Deacon Who?

My photo
(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Monday, December 30, 2019

My Top 10 for a Happy '20

Deke's Note: What have I learned as a bus operator this past 2019? Perhaps there are many more than I can describe. Yet, it's always within me to describe what strikes home harder than a Kenyon Yovan fastball (Go Ducks Baseball 2020!).

As this year winds down, my aging self finds itself nostalgic for what's past and hopeful for what's to come. Each day I drive a bus, my constant desire is to learn something new. This keeps my skills fresh and improving. Daddy Blue taught me to be very cognizant of what's happening around any vehicle I'm in control of. Driving a 20-ton megaBeast, this becomes a constant reminder of how vital it is to be centered, focused and intent upon the safety of all within and around my vehicle. Even though my transit experiences have become second-hat, it's vital that my attention is so focused on what I'm doing that anything new in this transit experience is immediately recognized and documented within. Otherwise, I'm just not paying enough attention.

So, what have I learned this year? While it's difficult to separate incidents from one year to the next at this point in my career, there are many points to discuss. However, only the most important remain. Here's my Top 10.

1) Customer Service often only travels one way. If you stop my bus downtown to ask a question easily-answered by the convenient reader board just a few feet from where you stand, don't expect me to be overly-friendly. Our routes are tough, schedules often strictly-regulated upon conditions not allowing for foolish interruptions. Use that cell phone you're constantly staring upon to answer the most obvious questions you have about transit in Portland. Download "PDX Bus" which will give you any vehicle's location within the past minute, and your query will be answered. Please don't waste a bus operator's time to ask us when the bus we're not driving will arrive at the stop upon which you're waiting. A few finger taps will give you the information you need without delaying those upon my bus who are smart enough to ascertain the electronically-obvious.

2) Fido is not a Service Animal. Quit lying to us. Leave your mutt at home. Otherwise, find some other mode of transportation. We don't need your snarling beast on our ride, making law-abiding passengers feel any more unease than transit management dictates. The Americans with Disabilities Act (do you even know what this is?) does not give you permission to lie about your vicious pet being a Certified Service Animal. No, you're not allowed to bring it on board as a "companion animal." Every pet is a companion to humans. That doesn't qualify it as a highly-trained and expensively-maintained professional. Even though our government and loosely-affiliated transit agency is wimpy where it comes to enforcing code, we care. Leave your pets at home, and stop lying to us about Fido's certification. Someone with a true Service Animal needs to feel safe on transit, without fear that your untrained and unrestrained beast will attack their truly-trained SA without provocation.

3) I don't care if you have fare. That's the realm of Fare Inspectors, who could be awaiting your excuse-laden butt at my next stop. Go ahead and risk a $200 fine for your lack of $2.50. It's not my job to lecture you about our transit agency's fare policy. If you have it, show it or pay without delay. Your lame excuse about how you "lost" or "forgot" it makes no never mind to me. All I care about is rolling my ride on schedule. That way, I'll have time to pee, eat, vape, and breathe at the end of the line before taking on the next trip. I truly give not one minuscule damn about your long-contrived tale of woe. Unless you're a regular who has truly made a mistake, your excuses mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. Hey, if you're nice about it I might even print you a ticket. Just don't expect me to make this a habit.

4)  Sometimes a bus is delayed. It's not my fault. If the overhead sign reads "Drop Off Only," I expect you to understand there's an in-service bus a few minutes or less behind me. This status is only granted buses when they are extremely late, and need a chance to make up the deficit. I didn't put that sign up there myself just to piss you off; Dispatch did. As passengers exit, don't curse me for not allowing you to board. This has been a transit constant for decades. Traffic and passenger loads dictate how I roll. No, I'm really not an "asshole". Get over yourself, look behind me and see my follower rolling in to pick you up. You're welcome. Have as nice a messed-up day as you just wished me when I shut the door in your rude face.

5) Don't expect me to board you in between scheduled stops, especially if you're downtown on our Transit Mall. Each stop is clearly marked with the routes serviced. We have rules we must follow, especially there. If my doors close, that means you have missed the bus. Once that light turns green, I will not stop and re-open them just for you. Why? Because if I do that for you, then another two or three will expect the same, making me miss the green and delaying all the great people on my bus who were on time to their stop. There's likely a bus behind me waiting to service the First Position, and you're simply late. You can call in a complaint, but I don't care. I won't even give management the satisfaction of showing up for a "come see me" due to your inability to show up on time. Your connection was late getting there? I'm sorry, but he or she was fighting traffic and slowpoke boarders just like I have. Transit is not, cannot be, perfect. You're a big boy/girl, learn the ropes and deal.

6) Please use headphones or turn off the audio on that precious cell phone. Your electronics do not rule over my need to hear the many audible details I monitor while driving The Beast. I'm listening for motor sounds, air brake compressor audibles, traffic queues, emergency sirens and other details competing for my attention. Your music video does not take precedence over anything. When I make a PA announcement, I'm usually annoyed you're unaware your nose-maker is competing for my attention while also likely annoying fellow passengers. My request to turn the audio OFF your device is actually a polite command. Would you argue with an airline pilot, train conductor or boat captain? Yeah, I thought not. Please treat me the same way. Your own safety could depend upon your compliance. Thank you.

7) I will not speed to help you make a connection. I drive my bus the same way whether I'm on time, early or late: safely. Circumstances will not ever change my roll. If you have to wait for the next bus or train, so be it. You're welcome for the safe ride.

8) I'm human, just like you. Some of us might be more friendly than the other operator, but whatever the case, please do not expect miracles from any of us. You're unaware of the miracles we've performed prior to, and even during or after your ride. Unless you'd prefer the bus to be guided by automation (a dangerous scenario being debated by Portland transit as I write this), just appreciate there's a trained human at the controls. We have to eat, use the restroom, take a sip or enjoy some quiet time between rolls. We truly treasure our rare moments alone. In these precious few minutes, please do not approach us unless it's an emergency and/or life-threatening situation. If we're on the phone, it's likely the first time in hours we've had the opportunity to speak with our loved ones who are worried about us as we navigate these dangerous streets. Wait for us where it's expected we'll board you. If you have a question for us, wait until our doors open for business. Otherwise, ask other transit passengers. Often, they have the answers you need. Give us our precious breaks, will ya?

9) Watch what we do in that unforgiving seat. Did you see that dually 4x4-truck cut us off, flip us off and almost run head-on into the car it couldn't see as it passed me across the double-yellow line while my YIELD light flashed brightly-red in their impatient face? See how I stopped to allow it passage rather than starting to roll which prevented a head-on collision with that oncoming and humanly-full family minivan? Did you look up from your Instagram feed as we smoothly rolled to a stop and avoided hitting a dark-clothed lad darting across the street just inches distant from our 20-ton bumper? We're always scanning 180-200 degrees to avoid any dangers to you or those outside our vehicles. If you watch what we do while you ride, perhaps you'd be more appreciative of our daily toils.

10) Give us a break... we care. This last one is the hardest. Often as I write something along this vein, tears begin to fall. Mostly, it's because I care about what I do, and for all in and around my bus. That's why I write my thoughts here; it's my therapy. I see so much inhumanity, foolish actions and horrific injustice between humans I have become uncomfortably numb. The job of transit operator is one of the most stressful known to humanity. Why? Because we're constantly on-the-job providing as safe a ride as possible in the most impossible conditions. Between traffic foul ups and inconsiderate passengers, weather and tight schedules, our job can be truly depressing. Still, this bus operator still begins each shift with an 11-Point Mantra designed to put my mind into full focus upon the vital job you expect from me. I'm out there 10+ hours, five days (and no more, thank you very much) each week, struggling amongst the many obstacles thrust before me, to safely convey you to your destination. My biggest nightmare is that somebody could be hurt, or (God forbid) killed, by the vehicle I control. It's a humbling responsibility each of us take very seriously. When you disrespect or assail us, we still return. It's an unspoken code amongst us that we persevere no matter what's tossed our way. Why? Because we're proud, caring and sensible humans who accept the harsh realities of this job and strive to do the best we can despite the circumstances we have become conditioned to endure.

* * * * *

What do I most wish for 2020? Above all, that transit passengers across this shared blue marble, learn to appreciate the work all involved in transit do for each community we serve. We're a human who has likely been spit upon, verbally assaulted nearly ever day, often assaulted or otherwise insulted, yet still rises to the seat in which we earn our daily keep. We do care, but expect compliance to the most basic of societal rules: treat your fellow humans with decency and respect. Please do as asked, without argument or debate. That's what keeps us all rolling, and if you can accept this we'll all get there safely.

May peace be granted upon you, along with all the love you expect and deserve. Rest assured that when you board my ride, you'll be greeted warmly. If you return my love, thank you. If you wait until you exit, you're welcome. I'm happy when you return to your loved ones after my smoothly-safe ride. That's all I hope for when my shift ends. My family is nervously awaiting my unscathed arrival as well.

Have a safe and Happy New Year. Like hundreds of thousands of other transit employees worldwide, I'll be there working hard to make your trip a smooth and safe roll home. Oh, and it's a free ride after 8 p.m., so that will make it even more interesting.

Thanks, as always, for reading. I love you all. Well, most of you, anyway.

With love and greatest regards, I remain your
Deke N. Blue

New Buses? Get Outta Here!

Deke's Note: It's relatively quiet in my quirky thought process sitting here tonight. Whilst I'm driving a bus, ideas galore flit about like a flock of downtown pigeons. Get back home, rubbing my hands in anticipation, and I find the pesky birds have pooped my windshield. One thing has remained constant though, and that's my feelings on the new Gillig 4000 buses. 

Whenever I drive a new bus, there are always new things to grow accustomed to. Our latest addition to the fleet have a few nice features, but many negatives that leave me scratching my head and wondering, "What'd they do that for?"


Interior Mood Lighting
The best feature is the interior light color scheme: red. It's pretty and bright, making the bus look like a rolling bordello. Sometimes, this is an appropriate color given the antics of some riders. Red gives passengers enough light to read or see what they wish to while onboard, without splashing my windshield with distracting brightness. In fact, unless I look directly into the passenger mirror, I can't even tell the interior is lit up at all. In previous years' models, the lights were on the driver-side only, mostly red with one white light bar, which isn't bad but is pretty dark unless the doors are open. Throw the light switch to "All" and the bright white makes for visual chaos From the Driver Side.

Fare Treatment
Another plus? Not having to log into the fare box every time the motor is shut down. Of course, any motivated thief could figure out how to print their own freebie tickets, but I don't care. Most people these days use the new Hop Pass, the reader of which won't work unless the fare is logged in. Hoppers have quickly adapted the new fare system, which allows them to completely bypass the operator, further amplifying their lack of respect. Now, they don't have to interact with us at the fare box. At least most folks still thank me on their way out the door, so I've learned to accept the gradual decline of greeting me upon boarding. Such is the way of "progress," I suppose.

Floor It!
One last thing: the floors are of much-less slippery material than before. Given the amount of rain Portland drips every year, this is a bonus. I hate writing reports about how someone slipped and fell down. We may get another 45-minutes of pay for writing a report, but it often takes longer than that.

Okay, so much for what I like. Here's a much longer list.


Bus manufacturers are always trying to improve the operation of back doors. Problem is, they constantly make them more difficult for the average bus passenger to understand. In the old days, we'd flip the switch and the damn things would just open by themselves. Easy pleasy, you just walk off and you're free of transit. Now? People actually have to think about what they're doing. Bad move, Mr. Corporate-BA-Degreed-Designer/Manufacturer without a clue toward the average transit passenger.

The doors are now electrically-activated. Whoever chooses to exit via the rear door is treated to an ongoing and perplexing saga. With every bus model, they change the method of operation. It's confusing the bus riding public. Hey, most bus passengers won't get onboard and notice the bus number, deducing what model they're riding and how to operate the rear exit. Except for bus operators and other transit employees, only a select few are wise to how simple it is now to open. Whenever I get a 4000 series bus, several times a day I key up the PA system to give a lecture on how it works. Those not plugged in and tuned out seem to benefit from the lesson, but many try to blast through the door like they're Buzz Lightyear, only to bounce off like Woody slamming into a telephone pole while looking at his phone. Instead, they shout out the decades old command, "BACK DOOR!" As if I'm going to get out of my seat, open it for them and then hold their little hand as they exit.

One day upon arriving early to a time point, I ventured to the back door, catching most of the passengers' attention along the way, and gave a demonstration, "Deke Style". Pointing to the green light above the door, then a wee bit lower, I pointed to the location of the sensor. Standing on the yellow rectangle just in front of the door, I put my hands just an inch or two in front of the yellow strips on the door in between the handles. Voila! Without even touching the door, I showed them how easily it opens when properly approached. I choked back my exasperated laughter at the sight of several open mouths. A bird could have dropped a worm into their gaping maws and they wouldn't have noticed. Although directions for doing this exact thing are plastered on and around the door, people today are oblivious to the obvious. Next, I put my now-bony ass near the door to open it. Next, with my knee, elbow and even my head. Each time the door played its part perfectly! Only problem is, I don't usually have time to give this demonstration. Hopefully, people catch on pretty soon, or the next year's model will further perplex them.

Breaking the Brake Interlock
Another issue I find extreme fault with is the interlock brake system, which is activated when the door handle is in the open position. A bus cannot move unless the doors are shut and the interlock is released by the operator. It takes a major stomp on the brake pedal to break this vital feature. Once it does move, you cannot use the accelerator on the 4000's for a full second, or it feels like you're pulling an enormous weight behind, as if our General Manager's salary, benefits and retirement nest eggs are bundled up in a sack tied to the back bumper. If you don't press the pedal correctly, the interlock stays on and it requires another press of the foot to get rolling again. Given we normally press the brake pedal about 800 times a shift, this "improvement" adds several hundred more painful moments to the long list of repetitive motions our job requires. After two days driving this new Gillig, my entire body hurt more than it usually does. Especially my right foot, specifically its big toe which I use for fine motor control on the brake pedal.

No Improvement to the Horrific Operator Seat
The operator's seat/compartment seems a bit smaller than previous models. I keep trying to move the seat back further, but it won't go any more. The seats seem as torturous as ever. They're as uncomfortable as a presidential speech. With the barriers now installed in every new bus, our range of motion is even more limited, especially if you're over six feet tall.

Instrument ClusterFuck
The instrument panel has gone digital. There are no overhead warning lights, which takes some getting used to if you normally drive the two-year-olds. The speedometer now has a huge number in the middle of the dial giving your current speed, as if we're too stupid to read a traditional gauge. (After several years guiding The Beast, its exact speed while rolling becomes inherent to us.) The stop indicator is now down there too, along with the fairly-recently-added amber light denoting a stop request. Looking down takes our view off the road. While properly scanning, an amber light at the top of the cluster and overhead makes the request obvious without having to redirect our gaze. Sure, there's an audible "ding" alerting us of a passenger stop request, but this is often activated just as we're leaving a stop minutes ahead of the next one. That's much too early, dear riders. There's no need to be the first to pull the cord. The intense concentration of the road dictates we appreciate that request being pulled at a more appropriate time, like about 10 seconds before that stop rolls into view.

Instead of adding brake air pressure to the panel, they put a tiny gauge up at the right side, apart from the warning-light panel. To see it, I now have to move my head to the right to determine the running air pressure. It's kinda hard to see because the steering wheel hides it, unless you're one who keeps the wheel straight up rather than angled toward you. Given the fact air pressure is vital to safe operation of the vehicle, this feature is puzzling.

What's a Bus Op's Least Favorite Color?
The exterior paint color of the new bus is ridiculous: dark blue, almost black. It's unsafe, just like our navy threads. Whoever decided our "new branding" (as if we're driving corporate cars to match our uniforms) should be dark blue should be fully-tattooed that color as punishment. Perhaps that's why they decided to put the stupid flashing light bar at the top of the buses, because in spite of the other lights, this color is nearly-impossible to see at night. Were they trying to cover up their horrible "branding" choice by adding the light bar as an aferthought?

I once chided a customer I almost missed one night for wearing all dark colors.

"Yeah right," he snorted, "so says the guy driving a dark-blue bus at night."

I didn't quite know how to respond to that. He was right. However, one of our higher-ups, when I complained about it via email, said they "won't be changing the 'branding' any time soon." Branding. Yet another hint of the corporate takeover of an industry that doesn't need it. How appropriate, given management's attitude toward us in yet another insulting round of contract negotiations. We're supposed to give up a lot, but they're not very generous. For all its yodeling about how they "appreciate" us, we're not convinced.

My Overall Evaluation
I give the new 4000-series a grade of "C-." As a bus operator who toils for 55+ hours every week, I expect each new bus model to be an improvement over the last. Once again, I'm disappointed along with most of my fellows. If those who make the ultimate decisions regarding these incredibly-expensive investments actually drove a bus in their lifetime, these observations would be obvious. My apologies to the dedicated operators on the committee which supposedly has oversight on Gillig model "improvements," but I'm afraid there's much more work to be done when it comes to improving the operator's experience while driving the new models.

Is Gillig our only choice? No. New Flyers are my bus of choice. There are several other manufacturers which should be competing for contracts in our transit vehicle purchases. The operators should be better-protected, our comfort and ease of operation the most important factors in each successive round of decisions. In my opinion, Gillig is failing those they're supposed to most appease: the operators. If Gillig doesn't improve, they should be cast off in favor of other manufacturers which actually innovate rather than accept the status quo.

I work 55 hours a week providing a valuable service to my fellow Portlanders. We are constantly assailed, whether it be our passengers or those charged with our protection and well-being. It would be nice to sit in an ergonomically-designed seat with intelligently-placed and constantly-improved controls and passenger-friendly amenities. I mean really... isn't it about time we provide charging stations for the cell phones which have become physiologically-attached to humanity? Given the move toward the technological domination of fare, isn't it logical to provide this vital service to our customer base? Pretty obvious to the thinking individual, but we're at the mercy of short-sighted corporatists who run this outfit.

Unless you're in favor of doing away with a human giving you a ride, I would expect passengers to flood our transit agency with comments in favor of our commitment to human domination of the operation of transit vehicles. Although technology eventually improves, humans tend to forget innovation stomps upon those who provide the millions of safe miles the 100+ years ATU 757 operators have provided. Do you feel comfortable at the thought of automated vehicles? I cannot ever feel good about replacing humans with machines. Compare the several millennia of human evolution with a computer's scant decades, and the difference is frightening at best.

"If I ever see a bus driving itself," one passenger told me, "that's the day I'd walk miles instead of riding it."

Yeah. That's where transit management sees our jobs going away. Forever. Remember Hal 2000? Unless we #BANDTOGETHER, this will become reality rather than a bad dream. Nightmares are something we dread. Let us hope the horrors of humanity bonded in the chains of technology are only those negatives derived from a bad night's sleep. Otherwise, we're doomed.

Monday, December 23, 2019

See My Holiday Light Through its Darkness

My current home-town is Oregon City, Oregon.
It has the ages-old penchant for decoration
during the winter solstice's most famous
holiday: Christmas. I wish you all the
best this holiday season has to offer.
Deke's Note: It's very hard to be a transit worker today. Given our management's bending over backwards for its often-rude clientele while often ignoring the pleas of its' front line workers, it's a wonder any of us continue to climb into an unforgiving operator seat to ferry our neighbors on a safe and inexpensive ride.

As the holiday season has inched closer, I've had a hard time reconciling being a compassionate human with the constant insults thrown my way. As a Libra, I'm constantly fighting to balance the scales of this writer's soul. Still, I work very hard to live up to my Mantra: Be safe, be kind, be considerate, be polite, be thoughtful, be patient, be vigilant, be smooth, be smart, but above all, be safe. It encompasses the entirety of my five weekly shifts, and I often find myself repeating at least one part if not all of it, several times as I roll.

As we fight management over the most basic of human rights during contract negotiations, it's even more difficult to remain focused on providing the best experience possible for everyone who boards my bus. When I feel under-appreciated by a management entrusted with everybody's transit experience, it tends to inspire frustration within me. Such an emotion is counter-productive in any job. It's a constant argument within myself to remain true to the reason I began this career as I have entered them all: to do my utmost best. This post, one I've struggled with over the past few days after writing it and much editing of its initial fiery insubordination, explains why the transit operator feels abandoned by our city. At the end of your read, a special surprise awaits: a long-awaited personal relief.

Enough of my intro, here it 'tis.

I pulled into my Transit Mall stop on time, feeling positive I'd be able to beat the streetcar and avoid the extra-long traffic lights it pre-empts. A few people board, kind, decent but quiet as usual. Suddenly, this sprite of a lass comes to my door and starts berating me because she can't find where the Line 15 runs or boards.

"You walk a block or two back to Salmon and catch it there," I tell her.

Meanwhile, my light turns green. Each transit mall stop is timed to perfection. My last passenger had boarded half a minute earlier, but this gal half-stepped on board and began yelling at me just prior to my closing the door in preparation for departure.

"I've been walking around for hours trying to find the fucking 15 bus and nobody will help me!"

Was she high, or what? I just told her where to catch it!

"As I told you, it runs east down Salmon toward the river and beyond."

"Where is Salmon?!?" she demanded. Before I could respond, she started berating me and ALL bus drivers. "I mean, can't you people tell someone a simple fucking thing like where to catch a bus?!?"

I wanted to shut the door, since the limit of my assistance was long past. She however, was perched half-in with her better-self drooping outside.

"I hope this shitty transit system you have DIES and you ALL LOSE YOUR FUCKING JOBS!"

"What," I said before she could continue, "can I do for you? I just told you where the 15 runs." What I wanted to say was, "Do I have to take your widdle hand and walk you back two blocks while these people in my bus sit and wait while I pamper your stupid ass?" They had conquered the basic and needed to make whatever connections took them home. However, her dumb ass deserved special treatment. Why, given her attitude?

Shoo, fly on the ass of humanity, begone!

As if my prayer were suddenly answered, she stepped off and back a few steps, continuing her tirade as another passenger boarded. I was now 3.5 minutes down, and becoming seriously red in the ears. My interior steam kettle was about to blow, but I tamped it down. (I've been working very hard on the 'Be Patient' part of my Mantra these days.) My hand was primed on the door handle, where it's always perched at a stop. As soon as cleared the door's safety zone while bitching and moaning about how horrible the world was to her, cell phone in hand which could tell her exactly where and when Line 15 would arrive, I closed the door. Luckily, I had a bus in which the door quickly closed. Right in her unappreciative, expletive-rich face, I gleefully shut off her rage. Stomping on the brake just in time to catch the waning seconds of that lovely green, I punched the accelerator. Exit, stage left. Buh-bye, dumbass.

"What was that about?" a passenger asked.

"Oh," I replied, mostly to my window, "just another child trying to blame me for their own self-entitled show of ignorance."

* * * * *

Was it just me, or were people driving this week like their nether regions were unnecessarily assaulted? Maybe it was wasps attacking them... they're mean bastards that sting and sting and sting until squashed almost as flat as they deserve. Either way, this bullshit "peace on Earth and goodwill to men" was nowhere to be found on Portland's mean streets this week prior to the winter solstice's holiday season. I was cut off, flipped off, honked and screamed at, just for doing my job. Thank God for our intensely-focused Dispatchers, who heeded my pleas for assistance and threw me into "Drop Off Only" mode long enough to make up half the time I was late.

One intending passenger at a stop I serviced due to a passenger's request, was enraged I refused to open the front door and allow her to board.

"What," she screamed at my closed entrance, "I can't even get on? YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE! FUCK YOU!"

I just shrugged and pointed behind my vehicle, where my follower lurked a few lengths behind. She didn't even look. She likely bitched my poor follower out for my passing her supposedly-illiterate acknowledgement of my destination sign. It read "DROP OFF ONLY." That's a given in the transit world: catch the next bus, likely just behind mine. Goodbye, rude one.

As for fellow motorists, please read and acknowledge this bit of obviousness: a bus rolls, then pulls over, then takes off again. If you've driven more than a week, you should know this. There's plenty of opportunity to pass me when I service the next stop. Besides, in front of my bus often lurks a long line of traffic. Rudely cutting off someone in the left lane just to get ahead of me, only to slam on your brakes when you realize (duh!) there's just one car between my front bumper and those 15 cars waiting on the STILL-red light, is just plain foolish. To roll down your window and stick your furry fat arm out to show me your equally-hairy middle finger is only going to make me chuckle, ma'am.

* * * * *
If Oscar Wilde were alive today, what would he write
about the world today? Nothing positive, I'd bet.

I wore a green bow tie for Friday's pre-Christmas rush down Powell (oh well, management has known who I am for years, what's a little tidbit of un-anonymity gonna hurt?). Green, my favorite besides blue, has always been my "lucky color." Not this time, Bubbaloo. For someone who was just given a worthless award for being 91% on time (it was 94% until they shredded my favorite run to give the newbies something to do, while also cutting down the overtime most of us need just to stay afloat in today's economy), Friday was more like 55% on time. My particular run is known as "the school bus" because about 1,500 high schoolers crowd into my already-bursting ride outta downtown as they gain their afternoon freedom. (So I exaggerate a bit.) When you have stinky teens breathing down your neck crowding the Yellow Line, it seems like a million. Thankfully, my follower (if they haven't already passed me) is left with the leftovers. Still, it makes me so late I couldn't dream of making up the lateness even in "Drop Off Only" mode.

Usually during my run, the rush tapers off after 7 p.m. Not this Friday. I expected such a transit anomaly, given my several years driving bus. The holiday season knows no regular schedule. People are in a rush after work, a Friday payday, to satisfy the greed this pagan-originated holiday has generated upon our corporate-driven and greed-obsessed society. Did you know Christmas was a quiet religious celebration for Christians, or simply a celebration of the winter solstice for others, before Charles Dickens wrote 'A Christmas Carol' in 1843? Today, it has morphed into a mega-sale. It's become when people are too-focused on what money will buy instead of celebrating the birth of one who came in peace for all mankind. We're supposed to show love for one another, give a gift or few in a show of love, enjoy our families and bestow extra somethings to the less fortunate. Instead, it seems a battle of who can get there first to score the endless blue-light specials.

I wanted this year's Christmas post to focus on the good I've seen, but there's been precious little of that the past week. I'm totally exhausted, more than usual after 55 hours on-the-job. Signing a few books (JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane, 2017) for a friend whose Amazon order was electronically-hosed, I paused to read what I had written several years ago. It was a whimsical, fun tale about a fictional drunken Santa. My writing then was much more creative. Transit was still new to me, and I felt a power of creation that has fallen as the reality of my job consistently bites my increasingly-sore lower backside. This transition in FTDS makes me grieve. It also made me realize that at this point in my career, I've seen so much negative the wonders of humanity slip through my steering hand like mercury slides up an anally-inserted thermometer. The good doesn't linger. The harsh reality of this career seems to remain longer than I hoped.

I've lost the ability to draw people out lately. Dealing with the incessantly-rude rude jerks who drive on our streets (mostly Washington plates, as usual) tends to piss me off. I can start my shift in a great mood, only to have it dissolve in the constant haze of inhumanity that plays itself out every moment I safely maneuver my 20-tons down our treacherous streets. At time points along my run, I'll stop-and-lock, then jump out of that torturous seat with the excuse "I need to check something in the back." Doesn't matter if I'm early or late, it's vital. Puffing viciously on my vape, I'll stomp outside and go to the back of the bus and take out my aggressions on the bumper. Then, I'll take an inhumanly-deep breath, stretch and tell myself "Just chillax, dude." This helps. Instead of taking it out on the rude multitude, the bus is tough enough to absorb my frustrations.

One of my dearest friends. Yeah, he's older
than me by a week, a fact I remind him of
each year. His advanced age and experience
also helped him edit my 2017 book,
JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane."
When I was a newbie, a friend who no longer drives a bus told me as I walked past his tirade against the "fuckwads" we deal with: "Don't worry Deke, you'll feel this way too, after six or seven years on the job." Whoa, Gary... it only took me five. But yeah, you were correct. I'm one jaded motherfucker these days, and I hate it. I've never felt this bad about a job that I should love. One I did love... once upon a gentler Deke.

So this holiday season, due to a lack of days off, I'm driving Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. While the former has historically been docile and smooth for me, the harsh reality of the latter makes me shudder. The last evening of the year is a free ride after 8:00 p.m., in hopes those who revel a bit too liquidly choose our safe transport instead of driving themselves. It invites the worst of humanity to misbehave, even if they don't remember their antics next year. What is ridiculously funny to them can be quite unnerving to the dedicated bus driver. It's like herding a bunch of rowdy children without chaperones. They won't listen to polite requests to behave like polite adults. They will likely fight over a misunderstood word rather than treat each other with respect.

This holiday season, I'll be driving both at the tick of midnight. I'll just smile at the clock, perhaps a minute past. Just another day for a bus operator. If luck holds, each night will pass without incident. I'll wish my passengers the best with whatever strength remains in this insult-drenched soul. I will try very hard to remain patient, understanding, and helpful. Hopefully, none of the revelers puke while riding. My rules have relaxed a bit, just to keep the peace. I'm not looking forward to it. For the first time in many years, I won't be excited about my favorite holiday. It's sad, but I'll soldier through it and greet my family after these shifts with the warmth and love I hold for them deep within my soul. Just the thought of spending one day with them in the midst of my professional hell will keep me focused when I once again painfully take the seat.

Sorry to be a bummer, but I wish you all a much Merrier Christmas than I feel this year. My hopes are that you find the love within those you hold dear and remember the best life has to offer. To all who read my ramblings, I'm humbled by your constant support.

In 2020, my words will aspire to be lighter, harking back to Deke's infancy. I'm still planning on a wide-ranging series on maintenance issues and how we can work together in a more constructive manner while management plots to further-separate us. I also hope to find those 'special' passengers with whom I can connect. While I've been very selfish with my soul due to a necessary shutting-off from those who annoy me, I hope to open up once again. Perhaps this soul is only dark in winter. With springtime sunshine among the showers, it would be wondrous to find the warmth this dark coldness often longs to find.

Surprise! Deke N. Blue revealed, wishing
you all a wonderful Holiday Season!
"Merry Christmas"
is my favorite way of expressing it.
Thanks for your constant support!
I truly wish the best for your holiday season. If luck holds out, I'll get out early enough Christmas Eve to make Midnight Mass at the church I haven't visited in several years. I need a connection with the spiritual world and those holiday memories I hold most dear. My father's magical tenor voice echoes still within the depths of my tortured soul. His Christmas music rolls with me as I drive this holiday season. If you hear me humming some tune you might faintly-recognize but cannot quite place, it's Dad guiding me through the bumpy miles of my route. I'll try not to key the microphone while singing my praise to the one who sired me, as not to damage your ears with my awful imitation of his beautiful voice. RIP, Daddy Blue... I miss you every day, and more the next.

Merry Christmas, Earth. Deke loves you all! Roll safe to your loved ones, my revered brothers and sisters. It's because of you that I still write this. Peace be with you all.

With much love and respect, I am
Deke N. Blue
Transit Blogger and Author

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

FaceBook Groups and Territorial Ignorance

Portland, Oregon is where I live and operate as a bus driver.
Wherever we are, we share the same issues.
This blog addresses what we feel and know
as transit operators in an unforgiving world.

Deke's Note: Lately, I've noticed some groups within the FaceBook world have denied my publicist's attempts to share this blog with the transit world. So you're in another locale, so the fuck what? Don't we all share the same experiences wherever we operate? Transit is a transient beast, but it is similar wherever it exists. To deny my voice solely upon geographical position fails to recognize our shared struggles. Stop being territorial and recognize solidarity wherever it pops up in your precious feeds.

After six-and-one-half years, is there any doubt of my love for you fellow operators? Have I not endured enough public (and secret managerial) scorn to describe how we struggle countless hours in unforgiving and ill-fitting operator seats to provide safe rides to millions of transit passengers worldwide? Haven't our collective managements striven for a decade to minimize our vitality in order to prepare the populace for automated transit? Must we constantly endure the knife-thrusts of passengers and management alike, or can we rise UP as one and echo my razor-sharp literary bursts of self-defense as we fight such unwarranted indignity?

It matters not where you operate. Life as a Bus Operator is hard, but remains a noble and honorary profession. We save lives every day as we navigate the unforgiving routes of transit. Your life at work may be fraught with horrifically-rude encounters, but your bus operator welcomes you aboard with a smile and perhaps a kind word or two. Our jobs are often misunderstood by the public, along with the personalities we add to our rides. All we ask is that you respect the most common code of humanity: be respectful and courteous to not only the operator but all those with whom you share this Beast of metal and glass. It's simple, and by doing so you can be assured of safe passage to whatever destination awaits you.

My blog has reached locales very distant to the relatively-peaceful shores of the Willamette River where we live. Operators and passengers alike from places like Chicago, Jacksonville, Dallas, Newport, Los Angeles, Edinburgh and Sydney all deal with what occurs anywhere else. Good people want to pay an inexpensive fare to roll to their homes or workplaces without fear or the hassle associated with affording their own mode of transportation. We provide our fellow townspeople and neighbors with that service, and most of us do so with the goal of providing such safely, with an accompanying smile. Perhaps if you ride with us on a daily basis, we'll add a few words of camaraderie and kindness that accompanies a relationship that arises from repetitive interaction.

When you board a city bus, you do so with the realization that you are entrusting your safety to a trained professional. We expect you to pay fare (even though such is under attack from a fringe of society that demands it become 'FREE'), but if you do not, you're riding at the mercy of the surprise Fare Inspector sting. They will fine you for riding without proper fare, and that's just too damn bad. Nothing good is ever free, and I hope our 'Bored of Directors' recognizes this age-old truth as it debates the Free Fare argument.

No matter where you live, transit is fraught with strife and struggle. Operators simply want you to behave while on board our rolls. We're constantly under a microscope. If you complain about our service, we're called into ridiculous encounters with mid-management. Often, we're disciplined over bullshit complaints. If we pass by your stop while you sit in a shelter in dark clothing while hunched over your cell phone, failing to pay attention to the bus you're semi-awaiting as you scroll through that ridiculous FaceBook feed, you'll call in a complaint without acknowledging your own failure to pay attention. Dumbass. If we can't see you and we're running late, being passed up as I roll by is your own damn fault, not mine. We're under constant scrutiny to adhere to ever-ridiculous schedules, yet you're not even held accountable for simply being seen at a bus stop.

I was raised to acknowledge my own faults and to take responsibility for them. Fix your own mistakes; don't expect others to take the blame for them.

NOTE: A bus shelter is not the same as a bus stop. That shelter you're sitting within is normally unlit and impossible to see within from a bus operator's perspective. Our management's money-hungry advertisements often block our views with ads depicting humans within, while hiding what could be actual passengers avoiding nature's elements. We're looking at the pole, that blue thing with words that actually tell you that's where the bus you're awaiting will actually stop to discharge or welcome passengers. We don't care that you're tweeting a reply to some dumbass who is fucking your sister's ex-boyfriend as we roll past that bus stop. All we know is there is nobody visible at the stop. Often, we'll see you hunched over that phone as we pass by. My first thought is, "Oh well... maybe you'll be ready for the next bus." Don't expect us to make exceptions for your lack of attention. Be seen and ready, or be left behind. Oh yeah, and don't forget to have your fare ready as you board, not as you climb aboard. We don't have time or patience for you to dig in your pockets for the fare you "just had the last time I rode."

I can't help but think this is the philosophy of bus operators in any locale. To have my publicist's posts of my blogs denied because "it's not locally-oriented" is purely ridiculous. I write for us ALL, no matter where we live and operate. From what I've seen online, my blog is one of precious few which speaks truth to OUR reality as transit operators. In my seventh year as a transit blogger, I've heard from enough of you to know it happens the same all over this blue marble we call home. I've rolled transit in many locales worldwide, and life is the same there as it is here in Portland. And that commonality we share, my friends, is what keeps these words pouring forth.

You may not always agree with the words I offer here, but that's okay. I'm but one voice among thousands who do the real work of transit. I persevere in hopes that these humble posts find resonance with the few who understand our common reality. Even when you disagree with my opinions, I hope you find some truth in what I relate. It's not for me that I sit upon this keyboard two or three times a week. It's for us ALL, and in doing so I work very hard to describe what it's like for this one bus operator, "from the driver side" of a city bus.

To those FaceBook Group Administrators/Moderators of groups relating to transit, I hope they actually read what I offer before they deny my publicist's request to include this blog in their domain. Denying these posts is like saying "We only cater to the inane social media constants we're bombarded with on a daily basis; the words of a Portland transit blogger don't resonate with us." Sorry folks, but you're wrong. Deke N. Blue writes for whoever dons the uniform and braves the insulting waves of a public that constantly berates us as we strive to provide a safe and inexpensive ride."

Peace be with you all, and my prayers are that you all arrive safely at whatever destination awaits; both operators and passengers.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

New Routes and Time Transitions

Deke's Note: I was very pleased at the outpouring of support for my last post. So often, us veterans forget what it's like to be a "newbie." Our years of experience should be a badge of honor but more importantly, a chance to teach. We have all been there. It's hard to come up from scratch, and too easy to lose track of what it was like to roll through mean streets alone. In this post, I describe a week's worth of life as a bus operator. Aged or innocent, I hope you'll "get" where I come from. Perhaps a passenger or two as well will learn what it's like to roll "from the driver side" by these moments I give you here.

It's Portland, Oregon in the late fall coming onto winter. Finally, it's wet. We were treated to an unusually-dry and forgiving autumn lapse in weather. Sunny and atypically-warm days lulled us into an easier transition into the weather we're accustomed to this time of year. Still, I feel a drastic change is coming come January.

As I bid farewell to my gentle yet subdued fall signup passengers, I gently reminded them of the coming months. Reminding them to wear brighter colors as that dreaded Daylight Savings Time change came and darkness greeted us all an hour (or more, as we near the winter solstice) earlier. Wishing them peace for the holiday season and thanked them for their professional ways as transit passengers, I hoped they would remember all the smooth and stress-free rides I worked so hard to provide.

My favorite home-cooked meal: Eggs Benedict
with a perfectly-concocted Hollandaise sauce!
Now I have a new bunch of faces who are regulars to my six-wheeled torture chamber. They normally ride 20 minutes (on average), while I toil for 10 hours. It takes an additional two minutes out of my breaks to pick up the garbage they leave behind, even just a few feet from the trash bins. The "recovery time" (corporate-speak for 'breaks' in true transit language) is too short for a meal break. Each moment spent on trying to provide a clean bus for the next slew of the self-absorbed masses I serve is what I miss communicating with those I love. They want to make sure, in these days of transit assault increases, that I'm okay and rolling smooth. After a week on any run, my mind has made the transition all transit operators recognize: how long that "break" actually is in "real time."

Our break time is instinctual. Once you've done this job for years, your body and mind become attuned to the transit reality of break value. A glance at the stupid computer screen telling you just when the next run begins is quickly blended into memory. Each break is broken down into sequence: nicotine or other personal need, biological nourishment/soul refreshment, stretching and physical relief from a non-ergonomic operator seat, next run preparation. If you're lucky, a phone conversation with your beloved or text with a friend or two is allowed. Before you feel it, your bus is rolling along (with or without your conscious self) a route you not only know, but live each turn and pothole you know by heart. Eyes are roaming the darkened streets for lurking dangers or scanning unlit stops for hidden passengers. I hate to leave people behind, even when they do their best to make sure you don't see them.

The eyes see, the body follows. Waiting passengers note the right turn signal coming on as a signal I have seen them, no matter the all-dark colors of their clothing, even when they blend into the dark scenery my aging eyes have learned to intently-study. If people only knew how lucky they have been to be picked up, as I scan all directions for any number of hazards confronting my 20-ton Beast, perhaps they would be a bit more appreciative when I stop. So often, they board as if I'm just a machine. No nod or acknowledgement I saw them waiting at a pitch-black stop as they sit still as a statue in their all-black clothing. No thanks for my trained vision picking up their rain-drenched selves at a stop that won't be served again for at least half an hour longer. It's all good; that's my job. If I did anything less than being a human with years of practice seeing the unseen, they would quickly text their complaint to Customer Service as they sat, all-dark, phone-stoned in an unlit shelter and wondering why I fail to have superhuman vision.
Pioneer Square in downtown Portland, Oregon.
Come visit Deke and get a free day pass!

Yeah, I was spoiled by my last run. The people were professional transit riders. Most of them have been passengers since they were kids. They know the ropes. Every three months, they expect to have a new operator guiding their roll home or to work. It may take a few weeks into the new signup, but they finally begin to acknowledge our attempts to give them a safe ride. Now, I'm the victim of fare evaders, skeptical regulars and don't-give-a-shit-what-you-do-to-keep-me-safe sometime riders.

As the years progress, I have come to break my days into "runs." If you think of your shift in hours put in, it can be discouraging. I'll tell my Beloved "I only have two more round trips," and that is more soothing than saying "I still have eight hours to go." She gets it. In fact, she will text me at the precise moment I turn my phone back on (since I turn it fully OFF as my next roll commences, as per Standard Operating Procedures). It's comforting to know she is in tune with my routine. In fact, if somebody asks me something while I'm actively-texting with my dear sweetie, I'll put them off or fully-ignore them as I reply. Fuck their interference into my personal time. They matter not in comparison. Dare complain about that precious moment in my life, and I'll bring my Union Rep into the meeting with management and effectively tell that rude asshole that my time is sacrosanct and they can shove their complaint so deeply that even management can't smell it.

So yeah. Nearly three weeks into a new route, and my mind is set. Board the bus with fare or not (I don't truly give a damn), sit down, turn your phone audio off, keep your feet off the seats and shut the hell up. I'll happily roll you down the road where you need to be. On time, if possible. If not, do not dare complain. You have no idea what happened that made me late getting there. If I'm in 'Drop Off Only' mode, don't whine that you've been waiting for an hour in the rain because I know a bus slipped through your stop just five minutes before you arrived. I'm not the "stupid bus driver" you just texted our corporate-controlled "customer service department" about... I'm just another guy rolling through unimagined obstacles you'll never even imagine let alone realize. I need to pee and I'm 15 minutes late to an 18-minute break. Do the math, dumbass, if you're capable. If not, fuck you too... I truly don't give a damn what you think. Take that finger you show me when you see my sign, and shove it. Where, I don't want to imagine, nor do I have the give-a-fucks to contemplate.

And that's transit, folks. Be more forgiving of your bus operators. We're doing the best we can given the countless obstacles we safely circumnavigate every minute of our day. If you can't understand what we're experiencing on-the-job, don't expect us to give one shit what you think or text to the inhuman souls who run our gig.

You're welcome for the thousands of safe rides we give each day. Peace be with you.

Come roll with me through the hiring process and 4.5 years
of life as a transit operator in Portland, Oregon.

Come find me and I'll happily sign it.
Buy my book in its last offering as a First Edition:

Thursday, December 12, 2019


Deke's Note: OK newbies, I know management has been pushing you into full-time operating long before you were ready for it. We all know how the bills need to be paid. While I caution new operators to wait at least six-to-nine months before taking that great leap, today's reality is that many of you are still wiping the transit sweat from behind your ears just a month or two after going out on your own. While full-time operating can be a thrill, it comes with an extra-hefty dose of responsibility to your riders, those with whom you share the road, and your fellow operators. This post is for YOU

Our management these days tends to constantly err on the side of who knows WTF. The more they put the screws into the operational staff who make the wheels roll, we find a great many of our most-experienced operators throwing up their hands and shouting: "ENOUGH! I'M OUTTA HERE!" Perhaps, and most likely, this is by design. The "old days" of transit are being pushed further aside each day as a new brand of corporatists trample hundred-year-old traditions which have been built upon the notion that Safety Comes First. In the mouse-pushing new style of management, numbers come first... not people. Gone are the days when operators were celebrated for not only keeping their passengers and other motorists safe, but were given great latitude when doing so. Mess with an operator, watch out. Now, it's "mess with a passenger, even the most whiny or misbehaved, and the operator is not only put under the microscope, but poked and prodded until they are angry and stressed. As we all know, this is a dangerous game. Given the amount of stress this job provides without any further provocation, our current harassment level can lead to serious safety issues.

When I was a new operator, even though I had driven many types of vehicles in my life including tractor-trailers, I still was not prepared for the intensity faced by public transit operators. Not only was I guiding a 20-ton behemoth through narrow and treacherous streets, but I was faced with being a Customer Service Representative while doing so. Being well-versed in the latter, it was stressful having that mixed with safely operating a vehicle of that size. As a perfectionist, it took me a few months just to get to know how to drive a route, let alone how to deal with such a demanding and often-unforgiving clientele. I'm glad it took me nine months before being promoted to full-time. Many Line Trainees will testify to the fact that driving a 10-hour shift is much more demanding than a split shift of a couple mini runs. A gradual transition from rookie, to mini-run, then to full-time is a longstanding tradition in transit that needs to be strictly-adhered to; not only for safety's sake, but also for the sanity of the new operator.

Help will come from all directions; all you need to do is ask.
When you push a newbie into full-time after only driving a month or so, it must be terrifying for those who have never done my job. Even as a new full-time driver, I was so exhausted after a shift it nearly led me to resign after not quite a year. The stress-level was that of nothing I had ever experienced. Putting such pressure on someone who has just left training is not only ill-advised, it's negligent. Not only are they just becoming familiar with the rules of the road, they're constantly bombarded with the thrills of those who refuse to play by the rules. A stress-battered operator who hasn't learned the ropes is more likely to lash out at a combatant than know how to employ the "customer servicey" bullshit our management expects from us. If management had the brass balls we ALL have (sorry ladies, but I have to use that analogy although yours are often bigger than ours given the added harassment you endure on the job), they would acknowledge there are times when we need to exert our authority. Try arguing with an airline pilot on-the-job, and you'll find yourself in handcuffs as soon as the plane's door opens on the tarmac. In transit, a passenger who has been told to follow the rules simply sends a whiny text to the customer service department, and it's the Operator who is called into question. It's a tricky occupation. It takes years of practice in not only driving, but dealing with the masses who ride transit. In Portland, transit is such a vital part of our economy, our right to strike was made illegal by the state legislature about 10 years ago. This further ties our hands in demanding the respect we deserve.

So to the newbies who either by financial necessity or managerial pressure, find themselves full-time not long after their last diaper is changed by Training, please heed these vital Codes of Conduct:

1) RESPECT YOUR SENIOR OPERATORS. We've learned through thousands of miles of experience. Just because you're driving a bus doesn't mean you know what's expected of you. Study the rules, live by them, and only then will you earn our respect. Watch what we do, and think about what you see. It will come to make sense. If it doesn't, maybe we did something wrong. Perhaps, we did something right and you failed to see it. Either way, ask someone to explain.

2) WHEN WE TELL YOU SOMETHING, LISTEN. If an operator comes to your door or window, open and listen. If we're polite, but visibly pissed off, be humble. You likely did something wrong. If you are respectful, we might teach you something that could later save your ass.

3) REMEMBER TO LEARN EVERY DAY; WE STILL DO. My father once told me, "The day you stop learning from your mistakes is the day you make your biggest one."

4) FOLLOW THE DAMN RULES! Especially on the Transit Mall. They are to be followed without question. See that cross-street pedestrian timer ticking down? Once it hits 3 seconds, close your doors. Whoever comes to your door at that point is late. When your light goes green, GO!

5) IF YOU FEEL CONFUSED OR UNSURE ABOUT ANYTHING, STOP - CALL DISPATCH! It's much better to ask a question than to become lost. When Dispatch has to send a Road Supervisor to your rescue, it costs the District needless time and money, but they will gladly do so to save injury or damage. Regardless, when you're new, Dispatch expects you to make that call. That's why they're there: to help you. We all know you're new just by your badge number. Don't make things worse thinking "I got this" when there's any shred of doubt in your mind. Best to ask for help before a problem arises than needing it when trouble finds you after lacking to heed this warning.

6) BE VIGILANT. You're on your own "out there," like the rest of us. Don't daydream when you're new; there's plenty of time for that once you've learned the ropes. Scan like you never have before. Learn to predict what other motorists will do, and be prepared for their worst actions. This has saved me many a time; thanks Dad! Practice in your own vehicle. Teach your children to drive like bus operators. Life is precious. We save more than we take. This is an honorable profession, and you're expected to be an example for all who roll Portland's streets. There's a reason it takes three years to reach top scale: you have to earn it.

7) TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES... FIRST! Gotta pee at the end of the line and you're already late for the start of that piece? That's what "Restroom Delay" is for. Make your bladder gladder. Once you piddle, hit "Ready for Service." If Dispatch sends a "Thank You" in reply, that means you're starting out late. Just roll the same way as you would as if you're on time. Be Safe! Be Healthy! No Worries! It all works out in the end... just make sure you feel 110% while you're behind the wheel of The Beast.

8) BE COMPASSIONATE, BUT FIRM. Yeah, you're the Captain of the Ship. Don't take yourself too seriously, or too lightly either. Whenever I've thought I was "all that," bad shit happened. Still, you need to maintain control not only of your vehicle, but what happens within. Learn, but be cool while in control. Tammy Teenager lounging across the back seats with her feet upon them? Call her on it. Nobody wants to sit in the dog shit on her shoes. Someone drunk and passing out, bobbing and weaving in an aisle seat? They could fall over and hurt themselves, and you might be assessed a Preventable Accident even if you did nothing wrong. Why? Because you didn't notice and take actions to prevent it. Stop and lock. Notify Dispatch "Sleeper Check." Argument happening as you drive? Pull over at the next bus stop and alert Dispatch. Just rolling while trying to watch both the road and the confrontation is perilous and unnecessary. Someone apologizes for not having full fare? Smile and thank them for what they put in the fare box, and print them a transfer. Life's too short to squabble over pennies. Even further: someone saunters past you without showing fare or offering to pay, just hit "Fare Evasion" on the CAD and keep rolling. It's not our job to enforce fare. JUST DRIVE! Too many assaults upon us in the past came from arguments over fare. Do you really care whether someone pays? Nah. Not our job to give a damn. That's for the Fare Inspectors to rule over. Your job is to safely operate your vehicle.

9) THE ONLY "STUPID" QUESTION IS THE ONE YOU'RE AFRAID TO ASK. We all sometimes feel stupid when asking what may seem the "obvious" question. You know what? Maybe THAT one question could someday save you from making a horrible mistake. ASK IT. It could be the answer that saves your job, even someone's life. We have all asked questions of our brothers and sisters that at first seemed silly. Even if it is, we're happy to help. We may chuckle while answering, but we will do so anyway. We've all asked the same question at one time. Hey folks, believe it or not, that operator who has a 27-year Safe Driver patch on their sweater is most often all-to-happy to help you. That's why they display that patch. It's a symbol of pride gained over thousands of miles of safe driving, as you'll someday learn the importance of. They have sweated appeals over ridiculous first-glance Preventable Accident decisions, only to have them overturned on appeal. I can personally attest to this edict: ALWAYS APPEAL. Even an incident I thought I was doomed to have hang over my head forever was overturned due to some wise counsel from a revered senior operator/line trainer/union rep (especially our retired Brother Dan Martin... thank you Dan!). You are part of a brotherhood that may be fallible at times, but is always willing to help. Take advantage of your union brothers and sisters, and at all costs, please DO NOT "opt out" of your Amalgamated Transit Union 757. You'll gain more benefit from union fellowship than not, guaranteed.

10) RESPECT ALL OF YOUR CO-WORKERS. You are now part of a fellowship that encompasses many different levels of the Portland Metropolitan Area Transit. Your Station Agents, Road Supervisors, Trainers, Maintenance Workers and fellow Rail, Streetcar, C-Tran ops and ALL Oregon Bus Operators are your new brothers and sisters. And that's a relationship you should take seriously. We work together, we know each other over years of service, and we value our relationships with one another. No matter which garage we work out of, or level of seniority, or rank of position, we're all doing our jobs to provide a valuable service to our fellow Portlanders. Get to know people. You'll find we're all much the same. We love, we live, we all have the same troubles and joys in life. Just because you're new doesn't mean we care any less. We've all been you once upon a time. Welcome to our world. Learn from us, laugh at our common experiences, share what you've come to know. The good among us will help you celebrate. If you find someone who won't listen, give 'em a break; maybe they've had a bad day and the next they'll treat you like a pal. Whatever you find, please just treat each of our own as your family, because we truly are, even though we may be dysfunctional at times. In transit, we are all you have. Management could care less, no matter what they say.

Yeah, I'm a wordy sumbitch. It comes from six decades of hard living and years of learning on-the-job. I want you to succeed; your fellow operators agree. We're not "the enemy," but valuable allies you can learn from. Additionally, I want us to get along. I've clashed with many of you as of late. Needlessly. Our Trainers are awesome, but there's no way they can teach you everything you need to know while successfully navigating this perilous journey. It's up to your senior operators to pass along the wisdom gleaned from our millions of combined miles to guide you to where you need to arrive... safely.

YOU are OUR future. I will be long-retired when you reach the point where I am now. It's imperative you learn that our union depends on you for future leadership. Given management's dim and disconnected view of its operators, please don't be fooled by its portrayal of sweet roses and fine wine if you toe their unrealistic line. Reality shows us how roses wilt and wine sours with age. Even an Operator of the Month can be brought down with one missed scan, or an altercation with a difficult passenger gone wrong. Don't be swayed by bullshit; it surrounds us like the stench of a tightening noose. Hopefully our common plight brings us even closer together. Management is hell-bent upon replacing US with automation in the coming years. The more we can prove our value, the better our argument AGAINST this humiliating ridiculousness of replacing humans with machines. Even George Orwell would shiver at the thought of what management proposes for the near future. Hopefully, this chill of our collective forever-winter induces the same in you.

Transit operators worldwide will heartily-agree with this statement: You are a newbie, but you are now one of US; it's time to act like it and learn how to do what's right. We've all been where you are now. It's hard, very hard. We understand. As such, I will do my utmost best to be patient with you, to bestow my knowledge as needed while continually learning what I need to remain sharp. It's up to you to realize when to listen, to heed, to learn. Also, to be gracious and thankful, even when your seniors may teach during a heated moment. The more you listen and remain thankful and respectful, the more you'll grow. As the years roll by (and they do very quickly, mind you), you will come to appreciate your seniors. We were taught a bit more harshly at times, and may come down hard on you. But in the end, we're all the better for it.

With that, I wish you Newbs all the best. Roll safe, my new brothers and sisters.

My final wish for you: May all your ups and downs be in bed.

Deke N. Blue
Transit Blogger and Author

P.S. Anyone just starting out in this job will benefit from reading my book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane," available on Amazon in print, eBook and audio. It describes my life from before I became an operator, through the hiring process (you remember THAT fun) and the first 4.5 years as a bus driver. It retains a 5-star rating, was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting's nationally-syndicated "Think Out Loud" radio program, a piece of Portlandia forever. Hey, I'll toot my horn as my own best publicist... I'm all I have. Oh, and thanks for reading!

Monday, December 9, 2019

My Transition Between Routes

Deke's Note: Oh, the rigors of driving a bus begin to show signs of a biological breaking down. It's not only tough on the body, but the soul as well. My last post was a true testament to both. This time, after a few long drinks of Scottish nectar, I wax philosophical and nostalgic as the holidays come upon us.

This has been the toughest first week of a new route since I was a rookie. Thank God I have a leader and follower who are well-versed in transit reality. Although I've driven a bus for several years now, experience wasn't enough to prepare me for the rigors of this oft-traveled path I chose for the next three months. Part of me longed to re-connect with former passengers. Another, more-dormant of late side of my transit personality wanted to feel the comfort of a run I once knew to be a mellow roll. One thing I've learned over these years is that every route changes from one signup to the next, especially if years get in the way.

On my last route, I was amazed by the respect and professionalism of my passengers. They had their fare/passes ready upon boarding no matter how long they waited. Many of these folks have been riding transit to work and home again for many years. Their transit reality is part of their daily lives. One bus operator takes them to work, another ferries them home or to their next connection that way. I was but one of many they have come to know along the way. Every three months, they silently welcome a new face behind the wheel of the communal vessel they face after another long day of super-human toils. It was a great honor serving their kind again. I miss their quiet respect, how they always seemed to find the trash can when litter needed disposal. If they failed to greet me upon boarding, they almost always thanked me as they exited my bus. Even when I did not respond in kind, I felt their kindness. It helped me through many a dark day.

My new route is a different class of clientele. I've had to adjust from a hatrd-working class to that of a pampered and younger generation. Where my former passengers would profusely apologize if they forgot their pass or had no money to ride, the new bunch saunters aboard without the slightest need to even acknowledge my existence. Still, I consider it my duty to provide each with a safe and courteous experience. It matters not to me whether they pay or not. This might rankle those who struggle to provide fare every time they ride, but it's not my money so it matters not. I just drive, man.

As I reach the near-outer limits of our service area, I'm met with the frigid east winds of the Columbia Gorge. I'll roll into my stop a few minutes early and leave the bus running at least the two minutes legally-allowed so they can escape the elements. After welcoming them to my warm office, I'll hop off to do my biological necessities. Meanwhile, they're safe and warm within my bus. Management has its own ideas as to what constitutes "standard," but I have my own. Until they are actually vested in what happens "out there," I could give a damn what they think I "should" do. Their minutes are on a different timeframe than my own. As long as I have a few minutes to decompress from the run I just endured, I'm good with offering the rest of my break to those who share my toils as a middle-class American trying to bust out a meager living. They are mostly hard-working folk who for whatever reason need to use transit.

As the years furiously click by, I'm constantly reminded of my position in society. I'm in a service-oriented profession. It demands that I kiss everyone's ass, while virtually nobody attempts to kiss mine. Sometimes, it's a wash... who kisses whose is often a blurry line nobody grasps, but in the end, it's me who is the tenuous and oft-unsupported captain who guides the Beast to its destination. I've learned that compromise and compassion go a long way in keeping peace on my ride. Years before, arrogance ruled my rolls; now, I know it's my inner strength and wisdom that reign supreme. Given the volatility of ridership which knows no bounds of reason, it's up to me to provide the link of peace which guides us along life's often unforgiving rolls.

If I feel someone having a hard time with this nightmare we call "life", my life's lessons dictate the need to be the one person in their day who might provide a moment of kindness overshadow their struggles. When I'm successful in my efforts, perhaps a transit "friendship" develops. With regular riders, this relationship is vital. Some people can only relate to those who offer a friendly smile, or a word of understanding and compassion. That's where I hope to excel in this job. Where our management likes to think it feels our pain, the people I serve matter much more. Whether homeless or working poor, I've been there and I do feel what they often express to me.

Transit operators are an amalgamation of those they serve. We're either products of former employment disappointments or even worse. Those who have never suffered the pain of being evicted from their homes because of a missed paycheck could never empathize with those who have. That makes it easy for me to forgive the honest passenger who apologizes for being "five cents short" of proper fare. They are often surprised to find a day pass printed in lieu of some unwanted lecture on having that extra five cents. It's because I have lived what they now do that their apologies are instead met with my "it's okay, I've been there myself, and your change in that farebox is more than others drop into it without even a hello."

When you board my bus without a hello, failing to even acknowledge my mere existence, I am rendered the invisible value who works tirelessly to provide you and those who at least nod as they walk past the same safe and smooth ride as those who say hello and pay their full fare.

You see, all I'm thinking about when you enter that doorway is what time it is. Am I on time or running behind schedule? If I'm early, I might tarry a bit longer than usual to burn time. If I'm too early arriving at a stop, someone who's running a few seconds late might miss this bus. People have deadlines too. If I see you running toward my bus, frantically waving your arms hoping I'll see your panic, I will gladly await you even if I'm late. When I'm downtown on the transit mall, that's the only time you're shit outta luck. Once my doors are closed, that means it's "go time" and you're early for the next bus. That's transit, folks: be ready to board when we're in the first position with doors open; once they shut, you're too late. This is something you should understand rather than complain to our management about.

As I write this, I'm sad that I could not muster the creative energy to write more of my new and exciting novel. That's okay. I'm currently more committed to my transit reality these days than outwardly-reaching personal goals. This is disconcerting to this writer's soul, but oddly-comforting to the transit slave I have become. It's a struggle to serve one master over more-pressing needs.

When I began writing this blog, my promise was to chronicle what it feels "from the seat" of an operator's reality. Hopefully, these words remain true to that promise. Few tend to herald the rigors we roll through. Even less of you commend us for our vigilance. Often assailed, complained about and disrespected, we remain true to what we were trained to do: safely haul our precious cargo to their destination. The vast majority of you are treated to this promise, and you're either unaware or overly-engrossed by what your tethered electronic device tells you is most important. It fails to remind you of your shared humanity.

So climb aboard and have a seat. Keep those phones on silent, respect your operator and fellow passengers. Enjoy the ride. That's the simple credo of transit. And me? I'm happy to provide the service. Oh and by the way, you're welcome.

The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with...