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.

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