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?

5 comments:

  1. SO SORRY....I don't know why but the world has taken a turn to be truly rude. Everyone seems like they want to take and never give. Hang in there Deke...Good thinks happen to good people too. <3 Company needs to back it's drivers!!!

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  2. Try to hear every "THANK YOU" a rider gives louder than anything else. They may not remember you, but they remember you are what matters and what makes transit happen.

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  3. I drive in Ottawa Canada. Last week I took over my bus 10 minutes late (which for those of us in the industry is good). Later down the road I get caught in traffic, I’m guessing from a car crash. Roads was replacing a traffic light post. So of course traffic was backed up. On my return trip, at the same intersection, police prevented anyone from making a left turn so I had to go on detour. This passenger on my bus comes up and asked if we were going to the next station. I said yes we just have to take the long way. THEN...the guy says, the bus is 20 minutes late and now on detour!! So, me and my ability to “keep my mouth shut” said well did you want me to ignore the directions of a police officer and run him over and go to jail for vehicle homicide? The guy keeps running his mouth. I told him because of the crash at that intersection is the reason for being late as well as construction. He said yeah that’s what all you bus drivers say. My response was, let me guess, the girl down the road is pregnant and it’s the bus drivers fault too? That ended the conversation. Now what got me was his eyes were not forward facing in the sockets. So I’m not sure if he could even see what was going on. Another passenger said he had no right to speak or me that way, I was just doing my job and she apologized for him.

    Hang in there, there are good, nice passengers out there, just like your young passenger who befriended you.

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  4. I feel you Deke. Passengers look at you as if you walked into there house, proceeded to the living room and taken a massive dump on there carpet. As opposed to them walking into our office and at our discretion taking them where they want to go. I live for the thank you,s and the nice chats from the decent human beings. Try not to let the horrible ones get you down. Best wishes.

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  5. Good reminders from the operators above. I won't repeat their advice or admonish you to be the good you want to see in the world. The wall is an obstacle meant to be gotten past. Sometimes we need to throw our pack over the hedge so we have no choice but to get to the other side, and crawl through. There will be scrapes and scratches. Bus driving is not a spectator sport. You're a survivor and I thank you for sharing your stories. Stay strong, stay safe...

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