Sunday, October 28, 2018

Slap the Hand Away that Hushes Us



Hello again. It's been a gnarly three weeks since I wrote to y'all. I've taken a vacation, dealt with tremendous personal crises, re-connected with old friends and walked a few trails of my youth. The tears of an aging troubadour have fallen in three states. My soul was unable to relate as it has here, so I just stopped. Through an intensely painful event, I found how many people truly love me and are always there. My gratitude is eternal, and the healing has begun. To describe what I've been through would unnecessarily reveal my true identity. However, I'm not ready to "come out" yet. Let me explain why.

This blog's main purpose has been to describe this operator's life "in the seat." Sometimes, my thoughts and actions run afoul of what our management might consider appropriate for their model of what we "should" be. I've never been one to conform to pre-determined notions dictated by anybody. "I yam what I yam," Popeye the Sailor Man famously said. That's me, Deke says now. To reveal my identity would shred any sense of freedom I have to write my life as a public servant. Only a few besides my fellow transit workers actually read this blog anyway, because the local media refuses to give it any mention. We're just lowly transit operators after all, not worthy of public notice.

There are few voices of the true blue-collar workers today. It's my duty to honestly describe what happens "out there." Readers worldwide have written that my words often accurately portray what they feel as they cruise along their own city streets in a bus operator seat. Others say this blog opened their eyes to the dedication of purpose their own bus operators display. Occasionally, people will take issue with certain topics and challenge my innate stubbornness. Whatever the case, FromTheDriverSide has become a living conduit between whoever you are, and whatever I've become in the evolution of a rolling civil troubadour.

Management naps while we suffer.
This struggle of an anonymity hidden behind a thinly-veiled, manufactured dual personality is a burden I deal with intensely every day. I want to reveal myself, but reality dictates a different path. There's a lot of work to do as a transit blogger. That series on bus maintenance will happen someday. Each shift gives me bloggish ideas, but they appear briefly then vanish as the most important topics take precedence. An ongoing pandemic of aggression toward transit workers consumes much of my literary efforts here; I feel there's not enough public awareness of our plight. We're at 97 incidents of violence against us now; our management blurs its own statistics so it can brag how "crime is down on the system," but we feel the truth. We've been shot at several times this year, beaten, threatened, harassed and falsely-accused of many things beyond normal comprehension. Still, we continue to provide this community with top-notch public transit. We're safe, steady and smooth, unlike our management or local politicians.

A local news station recently ran a story about a passenger filing a lawsuit against our employer alleging a bus operator refused them service because of their skin color. We're calling bullshit. This happens every day, in that people falsely accuse us of "racism" when they don't get their pampered way. Transit is simple: be at the bus stop, on time, with fare ready. Otherwise, take a walk. We don't have time to pander to the unprepared. The reporter failed to offer our side. This tends to convict the operator via one-sided vilification. It's dirty laundry at its ugliest, and I wonder why our union didn't step up and demand more responsible journalism.

We're often portrayed as the "bad guy" in local media, when we actually save lives and commit countless acts of kindness each day. Take our brother Jeff a few summers ago, who was back-stabbed in the media by a passenger who accused Jeff of many things, conveniently omitting his own faults. Once Jeff's story came out, the media disappeared. There was no vindication for an operator who had served 18 years on the job. He was left to hang on the ropes; he retired rather than fight another futile battle with management. Once in a while our spineless local media throw in a "feel good" tale about a bus operator, but in reality these stories could fill an hour-long newscast each day. I sincerely doubt the recent accuser of racism told the "full story" of his encounter. People complain all the time via lies and slander, are often racists themselves, and we're left victims to this one-sided fool's game. The media eats every morsel fed to it without the slightest remorse or professional responsibility.

Just last night, a dear friend of mine sat "in the seat" as police leveled their weapons at a heavily-armed passenger and removed him from her bus. It's a line I've driven before, and I shivered at the reality this could have happened to me. She was likely left with the haunting thought... what if he had used one of those weapons on me?

Of those 97 assaults, mine was one; a dear friend of mine has suffered two of them. The 94 others were suffered by fellow public servants simply doing their jobs. We shouldn't have to worry about our safety, but few others do. Our management says the right words, but doesn't stand behind us. We're left wondering what is acceptable, when decency dictates we shouldn't have to second-guess our own self-defense. Try that shit with a cop, and you could be shot dead. Punch a bus operator, no problem... you'll likely see the court system offer a plea agreement equaling a tap on the bum and a "be nice, now" utterance on their way out the door.

Our management is complicit in the negative perception of today's transit worker. We're plagued by double-standards regarding the very policies we're supposed to uphold. Passengers flaunt this corporate weakness, refusing to follow the most basic rules because they're supported by our management while we are not. Confronted by a touchy situation on the road, any decision we make is often torn to shreds by corporate nerds desperate to be everything to all passengers. We are professionals who make decisions on-the-spot. We're left to the wolves. If we defend ourselves, we're subject to severe discipline on the fluttering winds of whoever's opinion is the flavor of the day in our wishy-washy management. We're a confused workforce, not sure how we're supposed to operate.

Yeah, I'm still pretty upset as a transit blogger. There are thousands of voices crying to be heard, while management plugs its ears and issues meaningless, contradictory edicts. "Stay in the seat and accept your beating or you'll be suspended or terminated" is what we're hearing. Judging by what has happened to many operators, this seems to be the status quo. I'd dearly love to hear our bumbling talking heads get on some news station and have a Donald Duck temper tantrum over the number of assaults we've endured over the past five years. But all we hear is... silence. The media won't cover the story, even though I've begged them to take notice. Guess how that makes us feel? Yeah, exactly. Ignored, and left to die. Literally. One of us will have to go to our grave before these boneheads realize we're "playing for keeps out there." It's kind of hard to realize our collective reality when you're protected, not working on the front lines of a violent society.

Maybe this post will turn some of the babbling heads. It will likely piss them off, but too bad. We're beyond pissing, spitting or hitting. Licking our wounds, we feel isolated by all who take a salary without lifting a weak hand in our defense. An expensive cage might make the numbers drop a corporately-acceptable percentage, but we have to leave the seat sometimes. When that happens, rest assured I'll not lie down and take a stabbing or shooting peaceably. I'm gonna fight tooth and nail, as any human's biological "fight or flight" response would require in "reasonable self-defense." If I damage the assailant, I'll be surely fired by a lawsuit-fearful management while my assailant is glorified by the corporately-eviscerated media. But at least I'll be alive, fuck you very much. Failure to protect myself means you can "out the Deke" because I'll be angry enough to mercilessly haunt you all if you don't parade my corpse in an organized riot. Display me like the martyr I would become, and haul me throughout Portland streets to my rest in a bus painted black, for all to see what they did to me.

Like anyone can actually read fine print;
but hey, at least it's a mention of "the law"
on our buses.
We're cowering to management when we should all be shouting LOUD. I've asked operators to come forward to describe their assaults and how they have dealt with them, but haven't heard a peep. They're afraid of retribution. Yet it only takes one anonymous shake to start an avalanche of opinion. Be brave, fellow operators. There are hundreds of you out there. It only takes one voice to take the stand we need to rally behind; the voice of the pain I feel for you, the pain I've felt with you. Staying quiet only plays into the hand management hushes us with. Slap that hand away and force them to take a stand for once.

So hear ye, hear ye. Deke hears ya, alright. If management figures out who I am, my job is toast. It's a chance I'm willing to take, because my parents taught me to stand up for what's good and right. My "coming out" party will have to wait, because there's just too much work to do, for you my dear brothers and sisters. Somebody must say it; might's well be me.

Let's hope we don't hit 100 by November 1. Stay safe, and remember I'm thinking of you each time you see me wave. We only have each other, and I'm here for you.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Smoothly Rolling Into A Brief Absence

Man, I truly love my Friday work. It's not really  Friday, but it's mine. This route is a blissful respite from the weekly toil. After roughly 6,500 depressions of the brake pedal, my roll is easy on the sooty foot and soul.

Portland is truly a majestic city. Its rolling hills and meandering rivers, heart-stopping vistas and fascinating residents have mesmerized me for nearly two decades. Whenever I slip into a bad mood, one of you make me smile or laugh. If one motorist pisses me off, another amazes me with kindness. There's a balance here that makes life roll off my shoulders into my soul.

After years of dealing with management blunders, I've learned to forget them when I'm "out there" rolling my big ol' wheels. It's just me and the hum of the road, passengers quietly reading their screens, and a big picture window to view.

Music roars silently in my mind, the steering wheel slides from my touch into a smoothly-rolled turn. Suddenly there's something new to marvel upon not there three hours prior. I'm beating a rhythm with my feet and hands as I accelerate into the fall colors which give way to green grass and cloudy panoramas. It's like a wakeful dream. Passengers board and I greet them without seeing their pain. My smile sends peace, my soul ignores the rude. It's just a job, but one I love.

Music to the soul: a wheelchair-using passenger gave me a cherished compliment the other day. "You are one of the smoothest drivers I've had the pleasure of riding with," he said before rolling off the ramp. His sincerity astounded me, and it felt oh so good.

Stunned, I offered a belated reply: "Thank you! My boss would LOVE to hear you say that. I certainly did! Thanks for riding, sir."

An ADA commendation would be nice, since I always work hard to give folks a ride as smooth as my first girlfriend. Unfortunately, I haven't ever had one. That's okay though. His cherished words made up for the thousands of smooth rolls I provide each week without verbal kudos.

I'm taking leave of this blog for a few weeks now. At risk of betraying my identity, I embark upon a blissful week of vacation. Since this literary exercise deals with transit, it only makes sense I leave it behind with the grind. Time to relax with friends, look back and into the future while resting the joints made sore by unforgiving bus operator seats. Sip a bit o'whiskey, leave my Portland behind and stride forward into my past. I'll be back, perhaps with a few surprises in my literary knapsack.

Meanwhile, please visit Amazon and buy JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane if you haven't already. I put my heart and soul into that book, and everyone who has read it insists a great read awaits you. If not, thanks; at least you read this.

Safe travels wherever you meander, my dear readers. Until these fingers return my words to you, have a nice week or else I'll record a bus fart for my next post.

Later, ya lug nuts.



Friday, October 5, 2018

We Can't Please 'Em All the Time

"Our policy is that when someone approaches your bus at an intersection, you're supposed to board them," the voice told me. Not my voice, but one of authority. In order not to publicly bash my union fellows, I won't say who or what department. They were simply stating local policy.

In my mind, I was thinking "Bullshit I'm gonna let that dumbass on my bus." Checking myself, I told the other voice in a controlled one of my own, "I'm aware of policy. In this instance, I determined it wasn't safe."

While the blubbering heads of transit spout more "gotta please everyone all the time" bullshit every day, operators are finding it harder to balance common sense with the insanity we face on the road. Especially when we're on the transit mall, certain operator rules of the road must be followed just to keep the flow rolling. When I'm in the first position, I'm watching the cross-street pedestrian timer. Once it hits three seconds, I close my doors. This means I'm no longer accepting passengers, no matter how frantic they appear. During rush hour, there could be up to five buses behind me waiting to roll up, and I won't delay them. If you're not on my bus when the doors close, you're too late Sorry, but that's the culture management has sown, and they need to back us on it or roll the wheels back a few decades. This "let them on" mentality is in direct conflict with its on-time bullshit. If that's what they want, okay then. Just cancel the customer servicey crap because it just doesn't jive with being on time. It certainly doesn't encourage safe driving practices, but evidently that no longer matters because the "Safety First" signs disappeared from our inner sanctum last year. You can have schedule, but not also safety and customer service all packaged together. It just doesn't work.

Not too long ago, Portland's transit was ranked Numero Uno by the National Transit Safety Board, but now languishes around 20th. We're no longer the passenger-friendly system, but don't blame the operator. We're controlled by a group of neo-corporate bumblers who have never driven a transit vehicle in service. They have no idea what damage their edicts have done. They took driver training and think they know it all, but we have the inside track. If you want a good system, fire management and hire from within. We'll right the wrongs and the ship will sail to the front once again.

Until then, be at the stop on time, or you're simply early for the next bus. We have a schedule to keep, and it's an unforgiving one. Whine to the CS Line all you want, but we can't please you and management at the same time. Get used to it, chums.