Deacon Who?

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(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!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

My Belief in Goodness

Just when my belief in humanity reached its deepest pit, someone lifted my spirits.

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, 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.

When I received the commendation from a passenger who witnessed the incident, I was stunned. Her words were humbling, because she commended my handling of the situation, and felt sorry I was treated so harshly. It was extremely kind and sympathetic. To me, that was true appreciation for what we do "out there." This passenger went out of her way to send me a message of support, when I was sure it would be a complaint.

Thanks Kerry Kindness, you are why I get out of bed every day... to give people like you a ride.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Wow, I'm Rich!

Thanks to you, dear readers, my entry into the gambit of allowing ads on my blog has paid off. It only took three years, but I'm $104.76 richer.

While the amount seems tiny compared to the zillions major advertisers reap from your "clicks," it's a figure I thank you for. Truly.

Humbly yours,
Deke N. Blue

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Another Transit Project Fail

Deke's Note: I was only going to write one post this week. However, I saw an article from a local news affiliate which just blew my mind. It truly flabbergasted my sense of frugality vs. foolishness. Let's see what you think...

Three years ago, our agency built an innovative transit/bike/pedestrian bridge over the Willamette River. It's a marvel to behold. Night light colors on the spans vary according to the river's water temperature. While there are a few design flaws (only two bus lines share the span with one MAX and one Streetcar line, and they share a transitway) on this billion-dollar marvel, the Tilikum Crossing is truly a spectacle to behold.

Now, our agency reports it plans to place wind turbines on this bridge. Wow, I thought, what a great idea! Given the wind that whistles down the river valley, it's an innovative way to create energy. I read further, eagerly wondering what our management gurus would do with all that electricity. What came next astounded me.

Fixed upon the wondrous turbines will be more lights. The energy generated by the turbines, the article reported, will be stored in batteries with the resulting power feeding the lights illuminating the turbines.

Really?!? REALLY?!?

I shook my head in a dazed amaze-state. Usually able to comprehend and retain information in one read, this was different. I had to read it again, looking for some rational explanation why our agency would throw $350,000 of hard-earned taxpayer money at such a boondoggle. The words were the same as I remembered. It simply floored me.

When President Lincoln's wife Mary tried to refurbish the White House after the first inauguration, Abe was infuriated with her spending so much money on what he deemed to be "flub dubs." Extravagant and unnecessary, said the man who grew up in log cabins with dirt floors. To him, the Executive Mansion was luxurious enough, especially given he was sending young soldiers to fight and die to save the Union. They slept in tents or out in the elements. He couldn't justify using taxpayer money to "fancify" a building that was only 60 years old by then.

If I were GM, I could find any number of vital projects to spend what equates to several years of my current salary. More ergonomic and comfortable operator seats/cabins come first to mind. A down payment on a Downtown Transit Mall remodel. Improvements to MAX overheads so they're not so negatively impacted by extreme cold or heat. Lighting at hundreds of dark bus stops, so we can see intending passengers. (A pilot program a few years saw lights added to a few stops, which were already lit adequately by streetlights.) Improved benefits for union employees, giving back what was taken away due to the incompetence and mismanagement of pension funds by management. Improved facilities and hiring from within for Vehicle Maintenance workers. More restroom facilities. Increasing service to levels not seen in a decade. Serious attempts to educate the riding public on simply how to ride transit.

See where I'm going with this? Instead of installing flub dubs, we could be making serious improvements on what is already here. But no. That would make too much sense.

Given the artwork installed when the Orange Line was built, rusted boats with trees in them and other such goofiness, I can't expect fiscal responsibility from this bunch of corporatists.

I'm still shaking my head. What's next? Hand brakes on buses with pedals for operators to propel our own vehicles? If that happened, I guess the money saved on fuel could be spent on bicycle seats for operators. Pretty stupid idea, yeah. Not as bad as electricity generated solely to illuminate another transit folly, I reckon.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Appreciation is Best Shown Daily

It's Transit Operator Appreciation Day, or so they like to say. Makes 'em feel good for one day each year, that our efforts are somehow understood and "appreciated." That's nice. Why don't we believe you, Management?

It's not that we don't appreciate being appreciated. We just doubt your sincerity. Most of our passengers thank us as they exit our bus. Some go so far as to stop by and personally acknowledge my efforts to give them a safe and smooth ride. This happens especially when I've had to deal with unruly people who think we have no "right" to tell them what to do. When gracious, kind and good folks take a few moments to give me thanks and reassurance that I'm "doing the right thing," it feels real. They actually mean it, because I've provided them with a valuable service. These moments rekindle my desire to go over and above what's expected.

In times of harsh winter weather, good people take care to explicitly appreciate my driving. Many people leave their own vehicles at home and ride transit. They know we'll be there, every day no matter the conditions. Even if we have to sleep at the garage during harsh winter weather, they are confident that even though we're late due to chains limiting us to 25mph, 9.75 times out of 10, we will deliver them safely to work or whatever commitment they need to fulfill. We are highly-prepared, intensely-focused individuals who take great pride in guiding tons of rolling mass safely down the roads or rails.

It takes a special breed of people to undergo the rigors of transit operation. We are subject to psychological tests, panel interviews, background investigations, fingerprinting, drug screens and an intense training regimen. When you apply for this job, it's a series of hurdles to clear before we even set foot on a bus the first day, throughout training, probation and the countless difficulties and challenges thrust upon us during a (hopefully) long career. Even though we prove our mettle from the first day, we are daily challenged to be far and above the most conscientious and safety-conscious public servants you'll ever meet.

Still, we are constantly under attack from the very management entrusted with our well-being and safety, as well as from the public we serve and a media which pounces on every perceived mistake. We're ignored when we do everything right, but lambasted, often cruelly and without justification when something goes awry. Intensely-scrutinized and found guilty without sufficient means of publicly exonerating ourselves, we are demoralized without backup from this management team that spends a gob of money each year to profess its "appreciation" of those who make their own jobs possible.

Because we're vital to the local economy where we operate, Oregon law forbids us to strike. This is an insult to our well-being and upward mobility. Considering the harsh toll this job takes on our bodies and souls, we're hamstrung without the basic right to force management to seriously bargain with our union leadership. This "no strike" phenomenon gives their position an enormous advantage; it throws us a cruel punch with no recourse for self-defense. I don't use that analogy lightly... we're literally not allowed to defend ourselves from violence when the law of the land specifically provides each citizen the right to do so. We are citizens as well. Yet all in all, we're at a serious disadvantage: in contract negotiations, disputes with management, from attacks on our person while on the job. Many an operator has been unfairly disciplined, sometimes terminated, when the "fight or flight" biological response results in our physically engaging an attacker. It seems we're supposed to allow ourselves to be pummeled without defending ourselves, considered still to blame for the incident happening in the first place.

Even though we're at such overwhelming disadvantage, it's a wonder so many of my wonderful, skilled brothers and sisters dedicate ourselves each day to the smooth and efficient operations of transit. We take care to ensure our appearance is professional, our minds are focused on the enormous task ahead, and save thousands of careless lives each day through our dedication and vigilance. No matter the enormity of insults thrown at us, the unimaginable obstacles we skillfully guide our beasts through, each of us can nod in agreement at the end of the day: "been there, done that... good job sister/brother, I feel you." There's no management to greet us after the end of a late shift except our union Station Agents, offering the same words we have for each other. The "others" are snug in their beds, not a worry in their pampered heads, by the time I turn in my pouch at the end of shift.

The problem many of us have with this dog-and-pony show "Transit Appreciation Day" charade is that most of those who manage us cannot say they have the practical experience we do. Even rookies still in probation have a much greater awareness of transit operations than many in management do. With the exception of some Assistant Managers who actually came up through the ranks as operators, most of those entrusted with the efficient management of transit have no idea what consequences their actions have on our collective psyche. They rely on spreadsheets, "trends," or a misguided public perception of how it "ought to be." We're on the front lines of today's urban street battles. They sit comfortably in posh offices participating in meetings in which they are mostly impressed with their own voices.

We are largely unheard or ignored when policies of enormous impact are decided. Management makes a good show of pretending to listen. They "study" issues to death, then fail the exam. It makes for a demoralizing atmosphere in which we feel helpless and defiant toward them. To the riding public, we remain professional in our goal to provide passengers what management cannot simultaneously give us: respect and efficiency.

I cannot blame the underlings of non-union employees who show up this week to make a show for management in its staged-for-the-media event. They're paid to make the effort to give us baubles and bananas for one day each year in supposed "appreciation" for what we do. Problem is, these good people don't have a clue of what our job entails. When Board members take the time to get "out there" once a year to shake a few hands and make it seem they're showing us respect, it's mildly amusing. It would be more effective if they listened to us when we objected to their choice of the General Manager when St. Neil retired. We objected to their inevitably-annointed Vancouver reject, but it was to no avail. No "appreciation" there, folks. More of the same, no real-world experience, just another corporate wonk to fill the $200,00k+ job with golden egg benefits when he decides to retire. Me? I'll likely retire into a casket, with a fresh body ready and willing to take my place behind the wheel if a robot hasn't already taken the position.

There are no accolades for this writer who drives a bus for a living except the fact that YOU have written what I have written. YOU understand what I'm saying. Management has no clue. YOU appreciate what I do every shift, because YOU have done the same thing, felt what I have, been assaulted and vilified just to make a bi-monthly paycheck that doesn't even afford the cost of a mortgage these days. Thank YOU. I may never ben enriched for these words I put forth; the fact that you read them is reward enough.

As I've said before, management is cowardly. They take more than they deserve, and leave us the short straw. We're to blame for deficits, even though we pay the same transit tax they levied upon Portlanders a few years ago. They're full of excuses while we do the work they take credit for. I was insulted when President Clinton said "I feel your pain," because even a Dem who told us he was on our side was still bought and paid for by corporate America. He was born to politics like our bosses are born to corporate positions they don't deserve. Drive a bus a few years, THEN you might be qualified to manage US. If not, just go away. We could manage ourselves quite nicely, thank you.

I dare the GM to come onto my bus, tell me he knows I'm Deke. N. Freakin' Blue, and engage me in a meaningful and honest dialogue about transit. Otherwise, just stow your "Appreciation Day" where the sun don't shine, baby. Put me into his job and this agency would once again rise to the top. Why? Because I would do the job he should be doing: treating the front line workers with the respect our daily toils deserve.

Meanwhile, stay quiet, Management. You know who the hell I am, but you wait in the shadows for me to fuck up. You know my book sales are less than stellar. I've had limited success in the media. It has proven itself too cowardly to promote a viewpoint rarely acknowledged: that of those of us who do the true work of transit. Very few people read any more, if it's not a five-minute list of easy-to-understand talking points previously approved by our masters. Had my book become a best-seller, it would have required a vastly-different response. As it stands now, your control of the local media affords you the comfort of sitting back and ignoring my efforts. Yet, you know who Deke is. You're just too cagey to say so. Fire me, my book sales go through the roof and you're exposed for the inefficient frauds you truly are, from the Board on down to middle management. I get it. Great strategy. However, I will not shut up and go away. Nobody else speaks up for US; it's up to me to set the record straight.

Yeah, Appreciation. I don't buy the schtick. Most of us don't. It's like I said... a dog-and-pony production, a show for the media and the public. Another yearly expense item on the corporate balance sheet. A few bananas and candy, a media spot on the nightly news. Want to truly appreciate us? Do it every day of the year. Truly feel our pain. Don't fire us for refusing to be beaten bloody. Then, and only then, will I show any enthusiasm for this charade. Shame on you.


Friday, March 15, 2019

I Failed to Chillax Today

Deke's Note: I recently met a few operators who routinely read this blog, and a few others who were surprised to know such a thing existed. It's really fun to connect with regular and potential readers, and I hope all of you know how much I appreciate your support. Now, I shall wax half-assed eloquent about the rougher side of what we do.

Dear Portland:
Just because you've ridden a bus for "years" doesn't qualify you to lecture me. First, let's look at the definition of my job: to safely operate a bus on a fixed route. That's Priority #1. When you harass me, argue, put your feet on the seats, drink alcohol, drop sodas or food and trash all over the floor I carefully clean at the end of each trip, act rudely to your fellow passengers, and curse too frequently, I'm gonna call you on it. No, I'm not "being rude." I'm the transit agency's driver, and while I'm on the clock, the bus is mine. Not yours.

Just like being on a ship, rail car or airline, by purchasing a fare (those of you who actually do so) you agree to abide by transit code. It's simple: be prepared, be polite and don't waste my time with your exaggerated sense of entitlement. You're entitled to a safe ride. Period. You're treated extra special on my bus, because I smile and greet you when you board, even though a growing number of you don't even look at me, let alone say "Hello." You merely "Hop" (our latest fare convenience, where passengers tap their fare card on a reader) past me without acknowledgement, which many of us consider the ultimate in rudeness. It's as if we no longer exist; like the bus drives itself. We evidently don't even deserve a simple greeting. I take immense pride on providing a smooth ride and take special care when gliding into a stop. The least passengers can do is acknowledge me.

Several times more than I usually do, today I had to remind people to "Please keep the audio on your electronic devices OFF, thank you." Easy enough, but evidently too complicated for some. Why do I ask this of people? First, it's distracting. Normal conversations are what I consider "white noise," and easily ignored. When one person is playing a video or music out loud, it distracts me. It's usually something I wouldn't listen to, and even if it was it would still be distracting. Also, if one person is allowed to do so, another will say "Well if they can, I can too!" Suddenly, the bus is filled with a cacophony so loud I can't hear the engine, brakes, and other sounds I'm tuned into while driving. So yeah, I will politely assert myself on this rule. Other operators might not care, but I do. Arguing with me won't change my mind, children.

If another passenger needs correction, it's my job, not yours, to deal with it. When I ask someone to change their behavior, it doesn't require your input. People hate being corrected, and when someone other than the operator does it, they tend to become annoyed rather than compliant. In an instant, I can be embroiled in a heated argument over the silliest thing. One day, a rather grumpy regular of mine cursed a lady with a very large "service animal" (yeah, right... it was Fido the lovely pet) when she failed to keep him out of the aisle as new passengers boarded. I had asked her gently a few times, when Bradley Buttwiser felt the need to assert his non-existent authority. Normally, Bradley stands up front and mutters a constant stream of complaints against society as we roll. I can keep him calm with a few muttered "I heard that's" or "yeah that's not cool." This time, I came close to kicking him to the curb because he was very rude to the dog lady. She wasn't very accustomed to riding transit, and I consider it my responsibility to train newbies on proper etiquette.

Bradley was not very helpful. I gently explained to him I didn't need any aid keeping order on my bus, and to please refrain from correcting his fellow passengers, especially when he punctuates nearly every sentence muttered with a variation of "fuck." A few days after this encounter, a regular passenger who witnessed Bradley's bad behavior asked as she exited: "Do you think you should have kicked him off the bus for his bad behavior?" I replied in a kind tone: "It was close, but there's a fine line between keeping order and being assaulted, and I didn't want to be a victim. I was able to shut him up and therefore ride peacefully on." Luckily, she nodded and thanked me on her way out the door. I heaved a 20-ton sigh of relief. It's a balancing act when dealing with unruly passengers, and that one was a victory.

I've said it many times, but if the police would conduct sting operations around buses, our taxes could actually be lowered and motorists might be shamed into behaving safely. Police would write so many citations their employers could afford to give our cops a raise. People don't understand how we can fall behind schedule, and it boils down to three major reasons: A) heavy traffic; B) passengers not ready to board with fare in hand, taking minutes to board rather than seconds; and C) unruly, law-ignoring motorists. Kudos to management for adding a small reminder near our Yield light that it's actually the LAW to allow us to merge back into traffic after servicing a stop. However, I don't recall having seen a cop pull someone over for failing to yield to a transit vehicle. This happens hundreds of times a day on my route. Just think of the fines each city could collect if they actually enforced ORS 811.167! Wishful thinking, I guess. Especially considering cops are also guilty of this crime. "Oh if that cop can do it, so can I!" Thanks guys.

It was a rough day out there. People were abnormally-rude and insensitive. Many other operators also noticed this. Funny thing was, it was a beautiful day. Just last week, snowflakes were floating out of the sky like drunken sailors silently crushing the possibility of an early spring. The sun is expected to warm us out of our delayed and extended winter weather this next week. People are normally happier as spring springs forth. Not today.

For the first time in ages, I became enraged with a passenger. I've been working diligently on my verbal judo and have improved greatly when conditions warrant a steady hand. Today, I bellowed at a belligerent bitch who questioned my authority. It's not like me to be a power-hungry ass these days. I've learned disagreements are better settled with calm, easy humor rather than roaring like a horny lion. The combination of a missed breakfast coupled with surly passengers and outrageous motorists had me on edge before Homeless Hilda stepped on my last nerve. She exited before the cops arrived, so I just rolled on. My ride for the rest of the day had been ruined by one entitled moron. Rather than letting it roll off my shoulder as I normally would, this interaction stewed within. I worried that a SIP (complaint) would come in regarding my harsh reaction. My mind thought of countless other ways I could have handled it. I wondered how I would defend myself to a cold and unsupportive management during "Operator Appreciation Week." Given its penchant for "suspend now, arbitrate later," it's easy to fear the worst. It would be nice to be actually appreciated by being supported. Ah, oh well... wishful thinking.

If something goes wrong during any trip, an operator can't always shrug it off. Negatives tend to dwell in our subconscious thoughts, and this is distracting. It could be family or relationship issues or work-related, but anything that disrupts the balance of life can keep us from being 100% focused. So it's just not a good idea to purposefully annoy someone driving the vehicle you're riding in. Whenever I find my focus is disrupted, I'll park the bus and get out of the seat. I'll walk to the back where nobody but traffic can see me. I'll kick the bumper if necessary, draw on my vape, and repeat my daily mantra. It usually calms me enough to get back in the seat with a refreshed attitude. Other operators have their own tactics. We're trained to be "professional," but we're still human. Emotions are often in play when our roll becomes unbalanced. Driving while emotional is a transit crime; we need our minds focused on the serious task of moving 20 tons safely down the road.

As I rolled into the later part of my shift, the realization dawned: Hilda reminded me of my first wife. We divorced decades ago, but the severe emotional damage she caused lingers like a festering wound. Anyone who reminds me of "It who shall not be named" sets me off like a seriously pissed off hornet on a mission to sting everything in its path. (Does this guy need therapy, you ask? No, I've been there, done that. Some wounds never heal though. This blog is therapy enough.)

I rolled into the Spotter shack at the end of my shift and enjoyed friendly banter with our sister who welcomed me back. They're very good at helping us unwind, soothing a day's worth of unwanted jabs with kind words and a smile. Afterward, I found my assigned track, glided the beast into its final stop of the night, and sighed with relief as I set the parking brake. Some days are an ex wife. Hopefully today will be more like my Beloved.

Safe travels, and thanks as always for reading my ranting scribbles. I appreciate you!

Love, Deke

Monday, March 4, 2019

How I Want to FIX Portland Transit

Thanks to Don Welch of Ontario for providing this magic image! 

Deke's Note: I made a mistake and read one review of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane, in which I was criticized for bitching too much. Sorry, but I do tend to be repetitive for a good reason. People don't learn unless the truth is blasted at them often and loud. I've also been told I'm too afraid of my own management to really let them have both barrels. Bullshit. I try to see many angles but tend to side with my brothers and sisters, who are often unfairly-maligned and maltreated. Don't think I'm "tough enough" to take on the bullies who run roughshod over us? Think again, matey. Here I go again. #DekeForGM is for real. If anything, you can bank on THAT.

Everyone has an opinion. Today, anybody can post their thoughts on any topic they choose. Today, I offer my own take on what ails our once-enviable transit system.

First and foremost, our management is woefully out-of-touch with reality. There is no excuse for the vast disconnect between those entrusted with the reins of transit. In my opinion, there is but one reason for their existence: to oversee a safe system for all. It has no reason to exist if not for those who make the wheels roll. In the past decade, it has become too big for its britches, and like a child who has misbehaved, needs to be disciplined. Rather than functioning as a finely-tuned logistical support system, it treats its frontline workers with seeming disgust and an overweight hand. It would rather slap us than help us up, and shockingly fails to support us whenever our local media finds something we did "wrong." Even worse, when tragedy strikes, it does virtually nothing to defend us. Simply stating "the incident is under investigation" is insulting to a workforce which diligently focuses on delivering passengers safely every hour of each day. When some malcontent whines to the media with some concocted story about how poorly an operator treated them, we're automatically suspect rather than defended. The whiner is glorified, we are vilified. After management's "investigation" is completed and an operator is exonerated, not a finger is lifted to alert media of the initial character assassination being proven false. It devastates an operator when our own management fails to support us. We were once respected and celebrated. Now, we're disrespected and considered guilty before any hope of a "fair" trial.
Deke in his environment: the elements.

Their big charade thrown on "Transit Operator Appreciation Day" still rings hollow to many of us who are subject to humiliation and insult with increasingly alarming frequency. We're used to the public screaming insults at us since it's a daily occurrence. Management assaulting us is not something we should have to endure. They might as well slap us in the face themselves and get the usual tap on the wrist from our justice system. Maybe they should be rewarded with a fat $ettlement when we ask them to keep their shit-smeared shoes off our rarely-cleaned seats. Oh wait... they already are. Have you seen the salaries of upper management lately? Usually 2-3 times more than we make. Overpaid, under-qualified and arrogant, they are. Yet the public has no idea because it is, as usual, uninformed by a disinterested and lazy local media.

There are some good people in management, but they tend to work closer to the front lines and have actually done our jobs. Many managers have never done the job they're supposedly "experts" on. They throw ridiculous edicts at us such as "You should have de-escalated the situation, but you didn't. You're suspended." It's so easy to tell someone how to do sor omething you've never done; it's much easier to commiserate with another if you've driven in-service several thousand miles in a city bus. We hear it from a public every day, which is "empowered" simply because people ride for years and think they have the slightest inkling of what they could never understand.

A transit operator will be insulted at least once, if not several times, each shift we drive by people who have never been educated on how transit works, let alone what our responsibilities are. We should be the ultimate authority on any vehicle we operate, but any authority we once had has been watered down like some shady nightclub's bottom-shelf whisky. This is a direct result of shoddy, lazy and irresponsible management. When someone breaks our local (or federal) transit code and we ask them politely to obey, their response can be either violently- or passively-aggressive: an assault or a false complaint to "Customer Service." These end up in our personnel file whether true or false, and are rarely deleted unless we put up a fierce fight which could result in termination for being insubordinate. Does this sound so far-fetched as to make you think it's just not so? It is unreal, but it's most often the case.

Local transit management should have been fired years ago, but it has been allowed to run roughshod over its own employees and the communities it serves. It has too much unchecked power for far too long. It promised its employees decades ago to fund a pension and provide medical insurance for a career that results in health issues in lieu of regular pay increases, but when it was caught red-handed having not done so, nobody was disciplined. Somebody should be in jail as a result, but an internet search for this fails to bring up the true story. It was swept under the carpet, and instead of an in-depth investigation, articles portrayed our employer as an innovator in "pension reform" because it suddenly decided it could no longer afford what was promised. Instead, it switched to a 401k system, which as we all know is a roll of the dice. If the stock market tanks, our retirement is gone baby, gone. Sure, pension investments can go wrong too, so financially it makes sense to shift the responsibility and risk to the worker. Instead of admitting its failure, management shifted the blame to a "greedy" workforce, a classic bait-and-switch tactic in which it convinced the media we expected and had "Cadillac benefits." It was sly, and it worked. People who have given their entire adult lives to a career that breaks body, mind and soul into crumbs that blow away with the slightest breeze were sold out and then blamed for it. Sure, they pay pensions to retirees whose union benefits afforded them this benefit. Yet with each new contract, new hires see the "Cadillacs" being traded in for 40-year-old Pintos.

I could continue on management's failures, but let's also look at the politically-appointed Board of Puppets which "oversees" them. Having been to a few "bored" meetings, my first impression was that each of them would rather be somewhere else. They tend to side with those whom they are supposed to govern. When an operator, union official or citizen speaks, they just nod as if they're trying very hard not to fall asleep. The whole board should be scrapped and replaced with democratically-elected servants who are fully-accountable to the public they serve. There currently is no accountability, no true representation for a government within itself with power to tax and prosecute. It's purely un-American, but status quo in Portland, Oregon.

Enough about management. It stirs up my blood pressure to continue on when nobody but US knows the truth. My suggestion is to fire the entire top-heavy upper management down to street-level and replace it with people who have rolled wheels or rails. There are plenty of us who have excelled in the private sector and could do a much better job. Sound a bit drastic? Sometimes solutions have to be, in order to save something so valuable to a city that largely depends upon it. The cold hard truth is bitter, but the aftertaste can be sweet and lasting.

Solutions: Replace the majority of upper management, thin the herd by about 60%. Support a bill allowing for board members to be elected by the public to serve no more than two four-year terms. Create a true "family" atmosphere in which employees are truly valued, not just given lip service. Move upper management to a location in which it is closer to Operations and encourage open-door policies. Work closely with ATU 757 members to bring Portland transit back to an upper-echelon status worldwide. Re-vamp how the agency deals with the public via education, a new Customer Service model, eliminate destructive employee policies and support the mental and physical well-being of all who work here. Focus once again on overall safety of frontline workers rather than on-time performance. Work closely with law enforcement to provide a safer work environment, including personal vehicle safety in Employee parking areas. Allow Maintenance to promote from within, remove ALL non-union contracts so that Fare Inspectors and others are under the ATU umbrella. Encourage and reward those who put forth new ideas which promote a positive work environment. Basically: start over.

Dangerous crossings, traffic light sequences, schedule inconsistencies and many other things need to be fixed before we "improve" the system by adding more expensive new light rail projects. We should have learned by now how dangerous our downtown transit mall is, but nothing has been done in a decade to fix the most obvious problems. I would suspend all new projects pending further review and concentrate on improving facilities and conditions for all frontline workers

Since the cops are not required to enforce traffic laws there, strongly encourage the city to eliminate non-transit vehicles from 5th and 6th Avenues downtown. Re-align the transitways so rail and bus lines don't intermix as often. Fine pedestrians for jaywalking. Upgrade Portland's antique traffic light algorithms and give transit vehicles signal priority to allow for more efficiency from stop to stop. Insist the city clean up the homeless population from cluttering up doorways... give them somewhere safe, clean and warm to sleep in exchange for working to keep our city clean, making it more attractive to tourists and industry to come here. Stop rewarding bad behavior and enforce transit code, especially downtown. Make it somewhere visitors aren't afraid to tread upon, rather than accepting the current status quo. Do something and innovative for the mentally-ill and downtrodden and give them hope rather than constantly showing disdain. Over 40 bus and rail lines share this transit mall. Instead of ignoring safety concerns, address them and take positive steps to improve what could be once again a downtown of innovation instead of a reactionary mess.

Solutions: See above.

Is undereducated and too damned entitled where transit is concerned. We're here for a reason: to give you a ride. It's not free, nor should any service so valuable to the local economy be. I agree there should be low fare options for those who truly need it, but nothing good should be free. Passengers need to be prepared to board. They need to obey the rules, going so far as to actually read SIGNS ON THE BUS or TRAIN which outline the basic rules of transit. Management needs to educate you about the possible consequences of non-compliance, as well as taking an active role in your education. The public needs to respect transit employees, not tell us how to do what we already know.

We're diligent about transporting you safely. All we ask is that you respect US and the ride. When we ask you to do something, eliminate argument or debate. We've heard it all before, but what it all boils down to is YOUR safety and that of your fellow riders. No, we're not "on some power trip." We take our jobs seriously, and are extremely focused on the road ahead, around AND behind us. Your input is often unnecessary and in some cases, outright dangerous. If you can't abide by the rules of a $2.50 ride, take a taxi or drive yourself. Can't afford either? Then why are you questioning my operation of a vehicle which I've been professionally-trained to operate? Can you drive it? No. Sit down, shut up and behave yourself. It's that simple. No, we're not being rude when we respond in a manner that you didn't expect; we're simply more focused on keeping 40,000 lbs. from hurting anybody. Extremely-focused.

You're sitting there staring at your phone, not tuned in to whatever mindset three million other possible passengers might possess. We don't have the ability to know the schedules of any number of other routes you need to connect with; we don't drive those. Use your phones or ask another passenger instead of berating us for "not knowing your jobs." We know ours, you should know your role as well.

Oh, and to say "thank you" on your way out the door isn't expected, but it is polite. You're welcome. You arrived at your destination safely. Not on time? Sorry, but that 10-minute freight train derailed my schedule and shortened my dinner break. You're riding for a few dollars and anyone with a third-grade education should be able to understand that transit is unpredictable at best, usually at no fault of the operator. When you berate us for your missing a connection, it's not the end of the world. Another bus or train will serve you shortly. When it's snowing or icy or hot outside, you're waiting just like we do when the operator is late to our relief point due to no fault of their own. Life is hard, but transit is easy... and inexpensive. Buck up, buttercup.

Have your fare ready before we roll up to your stop. Pay promptly, be courteous and polite, sit down and mind your business. Don't drink your booze on the vehicle, spit on the floor, spread garbage far and wide even though a trash can is easily within reach. Ignore when someone accidentally bumps into you as they walk past rather than incite an argument. Don't fart, piss your pants, cuss with abandon or insult your fellow passengers. Just...ride. It's easy, and we expect this from you just like you expect us to get you there safely. Still don't get it? Try walking. It'll make my ride that much more peaceful.

Solutions: See above, but also work with the city to provide better facilities for the riding public including better shelters and install restroom facilities. Have them cleaned by employing the homeless.

Hello? It's me, Bus Operator Guy! Yeah, the guy you love to berate at any opportunity. Or, to ignore completely unless something tragic happens. Then you're quick to blame me in your headlines, when I'm conspicuously-absent in the media every day I'm on time and safe. I'm saving lives and avoiding aggressive motorists while you wonder where you'll find your next sensational "story" that's sure to shine in your editor's eye. When someone doesn't watch where they're going, wearing headphones and staring at their cell phone while walking directly into a transit vehicle's path, getting hit and horribly-injured due to their own foolishness, your headline shouldn't read "Bus Kills Pedestrian." It automatically places the blame on an operator who has already saved double-figure lives that day and cannot predict every moment of human stupidity. Try something like "Clueless Pedestrian Walks into Moving Bus." It's likely the more fair statement of what happened. It's also more instructive, if not brutally honest.

Try riding transit and getting to know those of us who make it work. Watch what we do and ask why. Don't always focus on the negative. We're human, therefore fallible. Our actions more often save lives than endanger them. We're your neighbors, fellow church-going taxpaying voting and civic-minded citizens of the same metropolis you live in. Often portrayed as stubborn and unforgiving, we are usually extremely-focused and caring individuals. Each day, there are about a thousand-plus frontline workers working together to move the workforce to and from the jobs which fuel our economy. Human to the core, we deserve more respect and care than we're afforded.

Solutions: Work with the media to improve public knowledge of the transit system and how everyone can make it better. Promote positive media of those who take Portland to work. Change transit's media message to be supportive of frontline workers rather than negative or accusatory. Develop timely videos which are instructive and promote a more cooperative relationship between the public we serve and those who make transit possible. 

Good grief, you drive as if you're the only person in the world who matters. No, a monstrously-large dually-truck doesn't give you the right to drive like an idiot. Perhaps you are, but even idiots have been known to possess a conscience on occasion. You have a high center of gravity. Know what that means? Over-correct and you're head-over-ass and in deep water without much hope of escaping unscathed.

Oh it's a Mercedes or an Audi or Range Rover shined to a $20 luster in which you assault your fellow citizens? My apologies. I should get out of my bus when you cut me off and bow to your greatness, begging forgiveness for just doing my job. Yes, it's a road-hogging and maddeningly-slow machine I drive, but it weighs 20 tons. You made enough money to buy that extravagant status symbol, you should also possess enough intelligence to realize what havoc 40,000 lbs. can wreak upon 3,500. No, I can't stop on a dime. Yes, when my YIELD light is blinking along with my left turn signal, you ARE required by law to allow me to merge back into traffic. It's my job: I roll, then brake and pull to the side of the road to discharge or board passengers, and then I roll back into the right lane until someone requests I stop or more people await my ride. It's B-A-S-I-C, Einstein.

That yellow traffic signal ahead does NOT mean it's time for you to PUNCH IT so you don't have to stop for 30 seconds of your precious entitled existence. Pedestrians could leave the sidewalk to the supposed safety of a green walk signal and get creamed by your impatience. Oh, and you had a few cocktails after work and are in a hurry to harass the officials at your daughter's basketball game? Guess what? Now you won't see any more of those games because Sally GasPumper just made a bloody mess of your shiny, expensive bumper. She is on her way to the morgue where her devastated next-of-kin will have to try and identify what was a loving and caring person. SLOW DOWN, people. Follow the laws you agreed to obey when you were issued that license to drive. Otherwise, your life and whoever is unfortunate to attempt sharing the road with you will be forever altered to the negative.

No, I didn't cut you off and then give you the finger. I pulled out a bit to test the waters. You hesitated, as if you might actually have some patience since the light ahead is red anyway, and I rolled out with a friendly thank you wave because I mistook you for a decent person giving a transit operator an opening in the constant flow of traffic. You lied when you called Customer Service to complain, but there were no other witnesses so you get to slide. Because of my supposed error in believing you were yielding to me, I get hauled into some manager's office to defend myself. As if I can remember every single instance this happens. As if I flip people off with abandon even though my very sustenance depends on my remaining the ultimate professional. As if I would jeopardize my paycheck in some imagined scenario where I pulled out in front of you without determining the safety of such a maneuver first. I hope you feel better now, you insipid twit. Oh, and here's that imaginary finger you lied about: picture it, because it is now reality, asshole.

That sign with eight sides up there says STOP, in case you forgot. Not slow down or not, rolling through it as if it were a simple annoyance. If you do decide to obey the law, the vehicle to your RIGHT has the right-of-way. That bus operator who thought you were doing the right thing and started to roll, stopped to save your butt when your phone-obsessed mind dismissed him and turned directly in front of his incredibly-large vehicle. You're welcome for not ruining your day.

Yes, you're behind a bus. It's a short-lived bummer. It will pull over again shortly, giving you room to proceed around it. When it's pulling out, that's not an invitation to zip around it, cut back into the same lane just inches from its moving front bumper and slam on your brakes in time to turn into the 7-11 parking lot. Oh, there's a pedestrian walking in the sidewalk who you couldn't see because you were speeding around a 40-foot vision barrier, so you stop rather than spoil your wax job. When the operator predicted what you would do by watching your behavior in his small glimpse of life in a rearview mirror, he saved your life by stopping his 20-ton beast before it slammed into your 20-year-old Honda, you 19-year-old know it all. Enjoy that energy drink, and the very air you breathe. You're welcome.

Solutions: Encourage the legislature to make driving licenses a privilege once again, by installing new rules which make ALL drivers subject to periodic education and testing of their knowledge and driving abilities. Insist law enforcement ride transit and report violators of traffic code in sting operations involving transit vehicles. Subject frequent violators to an intensive training regimen which encourages safe driving of all who share the roads. Promote bond issues which would pay for safer pedestrian crossings and sidewalks. Reward those who drive safely and responsibly.

Yes, we're fallible, but would you rather our vehicles be operated via computer? No. It's better for all to have a trained human roll wheels for you. When we break Standard Operating Procedures trying to be the "nice operator," we're setting often dangerous precedents passengers expect us to follow. "That other driver lets me off here," a common complaint I hear when someone asks me for a courtesy stop where nobody in their right mind would agree is safe. Grow a set and hold your ground, if not for a passenger's safety but also for those of us who believe in doing what we're trained to do. Sure, people will call you names and try to pressure you into doing what they want, but you're ultimately the one responsible if something goes tragically wrong.

We all feel pressured when shit happens. Running late, we might skimp on safety to salvage a break at the end of the line. What I've found is you're likely to arrive at the same time no matter what rules you break. It's better to avoid tragedy and simply drive safely no matter what the clock says. Gotta pee so bad your bladder is screaming? Restroom delay that sucker. Take care of yourself FIRST. Let Dispatch help get you back on schedule. Unless you're fond of writing numerous reports, just roll the same safe way no matter the circumstances. Your career will be much smoother.

On the whole, I commend my fellow brothers and sisters. I see you do MANY more righteous things than bad. Your misdeeds are forgiven in light of the disasters you constantly prevent through your professionalism and dedication. I will wave at you no matter what, unless I'm too focused on whatever task I'm performing to notice you roll past. Why do I wave? Simply because I respect you, I know what you're going through, and because you deserve it. We are constantly sniped at, and my wave is my way of saying "Hello, YOU ROCK!" Nobody else seems to do it, so I feel it absolutely necessary to salute you.

Solutions: Promote operator wellness and safety over schedule. A well-treated employee is apt to perform at top efficiency if they feel supported and valued. Make one day a month ALL YEAR "Transit Worker Appreciation Day" rather than one day a year. Perhaps then we won't view it as a dog-and-pony show. Encourage the public to treat us with respect, and reward passengers twice a year or so with a "FREE RIDE DAY." Positive reinforcement goes a long way when dealing with the human race.

I could write another book based simply on many of the points I touched upon here. But I won't. Why? It's not worth my time, because most people don't care about what a transit operator thinks. We've become a selfish society, rigidly opposed to changing behaviors. Sure, they share lovely memes on social media and try to impress upon others how upstanding and wonderful they are, but when in their own vehicle all bets are thrown to the litter-strewn streets. They're oblivious to the danger they pose to themselves or others, and blame someone else for personal faults. So yeah, while few will read these words and some who do won't give a damn, it's all I have. This keyboard is my self-therapy. Writing is my outlet. It makes me feel better about what we do, and that's just enough to get me back into the seat. Until then, please be safe. Your family wants you to come home safe, and so do we.

To those of you who do appreciate us and work hard to do your part on transit, THANK YOU! If only the rest would follow your example, that would help the entire system work better. When you give us a kind word, a smile, share a joke and thank us for our efforts, it really makes us feel appreciated.

One result of a pampered public.
#DekeForGM knows how it is "out there." Repeat this hashtag whenever you note what's wrong and want things to change for the better. It should be obvious the frontline workers should be supported from within. Get your heads out of the rectal-cranial inversion, Management. We need you to be with us rather than agin us. Y'hear? Of course not. You have become another aggressive motorist, but your middle finger is a disheartening constant. Sleep tight while we're doing the real work of transit. Thanks, and you're welcome.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

I Left My Favorite Route

Deke's Note: The end of a signup was once an exciting time. I looked forward to my new work and lamented on leaving the old behind. We live our jobs in quarter-years; they either resemble the previous three months or offer new horizons. Now, it's more of the same with the sun's cycle being the most obvious change. Here are my thoughts on Winter rolling into Spring '19.

I'm a creature of habit. Driving a bus has become secondary to my job; learning the finer intricacies of a run is more the challenge as I become more seasoned. Today, I left behind a route I've had a love affair with since becoming Operator #DekeForGM. (Put me in charge of the joint and we'd be #1 faster than the wheels of a bus spin.)

This route and I have had a love affair since I first rode prior to working for Portland's transit agency. Vistas are wide as my rolling office window, people are prepared and polite (for the most part, unless they "Hop" on board, apparently giving them permission to ignore me completely), and I have the timing just about perfect for each trip.

Today, I had the honor of a young man riding with me about 90 minutes who knows more about our system than I do. He guessed a photographic riddle, so I awarded him a newly-issued "Deke Writes the Bus" baseball cap. It was bittersweet having him along for the roll, since he boarded my bus last year with the knowledge that I am, indeed, Deke. It shouldn't be hard to discover; I've left hints aplenty. Management either knows and won't say, or are as ignorant as many believe them to be. (Management: I won't lie to you if you ask. I'm not built that way. Just don't fire me! Our relationship has been rough, but I'm forgiving to honest people.)

Anyway, Lad #1 is one of two transit pros with whom I've had the great pleasure to become acquainted. These two fellas know more about our transit system than most managers, down to time points of dozens of routes to who drives how or when or where. It's very touching when they take time just to roll with me and talk. I love kids; that's why I have so many of my own. My tenure as a grandpa has been spotty at best, and my own sires are adults now. I've found myself looking forward to either of these guys riding, and one cold evening I had the pleasure of driving them both. Lads #1 and #2, thank you. Sometimes this job is a bitch, but when young people take such an interest in what we do and share their own knowledge, it becomes fun again. I'm tempted to bestow my only other hat to Lad #2; I've driven him since he was a ball-toting sprout riding with his father.

Today, I said goodbye to a run that has fallen victim to route-switching due to the Powell Garage rebuild. It moved to Merlo, but I cannot follow. For years, I've rolled its scenic and peaceful roads as my week becomes final. Most runs include "regulars" who ride every time you're in the seat. There have been a few I've come to know. Two ladies (sisters, I believe) have boarded downtown and ridden 20 minutes to their destination for as long as I can remember. We parted ways briefly last year, and we were all overjoyed at being reunited again last December.

Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Tonight they both grasped my hands in farewell. One of them slipped me a tip. I protested, but she skipped off quicker than her years suggested possible. It nearly moved me to tears. We don't know each other that well. They ride, I drive. They exit, we exchange pleasantries. It's as simple as transit relationships can be, but it's sweet. Considering most of today's technology-subdued riders can't even meet my glance when I greet them, it's always consoling when people smile and tell me they appreciate my smooth ride. Thank you, ladies... we will meet again sometime down the road apiece.

As I rolled down the familiar streets on my last run, dodging manhole covers out of practice habit, timing lights I've known for years, and predicting motorist behaviors without a scratch, it was tough to not feel sad. Having driven about 80% of our routes, this is easily my favorite. The people don't call in compliments, but they are appreciative nonetheless. They're transit savvy and prepared to board. Very few times have I had to ask Dispatch for any help due to passenger misbehavior. Conversations onboard are intelligent and lively, devoid of boorish jailhouse escapades and bravado. Hitting the Fare Evasion button is rare, and riders are apologetic when they don't have their fares ready. They respond to my cornball humor with polite chuckles, and thank me for noting "the Hood is out today." It's a run I temporarily leave behind with no regrets; I will be back.

I can't leave you with all this mushy crap and not recount at least one Mean Mercedes tale. On one point in my roll, I have to change lanes between two close intersections in order to make a left turn. As operators of large vehicles know, we'll activate our blinkers and move over after at least three seconds; if we're not politely aggressive, we have to stop and wait.

Today, Bozo Benzie saw my blinker and sped up as if to say "Oh no you don't, Bus Boy, I'm more important and... HEY!" I picked my moment perfectly, just as he sped up but was far enough back not to knock him spinning into the intersection. Lad #1 was there as I predicted Meanie's response.

"Watch," I said, "this Mercedes didn't wanna let me in. He's changing lanes now, yep. Gonna honk and flip me off as he zips by."


I smiled, looked at what I was doing, and made my turn smoothly as usual. Lad #1 laughed.

"Yep," he replied, "he sure did!"

Some people feel "entitled." They drive as if everyone else is in their way. Benzie Boyo is entitled to free driving lessons any time he wants. He'll have to pay about $250/hour for my services, but he's good for at least 20 hours of instruction. It would still be cheaper than the repairs on his preciously-shiny toy if he hit me.

See ya again someday, Route #LoveIt.

Sadness BusBits

Deke's Note: After the fright, stress and flashbacks of the violent incident on my bus just over a week ago, I have ached to reach back ...