Monday, January 7, 2019

We Are As We See We Are

"I am I said
To no one there
and no one heard at all...
not even the chair."

--Neil Diamond

No matter how hard we try to avoid it, or whatever else we do in life, our jobs often come to define us once we've done it several years. Luckily for me, I've been a number of things in my life.

Bus operators are often looked down upon by society-at-large. The reason why escapes me. We're so many things other than bus operators prior to driving The Beast. Thousands of operators have had previous lives, have earned degrees, served in honor for our country and earned accolades in other eras of their lives. They certainly don't define themselves by this job, but there's no dishonor in doing so. We are who we believe ourselves to be.

Am I "just a bus operator?" At this moment in time, yes. And I'm proud of my profession; no, that's not all I am. Professional athletes move on in life after their bodies cannot endure the physical torture required by their jobs. People still think of Michael Jordan as a basketball player, but he's moved on to new ventures and may be surpassed by today's greatest player LeBron James. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Earl Monroe and Wilt Chamberlain remain great alongside all who came before and after them. President Carter is considered a "weak" president even though he brought Egypt and Israel together in their peace accord, but today he's viewed as a great humanitarian who helps build houses well into his 90s. As for me, I'd be honored to be remembered as a bus operator and strong union supporter in my life, but I aspire to be worthy of praise as a writer before the Reaper breaks this grip on my loving soul.

Whatever your great love in life is, I heartily encourage you to live your love. So many people are afraid to fail, but if you've never tried and failed, you're only living to die, rather than truly living before you die. It can be a dreary existence to sit in your easy chair wondering "What if?" All you need to worry about impressing is the reflection in your mirror. Sometimes, it's all we have.

Daddy Blue was my example of how to live. He always told me to "have fun every day, no matter what's going on." Even in great pain the day he died, he found a way to have fun. I admire that passion so much it's become my life's work to emulate it. Not only in my art, but when I'm driving you and 800+ other folks around during the day. Some may not respond, or could be having a hard day (see Sad Dad...), but there are a few every day I feel a link with when I blink and crack a funny ha-ha.

There was a recent passenger who, upon boarding my bus, began complaining about how  she couldn't walk the mile home. Yeah, I can empathize as we all probably can. Life can be brutally tough, and while I felt a certain amount of pity for her, it also pissed me off a bit. Don't whine, because someone else is likely having a harder day than you can even imagine. Of course, each life is chock full of its own agony. To bemoan your own pitfalls usually doesn't earn respect.

So Whiny Wanda kept a running dialogue the entire 10 minutes she rode. I could feel the eye rolls of several people who likely had their own hell to deal with. A collective sigh of relief followed her off the bus. Feeling ornery, I keyed up the microphone.

"When someone reminds me of my first wife," I said in a droll tone, "my first instinct is to get her off the bus... quickly."

My passenger mirror revealed a half-dozen heads snap up at that comment.

"No," one grizzled veteran roared with laughter in his voice, "you didn't just go there! But yes, yes you did!" He joined a few others who found humor in my biting joke. I smiled, because he did.

Making people laugh is a challenge, and I enjoy seeing people smile. It's good for you to smile and laugh. Life gives us enough to make us frown or be angry. I learned long ago to let the bad roll off my shoulder and try to give some folks a lift up whenever possible.

"It may sound kinda cruel, but I've been silent too long, so Thank God and Greyhound you're gone," I sang, a nod to the late, great Roy Clark. The ride was much more fun and lively afterwards.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Sad Dad and Maybelline

Deke's Note: Driving a bus is akin to Forrest Gump's box of chocolates... you never know what you're gonna get, where passengers are concerned. The past week has given me plenty of blog material. However, I'm going to give you a few chunks of bitter chocolate this time.

One of my regulars is Maybelline. I nicknamed her that because her makeup seems to be applied via Spirograph, in smears and unnatural swirls. After several searches for lipstick trends, I still can't find any which match hers. It's either lipstick emanating outward from her mouth like drunken chemtrails or a study in avant garde mascara technique by a horde of six-year-olds.

On this fair weathered winter evening, Maybelline made her usual drunken grand entrance to my bus wondering (as usual) where her bus pass was. It being my final trip and the last full-route run of the evening, I was in a time crunch so I just waved her back. Her ride didn't last long. As I came to the next service stop, a county mountie pulled in front of me with lights on. Knowing I didn't have enough time to speed, I wondered who they were after. Maybelline hadn't even sat down yet.

"I think they're coming for me," she said. Then she mumbled something else I didn't catch.

Sure enough, the deputy walked up and pointed to Maybelline. She exited to speak to the now-two deputies. Out of general interest, I hung around a minute to see if it would grow interesting. Maybelline has a history of causing a ruckus on my bus. The nosy side of me wondered what she had done. I also hesitated because the next bus wouldn't be along for over an hour. Even troublemakers need to go places. As the minute stretched into three, I grew impatient because she was visibly arguing with these deputies. That never ends up well.

I shut the door and angled the bus around the cruiser, then I floored it. Sorry Maybelline, but whatever you did is not my problem. Since I wasn't pulled over again with the deputies requesting I continue your transit roll, it seems you might have actually been in trouble... again. The rest of the folks on board weren't in similar circumstances, and needed to get home. If you happen to ride tomorrow, I'll know you squeaked out of another fine mess. Except, well... that makeup mishap.

* * * * *

A few days after our domestic bus nightmare (see Growing Wiser...), I was happy to see a man board my bus with a single rose in his hand. As one who loves to grow this wonderful flower, it's natural for me to comment when someone in the Rose City brings one or more aboard. All I saw was the rose, but had I looked, I would have seen much deeper than the bloom which held my focus.

"Nice rose!" I told him. As I said this, my eyes met his, which were moist and red.

"My baby died today," he said quietly. "It's for her."

He paid his fare and left to find a seat. I was utterly dumbfounded. It took a few moments to collect myself. I sat there in shock, painfully aware that my patented hearty greeting is no match for the level of grief this man was feeling. I couldn't even, didn't want to try, stepping into his shoes. Losing a child is a terror every parent fears most. We're supposed to watch them grow up, and have them bury us. For this poor man, the tables had overturned.

I stared ahead for what may have been half a minute. A tear fell onto my cheek. Traffic whizzed by, and I mumbled something about being early, even though I was a minute or two down. I simply didn't want to drive yet. The agony on that man's face gnawed at my aorta. My daughter floated into view, that serenely-angelic face I've adored four decades now. In the span of a few seconds, the prospect of losing her or either of my sons choked me up.

We deal with not only a vast cross-section of society, but also with the best and worst moments of their lives. Sometimes, I growl because many don't even acknowledge me as they board. I've learned though, life throws hard balls when we're not prepared. As happened to me as a nine-year-old, they hit you smack-dab betwixt the eyes. Some are not as blessed as I am, and are dealing with pain I'd rather not feel.

The road beckoned. I sighed, wiped my eyes and blew my nose. One glance in the mirror found the poor man halfway back, head bowed, likely weeping for the soul whose flower he cradled to his chest. I said a prayer and released the parking brake. The bus rolled into the night and I did my best to keep it smoothly rolling.

There were no words for this poor man when he exited. What could I say? The usual "Have a nice evening" would have bombed his hell. All I could muster was "Peace be with you," in a hushed tone as to not draw attention to his pain.

Then I offered another prayer for him. It's all we can do sometimes.