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.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

170,000 Hits!

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'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.