Friday, December 30, 2016

New Moons and Jaywalking Fools

It was a strange day. Felt like a full moon, but it was only a new one.

First, it's funny how I've transformed in the past few months. Comparing how green I was when this blog was born to how I view the job today, the difference short-circuits my thought processes. A few months ago I hit "the wall." Didn't want to do it any more. Interviewed for a different job in the private sector, found the money wasn't right. I re-focused my energy toward being happier and more positive in this life, and found myself liking it again. The short temper is being replaced by calm acceptance that there are just too many battles one can lose, and those fought are usually ridiculous. Hey, I still don't take any shit, but for a while there I was throwing it back. Now it usually just slides down the back of my shoulder, into a puddle near the door and dissipates when a new passenger boards. It just ain't worth an argument.

Which leads me to today's work. Lighter traffic than normal this week has allowed me to relax. In this job, you know this can be dangerous. A young man I once coached in rec league basketball boarded, and we had a great conversation reminiscing about "the old days." (I have to laugh at this; it was just a few years ago to me, but half a lifetime ago to him.) After I dropped him off, I was re-playing a championship game in my mind. I had stepped in to coach for my buddy who had health issues, and we lost a hard-fought game. It still bugs me, six years later, that I didn't have the team apply pressure defense early enough in the fourth quarter. Anyway, I was tooling along in overdrive when something disastrous nearly happened.

Early in my career I learned the value of covering the brake approaching an intersection. Once again, it saved not only my bacon, but that of two foolish jaywalkers as well. They darted across six lanes of traffic against a solid red DON'T WALK signal. My light had been green a good five seconds. I was in the far right lane, wondering why the two left lanes weren't moving yet. Just as I approached the point-of-no-return line, I caught two dark silhouettes in my peripheral vision. I hadn't seen them in my previous left-to-right scan. Luckily I keep my head moving, which preserves the peripheral vision. Since my foot was already covering the brake, the lack of an extra second of reaction time saved these idiots' lives. A quick, controlled brake and extended application of the horn kept me from smashing them flatter than a bloodless tick. It was a smooth, and nobody fell out of their seat, but it was sudden enough so that many passengers saw a catastrophe averted.

Avoiding use of the plentiful curse words floating within and behind me, I loudly exclaimed how stupid those people were. Several passengers agreed. A few minutes later, I pulled into a stop and stepped off the bus for a much-needed breather and nicotine infusion. Then I did as all bus operators do daily. I let it slide off my shoulders and resumed the route.

A few years ago, this incident would have ruined my day. Today, I count my lucky stars and remind myself that daydreaming while working is strictly boneheaded. Sure, we all have our thoughts while driving, but you learn to multi-task operator functions with higher-level brain activity. It becomes automatic after a while, but that's not necessarily good. If you're on auto-pilot and something like this happens, you may not be as lucky as the last time. The tiniest lapse of attention can allow your 20-ton beast to wreak havoc with disastrous consequences.

Some things you learn only by experience. Here's a few:

* There's no such thing as "luck" as a bus operator. All you can rely upon is your driving skill, your ability to make a split-second decision based on many factors all at once, and whatever higher power you choose to believe in.

* People will do amazingly stupid things without a clue as to the consequences.

* Impatience kills at least seven of a cat's lives.

* A motorist, given the chance, will make the stupidest, dumbassed move possible. You learn to predict it, so be ready with a Plan B, C, D and E. (Especially those in the smallest, most vulnerable vehicles.)

* Management will not back you. Period. They're only interested in risk, avoiding lawsuits and making overall numbers look good. You are only a fraction on a large stat sheet. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, ask the union's help. It's our best, and often only, defense.

* No matter how wild an incident you've just been through, somebody else has experienced the same thing. Talk to your fellow operators. You are never alone, unless you prefer to be.

* If your body says STOP, listen to it. Take a break, no matter how late you are. Walk around, stretch, pass gas, yell at the heavens if you need to. Dispatch would rather have you late than driving impaired.

* This job is not "stress free," as our brother said in the agency's latest recruitment video. It is not for the weak, faint-hearted or boastful. We age a good two or three years for every one we work this job. Take time to be you. Enjoy your time off, be with those you love. Don't work more than necessary. You can only spend money while you're alive, and if you're not careful, that won't be very long.

Peace be with you all, and have a safe and prosperous 2017.


  1. Mmyup!

    And for the tales of the bizarre, you spend a minute at the end of the line thinking about what you would do if a car rolls over in front of you. So that when a car rolls over in front of you a year or so later, you already have a decision tree to work through. 1-I'm not involved, 2-nobody appears to be injured, 3-I am not blocked, 4-I don't want to be blocked. Just like that. Light turns green, I cross the intersection past the multi vehicle accident as the police come up the street the wrong way to respond. "Central, there is a multi-vehicle 518 at Sutter and Stockton, the inbound 30 probably will be blocked, PD on the scene, no obvious injuries, I am continuing in service."

  2. However, isn't our responsibility to give testimony as a witness? Schedules are one thing, but if you witness a crash I'd have to say to hell with being blocked.

  3. Recently discovered that our trainers are NOT teaching noobs to cover the brake anymore. I was blown away. Nor are they being taught to finesse the peddles. I don't understand the rationale behind this. But, like you say, got to choose your battles.

  4. I'm a trainee and definitely trained to cover the brake! I can't believe this wouldn't be taught. Break down speed while covering the brake. Looking for possible hazards and keeping my eyes and head moving. I learned the second day of driving in traffic that people will walk right in front of your bus! I had a guy just wonder out and then stand there in the street.