Deacon Who?

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(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Phone Blunder

Sometimes I do things my wife doesn't even hear about, until she reads my blog. This incident, which I most certainly did not report to Dispatch, is a life lesson for those of us who pay too much attention to our phones instead of the immediate task at hand.

When I first bought my "smart" phone a few years ago, I found myself doing truly stupid things. Like when I was reading a text and walked smack dab into a power pole. (Nobody saw that one... I hope.) From that point on I promised myself to be more vigilant about being aware of my surroundings. I've seen texting bicyclists, motorists and skateboarders tooling along on a path of unknown disasters, some with painful results. Smug in my own belief I no longer paid more attention to my phone than what I was doing, I've been vocal in my disdain for such actions by others.

The other day however, I entered a toilet stall, closed it and removed my pants, all while reading an email from my book designer. Instead of performing the normal checks prior to relieving myself, imagine my surprise when I sat on the toilet without checking to see if the seat was down. Yeah. It wasn't. SPLASH! My butt and its neighbors took a bath.

Now you must remember what other pre-trip items one checks before sitting on the comfort station. Yeah. No toilet paper. No seat cover tissues.

Bus operators are fairly innovative and resourceful people. Deciding I should forgo the normal routine, there was one dilemma facing me: how to dry the derriere. Knowing the hand-washing station doesn't feature paper towels, with only one of those annoying air-blowing hand-dryers, and also aware that my follower would be arriving and entering the bathroom in a few minutes, I had to act fast.

Hip-hopping to the dryer, I held the front of my pants up while exposing my hind end to the dryer. Even turned it on with my butt cheek. I was hoping (and praying) nobody walked in to see me like that. Satisfied with the dryer's efficiency, I zipped and fastened in record time. Butt cheeks were still a wee-bit damp, but the dripping was over and I could walk out of there with my head held high.

Almost walked right into Brother Chris on the way out, not revealing a thing. Walked to the customer service counter of the business establishment and complained about the lack of toilet paper in the men's room.

They say even the lower primates could do my job. Perhaps this time, it was true.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I Make A New Friend

My younger brother Monroe has Down Syndrome. Instead of committing him to an institution when he was born in the 1960s as many people were counseled, my parents provided him the same love and unfailing support as they did for all their children. As a result, today he's a well-adjusted contributing member to society.

Monroe is also a very accomplished Special Olympian, having met Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jon Bon Jovi, Muhammad Ali, and other celebrities. Medals from his many events hang prominently in his room, as they adorned our living room chandelier when we were kids. I've always been proud of him, and of my parents who refused to believe he could be anything but wonderful.

As I make my way to a relief point via bus from home, I'm daily treated to the company of a very sweet man who reminds me of my brother. He always sits in the same seat up front, places his lunch box next to him, and rides without a word. I wonder if he is just shy, or lacks the ability to communicate with others. His smile brightens even my cloudiest days, and he reminds me of my beloved Monroe. When I greet him, his responses are normally a smiling nod with a thumbs-up. He tends to brighten as I address him, but he speaks so softly I can't hear.

He's someone I just want to wrap in a manly hug. When I drove this line on the Extra Board years ago, he was a regular. At that time, he probably felt uncomfortable having a different driver, because he wouldn't even look at me. Chalking it up to shyness, I thought nothing of it. He made his way to his usual seat without a word.

I had no idea that my recent interactions with this man had any impact, until the other day. Conducting business via telephone as I commuted one day, I was sitting halfway back in the bus instead of standing near the operator as he boarded. He made his way to his usual seat, then looked up to see me wave. His face lit me up with a shiny smile.

Warm with affection, I smiled back. Then he did something that made my day, my week, perhaps my entire career. In all the times I've ridden with this silent companion, he's always chosen the same place to ride. People with Down Syndrome are comforted by routine, and I had never seen him deviate from his norm. For the first time, he walked past his usual seat and sat in directly in front of me. As I spoke with my book designer, she must have noticed my voice briefly choke with emotion. He turned around and smiled in greeting. My mind froze. I had no idea that merely acknowledging him as a fellow human being had registered such a lasting impact. At that moment, I knew we had become friends.

Just writing that paragraph has me in tears. So many people who board our buses are self-involved. Many hardly ever greet us, especially if we're not driving the bus they're riding. Kindness is a rare treat these days. Some jerk called me a "dick" last night, for no other reason than he felt entitled to do so. Yet my new friend, this beautiful soul didn't say a word except perhaps a soft hello, and I felt blessed.

His name is Jason, I learned today. His act of friendship warmed my soul on what had been a dreary, cold and rainy fall day. The sun shone warm within me from then on, as if it were pre-ordained. As winter approaches cold and wet, this simple memory is enough to keep me warm.

Thanks, Jason.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Another Driver Pushed Under the Bus

Journalism as originally intended is mostly dead, and it pains me as a former journalist. Sure, there are a few periodicals remaining which adhere to the standards I was taught. In these days of corporate media ownership however, many have devolved into opinion pits which pretend to report true news while leading their readers down a chosen ideological path.

Perhaps I still am a journalist, because I try to speak to truth while considering different angles of a story. Although I also have strong opinions on matters, they are mostly fact-based, flavored with my fiery emotions. This is a blog, after all. I make no claim of grandeur. It's time now to utilize both facts and opinion, to balance a grossly unfair, one-sided character assassination on one of our Portland brothers.

Portland operators recall how Jeff Roberts was portrayed on the news in August as a phone-tossing, finger-flipping transit terrorist by our over-zealous unprofessional local news media. When I first viewed the report (See KGW news story here), I was struck by the lack of professional restraint by the media. First, before filing a journalistic report, it's customary to get both sides of a story. Otherwise, it's simply an unsubstantiated complaint. Until both sides could be contacted, the "news" station" never should have aired this flimsy report.

KGW's news segment is prefaced by the anchor's statement, "An Estacada man took this picture (shot of Roberts in operator seat, smiling, with extended middle fingers blurred) of what appears to be a driver giving him the finger yesterday (said in an exaggerated disapproving tone of voice)." A moment later, she says "he says the driver swore at him, and threatened him. Man says, he didn't do anything wrong." Her stern tone insinuates the following was a true story, fully vetted and therefore immediately putting the onus on the bus operator. Talk about a slant, this ploy is commonly used today.

"You could call it the worst bus ride Powell's ever had," the reporter states. Wow, really? Was Powell hurt or maimed during this "ordeal?" No. He arrived safely at his destination, as do approximately 330,000 riders daily. Mr. Innocence And Light claims he simply tried to exit the rear door when "the driver...freaked...out," according to the report. His actions aren't ever questioned in this version. Perhaps he had guilty feelings when he spoke to Fox 12 news, because Powell admitted (See Fox 12 account) he called the driver names because "I was angry too, just like he was."

The KGW account differs, as the reporter stated "Powell says he didn't do anything to provoke the driver." This inconsistency only lends credence to the fact that many people who don't get their way become abusive, threatening to file a false report. Mr. Roberts says that Powell demanded his name and badge number. "He continued to demand this information and that he was going to have me fired," Roberts said. This is a form of abuse in that Powell seemed to feel entitled to have our brother's personal information. After the incident, Powell splashed photos of Roberts and the bus on his FaceBook page, without providing vital facts that described his escalation of what should have never been an incident to begin with. By the time the media picked it up, Mr. Roberts' integrity had been severely impugned. Social media tends to accuse and convict without having all the facts.

This type of incident is something people normally report to our "Customer Service" line. Complaints are then investigated by our management to establish credibility. Without the driver's side of the story, a complaint-driven bloodthirsty public is left to believe our brother guilty. Even though the reporter and our agency carefully inserted "allegedly" before the passenger's charges, the news account is heavily-slanted toward the complainant. Powell pulls at the public's heartstrings, saying his child was afraid of his father riding a bus again. And there you have the big, bad bully bus driver myth. I hear things like this all the time, but most of them are so wild they are easily dismissed. (If it sounds too nuts to be true, it usually is.) And in this case, the story became a gross manipulation of the facts which has yet to be corrected by either our transit agency or the media outlets which broadcast it.

Now, let's turn to our brother. He released a statement this week, telling his side of the ordeal. Ordinarily, this could be reduced to a "he said, he stated" argument. However, our buses have cameras and microphones inside and out. Knowing any false statements would be contradicted by real-time video evidence (something his accuser apparently lacks), Mr. Roberts' story is therefore the more credible one.

In fairness to both parties, I'll provide statements made by both the accuser and his victim. (There, I used a media stunt to sway opinion. Didya catch that? Hey... fair is fair in love and war.) This will illuminate what operators deal with daily, while I explain some important details. This way you can decide whose account merits belief. 

First, let's look at KGW's story (given the Whiny Boy Award for Entitlement, "Man says driver harassed him"). In this account, our heralded "victim," Mr. Josh Powell, says he simply tried to exit the bus via the back door. He says our operator yelled "You fucking idiots, you need to wait." Wow. That instantly raised my bullshit radar. Just what did Powell do to elicit such an explosive response? A bus operator with nearly two decades of experience doesn't respond in this fashion.

Roberts reports that as he rolled toward the final stop on his run to Estacada, Powell and Company attempted to push open the back door before the bus came to a stop and he could activate the door handle. Anyone who regularly rides a bus knows there are signs instructing passengers on the proper procedure regarding disembarking via the rear door. You wait until the green light over the door is illuminated, then you push it open. These doors have a safety device which renders them inoperable if someone attempts to open them before the green light is on. If you push on the door before the switch is activated, they will lock up. It takes the operator getting out of his seat to fix the problem before they will open again. According to Mr. Roberts, Powell began yelling "BACK DOOR! BACK DOOR!" (This is a tired-but-true antic many unruly riders employ, mostly out of ignorance. Nobody tends to read signs instructing riders on proper procedures and Passenger Code of Conduct.)

Powell feigned innocence to the reporter, as his response was: "Can you pop the door?" I have never heard someone put it that way. Occasionally, an operator will forget to activate the back door, and the common response is "Back door, please." This is usually asked by someone who has noticed the green light isn't illuminated. The operator then clicks the handle and the door can be opened.

Here's where it got a bit testy. Powell claims our operator cursed him and told him to exit the front. The unidentified passenger threatened to hit Roberts, who says that Powell demanded his name and badge number, saying "he was going to have me fired." When Powell exited, Roberts did the customary end-of-the-line walk through looking for lost items. He says Powell got back on the bus before he could return to the operator's seat, and once again demanded his name and badge number. (Sorry folks, we don't provide that information.) Roberts refused, and at the limit of his patience, told Powell to "get the fuck off my bus." Cursing Roberts, Powell refused to exit. Roberts says Powell threatened to accuse him of assault, but Roberts pointed out the several cameras on the bus and encouraged him to do so.

Powell stated Roberts called him a "punk" and "ugly." Roberts says Powell called him a "fucking pig." Roberts admits part of Powell's statement is true. "He said I was a 'pig' several times, but I told him at least I'm not ugly and I can always lose weight." 

As Roberts walked back to the front of his bus, he noticed Powell had a "spit ball" on his tongue. At this point, Roberts says he told Powell that if he spit on him, he'd punch him. Roberts said "I even acted like I was going to (punch him) and started laughing at him as I moved past him and got in the driver's seat."

Finally, Powell exited the bus. Again. He stepped off the curb and began snapping photos of the bus with his phone. At this point, Roberts says he "used poor judgment and I gave him a big smile with two birds flying high. He then stepped to the driver's window to continue taking pictures." At this point, Roberts says Powell shoved his phone close to the driver's face, who admits he then "grabbed it and tossed it over his head." Powell claims Roberts threw it across the street (a distance of about 15 yards, highly improbable given Roberts' seated position makes such a toss unlikely at best). Roberts says he simply tossed the phone over Powell's head. Powell showed the media his phone, which had a damaged screen. 

Powell says his wife and son witnessed the incident, but Roberts says that "at no point was his wife or child there." Powell offers no photographic evidence of this claim, or any video either.

Okay, so we have a rude bus passenger who splashes his claim and photos on FaceBook which goes viral, and is quickly interviewed by KGW and FOX 12. The "news" goes directly from Powell to the transit agency's disclaimer stating it does not "condone aggressive behavior or the destruction of property." At least this is true. However, Powell's behavior is apparently okie-dokie; it's never questioned. It insinuates that an angelic young father was abused by a nasty bus operator, which is unsubstantiated dirty laundry. 

"I would at least like to get an apology," Powell whines in the KGW interview. "You don't treat people with disrespect, you know," he says. I guess his treatment of the operator and refusal to take any responsibility doesn't warrant an apology. If the incident had played out exactly like he described, maybe he'd deserve one. But it's all too clear who's telling the truth here. Roberts acknowledges his own mistakes during the incident, yet Powell tramples the facts as if he's an angelic cherub being chased by a bloodthirsty demon. He offers no evidence, and the "journalist" makes no attempt at impartiality.

The public perception of us is constantly skewed to the negative by "news" reports such as this one. Our transit agency did not step in and stand up for its employee, asking that judgment be withheld until they had finished their investigation. Honesty in what passes for "news" doesn't sell advertising. Sensational reporting however, sells bundles. 

The report simply states management's bland corporate disclaimer about not condoning what Roberts was accused of. Instead of affirming the American ideal that we're considered innocent until proven guilty, transit officials failed once again to support its front line workers. The statement's tone tends to lead one to believe the allegations. Although management's behavior is baffling, we've become accustomed to it throwing us under the buses we drive.

Roberts has been with us 18 years, and all who know him describe him as a deeply caring, affectionate man. You can't operate in transit that long by being an asshole. He was suspended for four weeks while management considered his case. Roberts meanwhile, decided he enjoyed not being verbally assaulted while away from the job. After a long and safe career driving his fellow residents, he decided enough was enough.

"After a year of thought and soul searching," he said in a statement he released this week, "I retired. I did not take this decision lightly. I felt like I could no longer work for a company that did nothing to curb assaults on its employees." He continued, saying he also couldn't work for an agency "that doesn't back its employees when it comes to informing the passengers of the rules."

In the end, Roberts said he couldn't in good conscience work for an agency that gives more credence to passengers' false accounts than to the professionals who provide millions of safe travel miles every year.

"I may not have used my best judgment on some of the things I did, but he would not go away," Roberts said. "Yes, I should have called Dispatch sooner but by the time that I could, I was angry and not thinking about that. The only thing I was thinking about was to get away from this fool."

In suspending him, management rebuked Roberts for breaking several of its unrealistic policies. In the heat of the moment, as I can readily attest to, our ability to "remain calm and de-escalate" is severely limited. The body's physiological responses are impossible to ignore, and our body prepares to fight or retreat when threatened. Roberts felt he was about to be spit upon, a grotesquely intense insult. The response is likely to be physical. Given Powell's penchant for obscenity (something he conveniently left out of his account), his actions were threatening to Roberts. 

Instead of a mild rebuke for a phone toss while being harassed, our agency allowed this professional to leave. It didn't back him up, encourage him to remain, or air his rebuttal with audio and camera evidence. His integrity was publicly thrashed, yet not restored. It's sadly the status quo these days. There would be no follow-up or attempt to set the record straight.

"The fire in the Gorge then took over for most stories, including mine," Roberts told me. Because of the lack of Roberts side being told, all the public will remember is that Roberts ended up looking like the 'bad guy.'

We're human beings, prone to making mistakes. It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback a driver's actions when you weren't there, or if you've never encountered the amount of abuse we endure every day. If someone pushed a phone into your face, could you honestly say you wouldn't react the same way Roberts did? He did the honorable thing by admitting his mistakes, though. Powell obliterated the truth and the media bought his story like it was a blue-light special.

Instead of apologizing to Powell as he asked for, he should apologize to Roberts, as should the media and our transit agency. Mistakes were made by the operator, to be sure. In the heat of the moment, only those with extreme special training and not suffering from the fatigue associated with this job could avoid a confrontation at that time. Roberts was harassed and refused to pander to a rude passenger, and was disciplined for not bowing down taking the abuse.

With our General Manager's looming retirement, his replacement will likely be even more anti-front line worker. Instead of following this contentious managerial path, I encourage the Board of Directors to look within for his replacement. Many transit operators usually have years of experience in the public sector which qualify them for the position. It's time we have a leader running our agency who has done the job, and therefore has empathy for us. Otherwise, our retiring GM will take just take his golden nest egg and we'll remain to suffer the soulless, straw-filled legacy left behind.

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.

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.

The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with...