Sunday, December 30, 2018

Happy 2019 Ya Rascals!



Deke's Note: So, our sixth year together in transit tales is about to begin. It's a time that while looking back, I'd prefer to look forward. 

I've said farewell before, then waffled. It's you, dear readers, who keep this blog alive. When I began  FTDS in May of '13, it was simply a writing exercise. It became a working man's journal and then something people could identify with. It reached its peak just over a year ago, and it felt wonderful to earn over 15,000 hits in one month.

Five years is a long time to write anything, and soon it began to lose steam. Resonance faded, as did the writer's muse. It became more difficult to find topics that weren't reruns. My posts were scrolled past by countless mice that once clicked upon them. Yet, the blog kept calling me back, as did you. Every day "out there," we're gifted some tidbit that intrigues, bringing us back to the driver's seat. Then, there are long stretches of days that blend into one another as if they're one long and boring act of a continuous play. Part of me wanted to leave it all behind and begin anew. However, it seems this blog has become attached to my persona. I can't just walk away, even when I believed that its time had passed.

Some people actually look forward to reading these posts. To a writer, that's the pull... a drug, of sorts. Even though reading is quickly becoming a thing of the past, it's vital we never leave it behind. We've become a society accustomed to short sound bites instead of actual literature. When confronted with an opinion which differs from our own, we dismiss and move on. Even if it seems strongly opposite of my belief system, I force myself to read what others have to say on a subject. It helps to see another's vision, for our own are simply products of those who make an impact upon us. Long ago, it became evident to me that I'm not always right, and you're not always wrong.

While I avoid political themes here, it remains true that I am pro-union. It is also my firm belief that without a strong Middle Class, this country's economy is in peril. This rings true in this trade across the globe, because without transit, many who make each city's wheels roll ride upon ours to arrive at work and return home. We're not separate from those we serve, we live among you.

To leave this blog behind would be a mistake. Every week I'm blessed to find yet another who reads it. People are shy and don't usually make a comment. That doesn't mean they're disengaged or disinterested. I have a bad habit of taking things personally which matter little in the grand scheme. Perhaps it's because I'm a deeply-empathetic person. Maybe I'm just an old fool. Whatever the case, I'd rather be remembered for caring too much, than for not giving a damn.

Every day when preparing for work, I sing in the shower. Silly stuff, mostly. Love songs to my beloved. Tawdry ballads Daddy Blue sang, or tunes from Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, Glen Campbell or James Taylor. Whatever comes to my mind, this warbler belts it out. It is a habit I've had since childhood. When I sit at this keyboard, it's my aim to sing my stories to you. Sentence structure and cadence matter. The story may be the main attraction, but the manner in which it's presented is something I strive to perfect.

From The Driver Side has brought me together with many special people I would not have known otherwise. Tom Horton, Robert at BusTropical, Billy Alsheimer, Ed Carroll, Dwight Russell, Northwest Labor Press, The Portland Tribune, ATU International President Larry Hanley, our local ATU 757 officers and members, the wonderful folks at Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud" radio program, Audiobook Producer Kevin Meyer, my designer Heidi North, Darius Bunn, Aiden, Brett, Charles W., Al Margulies, Ellen Bryan, Joe Kunzler, Arden B. and scores of other people I've grown very fond of through my writing here.

Rather than leave you, I've decided to keep pecking away. It doesn't matter how many readers tune in. My audiobook is supposed to go "on tour" via a reviewing website online. The owner of this service asked if I had reached out to my "fans" to secure the required amount of reviewers. This question floored me. It's funny, because even though we hit 270,000 views early in December, only two people actually "follow" the blog on Blogspot. One of those died a few months ago, leaving me with ONE actual follower. I just shook my head. If promoting the tour on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram isn't enough, then so be it. I wrote the book with the goal of describing the life of a bus operator. The rest is up to the general public.

The press largely abandoned me, likely because they're afraid of how powerful transit has become in Portland. They're bought and paid for now anyway, not true arbiters of what actually happens in our lives. When Willamette Week told me, after I dropped a copy of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane for them to review, that they would "pass on it," my heart sank. They normally pounce on anything transit-related, but when some lowly bus driver writes a book it's not even worthy of a review? At that moment, I decided to "pass on" reading their rag any more. Besides, I can't smoke the pot they're so in love with growing on their rooftop, so why should I be invested in them? Afraid of transit management, just another corporate dishrag we can all live without. If you can't be bothered with reporting on the 100+ assaults on us in 2018 alone, then you're not relevant anyway.

No, I'm not bitter. I've just lived long enough to lump negativity behind me with life's other rubbish. You folks are my bread and butter. If anyone else wants in, they're quite welcome. It has become evident to me, however, that hustling for your attention takes too much energy I could put into writing. Like the blog? Good. Bought the book and read it? Excellent. That's quite enough for this old dog. If you share my writing and others catch on, that's great and I'm very thankful.

I'll keep writing here, but it may be less frequent than in years past. I need to feed the new muse which has grabbed my imagination. Driving a bus has become automated to me. There's little out there which surprises me these days. When I come up with something, I'll let you know. As promised, I'm committed to working on a series about our brothers and sisters who keep the wheels rolling in mechanical rhythm. I will delve deeply into the actual nuts and bolts which hold our rides together, exploring ways to strengthen bonds and foster greater understanding for each other.

Thanks for reading. Stephen King calls you "Constant Readers." While you may not be as great in number as his, he's been doing it longer and he's better at it. To me, you're the world, the biggest gift I've had besides being married to the most magical woman I've ever known.

Peace be with you this New Year. Please stay safe, wear bright clothing, watch the road rather than your phone, and be patient with and kind to one another. I'll see you next year, God willing and the Johnson Creek don't rise.





Saturday, December 29, 2018

Growing Wiser and Patient



Deke's Note: I promised to write this days ago. For the first time, I've been dreading the creation of a post. Perhaps because this blog is dying a painful death, and I'm bummed. New writing ventures beckon and JUST DRIVE sales tank. Either way, FTDS is an old friend I cannot ignore, even when I want to.

One day this past week I seriously considered calling in sick. I didn't sleep well that night, and nothing went to plan from my bed to the garage. It seemed everything I touched toppled. Things didn't improve from there. My innards weren't in alignment either, and hopping off the MAX train found me racing to the restroom in a skipping trot-stumble not even suitable for YouTube viewers. Coupled with a lack of breakfast, I was beginning my day as Deke Grump.

Reciting my daily mantra in an effort to "get up" for the day's work, I briefly felt better. Then a lady boarded my bus in obvious distress. Her hands trembled as she fumbled for her fare. I gently told her to step back behind the yellow line and just let me know when she found it. Asking if she was okay would have been stupid. She obviously was not. Just as I was about to leave the stop, a lanky lad ambled into sight, followed by a dog without leash. A brief flash told me to close the doors and roll, but Lanky Lad flagged me down. I re-opened the door, only to be witness as he accosted my newest fare.

"Where are you going?" he demanded of her. Long story short, she was trying to get away from him. While he toyed with aggressively snatching her off the bus, I intervened.

"I'm sorry sir," I said calmly, "but we'll have no harassment of my passengers."

This seemed to let the air out of his sails. Momentarily. He began to berate her, saying the cops had been notified because she ran off and left her dog. Sounds like she just wanted to be free of him. At that point, I stepped in, being caught in the middle, literally. She cowered behind me, begging for protection.

"I just want you to leave me alone," she moaned.

"All right," I said authoritatively, "sir, you'll have to exit the bus. You've already held me up for three minutes, and I have to roll these wheels." He started pleading his domestic case to me, but I stopped him.

"Sir," I said, even though he wasn't even half my age, "I'm not a domestic mediator. It's not my business what has transpired between you two, and I truly don't care. I'm a bus operator, and these passengers need to get wherever they're going. Please step off the bus. Otherwise, I'll call for help and you could be cited for Interfering with Public Transit. Seems like you both have had a rough enough time as it is. No need for it to get worse. Please, we need to go."

(I was surprised by my calm demeanor. Didn't raise my voice, but spoke forcefully. I've learned that domestic disputes can escalate quickly. Not taking sides, I gently stated the basics of transit. A few years ago, my Irish might have ruined the chances of leaving the incident without police involvement.)

Other passengers voiced their displeasure as this guy stood in the way of their time travel. They just wanted to get home or wherever else.

"No," he said simply. No aggression in his voice, but he vigorously shook his head. He sounded desperate, but then he got angry and dismissive. Next, he shooed the goofy, leash-less pooch on my bus and jumped off.

"You take the mutt, I'm outta here," he half-yelled.

I sighed. Dogs are required to be in a carrier if they're not service animals. But this girl was in tears, and it wasn't worth squabbling over. Instead, I just asked if Goofus was gentle, which she assured me he was. Instructing her to keep him under control, I rolled. We had spent six extra minutes at the stop, and my goal of separating the lass from her tormentor had been accomplished without bloodshed. It was a victory for us all, and I was thankful.

Her fellow passengers soothed the lass and actually had her laughing a few times. I gave her a free day pass; she had trembled as she fumbled through her clutch to find valid fare. She'd had an obviously hard enough day already. If I can do anything to make folks' lives better in the course of my workday, it's a worthy goal. She was very appreciative, and I wished her smoother travels in her daily path.

(Once I arrived at the line's terminus, I inhaled some nicotine, grabbed a snack and prepared for the rest of my 10-hour shift. It was a fairly mild day for passenger loads, but traffic tended to produce more than an average number of dumbbells. Still, I managed to keep on task and schedule. Until later that evening, my temper was on trial once again.)

* * * * *

Sometimes, rail crossing apparatuses (apparatusi? They do resemble a Lego-built octopus missing four arms at times) go haywire. Either they weren't built to withstand the constant beating from operating every few minutes each day, or the manufacturer's Inspector #12 failed. This set of arms kept bouncing up and down, making the traffic signal remain red during the spectacle. A four-way intersection without a green turn arrow? Absurd, but that's Portland for you... always a step behind common sense. I sighed, set the parking brake, and informed Dispatch of the problem.

One passenger, a regular who never says hello or thank you, became irate.

"Moron," he muttered just loud enough for me to hear. "Just make the turn."

"Excuse me?" I replied, irritated at the insult. "That's a red light, in case you haven't noticed. I will not break the law to satisfy your impatience. Knock it off."

Two cars in front of me had just turned left ahead of me. Marty Moron insisted I follow their lead. "Just make the turn!" he said, more emphatically. He added an expletive, as if I was supposed to cower and comply. Homey don't play that game. I haven't kept this job by breaking laws, especially running red lights. I don't care if it stays red for an hour. Unless a cop or supervisor gives me permission, I'm stuck. My job and livelihood are much more important than the schedule.

To my left, two cars back on the street I was hoping to turn onto, sat a supervisor. I thanked my intuition and patience, because making an illegal turn at any time is a no-no... doing it in front of The Boss is professional suicide.

"You've been sitting here for five minutes, why don't you make the goddamn turn, you fucking moron!" This time, he bellowed from the very back of the bus. Nobody else said a word. My other passengers had seen this signal malfunction before, and they gave him no support.

"No, I won't make an illegal turn just because you're having a temper tantrum. Settle down, sonny." I feared that was a bit over the top, but it was better than what almost came out of my mouth.

A moment later, I opened the front door just so Impatient Ignatius could exit. He walked in front of the bus, holding up his middle-fingered IQ score. I smiled, which further infuriated him, but he kept on walking. Ten seconds later, the light went green. The crowd behind me cheered as I made the turn. Halfway down the block, Ignatius saluted me again as we cruised by him. Ignoring the chump, I blew him a kiss in my mind. "Asshole," I said to myself. Much more satisfying, I thought, than losing my job.

Next time he boards, I'll let him know that faced with the same situation, my actions will be the same. If he's not agreeable to the way I perform my duties, there's one bus ahead and another behind me. Perhaps he'd be more comfortable on one of those.

* * * * *

On my next break, I stood outside talking to my wife on the phone. Suddenly, the rear door opened. I jumped, because there was nobody inside. It closed, and a few seconds later it opened again.

"Aha," I told her, "there's an evil spirit aboard this bus. Time for a new one."

Reporting the door failure after my several attempts at troubleshooting repairs failed, Dispatch came through with a bus trade down the trail. Of course, the problem corrected itself shortly after I left my layover. Just like when you're sick and go to the doctor only to feel miraculously better in the waiting room. Oh well, the rest of my night went without a hitch after that.

Spotter: Please don't give me that bus again. It reminds me of my first wife.




Monday, December 24, 2018

Farewell 2018

The autumn of a blog's life gives way to the depths of winter.
Deke's Note: MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEAR READERS! 

It's been a momentous year for your Deke N. Blue. Thank you to all who have purchased my book this year. Each of you has honored me by spending the hard-earned money you all toil to earn on my humble tome. It was meant to be a working-man's homage to his fellows who make the world's economy roll.

Watching the blog's readership decline has been a painful vigil, but I knew it would eventually happen. While it's hard, I realize there comes a time when one stage must make way for a new avenue. This blog has been a close friend, a steam kettle and a creative channel for the thoughts I have behind the wheel of The Beast. I've done my best to describe the life of a transit operator, but it seems to have become either a bitch-fest against management or a feeble foray into the realm of everyday bullshit we all encounter.

Some operators have told me they have no patience to re-hash what they spent a shift living to read about the same. It's understandable. After five years, I know what they mean. Newbies find this blog a mirror of what they see and it's all new to them. To me, driving a bus has become my reality, and very little about it excites or inspires me. People on my bus have melded into the same individual, save for a very few. To continue describing the same scene is redundant.

There are a few posts I need to write. First, the rift between Maintenance and Operators needs my attention. We don't understand each other, yet both are the front line of every transit operation. We usually vote differently for union leadership when we must come together to ensure our common interests are represented. I have my own ideas as to how we could bridge that gap, but there is a conversation with a Maintenance Brother I hope to have soon that could result in a greater respect for one another. That will be my next project. Neither of us can exist without the other, yet we're virtual strangers.

While I will miss the fun I've had producing From the Driver Side, it seems the magic has departed. One thing my late father taught me is that everything has a season, and the winter has arrived for this writer's muse. It's time to explore the unknown, to fling my driver's arms in a wider arc to grasp what lies ahead. To bore you with more of the same would feel like cheating. I'd rather you remember me fondly for what I tried to accomplish than be bored with more of the same.

All my life, I've tried to describe my footsteps from a keyboard. You've rewarded me with your time and support. I'm so happy to have reached nearly every corner and cranny of this small blue marble lost in the wilderness of infinity. Someday, I'll find the bravery necessary to admit who Deke truly is. Most of you who read this already know me, and I thank you for keeping my identity to yourselves. Surely, my management is aware as well, yet they allow me to continue driving while writing. It's one of their few positive marks in a sea of degradation toward those who do the real work of transit. Thank you, Bean Counters, for putting up with my harsh critiques.

For now, I wish every one of you who read this blog a wonderful Christmas, whichever holiday season you celebrate. We're tiny in the presence of all that is good on the Blue Marble in Nearby Space, yet your nod of appreciation has made me feel relevant. Now that I've realized that 14 Minutes of Flame has been nearly snuffed out, this is my tip-of-the-uniform-hat to you for staying with me so long.

Thank you Dear Readers everywhere. May peace roll with you every mile, and your paths be blessed by flowers and the green vistas of God's beauty each day you're blessed to live.


With love and appreciation, I remain your irascible
Deke N. Blue
...and we are... every day you roll our ride.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Deke's Note: And now a word from our sponsor. Patrick has been my biggest supporter, so it's time to give him a plug. He writes about his beloved in this post, one of my dearest friends, Stacey. Please give him the support you show Deke. I'll be back to poke around in your transit consciousness for the New Year. Until then, be safe and keep all six on the road.

Check this out: https://wordpress.com/view/patcoomer.wordpress.com

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Deacon of Light


Deke's Note: It's been a few years since I wrote a Christmas message. My last post was a rough condemnation; this post explores the softer side of transit.

This blog approaches its sixth birthday next May. Since it began, I've learned, ached, fumed and wandered through a literary exercise never meant to go further than simply describing what it's like to drive a city bus. Each turn of the wheel offers a different perspective from what these eyes encountered when I first began this rolling odyssey. It's difficult to explain now vs. then, but hopefully you have grown with me through the years. If not, my book (JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane) describes what you may have missed along my evolving roll.

This blog has been more to me than I would ever have dreamed upon its inception. It has served as a psychological release valve, a fuming steam kettle through which I release my pent-up frustrations visited upon many a public servant. For to whom do we have a channel to complain about the many slights and epithets spat upon us at any given moment? Our management cares not about the humans who make their jobs possible; they simply want what is often impossible to provide. We roll through situations they can't even fathom, with the hopes that our skills and accumulated transit wisdom allow our safe passage through any possible mishaps we encounter.

Hit a low-hanging branch with your mirror? Get out, look to see if it has been damaged. If not, no need to expose yourself to unnecessary and ridiculous managerial Monday-Morning Quarterbacking and the Preventable Accident (PA) judgmental nightmare. It's just not worth it. There are a lot of trees in Portland, and the wind often knocks some branches awry. If you hit one and nothing breaks, no need to bother an over-burdened Dispatcher and Supervisor. They have bigger frogs to hop, and well, shit happens. Scratches are as commonplace as a bus fart. You just train the brain to refrain from doing it again. Just roll, man. A wise and dear friend who once line trained me in my transit youth advised me: "Don't honest yourself out of a job." It's very valuable advice. He also told me "floor it going up that hill or you'll be sorry." I didn't believe him at first on either, and both times I've lived to regret it. (Thanks, Dan.)

We all go through passing phases out here. When you're responsible for those on and around your bus, the rest of the world is but a blip. It's a real-time job which demands your full attention. Sure, our minds wander as our bus does, but auto pilot is quickly flipped off as conditions rapidly change.

Years behind the wheel of a city bus train you to be prepared for any eventuality, no matter how severe or mundane. The same is true of passenger interactions. Some days, I'm not very open to anything but a simple greeting and acknowledgement of a "thank you" as people exit my bus. Others, I engage whoever lingers within earshot. Meeting fellow Portlanders has blessed me with fascinating interactions with people I would not have known in another profession.

As another holiday season approaches, I'm reminded of many of the same I've asked from you this time of year:
  • Wear something bright, for fuck's sake! Do you really want a ride? Glance upward from that electronic ball and chain you constantly make visual love to, and pay attention. If I can't see you, don't call in a complaint when you're passed up. Accept your own transit responsibility and actively flag down that bus you're waiting for.
  • Be safe, because people who love you expect a repeat performance.
  • Treat your fellow humans with love and respect; hatred and contempt are bad for your health. Those who have less than we are equally worthy of our love and kindness.
Merry Christmas, or happy whatever holiday you choose to celebrate as we enter this winter solstice. I wish you all peace, love and happiness. Otherwise, what good am I?


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Kiss My Hard-Working Union Ass


Deke's Note: Why am I so pissed in this post? Well, how would you like it if your management outsourced something you provide your co-workers every day? It's mind-numbing to consider what our management has done now. Any normal-thinking person would say, "what the hell?" but our transit agency and its controlled puppets have come up with another hare-brained scheme for you to consider. Don't be surprised if your response is even more profane than mine.

Imagine you run a company staffed by over 1,300 highly-trained and qualified drivers. One of your facilities is being remodeled, which displaces roughly a third of your workforce. Parking is moved off-site during construction, which becomes a logistical nightmare and major inconvenience for your front line workers. What would you do? A healthy individual would have the exact opposite response to our employer's.

It's imperative to ensure your front line workers are given top priority when you renovate their workplace. You study, prepare in advance, and involve the local union to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. You move your professional drivers by using the same. We know and trust one another, are comfortable with our collective skills and share a common respect. It would only be logical to keep things in house, right? Not so, when your management operates at the speed of mute, incompetent and irresponsibly disrespectful to those who make the wheels roll.

When our "Bored" of Directors (a nickname I chose after being to a few of their meetings, in which they appear as wax statues with recording boxes in their collective larynx emanating predictable corporate soundbites that echo "Yeah, whatever he says") steamrolled the hiring of a new GM. Despite ATU 757's strenuous objections and questions of his competence upon the retirement of our former chief bumbler, it was a terrible insult. They "tabled" their decision to make it seem plausible they were considering other alternatives, but predictably came back a few days later and said, "Sure, we'll hire whoever Neil tells us to," regardless of New Wonder Boy's failed past-performance. Canada fired him, but oh well, eh? The Powers-That-Be said "DO IT" so "it" was done in spite of our objections that a more-thorough search be conducted. Our voices were paved over like Powell Garage operators' concerns are so trampled upon today.

Now the fruits of the "Bored's" lack of foresight is continuing the status quo of running roughshod over our union, making disrespect and disregard so commonplace it's as if we exist solely to give management something to do. Our opinions and concerns are evidently of no concern to them, given their bypassing union concerns in decision-making processes.

Citing "cost and manpower" shortages, management threw out some over-inflated figures, stating it would be too expensive to run a parking shuttle in-house. Bullshit. Take two or three Extra Board or Special Signup or Newbie Operators in three shifts, and give them a 30-footer. No extra cost involved whatsoever. We could easily absorb it into a regular shift, marking it up as a normal business expense at a fraction of the total construction costs. 

Contracting to an Illinois-based company (non-union, no doubt) for big money reeks of collusion between upper management and these corporate mugs. I wonder who greased the skids for this contract, and who made out like a bandit while ATU 757 members were screwed like a fresh inmate. Hell, our "Bored" isn't accountable to anyone. They just nod blithely as every scheme our management concocts rolls off some corporate dork's tongue, and nothing we say or do matters one whit. 

We're supposed to just sit back and nod, saying "Sure, Boss, we be good lil' boys and girls. Just don't whup us too hard if we sneeze at your meetings." Powell Operators are some of the most decorated, senior drivers we have. They drive in the toughest parts of town, and have truly seen it all. Instead of being given convenient parking with union drivers shuttling them safely to and from their temporary modular quarters, they're cast to the mercy of non-union goofballs from an out-of-state company that probably pays minimum wage to transport professional drivers to their workplace. It makes no sense what-so-fucking-ever.

That's what you get when you allow the State of Oregon to give public transit away to corporate America. It's time to take back OUR transit and send these bumbling bums packing. Transit is a blue-collar profession, and should be run by professionals who have driven a bus for a living. We'd save millions just by firing the hundreds of overpaid boneheads who have driven our once No. 1 rating downward towards the lowest-rated in the nation. We could do it better with less than half of the current management. We're not greedy, and we constantly bust our butts to safely deliver our precious cargo to their destinations every day of the year. No matter what Portland's weather throws at us, we do our job. Management prefers sunny days with nice cool breezes, yet we freeze our asses off in their mandated flimsy uniforms as they sit in front of a cozy fire in seven-figure showcase homes paid for from the sweat of our labor-seasoned asses.

Union professionals include workers from many industries. I've met many operators with Master's and Doctorate degrees in varied disciplines who are wise and thrifty enough to more than competently run the joint. 

A transit agency is a service which doesn't need to turn a profit. It should command the respect of the public by showing a high regard for those who make it work. Ideally, it would shine a light on those who make it work while simultaneously teaching the public how to responsibly ride and treat its operators with a high standard of respect. Management now does its best to pander to a public that whines incessantly while refusing to acknowledge our transit system is one of the best in the world. Management allows a largely-dishonest customer complaint highway to run roughshod over its operators. Even mid-level management can make a false observation and have an operator suspended, because their word outranks the lowly front line operator. It's a despicably-rotten manner to treat Portland's safest road warriors.

Our local media is too lazy to masturbate. They report what they're told, and fail to do the work of real journalists of old. Doesn't it smell bad to outsource driving experienced drivers to an out-of-state corporate hog? It suffers one to wonder who greased the skids, and who benefits? Certainly not the union operators of ATU 757. Aren't you media lackeys even curious why our union wasn't included in this discussion, even though the transit agency says the opposite? It reeks, but still.... crickets in the local media. Yeah okay, just sit back and reap the benefits of marijuana dispensary advertising while others we work for a living.

Shame on you all. We deserve better, but we're not likely to get it. And yeah, I'm bitchy this post. If I don't say something, it doesn't get said except by Al Margulies or a few other operators who dare raise a fist in protest. 

This fist is clenched in solidarity with operators world-wide who not only read this blog, but also face the dangerous paths upon which we make an honest, hard-earned living. I'm one of you, and I refuse to sit down and just take it. I'm mad as hell to be so disrespected on a daily basis, when all I'm doing is trying to keep a roof over my family's head while providing an economically-necessary service to my fellow Portlanders. 

Deke is here for the operator, supervisor, dispatcher, maintenance personnel, station agent and every other union worker who toils under an incompetent iron hammer. Without us, there would be no transit. It would be ideal if management and "Boreds" everywhere actually came to that realization. Sadly, some people need instructions on how to open a simple box of cereal. It's very hard to fix stupid.

Oh, and fuck you Lars. Keep on paying your pseudo-taxis. They could kill you, but you'd be safe on my bus.

Like what Deke writes? Shooting from the hip in blazing style, he describes life as a city bus operator. Be sure to buy your loved ones a copy of "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane," available on Amazon in print and ebook, and on Audible in audiobook format. A sure 5-star winner as described by ALL who have reviewed it. Get your copy NOW in time for Christmas!


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Merry Christmas, Dad


This time of year, I really miss Daddy Blue. He taught me so much, yes. Yes! As I grew into an adult, he became more than my only hero... he was my best buddy.

As I began writing Christmas cards, tears began to flow freely as I inserted photos from this year to family members and friends. So much of what I pass along to you readers came directly from Dad's life lessons. If I'm half as wise as he when I reach my golden years, it will be a true miracle.

The last time we spoke on the phone, it was my birthday. Part of me wishes I'd let him go to voice mail so I'd have his voice singing Happy Birthday to me forevermore. When he told me "I'll wait for you," I didn't realize how prophetic that was. He died later the day I arrived at his bedside.

His memory is, and will remain, strong. His blood runs through my veins, his musical voice rings true within my soul. His humor, decency and dedication to having fun every day, will remain with me as long as I tread upon our Earth. If you see me and I tell you a joke, it's Dad's influence which makes me strive to help you smile. Our job is hard, and so is life sometimes. He taught me it's important to find the good which shines, even in the shadows of grief.

Earlier this year, I had the most wonderful dream come true. I read parts of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane aloud to my blind father. An avid reader his entire life, what pained him most in old age was his inability to read. He enjoyed my writing, and for 20 minutes, I read passages from a book I had written to his loving delight. It was easily the highlight of my writing career to read my work to one of the two who made it possible. Any accolades from this point will fade in comparison to that moment in time.

If not for my parents, I would not be writing this. My book certainly would never have seen creation if not for their fierce dedication to each of their four sons. Their grit, humor and intelligence drove me to heights not possible without them. To read Dad passages of my book was pure elation; it was done with carefully deliberate calm in the presence of incredible emotion. I actually practiced reading aloud before I flew to see him. Fearing emotion would cloud my performance, I firmly set my jaw and refused to be anything but strong. For him. Judging the look on his face, my father was both proud and entertained. He was my biggest fan, and for that I feel the most intense pride.

Rest in peace, Dad. Thanks for teaching me parking lots are among the most dangerous places to drive. Whenever I roll through a mall parking lot in my Beast, my eyes dart constantly in search for the errant fool who doesn't see my 20 tons bearing down upon them. Mostly, thank you for your dedication and for teaching me that dreams are the product of hard work and diligence.

To those of you who still have your parents near, cherish them. They adore you. When they pass from this world, their memory will be the strength which guides you forevermore.

Merry Christmas, Daddy. I miss you.



Sunday, December 9, 2018

Why I Support My Amalgamated Transit Union

I am a proud union dues-paying member!
UNION STRONG!

The question has finally reared its ugly head in the aftermath of the disastrous Janus Decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. It makes mandatory union membership a thing of the past, basically giving members the option to "opt out" of paying union dues while still enjoying the fruits of its labors. In my opinion, it's simply more of Big Money tearing apart what little protections the workers have against the tyranny of worker abuse.

The question: What should happen to those who work in a union shop yet refuse to pay dues?

If I quit paying my garbage and sewer fees, life could get quite stinky. It's logical to think that if I don't want to pay for this service, my garbage won't get collected and transported to the landfill.

What if during open enrollment I decided not to pay for health insurance benefits fought for by our union? Going to the doctor, dentist or hospital would become an economic nightmare as an American in this age. I'd save a few bucks on premiums, but that colonoscopy would be quite a bit more painful because Joe Plumber's apprentice wouldn't be so "liberal" with anesthetic. While what I believe is a basic human right to be afforded medical care without fear of bankruptcy, that is unfortunately not today's reality. Thanks to my union's efforts, I pay a fraction of the cost insurance companies compel others to pay. Pretty damn good deal to keep myself above ground, tending to daisies rather than fertilizing them.

Car payment too high? Go ahead and quit paying it. Problem is, a month or two later you'd be riding the bus to work (free for us anyway) or calling Uber. Getting to the beach might be a problem. Major grocery shopping days would be more of a struggle without a trunk to tote them all.

We all pay taxes, yet we all have issues with how the money is spent. Other people decide what's best for us, because they're elected to do that job. Whether we agree with them, they make decisions  based on their values and judgments. If they screw up too often, they might find themselves out of a job next time we vote. Sometimes, elections don't go our way and we're stuck with whoever wins. Simple, frustrating, yet wholly American. That's how we do things here.

One of our union members with a dull axe to grind has publicly stated he's opting out of the union. He doesn't agree with our elected leaders on how they conduct business. Hell, I don't always agree with them either, but I believe they work hard for our collective benefit. He even goes so far as to whine about the fact they use union vehicles to conduct union business. I wouldn't want to put 200k miles on my car doing the work of thousands either. When you represent people across a large state, you should have the use of a company car. Corporations get this; our union is basically a corporation employed by those they represent. Our officers won their respective elections, regardless whether I agree with their politics, and therefore I support them. There are many things I may never know about negotiations on our behalf, or the finer points of transit reality. As a simple bus operator, I feel blessed knowing there are union reps in the wings if I need their representation. For this, I am all too happy to pay a pittance of my hard-earned pay for this invaluable service.

My work history is riddled with blue-collar work in which I yearned for union membership. I was paid poverty-level wages for so long it seemed normal to go hungry as a single parent every other week so I'd have enough money to feed my daughter when I had her. If one of us became ill, it was a major expense to seek medical attention. If a decision I made on-the-job landed me in hot water, there was nobody to throw ice into the fire to save my hide. Mostly, I was lucky. Today, I thank my countless lucky stars and guardian angels for the opportunity to have such a great job.

My earlier employers were usually very supportive, but they paid me little until I found work with a large insurance company. It was ironic that I went to work for the very industry that makes billions on the gamble of inevitable human suffering. Unfortunately, that sweet spot ended when corporate America decided to outsource the middle class to a cheaper India. As a result, I became a bus operator, finally protected and happily ensconced within the protective shroud of a union. Several times, my union has helped me. In contract negotiations, even though they might not yield golden piles under rainbows, each has saved us from management's most imbecilic and evil intentions.

Don't want to pay dues, yet expect the same benefits
as me? This is all I have for you.
As a newcomer to union employment, I've come to learn several things. First, our employer wins the more divided we become. Why transit management thinks in terms of "us vs. them" I don't understand. If not for us, there would be no them. They seem to spend a lot of time thinking of ways to make our jobs more difficult rather than supporting us. Any passenger with a cell phone can now call (or text) in any spurious or made-up complaint and be rewarded with our discipline. No matter how silly or far-fetched tales, we're raked over the coals and made to feel less than human. It's so maddening as to drive some from this job we perform under the most demanding and precise conditions imaginable. (Just remember how our brother Leonard was treated after he was stabbed on the job.) No problem for management; they replace the "bad apples: those most expensive veterans who have capably served for decades" with new hires who are in no legal fashion obligated now to pay union dues. Newbies flow in who they can mold to toe the company line, no matter how outrageously ridiculous it may be, with false promises of a bright future. Through the union, their future is strenuously fought for. Without it, they would be discarded with the trash after 20 years or so.

Our union is, as my former union "brother" charges, stretched too thin to be effective. ATU 757 not only represents Portland's transit workers, but those across the state of Oregon. Often, we feel less important than the rest of the state. One elected officer reportedly stated that he doesn't care so much about Portland workers come election time, because those in outlying areas have a larger voting bloc. We feel isolated, even though we're nearly 3,000 strong. Several members here have advocated for separating Portland and Vancouver from the rest of our membership to form our own chapter, and I'm beginning to see the logic in this idea. However, we are who we are at the present. In that reality, we must work together toward improving working conditions.

Just because an upper-class-weighted Supreme Court ruling has dented the power of the working class doesn't mean our members should be short-sighted enough to pull out just because they can. This doesn't help anyone, especially themselves, but it certainly hurts us all. Do I agree how every penny of our dues are spent? Not always. I don't necessarily like how my state and federal taxes are dispersed either. There are benefits we all enjoy for paying them though.

It is only logical to me that someone who "opts out" of paying union dues should not be entitled to the full protection of our union. They should not be compensated at the same rate as a union employee. When you consider that we'd likely be paid at least a third less than we are now without ATU fighting on our behalf, that should be their rate of compensation. If they have a scrape on the road, they should be left to their own defenses in an accident review rather than receive the benefit of union representation that a paying member receives. Maybe their health insurance should be much more expensive for them also, because without union bargaining, it would certainly be much more expensive. Any promotions should be weighted more-heavily to a dues-paying union member than a whiny "I don't want to pay for the same benefits that dues-payers enjoy" scab.

People today on one side of the political spectrum speak so harshly of "socialism," yet they reap heavily from the benefits afforded by social programs. You get what you pay for. "The more you make, the more they take." What they take benefits the greater good. Our federal taxes ensure we're protected from enemies. Our union dues give us a much better deal than what's taken in by city, county/state/federal taxes. Governments don't fight for working conditions or wages; unions do.

I love the city we serve, Portland, Oregon.
Early union leaders actually shed blood to win protections from greedy employers. Now, we argue online and throw weak barbs at one another with an electronic barrier separating us. One hundred years ago, fists and clubs were the weapons which won concessions from Big Money. People died fighting for their basic rights as working human beings. Union dues gradually became our weapons via rivers of blood and anguish.

Once again, Big Money seeks to divide us by making dues optional. To "opt out" is a disgraceful insult to those who fought so valiantly to ensure the working people had a voice; to expect the same protections as those who pay is viewed by many union-proud workers to be no better than scabs who cross picket lines to work during a strike.

You want to quit paying dues and leave the burden to those of us who do? Fine. Don't expect me to wave in solidarity when I see you on the road. You deserve no respect, because the more of you who  desert the solidarity of union make it more expensive for the rest of us to provide for you the same protections our money guarantees us all.

Our union may not be perfect, but none are. We're simply humans fighting beside and for one another. There are no easy answers. Agree or not, I support my union officers with every ounce of my being. I'm no better than they are, and if they didn't have our best interests at heart, they wouldn't risk ridicule and political warfare to run for election every few years. Once an election is over, it's up to membership to pull together and support the victors. That's what produces strength: numbers.

We're back to contract negotiations now. My money's on the union to win a better tomorrow than we have today. Go get 'em, ATU 757. I'm proud to stand up and support you, and I'll proudly keep paying my dues in solidarity for my brothers and sisters who make the wheels roll every day of the year.

UNION STRONG, I am
Deke N. Blue

Thursday, December 6, 2018

I Lost It!

Somebody donated their obsolete shoes;
I forgot my short-term memory!
It's an issue discussed often among bus operators. In the past five years, buses have become unnaturally silent with the mass infusion of cell phones. Conversations have dwindled so drastically, I sometimes have to fire up the microphone just to see if my passengers are still breathing.

Hey, some operators might say, "I'd rather have silence than a bunch of loudmouths!" True, there's little argument here. However, it seems eerie at times when there's a full bunch with standees in the aisles and it's so quiet you can hear a streetcar bell two blocks away, over the sound of the onboard diesel engine. Even funerals are louder. One evening, the resident mouse farted and everybody onboard jumped as if shots had been fired.

Five years ago, I scoffed at the cell phenomenon, refusing to give in to the information revolution. After all, I had a computer at home. Why would I need it following me around all over tarnation and back? I held off as long as I could. As this blog flourished and readers started contacting me, I felt duty-bound to keep in touch. "Oh, all right, fine!" I told my wife when it came time to upgrade from the rusty flip-phone I stubbornly hung onto. If they had produced rotary-dial cell phones, I likely would have had one. So three years ago, I became one of them fancified smart phone owners. It became an obsession, and soon I walked right into a streetlight pole, transfixed by that tiny screen I thought it was possible to live without.

Like my keys, I've become anal-retentive when it comes to habitually putting it in a safe place when it's not in use. Our Standard Operating Procedures require it be turned off and stowed away while we're in service. It's vital that I know where the phone is at all times, because I've become so attached the case might as well be surgically-implanted in my thigh.

As my age approaches golden hues, my memory seems to be retreating. I can remember events from 50 years ago easier than why I walked into the kitchen five minutes ago. So it happened recently that I finished eating a delicious piece of quiche on my bus while reading emails and the evil FBook memes that crowd my page. Threw the trash away, got in the seat and started the motor to make my final round trip. Once I reached the end of the line and began an oddly-long break, I reached into the "stowed-away" hiding place reserved for my phone.

Betcha the fella in the blue shirt has a better memory
 than this aging bus operator!
Ruh-roh. Not there. Began methodically checking every other place I might have placed it. Even illegal spots. No luck. DAMN! Next I turned the bus inside-out searching for the elusive machine that should have remained attached to the kitchen wall as it was decades ago. All I found was trash.

The first thing I thought of: "I should call the wife and tell her..." Nope, couldn't do that.

"It's cold out here, wonder what the temp is..." Colder than the temperature in our bed was gonna be after my wife learned that I would have to replace my phone just before Santa's bills came due.

As I retraced my steps it was obvious that I had left it on the wheel well after cleaning up after dinner. Not only was my anger directed inward, but it also turned to my passengers. They'll often turn in a cell phone somebody left on the bus, and I thank them, bag and tag it, turn it in to the Station Agent after my shift. The slimeball who found it had the nerve to thank me on the way out the door. Not sure who did it, but my curse of the fleas of a thousand camels infest their underwear for a year should keep them hopping around a bit.

Whoever has it, too bad suckers. It was protected more fiercely than my first girlfriend's virginity. My wife had it turned off within an hour. Nobody could get past my security code anyway. It's a useless three-year-old piece of obsolescence. I'm not sure who I'm more angry with, but it boils down to being my own fault. Never tempt people you don't know to be dishonest. Most times they surprise me; this time they let me down.

Let's see: this year I tried to cook a turkey still in its' plastic death shroud, lost three people very dear to me to pain and age, kicked off a rider because his feet stink about created a puke fest, and rode figuratively into yet another professional wall. It's been a helluva hard year. I've even (momentarily) considered ending the blog, but rolled through that one.

Perhaps I'm just tired. One thing's for sure though. I'm going to set an alarm on my phone to alert me at the end of each break to STOW THE DAMN BALL AND CHAIN! Perhaps then, I'll regain my electronic peace of mind.

Some "holdout" I am!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Winter Signup Beckons...



Lovely Portland architecture fills my scans every day.

Deke's Note: I don't know if my "15 minutes" has passed, but fewer people are reading these posts. Should I just quit? It just seems fruitless sometimes. Oh well, if this is my last post, I'll still have fun with it. To do otherwise would run against "Deke's Rules." 

Artists simply want exposure. If the "masses" aren't relating, the artist's temptation is to say, "Fuck it. I'm out."

This artist is too stubborn to quit. However, I've started writing a new book under my real name. Deke is getting old. Although I've sold books and been read around the world, this gig is getting old. If fewer numbers are reading what I write under the pseudonym, it's time to shed the shroud and head into different directions. A year ago, I had the best numbers as a blogger, with over 15,000 hits in a month. Today, I'm averaging about 2,500 per month. It's okay, I get it. There's a bit of global Deke exhaustion. That's why most of my recent posts have pointed to the positive in this job. Tired of this bus driver's roll? It's okay. Thanks for reading so long!

There are bills to pay, so I drive a bus. It's a good job, pays well for someone my age (approaching 60 quicker than the average motorists flips us off just for doing the job), and keeps me out of trouble 5/7 days a week. Do I want to work my day off? Hell no. If I did, there would be no time to write to you, my dwindling but dedicated few. Without you, I wouldn't have been read across this blue globe in the middle of infinity, and I thank you so very much. I'd rather write to you than work another 8-10.

I'll be returning to a route that is tough but full of hard-working people who make up this confused rain forest we call home. It also keeps me away from the madness that has become "downtown." After about six months, it drives me away.

A rare Deke selfie.
Once upon a distant time, I coached youth basketball. I truly enjoyed this pastime. My sons were on the teams I coached. Those who ran the courts with them are forever etched into the loving stitches of my soul's fabric. My new and recurring route rebounds me into contact with the kids who once bounced their tough balls on hoop courts. They are part of my soul, these boys now become men, and the others they ride with seem to "get" where I come from. Life is but a series of bounces, and while some fall into the hoop, I'm lucky to catch one of them off the rim in the form of friendship.

I look forward to seeing Little Bear, one of the toughest kids I had the great opportunity to coach. He works out at a gym on this route. If he ever rides this signup's route, he gets a free day pass. Too bad, management... the fare cops will never bust this great young fellow for lack of fare, because he's one tough guy I admire. Bus drivers need to have a bit of generosity, and I give it freely to those who deserve it. LB is one for sure.

I hope to be reunited with another high school kid who I have driven since he rode with his dad as a tyke. Brett, if you read this be assured I look forward to seeing you this winter. Then there's Aiden, the transit genius who knows more than most drivers about our transit system, its vehicles and routes. I'm in awe of his knowledge... it puts me to shame. You know what? He's only 15 years old! If I knew as much as he does, I'd feel qualified to run this agency.

My new run will also give me a chance to roll with my family again. Shhh. Whether they're eligible for free fares, my "family" is large, extending far and wide. Mention my elder son's nickname, you get a free day pass. Screw the rules. Money gets tighter as years roll past. Youth is full of hard times not likely rewarded by the powers that be. If you're a stranger to me yet treat me with kindness and respect, I'll reward you tenfold with generosity. The poor and downtrodden are under attack from those on high, and it pisses me off. Just be honest, I'll let you ride. If you tell me you don't have the money for fare and don't lay some long bullshit story on me or walk past as if "entitled," you can safely enjoy my patented roll. If you cause a ruckus, we'll have a problem. If not, I'll treat you to a smooth and easy ride.

Which book here interests you?
WhichLife's too short to worry about the General Manager's cushy retirement package... you can ride free with me. If you give me or my other passengers a hard time, you'll be walking soon enough. If you assault me, I'll kick your fucking ass and worry about our pansy-assed/out-of-touch-with-transit-reality management later. Throw a punch at me and you'll go to jail after the hospital sets your broken nose or whatever else I'm able to damage before the cops and ambulance arrive. If management suspends or fires me, it makes for a lively lawsuit. Hey, I'm just driving a bus. I don't have time to care about your drama. My job is to safely drive a bus. Just sit down, shut up and enjoy my roll. Is it really worth your time to interrupt mine?

There's life as a seasoned bus operator. I look forward to my new route. Thanks for reading. You're a blessing to me, even though your numbers are few. Peace be with you all.




Friday, November 30, 2018

Rolling into the End

This signup is about to end, and some of the people I've served will be missed. It's interesting how people can ride your bus every day, not say much, and become some of my favorite people.

It was a busy day, but Thursdays usually are. Fighting my ornery side has been a full-time endeavour lately. Today, I concentrated on complimenting some of my more-memorable riders.

Over the past few weeks, I've come to appreciate Taz. When she boards her beaming smile warms the whole bus. She seems to be a very happy girl. Taz asks me how I am, and unlike others, seems to actually care about my answer. Tonight as she came aboard, I told her how much I appreciate her lovely smile and sweet demeanor. She sat up front and we chatted a bit about our jobs. I'm sure as a telephone rep, her customers are put at ease because I'm certain her smile shines through the lines. Thanks Taz, for brightening up a sometimes cloudy day.

One passenger nearly found himself on my wrong side. As I approached a shared stop with another bus ahead, he did what many do by walking toward my bus. Folks, the bus stop is at the pole, and that's where I pick folks up; not in the second position. Let us come to you; walking toward a moving bus makes us nervous. This fellow looked perturbed when I pointed him toward the first position as the first bus started to move. After six hours behind the wheel with abbreviated breaks due to being late, my fuse is in need of repair. This guy lumbered on board with a beanie cap covering his lengthy locks, pulled so low his eyes were mostly covered. Internally, I named him Cousin It. He didn't say a word, just stared at me. I thought he would say something rude, so I simply smiled at him. That was probably the right thing to do. He sat down, and I grumbled to myself but brushed it off. When he exited a while later, he was actually very nice, so I'm glad I didn't growl at him.

Melvin the Cajun chef is another one I'll miss. He's always smiling when I see him. His recipes spoken aloud are drool-inspiring. Kindness exudes from this gentle soul, and draws you in. Then there's the always-sweet Alejandra, who made her debut in this blog a few posts ago. She reminds me of my daughter or a few of my sons' friends. Just a very kind lass who feels as if she belongs in my family. This college student might just end up a guest at our dinner table someday, if she's willing. A long distance from home, she needs people here to love her and offer fellowship. I've become pretty good at being "Dad" to many whom I've not sired; there's always room in my heart for more.

Johnny is a big fellow, deep voice and warm-faced jewel of a hard-working American. Some druggie tried to steal his backpack one day, and he chased the offender and well... let's just say the dude won't give our hero any more trouble. On my bus, Johnny shines quietly with an abundance of kindness. I'll miss him because he lights up the last run of what is usually a very hard day.

Several of these wonderful people have told me this week they'll miss my driving, and that has been very pleasing. Every day, I work diligently to provide a smooth roll, no matter what the clock says. Whether I'm late or on time, it's imperative to remain on-task, focused. You don't make up time by skimping on safety. It takes years to learn the discipline necessary to roll peacefully. At the end of the line on your break is when you curse all the reasons you were late, kick a wheel and allow yourself to cool off. While the wheel is rolling, just let it go or it eats you up and mistakes happen. I've made enough stupid gaffes to know this.

Parts of this run I'll miss next week when the new route requires my full attention. The people, mostly. These folks are professional transit riders, always have their fare ready, don't waste time boarding, know when I'm late they need to grab a hand-hold or stanchion. They don't argue, know and follow the rules. Some of them stop as they exit to thank me for being smooth. When you have a bus full of standees, that's nice to hear. You don't want to drive roughly because somebody could fall and get hurt. People who know me understand I can't handle creating pain for anyone. This is something that would haunt me a long time. Not just the hassle of report-writing and dealing with an over-zealous management...

What I won't miss about this run is the traffic and Portland's lack of intelligent road design and traffic light sequencing. Woe be it to me to dare offend Oregon's piss-poor traffic engineers, but I'd bet a small town's staff would be better-suited to overhaul our antiquated system than whoever does it now. Traffic lights are on a timer no matter the time of day. Traffic sits unnecessarily at a red light while the cross-street's light is green for nobody. There's no rhyme or reason. Different parts of town have variable patterns that make little sense. On this route, it's maddening how the lights waste so much of our time, and you never hear any of these billions spent on roads being earmarked for traffic signal modernization. Less-traveled streets should not have hard-red left turn signals, especially when there's nobody to take advantage of a cross-street green light. It's madness, and should be changed. Unfortunately, it will take years of "study" before they pass the test.

As I sail into the next signup, I thank some very sweet folks: Ale, Johnny, Taz, Melvin and a few others I can't name. Unitil we meet again, it's time for me to roll toward another part of town. It will be a while, but perhaps I'll be back. For now, I'll enjoy finding new (and perhaps old) smiling faces to help me continue rolling smoothly along.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Saddle Sore


Deke's Note: This blog has become a habit I need to feed every week. Maybe it feeds me. I'm not sure. It was almost a dry run, but then this guy boarded my bus...

We all encounter issues every shift. Most folks tell me things that are much more interesting than I experience, but that's a matter of perspective I suppose. Last night, one passenger surprised me with his contribution to my transit tales. He began just as soon as I checked his fare.

"Damn hernia surgery," he said. I must have jumped, because he added, "What, you don't think it hurts?"

"Ooh," I replied carefully. "I know it hurts. Had me a double two-sided cut job my own self about 10 years back. Hurt like a sumbitch." I stopped there, saving further ammunition if needed later.

"Told my doctor it hurts right here," he said, rubbing his groin. More info than I had hoped for. Keeping my eyes on the road, I avoided passenger mirror scans while he continued. I was afraid he'd graduate into hemorrhoid terminology, and his pants were already dangerously low for my liking.

"Didn't they think that was worth probing?" I asked, secretly proud of my phrasing. People who tell me personal stories upon our first meeting tend to annoy me. This behavior tends to instantly bring out my ornery side.

"They acted like I wasn't serious!" He evidently missed my pun.

"This was a recent surgery?" I asked.

"Damn near three years ago," he replied.

"Sounds like the works done gone haywire if it's been that long. You should insist they stick something in there to find what's wrong."

I winced after saying that, but his topic was reminding me of needing my wife to lift me off the toilet after my own surgery. It was not a memory I prefer to recall. If he kept this up, I was apt to go into my "painful for any guy to hear" recollection of a half-dollar-sized abscess on my... well, never mind.

"My balls hurt really bad," he said. Yeah, that. Okaaaay, I thought, time now for him to go away.

Usually, I start whistling some tune at this point in any unwanted conversation. The first song that crept into my mind was "Back In the Saddle Again."

This worked like a charm. He walked back and found a seat. I hope it didn't hurt too bad when he sat on our patented rock-hard seats. Or maybe I secretly hoped it would.



Thursday, November 22, 2018

Roast Deke

Before I drove today, Pat asked if hitting a turkey would result in a PA (Preventable Accident).

"That depends," I told him, "on whether it's moving or not. Clip 'im whilst he's airborne, you might be okay."

"Hmm," the old rascal replied, "I didn't know they could fly. Them store-bought birds is likely too fat to get air. But one thing I do know. Wild Turkey makes me fly!"

It's unknown at this point if Pat actually found his prey. It could make for an entertaining discussion at the Accident Review Board.

* * * * *

It was bound to happen eventually. After years of rousing success as a holiday cook, I pulled the biggest, most ridiculous gaffe of all time. Not even my wife's classic "Cooking Pizza with Cardboard Still on Bottom" can touch this one. She is relieved to be free of her historic burden, gleeful she will be able to lord this over me the rest of our lives. It will take a long time for anyone in my family to top this blunder. I hadn't even touched my specially-prepared cocktail in celebration of a weekday off.

Oh boy, how do I begin? Preparing to make my annual Infamous Pumpkin Pies, I turned the oven on to 450 to pre-heat. Got all my supplies together on the table: spices, pumpkin, eggs, evaporated milk, etc. Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind" blaring in my headphones, I proceeded to pie-making. Just as I was cracking the eggs, my son burst into the kitchen.


"Um Dad, did you forget something?" he asked. As he opened the oven door, I melted with realization. My ticker sank so low, I almost farted my heart.

In order to keep Kitties 1 and 2 from gnawing on frozen turkey, we placed it in the oven earlier in the day to thaw. Of course, I had earlier lectured wife and son not to turn the oven on before removing the bird. It's they who should have reminded me.

You know, 450 degrees for 20 minutes is pretty damn hot. It's what helps set the custard in a pumpkin pie, but it's a bit higher than room temperature required to slow-thaw a big-ass bird. As I pulled it out, the smell of burning plastic assaulted the kitchen air. I would rather drool while speaking gibberish  in a bus full of passengers than face what my family will forever dredge up every time I step foot in any kitchen.

The plastic bag was melted enough to reveal a large breast of birdy already turning golden. It was definitely thawed, marinated in plastic flavoring mixed with turkey fat.

After ruining my last two Hollandaise sauces, now this debacle has me reeling. My cooking confidence needs mending. Maybe this second attempt at Thanksgiving dinner will go better. At least my pies came out okay!

That poor bird gave his life for nothing. I hope the new turkey thaws in time to be properly cooked today. If not, at least everyone else will enjoy roasted Deke.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya turkeys!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

I Hit the Wall Again



Our 19th century architecture in Portland
graces us at every turn.

Deke's Note: I slid into this weekend like it was the World Series, Game 7 and down four runs in extra innings with a body aching like a 90-year-old with hemorrhoids. It was a rough week, lemme tell ya.

A few years ago, I hit the proverbial "wall" that most bus operators do at some (or several) points in our careers. Evidently, I've slammed into that bastard once again. I've hit it so hard my bus bounced back and found another angle to try from. Problem is this time, that wall isn't budging a milliliter. The reason is one I can't understand. Perhaps it's because my entire body is beginning to fell the effects of pressing the brake pedal thousands of times each week. My hips, left big toe, lower back and right knee complain solo or in symphonic agony. There are pains in my soul as well, as those who know me have heard my cries in the night.

No matter, these various ailments are something transit operators grit our teeth and endure. It's not something limited to transit; people in every stressful occupation fight through a myriad of issues every moment of each workday. We just tough it out and keep on rolling. What else can we do? Other than our brothers and sisters, nobody gives a damn. Management makes it crystal clear: be perfect, or else. Even if you are doing your job as trained, those "on high" can make your life miserable as easily as a politician lies for a living. That's why I write this blog... for all my brothers and sisters who feel they don't have a voice. I'll protest the hell out of our injustice for you. It might cost me my job someday, but I'll continue laying it all out for the world to read. To do anything less would go against everything I've been taught by the best parents, family and friends one could ever dream of having. If anything, I'm loyal to what's right in this working person's life. Even if I'm wrong sometimes, each life is composed of a series of individual beliefs and values. This blog is simply a conversation from one who does the job, right or wrong, mile after mile.

Enough jibber jabber. Time for some fun.

Rolled up to a downtown stop this week, about 30 minutes late. On board ambles a sometimes-regular grouch.

"That was a long wait," she growled upon boarding.

Downtown Portland at dusk
on an abnormally-clear autumn evening.
A sweet lass had accompanied me since she boarded, standing just behind the Yellow Line. We've become pals this signup. Nice girl, student, sweet and thoughtfully conscientious. Someone who could easily be my daughter-in-law someday, I adore her like one of my own. Alejandra is someone I look forward to driving, because she's not only fun to talk with but also sympathetic and kind. I could tell without seeing Alejandra's face she was shocked at how rude this aged professional complainer had been to me. Ale had stood there the entire time I was locked within a sea of motorists bound to park at the Rose Quarter for whatever syrupy event was on tap. Rush hour, on top of it all.

"I'm sorry," I replied in a sardonic tone to the snarl-faced bag, "but it's been heavy traffic."

"Whatever," Grumpy Gertie spat.

"I really didn't arrive late just to inconvenience you," I said, my Irish rising. "It's just been bumper-to-bumper through the Rose Quarter."

Not a peep of acknowledgement to the transit operator's plea for gridlock mercy, except her regular command, "Make sure you're close to the curb at my stop."

"I always do," I shot back. "Don't you remember me?" She rides my bus a few times each week.

"I can't remember all of you," she spat back. This rebuke stung like an angry wasp assaulting my nether regions.

Her particular stop is often cramped by cars parked just prior to the zone. Because I know the bus like the back of my hand by now, I'm able to angle my front door just above the curb, lowering it so she can just skip right off my ride without missing a beat. Evidently, it's expected rather than appreciated. Fuck me and my professionalism... by gawd, just do it. You're simply a stupid bus driver, do as I say and I won't call into your one-sided customer service line to complain. She could lie and tell them I was texting while driving, and management would believe her over me in an instant. Job gone, liar placated, another worthless driver bites the dust, no big deal.

As usual, I glided smoothly to her stop just as I do every time, and she exited without a word of thanks. It was my fault traffic was jacked up and she was late. The fact that her aged body easily exited the bus was of apparently no bonus.

Ale and I joked about her behavior. "Yeah, I knew she had been waiting all this time, so I just sat there and planned being late just to spite her, didn't I?"

My young amiga laughed at this, and we shared some transit humor at the crab's expense.

Later that night, I rolled up to a downtown stop and heard from a boarding passenger that nine shots had been fired around the corner just a few minutes prior. Cops were flying in from all directions. Dispatch called to make sure I was clearing the area okay. It was a tense moment, but we fled the scene as fast as that sluggish bus could roll.

Sure, but few recognize this.
Yeah, that transit wall I face now is thick and tall. If I were fired tomorrow, I might just feel relieved rather than upset. When you feel no support from management even after the previous GM has retired and the new one has promised a new world full of kittens and joy, the wall just becomes more daunting. Will I successfully come out on the other side, intact and full of renewed optimism? Doubtful. If I come through it at all, that will be a miracle.

At this point in time, we're up to 100 incidents of violence toward transit workers in Portland for 2018. There are still seven weeks left of this calendar, and management makes no moves toward insisting its glorified and pampered passengers treat us with respect. Local media remains typically ignorant, evidently obedient of the transit giant's will to remain so.

That wall keeps growing... I'm a bit too ancient to vault over it these days. Can I get an assist? My brothers and sisters will give me a boost, but management would rather I fall to my death. Please, reach out and give me a hand?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Tunnel Vision Fails to See the Truth

Luckily, the scenery is pleasing.
Life as a bus operator is often ugly.
In today's world, people feel boldly empowered to complain at will. Whether they're sufficiently educated on the subject they weigh in on is of no concern. With a few phone strokes, they can severely alter your public servant bus operators' careers, even if they lie while doing so. It's no matter to them, they're instantly onto a new thread to throw their worthless nine cents into, usually anonymously.

It's these flood waters operators must tread through today. We never know what they'll throw at us. Now add our own management into the mix, who feel emboldened now some have gone through bus operator training. Many have never driven in service, which is an entirely different animal than their pampered, watered-down version. Now they think they know every facet of our jobs, and are watching us with a half-assed eye for any possible infraction we might make, no matter how ill-informed or illogical their complaints may be. It's an infuriating show of disrespect for those who make the wheels roll while the overpaid suits sit in a protected ivory tower.

A young man I'm very fond of and respect highly, new to the job but very dedicated, was speaking of a complaint he received. Anonymously, of course is how it came to him, from someone in a position of power and presumably because of this above reproach. This complaint would be easily disproven in a court of law, but my brother wasn't allowed to defend himself. Any evidence he provided was received with a head-shaking and emphatic NO. It was emphatically illustrated that management believes its own, while operators are evidently lying without question.
"Given this case, it's evident our employer values dishonesty over integrity in its hiring practices."
We often see "millennials" who seem to have their phones surgically attached to their hands. Their eyes are automatically focused on the screen. It's a common myth that a young adult is constantly connected to it. However, bus operators have been intensely-trained and counseled, with hundreds or thousands hours of service under their belt. They are fully aware of the rules we all drive by. They know operators are suspended or even fired for having a cell phone in their hand while in the seat. This young man is truthful and sincere, so when he said that he never takes his phone out until he's on a break, I have no reason to doubt him. I'm a very astute judge of character, and this guy is golden in my opinion. Unfortunately, management believes its own rather than give this young man the benefit of his word. If it ever found anything in his history during the new hire "vetting" process, they would not have hired him. To believe he is dishonest only discredits their hiring processes, not him. In a court of law, this young man would win hands-down. Given this case, it's evident our employer values dishonesty over integrity in its hiring practices.

When you're new to the Extra Board, you can be thrust into driving a run you've never been on with as little as 10 minutes warning. Some have deviations, deadheads and other twists than you've previously learned. In order to know just where to turn, drivers depend on the run's paddle and route's detailed turn-by-turn description located in the pouch. They can be very confusing at first, because the descriptions vary according to what's on the paddle. "If you do A, then read B; if C comes first in an imperfect world, then read D, E or F," can flummox an accomplished PhD, let alone a new driver. You have to flip between several possibilities before finding the one that fits that particular run's paddle.

So imagine this young driver with this laminated (white) description in his hand trying to figure out where he'll end up while driving down the street. He's watching traffic, obstructions, pedestrians, bicycles, working hookers, scooters and street signs as he guides The Beast along. Just across the street lies in wait a management wonk, who looks up from his phone long enough to see our young brother's bus coming his way. Wonky notices the driver accelerates then pauses, accelerates again. To him, it's enough to automatically assume the driver is doing "something wrong." He gets excited, like a teenaged peeping Tom, a voyeur in the shadows, hoping he'll catch a glimpse of something he doesn't quite understand. Here comes the bus, and the driver is holding something in his hand! Oh my, it must be a cell phone! He has 20/2000 vision, by golly, and he's gonna report this young guy! He almost drops his phone, slippery because he's already drooled on it from the excitement. In a flash, he's decided that (white) thing in the driver's hand is a phone! Bingo! Gotcha, dude!

Since his phone is too slippery, Macho Manager fails to photograph the event. However, in his self-impressive style, he shoots off a text or email to report the driver, saying he was positive the driver had a cell phone in his hand. BAM! Guilty without a trial, no self defense allowed or to be believed above the revered management member. Perhaps the manager's hands were tied, and was ordered not to take the operator's word over his exalted own.

"... we're slandered with little to no recourse to defend our honor."

It's infuriating, this evident abuse of power. Our management has no oversight, can do or say whatever it wants while its puppet Board of Acquiescence just nods along while napping. Meanwhile, we're slandered with little to no recourse to defend our honor.

The local media jumps on any fabricated story about how terrible operators are, no matter how ill-informed the complainer or media are about the nature of our jobs. They're all slow to compliment or commend our actions that save lives worldwide every moment. We're true professionals in a sea of incompetent motorists intent on getting to the red light first with no regards to any other's well-being. If we honk, we're reported. If we're in a collision, one of the questions on our reports is whether we sounded our horn, and from how far away? If we swat at a fly, people call in and accuse us of road rage. Well if you think we were raging at you, then pray tell, what the hell did you do to deserve it? Something foolishly dangerous, no doubt.

"Motorist Slams Bus Mirror"
gets reported... NEVER.
It's criminal to slander someone, yet our management and the public are allowed to do so freely, where an operator is concerned, without any recrimination. Lie with impugnity, no problem. If an operator is even accused of any crime, we're automatically guilty. It's a nasty double standard, but nobody seems to care. Except US. Evidently, we don't count in the general scheme of things.

"This is the best job I've ever had," my friend told me years ago when I was new. "But it's the worst company, by far, that I've ever worked for." Bingo, brother you nailed it.

Any lawyer would have insisted Macho come forward and testify under oath that the operator indeed had held a cell phone in his hand, but that wasn't to be. Our brother tried to explain what he was doing, but his story evidently held no sway whatever. Result? He was suspended. Over a false complaint from someone who supposedly values us. From a faulty witness who "saw" an operator over other vehicles, as his bus rolled  at least 20mph, through a windshield that other operators can't see through well enough to identify who's waving back at us. Yeah, he saw what he reported: bullshit. The operator wasn't even allowed the knowledge of the identity of his accuser, someone who is charged with our protection. In a court of law, this "eyewitness" would be soundly discredited, if not jailed for perjury.

There are few occupations where you can be so recklessly held accountable for something you didn't do. We're assaulted daily, insulted constantly by the public, the media and our own management. Yet, we have no line to call in our own complaints. We dance a ballet through tight streets with practiced ease, safely transporting over 300,000 of our fellow citizens every day. When we're falsely accused, nobody listens, and our voices are drowned out by the supposed superiority of those charged with running the show. We're constantly performing transit miracles, on time nine out of 10 times, and rarely praised publicly for our skill and precision. It's expected of us, but not appreciated by our employers considering how we're treated in these situations.

I'm insulted at my brother's treatment. He was suspended for three days without pay, for something he insists is not true. We're "shepherds of the public safety," The Rampant Lion tells me. I drive with this in mind every moment I'm in the service of our community. It would be nice if my employer backed us with support, rather than into a corner without any reasonable means of self defense. Instead, we're served a hypocritical day once a year when we're told we're "appreciated." Some of us, anyway. Those outside of banker's hours are totally ignored.

My only satisfaction comes from the passenger who tells me on the way out the door, "Thanks for the smooth ride, I appreciate you." I'm glad somebody does. Perhaps management should take Perry Passenger's hint.