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.

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