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!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bits of Bovine Feces

It's been a rough and grisly 2017 for Portland transit employees. Not only have bus and rail operators been assaulted, but also supervisors and maintenance personnel. In 2016, we counted 55 incidents of menacing, threatening and physical assaults. As we end this year, there have been 91. Our Director of Safety & Security, Harry Saporta, is either unaware of the correct numbers, or he uses a different set of rationale in determining what constitutes an "assault."

A transit operator is responsible for many things, including the safety of all in and around the vehicle. When a passenger disrupts service, the operator must use superhuman problem-solving skills. All our concentration is necessary to smoothly guide the vehicle down the road, we're expected to use "verbal judo" to restore calm. Not knowing the psychological makeup of the aggressors having only just welcomed them to the ride, having never seen or met them before, this is virtually impossible. Even a mental health professional would agree with this statement. Yet the responsibility falls upon the operator to determine how to deal with any given situation that arises on our ride. Usually, if "shit gets too thick," our trained response is to inform Dispatch and let these supervisors take the lead. But what happens when passengers turn to us and ask why we aren't "doing something about it?" This is where it gets tricky. Sometimes, a simple few words from an operator, who is the ultimate "Captain of the Ship," can infuriate the passenger who doesn't recognize our authority.

If you're on a ship at sea, in a plane 30,000 feet over nowhere, or a train passenger, a logical-thinking human won't challenge the captain/pilot/conductor's authority. On a bus however, the operator isn't afforded the same respect. "Just drive, asshole," is the favored command of our passengers. Mind our business, which is to drive, they tell us. Sorry, but we cannot safely do so when some nincompoop is spouting feces from his oral cavity, disrupting our peaceful ride. If we use a tone of voice that suggests "authority," some take offense and turn their tirade upon us.

One time this happened to me, and Dispatch instructed me to not "engage" with the passenger, and to speak only to her via radio. This tactic is surely meant to remove any perceived threat to someone who refuses to abide by district codes of conduct. At this moment, Dispatch is likely coordinating efforts to send police, road supes and if necessary, paramedics to our location. I don't know about you, but if someone throws a punch at me, I'm not likely to take it just sitting there. It's not human nature. We're biologically constructed to protect ourselves, and if need be, disable our attacker when we feel endangered. That last step however, can result in the loss of our job, or at least a suspension. Even if we're pummeled, we're not allowed to fight back. It's a miserable code of conduct we're expected to abide by.

Operators define an "assault" as any action by another which threatens our safety. This could be a menacing verbal threat, someone purposefully brushing our shoulder on the way out the door while cursing us, a drink thrown at us, being spit or puked upon, having insults screamed in our face, or an actual physical assault. The district, for some strange reason, tends to solely define "assault" as physical aggression. This is misleading in that it furthers the notion that we're still expected to operate after our bodies have experienced a severe biological shock. The "fight or flight" response to a threat or an assault is scientifically proven to have a lasting effect on the victim. It can sometimes take weeks, months or even years to recover from it. The adrenaline rush, hormonal explosion and muscle tension can be thoroughly exhausting even though the crisis may only last a few minutes. Those who continue in service after such an incident are not fully capable of driving safely because the operator's mind constantly replays the incident. Instead, we need to concentrate on all we're trained to do in the seat. This is called "distracted," or even "impaired" driving, which in other contexts is illegal. Therefore, as far as many operators are concerned, the term "assault" covers a wide spectrum of offenses. It's certainly more inclusive of the open hands we're faced with on the job than the district's deceptively-slim definition of the term.

What's most disheartening is our management's cognitive disconnect from our reality. So far, it has only offered tiny bandages for our gaping wounds. A panel of operators recommends that each bus have "barriers" installed to protect us from the bad guys. When I voiced my opposition to one of these operators, he seemed offended and challenged me to offer proof that the barriers wouldn't be effective. As a single operator, I was merely offering my opinion. Yet he seemed to take it as a personal insult. I was shocked, and tried to explain my reasons for not agreeing with this step. I said it would offend the vast majority of those who respect the ride, and might further infuriate aggressors. To me, this is simple common-sense thinking. To my brother, it was not. If I wanted to work in a cubicle, I wouldn't be a bus operator. Ultimately, we have to leave our cage at some point. I hate the idea of "hiding" behind a barrier. It removes the human interaction that is an important part of our jobs. Simply put, I dislike the idea. It's a knee-jerk reaction to a serious problem. It's also cheaper than increasing security. Reality sucks sometimes.

As I watched the most recent district board of directors meeting, our Director of Safety & Security, Harry Saporta, stumbled through a clumsy presentation on assaults. His "stats" are dramatically lower than reality, as his graph over the first three quarters of 2017 list 28 assaults on transit workers. Our "unofficial" stats show more than triple that number. "Unfortunately," Saporta said, "the numbers are relatively flat. Ah, um, we seem to be making some improvements, but then we see a little bit of a rise and we're still trying to study that and understand exactly why that is."

Flat? What? Yeah, your numbers are. Like an operator's nose smashed by a criminal's fist. Put our stats on a graph compared to management's, and it's more like Mt. Hood overshadowing the Eastern Oregon desert. And you see a "little bit of a rise?" Get your eyes checked, Bullwinkle. I'd say a difference of 63 incidents is quite a rise, yeah. And why is that? Who gives a damn? What are you going to do about it, is the question we're asking.

Oh yeah, you're going to cage us all, making it even more difficult to escape the most determined assailants. Rather than expanding security on buses, it concentrates its attention on light rail after the grisly murder of two brave men who stepped up to protect two young ladies being harassed. True, a few rail operators were assaulted this year, but the majority of offenses is against bus drivers. You might argue in favor of the barriers because of this fact. However, I'm not sold. "Barriers are accepted by most operators," Saporta said. Well not this one, nor many others I've spoken with about them.

Management has disciplined operators for fighting back, but most of these criminals escape severe punishment. Our mental and physical torment should be enough, but management feels the need to suspend operators for any form of retaliation. One operator whose reputation and honor was sullied on the local news because of a whiny miscreant, decided his only escape from torment was to retire after decades of service. After his side of the story was aired by operator advocates, management silently allowed him to fade into the sunset. I never heard it defend his honor or his rock-solid reputation.

Still, there is reason for optimism. After years of simply beating a drum, management is finally taking shaky steps to address operator assaults. While I may not like the ideas being put forth, I'm encouraged it's no longer the creepy uncle hiding in the shadows at our family reunions. Uncle Creepster has been outed at least. We may argue about how to deal with him, but at least we're talking about his antics.

As for anyone who abuses me while I'm attempting to provide you with a safe ride, be warned. Old farts don't fight fair; we can't afford to. My life and personal safety are more important to me than some fallible management edict. I will not sit back and allow someone to pummel this public servant without "reasonably" protecting myself. If some drug-addled cretin crawls onto the dash to render the hallowed barrier useless with a full-frontal attack, can I "reasonably" assume my life is at risk and use extreme measures against the assailant? Take it however you may, but my definition of "reasonable" is drastically different than that of the pampered and misinformed assailants who do us harm. If I were disposed to have some of whatever drug they share, maybe I wouldn't care so much.

Safe travels, and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Corny Tale

Transit isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle. Truly. We schedule our lives to accommodate our often-strange schedules. Meal times for me include a breakfast prior to work, half a sandwich a few hours into the shift and the rest a few hours later, with a few snacks in between. Dinner comes after work.

Now imagine yourself doing this about 180-degrees and seven hours later than a normal human. I probably have enough seniority to change back to a day-going hack, but I've always been a night owl. Oh well. Yeah, it's bad for humans to work nights too long, but mornings and I have never gotten along. I damn near shot a rooster on the ranch when I was 12 because he'd wake me at the crack of dawn. Good thing I wasn't raised a farm boy.

Recently, I stated that bus operation isn't what I am, it's what I do. That's partially true. During the work week, what I do is what I am. You have to be in "the zone" all through the work week. Routine is critical to concentration "out there." Any anomalies in my daily life can throw me off my game. Get to work five minutes later than planned, and I have to rush just to make my road relief two buses ahead of when my shift starts. Early on, a trainer told us "if you're not at least 15 minutes early, you're late."

The other day I was preparing snacks and sodas for the workday. I like my beverages cold when I drive, mainly for stimulation and refreshment. One cold pack goes on top, the other below the drinks, with a frozen bottle of water between them. The night prior however, I had forgotten to put the packs in the freezer. I was momentarily as confused as a politician whose bankroll has met a steep hill. My schedule dictated that I walk out the door within 90 seconds or I wouldn't be able to make the bus I catch to my road relief.

Transit operators often have to improvise and make snap decisions. This was one of those times. Into the goody bag went the frozen corn. Sorry beloved wife, I know you were saving that for dinner. My bad. But at least it kept my sodies chilled. Necessity, so they say, sends you back to the veggie aisle. I'll probably get those dreaded six-month-old peas for dinner this week, as penance for my sin.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Holiday Ramble, Deke Style

It's been a while since I wrote to you, dear readers. It's the holiday season, and I've been busier than a one-toothed beaver in a grove of tender timber. I'm sure you have been too. But still, you're buying my book. Thank you. I hope to do you justice with my words of life from the driver side. You honor me by paying to read it, more than you could ever know. 

This time of year, I wax nostalgic. I'm humbled by your taking time to read whatever rolls off these nimble fingertips from the mind of a simple bus operator. Usually, I have no idea what will come of a post. Other times, I actually have a clue, no matter how clueless I may seem. After all, I've only driven a handful of years where many of you have been at it countless times more. Yet, we're all subject to the same roll of the wheels. I'm here for you. I'll write what I see, hear or feel and hope it resonates at the same octave as the hum of your wheels. If not, that's the nature of blue collar life.

We're all just people who simply do a job. Isn't that the muse of today's workforce? Doesn't matter what occupation, we're all just trying to get through our day with a minimum of hassle from people or management. We finish a day, ingest our respective poisons, rinse and repeat. We shoot for a weekend which disappears quicker than it comes, then suddenly we're back on the job, wondering what happened to that Friday jackpot. It's so elusive, we sometimes find ourselves chasing it even as we're living it. Dreams come and go, but work tends to follow us like a hungry dog with no home awaiting it.

It's so appropriate that Dr. Seuss placed "Whoville" upon a snowflake. Humanity after all, has existed only the briefest moment in time and space. Snow eventually melts, taking all those sweet little Whofolks in Whoville into eternity. Before we know it, our "working life," as we know it, has passed. There comes the time we drift off into a retiring golden goodbye. Our lives are two-thirds (or more) finished, and our youth is a figment of a faded imagination. We see youth board our bus, without a clue that they're living what we remember so tenderly, something so golden that it passed through our hands without our knowing we were greedily spending it. I'm jealous of youth, when I realize what I ignorantly squandered. Nowadays, I'm simply biding my time until that golden sunset, but I'm happy nonetheless. I have a family who loves me in spite of myself. Sure, I wish  there was "more" to life than I already am gifted with, but it's all a wash. I have so much more than others do, it's embarrassing to dream of more.

Almost every night, I'm so lucky to have a conversation with my sons. One of them lives on his own, and we have such deep conversations it's like I'm talking to my 22-year-old self. There are so many of my missteps I wish he knew about, but he will trip on his own. There's not much I can tell him except to watch where he's going, remember his mistakes and roll with the changes those trips will take him. He's lucky to have his youth, and I'm thankful to have such a connection with him as he takes the tentative steps I once took. He'll someday be at the point I face today. Hopefully, he'll have more wisdom regarding which way to turn than I have now.

"When we're hungry, love will keep us alive..."
--Timothy B. Schmidt

For so long, I've lamented upon what I don't have, while I should be thankful for what I do. As the sun sets on this year, I'm often reminded to be grateful for what treasures I've found. My wife has helped me realize that our now is more important than whatever dream seems more pressing at any given moment. Today's dream is realized: you're reading this.

I'll be driving a bus this week. It's not what I am, but it is what I do. You board my bus, I give you a safe and hopefully smooth ride. We interact for but a microsecond in your daily lives, but it's more than that. I'm rolling some large transit wheels, looking for danger every inch we travel. Your safety is my utmost concern. When you exit the bus, you may not know it, but I've performed a myriad of safety protocols all designed to keep not only you, but all around my 20-ton beastie, safe. Mission accomplished, several hundred times each day. It's an honor to do this job, and you just rolled with the Deke. I'm but one of a thousand. Thanks for riding along on my personal journey.

Merry Christmas, happy whichever holiday you choose (or not) to celebrate, as we approach yet another Winter Solstice. May the East Wind be always at your back, and sunshine light your path ahead. Peace be with you, and yours.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Holiday Book Excerpt: Red-Suited Freeloader

This is but one of the stories featured in my book, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. Since it is a holiday-themed story, I thought I'd share it with you as a sample of the variety of stories you'll find in the book. Hope you enjoy...

* * * 

DEKE’S NOTE: I just love the holidays. I feel nostalgic, warm and fuzzy, and all the other clichés at that time of year. A bit silly too, when I wrote this one. It was fun, and earned a few chuckles from my readers. Cheers.

Kris Kringle boarded my bus the other day.
Perhaps he was taking a break from his annual Christmas preparation, took his sleigh out for a test run, and stopped at a brew pub for refreshment. The remnant of a Cuban cigar dangled from

his pouty lips, and I wondered what happened to his pipe. This bedraggled elf also had a herd of flea-infested miniature reindeer with him. They milled about skittishly in the Priority Seating area, acting like they had shared a few brewskies with him.

“These are my service animals,” he told me as he rummaged in his suit for fare. Seems like there’s no dry cleaner at the North Pole, because his outfit was as aromatic as those found discarded under a 
bridge. And it didn’t smell like cloves.

“Okay,” I said. “Never seen this many, or this type, of service animal on the bus. Mind telling me what they’re trained to do?”

Kris looked annoyed, and there was an edge in his voice as he answered. “Why, they fly me sleigh around on Christmas, you numb skull!” (Perhaps his ancestry is a bit Irish, or he just slips into the
brogue after a few pints.)

I winced at his breath. By this noontime, he was pretty much in his own bag.

“If that’s so, then where’s your sleigh?”

“Damn Portland Police impounded it,” Kris growled. “Seems I was parked in a delivery zone, but that is what I do for crying out loud!”

“Okay Santa dude, your fare is a buck for two hours. Please keep your, er, service animals, seated on the floor and out of the aisle.”

He paused, sheepishly glancing up at me, and whispered: “I don’t have any money left. Mrs. Claus keeps me on a tight budget, you know.”

I studied his appearance. I see all kinds of people dressed in red suits during the season. None of them, however, come with reindeer. Something about this fellow had me wondering. After all, I am one of the few who still believe. I decided to take a chance.

“Well, if you’re really Santa, do you mind answering a question?” Several passengers at this point audibly sighed, wanting me to roll the wheels. But hey, none of them had even acknowledged me, let alone said hello as they boarded. I had some time to burn anyway. Despite his condition, this fellow was at least semi-polite and interesting.

“How come, when I was 11 and had been a surprisingly good boy all year long, didn’t you give me that Hot Wheels racetrack I asked for?” Santa studied me intently. He frowned, rubbing his impressively rustic beard.

“You’re that Deke kid, aren’t you?” Surprised and open-mouthed, all I could do was nod. “Remember when you tore the head off your buddy’s sister’s Barbie doll, flushed it down the toilet, and their parents had to have Roto Rooter come out at 11 at night? That’s why, you miserable little brat.” He spat out the last sentence, completing it with a rotten belch.

Wiping away the offensive by-products of his hops-inspired intestinal explosion, I shot back. “I was framed! Now pay up, or you can try to find an Uber livestock truck. Your service animals just peed
on a whole row of seats.”

After a little more back-and-forth, Santa exited the bus. His language was not what you would expect of a jolly old elf. He probably read the name on my badge. I was not entirely convinced.

Later, after my downtown break, I began the trek back through the transit mall. As I left a stop, I scanned again. Before I could hit the accelerator, I beheld an amazing sight. Zipping through the air, headed straight for my windshield, was a weaving gaggle of reindeer pulling a portable food-cart, with that red-suited freeloader at the reins. A blinding red light bounced in front of this makeshift contraption, and I thought about running it. 

At the last moment, it veered off and upward, as it was a reindeer nose. As he rose into the air, I heard the dude exclaim, as his sleigh was a’rockin’: “Merry Christmas to all ye good lil’ Portlanders, but that bus driver gets nothing but a filthy Barbie head and coal in his stocking!” 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Grass Roots Marketing

In case you hadn't heard, I wrote a book. It's been out just over a month now. It has so far garnered rave reviews. It's not just your average "blue collar dude writes a mish-mash collection of odd tales." But, people aren't getting the word. Yet.

Local media is slow to review the book, but they get scores of new titles every week to pore through. Mine is just one, and it's taking time to get the word out. Slowly, however, they're starting to take notice. The Portland Tribune just reviewed the book, and Al Margulies (transit blogger) interviewed me. My publicist tells me now that another media source is interested in an interview. It's going to take a lot more than this.

That's were you come in, my dear readers. You folks have combined to visit this blog nearly 190,000 times in just over four years. From my finger being turned into hamburger to the dude who menacingly stalked me downtown, you've been there. Because of your interest in my writing, I put together this tome, "JUST DRIVE." Now I need your help.

You see, if I constantly pester people via FaceBook to buy it, they quickly tire of my pleas. It's becoming another annoying ad you have to close-click when your favorite YouTube music video comes up. Therefore, I've pretty much used up any goodwill I may have accumulated via my writing. If I keep doing this, people will stop reading my blog posts for fear I'll just be plugging my book. (Just like I'm doing here.)

Although my Friends List has multiplied to a healthy amount, it's nothing compared to the thousands of people YOU know, and those THEY know. If you spread the word around and a few people buy the book as a result, then review and share, it can quickly mushroom and become "viral," as they say these days. When that happens, big name people start to take notice. Once they jump on the wagon, the sky reaches into the Milky Way.

From my stats, I can see this blog is read far and wide. From Nova Scotia to Broward County, Florida and Richmond VA to Denver, CO, I know you're out there. I just had a reader from Australia buy the new e-book a few days ago. Scotland and England have bought a few as well. Ireland, Spain, Russia, India... where are you? Canadians have been buying, but how about France? India? The book is available there too. It tells a story bus operators (and passengers) can relate to no matter where you live.

So please, dear readers, help me get the word out. Twitter, Instagram, FaceBook, email the word to your mates. Ask them to do the same, whether they read the book or not. I'm asking for your help, and hopefully I'll see a lot of comments on this blog post volunteering your assistance. Hey, I'm never going to put together a big enough retirement fund with a 401k plan. We've seen who makes the money on that which we contribute, and they don't wear uniforms like we do.

My next book yearns to be finished. It's a tall tale I came up with while driving my bus one day. A Young Adult/Adult story involving a mythical creature, a bus operator, and a redheaded kid. It includes playful verse, a fun plot, and Deke's sardonic wit. I want to get back to writing it, but this book marketing stuff gets in the way. In order for me to produce my next book I need to at least break even on the first one, but I'm only one-third of the way there.

Please, help?


Monday, December 11, 2017

Is This Guy for Real?

Man, I love kids. I especially love teasing the little buggers. This time of year, I enjoy singing a few bars of well-loved holiday songs. With a twisted twist, of course. Deke Style.

Knowing the public's sense of humor can be fickle, I'm very careful about when I do so. If I sense a parental playfulness on board, it's reasonably safe to proceed.

"Good evening everyone," I began. "I'd like to wish everyone on the bus a very merry holiday season, and to thank you for riding my bus. And now, for your transit torture, I'm going to share my version of some well-known classic songs."

A bit of historical background is pertinent here. My father played classical guitar and sang old English and Appalachian folk music. He also had a fondness for Christmas music. If you know me, you'll recognize where my ornery humor comes from: Daddy Blue. I not only emulate him in these instances, I downright plagiarize him. Dad entertained each of my kids' classrooms during the holiday seasons. While his delivery was decidedly superior to mine, it's still impossible for me to resist flattering him by emulating him.

"Randolf, the green-eared rattlesnake, had a very noisy tail..." is about as far as that tune gets. There's a sudden eruption from my youngest passengers.

"THAT'S not how it goes!" they'll invariably shout, giggling all the while. "It's Rudolph!"

"It's not? Rudolph who?" I'll say with a healthy dose of incredulity. "Are you sure? My daddy taught me that song! I'm sure that's how it's sung."

The giggling spreads to their parents, and perhaps a few other non-related adults. The teenagers continue to sneer, shaking their heads at the "lame" bus driver. Even so, I catch one of them in half-smile. They don't realize how closely-removed they are to single-digits, but as a dad and grandfather, I can easily spot those who haven't totally lost their childish sweetness.

They're now in my grasp, these cute little faces in my passenger mirror. Knowing the traffic light sequence will allow another one of Dad's "classics," I puff myself up for another run. My singing voice isn't bad, but I'm not about to audition for any of those talent shows.

"I know one you'll love!" I warn my audience.

"Oh boy," a parent will grumble.

Queuing up the microphone, my voice warbles into another bastardized version of holiday cheer.

"You better watch out, you better not pout..."

I pause here for dramatic effect. My little folks are poised to pounce at this moment. Just as the traffic light turns green, I give them more ammunition.

"...EASTER BUNNY'S coming to town!"

Amidst the peals of protest, one night I heard a lad of about six ask his parents, "Is this joker for real?"

They're just lucky. I know Cheech & Chong's "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" song by heart. Just imagine what mischief I could twist out of that one.

Safe travels this holiday season, my dear readers.

Friday, December 8, 2017

An Author's Muse

Dear Readers,

It's nice for a dream to become reality. The trick is to not expect it to succeed beyond all imagination. Publishing my first book has been my goal since I was unable to grow a beard. Now that I have done both, it's difficult to sit and watch what happens.

I've always had a problem with wanting more. No matter how well I do in life, there's a sense that I could do better. It's hard to sit back and enjoy one success. If this keeps up, my gravestone will read: "He went far, but maybe too far; he fell off a cliff while taking the road less traveled."

Stopping to smell the roses has always done me well. Allowing the scent to linger, and enjoying the moment, is difficult when you keep seeking better roses. Handle your favorite too much, and you'll find a thorn to prick a finger. I spent so much time trying to perfect the bloom, when I finally let it go, the petals flew off the bud. Now it's out of my hands, and in those of an audience.

It's actually a relief, when I refuse to critique and simply accept that it's finished. I can't even read it now. There were so many edits, corrections, additions and deletions, I'm afraid to find something that could have been improved just... a... wee... bit more. More. There's that word again. It's good enough Deke, just let it go.

It's actually a good thing I haven't left the safety net of the Deke Mystique. If it does well, I don't feel comfortable being "recognized." If it clunks, ditto. Let the words do the speaking; I type better than I speak. Perhaps it's a bit of literary cowardice, but it's also a safety net. My job is to drive; my love is writing about it. I'm one when I drive, sometimes both. Either way, concentration and vigilance is vital in my quest to provide a safe and smooth ride every day. Allowing Deke to take over is a form of vanity neither of me can afford.

The marketing is left to those who purchase, then read, JUST DRIVE. Several have left glowing reviews on Amazon. The Portland Tribune published a glowing literary review this week. Blogger Al Margulies graciously interviewed me; not just once, but even longer the second time. I'm thankful for each, and simultaneously a bit surprised. There will be others not so complimentary. If I make back the investment put into production, it will be a success. If not, it wasn't a giant monetary loss. Anything more will be a bonus only achieved (to date) in my daydreams.

As I drove today, I passed by a good friend and fellow operator driving in the opposite direction. To my great amusement, he held up his copy of my book with a huge grin on his face. My passengers may have wondered what caused me to laugh out loud, but it felt so damn good. It was a moment of pure, delightful joy.

Read on, folks. Tell people about this book, ask them to do the same. It's all a writer can ask. Oh, and thanks for taking the ride with me.

With appreciation, I most certainly am
Deke N. Blue

Monday, December 4, 2017

Snow What?

Last winter we had quite a lot of white. While it doesn't snow every year in Portland, sometimes it does. Instead of plowing through and then writing about it, I'm going to address the issue prior to any possible snow event.

My employer nailed it today, getting ahead of the storm before it hits. I love it when people think proactively. Being informed beforehand can help people prepare for what might (or might not) happen this winter where transit is concerned. Portland weather can be very difficult to predict. We're in a valley that ranges from 50 feet above sea level to several hundred feet. Our atmosphere can produce snow in one area, freezing rain in another, and just rain in the rest. When a winter storm approaches, there are many possible scenarios.

Operators have to be prepared for any eventuality, because we're expected to be at work even when many businesses close. This last week, our management wisely started providing operators with cold weather tools such as ice trekkers, lights and helpful information ahead of whatever Mother Nature might throw at us this winter. It seems the past several years' hard lessons are being heeded, and I applaud this step in a positive direction. Hopefully, cots, blankets and food will be provided for those who wisely choose to sleep at the garages when bad weather hits, rather than chance going home and getting stuck there.

For transit, the tiniest hint of white stuff puts our entire team on alert. Maintenance must be ready, if more than a few inches of snow fall or there's a chance of ice, to chain up hundreds of buses on a moment's notice. Operators have to leave home sometimes an hour or more early to ensure we arrive where we need to be prior to the start of our run.  Trainers are split into shifts to be on hand for many different duties, from digging out stuck buses to guiding operators through tricky situations. Road supervisors throw on extra layers and bring additional supplies because they are out in the worst conditions supporting operators in many different situations. More Station Agents are on hand to man the phones on Snow Lines used by operators with a wide range of questions. Dispatchers and Controllers have a myriad of additional calls during weather events, often working themselves to total exhaustion in their incredible efforts to support us and direct aid where it's needed most. Assistant Managers work late as well, helping as necessary.

We work best as a team, when everyone pulls together in the toughest of times. The riding public as well plays a valuable role during these situations. As I read the agency's Winter Weather Tips on a FaceBook post however, I noticed the requisite whiny comments by our generally-unprepared passengers. It's easy to blame us, and they do. We're so late. MAX Shuttle buses are infrequent. Scheduled buses don't arrive. Well yeah folks, it happens. Let's explore why, before you blow through another box of tissue with your uniformed tantrums.

Plan on buses being late. If our buses are all chained, we're limited to 25mph. Even if we were crazy enough to go faster, we can't. The buses are governed to this speed because going any faster can create so much centrifugal force the chains can break. How many of us saw busted chain sets on the roadways last winter? They can fail even at slower speeds. Remember, even the most heavy-duty chains take a beating from 40,000 pounds constantly beating them into shreds. Sliding into curbs can break chains too, although we're usually able to avoid this type of mishap.

It depends on the route usually as to how "late" we'll be. Actually, you can throw this term out the window if you dare open it. Not only are we limited by chains, but also other traffic. People are notorious for driving when they really don't need to, or know how to. Cars constantly slide by us, get stuck, and slow our already turtle-like progress. Accidents can block our routes. Buses can break down. Passenger loads are heavier. The wise will leave their wheels safely in the garage and catch a ride on transit during winter weather. Schedules are designed around optimal conditions when buses roll at or just below the speed limit.

When you do ride transit during inclement weather, plan accordingly. If you don't have to be at work, don't go. Plenty of non-essential businesses will close in winter weather. If you must be on the job and you ride transit, be ready to wait. Bring food, extra gear, phone chargers. Wear warm clothing. Make sure you tell the boss you might be late. Be prepared if you can't get home, to stay at work or somewhere nearby. A little preparation can help you avoid extreme inconvenience, and also danger. Ice trekkers for your shoes are a very wise investment, plus anything that elevates your warmth and enhances safety.

When the bus arrives, be grateful. We're doing our best to move people through these storms, and we work long hours in horrible conditions. Don't be in a hurry. When we arrive, be assured we've battled many miles of treachery to get there. Some operators have been driving a long time without a break, so when you berate us for being "late," your ignorance is showing. We don't need (or appreciate) a lecture on the subject. Stay on the sidewalks. It's very unsafe to "meet the bus" on the streets. Wait until we have safely stopped and opened the doors before approaching, because a bus might slide right into you. Remember that we normally won't service a stop at the curb like we normally do, to avoid getting stuck. If your normal stop is on a hill, find one that isn't. If we're going downhill on some routes, these stops are often impossible to serve.

Most people are very gracious and thankful for our efforts, and this is truly welcome to us. Please, just get on the bus, sit down and enjoy the sights. Let us do our job. It takes intense concentration in the best of conditions to safely maneuver our beasts; in bad weather we need every bit of wit and will we can muster to safely traverse streets that are often unplowed and rutted messes.

If a bus slips, slides and careens along, please don't scream, gasp or otherwise startle the operator. Truly, we're driving by the seat of our pants. No matter how Herculean our efforts, sometimes we get stuck. Don't panic, bombard the operator with questions, or tell us what to do. We'll work through the proper channels and inform you as pertinent information reaches us. Please don't demand or command. Your safety is our most important goal, even if you don't agree with how we handle a situation. We don't want to be stuck any more than you do. In extreme conditions, please follow your operator's instructions without dissent.

Trips that normally take you an hour to reach your destination, allow for 2-3 times that in inclement weather. If you arrive early, it's a bonus. When you do arrive, applaud that gritty operator who successfully and safely delivered you. We take great pride in our work, and a little appreciation and cooperation go a long way to ensure your safety.

Fingers and eyes are crossed here, folks. We hope it's a mild winter, but if not, we'll still be here for you. If the thousands of people in transit operations have cooperation from those we serve, we'll all get through it with fewer mishaps. Knowing my team, and those I've driven for years, we have a great chance to make it safely through yet another Silver Thaw.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Just Because...

Just because... I asked you to "lighten up" your clothing so I can see you at night, you get on board every day with a scowl and don't even look at me. No greeting, just the proverbial transit operator snub. Your face scrunched up like a wolverine in heat, face deliberately turned away from mine as I greet you with my customary kindness. Just because... your safety and ensuring you get seen by your drivers is my top concern.

Just because... you had a rotten day, doesn't mean you should take it out on me, your fellow passengers (who don't give a dinky damn), and the gentle karma of my ride. If you're in a grumpy place, leave it behind, along with your grouchy face.

Just because... you've ridden a bus since Jesus was a kid, doesn't make you an expert on transit operation. Your advice is duly noted with a boulder of salt, and rest assured it is promptly filed in my bulging "Don't Care" file next to my Preparation H.

Just because... you see a post from my brother Chuck extolling the literary landmark of my publishing a book, and without reading a word of it, you're not qualified to critique it as another "Grandpa Jones mutter fest."

Just because... you don't like pit bulls, it doesn't mean every one of them is a snarling beast trained to eat your 'nards. If there's one on board when you get on, rest assured the bus driver has duly asked all we're legally allowed to about the dog's status as a "Service Animal." Just because... you have an over-inflated sense of self-importance doesn't give you a green light to complain about my brother doing his job. Especially considering the animal in question was already on the bus when he relieved the previous driver, who is a stickler for passengers adhering to transit code. Some of the sweetest dogs I've known are of this breed. I'd rather have one of them on board than you, sissy boy.

Just because... you paid an obscene price for that fancy new phone, doesn't mean your safety is the responsibility of others; it's a two-way street. Just because... your fancy new phone's camera app is fascinating, doesn't mean we are clairvoyants who automatically realize you're waiting for a different bus line. Just because... I honk to get your attention as I approach that stop, doesn't give you permission to scowl (as if to say, "how DARE you interrupt me?") and wave me away like you're shooing a fly away from your stinky butt. You're welcome.

Just because... I'm a bus operator doesn't mean I know the route and schedule of the bus you're waiting for. How about looking up the schedule yourself, since you're phone-stoned to begin with?

Just because... your car cost more than I make in a year, doesn't make you immune from obeying basic traffic laws. You may think you're important, but perhaps you're about 1/40th as much as those on my bus. Just because... you're behind the wheel of that snob-mobile, doesn't mean you can actually drive it.

Just because... I get paid a decent wage for a job that's infinitely more difficult than you can fathom, doesn't mean you're entitled to verbally abuse me. And, chances are your taxes do NOT pay my salary.

Just because... you pulled the stop cord late because your nose was buried in Donald's Tweet Factory doesn't mean I'm apt to slam on my brakes and throw Vinny Veteran on the floor just to accommodate your inattentive ass. I didn't miss your bus stop, you did. The next stop is just a few blocks ahead. Maybe next time you'll pay attention.

Just because... you should do the right thing in the first place.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Facial Grafitti

Last time my face oozed, these contraptions
were my "cell phone."
"You're bleeding," the passenger told me as he boarded.

"You should see the other guy," I responded. Outwardly, I shrugged. As soon as he walked down the aisle, I checked the mirror like a teenager primping for the prom. Yeah, I was. Bloody, that is.

I was bleeding? Okay. No altercations had erupted, and for once I hadn't run face-first into a sharp corner. What could that be?

At the next long stoplight, I explored as closely as I could without arousing passenger interest. Luckily for me, they were telefixed as usual. A convex mirror makes close facial examination difficult. I could tell however, there was a trail of blood and oil on my passenger side cheek. It couldn't erupt under my facial scruff. No. It appeared, in the zenith of my 50s, on this still-youthful face, a malady last visited upon me decades earlier. Point-blank above the beard-line on my cheek bone.

It was a zit. Big one. Oozing that oily concoction that usually appeared before a teen date. I hadn't noticed it earlier after showering. My pre-workday toilette is standard and well-practiced. Brush hair for the first and only time of the day. Scrub teeth. Throw on some smell-goods. There's usually no need to even look at my face, let alone study it. That's for young or vain people, I reason. My face isn't much to look at, and I've long-since past needing to primp. My wife loves me just the way I am. Gonna get that girl an eye exam soon, poor thing.

At my layover, a closer examination revealed the classic pimple. It had come on quickly and built quite a head. Reminded me of the Everest of a nose projection I sported as a 14-year-old. That one erupted in a stream that laid greasy trails upon my mother's bathroom mirror. This one was angry, including blood in its nasty brew.

I take pride in my professional appearance. Shirt tucked in neatly, nothing untidy on my bus or person. For three days last week however, everyone who boarded was accosted by a dime-sized mess on my face. It was embarrassing, especially when it oozed goo. Didn't shave for a few days because of it, and when the whiskers were too noticeably grubby above the beard line, my razor scraped the puss bucket and created a mess anew.

It's now fading, and that feels better. Although I hardly resemble a teenager any more, the feelings associated with acne came back for a visit. Now it's a bit humorous, and that shame has been pushed back into the past along with everything else best left in the 70s. Let it smolder with the shudder-worthy music I hated then and still dislike now. KC and the Sunshine Band can keep my zit memories. Maybe it's time to allow my inner Grizzly Adams to take over...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Do You Want a Ride?

It's been 54 years since we lost President Kennedy to assassination. One of my favorite quotes from his inauguration is ingrained into the national memory:

"Ask not what your country can do for you... ask what you can do for your country."

While I could give you a history lecture, most of you who read this blog don't do so for that reason. You want to hear what we, as transit operators, do on a daily basis. This quote will be altered here to illuminate a very dark problem.

Whoever came up with Daylight Savings Time? It's a royal pain in the ass, especially in our northern locale. It's dark... a lot. What do our fellow citizens, many who ride transit daily, choose to wear for Portland's most fashionable winter color? Well, it's not a color. It's dark. Dark clothing absorbs light. The opposite end of the spectrum reflects it. When it is dark a good deal of the time, and raining, we cannot see you very well. You're standing near the stop, or huddled in a shelter that steams up and becomes impossible to see into. Most people today are staring at their phone, completely unaware of a bus lumbering toward their stop. We're expected to see you, even though you're nearly invisible until we're right up on your location. Contrary to public belief, it is not our responsibility to stare at a bus stop until we see you. We're constantly scanning around and to the side of our vehicle, even more so when it's dark outside. The stop ahead gets a cursory second or two glance at the most. Unless you're obvious in your intent to board our ride, it's very possible you could be passed up.

I've seen in countless occasions, the last-second reach-for-the-sky middle-finger salute when people get passed by that bus they want to ride. We're not going to slam on our brakes and throw our passengers to the floor because of your virtual invisibility. Not gonna happen, unless it's a near-side stop and we have to stop for a red light. Then, we're usually surprised when we see you run up to the bus and bang on the door with a furious look of indignation.

"Why didn't you see me?" you might ask as I open the door.

"Indeed," I'll reply.

We're not all blessed with an overflowing fashion budget. Sometimes we don't get new jackets for years. It's understandable. The working class barely gets by, so who is this bus driver to tell you what you should be wearing? We're common-sensical. We have a wide windshield, but when you're not trying to be seen, it's on you. We have 20/20 vision... we're not bionic. Our job is to safely operate our vehicle. Yours is to make your intent to ride obvious. Hold up a light, like that cell phone you're so intent upon. Wave. Buy some reflective tape and throw a piece or two on your outerwear. Make sure we can see you, or you're possibly going to wait a lot longer for a ride than you bargained for.

Our transit agency puts out cute (and highly ineffectual) little ad campaigns which don't really get the word out. So here's my twist on JFK's quote:

"Ask not what your bus operator can do for you, ask what you can do for your bus operator."

Lighten up, folks. Otherwise, that umbrella will be working unnecessary overtime. Be seen, get a ride. It's that simple.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

WANTED: New Blood to Run the Gig

I've neglected this blog. With the book release, my efforts have been centered on publicizing "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." It's a lot of work to market yourself while rolling wheels 50+ hours every week. This interferes with the creative mojo.

Transit consumes its workers. From the time we wake up until we can rest again, our bodies are tuned to the hum of 40,000 pounds on six wheels. It's not always a job you can leave behind, especially after a particularly rough day. It follows us home and haunts our dreams. There are times I awaken in a fit of terror, seeing what could have been had I not prevented it. Before you recover from one dream, the alarm sounds the start of yet another day's adventure. "Rinse and repeat," I call it, because as soon as you've washed the previous shift off your skin, another is about to begin.

I began writing this blog simply as an exercise to describe my life. One bus driver's experiences. It's still what this is about. Now I'm tired, beaten and usually rolling toward the next few days off. It's not as fun as when it commenced. When I started this gig, we were #1, baby. Now we've slipped far below that, yet we're expected to believe we're headed anywhere but even lower.

Our GM recently announced his retirement, lusting after his golden prize as we fear our impending demise. My first thought was, "What inept corporate robot will they choose for a replacement?" Surely, it won't be someone who has driven a bus for a living. That would be too eloquent a choice. While our ranks proudly boast multiple talents more than capable of shining in this position, we'll likely be served with a smiling face that can talk to cameras while spouting the corporate line. We've become just another company to be run by many who have never done what they oversee. We could "manage" quite well without some of these folks. Put transit back into the hands of those who have rolled wheels, and you'd see drastic changes for the better. What you're most likely to see is a great to-do about another nothing-much, and the fanfare will be touted by the media as "a new beginning." Realistically, it will likely be yet another ho-hum change of the same old guard.

The new Big Kahuna will be hired from the oozing growth of executives with "impressive" resumes, with transit workers who apply being given a pre-requisite few seconds of consideration. He or she will be lauded by the media as "a promising new direction in local transit." We will just nod our collective heads, saying "Yeah, right. Need some beachfront property in Tucson? I'll sell it to you cheap if you believe this swill."

In the meantime, El Jéfe will luxuriate in his parting bonus, lauding his bridge to nowhere, laughing at his successfully-hidden raises to non-union employees while shrugging off a legacy toward banality. We're headed toward a heavily-taxed coffin, he's off to feast upon golden geese and Donny's tax cuts. This is the post-Teddy Roosevelt reality of the American workforce, and we're 115 years too late to appreciate what the Hero of San Juan Hill accomplished on our behalf.

Maybe I'll apply for the job. I don't have a college degree in Corporata Studies, but I do have a PhD in Blue Collar Americana. That's gotta account for something, eh?

Safe travels brothers and sisters in the real world. It's a rough job, but somebody's gotta do it. Thanks to US, we make transit work.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Putting Myself "Out There" for You

Marketing a book is walking a fine line between art, and pissing people off so bad they won't even consider buying it. I'm not good at it, so I appeal to the masses who read this blog for whatever reason.

I'm a bus operator. I make a decent wage, but I'm by no means "rich," as many passengers seem to think. To publish this book, I took out a personal loan. In order to pay it back, I need to sell "x" amount of books. Anything after that is gravy. Nobody who self-publishes their first book can realistically expect to make a mint off of it. Unless, of course, they're the 21st century version of Mark Twain. Wish it were true, but reality tells us he remains one of a kind. While many people give me praise and kudos, I don't know; maybe I'll strike a chord, maybe not. People are fickle these days. Thirty-second sound bites are their collective limit. Is this the bill for me? Just thinking it's a possibility is an impossible claim that is easily contradicted by today's online judiciary. I can only hope my words resonate with the masses as I hit you with new blog posts and upcoming books.

Someday I know it's going to come out. Publicly. "The Deke's real name is..." When it happens, I'll claim it. It would be cowardice to hide any longer. The blog is nearing five years of age, I've left clues to my true identity that any idiot could pick up on. It's as if I'm begging to be "outed." Even so, my employer cannot reasonably find cause to fire me for speaking my mind. They may own my body five days each week; this soul belongs to me.

I'm constantly in awe of fellow bloggers who write using their true name. That takes cajones grandes, man. There are times I feel like a coward, and ask my readers whether I should reveal my true identity. The overwhelming consensus is a raucous "NO!" Why is this? Because my anonymity allows a certain sense of freedom. I can write more honestly about the job we do out here. Fellow bus operators enjoy when I land a bullet in the mid-section of our reality. Al Margulies, one of my biggest supporters, advocates that I lose the pen name and tell the world who I am. While I'm honored by his constant support from the beginning, I bow to the majority who disagree with him. For now. Robert in Florida supports me, and he writes a fantastic blog as himself. Why must I hide? It's a personal conundrum, and the energy it takes to keep the myth alive is a bit tiresome. This pseudonym secrecy is bound to end. The only question is, will Deke die with his integrity intact, or just fade away?

Hey, it's just a book full of blog posts. Just like this one, almost. It's not earth-shattering, just honest. What's it like to be me? Read the book. That's all. I don't presume to speak for every bus operator. Many disagree at times with what I have to say, most assuredly. However, they respectfully reserve their opinions for whatever reasons. It's a strange web woven by a man who ended up in this profession at the dawn of my fifth decade and decided to write about it.

I am about to distribute copies of my book to the local media. Our International ATU President Larry Hanley has one, and I eagerly (with trepidation) await his review. I'm putting myself "out there" for critical review. Some will be positive, others not so laudatory. Whatever the result, I'm ready. It's "showtime," folks. Not all reviews will be five-stars. As a writer, I can only hope to sell some books while avoiding the appearance of a simple blue-collar wannabe artist.

Some love us, others do not. We're portrayed more negatively in the press than what we truly are. "Shepherds of public safety," my brother Tom Horton says. I repeat this phrase ad nauseum because it accurately depicts transit operators worldwide. We are constantly vigilant, keeping our fellow citizens as safe as they allow us to. Each time we grab the steering wheel of "The Beast," be it bus or train, our passengers depend on a safe and smooth ride. Many take us for granted, as if we're their servants. We are not. Quite simply, we're just humans who provide time travel for our riders. Without us, they'd have to walk, and that's just not feasible. We're vital cogs in each city's economy.

When I smile and greet you, remember it's not because I serve you; it's because I truly enjoy my job and I want you to know that I'm here to provide you a safe journey. We might even strike chords together. We're all just people, you know. It's a privilege and joy to drive you... not just a paycheck.

Peace be with you, wear bright clothing, and be well. I'll be happy to roll with you, if you choose to be seen.

* * * * *

Buy my book here...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deke Writes the Bus

Sometimes, I'm not even conscious that I'm "driving" a bus. There are times when it's just automatic. My body's in the seat, but my mind is traveling. Sure, I'm scanning, smiling and rolling safe. I truly enjoy the job. Unless you ask me a question or otherwise engage me, my soul is elsewhere.

Until today, I took a week-long hiatus from writing. My mind, body and soul are exhausted. It's been a very long 18 months producing JUST DRIVE. I've felt elation, jubilation and exhilaration while also feeling anxious and self-doubt. Each night after work, I've vegetated in front of the TV, which has become rare. This book has been my main focus for so long, once it became available I heaved a massive sigh of relief. My mind was unable to wrap itself around another blog post. Until now. Watch out, mugs... no telling where this one will go.

Let's begin with the severe lack of brainmanship exhibited lately by the motoring public. ME FIRST is the prevailing wind, and it's as odoriferous as what comes out their biological exhaust pipe. When the clocks turned back an hour last Sunday, it was if everyone around here decided they need to rush everywhere, especially the next red light. Twice this week, testosterone-charged mudbrains have cut me off, then flipped me off for no reason. Hey folks, buses stop then go again. It's as common as screen-addled pedestrians on a blind date with doom. Deal with it. When a bus pulls over, and it's safe for you to do so, go ahead and pass us. We expect it. As we finish servicing the stop, we're going to Yield-Light you and pull back into traffic. That's not the time, especially when there's a double-yellow line in the middle of the street, to pass us. You risk plowing into oncoming traffic, duh. There's also a severe chance of pulverizing the dunce who exits and pretends I'm a school bus with a STOP sign and red flashing lights to protect them from your foolish lack of PATIENCE. You meatheads! It might just save someone's (including yours) life. Imagine your family's life this holiday season while dealing with your untimely death. Suicide might be legal here, but that doesn't mean I should have to assist it.

(Ugh, just had to get that off my mind.)

* * * * *

UBER DRIVERS: STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE BUS LANES DOWNTOWN! It wasn't designed for your poor business practices. (Hell, the Transit Mall is unsafe for everyone when all the rules are obeyed.) It's dangerous for you (and your fares) to be there. Don't let riders out in the auto lane either. When someone exits your pseudo-cab on the passenger side, your door swings open precariously close to the Transit Lane where buses and trains operate. Traffic behind you is also tempted to swing into our lane (without mirror-checking to see a 10-foot-tall vehicle bearing down on them). Your fares are also prone to leaving the car and dashing across the street between blocks rather than going to the crosswalk 10 yards ahead. As a general rule, you should NEVER conduct business on 5th or 6th Avenues downtown. It's rude, dangerous and foolish. Our BUS ONLY lanes are there specifically for our mega-ton beasts rather than your Precious Prius.

(Sorry to my oldest son: I'm bitching again. We transit operators have a LOT to complain about "out there" sometimes. I've held off a while, but it's been a rough week. Sometimes the wheels roll smooth; others, we hit many a speed bump.)

* * * * *

My apologies to a MAX driver this week. I was tired, flustered, and that's a bad place to be driving a bus. I didn't notice my jump light remained red as the transit lane went green, and I started out from a mall stop when you were a half-block away. Instead of running the light, I stopped. Problem was, my nose was precariously close to your Dynamic Envelope. This is extremely rare for me, but it happened. I allowed myself to become distracted, but that's no excuse. Thank you for doing me a solid by stopping, honking and signaling me to go ahead in spite of my error. I'm human, and I appreciate your recognition and patience. The next chance I had, I stopped and locked, got out and walked to the back of my bus to re-calibrate myself. It took a few beats to the engine compartment cover before I cleared myself to roll again.

* * * * *

HEY PORTLAND TURN YOUR LIGHTS ON!!! It's dark out there, folks. Can't see you, keep you safe, if I can't see your vehicle. Thank you.

* * * * *

That's about it for today. I'm tired. It's been a long and trying week. Last night's verbal tussle with a self-entitled passenger about pushed me over the edge, but I persevered and finished the week in spite of it. If he doesn't call in a complaint within the next week, maybe I'll tell you about it. Until then, it's sack time for this bus driver. Next time, maybe I'll have something a bit more entertaining to bore you with.

Monday, November 6, 2017

I Saved His Life Today

"Thanks for saving that man's life earlier," my departing passenger said.

It startled me. Although the event he spoke of had happened a full half-hour earlier, I had already moved on. It happens. We're "shepherds of the public safety," as my brother Tom Horton says. Sure, it was a massive sigh of relief I breathed when it happened, but we do this every day. It's old hat. People today are incredibly unaware of impending doom, and we regularly save lives in the course of a day driving bus or operating a Light Rail Vehicle. It's just what we do.

The incident in question happened as I was servicing a downtown transit mall stop. My light was red, and people had just finished boarding. Scanning around me in preparation for departure, I noted several danger spots. As my eyes rounded to the crosswalk eight feet from my front bumper, I saw a man in a wheelchair enter the crosswalk. But the pedestrian signal for him was RED. Already aware of an approaching MAX train, my mind immediately sensed the danger. This man was wheeling toward disaster, directly into the train's path.

We're not supposed to "honk downtown." For some strange reason, our management frowns on us barking at idiots in the wrong lane, but they do allow us to warn people of impending dangers. This time, I laid on the horn. Warning the pedestrian, I also alerted the approaching train. The alerted operator stopped, and the pedestrian did so as well. He saw the front of the train, mere inches from ending his life, and shook his head as he wheeled back to the curb. When the train passed, he still had a red hand warning him not to cross. He did anyway, just as my light turned green. He just rolled across in front of me, not acknowledging my earlier warning which surely saved him from a painful end to his life.

I missed that green light. It's okay. They have a habit of changing back to green after a half-minute or so. That man didn't have an "extra life," but I had a few seconds to spare. Especially if it meant he'd keep rolling into the night, rather than becoming a bloody senseless transit pancake. On my next trip downtown, I saw this same gent jayrolling again through a different intersection, once again oblivious to the dangers of such folly.

When my passenger thanked me later, I was startled. People are usually so intent on their phones these days, I'm surprised when they see something notable. This gentleman's comment was a rare yet welcome highlight to a bus driver's day. Hopefully he called Customer Service to report my vigilant awareness, but chances are against it. People are more prone to complain than they are to praise.

It's okay. I'll do it again countless more times in this career. That's how we roll.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I Held My Book Today

"If you're a young band, and you have a choice about whether you're going to do this or not, you're in the wrong business, you know? I never had a choice. I would do this anyway, and do it if no one liked it, if no one came, I'd still be doing it."
-- Tom Petty, 1995

Like Tom says, I'd write even if none of you read my words. We all have something to say, and I've said plenty. Some of us share a bit of ourselves with whoever will pay attention, even if none of you do. Luckily for me, I've gained an audience. It's not incredibly huge, but it does keep exponentially expanding every year. For example, the first of this year my hit counter read 85,000. That was after 3.5 years of blogging. Today, it stands at 177,230 with nearly two months before 2018. So in one year, I will have over 100,000 reads. Considering how excited I was to get Hit #1000, it angers me when I take each for granted. Each one of your "hits" is still as meaningful to me today as when Tom first heard his music on the radio over 40 years ago.

Artists live for the thrill of performing. As I write, that's my performance. You don't need to see my face, it's the soul and feelings I share. If you know me, it's rather obvious I'm not the most prolific conversationalist. I'd rather listen, make mental notes. Discussion is awkward for me, always has been. Put me in front of a keyboard, then I can do something worthwhile. Put me behind the wheel of a bus, I'm competent, fairly smooth. Parties? No thank you. The possibility of doing interviews regarding my book scares me foolish. So does the possibility it might not sell as many copies as I hope. It's the creative mojo that rolls my wheels, sticking to the shadows and speaking through my fingertips. If people knew my face, it would be awkward and distracting. Writing to you is what I love doing... others can perform in front of you, but I prefer to communicate from the comfort of my home office when the world is asleep.
"It's the only time in my life when I really feel comfortable, and when time really stands still and I'm lost in that moment." -- Tom Petty 
Finally, my book (Buy it Here!) came to me in today's mail. I wasn't there to receive it. Had to drive, work first... always. That's why it's taken a year and a half to accomplish what I wanted to 32 years ago. Still, when work was done, I had more important plans before celebrating this dream come true. My youngest turned 20 today, and he's infinitely more important to me. Nurturing my children has been my main focus, and they have grown into wonderful people. I miss their child selves sometimes, but still see them that way in momentary glimpses. They are each very good, caring and dedicated individuals. I'm proud of each. My youngest amazes equally as much as his siblings, and I adore each of them.

Al Margulies, one of this blog's earliest and
most vocal supporters, holds his copy
of my book. Thanks, Al... for
always being there and
giving constant

Once the birthday boy had retired, I finally picked up my book. Leafing through it, I checked the pagination, enjoyed my designer's polish, and marveled at the physical affirmation of my labors. A lifetime of emotion engulfed me. My mother encouraged, almost begged me to "do something" with my writing. Now she's been gone nearly a dozen years and I have finally heeded her advice. Tears fell because she's not here to tell me, "Good job. It's about damn time, Deke." I've always been a bit pokey, but when I set my mind to something, amazing things have happened in my life. Stubborn like Ma, determined like Pa. Convincingly me, no matter what success that might bring. When I held the result of 18 months out of my nearly three-score years, the tears burst forth like a dynamited dam. Ecstasy, grief, relief, anxiety, accomplishment, and finally, peace.

If I die tomorrow, this book would be a pretty good pinnacle. While not some earth-shattering literary masterpiece, it exists. I have no illusions of grandeur, as do many who write a book and consider it the best since Great Expectations. Putting sentences together is easy, but creating art takes a master. I'm no Tom Petty, but I'll always look up to him. He defied the status-quo and made a career just being himself. And that, as history has already noted, was a helluva great gig.
"Yeah, I'll be king, when dogs get wings. Can I help it if I still dream time to time." --Tom Petty, It's Good to Be King" 
I'm not done yet though, that's for damn sure. You haven't heard my last song. Soon, I'll leave Deke behind. Shred the shroud and be me for the rest of this elusive illusion we know as 'life.' As many of you know, my back-story is quite inspiring. Mom gave me the means, and now her soul is nodding in peace. Damn the doctors of yesteryear, just like Tom's torpedoes. We've blasted through frustrating obstacles the cosmos puts in the way of progress, and the road ahead is filled with potholes... but at least it's visible now.

Thanks for putting up with me. I hope you enjoy the ride half as much as I have. If management fires me for speaking my mind, I'll still have the wonderful feeling that you and I connected... if even for a few minutes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

So You Want to Write A Book, Eh?

It's been a tough roll these past 18 months, but my book is published. At long last.

People don't realize how much work goes into such a project. In this case, it took several steps. First I read each post I had written and made a list of possible book entries. (Simultaneously, I kept writing new posts.) Once this was done, I decided to list them chronologically, and began transferring them into a document, editing as I went. Since I only had an hour or two after work each night, this stage took several months.

After choosing the posts, I decided to write a glossary of transit terms to put in the book, which added another month. Once all this was complete, the word count was around 150,000. My problem with brevity necessitated a heavy first round of editing, which took about a month. My own red pen chopped about 30,000 words. Just by substituting three words for five, four for seven or eight, I kept the original intent of each post while ensuring you wouldn't fall asleep halfway through a chapter. Then I sent it to a fellow bus operator, who made some valuable observations and suggestions. Referring to his notes, I chopped another 10,000 words. Afterward, I sent the manuscript to five family members and friends asking them to read it and offer edits and criticism. Only one took the challenge, and he ripped me a new body part. A professional writer in his own right, Roger was painfully honest, which is just what I needed. He and I have known each other since grade school, and that deep bond between us kept me from wanting to strangle him. (Writers have a love/hate relationship with their editors.) After I made another long list of changes, my beloved wife read it and found several other gaffes needing correction. Then it was back to Roger, and just for good measure, I had a college student put the manuscript under his finely-tuned microscope. Good thing Justin read through it, because he found some errors that would have been quite embarrassing.

By August of this year, I believed it was ready to go and hired a designer (Heidi North Designs, New York City) for a professional look. (Even bullshitters hire professionals, so I plunked down a chunk of cash and found a great one.) The book's cover was the first go-round, and she gave me three choices. When you present me with choices, I have to tear my hair off in chunks because decisions are terribly difficult for me. Finally, I picked one design. The interior took longer, because there are features I thought you would enjoy that needed to look and feel different from the chapters they referred to. Some of your comments were added in a section I called RAW (Readers Always Write). Several of the chapters needed a prelude to explain either how I felt as I wrote the post or added some other insights. These are called Deke's Notes.

Heidi and I discussed different styles, and I chose a font I've loved since I was a typographer, called Palatino. A classic typeface designed in 1949 by Hermann Zapf, Palatino is very easy on the eyes, and its italic form is visually orgasmic. I've used it on each of my poems, and was on my company letterhead and business cards when I ran a family typography business. She delighted me with the use of drop caps to start each chapter, which highlight Palatino's simple elegance.

When I received the first pass, it looked wonderful. The manuscript still needed some tweaking, which she did marvelously even though my methodology and software did not lend itself well to marking up the changes. The final mechanical process was made extremely difficult by Amazon, but we managed to come up with a final product that jived with specifications. There were variances of .6667" that drove us both insane. After many sleepless nights and fretful trepidations, Amazon finally accepted the files, and my book became a reality after 18 months and about 1,600 hours of painstaking work.

Releasing a book to the masses is not only a lot of work, but a grand leap of faith. Many people say they're going to write a book but don't; others write it but don't put it out to a worldwide audience; and some take the giant step of putting themselves out there. I've never been one to turn down a challenge. I would rather run into the field of battle knowing I could be struck down by an errant sword instead of cowering on the sidelines muttering "what if?" to myself for an eternity. My life has always been that way. If I charge up a hill with a roar, I've been able to plant my flag at the top and enjoy the view. Sure, many a time I've been knocked down. When that happens, I just jump up, dust myself off and keep fighting.

This project has pushed me back and kicked me in the balls so many times I have scars. Nightmares have been harsh; in one I was lynched by an angry mob of management trolls who left me hanging naked in the yard for all drivers to see. Hopefully, this isn't an indication of what's to come. The book pokes at management, but I tempered the language because my goal is to educate and inform rather than infuriate. Actually, I skewer pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists more strenuously than management. If I don't piss someone off, then I'm not doing my job correctly. It's the same thing for writing as it is bus operations. My greatest hope is that someone reads the book and changes a few habits, ultimately saving lives in the process. We see so many ridiculous gaffes out there and save countless lives on a daily basis, all around the world. It doesn't matter if you drive in Sydney, London, Barcelona or Boston... human beings exhibit much the save behavior as they do here in Portland.

My original goal was to publish my first book at the ripe old age of 25. Missed that deadline by decades. I hope you buy a copy (or two!). If you've read my blog a while, you'll recognize some of it. This version is cleaner, more professional. It's truly a labor of love. The blog has grown by almost 100,000 hits this year, which is notable because on January 1, 2017, it had 85,000 hits. You've been with me through some of the roughest spots in my career, and I appreciate your patience with my fits and rants. I've tried to add different avenues to the blog this year, and in May I will celebrate my fifth anniversary as a blogger. There's no telling how long I can keep this up, or whether my audience will continue to read it. Either way, it's been a helluva ride and I can't thank you all enough.

If you want a signed copy, come and find me. Or, mail your copy to Just Zakanna Productions with a SASE (old-school acronym meaning "Self Addressed Stamped Envelope"), and I'll sign it and mail it back to you. Just remember, Deke's identity remains a union secret. Be subtle, please. I'm still a bus driver, and need to concentrate on the road. If too many people know who Deke is, it would be distracting. My main goal is to remain kind, respectful, polite, thoughtful, patient, vigilant, calm, smart, smooth and above all, safe. That's pretty hard to do in normal conditions; if my head grows past its humble limits, it wouldn't be pretty.

Thanks for reading, and for your support and kindness. Meanwhile, it's time again, to JUST DRIVE.

Order "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane"

Monday, October 30, 2017

Phone Blunder

Sometimes I do things my wife doesn't even hear about, until she reads my blog. This incident, which I most certainly did not report to Dispatch, is a life lesson for those of us who pay too much attention to our phones instead of the immediate task at hand.

When I first bought my "smart" phone a few years ago, I found myself doing truly stupid things. Like when I was reading a text and walked smack dab into a power pole. (Nobody saw that one... I hope.) From that point on I promised myself to be more vigilant about being aware of my surroundings. I've seen texting bicyclists, motorists and skateboarders tooling along on a path of unknown disasters, some with painful results. Smug in my own belief I no longer paid more attention to my phone than what I was doing, I've been vocal in my disdain for such actions by others.

The other day however, I entered a toilet stall, closed it and removed my pants, all while reading an email from my book designer. Instead of performing the normal checks prior to relieving myself, imagine my surprise when I sat on the toilet without checking to see if the seat was down. Yeah. It wasn't. SPLASH! My butt and its neighbors took a bath.

Now you must remember what other pre-trip items one checks before sitting on the comfort station. Yeah. No toilet paper. No seat cover tissues.

Bus operators are fairly innovative and resourceful people. Deciding I should forgo the normal routine, there was one dilemma facing me: how to dry the derriere. Knowing the hand-washing station doesn't feature paper towels, with only one of those annoying air-blowing hand-dryers, and also aware that my follower would be arriving and entering the bathroom in a few minutes, I had to act fast.

Hip-hopping to the dryer, I held the front of my pants up while exposing my hind end to the dryer. Even turned it on with my butt cheek. I was hoping (and praying) nobody walked in to see me like that. Satisfied with the dryer's efficiency, I zipped and fastened in record time. Butt cheeks were still a wee-bit damp, but the dripping was over and I could walk out of there with my head held high.

Almost walked right into Brother Chris on the way out, not revealing a thing. Walked to the customer service counter of the business establishment and complained about the lack of toilet paper in the men's room.

They say even the lower primates could do my job. Perhaps this time, it was true.

The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with...