Deacon Who?

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Modern Slaves vs. Today's Masters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Journalism is Dead Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bums Beware the Fare Inspector

"I'll ride at my own risk."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody's got to do it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

He Pays My Salary?

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence, for a blissful five seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Bogus GM Search Boondoggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun Sets

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