTIONS.
    SO taking a deep breath, and responding, in the aforementioned 'computer' voice, kept the busses moving, my blood pressure down, and ME EMPLOYED. (I finally justified that our employer had actually made the "WHAT'S THE FARE" question, NOT-SO-STUPID,by placing "PEAK", OFF PEAK" STUDENT, SENIORS, "CLEAN AIR" LOCAL, EXPRESS, REGIONAL, AND FINALLY, 'ZONE' FARES (when light rail rolled out) to justify the WHAT'S THE FARE" question from ANYONE, at ANYTIME!
    Along those same lines, as I settled into my comfort zone as an operator, I could finally justify "ALMOST" all of the tedious repetitive, finally, laughable questions, by putting myself in the passengers "head space".
    THAT, was when I knew I didn't have to be 'one of them' to understand MOST of the reason's one continues to ask the same question repeatedly.... sometimes, it's just a habit, or to break the ice, or to prevent an ugly encounter they once experienced, with another operator by NOT knowing the answer, sometimes it's just "to hear their own voice",
    but through it all, we must, AND DO PREVAIL....THANKS FOR THE BLOG DEACON!!!!!

    1. As always Gloria, I appreciate your support and knowledge of the trade!