One day this past week I seriously considered calling in sick. I didn't sleep well that night, and nothing went to plan from my bed to the garage. It seemed everything I touched toppled. Things didn't improve from there. My innards weren't in alignment either, and hopping off the MAX train found me racing to the restroom in a skipping trot-stumble not even suitable for YouTube viewers. Coupled with a lack of breakfast, I was beginning my day as Deke Grump.
Reciting my daily mantra in an effort to "get up" for the day's work, I briefly felt better. Then a lady boarded my bus in obvious distress. Her hands trembled as she fumbled for her fare. I gently told her to step back behind the yellow line and just let me know when she found it. Asking if she was okay would have been stupid. She obviously was not. Just as I was about to leave the stop, a lanky lad ambled into sight, followed by a dog without leash. A brief flash told me to close the doors and roll, but Lanky Lad flagged me down. I re-opened the door, only to be witness as he accosted my newest fare.
"Where are you going?" he demanded of her. Long story short, she was trying to get away from him. While he toyed with aggressively snatching her off the bus, I intervened.
"I'm sorry sir," I said calmly, "but we'll have no harassment of my passengers."
This seemed to let the air out of his sails. Momentarily. He began to berate her, saying the cops had been notified because she ran off and left her dog. Sounds like she just wanted to be free of him. At that point, I stepped in, being caught in the middle, literally. She cowered behind me, begging for protection.
"I just want you to leave me alone," she moaned.
"All right," I said authoritatively, "sir, you'll have to exit the bus. You've already held me up for three minutes, and I have to roll these wheels." He started pleading his domestic case to me, but I stopped him.
"Sir," I said, even though he wasn't even half my age, "I'm not a domestic mediator. It's not my business what has transpired between you two, and I truly don't care. I'm a bus operator, and these passengers need to get wherever they're going. Please step off the bus. Otherwise, I'll call for help and you could be cited for Interfering with Public Transit. Seems like you both have had a rough enough time as it is. No need for it to get worse. Please, we need to go."
(I was surprised by my calm demeanor. Didn't raise my voice, but spoke forcefully. I've learned that domestic disputes can escalate quickly. Not taking sides, I gently stated the basics of transit. A few years ago, my Irish might have ruined the chances of leaving the incident without police involvement.)
Other passengers voiced their displeasure as this guy stood in the way of their time travel. They just wanted to get home or wherever else.
"No," he said simply. No aggression in his voice, but he vigorously shook his head. He sounded desperate, but then he got angry and dismissive. Next, he shooed the goofy, leash-less pooch on my bus and jumped off.
"You take the mutt, I'm outta here," he half-yelled.
I sighed. Dogs are required to be in a carrier if they're not service animals. But this girl was in tears, and it wasn't worth squabbling over. Instead, I just asked if Goofus was gentle, which she assured me he was. Instructing her to keep him under control, I rolled. We had spent six extra minutes at the stop, and my goal of separating the lass from her tormentor had been accomplished without bloodshed. It was a victory for us all, and I was thankful.
Her fellow passengers soothed the lass and actually had her laughing a few times. I gave her a free day pass; she had trembled as she fumbled through her clutch to find valid fare. She'd had an obviously hard enough day already. If I can do anything to make folks' lives better in the course of my workday, it's a worthy goal. She was very appreciative, and I wished her smoother travels in her daily path.
(Once I arrived at the line's terminus, I inhaled some nicotine, grabbed a snack and prepared for the rest of my 10-hour shift. It was a fairly mild day for passenger loads, but traffic tended to produce more than an average number of dumbbells. Still, I managed to keep on task and schedule. Until later that evening, my temper was on trial once again.)
* * * * *
Sometimes, rail crossing apparatuses (apparatusi? They do resemble a Lego-built octopus missing four arms at times) go haywire. Either they weren't built to withstand the constant beating from operating every few minutes each day, or the manufacturer's Inspector #12 failed. This set of arms kept bouncing up and down, making the traffic signal remain red during the spectacle. A four-way intersection without a green turn arrow? Absurd, but that's Portland for you... always a step behind common sense. I sighed, set the parking brake, and informed Dispatch of the problem.
One passenger, a regular who never says hello or thank you, became irate.
"Moron," he muttered just loud enough for me to hear. "Just make the turn."
"Excuse me?" I replied, irritated at the insult. "That's a red light, in case you haven't noticed. I will not break the law to satisfy your impatience. Knock it off."
Two cars in front of me had just turned left ahead of me. Marty Moron insisted I follow their lead. "Just make the turn!" he said, more emphatically. He added an expletive, as if I was supposed to cower and comply. Homey don't play that game. I haven't kept this job by breaking laws, especially running red lights. I don't care if it stays red for an hour. Unless a cop or supervisor gives me permission, I'm stuck. My job and livelihood are much more important than the schedule.
To my left, two cars back on the street I was hoping to turn onto, sat a supervisor. I thanked my intuition and patience, because making an illegal turn at any time is a no-no... doing it in front of The Boss is professional suicide.
"You've been sitting here for five minutes, why don't you make the goddamn turn, you fucking moron!" This time, he bellowed from the very back of the bus. Nobody else said a word. My other passengers had seen this signal malfunction before, and they gave him no support.
"No, I won't make an illegal turn just because you're having a temper tantrum. Settle down, sonny." I feared that was a bit over the top, but it was better than what almost came out of my mouth.
A moment later, I opened the front door just so Impatient Ignatius could exit. He walked in front of the bus, holding up his middle-fingered IQ score. I smiled, which further infuriated him, but he kept on walking. Ten seconds later, the light went green. The crowd behind me cheered as I made the turn. Halfway down the block, Ignatius saluted me again as we cruised by him. Ignoring the chump, I blew him a kiss in my mind. "Asshole," I said to myself. Much more satisfying, I thought, than losing my job.
Next time he boards, I'll let him know that faced with the same situation, my actions will be the same. If he's not agreeable to the way I perform my duties, there's one bus ahead and another behind me. Perhaps he'd be more comfortable on one of those.
* * * * *
On my next break, I stood outside talking to my wife on the phone. Suddenly, the rear door opened. I jumped, because there was nobody inside. It closed, and a few seconds later it opened again.
"Aha," I told her, "there's an evil spirit aboard this bus. Time for a new one."
Reporting the door failure after my several attempts at troubleshooting repairs failed, Dispatch came through with a bus trade down the trail. Of course, the problem corrected itself shortly after I left my layover. Just like when you're sick and go to the doctor only to feel miraculously better in the waiting room. Oh well, the rest of my night went without a hitch after that.
Spotter: Please don't give me that bus again. It reminds me of my first wife.