Sunday, November 18, 2018

I Hit the Wall Again

Our 19th century architecture in Portland
graces us at every turn.

Deke's Note: I slid into this weekend like it was the World Series, Game 7 and down four runs in extra innings with a body aching like a 90-year-old with hemorrhoids. It was a rough week, lemme tell ya.

A few years ago, I hit the proverbial "wall" that most bus operators do at some (or several) points in our careers. Evidently, I've slammed into that bastard once again. I've hit it so hard my bus bounced back and found another angle to try from. Problem is this time, that wall isn't budging a milliliter. The reason is one I can't understand. Perhaps it's because my entire body is beginning to fell the effects of pressing the brake pedal thousands of times each week. My hips, left big toe, lower back and right knee complain solo or in symphonic agony. There are pains in my soul as well, as those who know me have heard my cries in the night.

No matter, these various ailments are something transit operators grit our teeth and endure. It's not something limited to transit; people in every stressful occupation fight through a myriad of issues every moment of each workday. We just tough it out and keep on rolling. What else can we do? Other than our brothers and sisters, nobody gives a damn. Management makes it crystal clear: be perfect, or else. Even if you are doing your job as trained, those "on high" can make your life miserable as easily as a politician lies for a living. That's why I write this blog... for all my brothers and sisters who feel they don't have a voice. I'll protest the hell out of our injustice for you. It might cost me my job someday, but I'll continue laying it all out for the world to read. To do anything less would go against everything I've been taught by the best parents, family and friends one could ever dream of having. If anything, I'm loyal to what's right in this working person's life. Even if I'm wrong sometimes, each life is composed of a series of individual beliefs and values. This blog is simply a conversation from one who does the job, right or wrong, mile after mile.

Enough jibber jabber. Time for some fun.

Rolled up to a downtown stop this week, about 30 minutes late. On board ambles a sometimes-regular grouch.

"That was a long wait," she growled upon boarding.

Downtown Portland at dusk
on an abnormally-clear autumn evening.
A sweet lass had accompanied me since she boarded, standing just behind the Yellow Line. We've become pals this signup. Nice girl, student, sweet and thoughtfully conscientious. Someone who could easily be my daughter-in-law someday, I adore her like one of my own. Alejandra is someone I look forward to driving, because she's not only fun to talk with but also sympathetic and kind. I could tell without seeing Alejandra's face she was shocked at how rude this aged professional complainer had been to me. Ale had stood there the entire time I was locked within a sea of motorists bound to park at the Rose Quarter for whatever syrupy event was on tap. Rush hour, on top of it all.

"I'm sorry," I replied in a sardonic tone to the snarl-faced bag, "but it's been heavy traffic."

"Whatever," Grumpy Gertie spat.

"I really didn't arrive late just to inconvenience you," I said, my Irish rising. "It's just been bumper-to-bumper through the Rose Quarter."

Not a peep of acknowledgement to the transit operator's plea for gridlock mercy, except her regular command, "Make sure you're close to the curb at my stop."

"I always do," I shot back. "Don't you remember me?" She rides my bus a few times each week.

"I can't remember all of you," she spat back. This rebuke stung like an angry wasp assaulting my nether regions.

Her particular stop is often cramped by cars parked just prior to the zone. Because I know the bus like the back of my hand by now, I'm able to angle my front door just above the curb, lowering it so she can just skip right off my ride without missing a beat. Evidently, it's expected rather than appreciated. Fuck me and my professionalism... by gawd, just do it. You're simply a stupid bus driver, do as I say and I won't call into your one-sided customer service line to complain. She could lie and tell them I was texting while driving, and management would believe her over me in an instant. Job gone, liar placated, another worthless driver bites the dust, no big deal.

As usual, I glided smoothly to her stop just as I do every time, and she exited without a word of thanks. It was my fault traffic was jacked up and she was late. The fact that her aged body easily exited the bus was of apparently no bonus.

Ale and I joked about her behavior. "Yeah, I knew she had been waiting all this time, so I just sat there and planned being late just to spite her, didn't I?"

My young amiga laughed at this, and we shared some transit humor at the crab's expense.

Later that night, I rolled up to a downtown stop and heard from a boarding passenger that nine shots had been fired around the corner just a few minutes prior. Cops were flying in from all directions. Dispatch called to make sure I was clearing the area okay. It was a tense moment, but we fled the scene as fast as that sluggish bus could roll.

Sure, but few recognize this.
Yeah, that transit wall I face now is thick and tall. If I were fired tomorrow, I might just feel relieved rather than upset. When you feel no support from management even after the previous GM has retired and the new one has promised a new world full of kittens and joy, the wall just becomes more daunting. Will I successfully come out on the other side, intact and full of renewed optimism? Doubtful. If I come through it at all, that will be a miracle.

At this point in time, we're up to 100 incidents of violence toward transit workers in Portland for 2018. There are still seven weeks left of this calendar, and management makes no moves toward insisting its glorified and pampered passengers treat us with respect. Local media remains typically ignorant, evidently obedient of the transit giant's will to remain so.

That wall keeps growing... I'm a bit too ancient to vault over it these days. Can I get an assist? My brothers and sisters will give me a boost, but management would rather I fall to my death. Please, reach out and give me a hand?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Tunnel Vision Fails to See the Truth

Luckily, the scenery is pleasing.
Life as a bus operator is often ugly.
In today's world, people feel boldly empowered to complain at will. Whether they're sufficiently educated on the subject they weigh in on is of no concern. With a few phone strokes, they can severely alter your public servant bus operators' careers, even if they lie while doing so. It's no matter to them, they're instantly onto a new thread to throw their worthless nine cents into, usually anonymously.

It's these flood waters operators must tread through today. We never know what they'll throw at us. Now add our own management into the mix, who feel emboldened now some have gone through bus operator training. Many have never driven in service, which is an entirely different animal than their pampered, watered-down version. Now they think they know every facet of our jobs, and are watching us with a half-assed eye for any possible infraction we might make, no matter how ill-informed or illogical their complaints may be. It's an infuriating show of disrespect for those who make the wheels roll while the overpaid suits sit in a protected ivory tower.

A young man I'm very fond of and respect highly, new to the job but very dedicated, was speaking of a complaint he received. Anonymously, of course is how it came to him, from someone in a position of power and presumably because of this above reproach. This complaint would be easily disproven in a court of law, but my brother wasn't allowed to defend himself. Any evidence he provided was received with a head-shaking and emphatic NO. It was emphatically illustrated that management believes its own, while operators are evidently lying without question.
"Given this case, it's evident our employer values dishonesty over integrity in its hiring practices."
We often see "millennials" who seem to have their phones surgically attached to their hands. Their eyes are automatically focused on the screen. It's a common myth that a young adult is constantly connected to it. However, bus operators have been intensely-trained and counseled, with hundreds or thousands hours of service under their belt. They are fully aware of the rules we all drive by. They know operators are suspended or even fired for having a cell phone in their hand while in the seat. This young man is truthful and sincere, so when he said that he never takes his phone out until he's on a break, I have no reason to doubt him. I'm a very astute judge of character, and this guy is golden in my opinion. Unfortunately, management believes its own rather than give this young man the benefit of his word. If it ever found anything in his history during the new hire "vetting" process, they would not have hired him. To believe he is dishonest only discredits their hiring processes, not him. In a court of law, this young man would win hands-down. Given this case, it's evident our employer values dishonesty over integrity in its hiring practices.

When you're new to the Extra Board, you can be thrust into driving a run you've never been on with as little as 10 minutes warning. Some have deviations, deadheads and other twists than you've previously learned. In order to know just where to turn, drivers depend on the run's paddle and route's detailed turn-by-turn description located in the pouch. They can be very confusing at first, because the descriptions vary according to what's on the paddle. "If you do A, then read B; if C comes first in an imperfect world, then read D, E or F," can flummox an accomplished PhD, let alone a new driver. You have to flip between several possibilities before finding the one that fits that particular run's paddle.

So imagine this young driver with this laminated (white) description in his hand trying to figure out where he'll end up while driving down the street. He's watching traffic, obstructions, pedestrians, bicycles, working hookers, scooters and street signs as he guides The Beast along. Just across the street lies in wait a management wonk, who looks up from his phone long enough to see our young brother's bus coming his way. Wonky notices the driver accelerates then pauses, accelerates again. To him, it's enough to automatically assume the driver is doing "something wrong." He gets excited, like a teenaged peeping Tom, a voyeur in the shadows, hoping he'll catch a glimpse of something he doesn't quite understand. Here comes the bus, and the driver is holding something in his hand! Oh my, it must be a cell phone! He has 20/2000 vision, by golly, and he's gonna report this young guy! He almost drops his phone, slippery because he's already drooled on it from the excitement. In a flash, he's decided that (white) thing in the driver's hand is a phone! Bingo! Gotcha, dude!

Since his phone is too slippery, Macho Manager fails to photograph the event. However, in his self-impressive style, he shoots off a text or email to report the driver, saying he was positive the driver had a cell phone in his hand. BAM! Guilty without a trial, no self defense allowed or to be believed above the revered management member. Perhaps the manager's hands were tied, and was ordered not to take the operator's word over his exalted own.

"... we're slandered with little to no recourse to defend our honor."

It's infuriating, this evident abuse of power. Our management has no oversight, can do or say whatever it wants while its puppet Board of Acquiescence just nods along while napping. Meanwhile, we're slandered with little to no recourse to defend our honor.

The local media jumps on any fabricated story about how terrible operators are, no matter how ill-informed the complainer or media are about the nature of our jobs. They're all slow to compliment or commend our actions that save lives worldwide every moment. We're true professionals in a sea of incompetent motorists intent on getting to the red light first with no regards to any other's well-being. If we honk, we're reported. If we're in a collision, one of the questions on our reports is whether we sounded our horn, and from how far away? If we swat at a fly, people call in and accuse us of road rage. Well if you think we were raging at you, then pray tell, what the hell did you do to deserve it? Something foolishly dangerous, no doubt.

"Motorist Slams Bus Mirror"
gets reported... NEVER.
It's criminal to slander someone, yet our management and the public are allowed to do so freely, where an operator is concerned, without any recrimination. Lie with impugnity, no problem. If an operator is even accused of any crime, we're automatically guilty. It's a nasty double standard, but nobody seems to care. Except US. Evidently, we don't count in the general scheme of things.

"This is the best job I've ever had," my friend told me years ago when I was new. "But it's the worst company, by far, that I've ever worked for." Bingo, brother you nailed it.

Any lawyer would have insisted Macho come forward and testify under oath that the operator indeed had held a cell phone in his hand, but that wasn't to be. Our brother tried to explain what he was doing, but his story evidently held no sway whatever. Result? He was suspended. Over a false complaint from someone who supposedly values us. From a faulty witness who "saw" an operator over other vehicles, as his bus rolled  at least 20mph, through a windshield that other operators can't see through well enough to identify who's waving back at us. Yeah, he saw what he reported: bullshit. The operator wasn't even allowed the knowledge of the identity of his accuser, someone who is charged with our protection. In a court of law, this "eyewitness" would be soundly discredited, if not jailed for perjury.

There are few occupations where you can be so recklessly held accountable for something you didn't do. We're assaulted daily, insulted constantly by the public, the media and our own management. Yet, we have no line to call in our own complaints. We dance a ballet through tight streets with practiced ease, safely transporting over 300,000 of our fellow citizens every day. When we're falsely accused, nobody listens, and our voices are drowned out by the supposed superiority of those charged with running the show. We're constantly performing transit miracles, on time nine out of 10 times, and rarely praised publicly for our skill and precision. It's expected of us, but not appreciated by our employers considering how we're treated in these situations.

I'm insulted at my brother's treatment. He was suspended for three days without pay, for something he insists is not true. We're "shepherds of the public safety," The Rampant Lion tells me. I drive with this in mind every moment I'm in the service of our community. It would be nice if my employer backed us with support, rather than into a corner without any reasonable means of self defense. Instead, we're served a hypocritical day once a year when we're told we're "appreciated." Some of us, anyway. Those outside of banker's hours are totally ignored.

My only satisfaction comes from the passenger who tells me on the way out the door, "Thanks for the smooth ride, I appreciate you." I'm glad somebody does. Perhaps management should take Perry Passenger's hint.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Selling My Book Ain't for Sissies

If anything, I'm a stubborn sumbitch. Hey I thought a few years ago, I'll write a book of blog posts! What a stroke of genius! The damn thing's already written, I just have to put it all together, and by jingo it'll be easy! Just get it published on Amazon and sell a few zillion copies and I won't have to drive a damn bus 55 hours a week any longer!

Riiiiiggggghhhhhhttttt. Fuhgedaboudit. It was a long, tedious and patience-testing project which was about as "easy" as pulling a rusty nail out of my foot. The editing itself nearly pushed me harder than braking an old bus going downhill. Eventually, the book was published and I had seen it through to completion. That in itself was an accomplishment from one who started building his eight-year-old daughter a dollhouse only to present it to her when she was 17. At least the book only required 18 months to produce, but it also was the catalyst of my first on-top grey hairs. Fuzz budgets.

The book's "success" has been about as lukewarm as the Oregon coast in December. While readers have generously written 30 five-star reviews, the revenue production rivals about 1/20th of minimum wage, or less. Oh well, not a terrible start to a literary career... there have been less glorious debuts.

Now I've produced the audio book version of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. In one month, there have been an unprecedented SIX copies sold! That's just enough for a bottle of middle-shelf Irish whiskey, but it may take about five of them to accomplish an ambitious marketing plan for this new version. I've hired Jess the Audiobookworm to sponsor a "tour" of the book on several reviewer blogs. This is supposed to generate interest in the book, but there's always the chance these full-time reviewers will not look upon my baby with the pride of its author. It's a risk, but I've never backed down from a challenge. If I fail, there's always the next book, and the one after that, followed by more... yadda yadda yadda. Like I said, stubborn is me modus operandi.

My "head shot." Glamorous, eh?
So here I sat for about 20 minutes tonight, reading through the things Jess needs to start the tour. One of these requirements is a photo of the author. Any volunteers? Y'all know Deke doesn't have one of them thar photograff(sicop: spelled incorrectly on purpose) thingees(ditto). A pseudonym requires anonymity, and plastering a photo of myself on the internets would spoil this disguise forever. I reckon I'll shoot her the head shot showing only my personalized cap.

Part of me wonders if I should just pull the damn book, count my losses and move on to the next book. After all, maybe a twelfth of my Portland brothers and sisters have purchased it, and a smattering of others across the States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. I'm not feeling sorry for myself about it. Rather, I'm a realist. People just don't like to read much these days, unless it's on a phone screen, especially if they do what I write about. The truth sucks, but it remains thus.

I'm no King, Twain or Vonnegut, just plain ol' bus driving Deke. I'll keep writing because that's who I am. This literary challenge to myself began later in life than it should have, but later is better than having never done it at all.

There. A post about writing instead of complaining about the road bozos we constantly endure. Hopefully, you'll keep your eyes crossed for me. Otherwise, I'll be driving until I leave the bus in a casket.

The 77-year-old future Deke will hobble out to his bus and tell a newbie, "Just help me into the seat sonny, I'll take 'er from there!"

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Scoot Your Ass Over!

How scooter-fools appear to the vigilant bus operator:
not quite "there."
Deke's Note: Is this blog still relevant? Is it read beyond the stubborn few, or sliding into irrelevance? I've been thinking hard on these questions this past week. Reading seems to be a lost art, as three-minute videos, limited-word Tweets and YouTubers take over the minds of millions. Regardless, as long as I have something to write about, I'll continue. Ideas keep coming, so I reckon this blog ain't done yet.

Our society seems hell-bent on destroying itself. It seems to have begun with the advent of everyone having a cell phone. We're more disconnected now, although the "Cellular Revolution" was supposed to give us collective knowledge. People are more in tune with a small screen than with their immediate surroundings. When I began this blog, cellulism was becoming a phenomenon; now it's pandemic. Within all the competing connections there's a frightening lack of personal responsibility. I fight this curse as well, walking down the street checking my business email or catching up with FaceBook. It seems sometimes an annoyance to have to simultaneously remain aware of what's happening in real life. Five years ago, I scoffed at this behavior, but I'm often "one of them."

A bit small, but pointing in the right direction!
Bus operators all know how dangerous the streets have become the past few years, but it's not obvious to anyone else. Not only are other motorists intent on selfish ignorance, but there are more dangers than ever. The advent of the for-rent scooters has become an epidemic of foolishness. Several times each day, I see scooter-renters shoot through lights that have turned red seconds before they even reach the intersection.

On the transit mall, I'm even more vigilant in scanning side streets as I see my light turn green. Scooterfools don't look in either direction, their headphones bleating outside noise away as if it matters naught. These contraptions have given me, albeit grudgingly, a greater appreciation for skateboarders. At least the latter seem to be more cognizant of what's going on around their artistic multi-wheeled gymnastics. They tend to realize that their tricks gone awry could land them directly in the path of my 20-ton behemoth, and communicate with each other when we're around. I appreciate that, and give them a wave in thanks for their vigilance.

On my route yesterday, I had the honor of rolling with Bobby, an artist with a firm grasp of what it means to be "artistic." He reminded me that art accepts many forms, and cannot be easily defined. My drawing is atrocious, and I can't even produce a decent stick-man, but I am at home with this keyboard. A guitarist plays the same chords as a pianist, but the sounds are deliciously different. We discussed how art encompasses varying canvasses, and it was a wonderful departure from the banal "Hi, how are you" to engage an entertaining and intelligent passenger in conversation.

Bobby also understands how people interact with transit operators. He uses a wheelchair for locomotion, and agrees that life is more dangerous today. I'm trying to steer clear of people who don't watch out for themselves, while he maneuvers through those who don't see him. Bobby's safer on a bus than he is on his own, and I fear for his safety.

We're all responsible for our own safe passage through this world. Some take life for granted and believe it's up to others to watch out for them. It's a shared responsibility though. While the Art of Self-Preservation is merely stalling the inevitable, people need to accept their mortality is real. Birth, life and death happen to us all. We eventually pass beyond this life, but I shouldn't have to witness anybody's final act of foolishness. Plus, I hate blood on my bus.

My fellow bus operators everywhere are constantly watching out for you ill-attentive individuals. Please look up from your cell phone long enough to avoid our watching you die. It's a serious concern to someone behind the wheel of a bus or light rail vehicle. Shouldn't it be yours as well?