Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sign of the Times

A hand-lettered, one-word sign hung from the seat of a bicycle on my rack one evening. It evoked a deep meditation within, as my eyes scanned its passing surroundings for 30 minutes.

We see a plethora of bumper stickers and random messages on sidewalks, cars and even billboards. Some are too verbose, using many words where just one can do the job. This societal art provoked contemplation as I meandered along a dark yet charming Portland neighborhood.

How versatile, this word. It works as a noun, adjective, verb, pronoun, adverb, exclamation, inquiry, descriptor, insult, compliment, historical reference and several other forms. It's disconcerting how this now has become an overused bit of everyday speech. Throughout my childhood, I never heard my parents say it. None of my brothers or I would have dared utter such in their presence.

As the bike's owner exited, I asked "Is your sign a statement, simple expletive, or the current state of humanity?"

A lass of about 20, she stopped to ponder before exiting. Her eyes, solemn yet playful, rose to meet mine. "I haven't quite decided yet," she said with a smile.

She then pedaled into the abyss, sign swaying in the breeze. Surely, you've guessed by now. The word was...

Monday, September 24, 2018

I Don't Get Mad, Just Even

Deke's Note: Daddy Blue says, "Have fun every day." I try, Dad, really I do. Mama always used to say, "Don't get mad, get even." There's a way to achieve both, Ma & Pa.

Every day of transit operation, it takes great patience and self-control to remain cool behind the wheel. With a growing number of motorists annoyed at our mere presence on the road, we're constantly avoiding collisions due to actions of the feeble-minded. Over half of those licensed today should have their driving privileges revoked and forced to take driving lessons. Their antics cause accidents all over the world, and it's a testament to transit worker professionalism that most don't end up flopping lifelessly between our duals.

Since we're never thanked for saving lives, which we do many times a day, it can create bad feelings toward those who flip us their Driving IQ score. Therefore, I've developed a fun way of getting even.

ROPE A DOPE: Conceived by the great fighting champ Muhammad Ali in the 1970s. He would tease his opponent, making them angry with trash talk and constantly covering-up. He'd lay on the ropes, while Joe Frazier or George Foreman pummeled him. They put a lot of energy into trying to hurt The Great One. Every so often, Ali would land a solid jab, just enough to daze his tormentor. Then later, as time and expended energy took their toll on his opponent, Ali would suddenly "wake up." Having saved his strength laying on the ropes, he'd go to town on his weary opposite. A barrage of blows would eventually become too much, and the victory would be Ali's.

Often on my way home, some witless dipstick will relentlessly ride my tail. My car's speedometer rarely registers more than five miles per hour over the limit. Driving is what keeps a positive balance in my checkbook, so I'm careful to (literally) remain under the radar. Over the years I've realized that exceeding the limit by 5-20mph doesn't necessarily mean I'll arrive sooner at my destination. It's the "patience" part of maturity that keeps my license free of demerit points. When Sammy Speedboat rides my tail, I'm not sure if he thinks this tactic will make me go faster, but it tends only to piss me off. There are a few speed traps on my route home, and I can usually tell when they're active. So I speed up just a little to keep Sammy back there. Just as I'm about to round the turn where Cory Cop lies in wait, I slow down again. This time I clock five below the limit. Right where Cory's radar gun trap is, Sammy usually zips across the double-yellow line and blasts past me. I make sure to regain the speed limit as he makes his move, so he has to be going at least 5-20mph faster than I am. Unfortunately for him, Cory already has him zeroed in.

WOOP WOOP! BUSTED, SAMMY! THANKS ALI!

I laugh as I go by. Yeah, it's childish and petty, but it's great payback. Sammy's cohorts zip around our YIELD lights all day while cops ignore, or even join them. Payback and instant karma, you betcha.


THE BLOCK: Dolly Doper loves to zip in and out of lanes, including turn lanes, just to gain no apparent advantage whatsoever. When my route has a median, I love to chug up alongside another car and match their speed. This blocks Dolly from "shooting the gap" between us just to slam on her brakes as the light ahead turns red. With glee, I observe her from my left mirror as we're stopped. She's often slamming fists on her abused steering wheel, cursing and obscenely gesturing with her other. As we wait, I glance at the guy next to me, who also has been the victim of the horn-honking tailgater behind him. We exchange glances, he give me the index-finger-around-the-ear "crazy lady" sign, and I smile and give him the "ok" sign. He knows what's up. When the light goes green again, I once again enjoy my place in the right lane alongside my co-conspirator. Dolly is even more angry, now honking with fury as we slowly gain speed.

Once again, there's a few motorcycle cops parked on the far side of a particular intersection. We leisurely glide through the green-turning-yellow light as Dolly pushes the envelope and enters on yellow-going-red.

WOOP WOOP! BUSTED, DOLLY! THANKS FELLOW MOTORIST!

I chuckle and give the cops a thumbs-up as I roll by. My fellow motorist laughs, and I give him the go-ahead as our lanes merge into one. Mission accomplished. Another few hundred bucks for the municipality's coffers.

THE HONKIE: You know the type. It's obvious to most what we do out there. We drive, stop and pick people up or drop them off, then we drive again. Pretty simple, right? Not evidently so, to Horatio Honkie. He has some ill-conceived notion that this maneuver takes longer than it should. He doesn't take into account how long it takes to raise the bus from a kneel, or that most passengers stare at their phones prior to my arrival instead of getting their fare ready, taking a good 30 seconds to pay. Since we're not supposed to move the bus until they scoot past the yellow standee line, most of us do not. The slowest boardings can take up to 90 seconds, especially if Aunt Hazel in her walker takes time to get seated. Horatio sits behind us, laying on his incredibly-annoying beep-beeper which sounds like an adolescent whine on helium.

One day I experienced Horatio's horrible behavior as I serviced a stop at the near-side of an intersection. Watching the pedestrian timer tick down, I timed my door-close precisely to the point where I could scoot across the narrow intersection before the light switched to red. Unfortunately for Horatio, he was so close behind me, the height of my bus obscured his sight of the light. It had turned yellow as he entered the intersection, and then red before he hit the far crosswalk. Guess who was waiting for him? Nope, Perry Patrolman was somewhere else. The camera atop the traffic light popped off, I noticed in my mirror, as Horatio once again jumped up my bus butt.

WOOPITY WOOP! BUSTED HORATIO! THANKS, UNCONSTITUTIONAL CAMERA!

I detest these cameras, because I believe they result in unreasonable searches, just like drunk driver stings have been declared in Oregon. But this time, I truly appreciated it.

So there you have it. Deke can be an asshole sometimes. I prefer to think of it as poetic justice. It's  perhaps a passive-aggressive move on occasion, but Ma & Pa were right. It is downright fun, Dad. And Ma, it's a safe way to get even.




Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Reasons for #BANDTOGETHER

#BANDTOGETHER participants in Portland show their resolve.

Deke's Note: From September 16-22, operators from every corner of the globe have participated in an event designed to raise awareness of transit worker assaults. When this week began, we had 72 attacks here. As I wrote this, the tally had increased by five to 77.

Our second #BANDTOGETHER event is nearly finished, and it has been fascinating to watch operators (and supes) in Canada and the USA join together. We have opened dialogues with the riding public, many of whom had no idea of the pandemic of violence toward transit workers.

Upon boarding my busy route the first few days this week, most passengers greeted me, their eyes bouncing from the numbered bandage back to my eyes with a quizzical expression in their own. Preferring not to remain subtle, I made no mention of the obvious. This initially led to a few gentle inquiries as to why I was wearing our collective statement on my right cheek.

"I didn't know they were numbering drivers now," one elderly lady quipped.

"Cut yourself shaving?" a stately gentleman teased.

"You don't look 72," another said.

Knowing these people are regulars on my route, I kept my replies simple. "It's just a statement regarding transit worker assaults," was all I said that first day.

Mr. Henry Beasley
ATU 757 - Portland, OR
"I've seen other drivers wearing the bandage," a young man said on the second day, "and I'm wondering what it's about?" By then, the number of attacks directed at Portland transit workers had jumped to 73 for the year.

I paused at a stoplight, and turned to look at him. With a (hopefully) grim look, I told him what the number signified.

"Wow," was all he could muster in reply.

We rolled through downtown, discussing what an "attack" means. It could be spitting, screaming insults for crimes passengers insist us guilty of, cruel insults and threatening behavior, sexual assault, punches, kicks, and having liquids of all kinds tossed on us.

"People actually do those things to you guys?" my young new friend asked, incredulous.

"It happens every day," I told him with a sigh. "Some, or many, are never reported. I guess many of us have just learned to accept it as an occupational hazard."

If you're female, the public tends to be more brazen with their abusive behavior. Perhaps it's telling of today's society to treat women as if they're only half-human, evidenced by our propensity toward treating sexual assault as if it's acceptable. If women report it, even years later, their credibility is questioned. The male's behavior is written off in a "boys will be boys" brush-off, and women are bullied into keeping quiet or facing shame for "their part in it."

In NO situation is assault, against women or men, acceptable to minimize. As a victim of assault in my profession and long ago in my personal life, I can personally attest to the guilt feelings of a victim prohibiting the proper healing process from taking its natural course. When I was assaulted earlier this year, I self-analyzed to find how I could have prevented it. Then anger took hold, and I had to forcibly tell myself... it wasn't my fault. While doing my job as a transit worker, my actions were morally just; my assailant broke the law of common decency and legislative edicts. She kicked me as I was simply trying to ensure her safety. Afterward, I never heard a peep out of management wondering if I was "okay." As long as I'm not transported to the hospital, they evidently feel no need to express concern.

Mr. Billy Alsheimer, III
Rhode Island Public
Transit Authority
If you're a passenger on an airline, you're subject to Federal Aviation Agency rules. If you ride a train, enjoy a sea cruise or roll upon the rail, there are rules you must obey or risk arrest and serious consequences. Why people think they're immune to the same when riding our vehicles defies logic.

People who ride public transit are passengers, subject to rules; they are not "customers." When you purchase a ticket to ride my bus, you enter into a contract with the transit agency which prohibits certain behaviors. Most people understand and accept this basic agreement. Unfortunately, some refuse. This small percentage of scofflaws are catered to by our wanna-please-everybody management. They fail to support frontline transit workers, and make sure we know who comes first: everyone except us. It's oddly-inconceivable, but true. And that, my dear readers, is why I continue to write this blog.

Fifty years ago, the middle class worker was respected as a valuable contributor to not only the workforce, but also to society. Although there were disagreements over how our government should guide this nation, our parents worked together to give us and our children's children a better future. Now, those who toil along with us have been trained to bash each other. We argue over the most petty or serious topics rather than listening to each other to attain reasonable compromise. It's divide and conquer at its ugliest, and its only effectiveness is to further empower those who make the money which keeps them enriched. We do their dirty work when we fight amongst ourselves, so why should they care when the lowest common denominator joins in bashing us? As long as we keep the wheels rolling, our collectively-damaged soul seemingly means little to those "at the top."

Mr. Dwayne Russell, Sr.
ATU 1197 - Jacksonville, FL
Creator of
#BANDTOGETHER
Transit management chases its tail and bites anyone who tries to stop this folly. When they finally acknowledge we're being assaulted, their knee-jerk reaction is to cage the operator behind a barrier. It's a pitiful attempt to apply a bandage to a gaping wound. It cuts us off from those I truly enjoy serving. It also avoids the subject, which management has artfully kept from the media: operators, supervisors, maintenance workers are being brutally-attacked every day just for doing our jobs. If we dare defend ourselves, we're subject to illogically-extreme discipline up to termination. If one of us were to threaten anyone in management with even the slightest slight we're treated to on a daily basis, we'd surely be fired on the spot. There are benefits to ruling from an isolated ivory tower, but I don't know them down here upon the harsh streets of reality.

I'm fired up, but even beavers know when to stop gnawing on a tree that won't give easily. It comes back the next day to eventually fell the branches to an ever-evolving dam which gives its family shelter. My teeth are wearing down, but I'll continue chewing upon the subject of our personal safety until and after I've had to obtain dentures. Until then, I hope #BANDTOGETHER grows each third week of September until the mindless violence against us begins to dwindle. If we don't fight together, we'll keep fighting each other and remain magnets to the ungrateful minority who love to hate us.

Peace, and be well.

Love,
Deke

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.