Deacon Who?

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(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

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

Sadness BusBits

Deke's Note: After the fright, stress and flashbacks of the violent incident on my bus just over a week ago, I have ached to reach back ...