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, August 27, 2018

We're All In, Are YOU?!?

Operator Beasley, who started
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,

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Threading the Speedy Needle

It's late. Even for me. The sun will rise soon, but soon I will fall. It's been another strenuous week, but one sans intensity. That's rare, and I'll take it.

The week started with an exhilarating FaceBook Live session with my friend and brother Henry Beasley on “The Union Minute.” It was a hot summer day, one we all dream of during the dreary wet weariness of a January snow-ice storm. Talking with Henry puts life as a transit operator into a stark reality. We all have a personal experience, but he has a way of putting light onto the darkest corners of the transit roll.

Henry asked some tough questions. Some, regarding union politics, I dodged as gracefully as possible. Mostly, it was a great discussion about issues we face behind the wheel as well as my book JUST DRIVE (available here). Thanks Henry!

Another honor was having the book recognized in ATU International's magazine, "In Transit." Sales have risen nicely, thanks to these recent media events!

Soon afterward, I was back in the seat. Weekend? What weekend? It's time to drive again.

Even though Portland is plagued by weekly protest, constant road construction, heat-weary and ever-impatient motorists, we keep rolling on fast forward. Most of us make it through the week; others don't live to see the next one.

Although I've driven over a half-century in some form of motored vehicle, I still don't understand why people are in such a hurry to get nowhere... fast. Speed kills, they told me long ago. Even then, I knew speed had its limits, both on and off road varieties. Every mile an hour a bus travels is deadly. Multiply 35mph x 40,000 pounds, and the amount of force is 1.4 million pounds coming at you. Yeah, I stay at the speed LIMIT, sometimes under.

My high school buddies and I had no idea how close to death we ventured, racing rival teens down Main Street at 130mph. It was a rush, adrenalin-pumping the blood that could have just as easily gushed outward rather than remain within our testosterone-charged bodies. One mistake and we all could have died instantly. Yet we live to tell the tale as we prepare for our 40th reunion. How very lucky we were.

Granted, the Main Street Race of the 20th Century was but 3/4-mile long. There were no traffic lights in town then, and it was about three in the morning. TransAm vs. supercharged 1971 Chevelle, at least five people in each vehicle. Our brains couldn't comprehend the danger; we just wanted to win.

As I grasp the wheel of a 20-ton bus and watch noisy Hondas trying to act NASCAR, it amuses yet scares me. I'm reminded of the lucky angel on my shoulder, holding on to a weary thread slipping off my aging shoulder. It eventually left three of the Traveling Wilburys (Nelson, Lefty and Charlie... RIP); only two remain. How long will my own leprechaun keep me rolling safe?

You never know when a slip will slide into your heavy path. Be vigilant my friends. The devil's always hoping for your demise... keep him at arm's length. He's a pesky bastard.

Sadness BusBits

Deke's Note: After the fright, stress and flashbacks of the violent incident on my bus just over a week ago, I have ached to reach back ...