Sunday, April 22, 2018

Goodbye My Ass... I'm BACK!

Guess I just couldn't stay away after all. It was well past a necessary break from creative bliss, no matter how much a habit it might be. I'm back, rested, revitalized, and ready to give it another go.

This blog has evolved with me through five years of my career as a bus operator. At first, I was eager to describe something new. As it progressed, the down side reared its ugly head and my first instinct was to describe everything I saw. The seamier side of transit dragged me down into despair many a time, but a stubborn Irish resilience brought me back up again. All I wanted to do was document what it's like to be US. It's become evident that this part of the mission has been accomplished.

The past four weeks have been spent in various states of relaxation and introspection. When you write, creative exhaustion can wreak havoc on the psyche. Mine came crashing down all at once, as I'm sure you noticed. Describing this all fits into the FTDS scheme. Since I'm a "writer who drives a bus for a living," it's imperative that you read what happens on both sides of the yellow line. It seems I just needed to put the writing aside for a few weeks, live in the moment and forget the impulses that have followed me throughout this carnival ride. It was tough. I wanted to write to you so badly I had to force myself to ignore this keyboard. After all, I wrote early and so often this blogger refused to "write just to write." I wanted to have something new to say instead of pounding these keys with repetitive mind bubbles.

When you've driven a bus for five years, you're just leaving rookie status and heading into veteran territory. Of course, to many who have decades of service, I'm still "just a kid." Yet, it's a much different world out there as I roll into the hind end of my first decade. Part of my recent literary psychosis is nothing seems new any more. Very little surprises me. Innovative post ideas have been elusive. Perhaps I was just trying too hard, because as I drove during my hiatus, plenty of gems came to mind. It took a strong dose of humility to quash them. I wanted a new direction, not the boring and predictable.

Sometimes, a rest itself is enough to help the ideas flow again. In two weeks, Deke turns five years old. I've started my second book, a step toward fiction that began 20 years ago and came about last year as I tooled along the Tillikum Bridge one fine summer's day. Now that I've accepted that JUST DRIVE remains a slight blip on the literary radar, new directions are beckoning. Leaving this blog behind isn't gonna happen. It wouldn't be very nice to leave you hanging like when the network cancelled "Northern Exposure" without a finale. FTDS is just too much fun. So you're stuck with me... as long as you keep reading.

It's funny, but I've become entranced by a TV show called "Sons of Anarchy." The writing is good, and it keeps drawing me in. Not violent by nature, I tend to shy away from such stories. Branching out from what makes me feel comfortable tends to shred inhibitions and help me find new avenues of creativity. Watching TV is something I've avoided the past decade because of the inherent violence embraced by American society. Hurting or destroying others has always turned me off; I prefer to celebrate the positive in our collective soul. Isolation doesn't always inspire innovation. Sometimes you just gotta ride, baby. The way SAMCRO deals with constant catastrophe reminds me of my own life. Each time I step up the ladder, some asshole tends to kick me down again. Still, I tend to stand back up, say "FUCK YOU," and start climbing again. It's just stubbornness, I reckon. That's what I need to tap into again, to keep this blog relevant.

So here I come again. Hopefully, I'll regain some of the creativity that spawned "Twitterpated" and other gems. For now, I'll refrain from picking on management (too often) because that dog can't be trained no matter how many times its follies roll over. Our union officers are up for election this year, and I won't pick sides. Sorry, but I was trained on journalism. Those running for office are welcome to tell me their platforms, and maybe I'll interview a few. My choices will remain private and I won't get in the middle of a political firestorm. This ol' dawg tends to like several of those running for office, and making up my own mind is going to be one helluva challenge. The important thing is that this election should be about issues, not personalities. What can you do to help us all? Mudslinging won't get you my vote... positive ambition is preferable.

Hopefully, by this fall, I'm going to have an interesting series of posts dealing with the mechanical side of operations. We're a dysfunctional family, but we need to understand each other better. There are many questions I have for our brothers and sisters who keep our rides humming. With any luck, I'll be able to make it fun and interesting while learning a few things along the way.

OK, so now I'm wandering. Jameson's tends to have that effect on me. Most importantly, I'm back. Thanks for being patient with my self-indulgent wandering as I pondered the future. Now watch out. Deke has some new boots to test management's ludicrous policies, and it's time to do some kickin'. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 26, 2018

Contemplating Goodbye

"What happened to Deke?" a fellow driver asked me recently.

"He's on vacation," I replied.

It was a question I've asked myself quite often these days. This alter ego has its difficulties. After nearly five years as a blogger, the well is running a bit dry. Looking back, I've done a lot more bitching than describing this transit life. Promising more than I've delivered, it seems. So Deke has been reflecting, trying to find the writer's niche he once hit upon with a vengeance. It has been difficult to find my voice again.

When I began, life as a bus operator was new. I was excited to describe what I saw, felt and learned. These days, nothing is exciting. It's all the same old droll scene, rolled into a collection of similar runs and monotonous days. Once you've learned a gig, it becomes second nature. People are who they will be, and they offer little in surprises after a while. The bus tends to drive itself, with the human touch keeping it out of danger's meandering path. My mind wanders a lot now. Although I'm constantly scanning, it seems automatic. This writer's muse will take over, but without a free hand to record thoughts, they come and go like a cloud's shadow rolling across the Willamette. Later, the idea will return, but it doesn't seem as noteworthy as it had before. If it sticks, I'll write it into my ever-present notebook. Once I touch the keys, it doesn't seem as poignant as originally imagined.

It could be that I'm such a Portlander now, that those amazing things I saw as a newbie no longer register as out of the ordinary. That really sucks. I'm the kind of person who enjoys finding joy in the simplest points of any view. Very little surprises me now, and that's unsettling. One reader told me I use "too many big words" when I aim high. That was an insult to bus operators everywhere, as if we're a bunch of simpletons who never read above a fourth-grade level. Many of my co-workers are highly intelligent, have been successful in other careers, or have driven bus for 20-30 years and soar intellectually above the average blue collar worker. I know operators who are so much smarter than I am, it's sometimes embarrassing to ask if they read my blog. But you know what? I've always written this way. As JuneBug said, I write the way I talk. If you don't like it, there's nothing I can write (or say) to change that. Life can often be a dog's butt cheek.

At this point, there's a lot of (self-induced) pressure to produce something that doesn't sound like I'm a grouchy bus driver. Producing my book was a serious lesson in humility. It made me cringe to read some of those early posts, but I kept their original flavor because this blog (and the book) was meant to chronicle the progression from trainee to hardened operator. My problem now is how to find things to write to soften that outer core. Driving the bus in difficult situations is no longer an issue. Handling difficult people remains a challenge, but nothing truly surprises me. As for picking on management, it seems to remain the same even when the faces change. Their attitude remains a constant, no matter how much I lambaste them. Resistance, as The Borg said, is "futile."

Many wonder why I've held on to "Deke" so long now. The answer is that being a public figure would be too distracting. I've seen people bring JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane onto my bus. If they knew I was the author, it would be too tempting for ego to take over my bus. It's the artist's nature to discuss his work, and to be recognized for it. But I'm entrusted daily with the safety of hundreds of people. My mind needs to focus on this vital point; everything else is secondary. To boast could be dangerous; to bask could be deadly. My ego isn't as important as safety. So I often just let those books sail past, and let my ego quietly pet itself. Besides, it's more satisfying to me that my words are being read; the fact that I wrote them is a distant second.

I'm sorry these posts have lately been so self-indulgent. I'm at a crossroads in my literary gig. Facing my 40th high school reunion, certain parts of my life have come up for review. This bloggery is but one of them. As I write this, I'm watching an Eagles concert from 1977. It was recorded when I was a testosterone-driven teenager busily cruising Main Street and finding every excuse to make out with my girlfriend. Back then, writing was fresh, and I knew it was what I wanted to do. Yet, in the scheme of needful things, it wasn't as important as getting laid, hanging with my buds, and contemplating a narrow path through the void. Nights back then were long, they were fun; today they are ordinary, and whisper past me like the voice of a long-dead friend. My life's days seem more pointedly numbered; back then, the moon was new. Now I look at our satellite with different eyes, even though it's remained the same while I've aged much more quickly.

"She wonders how life got this crazy. She thinks about a friend she knew in school. Did she get tired, or did she just get lazy? She's so far gone, she feels just like a fool." -- Don Henley and Glenn Frey

Yeah, I often feel like that Lyin' Eyes girl. If I've reached the pinnacle describing my job, then to continue could be construed as just hanging on. Not being able to describe this journey with anything but excitement and wonder might just bore you. It's a conundrum (sorry, big word there). Should I just lay off, wander on new word journeys, and visit here when I truly have something worthwhile to share? Maybe one of my new brothers and sisters could begin their own journal, take the baton and run with it. Perhaps a simple break is in order. I do have other writing projects on hold. Problem is, this blog has become such a part of me it's hard to let go. It seems however, that it's become more important to me than it has the readership at large. Hits are shrinking, interest is waning. Is this a hint that it's time for Deke to sail off into a rare yet brilliant Oregon sunset? I really don't want to, but  there are more vital things I could do.

There is one blogger I really enjoy reading. Robert at does a wonderful job describing exactly what driving a run feels like. You can almost smell the Florida coast and hear his passengers as you cruise along with his posts. He's been a great supporter of my blog, and wrote a nice blurb in the book. You should really check out his writing.

Mystery is a delicious tonic. I'll just remain anonymous as I sail with prevailing winds. Yeah, sometimes I tell people (with a wink and a smile, delivered with a Deke business card) who I am, and hope they read the book. Mostly, I just put out my best Tommy Chong voice and say "Yeah, I know that dude, maaan." Either way, it's been a fun ride, and I thank you all for sticking with me. Hard as it may be, it's time Deke saddled up. I'm sitting in a rut, and if I don't ride in a new direction, my steed could get stuck.

Linda Ronstadt has long been my favorite female vocalist. Not only have I always admired her impressive voice, but she was never afraid to break away from what people expected. She tackled different styles, explored avenues that interested her, and always excelled. Refusing to be typecast, she was a brave artist. If she failed to impress, it didn't bother her. The journey itself was more important to her than simply enjoying the view.

An artist is expected to branch out, to constantly improve. Now that I've had 215,000 hits and sold z-amount of books as a transit blogger, the time has come for me to find that elusive new groove. It's something I've put off for quite a while, but hangers-on never seem to move forward. Procrastination has always been my biggest fault. But my time is running shorter. I've always been one to push myself to unexpected limits, and I'm ready to (once again) take the road less travelled. I hope you have enjoyed this ride enough to follow wherever it takes me.

Peace be with you my friends, and safe travels wherever you roll. I'll be back, but for now it's time for a break.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Union Strong, or Individuals Weak

Up until now, I've regaled you with stories of an infant bus operator finding maturity in this job. Surely, my motives were misguided. It was my hope that vast numbers of you would buy my book. It is very poor of me to expect this, to secretly wish my words would give me a bump in pay, the chance of a more prosperous future on the backs of the very people I toil with in this struggle to keep a roof over my head.

This is my confession. It comes with the understanding that to mirror the motives of our financial lords goes against everything I have ever stood for, or believed in. Some say, if you can't beat 'em, perhaps you should join 'em. This however doesn't provide us with the opportunity to grow our souls in an honorable manner. It only allies us with those who have lorded over the common people for millennia. Such behavior does nothing to further the notion of equality and justice, or prosperity, for all who strive to achieve it.

Brothers and sisters, we are poised at the most crucial divide humanity has ever known. We've been fooled into fighting amongst each other while the puppet masters pull our strings and insist we aim our weapons inward, toward our collective selves. It's time to rise up against the tyranny, to insist that a majority rules rather than the slimmest of immoral numbers not get the best of US.

History illustrates many mistakes of the conquered, the most glaring being the ability of a diverse mass of people to force change with unanimous insistence. We're told to argue the points which humans have learned to hold most dear. Religion, certain "rights," race, and the silliest of all, "social standing." It keeps us fighting each other, while the shenanigans of those with the most go largely unchallenged. These string-holders have become so masterful at encouraging our collective internal warfare that we become aligned with the wolves who encircle us, ready to tear our limbs asunder and feast upon whatever spoils we leave them. We devour each other along with those who encouraged it, and are so mad with hatred that we don't see the bloodthirsty beasts encouraging the feeding frenzy.

A few thousand years ago, this battle was less "civilized." The masters pitted man versus man in large amphitheaters. It was entertaining to them to watch us kill each other. The "fans" cheered the disgusting carnage in fear that if they didn't join the blood lust, their masters would feed them to the same fate they witnessed. Today, they use the media, internet, and a religious divide to accomplish their goals. As a result, less than one percent of the world's masses hold a masterful grip on its wealth.

Unions came into true power during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when workers rose to demand better working conditions and fair wages. They marched into power during the Industrial Revolution, giving rise to the powerful force that would become the Teamsters and others. The union I'm proudly a member of, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), was founded in 1892. It quickly won concessions for streetcar workers, who were exposed to weather elements until they won negotiations and their control stations were enclosed. It currently represents nearly 200,000 transit workers in the United States and Canada.

After World War II, unions became even more powerful as they demanded better working conditions for many in the working middle class who performed the tasks which fueled the booming economy. Toward the end of the 20th century, unions came under fire from those who had benefited most from the sweat and blood of front line workers. Greed fueled a massive campaign to discredit unions, and many were convinced to turn away from the only lobby that worked for them. To this day, many in the dwindling middle class believe unions are a negative force that should be abolished. Unfortunately, they are also convinced that those who want them to agree with this have their best interests at heart. It's obvious to anyone who can see forests through the trees, that these powerful bastards don't give a damn about those who fight their battles.

We have a national disaster looming, and it's not any foreign battlefield. We're at war with ourselves, with the very soul of what makes America a wonderful place to live. I look at my brothers and sisters with respect and admiration, for I know the struggles we all face. We differ politically, yet both major parties need to be abandoned. We need to stop fighting what we're expected to fight about, and begin a new battle: that age-old warfare of those who have little versus those who stole the rest.

I care little about religion, but much for our souls. Treat others with dignity, keep all organized religion out of politics, and work together for the common good. It's simple. We've lost the ability to send Mr. Smith to Washington. It's now controlled by corporations and power brokers. The power to self-govern is all but an outdated silly notion. We pledge allegiance to a flag owned by lobbyists and those who pay them.

When I hear of low voter turnouts, it makes me sick. Some say their votes "don't count." When you don't vote, your voice is most assuredly lost. When decent people running for office are beaten by corporatists with deep pockets, we all lose. Our country is full of wonderful people who have the potential to take our country back. However, we're bullied by Big Money into believing this notion is but a fairy tale. Mr. Smith has no chance unless we give it back to him. Supporting the status quo won't do the trick.

Another problem which spells doom for our freedom is the time we spend being spoon-fed "news" that merely supports our stubborn beliefs. Few are willing to challenge the norm... honestly. What we're seeing in today's political circus is a web of misinformation propagated by Russia or China, our own corporate kahunas, and the worldwide power brokers. Choose your poison, and you'll be fed accordingly. Keep religious and political factions fighting, encourage vicious social division; the spoils are eaten whilst we argue with and kill one another. Divide and conquer. There ya go.

So yeah, I wrote a book about what it's like to drive a bus. Big whoop, evidently. The corporate media has largely ignored it because... the voice of the "little guy" is supposed to be ignored. Academia won't likely recognize a largely self-taught writer without an agent and large publishing firm backing him up. I turned to you as my main marketing focus, and a precious few of my loyal readers have purchased and (hopefully) enjoyed it. Sure, I never expected to be on Oprah's reading list, or trumpeted by the NY Times, but a tiny whisper within me asked, "why not?"

Instead of trying to become widely-read, it has become clear that my focus should be to work toward uniting US in an effort to win back the spoils which millions of workers, and those who toiled before we came, have bled and sweated for. It is nobler to shout a worthwhile message to a few and hope it grows into an audible roar, than to sit back and wish it would happen.

I say to you all who read this: do not sit back and let the wheels of a few crush us all into the dust. Fight for the best in all of us. Don't agree with your co-worker on politics or religion? Cast it aside and find what you agree upon. There are common ideals residing within us that genetics endowed us with long ago. We have more to fight for than against. If we allow the rascals to continue their ruinous rule, humans are doomed. We can't seem to help ourselves. I believe, however, that we capable of doing great things, if we can only let loose of what's "expected" and strive for what's "possible."

God only asks that we love one another. Only mankind expects us to hate. Religions were invented by man. If there truly is but one God, there are about eight billion ways of seeing this deity. Love is internal, yet we can share it. Why then must we fight each other, when the opposite is what is expected of us? Think about this when you next cast a ballot... union, local or national elections... see the person's motives who asks your support. Is this person brought to you by Big Money, or do they march door-to-door with truth and honesty on their side?

It's within us to force massive changes toward a common goodness. Otherwise, we're simply pawns in an ancient chess game.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Four Months into the Abyss

My fifth birthday as a blogger nears, and I'm at a loss for appropriate words. Laughable, if you've read this for any length. I've often wondered what would be worse: losing my hands with which I chronicle the strange travels of my mind, or the eyes that have witnessed this (and my family's) entire life. If rendered unable to walk or talk, as doctors predicted from my birth, writing would still be possible.

Even if I couldn't see, I could feel the keys. Here's an interesting tidbit for you... I often write with my eyes closed. This mind's eye sees what it is that needs to be said, transmits signals to these hands that have known a keyboard since they owned but a gentle dozen years, and words appear. To me, it's quite natural, second nature.

As a young journalist, I learned to compose on a manual typewriter. Each keystroke had to be precise. The mind and hands became one early on. Always the insufferable perfectionist, I quickly learned to feel when my fingers keyed mistakes. I would backspace without looking, "x" out the offending characters and continue without losing the muse. Hey, I'm wandering off into tangential nonsense. Let's return to wherever it was I intended this to be.

Perhaps I've been putting off the difficult... what to say. I could put down a thousand words and not say anything. Nothing worthwhile, that is. For a four-almost-five-year-old, that's about as normal as it gets. Judging from my stats of blog hits and book sales however, you're evidently tiring of the tirades and bad attitude Deke has fallen into. I get it. It pisses me off too.

A Station Agent tonight asked how the book is doing. I didn't know how to correctly answer the question. "Hasn't sold as much as I hoped," was the only reply I could muster.

"Well," he asked, "you didn't expect it to be a bestseller, did you?"

"Hmm," I replied. "I guess not. But I had hoped to sell more than 500 books by now. Guess my sights were set a bit higher."

Why did I go into this project? Deep within, I knew it likely wouldn't set the literary world ablaze. After all, I'm a simple transit operator describing what it's like to drive a bus. Perhaps I hoped it would resonate with the other working Joes and Janes who make the world's economy roll. What I've learned from this experience is that there are people who read, those who buy books just to say they did, and folks who believe there's no time to read. Some of us would rather not read about what consumes the best of us, especially after completing yet another excruciatingly-tedious shift of one of the world's most depressing jobs. Of 80,000+ drivers in this country, I had hoped to sell books to a tenth. It's more like a hundredth so far. A handful of people from Scotland, Canada and Australia have chipped in a few bucks to see what I had to say. Other than that, poof... go the dreams of a writer who likely waited too long to put himself out there.

Sure, it's a bit disheartening. It's important however, to acknowledge the great things that have happened through the experience of publishing my (first) book. For the first time in nearly four decades, I returned to a radio studio. This time, on the other side of the microphone, as a guest. Oregon Public Broadcasting, perhaps in a move to rid itself of a social media pest, agreed to interview me on its "Think Out Loud" program. It was a prestigious invitation which I'm still awed and honored by. The Northwest Labor Press called for an interview, as did The Portland Tribune. Our local Amalgamated Transit Union 757 leadership have been very supportive, and I've appreciated some uplift from our International as well.

The rest of our local media has remained silent. Willamette Week "passed" on reviewing the book, as has (evidently) the Mercury and Portland Monthly. I wouldn't even give The Boregonian a chance, given its heavy transit management slant. The others? Must be afraid to rock the transit bully's boat. If you rock it too much, some are too afraid to brave windy waves to do anything but row toward calm water. Predictable, the staleness of the local media. Unpredictably, management hasn't seemed to mind one of its operators dared to blast it in print. Maybe it's just waiting for the opportune moment to pounce. If it doesn't know my true identity at this point, well... you just can't fix ignorance. I've written about that enough in this blog though, so we'll leave it there.

My brothers and sisters have been amazingly supportive and complimentary. This means more to me than any other acclaim I could possibly achieve. They find me, sometimes hanging on to the book in wait for the moment we meet again, so I can sign their copy. More than anything, this is an absolute honor above all others. Thank you, my brothers and sisters of the road, because you are who I write for to begin with.

Oh well. My first frolic into the literary morass hasn't moved many, but I'm moved by those who have taken the ride. It's fun, when I stop to see a lifelong dream realized. I keep pulling myself up, and am often treated to encouraging words and hugs of support. Anyone else might be discouraged, but I'm feeling the opposite. Deke has more words to become bound. There's a certain story I came up with while driving over the Tillikum Crossing that is a work in progress. Maybe it's just a speed bump in front of a long hill. Even so, it's something that will last beyond my heartbeat. And that, my dear friends, makes it so very worthwhile.

Monday, March 12, 2018

An Inspiring Day

Such a lovely, sunny pre-spring day. It's the type of day I'd love to bottle up and save for a brutally cold January. Like I said in my book, this job provides me an office with six wheels and an incredible view. Today was a perfect example.

Mount Hood was brilliantly shining in our star's graceful light. People were out and about, taking advantage of this Nor'west rarity before the routine rainfall drowns the brief wonder. I drove a route out of the ordinary routine, recalling it from memory and hoping nothing had changed since we last made the roll. It was the same, and that was good.

The main reasons I took this job were not only necessity, but my fondness for people and a love of driving. Now that I have over five years behind this particular wheel, it's easier to pay attention to more than the ordinariness of the job. "Scanning" has taken a new avenue while I roll. Sure, I watch for the normal dangers and my head swivels more than a teenager's watching babes in bikinis, but I see more than I once did. Buildings that were under construction when I last drove the route have been completed, and new ones are rising. Neighborhoods remain visually as I recall, but paint jobs and people have not. Now I see architecture in the homes, the street art gracefully reaching out to passers-by, new businesses replacing old. Refurbished, majestic homes that have stood since the dawn of the 20th century attract me; those torn down and replaced with mega-modern/charmless half-size eyesores sadden me.

No matter the aesthetic changes, the feel of Old Portland remains. Is it "Weird?" Not really. It's just Portland, man. We're a city of infinite possibility and finite leadership. Someone could leave here now as a child and return in 20 years and find its feel hasn't changed much. Kinda like my old desert hometown... whenever I visit, it's as if I never left. The faces remain. A bit more lined and gray-haired, but so am I. The visions of me as a 9-year-old tooling down side streets on my Schwinn Stingray are as real as the Rexall on Main Street.

As I've grown into a Portlander, I've seen some changes come about, and feel new roots have grown within me. The old Sellwood Bridge is rebuilt anew; Tebo's fell to the car-dealership axe; the Tillikum came about in my tenure as an operator; Line 4 will soon be split in half. Changes become aesthetically-copacetic in a world surrounded by the unsettling. As long as we still have Mike's Drive In, Wonderland, Roake's, Broadway Books, Annie Bloom's and Powell's, life here remains comforting. Likewise, as long as there's a transit steering wheel in my hand, I remain a constant in our city's evolution.

Ahh, sunshine. If only for the wink of an Irish boy's eye, it's a refreshing wonder.

Long term forecast: rain showers followed by sun breaks and more rain... for the next three months or so. Today however, I enjoyed the respite. The weather doesn't change very much up here. As long as my wipers wash it away, I still have the most evolving view of this city, in my rolling office.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Don't LOVE Me, Boy

"I'll stand my ground, and I won't back down."
-- Tom Petty


It's not healthy to get too much of it. My mind seizes when there's an overdose. It's hurtled my way from several altitudes each day I'm a transit operator. At home, there is a blissful and comforting, complete... lack of it.

In the absence of LOVE, I can finally be at peace. When confronted with this beast of humanity's lowest behavior, my hackles rise. Blood pressure spikes, face reddens, fists and jaw clench. Somehow, I'm able to squelch my disgust of such evil and not smash my fists through something.

As I drove my route one day, a teen aged boy, whose peach fuzz permeated an oily acne jungle only overshadowed by his dragon breath, decided to test my patience of this overrated condition. Every other word in each of his sentences was punctuated with variations of "fuck." Normally, we hear it uttered in the normal conversations of the lowest common denominator of those whom we transport. It's part of the cargo, and a gentle reminder to keep language rated "G" is usually met with muttered apologies from the offenders.

It's a word I use as well. It's extremely versatile. While the dictionary considers its use "vulgar," it fails to mention that it's a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, expletive, exclamatory, punctuative, and punitive. There are other uses, but you get the drift. Unfortunately, this word has become part of the culture. Where it was once whispered, giggled over when we were kids, it is now commonplace. We hear it on TV, the web, in daily conversation. People consider it normal, when it is actually a lazy replacement for more creative vocabulary. However, overuse can make people uncomfortable. People of advanced generations can take offense and complain if a certain decor isn't followed. Young children shouldn't be exposed to its use. And most of all, it's disruptive to a calm transit atmosphere.

"Please," I requested over the public announcement system when Junior's use of it had annoyed me an ounce less than my first wife, "keep your conversations at a G-rated level, avoiding the use of profanity on the bus. Thank you."

My admonishment was general, yet obvious as to whom it was pointed. Junior took offense.

"I have the right to free speech," he whined.

"Not on my bus," I replied.

"I have bus fare," he countered. "I have a right to be on this bus, and I can say whatever I want."

"There are limits, young man," I said. "When you board the bus, you are a passenger on a public conveyance. You have entered into a contract which binds you to behave in a manner that is not disruptive or offensive. If you can't abide by these terms, you are free to walk."

"You can't tell me how to talk." Junior was full of righteous indignation. It actually made me smile, this boy who was in diapers just yesterday, trying to argue.

"If your behavior interrupts the peaceful glide of my ride, oh yeah... I most certainly can." My ornery rising, I couldn't stop there. "Besides, you confuse 'rights' with 'privileges.' Rights are inherent, not given. Riding a bus is a form of the latter, and this privilege can be revoked. I suggest you invest in a thesaurus, learn some creative alternatives to common vulgarities."

Junior wasn't up to the debate. Probably can't even spell 'Constitution' without thinking hard about it. He cleaned up his speech, but one glance in my mirror told me he was stewing somethin' fierce. His little-boy-wanting-to-be-a-man face was scrunched up like he was pooping.

At long last, his stop beckoned. I braced for his predictable onslaught on exit. Because you see, it's the coward's favorite battle tactic: get the last word in as you're headed out. I was pleased to have almost guessed his exact response.

"Have a great FUCKING day, asshole," he roared in his adolescently-cracking baby growl.

"The same to you," I chuckled. An elderly man was boarding as Junior left, and he shook his head.

"No respect, these punks," he lamented.

"Indeed," was all I could say.

Junior has a surprise waiting the next time he rides and thinks he's "won" the battle. A road supervisor is aware of his behavior, and plans a little visit to my bus. A police presence might be a nice touch for extra emphasis. I'm sure a certain act of riot will be read so that his undeveloped mind can understand. A visit to his principal is a possibility as well. His face has been recorded from several angles while he was my passenger. His 'victory' is about to crumble. And the beautiful part is that he's unaware of the possible ramifications of his behavior. I can hardly wait to see his face when understanding sets in between those juvenile lobes.

You see, that boy was giving me LOVE (Loud Obnoxious Vulgar Entitlement) the whole time. And that, folks, I can do without.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Board Ignores Pleas, Names New GM

Disgusting. Predictably ridiculous. Our "board of directors" struck again into the heart of Portland transit, naming its pre-ordained Canadian reject as the new General Manager.

Predictably, the media latched on to the board's new darling with a lame narrative of how Kelsey "left" TransLink in Vancouver. He was fired in 2015. (See 'TransLink Makes Changes...') Somehow, he made his way into TriMet management after his ouster, leaving a trail of disastrous policy in his wake. Now, he'll bring this expertise to bear... down on us.

"You can be safe," Kelsey stated at the earlier dog-and-pony show board meeting last month, "and be on time." Spoken like someone who truly hasn't a clue about the work of the people he now rules.

Amalgamated Transit Union 757 officials warned the board about appointing Kelsey. President Shirley Block asked if he supported union workers, and he squirmed through the answer saying he was 50-50 on the subject. Vice President Jon Hunt asked if Kelsey supported the findings of a state audit a few years earlier, but the new suit hadn't even read it. He also didn't believe management supported leaving sick operators stranded in the field to find their own way home. "Doesn't pass the smell test," he replied with what seems a standard bland attitude we're now up against.

When we heard of our former GM's impending golden-goose egg retirement, we collectively shrugged our shoulders. "Here comes another dipstick," one operator stated.

Once again, the board, local media and general populace of Portland allowed our transit agency to continue the status-quo. No innovation, no support of its workers, no new approach to fix a broken system. We're up to 20+ reported assaults so far this year, an alarming figure that promises to rise above triple digits by year's end. Our transit mall continues to deteriorate, Uber and Lyft drivers clog our transit lanes and bus stops, and Kelsey wants to "partner" with these nuisances.

Yeah, we're screwed. Our union officers need your support. We have elections this year, and I hope the focus is more on the issues rather than personal attacks. For once, we need to have a drastic uptick in voting participation, as well as general support in union activities. Whoever is elected has an even steeper hill to climb the next few years. The union-busting management will hit us even harder with more outrageous contract demands, and will take advantage of our internal discord and lack of unity. Divide and conquer has worked wonders for the ruling elite in a centuries-long domination of the masses.

Nobody cares about us, except US. Unless we pull together, we'll eventually be replaced with robots. Not kidding one iota here.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Writing You Home

"It comes both out of you and through you," Don Henley said about writing, in an interview as he promoted his album "Inside Job." How incredibly true.

A writer isn't always in control of what zips through their mind. It seems thoughts swim constantly around the ozone layer; you reach up and blindly grab one of them, and they become your message. You don't truly understand where they originated, but suddenly, they make sense. When I'm driving a bus, thoughts come in waves. Occasionally, one of these knocks me down and forces me to take notice. Others seem to float away on the breeze, never to be recaptured.

Often, I have no idea what will happen when I sit at the desk to write. An idea will float by, a memory from when I drove a day, a week, even a month ago. Perhaps I'll add embellishment or a tweak. Often times, the tale just pours out as it occurred. Funny thing is, I can't remember a grocery list if it contains three or more items. But a story is unlike anything so concrete as what's needed at home. It has flexibility. As I write, tangents become visible within the mist. Parts not thought of previously fly into view and weave themselves into the grand scheme.

It's funny how a workday's overall feel can affect a blog post. If something pisses me off, my writing reflects it. If I've had a smooth ride, I'm a bit more waxy. These days, I'm pulled in several directions, so writing isn't a priority. Having to promote a book while managing work and family life gets a bit tricky. We're also trying to buy a home, which is stressful in the best conditions. This past week, I've been too tired and ornery to be creative. In fact, I'm battling sleep as I write this. Yet, the writer's muse pulls me into bloggery once again. I'm hopelessly hooked on words. Five years ago, I only thought about writing. Usually, I can't seem to survive without telling y'all what happened out there.

Tonight though, I'll pass on this week's past transit travels. It's the start of a new signup. Where I once lamented upon leaving one run for another, it's now simple routine. I neither look forward to, or relish the idea of, something new. It's just work, folks. I drive a bus. People get on and eventually get off, yet I'm still there. Until I set the brake on the assigned track at the yard, it's a blur from one day to the next.

This is my life. It's not compelling or thrilling on any typical day. Just drive, asshole. Okay, I will. And I do. Is there something more?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Modern Slaves vs. Today's Masters

Politics. Death. Work. Division. Fate. Life.

We're a divided world today. It's hopelessly sad, and I have to escape into my music in order for the world to make sense. Linda cooing on Blue Bayou. Tom wanting to be king. James reminding me of the secret o'life. Is it real any more, or do I subbornly remain a simple romantic, purposefully ignorant of today's world in some lame attempt to rise above it all?

You disagree with me politically? Fine. Let's have a beer together, enjoy each other's company, and fuhgeddaboudit. For truly, you and I are bound to disagree, simply because different masters pull our strings. Yet, they're all the same, just like you and me. They have the money, and to keep it, they must ensure that we claw at each other's throats. Divide and conquer, the most lasting tactic of those who have, above US, who do the work and have not. That's how they keep what they have, increase it, and laugh at us as we fight for the crumbs that fall by the wayside.

It's the same with religion. You're no good because you don't believe as how I believe; this is their mantra. I believe in God, in goodness, in goodwill toward others, whether I practice it always, or not. It's there within each of us. We choose to practice it, or we don't. Those who do not, yet say they do, are frauds. It's that simple. You either love one another as the God of your particular version of the "good book" commands, or you say you do while turning the hypocritical cheek. There are no gray areas in life, I've learned.

Politicians all feed at the holy grail of money. Lincoln was the last president who believed in the power of our country to be the last bastion of goodness in the world. He was the first Republican, yet he was also a severe Democrat. A balanced man, self-taught, and dedicated to the true principles which founded our country. Theodore Roosevelt was a 40-year-later clone of this political god, who was convinced our undoing would be achieved by those who controlled the very parts of the machine which moved our economy.

As always, there are those who have, and those who have not. In between, we're simply pawns who lean toward one rich faction or the other. Those in between are the undecideds, the independents, the free thinkers who refuse to buy into either of the rich man's proposition that all are unequal in the eyes of those: Who Have.

Today's societal mores no longer surprise me. I'm just sickened by how we've learned to tear each other apart over the simplest of human ideals. Guns? Do we really need them in today's world? Our food is processed so many times before it reaches our stoves, we don't need to hunt rather than want to. We tend to shoot each other more than we hunt animals. Sure, I own a gun. I like to shoot it from time to time... at paper targets. I like the BOOM of the explosion, the power of the kick in my hands. But to kill another human? Only if the sumbitch is trying to kill me, which unfortunately is becoming more common these days... because of the divisions between us that our puppet-masters have masterfully crafted. Yet, if we kill each other off, who will be left to do the work which makes THEM their zillions? Why have we allowed ourselves to be so enslaved? George Orwell was right... he was just a few decades off. Why aren't our weapons trained outward, upon those who have turned us against ourselves? What's the point in that? If we kill each other, those of us who make the wheels of our economies roll, how is that in any way... progress?

Corporations have overtaken the family farm so much that our vegetables are grown by mega-farms more with more genetically-mutated variations of poison than the vitamins they're supposed to provide. Half of us deny we're killing the only world we have, the other half fight those who deny scientific fact. Even facts are debated, and that's pure madness. Journalism has given way to brute opinion. Today's world has become a war between factions who believe their own set of "truths," rather than a universally-proven set of bona-fide facts.

I thought, once upon a time while gazing longingly through my favorite flower's tinted spectacles, that we would evolve as a species, that we would someday see the good that beckons us to do what's right for each other. I hoped we could discard the bonds of slavery and work toward a world where all were healthy and strong.

The evil disqualifier is money. It's the one tool through which even the best of us are corrupted. The most of it is held by the least of us. Those who have are morally bankrupt; those whose souls are mostly pure, struggle to pay our bills to those who hold the purse strings. Is this progress? As a child, I hoped we'd become a better version of our evilest incarnation. Instead, we've evolved into a snarling, snapping, ridiculous carnival of cannibalistic carnivorous wildebeasts. Repuglicants versus Libtards. Is that all we can be?

You read this, please know that I don't care how you identify. You're my brother or sister. We rise, go to work, put in the hours at whatever we do. We breathe the same atmospheric elements, view the same sights, love our kids and spouses with the equal intensity. But we are, in the sense that Abraham Lincoln envisioned, entitled. If we are truly blessed in this country to be endowed with "inalienable rights," then we must pull together to assert our collective power.

To some, "entitlement" has become a dirty word. Yet, the basis of its definition is true to the core of human decency. We are entitled, via our beloved Constitution, the right to "the pursuit of happiness," defined as it is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, to "freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you don't do anything illegal or violate the rights of others." Only problem today is, we're too focused upon telling others their happiness isn't as important as our own definition of it.

"To the victor go the spoils," said New York Senator William Marcy in 1832. Unfortunately, the working middle class has lost the battle. Our "spoils" went rancid a century ago. Since the Industrial Revolution, where workers' rights became a battle cry for the disenfranchised majority, our victories have been systematically diminished by those who have, by the edicts handed down by politicians controlled by those who fund the corrupted system.

We've allowed our politicians to run amok for far too long. They keep on running... away... with our money. We continue to vote for them, they keep pulling the wool over our eyes. There are no controls for those who control us. They vote themselves raises, while denying the least of us a living wage. Even so, we fight each other in predetermined battles, the outcomes decided by those who encourage the division. It's an insane battle we cannot win unless we turn the tables and fight those who enjoy watching us fight amongst ourselves. Until we pull together and discard the issues we're conditioned to insult each other over, we're doomed to this institutionalized slavery. The 13th Amendment is only as strong as we slaves allow.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Journalism is Dead Here

Here we go again. We're still getting beat up while operating, and not a peep from our local media. We're only featured in the "news" when accused of doing something wrong. Meanwhile, criminals are punching their way through our ranks as if they're not satisfied until they get us all.

It's frustrating when there's even arguments within our own ranks as to how many assaults there have been. We argue over what constitutes an assault, and I've heard some of us argue for management's lame case that "overall, crime on the system is down." Oh, come on. We're nearing the end of 2018's second month, and I've heard of 20 incidents of threats, endangerment and assaults upon us. At just under 10 per month, we could reach 120 by the end of this year. Just two years ago, we had 55.

In fairness, management has taken some positive steps. A committee (one of its favorite things) of operators and managerial personnel was appointed to study the problem. I applaud my brothers and sisters who volunteered to serve, because they give us all a voice which is hopefully heard and honored. Although controversial, a decision to install protective barriers was made in an attempt to protect us. Unfortunately, it also cuts us off from the majority of passengers who are decent and law-abiding customers. I guess it's a wash, though. Something is better than nothing. However, management would rather sacrifice the truth for watered-down statistics to back up their "crime is down" propaganda.

Transit worker assault isn't just a local problem. I just watched a news clip about increasing Bay Area operator assaults. It's a nationwide epidemic, and it's not just in the USA. Our Canadian brother Irvine Fraser from Winnipeg was murdered last year when he woke a sleeping passenger at the end of the line. A New Jersey operator, Ryon Jackson, was shot on the job, allegedly by his ex-girlfriend, last summer. There are more incidents, but details are not the point here.

Once again, our management fails to protect us. How? They allow the media to portray us in a negative light by A) not reporting full and complete statistics; B) by releasing statements that further cast us in shadow, such as "we do not condone..." when it hasn't been proven that an operator in question actually committed an alleged offense; C) by not standing up and boldly proclaiming that it will pursue each aggressor to the full extent of the law; and D) by not insisting the state legislature protect us with strict sentencing guidelines for assailants, or permanently excluding anyone who has been proven to assault one of us.

It's maddening to see our own management making us look bad by not adhering to the American judiciary's code that we are innocent until proven guilty. Allowing us to be skewered by the bloodthirsty media without management's full confidence and support is an insult to those who make their jobs possible. It's also a collective character assassination upon those who face imminent danger every day while ferrying fellow Portlanders to their destinations.

When any yahooligan makes an accusation against one of us, the media jumps on it. They also fail to report when an operator is cleared of any wrongdoing. One would think it reasonable that assaults on transit workers qualifies as a newsworthy item. Its silence is deafening.

Investigative journalism is dead here, as it is nationwide. News is now opinion-based, and facts are debated. It should be the other way around. I guess I was taught the craft when journalism was actually an honorable profession. Boy, how times have changed.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bums Beware the Fare Inspector

"I'll ride at my own risk."

It's a statement we hear more often these days, now that the district refuses to insist people pay a fare to ride transportation. Management has loosened its policies a bit to be "fair" to the "fareless," but inspectors still do random fare checks on the lines with most evaders. I'm not sure what happens to the "risk" takers, but I've seen plenty of them cited for stealing a public service.

One recent fine winter day found plenty of deadbeats out for a ride. I smiled and welcomed each to my bus, knowing at which point lurked a few supervisors and police officers. Sure, times are tough all over and I don't wish ill upon anybody, but some people are chronic fare evaders. Many brazenly waltz past me with the aforementioned statement uttering forth as if it's no big deal. Those who work for a living sneer when an obvious bum strolls past, not even bothering to stop and offer me a heart-wrenching "dog ate my fare" story. This behavior seems to insult those who pony up every day, rationing this or that to ensure they can pay their way.

Two teenagers decided to try this "risky" trick. "Can I ride at my own risk?" one asked me. "I don't have fare money."

I don't know how, but they missed my brother supervisor standing just outside the front door of the bus. He smiled at me as I replied.

"Well," I said drily, "why don't you ask that feller right behind ya?"

Teen One turned abruptly to see Mr. Supe, who offered a cheerful "Hi!"

Teen Two had one foot on the bus and one off. As they both turned to see who awaited them, Two said "Oh hell nah I'm out," and beat tracks, stage left. One looked at Supe, then said to me, "Never mind, I'll walk. Bye!"

Sometimes, people don't have the entire fare amount, but that's okay. Our district generously offers a ticket closest to what they put in the box. I've found that while it sometimes irritates me, it's easier (and less argumentative) to roll this way. It's embarrassing for the (true) working poor to pull together $2.39 in pennies and nickels and dimes to pay fare, so why insist on the extra 11 cents? It's a wash. I can't blame these good folks when they get angry at those who blatantly refuse to drop in at least a few coins.

When I was struggling to keep a family fed and housed as an unemployed middle-aged student, a generous bus driver refused my fare. The memory of his generosity guides me when I see someone who is honestly just barely making it. Perhaps it's a single mom with two kids, or an older guy who fights retirement because his Social Security just doesn't quite pay the bills. Or it could be the guy who has spent the whole day filling out applications and beating the street to find work after losing a good job. Been there, done that. I get it. One look in someone's eyes can reveal an entire volume of truths.

I have been the working poor. Never however, have I been a bum; those are the people who believe they don't have to contribute anything, that society owes them everything. Sorry guys, but bottom feeders get none of my sympathy. You're often the ones who assault us, or at the very least cause a disturbance, or panhandle on my bus so you can be the first in line at the liquor store. If I recognize you standing alone at a stop, I'm apt to just ignore you and keep rolling.

Those who paid their fare deserve a smooth, drama-free ride. You freeloaders can just keep standing in the rain and hope my follower isn't wise to your game. The fare-paying public on my bus expects me to get them to their connections or destinations on time; you bums are simply wasting it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Imagine you're at work. Life is as usual. Fresh coffee in your hand, you sit at your desk and prepare for the day ahead.

An hour later, you look up to see an angry customer in your office doorway. He appears to be holding a weapon under his jacket. Threatening you over something you have no control of, he will not (or cannot) listen to logic. Your calm demeanor begins to crumble, as your body tenses in preparation to defend itself. Before you can pick up the phone and call security, he reaches across your desk and punches you. Hard. Breaks your nose, glasses and self-composure.

Seconds become hours. Your assailant moves around the desk, hovering over you with that still-present threat of a possible knife/gun under his jacket, screaming obscenities and craziness in your ear. The time to act if self-defense is imminent. However, your company has already frozen you into that chair. Rising up or punching back is not an option.

Your management, in a "please everybody" policy, has dictated that you should remain in your seat, calm in the presence of life-threatening danger, rather than defend yourself. Your body says "FIGHT OR DIE!" The placard on the wall in the break room reads "BE CALM, BE RATIONAL, STAY SEATED. HELP WILL COME." Eventually. Sometimes not at all.

Suddenly, the man unleashes several punches to your face, neck and chest. Then he brings out the knife he had hiding in his coat and holds it to your throat. "Say one thing to anybody about this, and I'll be back, but next time you won't live through it."

In a flash, he escapes. Help arrives a few minutes later, and you're transported to the hospital with a cut on your neck millimeters away from your carotid artery, three broken ribs, a broken nose and cheekbone, and multiple bruises along with a swelling black eye. After a few days in the hospital, you spend recuperative time at home. A week or two later, you're back in your office. Pretending to be "okay," the slightest noise or movement startles you. Concentration is impossible, and your work suffers as a result. Fear and anger have replaced that cool and calm demeanor you've always been known for. Needing more time, you take several days off.

Management meanwhile, has noticed your decline in meeting schedules, your being irritable with co-workers, and of course, the "time loss" building up. Video of the attack suggests you "aggressively" threw up your arms in self-defense, moves which management considers aggressive, possibly infuriating your attacker even more. Counseled about the performance issues, you're still recovering from the assault. Although you attempt to return to normal, it has become impossible. A few months later, you're suspended, then fired.

Months and even years afterward, nightmares and flashbacks haunt you. Depression replaces confidence. Paranoia and fear engulf a life that was once sunny and positive. Guilt convinces you it was your fault. It's a tossup as to whether you'll ever recover.

Now imagine this: last year alone, Portland transit employees were assaulted in various forms, ninety-one (91) times. In 2016, there were 55 assaults. Already this year, there have been 13 incidents in which our operators have been threatened or assaulted. At this rate, the end of 2018 will be another record-breaking year, with assaults in the triple digits.

Our media is worthless here. It will pounce on any story, falsified or not, and inflame it to the point where the operator is blamed. Our agency primps for the camera, saying "We do not condone this behavior from our operators, and are investigating the incident." The operator has already been convicted, with no chance for a fair trial. Yet there have been no stories about the rising number of assaults, unless the transit agency's watered-down statistics are quoted.

Some of us are doing what we can to raise awareness, but the media remains silent. I thought the Portland Tribune would give it some consideration, but no. The Oregonian? Crickets. TV news stations? Only interested if it sheds negative light on operators and sensationally amplifies false and/or unsubstantiated accounts of allegedly-maligned passengers. Nary a peep out of the Willamette Week or the Mercury; seems they're too concerned about alternate lifestyles to even mention my book, let alone this alarming increase in violence against us.

There's a lot of talk these days about "fake news." Some of it is such, and that's sad. Things happen that don't qualify, aren't lucrative enough subjects, for the mainstream media. The truth is out there, but journalists either lack the courage, ability or permission to seek it.

Meanwhile, we're strapped to our seats. Sitting ducks. If we are unable to defy our biology and defend ourselves, we're easy targets. Transit's only defense: caging us in. What a defeatist, lazy, and unreasonable response.

We deserve better. Only problem is one of us could die at the hands of a madman, but other than a few weeks of weak corporate rhetoric, life would return to silent disregard.

I'm anything but "normal." I'm fucking pissed off, and so are the majority of us. Our friends and co-workers are being pummeled, and nobody seems to care. The latest contract added small concessions to victims, but not nearly enough. If an operator ran this agency, heads would roll, microphones would be ruined and our voices gone hoarse from roaring our righteous indignation.

The fact that our only "finalist" to replace the outgoing GM acts like he has no idea of the increase in violence, is a perfect example of transit controlling the message. Passengers cry wolf, they get attention. Operators get attacked, no big deal. Thanks, you weak bastards in the media. I guess the few of us who do care and can do something about it, will. My blog is but one voice, and it's time we rise as ONE to block some punches and inflict some verbal violence in our own defense.

Somebody's got to do it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

He Pays My Salary?

My first wife follows me? 
Or is this Lady Maybelline's
makeup machine?

What a year, so far. It's becoming hard to keep focused with all that's happening right now. OPB blasted ol' Deke's voice to the airwaves, the book continues to get raved about, and I'm working with a producer on the audio book version of JUST DRIVE. I'm busier than a transit cop during the full moon.

Topics for bloggery have lately been rare. I've even considered letting the blog go. However, it's hard to stop because there's still so much to say. The major problem is recognizing which subjects don't contribute to reader fatigue. I've run some things into the ground, and readership has fallen. My response is to become a bit more tuned into writing new projects and being more picky about what I publish here.

Thanks to you, dear readers, From the Driver Side recently recorded its 200,000th hit, just a few months shy of Deke's fifth birthday. This operator has changed radically from the one I was when I began blogging, and you've helped me grow both as a transit employee and as a writer. It seems we need to fight even harder these days for better working conditions, and I'll try to keep informing the public of our collective plight.

Enough wind for this post though, it's time to have some fun.

* * * * *

My route this signup has its share of wannabe-comics and bad actors. Some antics I can artfully ignore, others I have to gently remind to behave. Still others provoke me into outright orneriness. No matter how much I fight the impulses I'm known to periodically indulge in, I sometimes cannot resist. Here are the results of my latest exploits.

One passenger has what she self-diagnosed as "learning disability." It's evident however that she's just a drunk. This was magnified a few nights ago, when she tapped a fellow passenger on the shoulder and was chastised for doing so.

"Don't touch me, please," a young lady asked her.

"What," the accused replied, "it's against the law to touch someone these days? Chill out, I just wanted to ask you something."

This loudmouth had an interesting appearance. Lipstick and other makeup was smeared across her face as if she were a test-dummy for a four-year-old cosmetic apprentice. When she boarded, I was momentarily surprised. After five years, little jolts my attention, but this one did. (Imagine a toddler wielding red and black magic markers upon the face of your late, Great Aunt Wanda's portrait.)

An argument ensued between the two passengers. I intervened before something drastic could happen.

"Look, Maybelline," I said into the loudspeaker. Immediately regretting my choice of nicknames, it was still gratifying to hear some snickers among the 30-plus others aboard. "Either you shut yer yap, stop your talkin', or somebody's gonna be walkin'. I can truly guarantee it ain't gonna be me."

Silence, for a blissful five seconds.

"What did you call me, driver?" Maybelline responded.

"Never mind," I snapped. "You're harassing people, and I won't allow that on my bus. So please watch your manners, or leave."

I hadn't left the stop. Maybelline became belligerent.

"I was just trying to ask..." I didn't let her finish.

"And I heard her tell you she wasn't interested in speaking with you. That shoulda been a hint."

"It's none of your business what I do on this bus!" she shouted.

"Au contraire," I countered. "Everything that happens on this bus most certainly is my business, and I'd appreciate your cooperation if you want to continue riding." My voice had lowered a bit, but the icy tone remained.

My hand moved to my Computer Aided Dispatch panel, poised as if I were about to push the "Emergency" button.

"Shall I contact the police?" I asked as she continued to argue.

"NO!" she sounded panicked. "If you do that, I'll go back to jail for six months! I'll behave, I have to get home before curfew!"

Not wishing incarceration upon anybody in this day of the prison industrial complex wanting more of my tax dollars, I decided to give her another chance. She was calm and subdued the rest of her trip, and the passenger she had offended forgave her and actually engaged in a (somewhat) intelligent conversation. I sighed in relief.

After she exited my bus, another passenger placed his hand upon my shoulder and said, "Nicely handled, driver. But wow, she was a trip!"

"Thanks," I replied, "but someone should send the Avon Lady over to give her a few cosmetic lessons, eh?"

"Yeah," he said. "Like a whole semester's worth."

* * * * *

Management's insistence on our being on time has resulted in some concerns. Some drivers are pushing the limits, running lights and rolling a bit faster than safety dictates. A friend of mine and I were discussing this a few days ago, both admitting it's advisable to roll as we've been trained. If there's a problem with schedule, take it to Scheduling. Don't push yourselves to a limit that could lead to discipline or worse yet, a collision resulting in a Preventable Accident. Our main priority is to drive smooth and safe. If management doesn't like it, too bad. We're behind the wheel; they're behind a desk in a comfy office chair. Just be careful out there, brothers and sisters.

* * * * *

And finally, I had one passenger give me the age-old brush off one night when I asked him to keep his feet off the seats.

"Just shut up and drive, asshole," he said. "I pay your salary."

"Dude," I replied, "you didn't even pay your fare!"

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Bogus GM Search Boondoggle

I think we can do better.
When I heard of our current General Manager's impending retirement, I was immediately hit with dread. It could get worse, I reckoned. Apparently, I was correct.

After what was touted as a "worldwide search," all the talking heads could come up with was one finalist. Yes, only one. You'd think such a wide call for applicants might include more than that, but all our hiring procedure could procure was one, and he already is in local management? Wow, folks. Sounds pretty flimsy on the surface. Your only choice is an import from Canada who thinks safety and schedule are synonymous? One who was fired from his last job, without any explanation except that it might have been "political" fallout from a failed ballot initiative to provide Vancouver, British Columbia with added transit funding. Well now, is that all Portland could come up with? Surely, there are more-deserving and qualified corporate muckity-mucks available than one finalist.

As I watched our Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 President Shirley Block question Mr. Doug Kelsey, I noticed several things. First, she was very kind to a man who has run roughshod over our Operations department for two years. She grimaced at times, quietly laughing at his smug answers at others. Our soon-to-be-golden-goose outgoing GM watched with a smirk on his face. President Block did not lambaste Mr. Kelsey for his clumsy tenure, as I hoped she would, but calmly laid out a very deliberate framework for ATU 757's Vice President, Jon Hunt, to press Mr. Kelsey even harder.

First, a little background on the selection process. TriMet contracted a recruitment firm to search for "qualified" candidates for the GM position. While there's no telling how much the district paid for this search, it's obvious that it was too much. When you sit in the driver's seat of a transit vehicle, the qualifications are obvious: has the applicant ever driven a bus in-service in their life? If not, proceed to the next applicant.

(My retired brother Al Margulies, who writes a hard-hitting local transit blog, put it succinctly when he stated that our transit agency can afford to spend a fortune on this search but won't put out enough to transport sick operators back home. It seems such a put-on when you have a rubber-stamp "board" trying to say all the right things when it's obvious Mr. Kelsey has been groomed for this job the past two years. Spare us, Mr. Board President, because it's all too obvious to those of us who roll the wheels for a living: Mr. McFarlane wants Mr. Kelsey, and that's how it played out. As if we're too stupid to realize the game being played.)

In his opening statement, Mr. Kelsey predictably bows to his masters by saying how "humbled" he is to be the finalist in this sham of a search. Really? The bullshit factor was immediately magnified ten times with that. Continuing in his Canadian-accented corporate-speak, he says he "comes from a middle-class family" background. Blah, blah, and continuous blah.

President Block is welcomed by Board Chair Mr. Bruce Warner, who says "it's nice to see you here this morning." As if there's anywhere else she'd be? She calmly lays out her plan: six questions, which Mr. Kelsey asks if they'll be "yes or no answers?" Real funny. God, I hate suited replies. Her first question is pointed: "Do you believe in keeping union jobs, or contracting out jobs?" Wow, she hit him hard with the first one. Of course, we already know the answer. Our management has made it a pointed goal of splitting and breaking the union by favoring non-union "outsiders" to fill desperately-needed positions in maintenance. His reply is the standard corporate response.

"I believe in both union, and contract-out," he says. BAM. Disqualified, in our collective opinion. Typically, this is a standard kill-the-union-by-splitting-the-workforce response. "I think there's a balance," he adds. "I believe in healthy tensions, which keeps us in checks and balances." In the transit industry the past few decades, this statement is proven nonsense. There's nothing "healthy" in the tensions management has created through divisive edicts designed to punish those of us who roll the wheels their salaries are attached to.

It's certainly not "healthy" to leave a sick employee stranded in the middle of nowhere rather than ensuring their safe transport. It's certifiably unhealthy to expect operators to ignore safe-driving techniques to adhere to tight schedules. Punishing front line workers who have been assaulted and need extra recovery time is simple cruelty, akin to the orphans' treatment in Dickens' Oliver Twist. Putting trouble-causing passengers first when addressing one-sided media stories putting operators in a bad light is not supportive or "healthy" employee relations. Letting said stories pass without follow-up when operators are exonerated, is callous character assassination. Punishing operators whose bodies are damaged due to job-related injuries over "time loss" is detrimental to our collective well-being.


No. You're too glued to the "bad operator" stories the corporate media serves up, refusing to read deeper in to causation and effect of transit issues. You'll spend 20 minutes thumbing-up a complaint but won't take the same time to write a commendation when we daily exceed expectations to make your transit experience safe and smooth. Your apathy is astoundingly predictable, if not blatantly pathetic. If transit woes continue, we could be faced with a total collapse of the industry. This would make your lives miserable, even if you don't use transit. Just think of the traffic now, then compound it hundreds of times without buses and light rail available to ferry 300,000-plus people every day.

Mr. Kelsey continued, blithely bragging about how "diverse" recent management hiring choices have been. Al Margulies has a brilliant point when he mentions how many front line workers have multiple degrees in many fields, are multi-faceted leaders who decided to drive transit for the (dwindling) benefits. Unfortunately, we don't see any of them being touted as "finalists" for the position Mr. Kelsey is drooling over. This strikes me as highly-convenient for him, yet horribly-insulting to our truly "diverse" membership. There are many operators infinitely more qualified to do the job than many a stiff-suit could ever dream of.

The conversation with President Block and Mr. Kelsey quickly went downhill. At one of his replies, she actually laughed. I'm surprised she didn't fall out of her chair, but to her credit, President Block kept her composure. When she asked him, "Do you put On-Time Performance ahead of safety?" I couldn't wait to hear his reply, and when I did, it was expected.

"Absolutely not," he said with mock sincerity. "You can be safe, and be on time." This response tells every operator what we already know: Mr. Kelsey doesn't know frijoles from salsa when it comes to operating a transit vehicle. One of his executives told me last year, "We have three core objectives in Transportation: Safety, On-Time Performance, and Customer Service, which align with the agency's vision, mission and values. We should incorporate these elements in our day-to-day decision-making and insist on success."

Nice try Boss, but it doesn't pass the excrement test. Management's vision, mission and values do not match ours, and we're the most important lug nuts on the wheel. You can insist all you want, but my mantra is detailed and centered around one thing: safety. Rarely am I worried about schedule, except that it is nice to get my breaks. If I'm stuck in traffic, or passengers create a disturbance, or any number of things that can go awry actually do, then (and always) my main goal is to deliver my cargo safely to its destination. That's why I drive the same way no matter what the time clock says. Still, my OTP (On-Time Performance) hovers just over 90%, and that's pretty damn good. That tells people that nine out of every 10 times, I am on time. They still complain though, if you're two minutes late to a transit center due to traffic and they miss their connecting line. Better to be safely delivered by a bus than taking an ambulance ride because your operator broke several traffic laws to deliver you on time. Those yearly safety patches are more important to me than management's element incorporation nonsense.

Corporate suits have no business running a transit agency; we most definitely are not customer service representatives. We're trained professional drivers and rail operators, and our millions of combined safe miles are infinitely more impressive than the relatively few mishaps we're involved in.

Departing from the circus/board meeting for a few moments, let's tackle the corporate-speak nonsense that has become all too common in transit. First and second, it's obvious neither of them have sat in my seat. Otherwise, those words would never leave their mouths. (I've covered this schedule-over-safety edict a few times, especially when I wrote You Left Two Seconds Early! last year.) We had just noticed the "Safety over Schedule" signs disappearing from the garages, and from there it only got worse. It's only obvious that if we stray from safe driving techniques we're taught and consistently reminded of every day of service, then we're never getting anywhere, especially "on time."

Third, we carry passengers, not customers. They may be customers when they purchase a fare, such as on an airline, but once they step past the yellow line, they become passengers. Try berating an airline pilot while he or she is in control of their aircraft, or assaulting them, and you're looking at jail time. Period. Why? Because such behavior is a safety violation, and can endanger the well-being of fellow passengers. Conductors of passenger trains and captains of cruise ships expect those on board to follow the rules. Why is a city transit operator, in uniform and in control of heavy equipment any different? Quit calling them customers and insist they follow the rules expected of passengers, which should be blasted via the media at every opportunity. And when of them shreds past the line and assaults us, they should be banished F-O-R-E-V-E-R from our vehicles, not slapped on the wrist and sent to their room with extra dessert after dinner.

Back to the Kelsey Show. One of management's most outrageous policies lately is not only ludicrous, it's an outright Cruel Sickness and infuriating insult to the professionals who operate vehicles. If we feel that our physical well-being is that which continuing in service would put our passengers at risk, and tell Dispatch it's no longer safe for us to operate, many have been stranded. That's right, left alone on the side of the road. No taxi, no safe ride to our vehicles or home. We're on our own. It's not like this in several other municipalities around the country. Tempe, Arizona for example. They'll help the operator safely find a way home. One Portland operator contends that management's policy discourages "abuse." Thanks, brother. You just insinuated that we're out to cheat the agency, which is I'm sure 99% of the time, not the case. It happened to me, when I became suddenly so ill and exhausted, that I knew immediately that operating in service any further would put everyone on my bus, including myself, at risk. Luckily for me, I just rode transit back to my garage. Many others have not been so lucky.

Kelsey answered President Block's question about stranding ill drivers on the road with an air of incredulity. He didn't seem to believe it happens, but his very department heads have handed down edicts which flatly state an ill operator is left to their own devices if they call in sick. So much for having "Safety" as a "core value" any longer. When we safely deliver 99.5% (my guesstimation here) of our riders to their destination yet are denied safe transport when sudden illness prevents us from continuing in this quest, that's a serious insult to our professional integrity.

President Block was visibly aghast at Kelsey's answer regarding sick operators being stranded. He said it "doesn't pass the test." He acted like he didn't know, or even believe, this was happening. Such a response suggests incompetence, if his own department has policies in place that he wasn't aware of. In fairness, a "new policy" was implemented by Operations in the past few days ensuring safe transport for operators who become too sick to safely drive their vehicle.  It's about damn time, because the former policy didn't "pass the test" at all.

Next to the table came our union's Vice President, Jonathan Hunt. He asked Kelsey about an audit the state conducted a few years back which outlined grave failures by management to address certain key issues regarding communication with our union. Hunt then asked Kelsey if he'd support a new audit to address whether these issues were acted upon and "where are we today with those areas that needed to be improved?" I was aghast at Kelsey's response.

"I haven't had the privilege of reading the past audit," he said, adding "to comment whether a new audit might be needed." Why hasn't he read the audit sanctioned by then-Secretary of State/now Governor Kate Brown? That's an incredible admission of guilt. Specifically, it said to me that he doesn't know enough about his own job to qualify him to become GM. "I'm not necessarily prepared to give you the answer you might want to hear. I'd rather go back and understand the past audit first." Mr. Kelsey, what exactly have you been doing the past two years that would show the front line employees, and the public, that you are qualified to successfully lead this agency? If you don't know what has transpired while TriMet fell from its exalted position as the No. 1 transit agency in this country to No. 18 (or worse, I haven't seen recent ratings), doesn't this suggest you are not prepared to bring us back up again? I'm sorry, but if I was in charge of an agency that past audits had advocated for changes that weren't successfully implemented, I would have been fired for failing to achieve. Why would we support someone who doesn't understand how management has refused to improve relations with its front line employees?

Kelsey seemed to realize the folly of his answer, backtracking to say he meets with union officers, members, etc. "on a weekly basis." If this is true, what exactly is he taking away from these meetings? Certainly not a working knowledge of the issues the agency is facing at a crucial time for Portland's transit agency.

He also said he was "unaware" that a Lift Operator was fired because she was caught on camera peeing in a parking lot. It was a disgusting display of both the public's ignorance of a lack of restroom facilities for our brothers and sisters in the para transit arm of the agency and management's callous disregard for them. Yet he wasn't aware of it? I violently shook my head at this statement. It's awful. Not only what happened to the operator and her subsequent humiliation, but that he said didn't even know about it.

If I went into an interview as ill-prepared as Mr. Kelsey did at this board meeting, I would have heard a "thank you for your time" dismissal within the first few minutes. The fact that a current executive manager applying for the top job was so dismally unprepared for the most elementary of questions from those who represent thousands of local union members should automatically disqualify him from consideration.

Yes, these are some tough words. I'm an employee, but I'm also a citizen who expects his government officials to be accountable to those who transit agencies serve. While I am but one voice in the front line, I'm not the only voice. Many who watched this debacle agree that enough is certainly enough. It's also obvious that I'm not the only one who registered shock at management's sole finalist for the top job.

Our new General Manager, in order to gain respect from those of us who make transit roll, should make immediate changes once that person is hired. First, that person should move the GM's office back to the front lines, specifically into each garage. They should not only read the previously-mentioned audit, but take decisive steps to remove the aura of negativity surrounding union-management relations. Management is top-heavy and needs a severe trimming. Promotions should come directly from those in our ranks who are infinitely more qualified to manage transit than those we have now with no experience behind the wheel. There should be immediate steps to change policy which automatically assumes management knows better than we do, because it has proven incapable, over the past several years, of having a positive and constructive dialogue with us.

The era of Us vs. Them needs to end. Only through teamwork and trust can we rebuild this broken relationship. Replacing the outgoing GM with his clone is not the best way to move forward. Hire someone who is innovative, ready and willing to turn Portland's transit on end, shake it up and re-create it from the top down... and from us, take clues. We can once again be in the top tier of our country's elite transit systems, but it will take respectful cooperation.

Hell, put me in that position. I would move the GM's office back to Center Garage, and immediately re-open the door to those who make split-second decisions every day, all day. We'll replace tired and insulting policies with a freshness not realized here in decades. My first priority would be to fix what's broken, and that would mean an immediate halt to all plans for new capital projects. From the downtown mall to most bus routes, operator break room facilities, and new shelters that actually protect most from our weather, I would get right to work. Only we can read between the lines that have been placed between management and front line workers. Management has proven countless times to be out of touch and punitive, rather than cooperative and proactive.

Meeting with legislators and district attorneys, I would insist on more stringent punishment for those who think it's okay to menace, threaten or assault our workforce. In addition, I would issue a strongly-worded warning to a public that has been allowed too much leniency that it's time they toed the line and behaved as passengers should. Customer service personnel would be trained by bus operators, and complaints would be tossed out a great majority of the time. Our transit police force would spend time riding transit vehicles, providing a presence to deter bad behavior. The idea of a low-income fare might be debatable, but is a realistic and viable possibility. It should come with responsibilities; a contract that when broken, be met with meaningful consequences.

Yeah, I could do the job. For a lot less than these golden turkeys are paid. I would earn the respect of our workforce by strengthening the union, rather than trying to break it. Our contract would look much different than it does today, especially for our respected retirees. No longer would front line employees have to dread the end of their final shift, nor would they worry about being disciplined for defending themselves against attack. It is an American right to defend oneself; just working for a transit agency afraid of its assailant public's shadow doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to re-define the vague term "reasonable self defense."

Further, I would petition the state government to make our "board" an electable body, answerable to the public it supposedly represents. No more rubber stamp bodies allowed. If my first year didn't result in obviously measurable improvements, I would expect to be replaced not by my right-hand man, but by a fresh face.

I'm not the only one who could lead us across the bridge over past failures. My brothers and sisters are diverse and highly-innovative and intelligent group with years of experience in all types of fields. I would bet good money that one of us would be a better choice than this recent debacle provided. The whole process is a transparent joke, and we're not laughing.

Al Margulies has it right when he says transit employees don't have enough political power to overcome the bullshit factor we've faced the past decade. It's time for us ALL to rise up and provide our city with some air freshener. The public should support us; we are always there for them, and it's time to call in some markers. If a skunk falls victim on the road, the stink remains a long time. This time, that animal is smoldering among us so everyone we serve should also be able to smell it.

Back to the drawing board. It doesn't "pass the test" they only gave us one option in this "worldwide search." Since I began this post, they back-pedalled and sent the search team back out again. (I hope KL2 gives us a discount.) Management has since changed the "policy" so that operators who become ill on their routes aren't stranded on the side of the road. Amazing. Maybe some common sense is making its way back to our world. I sure hope so, because the smell is overwhelming, from the driver side.