Sunday, September 17, 2017

Binding Our Gaping Wounds

Banding together, for a common cause that isn't getting the publicity it should, is something I stand solidly behind. So much, that is, that I ask you all to join me September 18-24 and wear a band aid on the right (passenger) side of your face. Wherever you are, whatever you do, please join Deke for a week. Here's why.

Just last week, one of our sisters was relieved on her route. As soon as she stepped out of her bus, she was brutally attacked for no apparent reason. She suffered a concussion, black eyes and other related injuries. Of course, our useless corporate local news media didn't report on it. Not a peep. Crickets sound off from all their perspectives. Not that it's entirely their fault. I haven't heard any statements from our transit management either. It seems eerily quiet in response to our anguish. In fact, the last time any mention was made of an assault was in June, when three people were arrested and charged with spitting on and pepper-spraying an operator on Lombard. That incident occurred June 9, but since then there have been 29 other instances of operators being either menaced, threatened or assaulted.

29. Let that sink in for a moment. Silence from management, news media, our union. I Googled it, and could find no recent reports on our collective plight. As of this post, we're at 63 acts of violence against our frontline transit workers in Portland. Sixty-three. Last year, there were 55 total. At this rate, we could have over 80 by year's end. I sure hope not, but it's possible.

It can happen over the seemingly silliest thing. Not giving a courtesy stop. Requiring a passenger to abide by transit code. Another driver passing them by in Drop Off Only mode. Asking that music be muted as to not be a distraction or discourteous to fellow passengers. Waking up a sleeper. We all face the danger in the daily duties of our job. Whether you're an operator, a supervisor, mechanic... it seems we're targets for society's slugs.

A rail operator was hit with a pipe. At least nine operators were spit on, some in the face. A bus was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle. We've been punched, slapped, and had liquids thrown upon us. Several of the 63 were of the "menacing" variety, meaning the operator was threatened with physical violence. In another state, an operator was recently covered in a passenger's urine, just because she didn't like the operator's tone while saying "Have a nice day." How many other professions face such threats? Cops have tazers, pistols, shotguns and Kevlar vests. We're left unprotected, and suspended if we do allow our biological defense mechanisms to play out naturally.

There were 55 total incidents of violence against us in 2016. Since March 18, when the district announced its new "don't ask don't enforce" fare policy, meant to relieve operators from arguments at the fare box, there have been 50 assaults. That lets the air out of the "most arguments start at the fare box" theory. While it was a positive attempt by management to stop the violence against us, these assailants seem to find something they believe validates their criminality.

The great majority of our passengers are polite and respectful. Many are quiet, some are downright rude. The smallest percentage, those who assault us, are growing in boldness. Earlier this year, a Canadian was murdered by an awakened passenger early one morning. These incidents aren't isolated to Portland, Oregon. It happens everywhere. Society is growing a population of bold assailants, many of whom are mentally ill. Help for this segment of humanity has dwindled to a trickle since the Reagan administration. The result of neglecting treatment is coming back -- to haunt US.

Legislatures are slow to act. They "study" something until they're blue in the face, but little action is being taken. We've testified about our plight, but all we seem to receive are sympathetic nods and empty promises. I'm praying it won't take the sight of another operator in a casket to inspire leaders to some decisive actions to further protect us from the dangers of today's hostile minority.

Since we can't count on management, news media or union leaders to publicize our peril, it's time we took it to the streets. Where our support might make a difference. People who use transit daily don't like trouble. When their ride home is interrupted by some ignorant or drunk asswipe, it's inconvenient to them. To many, it's very upsetting to see someone who is entrusted with their daily safety pummelled for no good reason. They come to our defense... sometimes. It's time they realize how many of us have endured dangerous situations or assaults. I'm one of the former, on more than one occasion, and it wasn't my fault. I was just doing my damn job, all right?

I applauded the brave efforts of Fred Casey and Mike McCurry in their quest to have our legislature strengthen penalties against those who assault us. Now, I join my brother Henry Beasley in an effort to educate the public of our collective plight. My fellow brothers and sisters, we need to let our riders know that we're mad as hell and not willing to take it lightly. Not just here in Portland, but all over the world. We're all at growing risk of menacing and assaults.

For the week of September 18-24, I will join other operators, hopefully worldwide, in a show of solidarity. I'll wear a band aid on the right (passenger side) of my face to illustrate our plight, from the driver side. Our fellow union members at ATU 1197 in Jacksonville, Florida displayed bandages on their face during recent contract negotiations. It was a great idea, and inspired Brother Beasley to ask bus operators here to spread the word about the uptick in violence against us.

I hope you join me, even if you don't drive a bus. If someone asks why the band aid remains as the week progresses, I'll explain the increase of assaults on operators. Most won't notice, or pretend they don't. There will be some, however, who will ask what it's about. If enough of us participate, we could make a difference.

One fellow suggested that such a show without some "official" announcement from our union is a waste of time. My response is this. A river begins as a trickle, and other tributaries add to it until it becomes a roaring river. It's time to roar, brothers and sisters. Please add your voice, and together maybe we'll overcome the sound of the crickets.

Safe travels,

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Finer Points of a New Run

Schedule over safety, these days. That's what management is pushing on us, all the while posturing that they value the opposite order. Sorry Boss, but my job depends on safe driving. If the schedule suffers, as it has recently, that's the way it's gonna be.

The first few weeks of a new signup, especially if you've taken a different run than your usual fare, is a learning experience. I haven't driven this route in a few years, and then it was only sporadically. Extra Board runs aren't the same as regular routes. It's been interesting to re-visit this route after being away from it. Here's what I've learned the past week.

Always loving a challenge, I picked up my bus that first Monday without a map in hand. Fellow operators reported no changes in the route. Once I've been somewhere, I can usually remember my way. Whether it's from here to Dallas or Chicago, I don't need no stinking Google or other map. A matter of personal pride. It came to me from memory, just as I thought it would. Traffic patterns and some paddle bubbles have changed though. The passenger mix has remained about the same, professional commuters and students versus occasional riders as I remembered from before. Their faces have changed, their behaviors have not. Collectively, it was exactly as I remembered. It was also not as challenging as my previous runs have been.

When driving a different route, I study traffic patterns and develop a system to remain as close to on time as I can. Safely. Some days are light while others truly require a heavy foot. Yet passenger boarding behavior seems to require more patience these days. It amazes me that someone can wait 10 minutes for a bus, tapping their feet while perusing social media, only to be hopelessly unprepared to board once I open the door. They fumble for their money or pass, stand outside the door frantically swiping at their phone (as if it's the device's fault for not being ready) rather than jumping on so I can catch the green light and remain on time. This is something our management fails to include in its On Time Performance metrics: passengers remain incapable of taking any responsibility for our schedule. If every one of 10 people waiting at a bus stop took a minute to prepare as I approached, boarding everyone should take about 20 seconds maximum. Unless they have their pass in hand as I arrive, it's a sure bet that at least half of them are ill-prepared when I open the door.

Given the city's penchant for placing busy bus stops near-side of intersections, and its prehistoric stoplight sequence engineering, it's usually a sure bet the light will change from green to yellow as soon as your door closes and the interlock is released. Instead of a 20-second interlude, you wait there an extra 30-60 seconds. Impatient motorists behind you honk their frustration, as if it's your fault you missed the green light. Since patience is an important part of a professional's code, those behind us are of little consequence. Waiting for a light to change again when there is no cross traffic to take advantage of that green becomes a schedule-killer. There are several stops where I can roll up to early, only to be one or two minutes late when I can finally roll again. Sometimes a runner tries to get you to open the door for them as you're poised to roll again, but that's too bad. To board them would only mean you'd miss another green opportunity because odds are 10-1 they don't have fare ready, if at all. You snooze, you wait for the next bus. If I take pity on too many runners, Manny Manager wants 20 minutes of my life to chide me for "being late 22% of the time."

An operator's philosophy regarding schedule differs from management's. Their insistence upon keeping on time is guided by a perverse drive to satisfy some oddly-conceived metric. We want to arrive on time, even a minute or two early, at the end of the line because it guarantees us maximum break time. They consider this taboo, even though the last few stops of any route are almost always empty or drop-off only. If I leave the last time point as required, then defy Murphy's Law and end up early at route's end, I'll take it. I won't sit there and "burn," because that's just plain silly. There are plenty of times during the day when circumstances render us late, so when you can eke out a minute or two of earliness, it all evens out in the end. I'm rarely late getting back to the garage, so it shouldn't matter. It only seems to make a difference to those who care more about numbers than the people whom the digits represent.

Week Two of this signup has arrived. I'm still taking notes and learning. Hopefully I'll begin to recognize the regulars, and strike up a chat or two with a few of them. Until then, it's my goal to run smooth and safe. The schedule will rock and roll. There will be ups and downs. I'm confident I'll learn the tricks necessary to make up time. When it comes time to choose my winter runs, I'll know enough to decide whether to keep this one or move on.

This will also be a week of passengers deciding whether they approve of me. Learning the stops will help me smooth out my early roughness. Hopefully, my smile and cheerfulness will win them over. I'll save my patented silliness until I've won their trust. Until then, it's JUST DRIVE!

* * *

BOOK UPDATE:  My designer and I have been working out the finer details of the final product. I've tentatively set the publication date for October 5. I'm excited with what she's come up with, and I think you will enjoy this book that has taken well over a year to produce. You want a signed copy? Well you'll have to find and then catch me, because I must remain for now, simply and anonymously, "Deke." I'd rather those who know me don't let the secret out, and I'll be happy to sign as many books that reach me... quietly

If you're willing to help get the word out, please send me an email ( Especially if you live elsewhere than Portland, I could sure use your help in marketing. Thanks!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Feelings About My Last Post

Y'all are reading it, but maybe I'm not selling it right. My last post dealt with the new fare system, and how I've noticed those who use it aren't as polite. I don't think I was "immature," or "rude," for the butt reference. I simply used it in describing what I've noticed to be a growing trend.

Am I "passive aggressive?" Perhaps occasionally, but we're trained to be, in a sense. Otherwise, we'd never get our bus back into traffic after servicing a stop. Our jobs are deeper than just driving, and anyone who disagrees is only fooling themselves.

Truthfully, as long as folks behave on my bus, then I usually accept their absence of manners. I have noticed however, a growing sense of our not needing to exert authority. Operators have their own style of doing things. But we are Captains of the Ship, no matter who owns the vehicle we drive. I don't use this term because I'm some transit bully, but we have to display some authority on the job or things can turn south on us really fast. Unfortunately, our management doesn't support us and has some misguided notion that passengers are "customers." This is a dangerous trend, when those we transport are protected by our bosses, but we're not.

I was interested in the comments of my fellow operators on Facebook, some I consider my good friends. Sure, I can take criticism and actually appreciate it. It helps me grow, and I'm fascinated by human nature. Unless you comment, it's impossible for me to understand your view. There's no such thing as always being right. I'm simply one individual, describing what I see and feel. I can't please everyone nor do I expect you to agree with everything I write. Thank you for reading and feeling free to air your disagreement though.

It's a tough job, and the longer you do it, the harder you have to work to keep a positive attitude. Rude people have always annoyed me, but I realize there will be someone who irks me from time to time. It's human nature, and we deal with a wide range of people. If you say that of the 600-800 people you see daily, none of them pisses you off, that's a bit strange to me. A form of denial, in a way. If someone annoys me, I don't always tell them. It's wiser not to acknowledge negative behavior. I have pleasant interactions with 95% of those who board my bus. It's enjoyable to me to interact with the public. But once in a while, I'm gonna slip and (oh dear, throw me in front of a firing squad for my fallibility as a human) mutter my displeasure. Oh well.

Tom Petty was much more poetic than I in his (immature?) description of not allowing the actions of others to rule your day. He sang "Don't sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff." It's pretty good advice I try to follow.

Peace out and safe travels, brothers and sisters.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Thanks, Ya Tapping Tulips

Sauvie Island Bridge, a few years ago.
"Nice hat," I said.

It was, in a 2017 fashion sense, a funky throwback to the 70s. Floppish, felt and velvety red. Complete with a sassy sash above the brim and feathers sticking every which way. Perhaps she was imitating a male peacock.

No reply, nary a whisper. The stunning young brunette with a pig's butt expression rolled her eyes up and over mine after she tapped her card on the reader. Without a peep, she sashayed down the aisle.

"Like my ass?" her stroll seemed to suggest, "because that's all you get from me." (No Miss Miscreant, I've seen better butts on people who actually lived when your hat was mod.)

"Hmm," I thought to myself but unknowingly aloud, "someone left their manners back in 2004."

She turned around and scowled. Oops, she heard me even through those headphones. I just shrugged. If you're so self-involved you can't greet the person finessing the wheel, this driver will often give your "diss" a shout out. Bad manners grate on my nerves. Sorry, but I calls 'em as they present themselves. Miss Entitlement Elitist '17, once you're past the yellow line just hang on because I'm rolling again and my eyes are focused elsewhere. I'm not impressed.

If she called in a complaint, I'll ignore the summons to see the manager because I detest this modern day "please the passenger at all costs" baloney. If a passenger is rude to me and I make a snide remark, I consider it a wash. Touché, just go away. Preferably exiting the rear door, thank you. That way I don't have to smell your attitude once again. I'd rather take in Homeless Harry's street cologne... at least he was polite to me.

At first, I thought it was just me. But no. Evidently, a few fellow operators have noticed the same trend by ignoring ignoramuses. An alarming majority of people using the new "tap card" fare system employ this silent abuse. The trend has increased as the new system gains popularity. It's as if their self-payment entitles them to silently roll to their bacteria-ridden seat, as if I'm simply a uniformed limousine driver. Bypass the fare box and the operator, as if it's uncool to throw a kind word our way.

NEWSFLASH, NUMBSKULLS: We're professional drivers in your present. Captains of the Ship, even if management doesn't agree that we're anything but pawns for them to freely sacrifice.

It seems fare tappers think I should jump out of my seat and show them to theirs, wiping off Slobby Scott's shoe scum so as to not offend their dainty derrieres. Maybe I should offer them a complimentary cocktail and peanuts for being 47 seconds late. Or I could stay in the seat and offer myself to them for a free assault, since I dare to even speak to management's precious "customers." Remaining planted within my soon-to-be-caged prison, perhaps I can avoid suspension after being slapped or pissed upon by today's spoiled dingbats.

"Just drive, asshole," their attitude suggests. I've heard this said countless times before. Well, okay then. Don't slip on Ripple Riley's spilt wine on your way backward. Once everyone else exits the bus, then I'll be free to drive just you.

Not all the new fare folks act this way. My run today was frequented by professional tappers who were raised in roughly the same era I was. I greet them as they enter, as always accompanied by my patented smile, and they return the favor. As they leave, I'm often treated to their kind thanks and kudos for a smooth ride. If I offer a few (hopefully) entertaining announcements along their journey, they add a funny parting remark in return. My regulars understand my penchant for passenger interaction. Sometimes, my announcements seem to fall on deaf ears. I'm here all week, I say to myself. Then a passenger will surprise me with a witty reply on their way out. It makes my day to feel appreciation for going over and above what they expect from their transit operator.

I shouldn't expect such a substantial return on my occupational investment. However, I put my heart and soul into everything I do, especially in providing a safe and pleasant ride. Miss Entitlement, I hope you enjoyed my smooth roll. In spite of yourself.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

We MUST Band Together!

Cops go to work each day fully aware the dangers they face might result in their death. Given this, it chilled me when one transit officer told me he would never do my job.

"At least I have weapons of self-defense," he said gravely. "You have nothing but your wits to protect yourself."

We live in an extremely dangerous time. People are more likely now to assault a transit worker more than ever before. In Portland, we've had 60 incidents in which a transit operator was assaulted or menaced, and there are still four months left this year. In 2016, we suffered 55 violent incidents while doing our job, yet the agency stubbornly insists "crime on the system is down." I'm sorry, but crimes against transit workers are increasing. At this rate, the number of assaults by the end of the year could be 84, a 35% increase. I wouldn't say this is a downward trend.

Here's a look at what Portland transit management calls "down:"
2014: 28 assaults
2015: 41
2016: 55
2017 (as of 9/6): 60

Does that appear to be a downward trend to you? I'm not the best statistician, but I believe the figures demonstrate an enormous increase, having more than doubled in three years. More disturbing is the silence from local media on the subject. Car wreck, armed wacko shoots someone, and they're all over it. Someone is injured at a protest, and it's national news. It takes an operator being murdered (Awakened Sleeper Kills Winnipeg Bus Operator) for the world to take notice to our collective plight.

I've challenged Portland media to report on this alarming trend of local operators being assaulted, but so far... crickets. Must one of us DIE before it becomes "news" in their minds? It happened in Winnipeg, as we lost our brother, Mr. Irvine Jubal Fraser earlier this year.

Two of my union brothers took matters into their own hands this year by imploring the Oregon Legislature to pass a bill (SB 2717) which stiffens penalties for those who assault transit operators. They advocated for it to be a felony for any transit worker to be assaulted at any time, instead of drivers "in control of or operating a transit vehicle." It is imperative to note that operators are not the only transit workers at risk of an increasingly-emboldened criminal element. Mechanics, supervisors, rail maintenance workers and operators simply waiting to relieve another driver are subject to public abuse and attacks.

The Oregon Legislature adjourned in July without passing SB2717 A, which makes it a felony for those convicted of assault upon a transit employee "while acting within scope of employment." It doesn't seem to have changed the conditions for prosecuting this as a more serious crime, "while the operator is in control of or operating the vehicle." Both our union and transit agency seem transfixed upon doing little or nothing to solidify our safety. Whenever in uniform, we should feel secure our agency protects our safety while also assuring we have every right to defend ourselves. Right now, we feel betrayed by management, as evidenced by suspensions meted out to those who refused to meekly allow their assailants free reign. If somebody punches me, you can't expect me to apologize for insisting they adhere to transit code. I'm certainly not going to coddle them or offer the other cheek for them to vandalize. I'm going to fight back, because that's the biological response when your life is threatened. When you realize that one well-placed punch can cause irreparable damage (or sudden death) to a human body, how can management expect us to defy the "fight or flight syndrome," the reflexive biological response? They suspend us for "violating violence in the workplace" rules. It's time to level the playing field by acknowledging our right to self-defense.

From the time I leave my home, dressed in our transit agency's required uniform, I consider myself "acting within scope of employment." Anyone can, and will, come up to me and ask all sorts of questions regarding our system. If I cannot answer what time Bus A will arrive at Point 122 on that route, I am verbally assaulted and sometimes harassed. It's impossible to keep track of every route's estimated arrival times. We don't have radio contact with every bus in the system, nor do we know which of 750+ buses are anywhere near our location at any given moment. We're expected to, however, by a public that is largely ignorant because the transit agency fails to employ proper educational techniques.

I've long advocated for a "How to Ride the Bus" series of public service announcements. All I see are poorly-conceived posters on the bus that read "We need to see other people. Seriously." For crying out loud, how utterly ineffective and juvenile. Instead, have it read: "It's your legal obligation to YIELD to a bus leaving a stop. Violators will be prosecuted." It's a severe lack of understanding about what we do which incrementally increases the public's disrespect for transit operators. Yet all the transit agency can do is put weak messages on our bus behinds rather than standing strong on our behalf.

City governments are guilty of failing to protect us as well. We're subject to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of road rage incidents every day. Police departments fail to cite motorists for failure to yield, and officers are commonly guilty of this offense. When any motorists sees a cop roll past our flashing yield light, they follow that example. As a result, we needlessly await some good soul to allow us to merge. Many operators simply roll after a few cars pass and are treated to the one-fingered IQ salute, blaring horn, and often menacing behaviors. We're often complained about to our "Customer Service Department" with people calling in saying we cut them off. I've had a few people falsely say I flipped them the bird they so liberally fly our way. How many of these false complaints reach us is testament to the demoralizing disrespect management displays towards us.

Our job is to safely transport passengers. We're called on the carpet these days if we are late, even though traffic steadily worsens each year. Things happen on the road. They multiply and complicate matters. Passengers are more concerned with their phone than being ready to board; if several people take extra time producing fare, it exponentially reduces our On Time Performance. Traffic accidents, congestion, construction, mothers who take extra time to remove their babies from strollers before we feel comfortable to safely roll again, bicyclists who exit the rear door only to jump in front of our buses to offload their wheels as we're ready to roll, and many other matters add time to our already-tight schedules. When we're late and go to Drop Off Only mode, people waiting at stops are abusive when we discharge passengers but refuse to allow them to board even as our follower is rolling up behind us. It's utter chaos and madness, and we're getting madder.

Anyone who has operated in service understands these standard transit realities. Unfortunately, management either does not fathom frontline reality or simply refuses to care. This may seem a bit strong, but when you consider they've transformed from a "Safety First" to a "Schedule First" attitude, I'm only echoing what my brothers and sisters believe contributes to an already-stressful occupation. It becomes inherently more difficult to remain courteous to the public when your management is part of the problem instead of providing a supportive role.

It's imperative we agree as a group to refuse being bullied. I hope it doesn't happen again, but we can expect more assaults to occur before 2017 mercifully ends. It's been a year of heavy rain and snow, followed by intense heat, forest fire smoke and ash, light rail murder, and those dastardly 60 assaults. We've still managed to persevere and provide excellent service to our fellow Portlanders. Each step of the way, we've felt distanced from management. Why is it so difficult for them to recognize our plight and take steps to ease our collective pain?

When we're supported and encouraged, we feel secure and appreciated. When we're happy, we excel. If you don't do everything possible to show your workforce it's valued, don't expect perfection. This isn't a manufacturing business, it's public transportation. Corporatists who have never donned our uniform aren't equipped to make it better. Creating spreadsheets is a far cry from skillfully maneuvering a 20-ton vehicle.

Major conflicts are often resolved when the oppressed stand up fight back against their aggressors. They can also be relieved when there is greater understanding between the two factions.

My suggestions for all to consider include the agency adopting The Beasley Doctrine. It basically lays out steps for operators to begin healing immediately after an assault or case of menacing. No operator should have to worry about time loss or missing pay while recovering from a severe shock to their body. While there is an increased presence of security on light rail, buses remain a hotbed of misbehavior. Trouble makers are becoming more brazen, fare evaders don't fear consequences and also have less respect for agency code.

In an attempt to reduce operator assaults, the agency earlier this year changed fare policy. Unfortunately, assaults continue to rise. Perhaps some six-figure management positions could be sacrificed for a fully-staffed fare inspection team. Some argue that transit should be free, but I disagree. If a passenger isn't invested in the ride, they won't respect it or anyone within the vehicle.

Local groups in favor of less police presence on transit seem more concerned with a perceived bias toward certain ethnic groups than they are with operator safety. It's not ethnicity we fear; assailants come in all shapes, sizes and colors. We shouldn't have to wonder, when leaving home on our way to work, if we'll return at the end of the day. I doubt if this thought ever crosses the mind of someone in upper management as they roll into their cubicles each morning. It's always on our minds.

Safe travels brothers and sisters. Keep all six on the road, and be good to each other. We're evidently all you've got standing with you.

Monday, September 4, 2017

I Had a Bad Day; Better Now

Sometimes I visit you here, with nothing really on my mind to write. I just like a one-on-one, bus driver to whoever reads me. It's been a helluva week, the end of a signup. Seems things go belly-up once in a while, and lately Portland has challenged me more than usual. I'm game, but it still causes me to "shake my damn head."

I feel loose creatively. With the book almost put to bed, I'm wrestling with the decision of how and when I should "come out." It seems cowardly to remain hiding behind this thinly-disguised pseudonym. One reader asked why I talk about myself in the third person. He doesn't even know me yet he's figured out this tired and foolish game of hiding my true identity. So when the book comes out, I guess I might have to. If the transit agency is annoyed by my honest opinions and description of this oddball life, they'll look bad and I'll sell more books. Its folly could be my gold mine. So we'll see where the chips fall. Hopefully, most of them fall into my bank account because I might need every cent to avoid living in a tent.

Back to the last night of my regular weekday run. I've always had pretty good luck with this route. It has bunches of bubbles in the paddle. Running late? Wait until you get to Point 86 and you'll find yourself on time again. No big deal. After the first few runs, it smooths out into a night run that is relatively copacetic. Not this time. Each run was busy, even the late night final run to downtown. This is highly unusual, but in hindsight I reckon it's because of the holiday weekend.

One of my brothers would ride my bus a short distance to the point where he road reliefs his bus. We usually share a few laughs, stories of the road or just normal chit chat. I was so tense and grouchy yesterday, my buddy jumped off earlier than normal. It made me pause and evaluate my behavior. I felt terrible, because Chris is a very nice fellow and my demeanor must have irritated him. Up to then, I had been working up to an eventual blowup, and being the upbeat type he may not have wanted anything to do with my snarling attitude before starting his own run. Don't blame him a bit. But now I won't get to see him every day, and I'm ashamed. It wasn't his fault so many things had happened. Most of it we deal with daily, but I had allowed it to negatively affect me. Sorry Chris, you didn't deserve it. Hopefully, all is forgiven because he knows I'm not normally so surly.

Although I resolved when Chris departed to shake it all off and make my day better, things seemed to spiral downward from there. I had to turn-and-burn on one run instead of taking a short break. It's something I advise people not to do, but I felt that by getting the next run started on time my day might improve. It only added to my stress, and now my bladder was madder. Still, through gritted teeth and a determination not to chase anyone else away, I smiled and greeted each passenger kindly. Maybe my vibes were electrically chasing normal holiday weekend cheer back out the door when they boarded, because my passengers weren't buying the con. They could tell I was having a bad day and to their credit, they were mostly kind and compassionate. Their exit thank-you's seemed more pronounced and heartfelt than normal. Many told me I had done a "great job" and "thanks for the smooth ride." That helped, because through it all, I concentrated on rolling the ride without bouncing them around.

We're all given a choice every day, to make each one pleasant. When you deal with such a large cross-section of the public, your customer service skills need to be top-notch if you want to have a comfortable ride. There's no telling how many of your passengers are on a hair trigger, so you need to remain calm and amiable to keep evil at bay.

I hadn't thought it would be a rough day. As usual, reciting The Mantra brought me peace before I began driving. There was no foreboding sense of doom, my mood was more cheerful than usual. It was the last day of the signup, and I'm looking forward to doing something different. It's not wise to make excuses when I have a bad day, but I'm just lucky nothing terrible happened. An angry driver can be prone to making mistakes he normally would not.

One operator made the observation on my last post that "bus driving isn't rocket science." He wasn't convinced that newbies need extra time before becoming full time. In fact, the overall response was overwhelmingly in support of allowing newbies to dive into the morass as soon as they desire. After all, they said, how else is one to get experience? Their logic is true. Perhaps I'm just too cautious and my opinion is without merit here. After all, even though I have years of experience, I allowed myself to have a "bad" day instead of powering through it and inverting my scowl.

While I agree our profession isn't as technically demanding as some, it does require us to be constantly vigilant and in control. A professional airline pilot has a co-pilot and an auto pilot. We don't have onboard computers to glide our ride The more miles we drive the better prepared we become to handle the many stressors that can (and often do) arise. Those who disagreed with my position have a valid point. The experience we gain comes from simply doing the job. One transit agency requires new drivers to spend several weeks in Line Training, which involves their driving veteran operators' routes under their direct supervision. Our agency only provides one week of this vital instruction. I might suggest they extend our Line Training if they're going to continue allowing people to go full time so quickly. It might just save the district money in the long run through fewer accidents and loss of new operators.

I've been slapped down this week, and it's a good thing. It's not advisable to start a new route with a bad attitude. There is something to be said for a weekend to mellow out and relax... it recharges me. I'm looking forward to different views of this marvelous city, and hoping to make a few new friends over the next three months.

Tonight, I was treated to the first drafts of the cover for my upcoming book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." The designer I hired has years of experience in her craft, and I was excited to see what she had presented me. She completed five mockups, and I've narrowed the choice to two possibilities. Seeing my book getting closer to publication is the perfect elixir for a vacation-starved soul. This is a dream I've had since I was but a lad. Look for it in early October.

In the meantime, and hopefully after the release, I'll improve my attitude. We all have bad days... the trick is to not allow too many in a row.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Full Time Risk Management

What would you think, faced with a life-threatening illness requiring a specialist to repair an intricate problem in your body, if an intern showed up for the 13-hour procedure?

"It's okay," he tells you, "I've watched Dr. Smith do this procedure a few times. He wrote a few notes on what to look out for, so I should be fine. Don't worry... I've got this."

You'd be a bit apprehensive, I'll bet. How about letting a student pilot behind the controls of your red-eye flight to New York? What if the plumber sent his six-year-old son to fix your sink at double the price?

Now imagine boarding a bus. Your driver just graduated from training three weeks prior. He's had very little experience on his own, yet all of a sudden he's putting in 10-hour days just as the regular guy does. He hasn't learned how to maneuver the bus between two parked cars and align the bus parallel to the curb so the ADA ramp can be deployed. Nor has he had enough time to dissect traffic patterns, stoplight sequences, or passenger behavior. Instead of predicting the Washington driver's penchant for passing a bus at 15mph over the speed limit, then braking and turning right in front of his bus. His braking technique is still in practice, and passengers don't usually stand until the bus has completely stopped.

It took me most of a year before I felt qualified to be a full-time operator. Training shows us how to operate a bus, but time teaches us much more. Driving a bus in-service is an awesome responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly. Yet our transit agency's management has recently shed decades of advancement in training and safe practice by promoting operators with less than a month experience to full-time status. Some of them had hardly finished line training when they were promoted. Veterans with decades of service consider me a "noob" even though I am working on my sixth year! I didn't consider myself competent until halfway through my second year on the Extra Board. Driving different routes each day in every corner of the metro area was an invaluable education. However, I wasn't ready to study until I had been part time for almost a year.

Smooth and safe operation takes hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles to perfect. Considering a part-time bus operator drives maybe 50-75 miles a day, his first year finds him rolling about 65,000 in a year. That's just about enough experience for someone to take on the rigors of full-time operation, in which an operator usually drives 100,000-plus. Putting a newbie in the seat for this long so soon is not only reckless, it's dangerous to the employee and the public.

Experience is value, especially where safety is concerned, but I'm wondering if they understand what the concept truly means. They give it lip service, but it has been relegated to third place behind schedule and something they call "customer service." (They're passengers folks, not customers. Just like those who use air travel, trains or cruise ships, we convey passengers who must obey the rules of transit.)

Unfortunately, our authority as "Captain of the Ship" has been eroded by management. It seems more concerned with the slanted opinion of an uneducated transit public than supporting its front line workers. We're battle-weary from being assaulted or menaced over 50 times this year already, and feel management is more concerned with our inability to perform as robots when physically threatened. Basic human biology doesn't seem an acceptable excuse for self-defense. It's disconcerting, disheartening, and disingenuous. But it's the new norm in transit. We attempt to adapt, but many are giving up and just doing our job as we've been trained to, and how experience has taught us. We know our jobs, but they do not. Still, they keep trying to tell us how to do ours, yet we're not given much input on how they do theirs.

Many new operators who have become full-time too early have lost their jobs due to the insane time-loss rules or because they racked up more than two Preventable Accidents. When you consider the tens of thousands of dollars spent on each trainee, the district exhibits wanton disregard for their safety and is playing loose with transit funding. I wonder if risk management gurus have cautioned against this latest exhibit of sheer folly.

Once again, I'm utterly convinced management personnel should be required to have driven a transit vehicle in-service for a specified amount of time before being qualified to tell us how to do our jobs. I firmly believe many of them wouldn't make it out of training. Some would run screaming from the yard crying for their mommy. It's not an easy job, nor for the faint of heart. It's physically grueling, psychologically challenging, and soul wrenching. We take great pride in the years we've spent perfecting driving techniques, predicting and avoiding danger, and learning the verbal judo necessary to maintain a peaceful atmosphere for those we transport.

You'd think transit management would work overtime to ensure we return to the days when transit workers felt part of a family rather than the opposition. It should take the time and reserve the resources necessary to foster a healthy work environment. Instead, we feel trodden upon and disrespected. Passenger complaints seem to garner more attention than operator concerns.

Now I know what my brother operator meant when he told me early in my career: "This is the best job I've ever had, but the worst company I've ever worked for."

Sure, the noobs don't make a lot of money, and bills need to be paid. We've all been there. But it takes a long time in the seat to develop safe driving habits. As the airlines won't allow teenagers in the cockpit, nor should we promote people with less than a month of experience to operate a bus full time. As President George Bush #1 said, "Wouldn't be prudent."

I'm constantly shaking my head, as are my brothers and sisters. We're still hoping for common sense to rule the day, but so far the madness deepens. It makes me pull out a thought that angrily insists I hold within yet must be brought out into the light: Must one of us die before someone takes overall safety seriously? I'd hate to think they believe the cost is worth the risk. God, I hope and pray not.

Safe travels, and safety first my dear brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Day in My Life

Deke's Note: Pardon my absence the past few weeks, but I've been feverishly and fervently polishing the book (JUST DRIVE -- Life in the Bus Lane) for its electronic trip to a designer across the continent. After six edits and 16 months of beard-twirling toil, I finally put the brat to bed last night. Like all kids, it kicked and screamed at me right up until I hit the light, 'er "Send" button. I could have futzed with it several more times, but we all have to let the kids free after they've kicked us about. Look for it on Amazon the first part of October. I'll be counting on you, fearless and fickle reader, to not only buy this transit tome, but also to suggest all your bus driving and/or riding buddies (and theirs) do the same. Fifteen bucks for a rollicking good read. If you can pin me down and don't "out" me, I might have the honor of signing it for you on a break out there. Even management mugs might have fun turning these pages, even if a few posts broil our GM's brains. I hand-picked the best of the first four years of FTDS posts, wrote a glossary of transit terms, and added a few other things to make my keyboard creation shine. Even the bike-bashing posts made their way into these irreverent pages. Thanks for putting up with me during this grueling grind. I'll shut up now so you can read my humble attempt to entertain you with a new piece. Welcome back... I missed writing to you.

This blog chronicles what it's like to be guiding my bus down the road with a load of prec(oc)ious cargo aboard. Lately, I've let my ornery side run loose. I've decided to reign in the beast and return to my original fun and loose bloggish intent. This time, anyway.

We all have a routine during our work week. Whether you push a mouse, broom or a car into your workline, our daily toils go largely unnoticed. You wake up, ready your body and mind for the dawning day, and rush out to catch... a bus. Ever wonder what that gal or guy in the seat does to get you downtown? Here's a glimpse of how this lug nut gets fastened to the wheels of evening transit for the day.

10:00 a.m.: Rise and slurp some coffee. Grab a bite to eat and then shower and shave. Remember to brush teeth and rinse with more coffee. Slip into freshly-laundered, neat uniform. Throw on the most uncomfortable footwear the agency requires. Stumble out the door, go to lock it and remember your keys are next to the coffee pot. Run back in, and what the hell, another gulp of joe to go.

Note: I don't drink coffee. My taste buds don't appreciate its bitterness. However, many of my brothers and sisters do. It just sounded like an appropriate thing a bus operator would include in their morning ritual.

11:00 a.m.: Limp out to bus stop. It's good exercise, but the weather is turning and my aging joints are complaining. Bending the big toe on my right foot is torture. Imagine how it would feel to bend it backward as far as it can go before breaking. That's what I get for using it as fine motor control on the brake pedal. Gives the passengers a smooth stop every time, and pads the pocket of painkiller peddlers.

11:15 a.m.: Slip on headphones and try to ignore the inane chatter of other passengers on the bus I'm riding to work. Get harassed by a drug addict just because I'm in uniform. Bus operator stops, orders rude bastard off the bus. I nod my thanks. Spend the rest of the ride like everyone else, glued to my phone and listening to my tunes. Perhaps if I can't hear them, they'll avoid asking questions they could answer on their own phones. Hey folks, I'm in uniform but that doesn't make me Transit Information Desk Dude. Oh, a nice lady from one of my previous runs taps me on the shoulder and says hello. We exchange a few minutes of small talk, then it's back to my technology trance.

Noon: Arrive at light rail station. Time for Commute Part II. Meet a fellow operator who is due to retire soon. Really nice guy, still uses a flip phone. Good for him. I'm tempted to trade in my smart phone, and perhaps I'll go back to reading books again. Maybe I'll get smarter.

12:15 p.m.: Jump off train at garage. Walk in quietly, trying not to attract attention. Take care of some quick business, use the bathroom. Run out just in time to catch a bus to my relief point.

12:30 p.m.: Exit bus and find a quiet corner away from traffic (and people) to mentally prepare myself for the day. People still come up to ask me questions, even if I'm talking on the phone. Somehow, I'm supposed to know the schedule of every bus route in the city. When I don't, I become "Dumbass Driver." Walk further away from relief point to enjoy some peace before my shift. Stretch the old legs, back, shoulders. Repeat The Mantra twice, try to meditate while standing a few moments.

12:55 p.m.: Relieve bus operator who has been driving since I went to bed 10 hours earlier. He gives me a brief report on bus condition, road issues, passengers. We exchange pleasantries, he tells me any possible issues I might encounter. I log in to the console, adjust seat and mirrors and roll wheels within a minute of taking the seat. A quick recitation of The Mantra, and I'm hanging my first right turn of the day. My mind wonders if I was just doing this gig only a few minutes before; each day blurs into the next.

1:15 p.m.: I'm three minutes late to the end point, but I have at least six more remaining before taking off again. Time for a smoke, a stretch, and a pee. Stretch the legs and back, mentally prepare for the next 10 hours, and hit the seat again. Put the tranny in drive, let's get this beast on the road.

1:25 p.m.: First stops on the route, business as usual. A few board, drop or flash their fare, nod hello. I great each with a smile and try to make eye contact. Troublemakers avoid my glaze, and I make a mental note to keep an eye on that bulge in their clothing. Bottle? Weapon? Vigilance is part of The Mantra.

1:35 p.m.: Bus is full as I make the last turn off the transit mall. As we roll across the Willamette River I queue up the microphone. I like to initiate dialog with our "plugged in and tuned out" passengers. It's either a pilot-type weather report or a soliloquy on whatever crosses my mind. Writers tend to use a microphone to encourage discussion. A silent bus means people are too entranced by their cellphones. I abhor a quiet bus. Sometimes, there's no response to my short rambles. Others, I strike a chord and an intrigued passengers wanders to the Yellow Line and engages me. Sometimes, people surprise me. There might be no initial response to my address, but a fellow might come up for a short conversation. If they are of the interesting variety, I might present them with my blog's business card. We'll chat about whatever subject flies between us. Unfortunately, the most interesting talkers exit the bus too soon.

2:40 p.m.: Arrive at line's terminus two minutes hot after being late most of the trip. Our Operations Hotdog wants me to run on exact schedule to the second, but he can take a high dive into the shallow end, because I gotta pee like a race horse. Ahh, relief... schedule be damned, I brought the rig into dock safely. There's usually nobody waiting the last three stops, and this line is 99% drop-off only by this point anyway.

3:00 p.m.: Time to roll again. Get on, pay your fare and be nice about it. No, I don't know when the 19 arrives at Point XX on this route. When will we get there? As soon as I can safely arrive, that's when. Yes, please take your precious screaming baby out of the stroller, unless you want him/her to become airborne if I have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting Polly Entitlement's Prius that just cut in front of me to make a slow right-hand turn. What's that? You "refuse?" Okay, let's see what my brother Road Supe says when I pull up to the stop he's waiting at to have a word or two with you. Safety, sister Mother. That's my main focus. You're going to be late if the bus is delayed? Well don't delay it then.

4:15 p.m.: Made it downtown a minute early, despite the strange light sequences at the last few blocks, or those who wait until their signal turns red to amble in front of my bus. I can actually take a walk, whiff a few puffs of my vape, relieve my full bladder dance and text the wife. Smoochy face and purple turtle hearts, I'm gone.

7:30 p.m.: One more round trip and I'm done. Assess what body is telling me, take appropriate action. Feed the belly a few snacks, nicotine to ease the Jones, slip in another trip to restroom. Check phone apps for anything worth my attention. Avoid the dirty dweeb ranting some nonsense from Tweekerville, answer questions from hopelessly-lost Aussie tourists. Re-direct elderly couple who mistake a light rail transitway for a sidewalk. Take deep breath in preparation for the wildest round trip of the day. Pass ample amounts of intestinal gas, discouraging anyone from boarding at layover area. Roll the wheels.

8:45 p.m.: That was a fun trip. (Ouch. Wait a minute, I just stood out of the seat. I'm bent like an old rummy who dropped his roach clip. Just... gotta... stand... up... straight... and grab the emergency exit handle on the ceiling of the bus. Stretch... aaahhhh... my four lower vertebrae just popped back into place.) Saw some interesting bumper art: "NEW YORK - LONDON - PARIS - ESTACADA." Is it just me, or did the road suddenly become bouncier than a bedridden nymphomaniac? Another operator tells me about a passenger who asked her "When is transit going to do something about these potholes?" Kathleen replied she doesn't carry a shovel and a bucket of steaming asphalt with her on the bus. Yet another noisy Honda rolls by at -4mph with some distorted rapper bleating through its oversized speakers and a stoned wanna-behind the wheel; I'm not impressed. Three people in a row ask me if my "Downtown Only" bus stops anywhere in the 16 miles between here and downtown. I tell them no, it's actually an airborne express model that will get us there in seven minutes, tops. My overstated eyeroll indicates that yes, it does stop. Usually at every freakin' one, even though they're 50 yards apart in some places. I don't know why they haven't changed this destination sign since the Clinton presidency, because it's not my job. My back cracks back into pain mode as I fire up the beast for the final odd-yssey.

10:00 p.m.: Just let the drunken group of seven drunken adolescent adults at the very last stop of my line. Luckily, the weaving one they're half-carrying out the back door didn't belch puke until he hit the sidewalk. Not my problem. Doors closed, lights off, I'm done for the day. Time to deadhead myself back to the garage where my beloved lady awaits in the comfy confines of our car. I dodge the DUI drivers and no-hands texting bicyclists and weave my way back, pedal to the metal. Speed limits don't count this time of night, except for bus operators. I roll easy, not wanting anything to spoil my final bathroom break at Operator Central.

10:30 p.m.: Holding my sweet lady in a long-awaited embrace makes the last 11 hours wash away in the span of a lingering kiss. The thought of her arms around me eases the memories of the roughest days. Her smile lights up these eyes that have strained to see passengers hiding behind shelters at the darkest of stops while obnoxious motorists blast their brights into my windshield with thoughtless abandon. Easing into the seat of my luxurious two-year-old money pit, I sigh with relief. Put the car into gear and head to the left-turn lane that will push me blissfully homeward.

Sorry, my Beloved. I forgot I was no longer driving a bus with air brakes. Didn't mean to throw you into the dashboard at the red light. There, lead foot adjustment made, let's ease this ride into the darkness. Before I know it, I'll be back here. Until then, let's just cherish the brief interlude. Four more days until the next weekend.

(I can do it, I know I can...)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

150,000 Hits!

 Thanks everyone for reading my blog 65,000 times so far this year!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Deke and Mr. Tanner

"... of all the cleaning shops around
he'd made his the best
but he also was a baritone
who sang while hanging clothes
he practiced scales while pressing tails
and sang at local shows.
his friends and neighbors praised the voice
that poured out from his throat
they said that he should use his gift
instead of cleaning coats..."

-- Mr. Tanner, by Harry Chapin

I suppose any artist has periods of self-doubt alternating with hopes of a grand future. There's a song I've always loved that speaks deeply to an artist's fears of putting his craft on display. It's about a dry cleaner who sings in his back room while sorting clothes. Harry Chapin's haunting tale, "Mr. Tanner," struck a sharp chord in me the first note I heard.

Everyone loved Mr. Tanner's singing, but he modestly laughed off any suggestions he put himself in front of an audience. He was well-known as an excellent tradesman, but kept his art to himself. My writing had long been a back-room thing, with me only dusting it off on occasion when something happened in my life worth chronicling. Mom and Dad constantly encouraged me to work on my craft, but I shrugged it off as parental pride. While I had been writing since my early teens and had success as a college newspaper editor and later professional reporter, the dust began to settle on my chops. It wasn't until middle age reminded me of mortality that I decided to gently feather dust the beckoning ghost of my only artistic talent. This blog was born to a 52-year-old writer who was extremely rusty. Today, my blog posts have been read nearly 150,000 times. It's mind boggling. Far out, even. I'm jazzed.

"... music was his life
it was not his livelihood
and it made him feel so happy
it made him feel so good
and he sang from his heart
he sang from his soul
he did not know how well he sang
it just made him whole..."

As an Arizona desert boy, I'd often ride far out into the dusty wilds to "find myself," which meant I'd sit on a rock in some remote place and simply think. Teenage angst drove my first clumsy poetic attempts, but when I began to learn journalism in college, I fell in love with fact-based writing. To take events and craft them into stories became a creative challenge. News reporting in the 70s was pretty cut-and-dry. Just the facts; all the rest was fluff. To sit at a typewriter, fingers poised over the keys, eyes closed, was a meditation better than anything else. The words would slowly form, which then stimulated the nerves in my hands, and stories would be typed via trance. Sometimes, I wouldn't even realize I had written something until a door opened, a voice beckoned. I'd startle, then pull a page out of the typewriter and marvel at what had appeared. I would be ecstatic to hold that week's newspaper, seeing the story in print with my name on it, and experience a euphoria that still sends chills down my spine. That feeling must rival what a musician feels in front of an audience.

This blog is now about four-and-a-half years old, and a great majority of the older posts are about to be published in book form. I alternate between near panic to dreamlike wonder as the pieces all fit into place. It's an agonizingly painstaking and laborious process, especially for a perfectionist like me, to produce a book. Even though most of it was already written, it has been a long road. I continue to waver between confidence in its worthiness to the utter terror of possible rejection. Some people are so confident in their abilities, even if they're the only one who feels that way. Many compliment my work, yet I still harbor grave doubts about my competence as a writer. To me, it's either really good, or not at all. There's no gray area where success is concerned.

"...but his concert was a blur to him
spatters of applause
he did not know how well he sang
he only heard the flaws."

Mr. Tanner decides to take a chance and put himself in front of an audience. He puts everything on the line, pouring every ounce of himself into the music, in hopes his greatest love will be allow him to leave the cleaning shop behind for a new life. It simply isn't meant to be, as he fails to impress. Critics crush his hopes, and he heads back to his old life.

This song has for many years had a great impression on me. I fear rejection. While I've held many jobs to pay the bills, the fear of failure has kept me from putting my craft out there for the public to judge. All the while, I should have been fearlessly relentless in practicing my love of words. Now that my book is about to be released, I'm filled with the same hopes and fears Harry Chapin describes.

"...but the critics were concise
it only took four lines
but no one could accuse them
of being over kind...
"...he came well prepared,
but unfortunately his presentation
was not up to contemporary professional standards
his voice lacks the range of tonal color
necessary to make it consistently interesting...
full time consideration of another endeavor
might be in order..."

As I see it, either the book will be a great success, or simply lie there like a limp noodle with no sauce to adorn it. My life's road to date has been bouncier than a bedridden nymphomaniac. Terrific highs with horrible lows. It's scary to put my art out there for critics to lambast, but if I don't then I'll always be stuck with "what if's" and "why didn't I's." It's better to give it a shot. Like the Special Olympics motto says, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

I'm going for it. I'll need your help to spread the word around, and so far you've done wonders. Thank you all so much, and let's see what happens. If I'm lucky, I won't be left to softly tickle the keyboard deep into my future with tragic soliloquies of misbegotten dreams.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Deke Sings on the Bus

An early album cover from Chuck's band.

Did I really think it was possible to ignore the myriad of blogging possibilities that have exploded into my mind for more than two weeks? Perhaps.

It's funny that when I decide to lay off the blog awhile, tons of ideas come to me. I've had to resist the urge to write them for you. The book, Just Drive -- Life in the Bus Lane" is my primary focus at the moment. Also, I thought you needed a break from my negative attitude, so I have been looking inward for the fun stuff. I think I found some, so here's a brief departure from my self-imposed hiatus.

Growing up in the Desert Southwest, we enjoyed a wide variety of country rock artists. Perhaps my favorite was a group headlined by Chuck Maultsby, a witty, irreverent and fun-loving guy. His band gave us the wonderful "Disco Sucks" tune that was a favorite on the Dr. Demento radio show in the 70s. There were others, such as How Can I Love You if You Won't Lie Down, Asshole from El Paso (Chuck's take on the Marty Robbins tune), and other such ribald songs.

As I rolled through the downtown transit mall, I noticed American Idol was at the square holding auditions for yet another sordid run through wannabe stars. This gave me an idea for entertaining (or torturing, as some might describe it) my next group of passengers.

After the last stop on the mall during my next run, I queued up the microphone.

"Good evening Portland!" I said enthusiastically, and a bit louder than normal. It startled several people who were already staring at their phones and settling in for another of Deke's smooth rides. (Forgive the bragging folks, but I do give people a smooth ride. I've worked hard learning how to do this, so I'm kind of proud that many people are lulled to sleep on my bus.)

I waited for the shock to subside before continuing. Affecting a practiced and pronounced southern drawl, it was time to hone in for the kill.

"I noticed American Idol's in town again, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Here's a sample of my upcoming audition, and I'd appreciate your honest critiques."

Clearing my throat, I sang a few lines from one of Chuck's masterpieces.

"My girl passed out in her dinner
Now she's got more of it on her
Than in her.
She don't live very far
And I don't trust her in my car
What to do?
I don't know, I guess we'll see."

Utter. Complete. Deafening. Silence. A glance in the mirror showed a myriad of confused faces staring back at me. At least I raised them out of cellphone hypnosis. Thankfully, a guy in the back guffawed laughter, as did a few of my regulars. They know I can be unpredictably weird. I sighed in relief as a few others chuckled, but then looked back at their phones. Others playfully cursed, still staring at me. But I had my audience captive. They couldn't escape. It was time to go for broke.

"And this here one I'm gonna dedicate to my first wife. Luckily, she's a good 1,500 miles away.

"You shot the TV
But you were aimin' at me
I dodged and you missed by a mile.
Our love failed the test,
Now you're under arrest
And I won't have to see you
For a while."

This one brought an audible groan, a few muttered oaths, and a plea that I "just drive, please." It was all in jest. I think.

Maybe I'll forego the audition and keep to my writing. I think it has a better chance getting favorable reviews than my warbling tenor. We'll see how many complaints come in next week.

* * *

Deke's Note: If you want to hear more of Chuck's fun music, be sure to like his page on FaceBook.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Words to Your Eyes

John Denver once spoke about how songs just came along and he just played them as if they'd been there along, just waiting to come out.

"I had nothing to do with it," he said. It's like that with my writing. I just sit here at the keyboard, eyes closed. Thoughts just flood through my mind and out my fingertips. I'm just telling you what I've seen, like you're sitting here with me and we're having a conversation. One-sided, that is. You're just listening as my hands relay my mind's wanderings.

Sometimes while driving the bus, I have the greatest urge to just tell you what I'm thinking at that precise moment. It's mind-blowing, folks! The best stuff I've thought of to date! By the end of the day though, those wonderful ideas have faded with the sunset, and I'm left with my aging mind trying to recall them. By the time I'm sitting here at home, being soothed by my music and working at my great aunt's beloved 90-year-old oak desk, I just close my eyes, breathe deeply and let the words come forth. Like Denver said, mostly I have "nothing to do with it."

Feelings. They're honest and open, if you allow them to be. Unlike opinions, which are crafted and deliberated upon. If you sit back and let them escape, feelings surprise you more often than not. Held within, they are nothing but a cancer. Cleansing the soul allows good or bad to fly free and ramble. Maybe that's why I'm such a long-winded bastard. If I allow what I feel to remain bound within this lapdog of a soul, my voice would never be heard but more important, I couldn't sort the good from what truly bothers me.

As I put the book of blog posts together, I noticed how my tone changed over time. From glowing about the excitement of a new adventure, I gradually descended into melancholy and anger. "Bitch, bitch, bitch," my son told me, "that's all you do. I can't read it Dad... it's too dark." He hadn't noticed how I tried to boost the tone with the good I saw. Still, I heard his warning. I heed it still, but as of yet I haven't found how to blast through wall I've come up against.

Bus operation requires one to be honest with oneself. How you treat passengers has a major impact on the tone of your day. Even in my darkest of moods, I can still find a way to help people smile. Waiting for a mother carrying a toddler while dragging 40 pounds of groceries is more important to me than keeping to an unrealistic schedule some corporatist insists I follow to the nanosecond. It does my soul wonders to hear her say "Thank you... waiting another 20 minutes for the next bus would be an eternity I don't want to endure right now." Hearing her laugh when I say, drily with an exaggerated sigh, "That'll be an extra $29.95, ma'am" is worth more to me than any positive blip on a stat sheet.

It's these moments I live for, yet I tend lately to mostly remember the bad. The nasty, the dreaded, the worst the job has to offer. That's why it's vital I take a step back right now. You don't want to be bombarded with this crap. Drivers deal with it daily, so why would you want to read about it? Readership has dropped, and it's my own damn fault.

Time out. Stay tuned, I'll be back. I want to entertain again. Make you smile, laugh and wonder. When I started this blog journey, I promised to let you know how I feel, from the driver side. You've seen the best, read about the worst. Give me a little time to find the funny and uplifting once again. I won't get there examining transit management, because cranial-rectal inversions are too deep for my taste.

Thanks for indulging me, even when I don't deserve it. I'll be back.

Friday, August 11, 2017

We Need Some Love

Sorry I've been so... seldom seen. This book project is my main focus. But then, there's also w-o-r-k to contend with. Another four-letter word ending in "k." It's wearing me down lately. Gee, I could sure use a vacation. About 35-40 years with full pay would be superb.

I recently read a study that shows transit operators to be the most depressed group of workers. I can vouch for it personally. Lately, I've been pretty blue. Wait, I'm Dekie Blue, and far from pretty. But seriously, the job has been taking its toll. If it's not management pressure to be perfect (whatever that is), it's the public's attitude toward us. People in traffic are more rude than usual. Passengers are surly. Maybe it's the weather. It sure has been hot and sticky lately. Either way, any operator is apt to wear down after a while.

A dear lady operator friend of mine this evening looked truly sad when I walked into the garage and the end of my shift. She's usually smiles and cheeriness when I see her. Tonight she looked up at me to reveal her sweet, expressive eyes were rimmed with tears. Instead of the usual "Hey how are you," I just asked if she could use a hug. She hung her head a moment and sighed. "Yeah," was all she said.

As I embraced this battle-worn lady, I felt a world of sadness all around her. She seemed empty, spent. I know what that's like, but I usually hide it pretty well. Tonight, my friend could not. So I just held her an extra few seconds. Sometimes actions are more helpful than awkward phrases nobody in that state wants to hear. I walked away silently so she couldn't see my own tear dripping downward.

On my route today, as I was scanning the side of the street, I saw a man sitting in a wheelchair. He looked up as I rolled by, and held up his middle finger at me. I'd never seen him before. He wasn't near a bus stop, so it wasn't as if I was passing him by. It was just a cruel gesture, and it summed up how many people have treated me this week. Normally, I could laugh off something so childish and silly. Today, it seemed to become a thousand-pound weight that plopped down on my already-drooping shoulders. Maybe the guy is mentally ill, or he had an imaginary friend tell him I'm an asshole. Either way, I took it as his general outlook on bus operators.

We don't just sit and roll around easy-pleasy every day. Transit is grueling, it's often painful, and it's humbling. Our management tells the media how "valued" we are, but treats us as if we're mere annoyances to be dealt with. Like pigeon shit on their expensive suits, rather than vigilant professionals who provide millions of safe rides every week. If not for US, there would be no THEM. We're no longer a team, but a divided mass of radioactive waste.

Last I heard, there have been 52 crimes (assaults, menacing, etc.) on my brothers and sisters this year. In 2016, there were 55 total. Yet management boasts how "with reported crime on the system low," they don't feel the need to issue their new lame threat of permanent exclusion. I'm so not impressed with how they're dealing with our being pummeled in the seat, spit upon, threatened and menaced just for doing our job. Let's not come down too hard on the criminals; it's easier to whip up on a few thousand union workers by not bargaining in good faith in contract negotiations.

Management keeps making noise, but it's the kind a human might make if he were three inches tall. A mere whisper among our bellowing pleas for help. Exclusions are very difficult to enforce. They could provide a board with photos and descriptions of those troublemakers, but instead choose to leave us blind. By the time help arrives, one of these battering dipshits would be long gone after beating us for refusing to give them a ride. Then they'd just catch a different bus and be in the wind again.

In their crime stats, I didn't see any incidences of management personnel being assaulted. They treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as if it doesn't exist or matter. We're suspended for leaving the seat to defend ourselves against aggressors, and sometimes no reports are taken. Their only solution is to cage us in, but they forget we have to leave the seat eventually or pee our pants.

There's a virus spreading within our ranks, and we're all catching it. So yeah, that guy flipping me off brought me down. Maybe he was a paid protester. Whatever. Back at ya, greaseball.

Ladybud in the garage tonight, no explanation necessary. I get it. Love and peace with prayers to all my ATU brothers and sisters. We could all use a hug right now.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Deke Sweats the Week

It's 4:10 a.m. on this bus driver's long-awaited Friday night. Many of you are already back at work while I sit here, drowning the hottest week of the year in Irish whiskey. Nah, I'm not drunk. I don't have a problem with booze. It soothes me, and I use it in moderation. Not during the work week. Only to soothe the heated and throbbing nerves I've felt the past few weeks. I should go to bed, but I haven't written to you in two weeks and the Typing Jones is crippling me. So here's a synopsis of the last few weeks.

It hit triple digits three or four days this week in Portland, depending on the location. Just eight months ago, I was shivering in the snow awaiting the arrival of my bus in gonad-shriveling Fahrenheits. It took several minutes for my hands to warm up enough to perform fine motor controls. It was an exciting challenge to keep all six road-bound as I slid around icy turns and fishtailed up snowy hills. Yesterday, I stood in the sweltering sun, breathing exhaust toxicity and wood fire smoke from a forest burning miles distant. No breeze, except for that emanating from passing trucks and black-belching diesel wannabe bad boys in their oversized shiny toys. The smoke from Canada's and Oregon's massive forest fires hung like a grey blanket over a wet campfire. Our air quality hung heavier than that of Mexico City and Shanghai. It was dangerous to breathe, yet alone work in this sludge formerly known as air.

I moved here to escape 100-degree-plus summers, so I should be okay with a week of this crap. No, whining about it seems to be the norm for the normal Nor'westerner. I reckon my home is here now. Once the mercury tops 90, I bitch like everyone else whilst my desert family chuckles at this short-lived misfortune. I gave up summer sweat for rain nearly two decades ago. My soul is at peace in a drizzly, cloud-shrouded rain forest.

It was brutal operating a bus with Earth's hazy star assaulting me directly ahead. The front few feet of our newer Gilligs absorb heat like a politician sucks money. Turn on the fans and they spew forth a furnace of hot. Throw the driver's AC vents on high and it's like a hurricane of semi-coolness assaulting every facial nerve. Even though these beasts are set to 70 degrees, the sweat trickled down my neck and wetted the shirt back until it stuck to the vinyl torture chamber of my operator's seat. I felt like cookie dough slowly baking in a convection oven.

Each time I opened the front door, a blast of hot air rushed in and the brief buildup of cool air escaped outward. Unlike in cold weather, passengers didn't greet me with gushing gasps of gratitude. Instead, I was berated for being late even though I managed to keep the clock in the green most of the week. People are surly and unforgiving in the heat, gracious and thankful when frozen. They smell worse too.

Management did its best to add to the misery. In its ill-conceived quest to be everything the unforgiving public expects it to be, fare was FREE during the heat wave. Part of it was due to a system failure, the rest of it a public relations snafu that had the corporate-controlled local rag informing the public they didn't have to pay for the value of a transit ride. The classic screw-the-worker bee, let 'em ride free. This allowed many who would normally wouldn't ride enter our vehicles without as much as a hello or any thanks. Transit operators everywhere can attest to the fact that those who are not financially vested in a service won't respect it.

We had a few more assaults on our brothers and sisters, and tons of rebellious foolishness. Yet there wasn't a hint of it in the ridiculous excuse for our local media. We've had around 50 assaults so far this year alone, while last year's total was 55. Still, no outrage from management, or our union. We're alone out there, as usual. Our screams of rage fall upon ears which refuse to hear.

Rant over. M'lady came out to find me pecking away at nearly 5:00 a.m. I have a full weekend planned with my beloved. Transit will not interfere with my solitude. I leave you with a mental image of Portland's growing disrespect for the transit workers who make the city's economic wheels roll.

"Go ahead and call Dispatch," one passenger told me. "They can't hear you anyway. I know the system's down. Just drive, motherfucker."

Hmm. Sounds like the title of my upcoming book. Sigh. I did as he so rudely suggested. He melted into a pool of sweat and quieted down, so I relented. It was too hot to argue.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Schedules Stink Worse than...

Beating a dead horse more than once involves a risk that the horse hasn't yet died and is poised to kick you right betwixt the eyes. Sometimes however, you hope Ol' Blue still has some life (or sense) left in him, and you just gotta take the chance. So here's another kick, and I hope it strikes home this time.

Remember that first day of middle school, or better yet, of high school? You're nervous as hell, and hoping it doesn't show. Of course, those above you know exactly what you're hiding, and they exploit it. Except for your best friend's big brother, who spies you from a distance but allows some hazing to happen before he suddenly appears at your side with some comforting words. Just having him there makes you feel safer, a little more accepted. This is what I like to do with new operators. I have a strong sense of empathy. If I can help them even a tiny bit, it feels like payback for the veterans who did the same for me years ago.

A few of these new guys have approached me recently, one of them still on probation, telling tales of unreasonable expectations and harassment by management. Over on-time-performance, of all things. Good freakin' grief! Throughout training and line training, we're repeatedly told to work on our driving technique and forget about the stupid schedule. Operator metrics are designed over new operators being late, with the improvement needle eventually angling toward on-time. This normally takes a few months for the best trainees to a few more for others. It's a recipe for catastrophe to encourage a new operator to dismiss safe driving just to appease some misguided edict from above to value schedule first.

Line trainers were recently told to replace the trainee in the seat if they find their bus five minutes late. While there is some logic from the customer service perspective for this new rule, it doesn't teach the new operator anything except they're not good enough if the time clock is glaring LATE at them. I was taught to operate the same way -- safely -- whether I'm on time or late. To this day, I remember and practice this valuable advice. It does no good to push limits when you're late, because you only endanger your passengers and your fellow motorists if you succumb to schedule pressures. If you continue to roll smoothly all the time, sometimes you are rewarded with a stretch where there are no passengers waiting or ringing the bell to exit the bus. Now you've gained five minutes after being seven down, and you're confident that you'll soon be on time again. Had you instead pushed limits, you could be stopped down the road due to a collision caused by management-inspired foolishness we all know better than to accept.

This brings me to a new operator's plea to me. He's being harassed, even though management would disagree that their tactics amount to it. "Joe" has a route that begins when rush hour does. He arrives to the garage 30 minutes early, signs in and grabs his pouch. Heading out to his bus at his sign-in time, he does a pre-trip inspection and heads out. On time. (New ridiculous rule: drivers are required to open their doors at the gate to mark the time they leave the yard. If their door doesn't close before the light turns yellow, they have to wait another agonizing Portland minute for the new cycle, so the time-stamp is off anyway. Micro management at its worst here.) He arrives at his route's beginning point, usually late because of traffic. If he leaves when the schedule says to, there's no way he can begin his route on time. If he leaves early in order to arrive on time, he's penalized for leaving early. (More ridiculousness thought up by some bored management guru who should be answering phones somewhere rather than thinking up new ways to make our lives miserable.)

Joe begins a few minutes late, and is immediately swarmed by commuters in a rush to get home after a grueling day doing what our management once did (crunching numbers for an accounting firm, most likely). Before he leaves downtown, his bus is full to the yellow line. His passengers are literally breathing down his neck as he negotiates the morass that is Portland's peak traffic. Inching along a busy highway with thousands of other motorists who impatiently cut him off and flip him off just for doing his job, he sweats as he sees the time clock tick later. And later. Traffic. Passengers berating him for not getting them to their destinations "on time." He feels the tension. Some behind him are busily texting complaints to our customer service website because he is helpless to help them. Nobody notices the bicyclist he just saved from their own recklessness, or the lady in the wheelchair he stopped to allow her to cross the street. They're too busy checking their Instagram to see him exercising hundreds of safety protocols that save 20 lives while they're plugged in and tuned out. They only look up and sigh when it becomes apparent that their stop is still a long ways off.

Arriving at the end of his route, Joe is already six minutes past the end of his scheduled break. Instead of the 20 minutes written into the schedule as "Recovery Time," he says "I never get it." He has to pee, rather than sacrifice his kidneys to the agency that simply doesn't care. He sends a "Restroom Delay" message to Dispatch, sweeps his bus for trash and lost items, and makes a dash for the bathroom. Running back to his bus, he jumps in the seat and opens the door to a crowd of people making a point to make sure he sees them impatiently glancing at their watches. He's late, damnit, and it's all his fault. They don't care about the nightmare he just navigated to get there. Still, he's kind, attentive and welcomes them to his bus. He hits "Ready for Service" and eases the bus back into traffic.

This operator, I remind you, is still on probation. He feels rushed and pressured. Management has invited them to visit with them to ask why he's always late. If they would leave their cushy seats long enough to do what he does, they'd understand Joe's predicament. Instead, upper management is pressuring Operations management to get these operators in line and on time.

"I've actually been invited to attend a 'non-punitive' class for those having OTP issues," Joe told me. "I have done everything I was trained to do. I drive safely, inform Dispatch when I have to use the restroom at the end of my break, and I've also written several messages to Scheduling about the issues on my route. I don't know what else I can do, but if they keep wasting paper and time on this, I'll play along.

"They're complaining about the inefficiency of drivers," he continued, "but the problem instead lies with a dysfunctional management upstairs."

Bingo, Joe. If a new driver can spot the ridiculousness of pressuring drivers to achieve the impossible, why can't management realize its own folly?

Joe's frustration is not only understandable, it's infuriating. It's a mess, and management has no idea what they're asking, or how unsafe and unreasonable their insistence on schedule is. Or to simplify things, upper management has no clue it's sacrificing safety for a few federal bucks. Nary a one, folks. And the safety of my fellow operators and their passengers is at risk.

We're approaching eight weeks into this current signup. I've learned how and when to roll on time. There are definite periods I know I'll be late. That's just the nature of the beast. I don't let it bother me. You can't stay on schedule 100% of the time, but I'm right about 90%. If they don't like that, they can come drive my route and do better. Many of them couldn't even get the bus into gear.

Enough. This horse is worse than dead, it's rotting.