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
encouragement.

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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I Make A New Friend


My younger brother Monroe has Down Syndrome. Instead of committing him to an institution when he was born in the 1960s as many people were counseled, my parents provided him the same love and unfailing support as they did for all their children. As a result, today he's a well-adjusted contributing member to society.

Monroe is also a very accomplished Special Olympian, having met Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Bon Jovi, Muhammad Ali, and other celebrities. Medals from his many events hang prominently in his room, as they adorned our living room chandelier when we were kids. I've always been proud of him, and of my parents who refused to believe he could be anything but wonderful.

As I make my way to a relief point via bus from home, I'm daily treated to the company of a very sweet man who reminds me of my brother. He always sits in the same seat up front, places his lunch box next to him, and rides without a word. I wonder if he is just shy, or lacks the ability to communicate with others. His smile brightens even my cloudiest days, and he reminds me of my beloved Monroe. When I greet him, his responses are normally a smiling nod with a thumbs-up. He tends to brighten as I address him, but he speaks so softly I can't hear.

He's someone I just want to wrap in a manly hug. When I drove this line on the Extra Board years ago, he was a regular. At that time, he probably felt uncomfortable having a different driver, because he wouldn't even look at me. Chalking it up to shyness, I thought nothing of it. He made his way to his usual seat without a word.

I had no idea that my recent interactions with this man had any impact, until the other day. Conducting business via telephone as I commuted one day, I was sitting halfway back in the bus instead of standing near the operator as he boarded. He made his way to his usual seat, then looked up to see me wave. His face lit me up with a shiny smile.

Warm with affection, I smiled back. Then he did something that made my day, my week, perhaps my entire career. In all the times I've ridden with this silent companion, he's always chosen the same place to ride. People with Down Syndrome are comforted by routine, and I had never seen him deviate from his norm. For the first time, he walked past his usual seat and sat in directly in front of me. As I spoke with my book designer, she must have noticed my voice briefly choke with emotion. He turned around and smiled in greeting. My mind froze. I had no idea that merely acknowledging him as a fellow human being had registered such a lasting impact. At that moment, I knew we had become friends.

Just writing that paragraph has me in tears. So many people who board our buses are self-involved. Many hardly ever greet us, especially if we're not driving the bus they're riding. Kindness is a rare treat these days. Some jerk called me a "dick" last night, for no other reason than he felt entitled to do so. Yet my new friend, this beautiful soul didn't say a word except perhaps a soft hello, and I felt blessed.

His name is Jason, I learned today. His act of friendship warmed my soul on what had been a dreary, cold and rainy fall day. The sun shone warm within me from then on, as if it were pre-ordained. As winter approaches cold and wet, this simple memory is enough to keep me warm.

Thanks, Jason.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Another Driver Pushed Under the Bus



Journalism as originally intended is mostly dead, and it pains me as a former journalist. Sure, there are a few periodicals remaining which adhere to the standards I was taught. In these days of corporate media ownership however, many have devolved into opinion pits which pretend to report true news while leading their readers down a chosen ideological path.

Perhaps I still am a journalist, because I try to speak to truth while considering different angles of a story. Although I also have strong opinions on matters, they are mostly fact-based, flavored with my fiery emotions. This is a blog, after all. I make no claim of grandeur. It's time now to utilize both facts and opinion, to balance a grossly unfair, one-sided character assassination on one of our Portland brothers.

Portland operators recall how Jeff Roberts was portrayed on the news in August as a phone-tossing, finger-flipping transit terrorist by our over-zealous unprofessional local news media. When I first viewed the report (See KGW news story here), I was struck by the lack of professional restraint by the media. First, before filing a journalistic report, it's customary to get both sides of a story. Otherwise, it's simply an unsubstantiated complaint. Until both sides could be contacted, the "news" station" never should have aired this flimsy report.

KGW's news segment is prefaced by the anchor's statement, "An Estacada man took this picture (shot of Roberts in operator seat, smiling, with extended middle fingers blurred) of what appears to be a driver giving him the finger yesterday (said in an exaggerated disapproving tone of voice)." A moment later, she says "he says the driver swore at him, and threatened him. Man says, he didn't do anything wrong." Her stern tone insinuates the following was a true story, fully vetted and therefore immediately putting the onus on the bus operator. Talk about a slant, this ploy is commonly used today.

"You could call it the worst bus ride Powell's ever had," the reporter states. Wow, really? Was Powell hurt or maimed during this "ordeal?" No. He arrived safely at his destination, as do approximately 330,000 riders daily. Mr. Innocence And Light claims he simply tried to exit the rear door when "the driver...freaked...out," according to the report. His actions aren't ever questioned in this version. Perhaps he had guilty feelings when he spoke to Fox 12 news, because Powell admitted (See Fox 12 account) he called the driver names because "I was angry too, just like he was."

The KGW account differs, as the reporter stated "Powell says he didn't do anything to provoke the driver." This inconsistency only lends credence to the fact that many people who don't get their way become abusive, threatening to file a false report. Mr. Roberts says that Powell demanded his name and badge number. "He continued to demand this information and that he was going to have me fired," Roberts said. This is a form of abuse in that Powell seemed to feel entitled to have our brother's personal information. After the incident, Powell splashed photos of Roberts and the bus on his FaceBook page, without providing vital facts that described his escalation of what should have never been an incident to begin with. By the time the media picked it up, Mr. Roberts' integrity had been severely impugned. Social media tends to accuse and convict without having all the facts.

This type of incident is something people normally report to our "Customer Service" line. Complaints are then investigated by our management to establish credibility. Without the driver's side of the story, a complaint-driven bloodthirsty public is left to believe our brother guilty. Even though the reporter and our agency carefully inserted "allegedly" before the passenger's charges, the news account is heavily-slanted toward the complainant. Powell pulls at the public's heartstrings, saying his child was afraid of his father riding a bus again. And there you have the big, bad bully bus driver myth. I hear things like this all the time, but most of them are so wild they are easily dismissed. (If it sounds too nuts to be true, it usually is.) And in this case, the story became a gross manipulation of the facts which has yet to be corrected by either our transit agency or the media outlets which broadcast it.

Now, let's turn to our brother. He released a statement this week, telling his side of the ordeal. Ordinarily, this could be reduced to a "he said, he stated" argument. However, our buses have cameras and microphones inside and out. Knowing any false statements would be contradicted by real-time video evidence (something his accuser apparently lacks), Mr. Roberts' story is therefore the more credible one.

In fairness to both parties, I'll provide statements made by both the accuser and his victim. (There, I used a media stunt to sway opinion. Didya catch that? Hey... fair is fair in love and war.) This will illuminate what operators deal with daily, while I explain some important details. This way you can decide whose account merits belief. 

First, let's look at KGW's story (given the Whiny Boy Award for Entitlement, "Man says driver harassed him"). In this account, our heralded "victim," Mr. Josh Powell, says he simply tried to exit the bus via the back door. He says our operator yelled "You fucking idiots, you need to wait." Wow. That instantly raised my bullshit radar. Just what did Powell do to elicit such an explosive response? A bus operator with nearly two decades of experience doesn't respond in this fashion.

Roberts reports that as he rolled toward the final stop on his run to Estacada, Powell and Company attempted to push open the back door before the bus came to a stop and he could activate the door handle. Anyone who regularly rides a bus knows there are signs instructing passengers on the proper procedure regarding disembarking via the rear door. You wait until the green light over the door is illuminated, then you push it open. These doors have a safety device which renders them inoperable if someone attempts to open them before the green light is on. If you push on the door before the switch is activated, they will lock up. It takes the operator getting out of his seat to fix the problem before they will open again. According to Mr. Roberts, Powell began yelling "BACK DOOR! BACK DOOR!" (This is a tired-but-true antic many unruly riders employ, mostly out of ignorance. Nobody tends to read signs instructing riders on proper procedures and Passenger Code of Conduct.)

Powell feigned innocence to the reporter, as his response was: "Can you pop the door?" I have never heard someone put it that way. Occasionally, an operator will forget to activate the back door, and the common response is "Back door, please." This is usually asked by someone who has noticed the green light isn't illuminated. The operator then clicks the handle and the door can be opened.

Here's where it got a bit testy. Powell claims our operator cursed him and told him to exit the front. The unidentified passenger threatened to hit Roberts, who says that Powell demanded his name and badge number, saying "he was going to have me fired." When Powell exited, Roberts did the customary end-of-the-line walk through looking for lost items. He says Powell got back on the bus before he could return to the operator's seat, and once again demanded his name and badge number. (Sorry folks, we don't provide that information.) Roberts refused, and at the limit of his patience, told Powell to "get the fuck off my bus." Cursing Roberts, Powell refused to exit. Roberts says Powell threatened to accuse him of assault, but Roberts pointed out the several cameras on the bus and encouraged him to do so.

Powell stated Roberts called him a "punk" and "ugly." Roberts says Powell called him a "fucking pig." Roberts admits part of Powell's statement is true. "He said I was a 'pig' several times, but I told him at least I'm not ugly and I can always lose weight." 

As Roberts walked back to the front of his bus, he noticed Powell had a "spit ball" on his tongue. At this point, Roberts says he told Powell that if he spit on him, he'd punch him. Roberts said "I even acted like I was going to (punch him) and started laughing at him as I moved past him and got in the driver's seat."

Finally, Powell exited the bus. Again. He stepped off the curb and began snapping photos of the bus with his phone. At this point, Roberts says he "used poor judgment and I gave him a big smile with two birds flying high. He then stepped to the driver's window to continue taking pictures." At this point, Roberts says Powell shoved his phone close to the driver's face, who admits he then "grabbed it and tossed it over his head." Powell claims Roberts threw it across the street (a distance of about 15 yards, highly improbable given Roberts' seated position makes such a toss unlikely at best). Roberts says he simply tossed the phone over Powell's head. Powell showed the media his phone, which had a damaged screen. 

Powell says his wife and son witnessed the incident, but Roberts says that "at no point was his wife or child there." Powell offers no photographic evidence of this claim, or any video either.

Okay, so we have a rude bus passenger who splashes his claim and photos on FaceBook which goes viral, and is quickly interviewed by KGW and FOX 12. The "news" goes directly from Powell to the transit agency's disclaimer stating it does not "condone aggressive behavior or the destruction of property." At least this is true. However, Powell's behavior is apparently okie-dokie; it's never questioned. It insinuates that an angelic young father was abused by a nasty bus operator, which is unsubstantiated dirty laundry. 

"I would at least like to get an apology," Powell whines in the KGW interview. "You don't treat people with disrespect, you know," he says. I guess his treatment of the operator and refusal to take any responsibility doesn't warrant an apology. If the incident had played out exactly like he described, maybe he'd deserve one. But it's all too clear who's telling the truth here. Roberts acknowledges his own mistakes during the incident, yet Powell tramples the facts as if he's an angelic cherub being chased by a bloodthirsty demon. He offers no evidence, and the "journalist" makes no attempt at impartiality.

The public perception of us is constantly skewed to the negative by "news" reports such as this one. Our transit agency did not step in and stand up for its employee, asking that judgment be withheld until they had finished their investigation. Honesty in what passes for "news" doesn't sell advertising. Sensational reporting however, sells bundles. 

The report simply states management's bland corporate disclaimer about not condoning what Roberts was accused of. Instead of affirming the American ideal that we're considered innocent until proven guilty, transit officials failed once again to support its front line workers. The statement's tone tends to lead one to believe the allegations. Although management's behavior is baffling, we've become accustomed to it throwing us under the buses we drive.

Roberts has been with us 18 years, and all who know him describe him as a deeply caring, affectionate man. You can't operate in transit that long by being an asshole. He was suspended for four weeks while management considered his case. Roberts meanwhile, decided he enjoyed not being verbally assaulted while away from the job. After a long and safe career driving his fellow residents, he decided enough was enough.

"After a year of thought and soul searching," he said in a statement he released this week, "I retired. I did not take this decision lightly. I felt like I could no longer work for a company that did nothing to curb assaults on its employees." He continued, saying he also couldn't work for an agency "that doesn't back its employees when it comes to informing the passengers of the rules."

In the end, Roberts said he couldn't in good conscience work for an agency that gives more credence to passengers' false accounts than to the professionals who provide millions of safe travel miles every year.

"I may not have used my best judgment on some of the things I did, but he would not go away," Roberts said. "Yes, I should have called Dispatch sooner but by the time that I could, I was angry and not thinking about that. The only thing I was thinking about was to get away from this fool."

In suspending him, management rebuked Roberts for breaking several of its unrealistic policies. In the heat of the moment, as I can readily attest to, our ability to "remain calm and de-escalate" is severely limited. The body's physiological responses are impossible to ignore, and our body prepares to fight or retreat when threatened. Roberts felt he was about to be spit upon, a grotesquely intense insult. The response is likely to be physical. Given Powell's penchant for obscenity (something he conveniently left out of his account), his actions were threatening to Roberts. 

Instead of a mild rebuke for a phone toss while being harassed, our agency allowed this professional to leave. It didn't back him up, encourage him to remain, or air his rebuttal with audio and camera evidence. His integrity was publicly thrashed, yet not restored. It's sadly the status quo these days. There would be no follow-up or attempt to set the record straight.

"The fire in the Gorge then took over for most stories, including mine," Roberts told me. Because of the lack of Roberts side being told, all the public will remember is that Roberts ended up looking like the 'bad guy.'

We're human beings, prone to making mistakes. It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback a driver's actions when you weren't there, or if you've never encountered the amount of abuse we endure every day. If someone pushed a phone into your face, could you honestly say you wouldn't react the same way Roberts did? He did the honorable thing by admitting his mistakes, though. Powell obliterated the truth and the media bought his story like it was a blue-light special.

Instead of apologizing to Powell as he asked for, he should apologize to Roberts, as should the media and our transit agency. Mistakes were made by the operator, to be sure. In the heat of the moment, only those with extreme special training and not suffering from the fatigue associated with this job could avoid a confrontation at that time. Roberts was harassed and refused to pander to a rude passenger, and was disciplined for not bowing down taking the abuse.

With our General Manager's looming retirement, his replacement will likely be even more anti-front line worker. Instead of following this contentious managerial path, I encourage the Board of Directors to look within for his replacement. Many transit operators usually have years of experience in the public sector which qualify them for the position. It's time we have a leader running our agency who has done the job, and therefore has empathy for us. Otherwise, our retiring GM will take just take his golden nest egg and we'll remain to suffer the soulless, straw-filled legacy left behind.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Book Headaches Update


Easy, my ass. Yeah, most of it was written years ago. Then editing, yada yada yada. Now I'm at the point of publication, and yet another speed bump has arisen.

When you self-publish, you do a lot more of the work involved in production than you would if you're say, Stephen King. But hey... I'm not in his league by any means. He writes a book, sends it to his editor, makes changes and off to the publisher it goes. No constant checking, agonizing over details. Hopefully the next time I publish the book someone else will handle the myriad of details that are about to make me pull out the few hairs I have left.

Today, I uploaded the book cover and interior body to Amazon, thinking it would all be great. Not so fast, Dekey Pooh. The previewer showed a frog's hair variance in what I sent versus their guidelines. In frustration, I nearly threw my computer through the window. Luckily, my cooler side prevailed. Now I'm taking a break from it. The perfectionist in me won't allow anything but a professional product to be delivered into your hands. My designer isn't happy with Amazon either. Maybe we'll join forces and take over the company, if only to make it less painful to soldier through their laborious processes.

The moment when, in a huge sigh of relief and accomplishment, I finally hold the finished product in my hands. Until then, dear readers, keep all fingers, toes and eyes crossed for me. I'm a stubborn so-and-so, and will get it done. But a few prayers and karmic positivity directed my way would be truly appreciated.


Friday, October 20, 2017

I'm Still Here, Pondering

We just suffered our 74th assault on Portland transit workers, four in the past week.

Time to don the bandaid again. Since I last wore one, there have been 10 more incidents of violence on us. Still, the media remains silent. It bashes us along with the public, jumping on any chance "story" someone makes up about us, ignoring our constant plight. I'll deal with that reality in my next post. For now, I acknowledge my battered brothers and sisters with a moment of silence.

I'll work again the next few days, thinking of how best to address the violent pandemic and lack of management support we face. Until then, stay strong and keep all six on the road. Safe travels, my fellow road warriors.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Petty Moments

Driving the past week was adrift with melodic memories. Tom Petty's voice rolling along with me, I hummed his (now) haunting tunes as I drove. It was bittersweet, knowing his body had passed into eternity while his music remains (forever) within me. Instead of tears, it was instead more important to honor him with smiles and good humor.

Cruising into an affluent 'burb, I was treated to a surprisingly profane salute with unknown origins. Driving toward me in an old, beat-up little pickem-up, this fellow looked directly at me as he held up his right birdy finger. Directed solely at me. For whatever reason, only he knew why. I laughed and shook my head. Part of me wanted the comic release of returning the salute, but cameras are everywhere on the bus. I retorted with the hummed chorus of "The Last DJ," knowing Tom would have flipped the motherfucker back. No big, people flip me off every day. Usually, I've given them what they believe to be a reason. Not so, on this particular calendar entry.

It was a beautifully bright and blustery fall day. The reds, yellows and golds of leaves of full autumn greeted my every turn. The kind of day the Northwest refuses to allow one to mourn. Knowing my book is days away from becoming available to masses or less, I turned my sadness inside out. Bus operation is a tough chore, contrary to management or public belief. Why not make it fun, in memory of my favorite mystic rebel? Not even the orneriest passenger could sour my mood as my Friday thumped a rhythmic path on our weather-beaten streets.

My constant goal is to scan widely and constantly. As I rolled toward a stop, I saw a woman basking in the midday sunshine. She lazily raised a hand and slowly rose and ambled 20 yards to where I sat, stopped solely in case she needed a ride. As she boarded, I gently chastised her.

"You know ma'am," I told her, "it's customary to be at the stop when the bus is due. If we don't see you, it's very possible you'll be passed by."

"You all do anyway," she replied curtly. "I never know when you'll be there, you're all always late."

"Not me," I said, a smile settling at the corner of my sarcasm. "I'm right on time, and I stopped just to make sure. Oh, and you're welcome."

Not a word of thanks emerged from her sour tongue. She ambled back to her seat without showing any sign of fare. Mumbling to herself, apparently cursing me and my fellow operators under her poison breath.

I just couldn't let her rude behavior pass. Still smiling, I decided to ride her a bit. Screw customer service, I served her and she gave me nothing but grief. That was an emotion I simply refused to entertain.

"We run on a schedule, which can be procured at grocery stores along the route," I said. "When we're due, you need to be closer to the stop so we can see you're intending to ride."

"I don't have a watch," she said.

"And I don't have clairvoyant tendencies," I replied a bit too icily. "Please be closer to the stop, or you will be passed by. Another driver might have just rolled on past."

Not a word in reply. I shrugged and returned to enjoying the beauty of my beloved Northwest afternoon. I don't allow passengers to rule my mood any longer. They only ride for a brief moment of my time, and are easily ignored. My concentration was already centered back upon providing everyone with a smooth ride.

A few stops later, she got off the bus without any word of thanks. When I picked her up later on my return trip, she didn't acknowledge my rolling right up to the curb and lowering the bus to make her boarding easy. I flipped her off in my mind and smiled. It was my Friday. Tom eased my pain with musical memories. The weekend beckoned, and the rest of my passengers were typically polite. It was all just part of the job.

I just smiled and waved at the inevitable next flipper off. Thanks Tom, yes... it is good to be king, if just for a while.




Friday, October 13, 2017

Y'all Gotta Read It to Believe It

One of things I enjoy most about blogging is that my fellow operators tend to share their stories with me. Today as we both rode a bus to our road reliefs, my buddy Robert told me a classic.

Robert has a wonderfully expressive, rugged and handsome  face. As I watched him tell this tale, his eyes retained the shock he must have felt; as if it was happening at that moment. In them I saw incredulous disbelief. I should have shot video, because his face as he was telling the story was priceless. It's been a long time since I laughed this long and hard, and it felt great. In fact, my entire day was a series of guffaws and chuckles as I imagined it. I will do my best to retell his tale, but his account was much better than I could ever describe.

One early morning as he drove Line 6, Robert picked up a succession of fare evaders in a hurry to arrive nowhere. Then he happened upon a lady who asked for an Honored Citizen fare. As is our responsibility, he asked if she had the proper identification card. She said she did not, but that she was indeed "disabled." He gently told her it wasn't necessary to see it, but just wanted her to know that if Fare Inspectors boarded they would ask her for it. He had already printed her the ticket. She must not have heard or believed him.

A few minutes of back and forth ensued, but then she told him "I'm disabled, and I can prove it." At this point, she reached up and removed her glass eye, holding it out to him. His jaw dropped and he stared at her, at a loss for words.

I burst out laughing, and the other bus passengers took notice.

"Deke," Robert said, "I didn't know what to say. I was stunned. Really? She took her damn eye out and showed it to me! What was I supposed to do?"

I doubled over laughing in my seat. His face was equally as hilarious as his tale.

"You shoulda offered her some lube to put it back," was all I could say. He laughed, but continued.

"A few minutes later, when I just couldn't continue the conversation any more, she went and sat down," he recalled. "After she left, a few of the passengers were chuckling about it, a few laughed. But I sat up there driving, still in disbelief. I was mumbling to myself a lot, and they must have heard me. I mean really, I would have been fine giving her a pass without her doing that! I kept thinking, she actually took her eye out. Really?"

We see humanity in all its splendid reality. Some people even offer us another eye to see it better.




Sunday, October 8, 2017

I'm Sick, but Present


If you miss work in public transportation, it's called "time loss." The term itself appears harmless, not daunting or even close to fear-inspiring. To transit operators however, it can be all three.

In cop shows, they take "lost time" with regularity to deal with personal issues. They act as if it's nothing. Employees accrue sick leave regularly. It's meant as a form of protection. In other jobs, if I got sick it was understood my co-workers didn't want me to infect them with whatever icky bug ailed me. Understandable. Nobody wants to be sick. Get plenty of rest, see a doctor if warranted, let it pass, get your ass back in the saddle.

In transit, we're taught from the beginning to show up for work. Sick? Too bad. Weather spitting ice and snow? Stay at the garage if necessary, but drive your shift. Want to be recognized for being a professional? Don't have more than two days lost time in a year, or you can forget about that Lead/Senior/Master Operator patch. You can have 10 years of safe driving, and still not be considered for honored status if illness or injury prevents you from near-perfect attendance.

We sit at the entrance of an overactive bug factory. Each time the door opens, we're exposed to whatever pathogens attach themselves to our human cargo. As fall speeds toward winter, sniffles and coughs will multiply, and so will the chances we'll be affected by some illness. Flu shots can't protect us from every strain, and our immune systems are incapable of always protecting us from the seriously-ill. Our passengers are also subject to catching whatever illness we're fighting, and they don't deserve such disrespect.

My brothers and sisters will nod their heads as I write this next line. Often times we show up to work with fevers/coughs/weak bowels, just so we don't have "time loss."

It's not safe to drive a bus or operate a light rail vehicle when you're not feeling well. Perhaps it's physical, maybe a friend or relative or a family pet has died. One operator described driving with the flu, "puking out the driver window and rolling on." This is called distracted driving. It's not safe when just turning your head to scan exacerbates that hellacious headache or stresses a queasy stomach. You're thinking about laying in bed, being cared for by your family... not predicting what that kid on a bicycle might do next. Our physical condition seems not to matter if there's a collision... if we're not able to prevent it, our record is forever marred (and sometimes our soul too) with a Preventable Accident.

When you're sick, it's very hard to be polite and "customer-service oriented." How many assaults could have been avoided if an operator had felt well and in control of the situation? Not feeling well can also be attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something else our management doesn't seem to account for when evaluating our performance. What if an ill operator with PTSD reacts violently to the biological fight-or-flight syndrome with a fist? Their physical condition isn't considered, only this ill-conceived weak stance that there should be "no violence in the workplace." It seems okay for people to commit acts of violence against us, but when we fight back we face discipline up to and including termination.

Those of us who have experienced a severe illness or injury often have to use up all accrued sick leave, vacation time and have nothing left to fall back on. Days off pile up, and soon management is looking at you as a liability rather than a valued employee. You can be fired for missing too much work, no matter what the cause.

When an operator becomes ill in the middle of a route and hits "Operator Ill" on their console, they are instructed to pull over at the safest spot, and wait for a relief driver to arrive and take over. Here's the outrageous part: they are on their own to find transportation home or to their own vehicle. The district will not safely transport them, unless the operator asks for medical transport to a hospital. No taxi is called, nor can another driver or supervisor drive them where they need to go. That's just inhumane, as if we're punished for saying "Hey, it's not safe for me to transport these passengers in this condition."

Sensible guidelines regarding missing work are necessary to avoid the possibility of abusing the system. In our case, the guidelines are abusing the worker. We're basically afraid of taking care of ourselves. Meanwhile, our General Manager is praised for his performance and is guaranteed regular pay increases while we fight for every penny. Our health insurance costs rose again for next year, and the paltry wage increase you dole out might just pay for the added cost.

It's no wonder many of us retire into a casket. Some don't make it that far.

Wow, thanks guys. You really "appreciate" us. I'll remember that next time I'm feverish and almost mess my pants while on the job or narrowly avoid being assaulted. But hey, don't worry. I won't miss any work because I'm not supposed to use my sick leave. That might label me a bad employee.



Thursday, October 5, 2017

Tragedy Trifecta


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6PNLIAEl7MTom's Last Dance

It was a terrible start to the week. Three more operators assaulted, the deaths of 59 innocent souls in Las Vegas, and the passing of one of my longtime creative inspirations, Tom Petty.

Because of the media's penchant for glorifying death and violence, I stopped watching nightly news over a decade ago. Who died and where and how, the weather, some touching story, sports, and done. Who needs it? I found that by watching the news, my outlook on life was gloomy and left me feeling depressed as I went to bed.

It is my firm belief that when it's my time to go, nothing will stop it. Not that I believe our demise is pre-ordained, but let's face it: shit happens. Terrible things happen to good people every day. I don't need to hear about it every day. But two days ago, the world just stopped for me. No matter I was enjoying a few days off in the Northwestern autumn sunshine, it all came to a stop. Momentarily, I was at a total loss of reason.

I learned of the Vegas massacre and Mr. Petty's heart attack simultaneously, at about 3:30 p.m. Monday. Not since 9/11 and when John Lennon was shot have I felt such an enormous effect on my soul. My very being cried out in agony, anger soared above compassion and all reason took flight on that beautifully sunny day. A solitary tear slowly fell down my cheek, off my jaw onto a limp arm. Then I heard a beautiful yet chilling note... Tom left us to soothe the departed souls with his incredible music. A concert accompanied by angelic harmonies. It was the only thing to comfort me in that moment of devastation. Only a magnificent being like Tom Petty could silence the anguish the departed must have felt about their violent departure from our Earthly midst.

Upon returning to reality, my sorrow was later replaced by a muted fury at the news we suffered the 67th assault on Portland transit workers this year. They seem to come in bunches these days. Spitting, punching and menacing, the weekly bane of our existence. Not a word from our management, nary a peep in our inept local media. It only sounds from the ranks of the beaten. Of the dozens of times I've written about this scourge upon our ranks, this time the news seemed somehow hollow in the face of the national tragedy we all mourn.

About 10 years ago, I had the grandest time at my first (and only) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert at the Rose Garden (sorry Moda, some buildings don't lend themselves well to corporate arrogance). His ticket prices were reasonable, and my lady treated me to a ticket. He soared and drew us along in a melodic trance as we reveled in his stage magic. Above all, it didn't leave me with a craving for lite beer. Instead, I felt privileged for having seen one of my generation's music icons. Someone who sang while I lived through the teenage angst we all feel.

Tragedy seems to come in a trifecta. While assaults aren't anything to take lightly, it's comforting in a way to know none of us died that tragic day. Beaten and abused, yes. That's sad, but we're not in anguish over a lost transit soul as we are for Vegas victims and the loss of a musical icon.

Rest in the most peaceful sleep possible, dear blessed yet senselessly-murdered souls. May you be treated to a concert featuring the music of Petty, Glenn Frey, Walter Becker and all who passed before. If there's a Rock and Roll Heaven, may you all blessed in all its melodic bliss.



Sunday, October 1, 2017

I Want to Smile

My brother told me today how he and my other brother Darryl noticed I was looking "old" these days. It is so noticeably true. A youthful countenance has always been a trademark of mine... until this job consumed me.

I've said before how this job ages me five years for every year I work it. Since I'll soon mark my fifth year as a bus operator, I doubt that I've aged 25 years, but my face betrays the stress we all endure behind the wheel.

I'm scared sometimes. We just "banded together" to show Portland how assaults affect us. We all wonder if and when we'll become another number. A grisly statistic. Who will take offense to our insisting they abide and respect the ride? Will I live through this job, or retire into a casket like so many of our brothers and sisters worldwide? These thoughts, and the toils of the job, all add to the aging factor of your friendly bus operator.

After Big Bro told me this, I studied my face in the mirror, comparing it to the youthful mug captured in training. In five years, lines have replaced the smooth contours of my countenance. Looking deeper, I see my soul is scarred. Sure, most people are kind and I enjoy meeting them as I maneuver the Beast along our quirky lanes. But everyone who boards these days is met with my "Will you be the one who scars me forever?" look. I hate that. People have always fascinated me, and I've met some pretty cool folks along the way. Until lately though, I've never looked at them with trepidation and hesitation. My once rose-colored glasses are clearer than I prefer now.


The lines under my eyes underscore the sorrow beneath the joy I've always tried to find. Luckily, my smile lines remain. When a passenger drops their wallet in a rush to catch the next bus and another picks it up and runs to give it back, I smile. As a motorist sees another who's been waiting an infernal several minutes to turn into traffic and stops to let them in, I flash them my brights in appreciation and nod at them as we pass each other by. When a pedestrian pulls another blinded by their cell phone out of the path of my bus, I breathe an audible sigh of appreciation.

I'd like to think there are more good events on the road than bad, it's the former which add to the aging factor of a bus operator. Yet I try to remember the good more than the bad, and that keeps my smiles in line.

Thanks Portland, for always giving me more reasons to grin than frown.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

HELP!

The book... coming soon on Amazon
print-on-demand
and Kindle Direct Publishing.
I need your help.

In a few weeks, I will release my book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." It's a collection of blog posts from the very beginning, polished to a luster not seen before. The serious to the silliness, the extreme and the angst involved with bus operation. Many of you have said these posts are eerily similar to your own feelings about our disrespected profession. It's time for me to put myself out there, to offer my craft to an even wider audience than ever before. And to accomplish my dream, I'm asking each of you to be part of my marketing team.

This blog has hits from Spain to Brazil, Ireland to Russia, Delaware to Nova Scotia. Yet few of you comment any more. Of the currently 157,734 hits, very few of those come with comments these days. Wherefore art you rascals, eh? I know you're out there because I see your visits each time I post. It's you, my beloved readers, who can help me sell a ton of books. One at a time... just share the links I will be posting as the book is published.

I have no media machine backing me, nor am I blessed with marketing genius. I'll be keeping my pen name (for now), so publicizing the book will be challenging at the very least. That's why I need your help.

Once the book becomes available in early October, please help spread the word. Share my marketing posts with your social media friends, email your family and friends. Even more important, ask them to share it as well. Are you on Goodreads? Please be sure to write a review after reading. I promise it's a lively and entertaining trip through the life of a bus operator.

It would amaze me to sell a record amount of books this way. Avoiding having to depend on Big Money to make some extra bucks will be amusing, and challenging. I don't want fame, but I'm hoping my writing will gain some recognition, if so warranted.

If the book does surpass expectations, I'll come out from under the pen name. It would be fun traveling around to bus barns around the world signing copies and meeting more of my brothers and sisters. I can't do this under this shroud of Deke. The only reason I use the pseudonym is that my employer frowns on independent viewpoints because it prefers to control its image.

So... please help? Thank you all for your continued support.

(If willing to put up promotional posters at your transit agency, please send an email with your contact information and union affiliation to Deke at justzakanna@gmail.com. If you have media contacts in your area who might be interested, please let me know. I truly appreciate the help only YOU can provide. THANKS BELOVED FTDS READERS!)

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,
Deke

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 (deaconinblue@gmail.com). Especially if you live elsewhere than Portland, I could sure use your help in marketing. Thanks!