Sunday, June 4, 2017

BAM! End of Spring Runs

So ends another signup. It's become routine, but it was once an occasion. This time, I set my brake and shut 'er down in the yard at shift's end without even thinking about it. But wait. I must think about it, or I'll end up at the wrong relief point on Monday. That would be troublesome.

Usually, the last day on a run is routine. Not this time. I was faced with many challenges. Luckily, none of them required a call to Dispatch. I did, however, find myself close to screaming. It took sheer willpower to remain calm. I must have recited my mantra 12 times throughout the day.

"Be safe. Be thoughtful, kind, considerate and patient. Be vigilant, be calm. Be smart, be smooth. But above all, be safe."

This calms me. Just when I'm about to shriek, tear off my uniform and go streaking down Unemployment Lane, I shake my head. Rinse and repeat. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it doesn't just pour, it dumps. There were no truly gravity-defying incidents, just a random double handful of common annoyances that usually take weeks to happen, not just one day.

Running late at rush hour, I serviced a transit center. Briefly. Open doors, people depart, new passengers board. Nobody else appearing to need my ride, doors close. I pull from the curb and my right mirror check reveals one of many resident bums running up to my moving 40,000 pound machine and punching it. I stopped, and one of them appeared at my door. Well sorry Dicky Dumbass, but you're too stupid to ride my bus. I shooed him away like he was a lazy fly. He didn't like it, but I didn't care. Once I pull from the curb, you're early for the next bus. I don't care if you were just getting your buddy's girlfriend's sister's phone number for a possible transient center romance in the rubble, I gotta roll the wheels. Management hates us being late these days, so goodbye "customer" service.

First, there were several passengers who stood like statues at the stops, silhouetted in the shade by trees or telephone poles. When the sun is directly ahead where the visor can't block it, some of these folks are just invisible. It's like they're the undead. They appear to be made of stone, not moving until you open the door to investigate for signs of life. Then they amble on board and begin the "I have my fare somewhere..." routine. I wave them to a seat. Hey, if my employer doesn't care about fare, neither do I.

I was on time nearly all day, until the last round trip. That's when life gets interesting on my run. It's also the part of the day when I'm the most tired, sore and grouchy because of it. Two teenagers boarded, without fare, of course. Soon, they began a boisterous conversation. Yeah, the kind where the "f-word" is more common than vowels in every sentence. I asked them to tone it down, they did for a few minutes, with apologies. Then they began to berate a lady sitting near them, and the word reared its ugly sound once again. (Hey, I say "fuck" quite often, especially in an incredulous tone, to myself, when driving around the imbeciles who shouldn't have come close to being issued a driver's license. But in public? With little kids around? I try to keep my language polite.) When I called them out again, the lady thanked me. The boys then came up and apologized, explaining that the lady "went all Strangelove" on them. I was impressed with this retro analogy, and with their apology.

Soon after they all departed, a puffed-up peckerhead boarded while talking on the phone, a pet-peeve of mine. People who do this are dismissive of their bus operator, as if I'm supposed to read their mind as they stand at the fare box, having put in a strange amount of money. I just printed him an adult pass and let it slide with an exaggerated eye roll. Next, he's sitting halfway back, having a loud and fiery conversation, using "f" in every possible context, inserted every other word. It was quite obnoxious, so I decided to fight fire with a blowtorch, and keyed up the PA system.

"While riding my bus," I said very loudly in order to interrupt him, "please refrain from using language that would be unsuitable in front of your grandmother. Do you fucking get it? Thank you." Larry Loudmouth actually asked his party to hold a moment and apologized to me. His conversation continued, still amplified, yet sans most ordinary curses.

Then it came time for "We are about to board two people using mobility devices. Please vacate the Priority Seating Area if you are able-bodied." Considering it was full of chatty teenagers, it was a rather obvious request. As I left my seat to run the ramp and prepare to receive our new guests, the teens looked up as if I was interrupting the most important rap since Hammer Time. I repeated my request, and about 75% of them moved. The rest were plugged in and tuned out, gazing into Nowhere Land as if I was Nowhere Man making all my Nowhere Plans for Nobody. "HEY!" I shouted. They jumped back to reality. Must have been some wicked-good weed they just smoked. They didn't just smell like it, I believe they grew out of the ground wrapped in sticky stems. They looked annoyed, but moved. Luckily for me, neither of my new passengers wanted to be secured, so I was able to zip out of there in 90 seconds flat. Unfortunately, I was already seven minutes down when I arrived at the stop.

Not long after our wheeled guests departed, a family boarded. I've been giving them a ride for a week. A middle-aged couple with an 11-year-old and his little sister, a two-year-old hellion in the making. It was rather late for a toddler, and she was understandably weary. You know how little ones act when they should be in bed. Kind of like a transit management who's been proven wrong and doesn't want to admit it. Loudly reminiscent of five pieces of chalk scraping simultaneously on the board at the tone of "Lord please make it STOP!" She would run from seat to seat, wanting first her brother (who would pull her hair and find new ways to antagonize her as Mommy sat transfixed by her phone), then her mother (who ignored her, except to half-heartedly beg her to "stop misbehaving"), to her father-grandfather-uncle whatever, who seemed way over his head in the parenting department. Finally, I'd had enough. I pulled the bus over and told the parents, "Either you control that child, have her sit and remain as quiet as possible, or I'll leave the seat and take an extended break until she's asleep and I can then continue driving. Otherwise, she's become an extreme distraction, and I cannot deliver you safely to your destination under these conditions." I set the brake and put the tranny in neutral. My last nerve sat under the feet of a toddler, and I was craving nicotine. The bus went silent. Then Mommy put down her phone, and sternly corrected the Tiny Terror. Mr. Papa cleared his throat and offered a muffled apology. Other passengers shifted uncomfortably in their seats. With a sigh, I released the brake and threw it back into drive. We sailed along in silence for a blissful 23 seconds. Then the chalkboard screeched again. "QUIT PULLING MY HAIR! MOMMY!!!"

Thankfully, they only rode a few more stops. I felt bad, because as they left, both parents profusely apologized. I was an ogre. But I was a grateful one. Perhaps I should keep some parenting booklets to hand out on such occasions.

My bliss was short-lived, of course. Not two stops later on the return trip, I picked up about eight rowdy fellows and an exhausted hag who had just been released from prison. Do the gatekeepers of the jail find one bus driver and say, "let's pick on this sorry bastard?" I've pushed "Fare Evasion" at this stop so many times they might rename this message "Deke's People." No biggie. I tell them they ride at their own risk, and if we happen upon fare evader stings, they're on their own. They all thank me, and immediately begin a bus party in the back, regaling each other with stories of their jailhouse escapades. Very loudly, with gusto. I fire up the microphone again, and I'm ignored. So I shout. "HEY! YO! I'M TALKIN' HERE!" There. The bus goes quiet. "Congratulations on your release. However, today has been a very rough one for your bus operator. I have but one nerve left, and you're currently stomping on it. Please, avoid rough and lewd language, and keep your conversations at a respectable level. Otherwise, I'll turn this bus around and drop you off where you boarded, and I guarantee you won't like your welcoming committee. Thank you."

I saw them raise their eyebrows. Several of them called out. "Sorry sir. My bad. We'll chill for you, it's cool." I smiled and waved to them in the mirror. Then I turned to my driver's window and muttered some choice words under my breath. Recited my mantra for the 12th time. Inhaled deeply, held it a moment, exhaled. Then I rolled again. Former inmates began exiting, but a handful remained for most of the run. Their conversations centered around what they'd do upon arriving at Grandma's, the Ex-Old-Lady's, or Mom's House. They all swore off the pot. Some were gonna get drunk as a punk. Others fantasized about sleeping on "a real bed." All the while, I missed the geezer lady inmate sawing logs in the creep seat. She had to be awakened at my last stop. She made it about 35 feet before she decided the sidewalk would work and that's where she resumed her nap.

There were bicycle boneheads exiting the rear door and jumping in front of me as I started to roll. Friday Freddies tailgating Priuses to keep me from leaving a stop, even though the traffic light ahead was red. Cellphone-conversing cops ignoring every traffic violation nearby. Shopping cart thieves crossing against the light, making me skip through a red. A wine-bottle juggling critter wearing a purple dragon mask and a kilt on a unicycle weaving across an intersection. (I kid you not. If you're from Portland, you know this is possible.)

As a late-night driver, my bus happens to be the last one to complete the line. This time, the first in years, I approached a stop where two bicyclists waited. Their shoulders dropped as they saw the single bike on the rack. Only two bikes allowed, folks. It's a long ride from that stop to where they were headed, with several steep hills to master in between. I opened the door, and saw they were a couple. They smiled, and I returned the favor. I sighed, then told them they could bring one on, since mine was the last bus to service the line. They lit up like children on Christmas morning. I sure hope one of them calls in a commendation, because it would sure make a hard day worthwhile.

The nicest thing to happen was a gent who approached me on my last break. I nearly put my phone up to my ear to fake an incoming call, but he appeared friendly. With a lengthy, heavy sigh, I looked at him over my reading glasses. He must have seen the weariness in my eyes.

"I'm sorry to bother you sir," he said. "But to be totally honest (I hate this one. Why wouldn't you be honest with me?), I have no fare. I do have a lot of jokes to tell you though. If you'll let me ride, I'll try to make you laugh."

His jokes were lame, but I gave him a free ticket. What the hell, he offered me a reason to at least smile. And there you have it. I'm off that line for a while. There are new antics soon to be revealed, so stay tuned.