Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bits of Bovine Feces


It's been a rough and grisly 2017 for Portland transit employees. Not only have bus and rail operators been assaulted, but also supervisors and maintenance personnel. In 2016, we counted 55 incidents of menacing, threatening and physical assaults. As we end this year, there have been 91. Our Director of Safety & Security, Harry Saporta, is either unaware of the correct numbers, or he uses a different set of rationale in determining what constitutes an "assault."

A transit operator is responsible for many things, including the safety of all in and around the vehicle. When a passenger disrupts service, the operator must use superhuman problem-solving skills. All our concentration is necessary to smoothly guide the vehicle down the road, we're expected to use "verbal judo" to restore calm. Not knowing the psychological makeup of the aggressors having only just welcomed them to the ride, having never seen or met them before, this is virtually impossible. Even a mental health professional would agree with this statement. Yet the responsibility falls upon the operator to determine how to deal with any given situation that arises on our ride. Usually, if "shit gets too thick," our trained response is to inform Dispatch and let these supervisors take the lead. But what happens when passengers turn to us and ask why we aren't "doing something about it?" This is where it gets tricky. Sometimes, a simple few words from an operator, who is the ultimate "Captain of the Ship," can infuriate the passenger who doesn't recognize our authority.

If you're on a ship at sea, in a plane 30,000 feet over nowhere, or a train passenger, a logical-thinking human won't challenge the captain/pilot/conductor's authority. On a bus however, the operator isn't afforded the same respect. "Just drive, asshole," is the favored command of our passengers. Mind our business, which is to drive, they tell us. Sorry, but we cannot safely do so when some nincompoop is spouting feces from his oral cavity, disrupting our peaceful ride. If we use a tone of voice that suggests "authority," some take offense and turn their tirade upon us.

One time this happened to me, and Dispatch instructed me to not "engage" with the passenger, and to speak only to her via radio. This tactic is surely meant to remove any perceived threat to someone who refuses to abide by district codes of conduct. At this moment, Dispatch is likely coordinating efforts to send police, road supes and if necessary, paramedics to our location. I don't know about you, but if someone throws a punch at me, I'm not likely to take it just sitting there. It's not human nature. We're biologically constructed to protect ourselves, and if need be, disable our attacker when we feel endangered. That last step however, can result in the loss of our job, or at least a suspension. Even if we're pummeled, we're not allowed to fight back. It's a miserable code of conduct we're expected to abide by.

Operators define an "assault" as any action by another which threatens our safety. This could be a menacing verbal threat, someone purposefully brushing our shoulder on the way out the door while cursing us, a drink thrown at us, being spit or puked upon, having insults screamed in our face, or an actual physical assault. The district, for some strange reason, tends to solely define "assault" as physical aggression. This is misleading in that it furthers the notion that we're still expected to operate after our bodies have experienced a severe biological shock. The "fight or flight" response to a threat or an assault is scientifically proven to have a lasting effect on the victim. It can sometimes take weeks, months or even years to recover from it. The adrenaline rush, hormonal explosion and muscle tension can be thoroughly exhausting even though the crisis may only last a few minutes. Those who continue in service after such an incident are not fully capable of driving safely because the operator's mind constantly replays the incident. Instead, we need to concentrate on all we're trained to do in the seat. This is called "distracted," or even "impaired" driving, which in other contexts is illegal. Therefore, as far as many operators are concerned, the term "assault" covers a wide spectrum of offenses. It's certainly more inclusive of the open hands we're faced with on the job than the district's deceptively-slim definition of the term.

What's most disheartening is our management's cognitive disconnect from our reality. So far, it has only offered tiny bandages for our gaping wounds. A panel of operators recommends that each bus have "barriers" installed to protect us from the bad guys. When I voiced my opposition to one of these operators, he seemed offended and challenged me to offer proof that the barriers wouldn't be effective. As a single operator, I was merely offering my opinion. Yet he seemed to take it as a personal insult. I was shocked, and tried to explain my reasons for not agreeing with this step. I said it would offend the vast majority of those who respect the ride, and might further infuriate aggressors. To me, this is simple common-sense thinking. To my brother, it was not. If I wanted to work in a cubicle, I wouldn't be a bus operator. Ultimately, we have to leave our cage at some point. I hate the idea of "hiding" behind a barrier. It removes the human interaction that is an important part of our jobs. Simply put, I dislike the idea. It's a knee-jerk reaction to a serious problem. It's also cheaper than increasing security. Reality sucks sometimes.

As I watched the most recent district board of directors meeting, our Director of Safety & Security, Harry Saporta, stumbled through a clumsy presentation on assaults. His "stats" are dramatically lower than reality, as his graph over the first three quarters of 2017 list 28 assaults on transit workers. Our "unofficial" stats show more than triple that number. "Unfortunately," Saporta said, "the numbers are relatively flat. Ah, um, we seem to be making some improvements, but then we see a little bit of a rise and we're still trying to study that and understand exactly why that is."

Flat? What? Yeah, your numbers are. Like an operator's nose smashed by a criminal's fist. Put our stats on a graph compared to management's, and it's more like Mt. Hood overshadowing the Eastern Oregon desert. And you see a "little bit of a rise?" Get your eyes checked, Bullwinkle. I'd say a difference of 63 incidents is quite a rise, yeah. And why is that? Who gives a damn? What are you going to do about it, is the question we're asking.

Oh yeah, you're going to cage us all, making it even more difficult to escape the most determined assailants. Rather than expanding security on buses, it concentrates its attention on light rail after the grisly murder of two brave men who stepped up to protect two young ladies being harassed. True, a few rail operators were assaulted this year, but the majority of offenses is against bus drivers. You might argue in favor of the barriers because of this fact. However, I'm not sold. "Barriers are accepted by most operators," Saporta said. Well not this one, nor many others I've spoken with about them.

Management has disciplined operators for fighting back, but most of these criminals escape severe punishment. Our mental and physical torment should be enough, but management feels the need to suspend operators for any form of retaliation. One operator whose reputation and honor was sullied on the local news because of a whiny miscreant, decided his only escape from torment was to retire after decades of service. After his side of the story was aired by operator advocates, management silently allowed him to fade into the sunset. I never heard it defend his honor or his rock-solid reputation.

Still, there is reason for optimism. After years of simply beating a drum, management is finally taking shaky steps to address operator assaults. While I may not like the ideas being put forth, I'm encouraged it's no longer the creepy uncle hiding in the shadows at our family reunions. Uncle Creepster has been outed at least. We may argue about how to deal with him, but at least we're talking about his antics.

As for anyone who abuses me while I'm attempting to provide you with a safe ride, be warned. Old farts don't fight fair; we can't afford to. My life and personal safety are more important to me than some fallible management edict. I will not sit back and allow someone to pummel this public servant without "reasonably" protecting myself. If some drug-addled cretin crawls onto the dash to render the hallowed barrier useless with a full-frontal attack, can I "reasonably" assume my life is at risk and use extreme measures against the assailant? Take it however you may, but my definition of "reasonable" is drastically different than that of the pampered and misinformed assailants who do us harm. If I were disposed to have some of whatever drug they share, maybe I wouldn't care so much.

Safe travels, and Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Corny Tale


Transit isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle. Truly. We schedule our lives to accommodate our often-strange schedules. Meal times for me include a breakfast prior to work, half a sandwich a few hours into the shift and the rest a few hours later, with a few snacks in between. Dinner comes after work.

Now imagine yourself doing this about 180-degrees and seven hours later than a normal human. I probably have enough seniority to change back to a day-going hack, but I've always been a night owl. Oh well. Yeah, it's bad for humans to work nights too long, but mornings and I have never gotten along. I damn near shot a rooster on the ranch when I was 12 because he'd wake me at the crack of dawn. Good thing I wasn't raised a farm boy.

Recently, I stated that bus operation isn't what I am, it's what I do. That's partially true. During the work week, what I do is what I am. You have to be in "the zone" all through the work week. Routine is critical to concentration "out there." Any anomalies in my daily life can throw me off my game. Get to work five minutes later than planned, and I have to rush just to make my road relief two buses ahead of when my shift starts. Early on, a trainer told us "if you're not at least 15 minutes early, you're late."

The other day I was preparing snacks and sodas for the workday. I like my beverages cold when I drive, mainly for stimulation and refreshment. One cold pack goes on top, the other below the drinks, with a frozen bottle of water between them. The night prior however, I had forgotten to put the packs in the freezer. I was momentarily as confused as a politician whose bankroll has met a steep hill. My schedule dictated that I walk out the door within 90 seconds or I wouldn't be able to make the bus I catch to my road relief.

Transit operators often have to improvise and make snap decisions. This was one of those times. Into the goody bag went the frozen corn. Sorry beloved wife, I know you were saving that for dinner. My bad. But at least it kept my sodies chilled. Necessity, so they say, sends you back to the veggie aisle. I'll probably get those dreaded six-month-old peas for dinner this week, as penance for my sin.



Monday, December 18, 2017

A Holiday Ramble, Deke Style

It's been a while since I wrote to you, dear readers. It's the holiday season, and I've been busier than a one-toothed beaver in a grove of tender timber. I'm sure you have been too. But still, you're buying my book. Thank you. I hope to do you justice with my words of life from the driver side. You honor me by paying to read it, more than you could ever know. 

This time of year, I wax nostalgic. I'm humbled by your taking time to read whatever rolls off these nimble fingertips from the mind of a simple bus operator. Usually, I have no idea what will come of a post. Other times, I actually have a clue, no matter how clueless I may seem. After all, I've only driven a handful of years where many of you have been at it countless times more. Yet, we're all subject to the same roll of the wheels. I'm here for you. I'll write what I see, hear or feel and hope it resonates at the same octave as the hum of your wheels. If not, that's the nature of blue collar life.

We're all just people who simply do a job. Isn't that the muse of today's workforce? Doesn't matter what occupation, we're all just trying to get through our day with a minimum of hassle from people or management. We finish a day, ingest our respective poisons, rinse and repeat. We shoot for a weekend which disappears quicker than it comes, then suddenly we're back on the job, wondering what happened to that Friday jackpot. It's so elusive, we sometimes find ourselves chasing it even as we're living it. Dreams come and go, but work tends to follow us like a hungry dog with no home awaiting it.

It's so appropriate that Dr. Seuss placed "Whoville" upon a snowflake. Humanity after all, has existed only the briefest moment in time and space. Snow eventually melts, taking all those sweet little Whofolks in Whoville into eternity. Before we know it, our "working life," as we know it, has passed. There comes the time we drift off into a retiring golden goodbye. Our lives are two-thirds (or more) finished, and our youth is a figment of a faded imagination. We see youth board our bus, without a clue that they're living what we remember so tenderly, something so golden that it passed through our hands without our knowing we were greedily spending it. I'm jealous of youth, when I realize what I ignorantly squandered. Nowadays, I'm simply biding my time until that golden sunset, but I'm happy nonetheless. I have a family who loves me in spite of myself. Sure, I wish  there was "more" to life than I already am gifted with, but it's all a wash. I have so much more than others do, it's embarrassing to dream of more.

Almost every night, I'm so lucky to have a conversation with my sons. One of them lives on his own, and we have such deep conversations it's like I'm talking to my 22-year-old self. There are so many of my missteps I wish he knew about, but he will trip on his own. There's not much I can tell him except to watch where he's going, remember his mistakes and roll with the changes those trips will take him. He's lucky to have his youth, and I'm thankful to have such a connection with him as he takes the tentative steps I once took. He'll someday be at the point I face today. Hopefully, he'll have more wisdom regarding which way to turn than I have now.

"When we're hungry, love will keep us alive..."
--Timothy B. Schmidt


For so long, I've lamented upon what I don't have, while I should be thankful for what I do. As the sun sets on this year, I'm often reminded to be grateful for what treasures I've found. My wife has helped me realize that our now is more important than whatever dream seems more pressing at any given moment. Today's dream is realized: you're reading this.

I'll be driving a bus this week. It's not what I am, but it is what I do. You board my bus, I give you a safe and hopefully smooth ride. We interact for but a microsecond in your daily lives, but it's more than that. I'm rolling some large transit wheels, looking for danger every inch we travel. Your safety is my utmost concern. When you exit the bus, you may not know it, but I've performed a myriad of safety protocols all designed to keep not only you, but all around my 20-ton beastie, safe. Mission accomplished, several hundred times each day. It's an honor to do this job, and you just rolled with the Deke. I'm but one of a thousand. Thanks for riding along on my personal journey.

Merry Christmas, happy whichever holiday you choose (or not) to celebrate, as we approach yet another Winter Solstice. May the East Wind be always at your back, and sunshine light your path ahead. Peace be with you, and yours.



Thursday, December 14, 2017

Holiday Book Excerpt: Red-Suited Freeloader


This is but one of the stories featured in my book, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. Since it is a holiday-themed story, I thought I'd share it with you as a sample of the variety of stories you'll find in the book. Hope you enjoy...

* * * 

DEKE’S NOTE: I just love the holidays. I feel nostalgic, warm and fuzzy, and all the other clichés at that time of year. A bit silly too, when I wrote this one. It was fun, and earned a few chuckles from my readers. Cheers.

Kris Kringle boarded my bus the other day.
Perhaps he was taking a break from his annual Christmas preparation, took his sleigh out for a test run, and stopped at a brew pub for refreshment. The remnant of a Cuban cigar dangled from

his pouty lips, and I wondered what happened to his pipe. This bedraggled elf also had a herd of flea-infested miniature reindeer with him. They milled about skittishly in the Priority Seating area, acting like they had shared a few brewskies with him.

“These are my service animals,” he told me as he rummaged in his suit for fare. Seems like there’s no dry cleaner at the North Pole, because his outfit was as aromatic as those found discarded under a 
bridge. And it didn’t smell like cloves.

“Okay,” I said. “Never seen this many, or this type, of service animal on the bus. Mind telling me what they’re trained to do?”

Kris looked annoyed, and there was an edge in his voice as he answered. “Why, they fly me sleigh around on Christmas, you numb skull!” (Perhaps his ancestry is a bit Irish, or he just slips into the
brogue after a few pints.)

I winced at his breath. By this noontime, he was pretty much in his own bag.

“If that’s so, then where’s your sleigh?”


“Damn Portland Police impounded it,” Kris growled. “Seems I was parked in a delivery zone, but that is what I do for crying out loud!”

“Okay Santa dude, your fare is a buck for two hours. Please keep your, er, service animals, seated on the floor and out of the aisle.”

He paused, sheepishly glancing up at me, and whispered: “I don’t have any money left. Mrs. Claus keeps me on a tight budget, you know.”

I studied his appearance. I see all kinds of people dressed in red suits during the season. None of them, however, come with reindeer. Something about this fellow had me wondering. After all, I am one of the few who still believe. I decided to take a chance.

“Well, if you’re really Santa, do you mind answering a question?” Several passengers at this point audibly sighed, wanting me to roll the wheels. But hey, none of them had even acknowledged me, let alone said hello as they boarded. I had some time to burn anyway. Despite his condition, this fellow was at least semi-polite and interesting.

“How come, when I was 11 and had been a surprisingly good boy all year long, didn’t you give me that Hot Wheels racetrack I asked for?” Santa studied me intently. He frowned, rubbing his impressively rustic beard.

“You’re that Deke kid, aren’t you?” Surprised and open-mouthed, all I could do was nod. “Remember when you tore the head off your buddy’s sister’s Barbie doll, flushed it down the toilet, and their parents had to have Roto Rooter come out at 11 at night? That’s why, you miserable little brat.” He spat out the last sentence, completing it with a rotten belch.

Wiping away the offensive by-products of his hops-inspired intestinal explosion, I shot back. “I was framed! Now pay up, or you can try to find an Uber livestock truck. Your service animals just peed
on a whole row of seats.”


After a little more back-and-forth, Santa exited the bus. His language was not what you would expect of a jolly old elf. He probably read the name on my badge. I was not entirely convinced.

Later, after my downtown break, I began the trek back through the transit mall. As I left a stop, I scanned again. Before I could hit the accelerator, I beheld an amazing sight. Zipping through the air, headed straight for my windshield, was a weaving gaggle of reindeer pulling a portable food-cart, with that red-suited freeloader at the reins. A blinding red light bounced in front of this makeshift contraption, and I thought about running it. 

At the last moment, it veered off and upward, as it was a reindeer nose. As he rose into the air, I heard the dude exclaim, as his sleigh was a’rockin’: “Merry Christmas to all ye good lil’ Portlanders, but that bus driver gets nothing but a filthy Barbie head and coal in his stocking!” 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Grass Roots Marketing

In case you hadn't heard, I wrote a book. It's been out just over a month now. It has so far garnered rave reviews. It's not just your average "blue collar dude writes a mish-mash collection of odd tales." But, people aren't getting the word. Yet.

Local media is slow to review the book, but they get scores of new titles every week to pore through. Mine is just one, and it's taking time to get the word out. Slowly, however, they're starting to take notice. The Portland Tribune just reviewed the book, and Al Margulies (transit blogger) interviewed me. My publicist tells me now that another media source is interested in an interview. It's going to take a lot more than this.

That's were you come in, my dear readers. You folks have combined to visit this blog nearly 190,000 times in just over four years. From my finger being turned into hamburger to the dude who menacingly stalked me downtown, you've been there. Because of your interest in my writing, I put together this tome, "JUST DRIVE." Now I need your help.

You see, if I constantly pester people via FaceBook to buy it, they quickly tire of my pleas. It's becoming another annoying ad you have to close-click when your favorite YouTube music video comes up. Therefore, I've pretty much used up any goodwill I may have accumulated via my writing. If I keep doing this, people will stop reading my blog posts for fear I'll just be plugging my book. (Just like I'm doing here.)

Although my Friends List has multiplied to a healthy amount, it's nothing compared to the thousands of people YOU know, and those THEY know. If you spread the word around and a few people buy the book as a result, then review and share, it can quickly mushroom and become "viral," as they say these days. When that happens, big name people start to take notice. Once they jump on the wagon, the sky reaches into the Milky Way.

From my stats, I can see this blog is read far and wide. From Nova Scotia to Broward County, Florida and Richmond VA to Denver, CO, I know you're out there. I just had a reader from Australia buy the new e-book a few days ago. Scotland and England have bought a few as well. Ireland, Spain, Russia, India... where are you? Canadians have been buying, but how about France? India? The book is available there too. It tells a story bus operators (and passengers) can relate to no matter where you live.

So please, dear readers, help me get the word out. Twitter, Instagram, FaceBook, email the word to your mates. Ask them to do the same, whether they read the book or not. I'm asking for your help, and hopefully I'll see a lot of comments on this blog post volunteering your assistance. Hey, I'm never going to put together a big enough retirement fund with a 401k plan. We've seen who makes the money on that which we contribute, and they don't wear uniforms like we do.

My next book yearns to be finished. It's a tall tale I came up with while driving my bus one day. A Young Adult/Adult story involving a mythical creature, a bus operator, and a redheaded kid. It includes playful verse, a fun plot, and Deke's sardonic wit. I want to get back to writing it, but this book marketing stuff gets in the way. In order for me to produce my next book I need to at least break even on the first one, but I'm only one-third of the way there.

Please, help?

Thanks,
Deke

Monday, December 11, 2017

Is This Guy for Real?


Man, I love kids. I especially love teasing the little buggers. This time of year, I enjoy singing a few bars of well-loved holiday songs. With a twisted twist, of course. Deke Style.

Knowing the public's sense of humor can be fickle, I'm very careful about when I do so. If I sense a parental playfulness on board, it's reasonably safe to proceed.

"Good evening everyone," I began. "I'd like to wish everyone on the bus a very merry holiday season, and to thank you for riding my bus. And now, for your transit torture, I'm going to share my version of some well-known classic songs."

A bit of historical background is pertinent here. My father played classical guitar and sang old English and Appalachian folk music. He also had a fondness for Christmas music. If you know me, you'll recognize where my ornery humor comes from: Daddy Blue. I not only emulate him in these instances, I downright plagiarize him. Dad entertained each of my kids' classrooms during the holiday seasons. While his delivery was decidedly superior to mine, it's still impossible for me to resist flattering him by emulating him.

"Randolf, the green-eared rattlesnake, had a very noisy tail..." is about as far as that tune gets. There's a sudden eruption from my youngest passengers.

"THAT'S not how it goes!" they'll invariably shout, giggling all the while. "It's Rudolph!"

"It's not? Rudolph who?" I'll say with a healthy dose of incredulity. "Are you sure? My daddy taught me that song! I'm sure that's how it's sung."

The giggling spreads to their parents, and perhaps a few other non-related adults. The teenagers continue to sneer, shaking their heads at the "lame" bus driver. Even so, I catch one of them in half-smile. They don't realize how closely-removed they are to single-digits, but as a dad and grandfather, I can easily spot those who haven't totally lost their childish sweetness.

They're now in my grasp, these cute little faces in my passenger mirror. Knowing the traffic light sequence will allow another one of Dad's "classics," I puff myself up for another run. My singing voice isn't bad, but I'm not about to audition for any of those talent shows.

"I know one you'll love!" I warn my audience.

"Oh boy," a parent will grumble.

Queuing up the microphone, my voice warbles into another bastardized version of holiday cheer.

"You better watch out, you better not pout..."

I pause here for dramatic effect. My little folks are poised to pounce at this moment. Just as the traffic light turns green, I give them more ammunition.

"...EASTER BUNNY'S coming to town!"

Amidst the peals of protest, one night I heard a lad of about six ask his parents, "Is this joker for real?"

They're just lucky. I know Cheech & Chong's "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" song by heart. Just imagine what mischief I could twist out of that one.

Safe travels this holiday season, my dear readers.


Friday, December 8, 2017

An Author's Muse

Dear Readers,

It's nice for a dream to become reality. The trick is to not expect it to succeed beyond all imagination. Publishing my first book has been my goal since I was unable to grow a beard. Now that I have done both, it's difficult to sit and watch what happens.

I've always had a problem with wanting more. No matter how well I do in life, there's a sense that I could do better. It's hard to sit back and enjoy one success. If this keeps up, my gravestone will read: "He went far, but maybe too far; he fell off a cliff while taking the road less traveled."

Stopping to smell the roses has always done me well. Allowing the scent to linger, and enjoying the moment, is difficult when you keep seeking better roses. Handle your favorite too much, and you'll find a thorn to prick a finger. I spent so much time trying to perfect the bloom, when I finally let it go, the petals flew off the bud. Now it's out of my hands, and in those of an audience.

It's actually a relief, when I refuse to critique and simply accept that it's finished. I can't even read it now. There were so many edits, corrections, additions and deletions, I'm afraid to find something that could have been improved just... a... wee... bit more. More. There's that word again. It's good enough Deke, just let it go.


It's actually a good thing I haven't left the safety net of the Deke Mystique. If it does well, I don't feel comfortable being "recognized." If it clunks, ditto. Let the words do the speaking; I type better than I speak. Perhaps it's a bit of literary cowardice, but it's also a safety net. My job is to drive; my love is writing about it. I'm one when I drive, sometimes both. Either way, concentration and vigilance is vital in my quest to provide a safe and smooth ride every day. Allowing Deke to take over is a form of vanity neither of me can afford.

The marketing is left to those who purchase, then read, JUST DRIVE. Several have left glowing reviews on Amazon. The Portland Tribune published a glowing literary review this week. Blogger Al Margulies graciously interviewed me; not just once, but even longer the second time. I'm thankful for each, and simultaneously a bit surprised. There will be others not so complimentary. If I make back the investment put into production, it will be a success. If not, it wasn't a giant monetary loss. Anything more will be a bonus only achieved (to date) in my daydreams.

As I drove today, I passed by a good friend and fellow operator driving in the opposite direction. To my great amusement, he held up his copy of my book with a huge grin on his face. My passengers may have wondered what caused me to laugh out loud, but it felt so damn good. It was a moment of pure, delightful joy.

Read on, folks. Tell people about this book, ask them to do the same. It's all a writer can ask. Oh, and thanks for taking the ride with me.

With appreciation, I most certainly am
Deke N. Blue
Author

Monday, December 4, 2017

Snow What?

Last winter we had quite a lot of white. While it doesn't snow every year in Portland, sometimes it does. Instead of plowing through and then writing about it, I'm going to address the issue prior to any possible snow event.

My employer nailed it today, getting ahead of the storm before it hits. I love it when people think proactively. Being informed beforehand can help people prepare for what might (or might not) happen this winter where transit is concerned. Portland weather can be very difficult to predict. We're in a valley that ranges from 50 feet above sea level to several hundred feet. Our atmosphere can produce snow in one area, freezing rain in another, and just rain in the rest. When a winter storm approaches, there are many possible scenarios.

Operators have to be prepared for any eventuality, because we're expected to be at work even when many businesses close. This last week, our management wisely started providing operators with cold weather tools such as ice trekkers, lights and helpful information ahead of whatever Mother Nature might throw at us this winter. It seems the past several years' hard lessons are being heeded, and I applaud this step in a positive direction. Hopefully, cots, blankets and food will be provided for those who wisely choose to sleep at the garages when bad weather hits, rather than chance going home and getting stuck there.

For transit, the tiniest hint of white stuff puts our entire team on alert. Maintenance must be ready, if more than a few inches of snow fall or there's a chance of ice, to chain up hundreds of buses on a moment's notice. Operators have to leave home sometimes an hour or more early to ensure we arrive where we need to be prior to the start of our run.  Trainers are split into shifts to be on hand for many different duties, from digging out stuck buses to guiding operators through tricky situations. Road supervisors throw on extra layers and bring additional supplies because they are out in the worst conditions supporting operators in many different situations. More Station Agents are on hand to man the phones on Snow Lines used by operators with a wide range of questions. Dispatchers and Controllers have a myriad of additional calls during weather events, often working themselves to total exhaustion in their incredible efforts to support us and direct aid where it's needed most. Assistant Managers work late as well, helping as necessary.


We work best as a team, when everyone pulls together in the toughest of times. The riding public as well plays a valuable role during these situations. As I read the agency's Winter Weather Tips on a FaceBook post however, I noticed the requisite whiny comments by our generally-unprepared passengers. It's easy to blame us, and they do. We're so late. MAX Shuttle buses are infrequent. Scheduled buses don't arrive. Well yeah folks, it happens. Let's explore why, before you blow through another box of tissue with your uniformed tantrums.

Plan on buses being late. If our buses are all chained, we're limited to 25mph. Even if we were crazy enough to go faster, we can't. The buses are governed to this speed because going any faster can create so much centrifugal force the chains can break. How many of us saw busted chain sets on the roadways last winter? They can fail even at slower speeds. Remember, even the most heavy-duty chains take a beating from 40,000 pounds constantly beating them into shreds. Sliding into curbs can break chains too, although we're usually able to avoid this type of mishap.

It depends on the route usually as to how "late" we'll be. Actually, you can throw this term out the window if you dare open it. Not only are we limited by chains, but also other traffic. People are notorious for driving when they really don't need to, or know how to. Cars constantly slide by us, get stuck, and slow our already turtle-like progress. Accidents can block our routes. Buses can break down. Passenger loads are heavier. The wise will leave their wheels safely in the garage and catch a ride on transit during winter weather. Schedules are designed around optimal conditions when buses roll at or just below the speed limit.

When you do ride transit during inclement weather, plan accordingly. If you don't have to be at work, don't go. Plenty of non-essential businesses will close in winter weather. If you must be on the job and you ride transit, be ready to wait. Bring food, extra gear, phone chargers. Wear warm clothing. Make sure you tell the boss you might be late. Be prepared if you can't get home, to stay at work or somewhere nearby. A little preparation can help you avoid extreme inconvenience, and also danger. Ice trekkers for your shoes are a very wise investment, plus anything that elevates your warmth and enhances safety.

When the bus arrives, be grateful. We're doing our best to move people through these storms, and we work long hours in horrible conditions. Don't be in a hurry. When we arrive, be assured we've battled many miles of treachery to get there. Some operators have been driving a long time without a break, so when you berate us for being "late," your ignorance is showing. We don't need (or appreciate) a lecture on the subject. Stay on the sidewalks. It's very unsafe to "meet the bus" on the streets. Wait until we have safely stopped and opened the doors before approaching, because a bus might slide right into you. Remember that we normally won't service a stop at the curb like we normally do, to avoid getting stuck. If your normal stop is on a hill, find one that isn't. If we're going downhill on some routes, these stops are often impossible to serve.

Most people are very gracious and thankful for our efforts, and this is truly welcome to us. Please, just get on the bus, sit down and enjoy the sights. Let us do our job. It takes intense concentration in the best of conditions to safely maneuver our beasts; in bad weather we need every bit of wit and will we can muster to safely traverse streets that are often unplowed and rutted messes.

If a bus slips, slides and careens along, please don't scream, gasp or otherwise startle the operator. Truly, we're driving by the seat of our pants. No matter how Herculean our efforts, sometimes we get stuck. Don't panic, bombard the operator with questions, or tell us what to do. We'll work through the proper channels and inform you as pertinent information reaches us. Please don't demand or command. Your safety is our most important goal, even if you don't agree with how we handle a situation. We don't want to be stuck any more than you do. In extreme conditions, please follow your operator's instructions without dissent.

Trips that normally take you an hour to reach your destination, allow for 2-3 times that in inclement weather. If you arrive early, it's a bonus. When you do arrive, applaud that gritty operator who successfully and safely delivered you. We take great pride in our work, and a little appreciation and cooperation go a long way to ensure your safety.

Fingers and eyes are crossed here, folks. We hope it's a mild winter, but if not, we'll still be here for you. If the thousands of people in transit operations have cooperation from those we serve, we'll all get through it with fewer mishaps. Knowing my team, and those I've driven for years, we have a great chance to make it safely through yet another Silver Thaw.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Just Because...

Just because... I asked you to "lighten up" your clothing so I can see you at night, you get on board every day with a scowl and don't even look at me. No greeting, just the proverbial transit operator snub. Your face scrunched up like a wolverine in heat, face deliberately turned away from mine as I greet you with my customary kindness. Just because... your safety and ensuring you get seen by your drivers is my top concern.

Just because... you had a rotten day, doesn't mean you should take it out on me, your fellow passengers (who don't give a dinky damn), and the gentle karma of my ride. If you're in a grumpy place, leave it behind, along with your grouchy face.

Just because... you've ridden a bus since Jesus was a kid, doesn't make you an expert on transit operation. Your advice is duly noted with a boulder of salt, and rest assured it is promptly filed in my bulging "Don't Care" file next to my Preparation H.

Just because... you see a post from my brother Chuck extolling the literary landmark of my publishing a book, and without reading a word of it, you're not qualified to critique it as another "Grandpa Jones mutter fest."

Just because... you don't like pit bulls, it doesn't mean every one of them is a snarling beast trained to eat your 'nards. If there's one on board when you get on, rest assured the bus driver has duly asked all we're legally allowed to about the dog's status as a "Service Animal." Just because... you have an over-inflated sense of self-importance doesn't give you a green light to complain about my brother doing his job. Especially considering the animal in question was already on the bus when he relieved the previous driver, who is a stickler for passengers adhering to transit code. Some of the sweetest dogs I've known are of this breed. I'd rather have one of them on board than you, sissy boy.

Just because... you paid an obscene price for that fancy new phone, doesn't mean your safety is the responsibility of others; it's a two-way street. Just because... your fancy new phone's camera app is fascinating, doesn't mean we are clairvoyants who automatically realize you're waiting for a different bus line. Just because... I honk to get your attention as I approach that stop, doesn't give you permission to scowl (as if to say, "how DARE you interrupt me?") and wave me away like you're shooing a fly away from your stinky butt. You're welcome.

Just because... I'm a bus operator doesn't mean I know the route and schedule of the bus you're waiting for. How about looking up the schedule yourself, since you're phone-stoned to begin with?

Just because... your car cost more than I make in a year, doesn't make you immune from obeying basic traffic laws. You may think you're important, but perhaps you're about 1/40th as much as those on my bus. Just because... you're behind the wheel of that snob-mobile, doesn't mean you can actually drive it.

Just because... I get paid a decent wage for a job that's infinitely more difficult than you can fathom, doesn't mean you're entitled to verbally abuse me. And, chances are your taxes do NOT pay my salary.

Just because... you pulled the stop cord late because your nose was buried in Donald's Tweet Factory doesn't mean I'm apt to slam on my brakes and throw Vinny Veteran on the floor just to accommodate your inattentive ass. I didn't miss your bus stop, you did. The next stop is just a few blocks ahead. Maybe next time you'll pay attention.

Just because... you should do the right thing in the first place.