Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bloody Wednesdays

It was another busy day. Full every trip, wise guys and nut jobs, the usual regulars. Then I had a surprise.

On my layover I was walking to my bus and saw what appeared to be... BLOOD! It was splashed on the bottom of the front door. My blood pressure raised a few hundred points. Did I flatten Fido? Squash a squirrel? Pulverize a possum? Chunk a skunk? No smell, no memory of any disturbing squishy noise. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened; I shrugged off the notion.

My next action was a call to Lady Dispatch. I explained the situation. She was calm, asked where the "blood" was located. She didn't sound concerned, and said to make sure and tell the spotter the bus needed a bath. I copied that and hung up. Shrugged. I had done my due diligence. No NCIS van would be sent to test the substance, no news crews (thank God), no supervisors or cops scrutinizing me, no report to write. Whew!

As I pulled into the spotter shack, I told the spotter to look at it and closed the door. He frowned, bent down and studied it. When I opened the door again, he sported an amused look.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It's just the grease they use on the doors," he replied with a grin. "Kinda looks like blood, but isn't. And I'm not gonna taste it."

Mystery solved. I'm such a goober.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Wave

Bus and rail operators wave at each other. Usually. It's a sign of recognition and respect.

We're accustomed to not being recognized by other motorists "out there" for our efforts to keep others safe. When we pass by another transit employee, it's customary to give a friendly wave. Unless we're busy, most operators and other transit workers observe this time-honored tradition. I even give a "thank you" wave to motorists who stop on my Yield signal and allow me back into traffic. It beats the obscene gesture others usually flash me.

Our ladies have the most creative waves. There's what I call the "beauty queen" wave, where they pivot their hand at the wrist and add a sweet smile. Some reserve this for folks they know, opting to use the common "swath in front of the wheel" wave for others.

Another one of my favorites is the "big wave out the window". If you don't know the driver, you wonder if it's a desperate plea to "come drive this thing for me willya I need a break". The most common I see is the nonchalant "hiya brother" half-salute. Or the wave from inside the driver window that means either "whatever, dude" or "oh yeah hello to you too, I guess".

Then there are those who see you wave, but look right through you as if you don't exist. No wave there. If they're close enough you can see the accompanying eye roll. It's kind of disheartening. But then again, not everyone who drives a transit vehicle is having the best of days. I give them a pass, because usually the next time you see them they at least give you a half-hearted one. If they never wave at all, so be it. I'm a big boy.

Sometimes I'm guilty of failure to wave. If I'm having a truly rotten day, it's hard to even acknowledge my passengers as they board. Seeing a sad puppy dog look from a waver to whom I fail to return the gesture is usually enough to snap me out of it. They don't deserve the bad vibes I'm feeling. On the return trip, I'll be sure to at least single out the one(s) I ignored with an exaggerated makeup wave.

Oftentimes my beloved will catch me waving at bus operators when I'm driving our car. "Roopsie, long day," il say. "But I know that gal!" She'll remind me they can't see me on the down low.

One driver I know gave me a puzzled look when I asked him why he didn't wave back one day. "I didn't know it mattered all that much," he said. Later that afternoon as I drove by him downtown as we waited to do his road relief, he gave me an exaggerated double wave with his customary dry-wit sardonic half smile. It was hilarious, but also a signal to me: it's no biggie, get over it.

A few drivers out there are so green they are more focused on scanning and being careful than waving. That's okay. I'd rather they get a feel for safely guiding "the beast" with two hands than acknowledging me.  They have to successfully pass probation without a scratch or a dent, and I'm past that.

I appreciate all my brothers and sisters out there. We do a tough job. When I wave at them, I'm showing respect. To my more senior brothers and sisters, I sometimes shoot them a salute. It's not mandatory, nor is it expected. It is nice, though. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

It's My Anniversary!

I would say it's my birthday, but it's funny that I put a fictitious day of birth on my FaceBook profile and every year I get tons of birthday wishes! Actually, it has been three years this week since I began blogging. It "bloggles" the mind to realize I've been writing this for so long already.

Within a week or so FTDS will achieve its 60,000th hit. Once again, I thank everyone who has helped make this humble tome a success. Al Margulies (Rantings of a Former TriMet Bus Driver) started publicizing and linking to it from its earliest stages, has always been supportive, and I am deeply appreciative. Tom Horton, the Rampant Lion, also took notice and has been great helping me keep facts straight. Dan Martin, Henry Beasley, Karen Dietz, Gloree Taylor, Jenelle Jack and many other drivers here have had my back, protecting my identity while always reading and giving me encouragement.

A close friend of mine is working on a cartoon drawing of the Deacon. I had a request to do a radio show in Nova Scotia. Drivers approach me with great blog ideas. The past three years have truly been a wonderful confidence booster, and I'm eager to see what awaits me between now and the next anniversary. It may not be the best driver blog out there, and I've seen some great ones, but it sure has been fun.

It's really cool to see people from all over the world reading my words. Ken Coates from the United Kingdom is someone I met on "holiday" at the beach, and has become a regular. Ellen in Minnesota is the mother of a friend, and her two cents are always worth a buck. Operators chime in from Denver, Tucson, Philadelphia, Nova Scotia, Australia and numerous other places too. It's always been a dream of mine to touch people worldwide with my writing, and that dream has come true. I never dreamed it would happen this way, but it's a great start with a book on the way soon.

Oh, and speaking of the book, I need to get back to writing it. I only have a few hours each night before the eyelids droop too low to see the words. One night I actually woke up with my head on the keyboard. One look in the mirror revealed an almost perfect 'QWERTYUIOP' dent in my face. Good thing I didn't drool into the keyboard.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Now That's Entertainment!

When we reach the end point of a route, it's rather comical how many people think we should just keep picking folks up. Our sign reads "Garage", yet they still don't get it.

Only a few routes go past either of our three garages, unless the buses are deadheading outbound to the starting point of a run. People don't seem to understand that we actually have to drive to wherever the route begins. Buses don't just appear there. They don't drive themselves. In 2016 that is. Maybe someday in the far future, but I hope not. Conversely, once a driver is finished with a route, the bus has to get back to the garage where it is made ready for the next day's work.

Since I pick up my bus en route as a road relief, I finish every night with a deadhead back to the garage. It amuses me to see the antics of people who are waiting for their bus as I go by. There are no lights on inside my bus, and the destination sign reads "GARAGE", but it's apparent that people expect me to stop and pick them up anyway. As if I'm their special chauffeur. It doesn't occur to them that perhaps I'm finishing up a 10-hour day, and the last thing I want to do at that point is give anybody a ride. Well, except for other drivers... every uniform is a bus stop to me (thanks Lyn!). It's actually a major no-no to give a non-employee a ride while not in service, without permission from Dispatch.

The antics people display as deadheading buses cruise past them is great entertainment. There's one I call the "LORD STOP THIS BUS" maneuver, where the person throws both hands skyward, followed by major stink eye as we roll by. Then there's the "HOPPER", where they wave their hands and jump out into the road. This evolves into what I've termed the "AKC", because one night a goofy-looking girl with a hairstyle resembling a pink pompadour was so enraged at my refusal to stop she looked like a pissed-off poodle who's just learned she lost the top prize to a mangy old blue tick hound.  Of course, this was followed by a heartily-screamed expletive and two raised birds. Impressive show lass, but alas, still no ride. So sorry.

Some maneuvers are passive. This one I call the "THINKER". These people understand the drill. As I approach a stop, the person will look up from their phone, start to raise their hand, then actually READ the sign and put their hand down. Or, in an attempt to either be friendly or to avoid looking silly, they'll wave as I go by. This usually prompts me to return my own friendly wave. One night a lady did this, and since I was stopped at a traffic light anyway, I opened the door and let her know an in-service bus was only two minutes behind me. She was very grateful and thanked me for the information. She also wished me a nice evening and thanked me for being a driver. Extremely rare, but thoroughly appreciated.

Then we have the "RUNNER". This is someone who sees the bus in the distance, but is still 100 yards or so from the stop. It's too far away for them to see the sign, so they begin an intense race to the stop. Usually this is accompanied by a frantic waving of the arms and the occasional glance over the shoulder to check for distance. It's fun sometimes to slow down just a bit, giving them a glimmer of hope, only to zip past as they reach the stop and turn to see you pass them by. A typical response is a stomp of the foot followed by a hearty flip off. This is a mean trick though, and I will only admit to doing it one time, after a particularly hard day dealing with horribly rude people. Karmic payback, don't ya know. But I don't qualify it as mean as splashing little old ladies waiting for the bus in the rain.

Someone is bound to give me a hard time about this post. We're often portrayed by the public as heartless, uncaring dirtbags. However, when you consider the source of this unfair description is usually a rude degenerate slacker, it's a wash.

I've started rating the Deadhead Routines on a 1-10 scale. So far most have scored in the 5-7 range. Nothing truly remarkable yet. But I'm waiting for a perfect 10. It's great entertainment, and I have the best seat in the house.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Deacon's People

"Deke," a reader told me the other day, "you're getting crabby. Why don't you write something about your good passengers?"

"Well," I stammered, "I reckon I could write about you and a few other folks. Y'all're always nice to me, and it makes my day to give you a ride."

So yeah, okay. I have been a bit more ornery than usual lately. After helping one operator write a speech he delivered to the transit agency board of directors and hearing about an epidemic of assaults on operators, I have been a bit cranky. Downright angry, even. But I don't like to be. It's agin' my nature to be a snarling beast. Yet even Lady Blue has noticed I've been particularly cranky the past few months. Sorry my Beloved, and sorry to everyone else too. Guess I've been a bit tired and stressed.

One of my favorites I'll call Lady D. I've been driving her home for almost five months now, most afternoons during the work week. She gets on downtown and I give her a courtesy stop way out near the end of the line. Lady D and I have had some fun conversations as we've gotten to know each other. She reads this blog and we talk about the things operators face on daily basis. Most people who ride just show me their pass and have a seat, but Lady D is a bright star shiner, and I'm bummed when she doesn't ride. Some people are just so sweet and fun to talk with, they're the type an operator strains his eyesight to see if she's running a bit late to the stop and even burn time to make sure she doesn't miss the bus. Of course, I hate to leave people behind and have been known to run late to make sure that runner gets aboard safely. People who make an extra effort to catch my bus usually find I'm one of the operators who will wait for them. If they're mean when they board though, they won't be lucky enough to ride my bus again.

As I've written before, some people have certain shine in their eyes when we first make contact. I've always been a people person, usually able to ascertain whether I like someone within seconds of meeting them. The exact opposite is true too. If somebody throws off a weird vibe, it's hello, sit down and shut up. But once I've decided someone is "cool", we're usually friends for years afterward. Just ask my best buddy Henry; he hasn't been able to shake loose of me since the first day of high school. And that was a long, long time ago.

It seems the nice weather is helping improve people's moods lately. Folks are smiling more now. Teenagers are actually smiling back and thanking me when they leave, rather than simply snarling. They put seats up in the Priority area when people using mobility devices are ready to board and put them down again when they exit. They're more light-hearted and easier to joke around with. Even motorists have been letting me merge back into traffic with fewer road rage incidents. I get a kick out of people who zip around me, open their windows and throw me the bird. I tell folks on my bus these bird-flippers are actually telling us their driving test or IQ scores.

The other day I had the great pleasure of seeing a favorite passenger I haven't seen in months. Featured a few posts earlier, Johnny Stingray made a surprise appearance on my bus and it made my day. Really nice young fella, someone you'd introduce your own kids to. He said his shift had changed so he usually catches the bus right after mine so that's why I haven't seen him. We had a good chat before we split ways again, and I was so glad to hear he's doing even better than the last time we met.

This past week, a little fella got on my bus as usual with his grandpa. Every other day for the past few months, he'd walk right past me without a word and sit silently until they got off the bus. But this time, he burst on the bus and jumped right in the doorway, proclaiming "Today's my birthday!"

"Wow buddy," I said, "that's cool! How old are you now, 10?" I always add a few years on to how old I think kids are because it makes them feel special for others to think they're older than they truly are.

"No silly," he laughed, "I'm SIX!" His grandpa, just a bit less stiff than usual, ambled on board and they sat in their usual seat.

"Okay everyone," I announced on the PA system. "We have a special rider today, and it's his SIXTH birthday! So please folks, join me in wishing him a VERY happy birthday!"

To my delight, and the lad's, the bus cheered and what had been a rather quiet, subdued group wished this beaming child a happy day. The rest of the trip was filled with friendly banter and laughter. Throw in beautiful Portland spring weather and the day became a grand masterpiece.

Pretty soon, the summer signup will begin. My routes and days off will change. New faces will appear, and I look forward to finding the star shine in others. But I'll miss the folks I've been driving for two signups now. It's the part of the job I truly enjoy the most, meeting fascinating and fun people. It's hard to leave them behind.

So there you have it. A nice post. Happy and full of nice things. Aw hell, I was almost as sappy as Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood this time. So now I'm going back to writing my book again. It's where I've been lately. I hope you all buy a copy when it comes out. Then you can say "I knew the Deacon before he was rich and famous". If I'm lucky, you'll slap me upside the head if'n I get too big for my britches.

Safe travels, my friends.