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


  1. Agreed and appreciated!!! People don’t know what we go through unless your doing this job!! Kudos to you for this!!! Words we operators all can feel!!

  2. Nailed it again. I love reading your posts and share them with my fellow drivers.

  3. Another successful entry, Deke. Top notch. Relatable on so many levels. Glad to be out there on the front lines with you.