Not long ago, my usually-cool, smooth and calm ride was insulted by a foul-mouthed unruly female who appeared to have been dragged out of a sewer, shaken but not stirred. Her use of f**k was boorishly-regular and I told her to clean up her language. Our management would tell me to leave my own morality out of it, but I don't subscribe to its "please everybody" attitude. If someone is outrageously and loudly profane, it is an assault on decency and I don't allow it. Sure, I use many profanities, often liberally. However, this is not something I was taught is acceptable in public.
When another passenger wasted my time by hanging half-in, half-out of the door while boarding, I impatiently implored him to either get on, or get off. He was having a conversation with another person, and I was nearing five minutes late. Anyone in transit knows that five minutes is the break-point. Once you're over that number, your follower's passengers end up on your bus and the lateness rapidly compounds itself. It was a testament to my experience as an operator that I wasn't later, and I still had a chance to salvage the short break which awaited me at the end of the line. My patience was stretched as thin as my bladder walls, and he was rude to me as he walked by.
"Fucking jerk," he said as he sat in the Priority Seating area.
"WHAT did you call me?" I said in a very loud voice, ensuring he could hear me. My Irish was up by that point, having Smelly Shelly already give me a hard time. She reminded me of my first wife, and that tends to raise my hackles quicker than usual. PTSD, even after not seeing her in over a decade.
Randy Rudelips just stared at me.
"Because," I continued when I should have just let it slide, "if you called me a jerk, then I'll show you just what one is. Get off my bus." I sounded like Clint Eastwood, fury turning my voice into a menacing whisper.
Then Smelly chimed in. "You're rude to that guy! You're a rude bus driver, just like you have been to me!"
It was ON at that point, I turned in my seat and reminded her how I had asked her to rein in her vile tongue just a few moments earlier.
"You can't tell me what to do!" she screamed at me. "I'll have your job for this!"
"You couldn't DO my job, lady," I retorted. "Now you can leave too." By this time, I had tied up my bus and put in a call to Dispatch. Randy left the bus in disgust, or perhaps he knew I meant business. (One less dipstick to deal with; now I had to deal with Smelly.)
She refused to exit, even when I told her she could leave voluntarily or in handcuffs. Dispatch called and I asked for police to escort Smelly.
"Either she leaves this bus, or I do," I said.
Dispatch advised me to continue to the next time point, where they would ask police to meet me. I gleefully awaited the look on Smelly's face when they forced her off my bus. Her male companion was counseling her not to mess with a bus driver because he knew the probable outcome. The steam rising from my ears likely set off alarms in his more-rational brain.
As we pulled into the stop, no cops were there, nowhere in sight. I feared the worst. Still, I told her they were en route and she could sit and wait with me. Her next move was the most intelligence I had seen from her: she left. The cops never showed, and I was angry. Oh well, I had decent people on my bus needing to make connections and appointments, so I rolled.
Considering I had raised my voice and nearly lost control of my emotions, a complaint was what I believed would result from this incident. Instead, another passenger called in a commendation. Her words stunned me; I was angry with myself for not handling the situation better.
When someone verbally assaults me, it triggers my self-preserving defensive stance. I have worked very hard to deal with people assertively rather than allowing my emotions to rule, and have improved greatly the past few years. This time, I had allowed my pride to dictate my actions rather than hard-learned verbal judo. I was ashamed of how I handled it, and realized an assault could have resulted.
Assaults however, are not our fault. We are human, and when one insults another, we strike back. Our job plays out in the real world; management's exists in some fairy tale wonderland where everyone remains cool under pressure. We're supposed to "remain professional," knowing someone could have a weapon, or lash out with a fist or splash us with urine or hot coffee. Yeah, for that reason alone I should have handled it better. Excuse me for not having the ability to stifle the human "fight or flight" biological response. We're on edge much of the time, and can make mistakes.
We're expected to endure the worst insults out here, and still remain composed. Usually, I can handle these situations with some self-deprecating humor, remain humble and salvage an acceptable outcome for everyone. That's ideal. But the real world doesn't always happen that way. Not only must we deal with many rude and nasty people in our bus, but those outside of it as well. They cut us off, flip us off, spout off and commit the most foolishly-stupid stunts imaginable in traffic. Pedestrians, skateboarders, bicyclists (of the unprofessional kind, unlike those who frequent BikePortland.org), delivery drivers, for-hire and other taxi drivers, teenagers bound for fatal glory and many other self-entitled mutts.
It was "Transit Appreciation Week" when this happened. Once again, I saw nothing but leftovers from the bankers hour management that likes to make itself feel good by giving out false praise and appreciation to those who make their own jobs possible. Empty words echoing off absent bodies and detached voices... that's what their happy-sappy event seems to me.
Thanks Kerry Kindness, you are why I get out of bed every day... to give people like you a ride.