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.


  1. Bus driving is one of the most profound experiences possible in our culture. Sure it's culturally disrespected but when did our culture value anything of worth.

    You obviously "get it"

    Most don't.

  2. It is so refreshing to read a piece that expresses such pride in a job that so many look down on, "you're just a bus driver" is something I've heard so many times since I started driving at 18, often coming from the likes of secretaries or shop assistants - to they take the lives of 70-80 people in their hands and contest with rush hour lunacy as part of their trade? I loved being a bus driver (old fashioned less pc title) and loved training others, trying to pass on some of my passion but I do acknowledge that there are some total @#$@'s (insert your own choice of title here) driving buses, just as there are bad secretaries, bad shop assistants, bad cops etc. Simply being paid to do the job makes it a job, it doesn't make you a professional.
    It can be a simple task or a highly complex one, you can be the person who sets the tone for a passengers day - you can make it or break it.
    Thank you for your article and the thoughts it has provoked. I wish I was still doing the job, making a difference one customer at a time.