Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Merry Christmas, Dad

This time of year, I really miss Daddy Blue. He taught me so much, yes. Yes! As I grew into an adult, he became more than my only hero... he was my best buddy.

As I began writing Christmas cards, tears began to flow freely as I inserted photos from this year to family members and friends. So much of what I pass along to you readers came directly from Dad's life lessons. If I'm half as wise as he when I reach my golden years, it will be a true miracle.

The last time we spoke on the phone, it was my birthday. Part of me wishes I'd let him go to voice mail so I'd have his voice singing Happy Birthday to me forevermore. When he told me "I'll wait for you," I didn't realize how prophetic that was. He died later the day I arrived at his bedside.

His memory is, and will remain, strong. His blood runs through my veins, his musical voice rings true within my soul. His humor, decency and dedication to having fun every day, will remain with me as long as I tread upon our Earth. If you see me and I tell you a joke, it's Dad's influence which makes me strive to help you smile. Our job is hard, and so is life sometimes. He taught me it's important to find the good which shines, even in the shadows of grief.

Earlier this year, I had the most wonderful dream come true. I read parts of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane aloud to my blind father. An avid reader his entire life, what pained him most in old age was his inability to read. He enjoyed my writing, and for 20 minutes, I read passages from a book I had written to his loving delight. It was easily the highlight of my writing career to read my work to one of the two who made it possible. Any accolades from this point will fade in comparison to that moment in time.

If not for my parents, I would not be writing this. My book certainly would never have seen creation if not for their fierce dedication to each of their four sons. Their grit, humor and intelligence drove me to heights not possible without them. To read Dad passages of my book was pure elation; it was done with carefully deliberate calm in the presence of incredible emotion. I actually practiced reading aloud before I flew to see him. Fearing emotion would cloud my performance, I firmly set my jaw and refused to be anything but strong. For him. Judging the look on his face, my father was both proud and entertained. He was my biggest fan, and for that I feel the most intense pride.

Rest in peace, Dad. Thanks for teaching me parking lots are among the most dangerous places to drive. Whenever I roll through a mall parking lot in my Beast, my eyes dart constantly in search for the errant fool who doesn't see my 20 tons bearing down upon them. Mostly, thank you for your dedication and for teaching me that dreams are the product of hard work and diligence.

To those of you who still have your parents near, cherish them. They adore you. When they pass from this world, their memory will be the strength which guides you forevermore.

Merry Christmas, Daddy. I miss you.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Why I Support My Amalgamated Transit Union

I am a proud union dues-paying member!

The question has finally reared its ugly head in the aftermath of the disastrous Janus Decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. It makes mandatory union membership a thing of the past, basically giving members the option to "opt out" of paying union dues while still enjoying the fruits of its labors. In my opinion, it's simply more of Big Money tearing apart what little protections the workers have against the tyranny of worker abuse.

The question: What should happen to those who work in a union shop yet refuse to pay dues?

If I quit paying my garbage and sewer fees, life could get quite stinky. It's logical to think that if I don't want to pay for this service, my garbage won't get collected and transported to the landfill.

What if during open enrollment I decided not to pay for health insurance benefits fought for by our union? Going to the doctor, dentist or hospital would become an economic nightmare as an American in this age. I'd save a few bucks on premiums, but that colonoscopy would be quite a bit more painful because Joe Plumber's apprentice wouldn't be so "liberal" with anesthetic. While what I believe is a basic human right to be afforded medical care without fear of bankruptcy, that is unfortunately not today's reality. Thanks to my union's efforts, I pay a fraction of the cost insurance companies compel others to pay. Pretty damn good deal to keep myself above ground, tending to daisies rather than fertilizing them.

Car payment too high? Go ahead and quit paying it. Problem is, a month or two later you'd be riding the bus to work (free for us anyway) or calling Uber. Getting to the beach might be a problem. Major grocery shopping days would be more of a struggle without a trunk to tote them all.

We all pay taxes, yet we all have issues with how the money is spent. Other people decide what's best for us, because they're elected to do that job. Whether we agree with them, they make decisions  based on their values and judgments. If they screw up too often, they might find themselves out of a job next time we vote. Sometimes, elections don't go our way and we're stuck with whoever wins. Simple, frustrating, yet wholly American. That's how we do things here.

One of our union members with a dull axe to grind has publicly stated he's opting out of the union. He doesn't agree with our elected leaders on how they conduct business. Hell, I don't always agree with them either, but I believe they work hard for our collective benefit. He even goes so far as to whine about the fact they use union vehicles to conduct union business. I wouldn't want to put 200k miles on my car doing the work of thousands either. When you represent people across a large state, you should have the use of a company car. Corporations get this; our union is basically a corporation employed by those they represent. Our officers won their respective elections, regardless whether I agree with their politics, and therefore I support them. There are many things I may never know about negotiations on our behalf, or the finer points of transit reality. As a simple bus operator, I feel blessed knowing there are union reps in the wings if I need their representation. For this, I am all too happy to pay a pittance of my hard-earned pay for this invaluable service.

My work history is riddled with blue-collar work in which I yearned for union membership. I was paid poverty-level wages for so long it seemed normal to go hungry as a single parent every other week so I'd have enough money to feed my daughter when I had her. If one of us became ill, it was a major expense to seek medical attention. If a decision I made on-the-job landed me in hot water, there was nobody to throw ice into the fire to save my hide. Mostly, I was lucky. Today, I thank my countless lucky stars and guardian angels for the opportunity to have such a great job.

My earlier employers were usually very supportive, but they paid me little until I found work with a large insurance company. It was ironic that I went to work for the very industry that makes billions on the gamble of inevitable human suffering. Unfortunately, that sweet spot ended when corporate America decided to outsource the middle class to a cheaper India. As a result, I became a bus operator, finally protected and happily ensconced within the protective shroud of a union. Several times, my union has helped me. In contract negotiations, even though they might not yield golden piles under rainbows, each has saved us from management's most imbecilic and evil intentions.

Don't want to pay dues, yet expect the same benefits
as me? This is all I have for you.
As a newcomer to union employment, I've come to learn several things. First, our employer wins the more divided we become. Why transit management thinks in terms of "us vs. them" I don't understand. If not for us, there would be no them. They seem to spend a lot of time thinking of ways to make our jobs more difficult rather than supporting us. Any passenger with a cell phone can now call (or text) in any spurious or made-up complaint and be rewarded with our discipline. No matter how silly or far-fetched tales, we're raked over the coals and made to feel less than human. It's so maddening as to drive some from this job we perform under the most demanding and precise conditions imaginable. (Just remember how our brother Leonard was treated after he was stabbed on the job.) No problem for management; they replace the "bad apples: those most expensive veterans who have capably served for decades" with new hires who are in no legal fashion obligated now to pay union dues. Newbies flow in who they can mold to toe the company line, no matter how outrageously ridiculous it may be, with false promises of a bright future. Through the union, their future is strenuously fought for. Without it, they would be discarded with the trash after 20 years or so.

Our union is, as my former union "brother" charges, stretched too thin to be effective. ATU 757 not only represents Portland's transit workers, but those across the state of Oregon. Often, we feel less important than the rest of the state. One elected officer reportedly stated that he doesn't care so much about Portland workers come election time, because those in outlying areas have a larger voting bloc. We feel isolated, even though we're nearly 3,000 strong. Several members here have advocated for separating Portland and Vancouver from the rest of our membership to form our own chapter, and I'm beginning to see the logic in this idea. However, we are who we are at the present. In that reality, we must work together toward improving working conditions.

Just because an upper-class-weighted Supreme Court ruling has dented the power of the working class doesn't mean our members should be short-sighted enough to pull out just because they can. This doesn't help anyone, especially themselves, but it certainly hurts us all. Do I agree how every penny of our dues are spent? Not always. I don't necessarily like how my state and federal taxes are dispersed either. There are benefits we all enjoy for paying them though.

It is only logical to me that someone who "opts out" of paying union dues should not be entitled to the full protection of our union. They should not be compensated at the same rate as a union employee. When you consider that we'd likely be paid at least a third less than we are now without ATU fighting on our behalf, that should be their rate of compensation. If they have a scrape on the road, they should be left to their own defenses in an accident review rather than receive the benefit of union representation that a paying member receives. Maybe their health insurance should be much more expensive for them also, because without union bargaining, it would certainly be much more expensive. Any promotions should be weighted more-heavily to a dues-paying union member than a whiny "I don't want to pay for the same benefits that dues-payers enjoy" scab.

People today on one side of the political spectrum speak so harshly of "socialism," yet they reap heavily from the benefits afforded by social programs. You get what you pay for. "The more you make, the more they take." What they take benefits the greater good. Our federal taxes ensure we're protected from enemies. Our union dues give us a much better deal than what's taken in by city, county/state/federal taxes. Governments don't fight for working conditions or wages; unions do.

I love the city we serve, Portland, Oregon.
Early union leaders actually shed blood to win protections from greedy employers. Now, we argue online and throw weak barbs at one another with an electronic barrier separating us. One hundred years ago, fists and clubs were the weapons which won concessions from Big Money. People died fighting for their basic rights as working human beings. Union dues gradually became our weapons via rivers of blood and anguish.

Once again, Big Money seeks to divide us by making dues optional. To "opt out" is a disgraceful insult to those who fought so valiantly to ensure the working people had a voice; to expect the same protections as those who pay is viewed by many union-proud workers to be no better than scabs who cross picket lines to work during a strike.

You want to quit paying dues and leave the burden to those of us who do? Fine. Don't expect me to wave in solidarity when I see you on the road. You deserve no respect, because the more of you who  desert the solidarity of union make it more expensive for the rest of us to provide for you the same protections our money guarantees us all.

Our union may not be perfect, but none are. We're simply humans fighting beside and for one another. There are no easy answers. Agree or not, I support my union officers with every ounce of my being. I'm no better than they are, and if they didn't have our best interests at heart, they wouldn't risk ridicule and political warfare to run for election every few years. Once an election is over, it's up to membership to pull together and support the victors. That's what produces strength: numbers.

We're back to contract negotiations now. My money's on the union to win a better tomorrow than we have today. Go get 'em, ATU 757. I'm proud to stand up and support you, and I'll proudly keep paying my dues in solidarity for my brothers and sisters who make the wheels roll every day of the year.

Deke N. Blue

Thursday, December 6, 2018

I Lost It!

Somebody donated their obsolete shoes;
I forgot my short-term memory!
It's an issue discussed often among bus operators. In the past five years, buses have become unnaturally silent with the mass infusion of cell phones. Conversations have dwindled so drastically, I sometimes have to fire up the microphone just to see if my passengers are still breathing.

Hey, some operators might say, "I'd rather have silence than a bunch of loudmouths!" True, there's little argument here. However, it seems eerie at times when there's a full bunch with standees in the aisles and it's so quiet you can hear a streetcar bell two blocks away, over the sound of the onboard diesel engine. Even funerals are louder. One evening, the resident mouse farted and everybody onboard jumped as if shots had been fired.

Five years ago, I scoffed at the cell phenomenon, refusing to give in to the information revolution. After all, I had a computer at home. Why would I need it following me around all over tarnation and back? I held off as long as I could. As this blog flourished and readers started contacting me, I felt duty-bound to keep in touch. "Oh, all right, fine!" I told my wife when it came time to upgrade from the rusty flip-phone I stubbornly hung onto. If they had produced rotary-dial cell phones, I likely would have had one. So three years ago, I became one of them fancified smart phone owners. It became an obsession, and soon I walked right into a streetlight pole, transfixed by that tiny screen I thought it was possible to live without.

Like my keys, I've become anal-retentive when it comes to habitually putting it in a safe place when it's not in use. Our Standard Operating Procedures require it be turned off and stowed away while we're in service. It's vital that I know where the phone is at all times, because I've become so attached the case might as well be surgically-implanted in my thigh.

As my age approaches golden hues, my memory seems to be retreating. I can remember events from 50 years ago easier than why I walked into the kitchen five minutes ago. So it happened recently that I finished eating a delicious piece of quiche on my bus while reading emails and the evil FBook memes that crowd my page. Threw the trash away, got in the seat and started the motor to make my final round trip. Once I reached the end of the line and began an oddly-long break, I reached into the "stowed-away" hiding place reserved for my phone.

Betcha the fella in the blue shirt has a better memory
 than this aging bus operator!
Ruh-roh. Not there. Began methodically checking every other place I might have placed it. Even illegal spots. No luck. DAMN! Next I turned the bus inside-out searching for the elusive machine that should have remained attached to the kitchen wall as it was decades ago. All I found was trash.

The first thing I thought of: "I should call the wife and tell her..." Nope, couldn't do that.

"It's cold out here, wonder what the temp is..." Colder than the temperature in our bed was gonna be after my wife learned that I would have to replace my phone just before Santa's bills came due.

As I retraced my steps it was obvious that I had left it on the wheel well after cleaning up after dinner. Not only was my anger directed inward, but it also turned to my passengers. They'll often turn in a cell phone somebody left on the bus, and I thank them, bag and tag it, turn it in to the Station Agent after my shift. The slimeball who found it had the nerve to thank me on the way out the door. Not sure who did it, but my curse of the fleas of a thousand camels infest their underwear for a year should keep them hopping around a bit.

Whoever has it, too bad suckers. It was protected more fiercely than my first girlfriend's virginity. My wife had it turned off within an hour. Nobody could get past my security code anyway. It's a useless three-year-old piece of obsolescence. I'm not sure who I'm more angry with, but it boils down to being my own fault. Never tempt people you don't know to be dishonest. Most times they surprise me; this time they let me down.

Let's see: this year I tried to cook a turkey still in its' plastic death shroud, lost three people very dear to me to pain and age, kicked off a rider because his feet stink about created a puke fest, and rode figuratively into yet another professional wall. It's been a helluva hard year. I've even (momentarily) considered ending the blog, but rolled through that one.

Perhaps I'm just tired. One thing's for sure though. I'm going to set an alarm on my phone to alert me at the end of each break to STOW THE DAMN BALL AND CHAIN! Perhaps then, I'll regain my electronic peace of mind.

Some "holdout" I am!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Winter Signup Beckons...

Lovely Portland architecture fills my scans every day.

Deke's Note: I don't know if my "15 minutes" has passed, but fewer people are reading these posts. Should I just quit? It just seems fruitless sometimes. Oh well, if this is my last post, I'll still have fun with it. To do otherwise would run against "Deke's Rules." 

Artists simply want exposure. If the "masses" aren't relating, the artist's temptation is to say, "Fuck it. I'm out."

This artist is too stubborn to quit. However, I've started writing a new book under my real name. Deke is getting old. Although I've sold books and been read around the world, this gig is getting old. If fewer numbers are reading what I write under the pseudonym, it's time to shed the shroud and head into different directions. A year ago, I had the best numbers as a blogger, with over 15,000 hits in a month. Today, I'm averaging about 2,500 per month. It's okay, I get it. There's a bit of global Deke exhaustion. That's why most of my recent posts have pointed to the positive in this job. Tired of this bus driver's roll? It's okay. Thanks for reading so long!

There are bills to pay, so I drive a bus. It's a good job, pays well for someone my age (approaching 60 quicker than the average motorists flips us off just for doing the job), and keeps me out of trouble 5/7 days a week. Do I want to work my day off? Hell no. If I did, there would be no time to write to you, my dwindling but dedicated few. Without you, I wouldn't have been read across this blue globe in the middle of infinity, and I thank you so very much. I'd rather write to you than work another 8-10.

I'll be returning to a route that is tough but full of hard-working people who make up this confused rain forest we call home. It also keeps me away from the madness that has become "downtown." After about six months, it drives me away.

A rare Deke selfie.
Once upon a distant time, I coached youth basketball. I truly enjoyed this pastime. My sons were on the teams I coached. Those who ran the courts with them are forever etched into the loving stitches of my soul's fabric. My new and recurring route rebounds me into contact with the kids who once bounced their tough balls on hoop courts. They are part of my soul, these boys now become men, and the others they ride with seem to "get" where I come from. Life is but a series of bounces, and while some fall into the hoop, I'm lucky to catch one of them off the rim in the form of friendship.

I look forward to seeing Little Bear, one of the toughest kids I had the great opportunity to coach. He works out at a gym on this route. If he ever rides this signup's route, he gets a free day pass. Too bad, management... the fare cops will never bust this great young fellow for lack of fare, because he's one tough guy I admire. Bus drivers need to have a bit of generosity, and I give it freely to those who deserve it. LB is one for sure.

I hope to be reunited with another high school kid who I have driven since he rode with his dad as a tyke. Brett, if you read this be assured I look forward to seeing you this winter. Then there's Aiden, the transit genius who knows more than most drivers about our transit system, its vehicles and routes. I'm in awe of his knowledge... it puts me to shame. You know what? He's only 15 years old! If I knew as much as he does, I'd feel qualified to run this agency.

My new run will also give me a chance to roll with my family again. Shhh. Whether they're eligible for free fares, my "family" is large, extending far and wide. Mention my elder son's nickname, you get a free day pass. Screw the rules. Money gets tighter as years roll past. Youth is full of hard times not likely rewarded by the powers that be. If you're a stranger to me yet treat me with kindness and respect, I'll reward you tenfold with generosity. The poor and downtrodden are under attack from those on high, and it pisses me off. Just be honest, I'll let you ride. If you tell me you don't have the money for fare and don't lay some long bullshit story on me or walk past as if "entitled," you can safely enjoy my patented roll. If you cause a ruckus, we'll have a problem. If not, I'll treat you to a smooth and easy ride.

Which book here interests you?
WhichLife's too short to worry about the General Manager's cushy retirement package... you can ride free with me. If you give me or my other passengers a hard time, you'll be walking soon enough. If you assault me, I'll kick your fucking ass and worry about our pansy-assed/out-of-touch-with-transit-reality management later. Throw a punch at me and you'll go to jail after the hospital sets your broken nose or whatever else I'm able to damage before the cops and ambulance arrive. If management suspends or fires me, it makes for a lively lawsuit. Hey, I'm just driving a bus. I don't have time to care about your drama. My job is to safely drive a bus. Just sit down, shut up and enjoy my roll. Is it really worth your time to interrupt mine?

There's life as a seasoned bus operator. I look forward to my new route. Thanks for reading. You're a blessing to me, even though your numbers are few. Peace be with you all.