Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Just Shut Up and Drive



Deke's Note: I've been reading "All Aboard" by William F. Alsheimer III, written by a bus operator from Rhode Island. Billy began his transit odyssey in the '80s when operators had much more leeway in dealing with passengers. Then, people were expected to obey the rules or face the operator's wrath. He was usually backed-up by his management. Now they're too concerned with pacifying the public to show respect for those who actually roll the transit vehicles. As I read my own book preparing the audio version, I realized how our job has evolved over the years. It now caters to a public that feels entitled to complain whenever an operator exerts any measure of authority. This post describes how today's operators sacrifice their pride to avoid argument or even an assault.   

It's interesting how as the years roll by my windshield, my attitude changes. As driving a bus has become second nature and the passenger-types have been noted and catalogued, I've learned not to take myself so seriously as I once did.

Once upon a newbie time, I felt like a big-shot, Captain of the Ship, MR. Bus Operator, and often challenged even the slightest infraction on my bus. Now most of the time I just shake my head. If nobody complains and the rule-breaking is minor, I usually just roll the wheels and concentrate on scanning for anomalies in my path.

Why the change in operating philosophy? Because my management doesn't respect me, my authority as a transit operator, or even my personal safety. Why risk my well-being arguing with someone who could assault me, when my employer will take the passenger's side rather than backing me up? Like a passenger who once told me to "just shut up and drive," that's what I normally do. Today, that's just the way it is, and I have to accept it if I want to keep this job. Reality sucks, but so does homelessness.

Of course, there are some things I just can't let pass. Take the baby out of the stroller, please. Remind me you'll be stepping in front of my bus when you exit to remove your bike from the rack, turn your phone audio off, move from the Priority Seating Area when the elderly or disabled board, and don't drink or smoke on the bus. Keep your conversations at PG level. Those who harass others are also warned only once that their choices are: be nice or walk; they also have the choice of exiting peacefully or in a loaner pair of shiny wrist bracelets courtesy of law enforcement.

Every time a passenger boards, I look them in the eye and greet them. If they even throw an eye in my direction, that is. Those with the HopPass tend to ignore me as if this type of fare is a direct invitation to disregard the operator. Or, perhaps they think the bus drives itself and we're only there to serve them refreshments and swat flies away. To them, I add an exaggerated "How ya doin' today?" Sometimes it diverts their attention from their phone long enough to offer some mumbled greeting as they amble past.

I don't expect everyone to be jovial and kind. Humans are prone to grumpiness, and everyone has a bad day on occasion. It's also wise to avoid over-amiability, as some take it as being too-forward for "a simple bus driver." Good for them. As long as they arrive safely to their destination, I'm doing my job. They're also the types who fail to thank me for doing just that, but oh well. I don't require acknowledgement to continue providing the smoothest ride possible. It's my nature to do so regardless whether people notice.

Once upon ages ago, my journalism instructor smacked me upside the head with a newspaper and told me "quit worrying about things you can't change." It's a lesson I had a hard time with for a while. It's especially important to remember this in my profession. People will be who they decide to be, and little I say or do can change what I have no control over. JUST DRIVE, asshole.

And that's all I have to say about my supposed "author-i-tah..."

Sunday, September 16, 2018

LET US ALL BAND TOGETHER THIS WEEK



Mr. Dwayne Russell, Sr.
ATU 1197
Jacksonville, FL

Deke's Note: Mr. Dwayne Russell, Sr. of ATU 1197 in Jacksonville, Florida started a movement called BAND TOGETHER in 2017 to highlight violence upon transit workers. Operators here in Portland joined in as ATU 757 brother Henry Beasley requested, wearing BandAids on our door-side cheeks with the number of local incidents written upon them. This week of September 16-22, operators worldwide will join with Mr. Russell in solidarity.

Many transit workers have been assaulted and lived to tell the tale. Sadly, others are no longer with us. It's a growing epidemic, yet little has been done by transit agencies to say ENOUGH!

Imagine driving a busy route late at night. An intending passenger stands yards away from the stop, wearing all black, next to a tree, head down staring at his phone. Even though you missed him the first time you looked at the stop, your next scan catches a glimpse and you stop your bus just short jog away. It's pouring down rain, and Billy BadAss jumps on board dripping wet. He's furious because you "missed the stop," but doesn't thank you for stopping. You gently apologize for not initially seeing him, but mention his posture and clothing choice made him virtually invisible in the best of circumstances.

The next instant, your head explodes as Billy's punches find their marks. Breaking your nose, skull, cheekbones and jaw, only instinct guides you now. Your agency's recommended lame "cover and block" tactic is useless against the brutal barrage of punches thrown by someone half your age. A swift kick to his knee bends him over, but your body wants to ensure a swift end to its unwanted injuries so you follow through with a well-placed heel to his forehead. Billy goes down in a heap, unmoving. Attack over, you try to figure out what just happened. Your mind however, is injured and you are, for want of a better term, "freaking out."

After your hospital stay, management declares you partly to blame because you dared "lecture" Billy about his responsibility to be seen and present at the bus stop. Then it suspends you for your aggressive response to the attack. Not only are you forever scarred and afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but unable to work for weeks or months, your financial situation is threatened once your sick leave is exhausted. Instead of rallying to your cause, your employer pressures you to return to work or face termination. Sound crazy? It definitely is, but it's also an alarming trend for transit agencies more afraid of lawsuits than brave enough to stand up and protect one of the most vulnerable public employees in this violent world. It's infuriating for us, and also frightening because it can happen to any of us when we're on duty. It has happened to many operators on more than one occasion, adding to their already-present PTSD. Many operate in diminished capacity without even realizing it.

We argue what constitutes "assault" in our profession, but in my opinion it's pretty simple: Any time a transit worker is threatened while doing our job. It could be anything from verbal or sexual abuse to spitting, punching or slapping, weapons shown or usage implied, objects thrown (or bullets shot) at our vehicles, or any number of other violent acts. Whenever a transit worker experiences any of these actions, we are usually thrust into the biological "fight or flight syndrome." When a human body is threatened, several things happen simultaneously to prepare us for imminent attack. After the event has passed, even if we haven't suffered injury, our body (and soul) has endured a shock that requires time to recover.

If allowed to continue operating, the driver's mind is constantly replaying the incident. Scans are missed because our eyes are in tunnel-vision mode. Rather than being entirely focused on the road, we dissect what just happened. Anger, frustration, sadness and other emotions override the calm and focus required to safely operate a transit vehicle. Entrusted with tons of dangerous steel and glass, we become a danger to everybody in and around us. This is called "diminished capacity," a condition transit agencies have ignored for decades, often requiring afflicted operators to continue in-service rather than insisting they take the necessary time to recover. It's incredibly foolish and dangerous for any transit agency to ignore their valuable employees' well-being in favor of a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet. We've become an afterthought rather than the victim.

Gone are the days when transit agencies fervently supported frontline employees, insisting the riding public show respect and follow the rules. Now, management often blames the operator first, even when brutally attacked. It's as ridiculous as insisting a woman deserves to be raped because of her wardrobe. If we're physically assaulted, our bodies are primed for defense. Biologically. Pride has nothing to do with our physiological response to a threat. When we actively and physically fight back, we're treated as if we're criminals. Suspended, even fired, for simply being human.

It's a theme I've visited many times because personal safety remains our biggest concern. Couple that with the right to self-defense, and yeah I'll keep screaming until more concrete steps have been taken to stem the tide. We're on the front lines of an insane world, and given nothing to protect ourselves or our livelihood.

To be fair, our management agreed to some measures allowing us recovery time in our last contract. However, much more could be done to ensure not only our safety, but that of everyone in and around our vehicles. We transport many of those who make economies work, and are some of the safest drivers in the world. Yet we're viewed with scorn by many who ride, and seemingly with disdain by those entrusted with our safety. It's ludicrous how we're treated by the rogue and unaccountable government corporations which rule transit. We have work to be done regarding safety, but I'm confident that common sense and decency will eventually replace the disgraceful status quo.

This week, I will join my brothers Henry and Dwayne, along with those in Nova Scotia, Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida, Texas and hopefully all across the globe by wearing a bandage on my right cheek with the number of aggressive incidents against Portland transit workers.

You see, I too have been assaulted, spit at, threatened, abused and stalked. Those who ask me about my bandage will learn why I'm wearing it... and my explanation will be given with a prayer for all who roll the wheels not knowing if, or when, it could happen to them.

"Shepherds of public safety, sacrificing daily for the common good," is how my friend and brother Tom Horton describes us.

Peace be with you my brave brothers and sisters. I'm rolling with hope that everyone's will always be a safe ride.

Monday, September 10, 2018

My Employer Won't, So I Will


Deke's Note: It's amazing that in this "information age," where you can find numerous answers for nearly every question that pops up at any time, that my transit agency fails to inform those who use our service, how to use it. Somebody's gotta do it... so I will here.

HOW TO RIDE THE BUS

We use our phones almost constantly these days. When I first began this blog, I sported a "flip phone" that was plenty adequate for most any purpose. Today, even this stubborn old fool uses a "smart phone," although I don't see how it's measurably improved my intelligence. Our attachment to technology has also had a negative effect, because it has removed common sense from the collective consciousness. We've lost the ability to use common sense in the most basic functions of daily life. While most who ride the bus don't read this blog, it still requires somebody to attempt educating people on how to do so. While our transit agency believes silly little signs with antiseptic messages are adequate, today's rider sometimes needs a subtle yet informational slap upside the head so the lesson takes hold in their isolated minds. So, here goes.

BOARDING

We've all seen the type. They're sitting on a wall 20 yards from the stop, staring down at their phone. Others are standing at the stop: a blue pole with a bus route number upon it. Not at the shelter, but at the actual stop. The professional rider is prepared, money or ticket or phone in hand, queued and ready to board. Donnie Dolt absently looks up as the last prepared passenger boards, and shouts at the operator who has already begun closing the door. Donnie casually strolls to just outside the entrance, staring intently at his Samsung appendage. He stops just short of the door as the operator re-opens it. Deke sighs impatiently. Donnie holds up a hand, dismissively disregarding my impatience. He could have already boarded, regardless of his ill-preparedness, but he somehow believes it's illegal to board until his fare appears on screen. Once it finally does, 30 seconds after Deke has prepared to leave the stop, Donnie enters without a word. He purposefully looks askance while holding his phone pass a foot from Deke's face. Nary a greeting, especially no apology for his inability to be prepared to board, as those ahead of him have.

BIG NO-NO, folks. Be ready to board. We're rolling on the agency's tight schedule, not yours. Everyone else on the bus was ready to board, but you weren't. Their being on time is a signal they need to arrive at their destination on time, and are usually very annoyed with your narcissistic attitude. Next time you're sitting there unprepared, I'll close the doors and leave your inattentive ass behind, no matter your insolent crybaby call to our customer service line complaining that I passed you up. That way, maybe you'll be ready for the next bus.

Also, please don't hold us up while you ask a question. Many times, people ask me when a different bus line will arrive at a shared stop. I don't know because I don't drive that one, folks. It's impossible for me to know the schedule of any of the 80-plus routes in our system. If you're downtown, look at the reader board placed there for your convenience which lists arrival times of any bus that services the stop at which you're waiting. If you make me miss a green light on our transit mall, my two or three brothers and sisters just behind me are truly annoyed that I haven't taken advantage of it. Chances are one of them are driving the route you want to ride.

RESPECT THE RIDE

Although our transit agency is hell-bent on being everything to everybody no matter the consequences to its frontline employees, there are (and have been for a century) basic rules people need to obey when using transit. Please take note, because professional riders already know them.

1) Operators are not your servants. Yes, we are public servants, but we're professionals who deserve the respect of someone who has spent considerable time learning how to safely conduct you around town. We don't take orders from you, no matter who you think pays our salary. You do not have the "right" to berate us for being late. We have to concentrate on a thousand things every trip. That's our job. Yours is to sit tight, minding your own business. You're expected to be considerate of your fellow passengers and the operator.

2) If we make a request, it's usually to ensure the smooth and orderly operation of our vehicle. Yes, it's policy to take small children out of strollers and take steps to keep it out of the aisle. This way, passengers can walk to and from the doors when the bus stops. It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like. The same is expected of everyone who boards, and we don't have time to debate transit policy with you. Please do the right thing.

3) Turn your sounds OFF on your electronic device. Music, videos or whatever are of your own interest, not mine or that of people around you. Your tastes likely don't jive with others. To the operator, it's a distraction. We're listening to the sounds of the bus engine, traffic noises, possible emergency vehicle sirens, or passenger distress signals. It takes concentration to guide a bus through narrow streets among impatient motorists. Normal conversation is "white noise" which blends in with normal operation. If I allow one person to jam their tunes, then another plays theirs just a tad louder, another joins in and suddenly there's a concert of distraction assaulting my ears. Please use earphones.

4) Priority seating is reserved for seniors and those who live with disabilities. This should be obvious, but we often have to remind people to surrender these seats for those who need them.

BE THOUGHTFUL AND CONSIDERATE

The bus you normally ride is just minutes away and I'm late to that stop. You're two blocks away, running frantically to catch a bus you normally wouldn't see if I was on time. If I roll away before you reach the stop, take a breath. You arrived early, your bus is likely right on time because I've picked up most of my follower's passengers. Chillax, dude. Throwing us your one-fingered IQ score won't get you anywhere but looking foolish.

If we're stopped with our engine off and doors closed, don't take it as an invitation to bang on our doors and demand we let you in. It's called a "break" for good reason. We use the time at the end of the line to eat, call the wife or husband, and enjoy a few minutes of silence. The stop just ahead is where you should wait. Oh it's raining, you say? Yeah, it does that here. Rain gear is preferable if we're at a "Drop Off Only" layover stop and you're early. Umbrellas are handy as well, and woe to you if you left it on the bus earlier. Not my bad, sorry.

LANGUAGE

America is multi-lingual, a safe haven for people of all cultures. While English is the main language spoken in this country, it's not the only one. We enjoy freedom of speech, which means you can speak however you choose. Unless, of course, your speech is offensive, threatening or divisive. You are not free to berate another because the language they speak is different from your native tongue. People who know several languages are usually highly-intelligent individuals, most assuredly smarter than those who haven't even mastered their own. Your freedom doesn't allow you the privilege of interrupting others having a discussion in a "foreign" language. Remember, many civilizations have been around centuries longer than our own. America is a melting pot made up of people from all over the world. If you berate another on my bus because they speak a different language than yours, I will definitely call you on it. In other words, don't be an asshole... I don't like it, and chances are most agree with me.

Additionally, freedom of speech doesn't allow you to curse at will. When your speech is liberally-peppered with common curse words, it's offensive to the majority of people who speak intelligently. Buy a thesaurus, learn new ways of expressing yourself. Hey, as you can see I'm no stranger to coarse language. However, a bus isn't your living room... it's everyone's.

Don't use racial slurs, no matter how narrow your world view. It's offensive to speak of others in a disparaging manner. I will refuse service to anyone who disrespects another passenger because of race, religion or nationality. Just be nice, or be quiet. If you can't obey this simple societal norm, try walking. That way you can talk to yourself all you want.

Avoid politics. Today's political discourse is too divisive to think a bus full of people is going to agree with your opinions. Try FaceBook or Twitter to air your views. I like a smooth roll on my wheels, and political discussions can make it bumpy.

TRASH!

As I tell folks, I'm not your maid and I'm too ugly to be your mama. Please use the trash cans conveniently placed near the front door. It's simple common decency to clean up after yourself. Pretend the bus is your granny's living room.

ASSAULTS

Have a problem with an operator or fellow passenger? Remember you are constantly under surveillance while riding public transportation, and assault is a serious offense. If you hit me while my bus is rolling, you will be charged with a felony. Your actions are on film and will be used against you. If you strike us from behind as you're exiting, you're a sorry piece of chickenshit. As I write this, there have been 70 instances this year where operators have been spit upon, punched, slapped, threatened or menaced while doing their job. Be thankful for your operator. It's not easy to do this job. We have loved ones awaiting our safe return home just as you do. No disagreement or misunderstanding is worth a trip to jail.


BE SAFE

Safety is a two-way street. Put the phone down as necessary to ensure your safe passage wherever you're going. Be alert and mindful of signals and your surroundings. We do our best at scanning, but if you're wearing all black, even the best eyesight can't spot you. Also, remember we're humans, and fallible. We cannot be perfect all the time. It's ultimately up to you to safeguard yourself. Be visible, vigilant and very careful.

* * * *

There you have it. Of course, there are points not listed here. However, that's where common sense comes in. Take a few moments and think about what you're doing in public. Be cognizant of how your actions reflect on your public behavior, especially where your own safety is concerned. Don't be afraid to tell us if something "isn't right." We're there for you, Johnny Public. Work with us, and life will be just fine. One can only hope, anyway. There are no guarantees, but we do have your best interests in mind when we're behind the wheel.

Peace be with you all, and thanks for riding and reading.




Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Yang to the Yin Line

And then there was the second day of the new run. Wow. Night versus bright, the difference was.

First, traffic for mid-week was abnormally dismal. A few days ago when I wrote the first of this now two-part series, it was early in the seven-day calendar. Life was a bit mellower. Traffic was forgiving and rolled smoothly. Then came an abnormally-drastic change, and all bets were off.

I have a fairly-impressive 93% on-time performance over the past year. While this pleases the spreadsheet-happy managers, it's simply a by-product of safety and efficiency. As a perfectionist, I'm constantly striving to please my passengers. They need to get places on time, and they do their part so I do mine. They're at the stop on time and board with little fuss. Most are professionals and have little patience for overly-friendly operators. Just do your job, driver. I get it, and the first week of this run I've concentrated on doing just that. On the day I'm describing, there were many sighs as I encountered numerous obstacles to my OTP.

While it may not please management, I tend to growl, bark and honk at unruly or rude motorists who fail to respectfully play their part in traffic. The next moment, I'm pleasantly welcoming new passengers and wishing those exiting the finest days of their lives. I must remind them of an old dog who snarls at the cat, then jumps into Dad's lap to give him wet canine kisses. It's a kind of Jekyll-Hyde existence.

On the second day of this run, I noticed there was no other operator waiting at the end of the line. Nobody to commiserate or share road stories with. Only as I left did another operator roll into the layover area. As you may have guessed by reading, I'm somewhat a social animal. Just one layover affords me the chance to mingle with others of my kind.

Back to the route though, I gritted my teeth and rolled slowly with the heavy flow of traffic. My breaks were cut short due to being late. Yet I persevered and drove the same. Careful, measured and patient is my trademark. One lady kindly stopped as she exited to give me a compliment. Although I was late and was inwardly thinking, "Willya hurry and leave so I can shut the door and blast, lady?" it's uncharacteristically-rude for me to do that, so I didn't.

"You're a good driver," she told me. I was happily surprised by this unexpected compliment.

"Why thank you!" I replied, hopefully modest in tone. "What makes you say so?"

"You're smooth and deliberate, for one thing," she said. "Plus, you're patient and kind. Thank you for doing what you do."

With that, she skipped out the door. My soul jumped a mile over the line of cars ahead of us. It's rare somebody notices the care I put into this usually-unforgiving profession. Most people are so engrossed with their cell phones they don't pay attention to what their operator does to safely guide the beast along. When a passenger leaves with such a tender closing, it makes up for the countless hurtful words and gestures heaped upon us. Thank you, dear lady, and to all others who take the time to leave a kind word or two in your wake.

* * * * *


I've had the great blessing of driving the same route and schedule for three years now. This fall however, my Friday work changed slightly. It's the same line, but a different train. Thanks to my classmate who is one ahead of me in seniority, my regular run wasn't available when I picked. It's okay... I forgive the rotten turkey. (Just kidding, Chuck.)

If you drive the same run for too long, complacency can set in. Although it can lead to mistakes, "my" run had become very dear to me. Many people were regulars, and I miss them. But then, this route serves a part of town that isn't overly friendly to blue-collar bums like me. It tends to be a complaint magnet, but I luckily have been spared.

Today, I took the seat headed the opposite direction from when I last rolled '01 a week ago. Same route, but different schedule, new break and meal times to memorize, stop patterns to learn, and new people. Luckily, one familiar face graced me with his presence. A young man I've had the great pleasure of driving several times. He's sliced through Deke's fa├žade, and happens to know a lot more about routes and the very equipment I drive than I can embarrassingly attest to. A shy lad, but smarter than me by a long shot. I'm jealous of his extensive knowledge of Portland's transit system. It took a bit to draw him out, but we now enjoy (or at least I do... the jury's still out as to whether he feels the same) a detailed conversation on the state of transit whenever he rides. One day earlier this year, he boarded my bus with a copy of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. This was before we were acquainted. When he exited the bus, I pointed at the book.

"Like the book? I happen to know the guy who wrote it."

His response was typical for a teenager. "It's okay, I guess."

Leave it to a kid to humble an old writer who just happens to drive a bus for a living.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Bits 'n Diseases

Imagine this being the last thing you see...

It's always interesting to return to a route you haven't driven in a long while. You see new buildings that were mere foundations before, roads that have been resurfaced making your ride smoother, and people you remember but who fail to recognize you. All bus operators look alike, I guess.

A new schedule, or paddle as we call it, is the biggest concern on the first day of a route. They're similarly written regarding time points and how long you're given to complete a run, so once you've noted the differences and similarities of your previous one, things fall into place after a day or so. As other operators pass you during the day, you study each one to look for familiar faces. While I didn't see all of those who passed, those I did were not recognized. There are many new drivers, who are easily-spotted because they've been taught for some perplexing reason to wear their reflective yellow vests as they drive. I only wear mine when necessary. To do so while driving creates distracting reflections on the windshield. When those dreadful "protective" cages are commonplace, they will reflect even worse.

An interesting, and welcome change is present on my new route when I'm downtown. The stops my line serves are all mine. No other lines are killing time in the first position, making me late. Light rail,  due to a horrid failure of the transit mall planning a decade ago resulting in our "sharing" the road, are constantly pre-empting me on the mall. I was able to skip ahead of them when my stops were empty of intending passengers. The longer you operate a bus, it becomes natural to find legal maneuvers which put you ahead.


Of course, there are some things you cannot avoid or out-maneuver. Especially Portland's antiquated traffic signal patterns. Streets that are major transit corridors are laden with poor signaling. For some reason, our city planners cannot fathom the idea of a blinking yellow turn light. I suppose they might be trying to protect motorists from their own risky behaviors. For a transit operator trying to adhere to a tight schedule, waiting to make a legal left turn when there's little traffic to take advantage of an unbearably-long light sequence can be frustrating. (Oops... I'd best be careful to tread lightly here. A few years back, a former engineer immigrant was fined by the State of Oregon for impersonating an engineer when he had the temerity to report Portland's traffic signal system is based on 100-year-old algorithms. I'm no engineer, but I ain't stupid.)

Our new General Manager said recently that "buses should go first" in traffic. Wow, what a concept. However, that's not how the system was designed. Take for example the Tilikum Crossing. Only two bus lines share the bridge with one light rail, and one streetcar line. However, a bus can be idling away gallons of expensive fuel waiting for zero pedestrians to take advantage of their very generous signal, when along comes a streetcar that pre-empts the green for the bus to proceed. Sorry, Deke... they wave as they creep by at a turtle's pace. This makes the pedestrian timer zip back to green. Then, just as it's about to give Deke the go-ahead, here comes the light rail from behind. Once again, Deke's shoved back in priority, even though he was early when he arrived and is now four minutes late; five-and-a-half by the time his light goes green. It's enough to make his bladder leak, but wearing tan shorts requires he tighten the knot.

I was hoping the crane operator didn't accidentally drop
this odoriferous cargo...

C'mon Mr. GM, you sound woefully uninformed about how transit operates here. Maybe Canada uses more common sense when designing transitways, but Portland is still learning. Once you finally make it onto the Tilikum, it's a beautiful view of our stunning downtown vista, or of Mt. Hood when eastbound. That part nobody could screw up.

It's been a nice start to the fall signup. Our transit agency is bucking national transit trends by increasing service and adding new lines, and splitting Line 4 finally happened.

"What's this Line 2 on the board?" a passenger asked me tonight. "What happened to the Four?"

"Well sir," I replied, "that's what happens when you cut four in two." 

He frowned. "What the..."

I explained the Two now runs from downtown to Gresham, while Ye Olde Four rolls downtown to St. Johns. He was still pondering this when my light turned green and I shut the door as he was about to ask me another question. Sorry Charlie, transit mall rules govern how I drive, even though my transit agency wants me to be Mr. Information and still keep my route on schedule. 

Oh, and although Deke was on time all day, his main concern was still... SAFETY. That's just how I roll: safe and smooth. Oh, and on time if possible.





Sunday, September 2, 2018

My Pain is Yours

This was the sign near bus doors earlier this year...
When thinking of what to write in this week's post, many ideas came to mind. This Labor Day, I'm at odds with what this blog means to you who actually read it. Some merely 'like' the FaceBook posts without taking the time to digest what I'm trying to say, let alone state what these words mean to you. Some say they're tired of my ranting. After five years, I've found it difficult to find the fun and funny it was once so easy to describe. The violence against us has become so routine, this writer's muse finds it difficult to write of anything but how to defend my increasingly defenseless brothers and sisters.

It's sad to think the job's stress has led to a spiritual devastation commanding me to speak for those of us who brave the front lines of transit. Few of us dare to describe the ugliness which confronts us at every unforgiving curb. Frankly, I'm weary of doing so. But if I were to quit, I would be complicit in management's mistreatment of us. There are things which must be said, and damnit, I'm unwilling to stop saying them. Repetition of truth is just as effective as that of falsehoods. At some point, one tends to believe, having memorized the constant refrains of an oft-played tune. Our pleas must be heard, or the roar of thousands becomes the whisper of a lone mouse in search of crumbs.

If you're willing to roll under the bus of injustice, go right ahead. Just tell ol' Deke to shut up. My words are meant to save you from what some have grown too battle-weary to fight. You can remain silent, or choose to add your voices to what can become a loud reckoning. To effect change, you must demonstrate refusal to surrender our safety to those who are responsible for it.

Our management doesn't realize how it consistently disrespects us, even when it believes it's doing the opposite. Running a transit agency like a corporation is wrong on many levels. First, we deliver a service that cannot be measured in spreadsheets. If one hasn't operated a transit vehicle in service, the realities of an operator's life are largely misunderstood. This leads to unreasonable expectations. If you don't educate the passengers about what's expected of them, it empowers the troublesome few to wreak havoc. If you allow them to lodge untrue or uninformed complaints against your most valuable employees, you create a hostile work environment. When this happens, we lose faith in management's simple willingness to stand behind us. Disrespect for its workers, combined with a want-to-please-those who bombard its employees with false complaints, accomplishes nothing except bitterness. Suspending operators based on blatant falsehoods from scofflaws fuels our lack of confidence in management. Refusing us the right to defend ourselves while under attack is an infuriating injustice that cannot be ignored.

...and this is what it says now. Another way to disrespect
a transit operator. Go ahead and waste our time;
management says it's okay.
While management this week "celebrates the largest increase in service in decades," it fails to provide for those who roll the wheels on the graveyard shifts of the most troublesome routes which have become 24-hour service. There is no shift differential pay. There are by some reports, no added road supervisors to support operators who brave the darkest hours of transit. Once again, management patted itself on the back for a fine job it has done, while ignoring those who actually make it work. Sounds like a politician we all know.

We had several more assaults this week, so I hope we can all contribute to the upcoming BAND TOGETHER event September 16-22. Join us, not just in Portland, but everywhere transit workers feel threatened just doing our jobs. Wear a bandage on your door-side cheek with the number of incidents your brothers and sisters have suffered this year. Here, we've had 69 reported to date... and it's only September. Last year we felt the punch of 93 violent incidents. It's figuratively time to punch back.


Monday, August 27, 2018

We're All In, Are YOU?!?

Operator Beasley, who started
our local BAND TOGETHER
campaign in 2017.
February 14, 2017
A Winnipeg transit operator, Irvine Fraser, was stabbed to death by a passenger he awoke at the end of the bus line Fraser was driving.

May 25, 2018
A Utah Transit Authority light rail operator, Kay Ricks, was kidnapped outside a layover because two criminal suspects allegedly wanted his personal vehicle. Ricks was later killed.

These are just two instances where transit operators lost their lives while simply doing their jobs. Random violence occurs daily against largely-unprotected transit workers across the globe. It's an issue media gives little coverage to, but as a transit operator and blogger, I've written many times about.

In Portland so far this year, we've had 66 incidents in which local transit workers have been assaulted, menaced, threatened and spit upon. Last year, there were 91 such "known" incidents of this nature. A year ago next month, we borrowed an idea from Jacksonville, Florida transit worker Dwayne Russell of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1197. He started a campaign in which he put a Band-Aid on his cheek to inform the public about assaults on transit workers.

Our brother Henry Beasley, who documents incidents against Portland-area transit workers, asked us to join our Florida counterparts last year, and dozens of us did. We wore the BandAids for a week, and many of us wrote the number of assaults on them in black marker. With our right cheeks facing passengers boarding our vehicles, it was an eye-opener for them. Many asked me why I was wearing a bandage, and I explained. Without exception, they were visibly shocked.

Life for transit workers -- operators, maintenance workers, supervisors and others -- is never easy. We're the public face of any transit agency. Sometimes, the public takes its frustrations out on us, and that occasionally takes the form of a violent verbal or physical attack. Just recently, a Portland rail supervisor was assaulted, resulting in broken bones and painful bruises. He's a very kind and decent man, a hard-working public servant. While his attack was reported by the local media's simply using our agency's news release, public outrage is strangely missing.

Another problem child escorted off a Portland bus.
I'm tired of constantly repeating my moral outrage, but I cannot in good conscience be silent. Someone has to scream into the figurative megaphone, because our management has not voiced outrage. It keeps hiring new operators who are strictly prohibited from protecting themselves from the now-inevitable attack. We're suspended when our body's fight or flight biological mechanism clicks into action and violates an infuriating managerial edict requiring us to just meekly accept our beating. Get hit and punch back, you're likely to be suspended. If you're unable to control your response because of former nightmarish events causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and seriously injure your attacker, you are subject to termination. Management scoffs at union reps using PTSD as a valid defense, as if it's not a reasonable factor. So they suspend us... for just defending ourselves. It's an unjust reality we face out there on the front lines of transit. Allow yourself to be severely injured or killed, and you're at least guaranteed death benefits.

Operators are largely vulnerable while in the seat. Our right side is an open invitation to the spoiled or mentally ill who refuse to abide agency code of conduct. Our ability to defend ourselves is strictly limited; if we leave the seat in self defense, it's considered an "aggressive act." Hell yes, it most definitely IS aggressive. If someone attacks you, you're legally entitled to engage an equal amount of defense. An attacker certainly isn't passive, why should we be so in our own defense? If you work for our transit agency, you're expected to accept whatever your assailant visits upon you. No WANTED posters exist for problem passengers. Management seems unconcerned for the rising number of violent acts committed upon their "family."

Mark your calendars. In Portland, we'll BAND TOGETHER September 16-22, 2018. Bus and rail operators, maintenance workers, supervisors, trainers, station agents, dispatchers, passengers and family members... please join us in this event. It wouldn't hurt if management joined us... maybe then we'd feel as if this issue at least concerns them. I will once again write the number of assaults on my bandage and answer questions posed to me by my passengers.

Wherever you work in transit across the world, please join us in solidarity. If not for Mr. Fraser or Mr. Ricks, then for your own sake. Spread the word that we're being beaten, stabbed, shot, clubbed, spit upon, showered with coffee and piss, threatened and verbally assaulted with vile and cruel words nobody should have to endure.

I'm also doing this as a salute to our Jacksonville brother, Mr. Dwayne Russell and his fellow ATU 1197 members. Thanks for this brilliant idea, and hopefully this will become a globally-recognized event as long as we're all victims of this widespread violence.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

RIP Queen Aretha

Aretha Franklin
1942 - 2018

A musical voice of her magnitude comes along even more rarely than "once in a lifetime." Aretha Franklin left our earthly plane a few days ago, but her voice will continue to rise as long as humans endure.

She took songs from those who wrote them and made them works of art. Stevie Wonder said his song "Until You Come Back to Me" instantly became Aretha's when she put her incredible voice to it. When I first heard her sing this in the early 70s, I didn't even realize it was Stevie's song; the difference between the performances was so vast. She was meant to sing every song she graced. Carole King wrote "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman," but the Queen of Soul's version was the masterpiece we all remember. "I Say A Little Prayer" was one of the first songs on the radio I sang along to as a child.

There are songs aplenty, but masterful performances are rare. Each time she sang, Aretha reached deep inside us and tugged upon our souls. Many times after hearing her, I was moved to tears at the sheer magnitude of her voice. On one occasion, she stepped in for operatic great Luciano Pavarotti, who became ill and could not perform. After hearing his rendition only once, she mesmerized the awestruck audience with her flawless performance of Nessun Dorma.

As we grow older, our great performers pass into eternity. We have a wonderful concert awaiting us when our time comes. The world mourns the "Amazing Grace" of Aretha Franklin's heavenly gift. Her soul has departed, but we lovingly retain the memory of her voice, which will never be silenced.

RIP, Aretha.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Tragedy of Managerial Failures


Deke's Note: This is just a precursor of what's to come. I'm just getting started.

A bus operator was driving her route this week, and without warning, a bat-wielding assailant swings at her, saying he's going to bash in her brains. Luckily, he misses. Hits the computer box, knocks out communications. It's only by the grace of God and/or a healthy dose of luck her brains weren't splattered all over the dash.

What does our agency say about the incident? She wasn't actually hit. No harm, no foul, basically.

If he had made contact, we'd probably be mourning a murdered operator, and likely some injured passengers because of a bus crash. Given management's cruel and foolish behavior of late, I have to believe they would blame the operator after a sham "investigation." Its only goal today, it seems, is to save itself from the spotlight shining on its own incompetence. It has failed us too many times, and I'm sick to death of our falling under the bus that management pushes us in front of.

In no other job that (I've heard of) are employees punished after being attacked. This agency has shown a criminal neglect of its frontline workers' safety for several years, and it's only getting worse. More of us are showing signs (myself included) of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, yet management scoffs at us as if we're just crybabies. On many occasions, they've waved it off, as if PTSD isn't even a factor when operators defend themselves. In no other profession are workers disciplined for protecting themselves, except Portland's transit operators. Evidently, we're supposed to sit there and simply put up a hand to deflect whatever unwarranted violence the pampered public is allowed to dish out.

I don't see any of these corporate misfits in any danger, hiding inside their cushy ivory tower lofts. They don't deal with the horrid few who take delight in our management's cowardice, practicing mayhem on those of us who ferry them safely to and fro. Management personnel are not threatened with knives, spit upon, held at gunpoint, pummeled with fists, or threatened with bats and other implements of human destruction. In the course of their overpaid positions, they don't feel the sting of shouted insults. We are thusly mistreated, often several times each day. While doing our jobs. Yet, management has the unmitigated gall to judge US, as if we caused the mayhem to begin with.

One night on my break, a police officer told me he'd never do my job. "You're unprotected," he said, shaking his head and looking at the ground. "Someone comes at me, I have the means, and permission, to protect myself. You have only your wits."

Emergency responders, and those in hospitals who also deal with any and all people, know what it's like to be victims of violence. It's rampant madness in today's world, where it was once random and not as constant.

There are no videos to instruct the public how to prepare, or behave, upon public transit. There are only signs with ridiculous slogans in and outside our rolling offices. Local law officers either refuse to enforce traffic safety, or simply ignore it and practice illegal driving habits at will, often around our buses. In turn, the motoring public thinks it's okay to zip around a flashing "YIELD" signal. The city either has no clue about the woeful conditions their pitiful lack of road planning and engineering have resulted in, or they simply don't care. Apathy abounds within our ranks and all around us. Our pleas for support are scorned, given the woeful lack of coverage and concern in all corners of society.

The motoring/bicycling public is especially guilty. We're the victims of road rage on a constant basis. Even though a vehicle can easily overtake us each time we service a stop, they're loathe to allow us our legal right to merge back into the roadway. I was flipped off five times today, shouted or honked at, and cut off at least a dozen times. If I honk in return or respond, I'm subject to discipline. Hordes of entitled miscreants constantly call in complaints, often blatantly ignoring the truth just to punish us, even when we save their unappreciative and dishonest asses. What happens then? A suspend-happy management happily obliges them. To whom are we allowed to complain, and what are the consequences to others who offend? Nobody, and nothing.

Portland transit is no longer a family. Management has cast us off to the bloodthirsty rabid wolves, utterly abandoning their duty to protect us from harm. Not only that, they claw us bloody, giving the wolves our scent as we lie waiting to be killed.

One day each year, they make a big play at a "Driver Appreciation Day." Given the remaining 364 days we're drawn and quartered in the public square of putrid opinion, I'd rather be gored by a raging bull than acknowledge this pitiful display of false love. It's more a day of themselves patting each other on the back for pretending to appreciate us. If they spent as much effort on a daily basis making us feel valued as professionals who make local economies tick, I might feel different. Instead, we're treated like the trodden-upon characters in a Dickens novel.

"This is the best job I've ever had," my brother Ken told me when I was a newbie. "But it's the worst company I've ever worked for." In my blog and subsequently the book, I wondered whether those words would someday ring true. It has finally happened. Management has succeeded in that singular dagger to my hope Ken's was a solitary voice drowned out by a multitude of compassion and reason.

Management, you've failed us. If you had any honor whatsoever, you'd resign. All of you. Immediately. Let those who make the wheels roll do the job, as we're the only ones capable of avoiding the carnage you've subjected us to.

I've never been afraid to go to work before now. In almost 50 years of employment, I feel isolated and unprotected by those charged with my well-being on the job.

Gee, thanks. Oh, and you're welcome for that free and SAFE ride your undeserved benefits afford you. Still, shame on you. We deserve MUCH better.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Joe Speaks UP! Stand and Fight!

It's time we look like this guy...


Once more, it's been a rough year for Portland transit employees. We've had 62 incidents of violence against operators and supervisors. Still, crickets from our transit agency and the local media. Of course, when something bad happens, the media pounces on the words spewing from our management which do nothing to support its "team members."

You're thinking now as you finished the first paragraph, "Oh boy, here Deke goes again." Not this time, folks. Oh yeah, I will be touching on this subject soon in graphic and passionate detail. For now though, it's one of my brothers blasting forth from this online soapbox. I received an anonymous email from Joe Bro, and it's worth the read. Beware though, Joe's understandably angry. We all should be.

 
* * * * *

Dear Deke,


Here we are again. Another assault. This one resulting in broken bones and a concussion. This time, our member didn’t even have a chance to fight back. Yet, once again, guilty until proven innocent.


We all know from past experience with the company, you will never be innocent. Even having multiple witnesses supporting our members' stories, TriMet still searches for a reason to hang them.  Anything. No matter how small it is. No matter the relevance of it, they will use it to our detriment.


If safety is the core value of the company, then I say the core is rotten. The only "safety" TriMet cares about is safeguarding its image. Are they concerned with rider safety? No. They are most certainly not concerned for ours. For example, look at the aftermath of the Hollywood murders. Ridership is down. Feeling safe while riding our system has all but disappeared.


TriMet claims to have made changes but, where are those changes? They continually put our supervisors in harm's way by sending them alone to known violent and potentially-violent situations, while refusing to send police until our supervisor makes contact claiming that the police won’t come without a detailed description. Meanwhile, our supervisor gets assaulted and the company blames them for it even though they put them in that volatile situation alone and without help.


Which brings me to another point. In all cases, but this one even more so, the police usually do nothing. They make it appear that they are, but they aren’t.  This recent event though shows how callous and uncaring PPD and TPD are. I have been told by two witnesses that when PPD showed up, they refused to pursue the guy until TPD arrived. The perp was not far away and a witness even pointed out to the officers where he was. Then, when TPD showed up, they also refused to pursue.  This after a senselessly-brutal attack not only on our member, but on a passenger as well. The ineptitude showed by PPD and TPD that day was sickening. It only goes to show that not only does the company not care about us, the Police care even less.

 But, why would they? We don’t even care ourselves. Oh sure, we make noise and decry every time something happens but, it’s all done at a keyboard behind a screen. I am also guilty of it at times.After a certain event, which I would identify but that would let any manager who might happen to read this know exactly who I am, I was incredibly angry and fell into a deep and long depression. I felt like a failure. That I let all of you down. So, I retreated behind the keyboard and wallowed. Until I woke up, looked in a mirror and realized I had become part of the problem. I then resolved to be part of the solution.

Everyone wonders where our leadership is, and they are right to wonder. There seems to be a black hole there. But they are not the only ones at fault. We all are. We have no cohesion, no sense of Sister/Brotherhood. There are the apathetic people who don’t vote. There are members ratting out others to management instead of going to a Union Rep first. Then there are keyboard warriors. It’s not enough to just rant on social media. It does nothing. Helps nothing. Soap boxing makes you loud and seen, but if that’s all you’re doing, then the problem doesn’t get fixed. The infighting needs to stop, as does the back stabbing. We need to stop talking as if we are separate groups. The white shirt, blue shirt, and coveralls tags need to go. The selfishness needs to be replaced with solidarity. We are all part of the same union. The same Sister/Brotherhood. We are supposed to be protecting one another, coming together when one of us gets hurt. We complain and complain yet no one stands up long enough to actually rally the troops. And the ones who try, really try, are ignored or dismissed.


Well I say enough! Enough of the pettiness. Enough of the apathy. It must end. Stand up! Be a beacon of change, not complaints. Step forward and help. Hundreds of you should inundate the union emails asking to be stewards. Send a message to the company and the leadership: No longer will we be ignored. 

...instead of this one.

Or don’t. You don’t have to be a steward. You can do other things. Show up to TriMet Board meetings. Get yourself on the public speaker list. Slam the board with the truth even if you think they don’t care. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. If you don’t want to have any part of it and you only want to think of yourself then the Supreme Court's Janus Decision has given you an out. Leave the union. Turn your back on the members and leave any social media group you’re a member of that’s for the union. You want out? Then get all the way out.


You pissed off at me yet? Good. I welcome it. This local has a cancer, made up of selfishness and apathy. Are you going to keep feeding it or are you going to start cutting it out?


In solidarity,

Your ATU 757 Brother,
Joe