Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Day in My Life



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 24, 2017

150,000 Hits!

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Deke and Mr. Tanner

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

-- Mr. Tanner, by Harry Chapin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Sunday, August 20, 2017

Deke Sings on the Bus

An early album cover from Chuck's band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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





Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Words to Your Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

We Need Some Love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Deke Sweats the Week


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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