Monday, November 28, 2016

My Operating Philosophy

A friend of mine contemplates life as an operator.
The last few weeks of a run I enjoy driving are particularly hard. Especially when you know this one is no longer available to a full-timer. You get to know the people who ride, anticipate their boarding, wonder what's up when they're absent, share their life's triumphs and tragedies. Sure, it's good to make changes here and there, to not become complacent by doing the same thing each day. Yet often that's what makes this job endurable.

Each manhole cover and pothole become ingrained memories, and your hands guide the steering wheel around them without jostling the passengers. Your body feels the road. Instinct tells you where each stop is, no matter how cleverly hidden by the city. Eyes are constantly watching for those who refuse to exercise caution. Traffic lights become predictable, so much that you know exactly when each will change. Your feet are in harmony with the nervous system. The bus slows as the green becomes red, creeping along as the masses behind become irritated. They are loathe to be behind the lumbering mass of steel and glass, zipping around you to be FIRST at that light. You've slowed to 25, 20, 15... the turn arrow goes green 200 yards away. Ten miles per hour becomes five. Just as your mind predicts, the light turns green and you amble past the long line of Brake Master junkies and roll smoothly to the stop on the far side of the intersection. Passengers stand in anticipation, knowing I will not stomp on the brakes and send them flying. The doors open, and they are free. Delivered safely to Safeway, free to dip under the freeway to MAX, clinging to their last few bucks entering the Dollar Store.

It can be risky to allow your mind to roam on a run you know well. Complacency causes mistakes. Being professional while listening to your soul requires mastery and precision. Daydreaming normally happens when your eyes become focused on a fixed point. You cannot allow this to happen. Scan, scan, scan... it's the only way to provide a safe ride. My soul flies with the wind outside; my central nervous system drives the bus. When asked a routine question or for idle conversation, part of me returns, but only enough for professional courtesy. There are certain people who bless my job with their presence each day. I value them by fully engaging in conversation while concentrating on everything in the vicinity of my bus and that which might come close to it. Some people are a striking nuisance; they are dealt with by the machine rather than the soul.

Kind of zen-like, wouldn't you think? If you look back in this blog, early on I was so focused on driving. Then there were a few years when all gradually blended together, amidst the bumps and dings associated with becoming a veteran. I recently hit the "wall," one so high I didn't know what lay beyond. The job became painfully dull. I was offered another job in the private sector, one I truly wanted, but they couldn't match the pay or benefits. Had it been close, I would have taken it. But alas, the driver seat beckons again.

In the past few weeks I've had an epiphany. I am a bus operator, proud of where I am and confident in my abilities. It's a decent job, one some might describe as a noble profession. "Thank you for what you do," I hear quite often. This is elixir, affirmation, and validation all rolled into a neat little package.

There are other facets of me I've had to make time for as well as the profession. "I am a writer who drives a bus," I recently said to one man who asked for a more detailed explanation of what I do.

He was quiet for a few moments. Then he said, "Quite a job for a philosopher, wouldn't you say?" I didn't know how to answer, other than to agree. Somewhat.

"There are many operators who are far more qualified to answer that," I replied.

In a week, I'll move on to a different route for three months. Maybe longer. It's not my top choice, but at this point, they're mostly the same. It's a bus route. I drive, stop and pick people up or set them afoot. Many are thankful, some are not. There will be problem passengers, to be dealt with as the situation requires. Others will intrigue me enough to engage. People fascinate me at times; others challenge me to use skills I've learned over a half-century. I'll miss my regulars on today's route, but they already know how to keep in touch. Hopefully, they know by now that I love them. These relationships will continue as life allows. If not, memories will be kind to these relationships.

This guy, a philosopher? The dictionary defines that as someone "deeply versed in philosophy." Nah. Sheeit. I'm just a lowly ol' bus driver. And finally, a happy one.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Readers

I've neglected you by not writing a post in a while. As everyone can be this time of year, I've been busy with other pursuits. Plus, the FaceBook debacle has drastically reduced either interest or readers' ability to locate the blog. Either way, readership is way down. It's hard to write when you don't think many people will read it.

There are a few post ideas rattling around inside me. The book has been through its first edit, and thanks to an operator brother's hard work, the second round is coming. Then I have to decide how to publish it. I don't really enjoy the business end of it. Then there's the pen name problem when it comes to marketing. I can't easily go around doing book signings in a dog costume.

Excuses, excuses... I know. I can't expect people to come to the blog just to read old news. Maybe I'll work on a new post this weekend. This post, however, will not be broadcast. If you see it, then you're actually paying attention to the blog, and not FaceBook. Patrick has provided me with a page linked to his account, since the FB gods have nixed my "alias" page.

Stay tuned. This ol' dawg ain't done yet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My Peace

Presidential elections and new administrations have always excited this American history buff. Usually a heady time, one filled with promise of a new future and a changing of the guard that has endured over 240 years.

This is the first time in my conscious memory, however, it has created bile in my throat. Oh sure, I've watched presidents take the oath who I didn't vote for. It rankled a bit, having argued my favorite's case for months prior to Election Day only to watch the victor claim what coulda/shoulda/woulda been your candidate's to celebrate.

It's not just that the other guy won over my choice. But having read about those 44 before, I can't think of a single one who didn't have the chutzpah to do the job. Except (and I hate to say this because it will appear as pure partisanship to some of my friends), for the one entrusted with our next four years.

As a bus operator, we not only drive a bus. We hear life stories producers dream of writing into today's sordid mass of reality television. People who are living the lives our politicians say they understand, ride our bus to whatever chores their lives depend upon. It is a badge of honor to safely and competently guide a 20-ton behemoth through narrow city streets built long before vehicles had rubber shoes. People entrust us with their safety, and we endeavour to give them a ride wherever, for just a few bucks. They are sometimes rich, mostly hard-working poor, often homeless or hopeless, but they're my fellow Americans. My neighbors and friends. You drive a route long enough, you learn their names and if you're lucky, make some acquaintances with some of your life's most fascinating individuals. People who drive a bus, or risk their lives in your service as firemen and cops, those who answer telephones or stock store shelves or clean the downtown transit mall... we spend time together in ways politicians can only imagine. Each is unique, with good qualities and bad. We differ in ways each other cannot possibly always understand. Yet most of us guard our differences and silently judge each other based on what someone else decrees.

I do not hate anyone. People are people. Some good, others not. What I cannot fathom is how this great country has come to exploit hate and foster harm more often than focusing on what is right and good for all. To say another is less than you are because what they believe, feel or experience is an absence of humility. It elevates the judge to a status mere mortal man cannot possibly achieve. To see somebody's skin color as inferior to yours, or allow your personal disgust for another's lifestyle obscure your vision of that person's potential to add value to your life, is a personal crime against nature. We're human. Each of us has wonderful traits no others do, and we all have made mistakes. We're often our own worst judges, but when someone cannot bear the truth about themselves, it can often manifest outwardly in the most horrid of ways.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

We've become a prison state. As Orwell predicted, our every move can be documented. Each point of the moral compass has become imbalanced with the illusion there is only one way to achieve goodness. You're either Party A or Party B, and only someone "in authority" can say which is the right one for decent people to support. The fallacy here lies within the fact that neither is right or wrong. Each choice has strengths and weaknesses. The challenge humanity faces today is how to reconcile our own faults while honoring the strength we see in others. The word compromise is an idea nearing extinction. We've been conditioned to believe only one side is right, therefore it is vital to abolish the other. What a horrid existence we've chosen for ourselves.

Call me a hippie, or a dreamer. I don't care. In my life, all I've learned is that you can give more than you receive and know peace. If you're the recipient of some harsh tragedy, isn't it imperative to correct the imbalance by doing something beneficial for another? To remain in some grey area wallowing in self pity is cowardice. To help another, even in the most minute of ways, is the elixir of a balanced and happy soul.

I guess what I'm trying to say is no matter how bitterly sharp this divide has wounded us, we still have the power to watch for, then capture, something good of it. And conversely, of each other. Whatever that may be.

One of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, has a profound line to remember. Andy Dufreme tells his friend Red, who worries about Andy's well-being at a crucial scene,

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

It is time to do just this. Peace be with you all.