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...)

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