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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!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Angry Deke Must Go


Dear Beloved Readers,

In just over a week, this blog will have its sixth birthday. It has been my great joy to write here, but it seems the joy has been replaced by anger and bitterness. In fact, I've become quite a nasty five-year-old who needs a good spanking.

Through much reflection and disappointment in myself, it has become obvious I've lost the most important attribute which once made these words sing: the art of fun.

"You have to have fun every day," Daddy told me many times. He lived to be nearly 92. At this rate, I'll surely dig myself into an early grave.

I'm not having fun here any more. What happened to the stories of the road? Nearly disappeared. Where are my studies of human interest? When was the last time I wrote something funny? Just how and when did I turn into a seething mass of fury? It's been longer than memory serves me.

Another tendency over the past few years is an increase in words. If a writer can't be brief, they become boring, complacent, predictable. I'm sure that when many people see a new blog entry pop up, they likely think "Oh God, what's Deke bitching about now? I don't have time to read a novel."

It's very heartwarming to have been read all over the world: Canada, Ukraine, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Germany, France. Transit operators are a melting pot of diversity, yet we share a common bond once we get behind the wheel. Many of our collective stories ring a bell with others thousands of miles away. You could put a group of operators from different countries in one room, and I'm sure we'd all find much in common. We'd also laugh at our shared experiences. To reach such a wide spectrum of people is an accomplishment I never dreamed of when I wrote the first entry here on May 5, 2013.

Yes, management needs to be called on the carpet from time to time. I'm not sure I can resist. There are many times when I've sounded like a scratchy old LP, and that needs to stop. One thing I've learned over the years is that the faces may change, but those in power never learn. We'll continue to be their punching bags no matter what or how often I write about it. It's time for somebody else to take the baton, because I'm out of wind.

On my desk is a photo of Dad laughing as I read him a few chapters of my book, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. He truly enjoyed the fun parts of the book. He laughed often and loud; it was perhaps the greatest accomplishment I've known, to entertain my hero. I haven't laughed much since he died. Perhaps I've just been too angry at myself to remember how to have fun the past few years. I'm very hard on myself, and expect great dividends for my diligence. The problem is however, that I've worked too hard at the wrong things. Yeah, I miss the old dude. He taught me joy is found in the simplest notes on the chart. It's time to sing his tune again.

Deke loves to have fun, so I'm challenging myself to do it more often. Hang in there, and I will bring you along. Maybe, somehow, I'll also be able to one day stand up and say, "Hi, my name is... and I'm Deke N. Blue." That would be cool. We'll see.

Thank you all for this bumpy road we've been on together. Give me some time, and I'll bring out the road crews to smooth the route again. I truly look forward to having fun with you again. If for some reason that is easier said than done, perhaps I'll just have to set the parking brake one final time. I'd rather just keep the wheels rolling.

With love and respect,
Deke


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Protect ME, Not My Assailant

Deke's Note: Perusing Facebook recently, I found Willamette Week reader comments about an Oregon legislative bill to make assaulting transit workers a felony. Many readers support the bill, others do not. Here's a few of their remarks, followed by my thoughts on what people are saying about the proposed HB2677.

"Sounds more like an excuse to jail the homeless and mentally ill to me." -- Terri Rothfusz

"Does anyone who's against this actually know what it's like to be trapped in that operator seat, and opening the door to who-knows-what? It's not like the bus or MAX operators have another escape route. I can tell you that operating the bus after being menaced or threatened puts hundreds of other lives at risk, but you wouldn't believe me until you've sat in that seat yourself." -- Thomas Palmer


Why make assaulting a transit worker a felony? Some say it goes "too far" protecting certain classes of worker, putting "marginalized groups" at greater risk of prosecution. Along with many of my brothers and sisters, I heartily disagree.

Reading the recent WW article "Slap a Bus Driver..." I found it strangely slanted toward how it would be wrong to protect public sector workers who are subject to vicious assaults. The article quotes an attorney who asks what makes us "special." The tone of the article suggests it should be okay to beat the crap out of us, especially if there is no weapon involved. It further whines about how "homeless people and people of color" would be unfairly targeted by a law elevating assault on transit workers a felony. What makes us "special," it asks pointedly.

How about this:

  • We transport a large percentage of this city's workforce to and from their jobs?
  • We do so without the benefit of protection.
  • Those who attack us are not usually of one or two specific classes of the population.
  • Assaults and menacing have been on the rise here (and nationwide) over the past five years
  • Leonard James, a popular Line 33 operator, was stabbed and suffered long-term health problems which eventually resulted in his premature retirement in 2012.
  • A fellow bus operator documents incidents in which Portland transit workers are menaced, threatened and assaulted; in 2018, he documented 116 such incidents. Our employer's numbers are far less, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 numbers are somewhere in between the two. There is no agreed-upon standard, or rational definition of violence toward transit workers, between the parties.
  • We transport people of all races and socioeconomic statuses. An attack can come from anyone, and it certainly isn't always from a homeless person or "person of color."
Assholes come in every color, race, religion or socioeconomic status. To base a decision on whether to vote for making transit worker assaults a felony based on these reasons is a cop-out.

Try physically assaulting a politician, cop or airline pilot and see how long you sit in a cell. Yet transit operators remain in the cellar opinion-wise as to our worth to society. We're disrespected at many levels, except for the decent passengers who pay their fare and follow rules designed to keep everyone safe.

The majority of our passengers simply want to use our inexpensive, safe ride to reach a destination. They neither favor or oppose us. We provide a service, and they use it. There is an expectation of civility on transit, the same as you would assume exists in any public space. Society demands certain behaviors from people in various situations. While Americans are somewhat arrogant when it comes to social responsibility compared to those in other countries, most of us tend to get along reasonably in groups. If we keep our prejudices silent, treat others with respect and use decent manners, there are usually few problems.

Then there's a minority who are not afraid to express these self-entitled mores to those they deem inferior. This smaller group is largely well-behaved and easily-ignored. An even smaller group has no respect for rules or for those who devote their working lives to providing transit services. They can usually be handled efficiently as they're often not intelligent enough to be outwitted by experienced operators.

Finally, there is the smallest percentage of people who are hell-bent on wreaking havoc no matter the consequences. Either that, or they don't believe anyone has the "right" to tell them how to behave. This is the most dangerous group we encounter, and it happens on any bus or light rail line every service day. Many have been incarcerated before, and have some strange self-destruct gene the rest of us lack. Any "rule" is meant for others, not them, or so they tend to believe. A bus operator to them is simply a robot, or yet another "uniform" they feel no respect for and is therefore open game for their brand of mayhem.

Granted, many in this group are often in serious need of mental health treatment. We can thank our government for not providing necessary services, as it chose decades ago to stop funding facilities designed to treat their various conditions. Now they tend to reside "on the street" due to their inability to secure and/or maintain employment. Yes, they are "marginalized." This, according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, means "to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group." Society has done this to protect itself from those the government refuses to protect us from.

While I don't know the exact definition of "normal," I suppose in this context it means people who are not prone to routinely cause trouble for others. Most of us have something wrong with us, but it doesn't (for the most part) inhibit us from peacefully coexisting with the public-at-large. As long as we follow socially-acceptable behavior, life just rolls bumpily along.

When Billy Badass gets on board and starts causing a ruckus, it automatically registers on my radar as I guide The Beast down the road. First, my attention is distracted from the normal sounds one hears on a bus. That's dangerous, because our focus needs to be mostly centered upon a wide view of the road. Once I'm distracted, the chances of making a costly mistake that could injure many people off or on my bus is multiplied. At this moment, I have to make an instant judgment call. Is Billy a threat not only to my attention, but to my other passengers? If yes, I have to pull over and either use verbal judo to get Billy to simmer down or call Dispatch for assistance. Once that happens, my bus is delayed. If I have to wait for help to arrive, the schedule is shot and hopefully I'm not caught in the crossfire.


When an operator is attacked, it places everyone aboard in danger. I cannot adequately defend myself "in the seat," as I'm largely vulnerable in this facing-forward position. My management counsels us not to leave the seat as it tends to be considered aggressive. Their position is it's better for us to remain passive as we're under threat, or attack. Any movement we make is often construed as too aggressive, even though we could be terrified out of our wits. This logic is fallible at best, but that's how they think. Operators have been suspended or fired for using too much force than it considers "reasonable self-defense." I've been down this road many times in this forum, and it's full of potholes, a position I cannot seem to effectively communicate to the masses. It's ludicrous to keep trying, perhaps the very definition of insanity. Yet I keep doing so in hopes at some point the public finally gets the point: we are constantly put in serious risk of injury, or God help us, a violent death.

Back to Billy. He's either embroiled in a verbal or physical altercation with one or more of my once-calm passengers. I'm on the radio with Dispatch, who assures me "help is on the way." I have no idea how far said "help" is, so I'm left to my own devices. An operator is a human being, subject to the biological "fight or flight" syndrome that has been with us since our DNA came into being. Upon feeling a threat, I'm going to turn sideways toward the door, unbuckle my safety belt and watch the scene unfold. Both doors are open, and the parking brake set, tranny in neutral. If Billy decides I'm his next victim, my defensive stance (still in the seat, but less vulnerable now) at least allows me more options to defend my heartbeat. Hopefully, it also exonerates me from the Monday Morning Quarterback Review board's determination into whether I did everything reasonable and prudent during the incident. Mostly though, I'm more concerned for my well-being and that of my passengers than what some corporate manager thinks.

Once the cops blast through the door and subdue Billy, my body returns to a less intense state. However, the adrenalin rush has drained me, my blood pressure has rocketed, and now I'm angry. Passengers want to know when we can leave, yet I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to continue in service. Why? Because Billy will be on my mind the rest of my shift, and I'll be driving in a diminished capacity. Management however, wants me to roll on. They don't understand how it feels to be threatened unless they've been in my position.

The result of this behavior from one person of nearly a thousand I've served that day has already cost thousands of dollars in the 20 minutes it took to unfold. Various personnel have responded to the scene. Reports are written, Dispatch notified of the incident's body count, passengers giving statements to the cops. It's a massive waste of time and money. Oh but wait... Billy is of a "disadvantaged societal group" and therefore due special consideration for his outrageous behavior.

Now the courts must decide what type of punishment to dole out. This also costs the taxpayer money. Are we unfairly picking on Billy because he's a drug addict whose childhood drove him to cause trouble? Not at all. If Cindy Accountant had done what Billy had, there would be no calls for leniency from advocacy groups. She'd be in big trouble.

So why not just make sure Billy gets help? Because taxes are not usually spent to protect the taxpayers themselves. It's not spent on schools because the prison industry wants to fill beds rather than help Billy at his most vulnerable age. If our society would re-direct focus toward helping youths navigate the mosh pit of a disadvantaged beginning, perhaps the end result would be a healthier Billy.

Try pushing a cop, he might just beat your ass all the way to jail. Punch an airline pilot? You're going away for a long time. Shove Lassie Operator driving a 20-ton bus with 40 people on board, and the special interest groups will attack her safety record and plead down Billy's dangerous stunt to a misdemeanor. Lassie gets a Preventable Accident for slicing off Polly Prius's illegally-parked car as she wrestles the bus into a safe landing. Or worse, the bus flips over and people are killed, magnifying Lassie's woes as the focus turns on her rather than the perpetrator who caused the disturbance.

The WW article also quotes our GM as saying the agency's support of HB 2677 is "an example where we work with the ATU." Really? About damn time. Dude, we've been up management's ass about assaults most of this decade, and now you're bragging about finally wagging your finger at the bad boys who ride our rolls? I'll be impressed when you get up on your gilded soapbox and say this: "Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who menaces or assaults one our 'family' members will NEVER RIDE PORTLAND TRANSIT AGAIN. DO... NOT... MESS... WITH... THEM." Until then, just try and get this one right. It's an easy assignment, don't fail the test.

So yeah, please make it a felony to assault us, paramedics, nurses and doctors, firefighters and anyone else who serves the public. We're at risk out there, yet we turn the wheels of every economy. When we're at risk, so are those who ride in our vehicles, as well as those traveling in our immediate vicinity. We all deserve protection from the tiny slice of society which wreaks havoc on those who toil in the trenches of public service. The troublemakers are marginalized, we're scrutinized. Who in their right mind thinks this is acceptable?

It's time to stop protecting those who put others in danger. Stop making excuses for troublemakers. I don't care what they are or where they come from... that's immaterial to public safety. Protect us instead, for crying out loud. It's the right thing to do.



Sunday, April 21, 2019

Thanks, Mike



Deke's Note: Just spoke with my beloved daughter tonight. Our discussion ranged among many topics as usual, but she reminded me of her bf's Uncle Mike. I've met him on a few occasions, and found him to be an admirable character. A former carny who rolled with the hucksters of many a small-town ride and quarter game show hosts, he's wise to just about every game around. A free soul, he asks for nothing, but gives of his soul freely with wise and sage advice from someone who knows this world better than anyone who pulls down the big bucks his lifestyle negates. 

His 80lb. backpack riding light upon his lanky frame, equipped to the hilt against the raging rainfall that sends city-slickers scurrying with their $100 umbrellas from shelter to tree and bus stop to tavern, Mike cheerfully chips along. A buck-fifty in his pocket, the clink and clang of bottles and cans in one of the bags hanging the promise of the next payday, he is more free than those who splash past in their $550-per-month Audis.

A fifth of Jameson's in his back pocket, one payday due him from washing some rich fuck's ride the driveway he happened past earlier that afternoon; it also afforded him a daily special from iHOP for dinner. Mike lopes along Burnside on a fine spring afternoon, the sun warming his face as the air cools him. Free. Society has no hold on him. No job, no need for one. Having done the 9-5 gig long ago, he gave it up for the road. Mike has seen more of the world than Working He has no bills to pay other than the cell phone which keeps him in touch with whomever in the outside world he deigns to communicate with. Nobody tells him where to go or how to do so.

The government once tried to take Mikey in. However, it expected many things from him that he wasn't willing to do. Give up a daily joint? Fuck off. Never drink booze again? Go to hell. What right does a government have to insist one give up anything in exchange for his service? Fascism demands total loyalty to the stupidest rules imaginable. Rules are only for those who choose to adhere.

Fuck that. This is the country of the free. I served it, I live in it every day, unbound by the strict bonds society seduces its least with. Uncle Sam promised me the world. What he gave me was a steel-toed boot out the revolving door. He sends a piddly check to some post office box. It helps, but isn't enough to pay for the slummiest apartment in the worst part of any town. So I wander like the hobos of old. As long as I keep a low profile, I can live how I want without fear of this freaky uncle's punches to the gut.

"Yo bus driver," he tells me,  "gimme a ride. I only got a buck thirty to get me into next week."

"Yeah, okay," I tell him, weary from already 40 hours into a 54-hour, five-day roll. "It's all good brother. Just don't bitch me out if the Fare Inspector busts you."

"Fair enough," he says. I look into his eyes, see no malice, only peaceful acceptance. He knows the hand he's been dealt. My own life could have been his, a few lefts instead of rights. We're cool.

Skip 20 minutes down the roll and some drunk asshole gets on, gives me lip over nothing worth a damn. I tell him to sit down and shut up so I can roll. He escalates my de-escalation techniques. We're held up, a stalemate of transit proportions. Why? Because I refuse to let him ride with an open container of alcohol.

"Just drive the fucking bus, dude," he tells me. "You're nothing but a fucking bus driver. Shut up and drive, asshole."

"Sure," I reply. "As long as you dump that buck-fifty of booze on the sidewalk."

Ralphie RiverRat refuses, belching inches from my face in contempt.

I'm exhausted. My right big toe itches to explore his anus, sore as it is from stopping the bus 800 times already that day, smoothly and without a hitch.

Mike leaves his backpack, holding his only belongings to sit unguarded in a middle-bus seat. He walks casually up to the drunken punk, grabs him by the sagging pants and shirt collar, tosses him out of the still-open door.

"Some people got lives to get to, boy," he yells at the stunned punk. "Try that with the next driver. This one gets a pass from me."

I look at my new hero, who turns to me and says, "Close the door and roll. You don't deserve that kinda shit."

For once, I do as a passenger tells me. This one is special, and he's right. There are decent people sitting within my ride, not needing to be delayed while the booze-addled, self-entitled troublemaker is dealt with.

"Thanks Mike," I tell him. In my hand I hold out a day pass printed by mistake earlier that shift.

"Thank you," he says as he takes my offer. "You guys take more shit than you should have to."

His acceptance of the ticket is worth a bag of gold to me. It keeps me rolling with a ton less of grief than I desire.

A few stops later, Mike trudges off the bus with a pleasant word of thanks, smile and a nod. More than most give me. I thank him again for his help, but he waves it off and exits into the cold, rainy Portland night. He might ride the rest of the evening on the pass I gave him, or find a spot to pitch the tent riding upon his pack. Either way, he's free. I have bills to pay, loans to satisfy, lofty dreams I may or may not reach.

Mike has only what steps lie ahead of him. Sometimes, I envy him. Maybe he envies my life, but I doubt it.


The door sighs shut, and I release the interlock to roll along. Life on transit. Stop to stop, you never know what's out there.

Thanks, Mike.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Dear Passengers


Dear Passengers,

My, how you have regressed since the cellphone explosion not quite a decade ago. Back then, you knew how to ride transit. You actually treated us with respect. Now, it seems most collective intelligence has been sucked out of your grey matter and into a tiny chip which stores all you hold dear.

Behold... your willful ignorance is something not to be treasured. Fight it! Come back into the light. Think. It's what separates us from the rest of the animals. Or, at least it once did. I'm beginning to believe we're doomed. Stephen King's book "Cell" is about to come true. Based on what I see from the seat of a bus, which is where many consider a lack of any intelligence whatsoever to reside, many of you are a lost cause. Even so, I'll step out on this trembling literary limb to boost you up from that murky intellectual-free fog and give you some real-life pointers.

Bus Stops

There are thousands of them here. If you have spent any time on a transit vehicle, you know what they look like. Or you did, prior to becoming mesmerized by the latest gizmo in hand. Hint: it's blue and tall. YES! It's a blue pole with a sign at the top! Very good! There's hope for you yet. The sign actually has numbers on it which correspond with the buses or light rail vehicles (not trains, as many call them) which stop there. There are often several lines which service the same stops. As the time for your ride approaches, take a moment and... LOOK UP! Hey, is that your ride coming now? No? Damn! Here's another lesson: Instead of looking back down at the video in your hand, why not tell the bus operator that you're not interested in his service? How, you ask? Harken back to any horror film and imagine you're about to decapitate yourself, making motion with your hand seesawing across your carotid artery. Yes, that's it!

Now Deke doesn't have to stop his bus (for perhaps the 889th time that day, truly), open the door and ask if you need a ride, only to be the recipient of a dismissive shake of the head and a one-eyed askew glance. I actually did not shoot your dog. Why look at me that way? You have cut 30-45 seconds off my time due to your casual indifference. The 30+ people on my bus are anxious to get to their connections, and they were at their stops on time. They don't deserve your selfishness and I desperately need to make my bladder gladder, so fuck you very much. I hope the bus you are waiting for broke down and isn't being filled for another 10 hours. Do not complain to me that you've been waiting six years for a different line and then demand I tell you when it's coming. You will not appreciate my answer.

Shelters

Our transit agency seems to have hired the same fools who designed most shelters around the world, which do little or nothing to protect you from the elements. They are also very hard to see into or through. Don't sit there (yeah once again), looking down at your... whatever. Especially if you have a hair color other than glow-in-the-dark neon.

You are virtually invisible to us for any number of reasons: ads the agency makes piles of money on but fails to use the revenue to intelligently-improve such facilities; trash cans placed directly to the side which obscure the view of anything within; utility poles; illegally-parked delivery vehicles; arrays of discarded shopping carts stolen from the nearest store; or a sign advertising some nearby business. If I don't see you in a reasonable amount of time to stop my 20-ton beast, you standing up as I pass by with your hands outstretched (phone still clutched in one of them) will not guilt me into stopping suddenly. If I do, I'm liable for any number of resulting catastrophes within or around my vehicle. Stopping an air brake-equipped bus takes a lot of pressure and finesse to accomplish safely and smoothly. Your inattentiveness does not constitute an emergency on my part. Better luck next time! Simply pay attention. Once you're on my bus, you can resume looking at cartoon porn on your mental crutch.

Boarding

It's vital to an operator to be efficient at stops. You're expected to be fare-ready when the door opens. Most passengers are transit-savvy and prepared to board. About a third of you tend to stare at your phone (there's the devil again!) the entire time you're waiting for us to arrive. Instead, you should be a responsible transit passenger and get whatever fare in your hand. Holding us up as you ruffle through your pants, bras, backpacks or other accessories looking for your fare is a major time-waster. Wonder why buses are late? It's usually one of two things: traffic or passengers. Often, it's both. It should take no more than 10 seconds for each passenger to board and/or pay fare. The longer our doors are open, the less efficient the stops are. Compounded over 100+ stops in a trip, the late time can increase exponentially. Once you're late, boarding passengers often berate you, costing even more precious seconds to tick off the already-running clock. Just come on board, acknowledge us (yes, Hoppers that means you too) and have a seat. Boom, bam, boom. Quick and easy, as it should be. Move behind the yellow line and hold on, the bus is gonna move.

Exiting

We must fully stop the bus before the doors can be activated for opening. We throw the switch, the rest is up to you. Even though instructions for opening the rear door are plainly visible on the freakin' doors themselves, you routinely ignore the green light above the door and stand there. Waiting for what? Me to get out of my seat, wipe your nose running after your cry of "BACK DOOR" falls on my suddenly-deaf ears, and open the damn thing for you? What, should I hold your widdle hand and see you safely across the street too? My job is done when I unlock the door. C'mon folks, bring back common sense. Hell, if you're not sure how it's done, why not watch what others do? Duh. It's far from neuroscience.

Fare

Even though transit management is vain in its attempt to be everything to everybody (except its frontline employees), paying your fare is still required to ride. Otherwise, you're subject to "fine or arrest."

This protective parenting act management plays with the public is ridiculous. "Pay your fare, but if not the big bad fare inspector might get you!" The cons are wise to this ruse, and they give us every excuse that's been used millions of times by their co-conspirators. Many are bold and tell us they're riding at their "own risk." Management has folded to special interests who charge them with picking on various ethnic groups just by asking everyone to show a valid fare when asked. In addition, it has drastically reduced the number of fare inspectors, placing most of it on the already-busy road supervisors.

Some advocate a free transit system here. I do not. It takes massive amounts of money to provide the millions of safe rides we do every year. Why should governments foot the entire bill? If it becomes free, you get what you pay for. A local economy depends on transit to move its employees. Those employees have to get to work somehow. Transit costs less than paying for a car, parking, insurance, etc. If you simply give a service away, its value is lost. We're already disrespected (district-wide) every minute we're in service. If the rides were free, we'd become (if we haven't already) the Homeless Hotel, with little room for the working public, Retired Rita, or Stanley Student.


Epilogue

When did the public become unable to function intelligently? While most of it still has a brain, a growing segment seems to have lost a great deal of common sense. Transit management finds it necessary to micro-manage its operators but is too preoccupied with new capital projects to fix its aging infrastructure, or to educate the public. It also fails to stand behind the operators who make management possible. It forgets who does the real work of transit, those of us who are left to our own devices, disciplined for protecting ourselves, counseled for being late while failing to educate its customer base on how to use (and respect) the services we provide. It's a frustrating circle of misinformation, placing us directly in the middle. We're pummeled from all sides, and our hands are zip-tied behind our backs so self-defense is not possible.

Until a spoiled riding public and an inept media decide to support us, we're sitting ducks. Do I sound angry? Yes, I am. Quite frustrated too. We deserve better. Try harder, folks. We're waiting. Meanwhile, we'll keep doing our jobs.

Sincerely,
Deke N. Blue


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Flailing Flunky Fails

Thanks to Neal Berlin for creating this...
you never know what he'll come up with... TwoBells!

Deke's Note: This post is very troubling, considering what happened a few days later. The very day after I began writing this, our Sister Operator which is its subject, was punched in the face as she drove her route. I wonder if she was instructed to stop being so nice? I'm furious, upset for her and her family, and confused as ever about a management who studies a lot then fails every test. Let's return transit to the professionals who provide it! #DekeForGM


Another transit management geek chimed in this week with a frivolous and time-wasting complaint. Seems one of my sisters is "too cheerful" to be in the seat.

Because this self-important, entitled nobody decided an upbeat operator was too unprofessional, they called in a complaint after exiting the bus. It was insinuated that this dear, sweet lady had to be under the influence to exhibit such behavior.

"It (the complaint) went waaayyy up the chain of command," she recalled. As a result, her bus was held up while a supervisor was dispatched to the scene. Their task: to determine whether she was fit to continue in service. This resulted in an unnecessary and frivolous waste of time, an inconvenience to the passengers who enjoy her ride on a daily basis, while this ridiculous complaint was investigated. The operator was publicly embarrassed, but she was left to explain why they were held up. What's worse, is she was instructed to just run late. She was humiliated, angry and in no condition to drive. Evidently, that's of no concern to an out-of-touch management. Safety be damned, get back to work!

Now I understand there have been times when such an investigation is warranted. Although hesitant  to say, it's true a tiny percentage of operators have crossed the line. However, it's extremely rare. Sure, in an ideal world, it would never happen. That being said, we realize our jobs are vital and necessary to the local economy; we also know how reckless driving under the influence is. It happens with motorists around our vehicles every day, and we're trained to predict the worst possible outcomes in traffic.

This operator was simply being herself: a sweet, outwardly-friendly and positive lady. If that warrants suspicion, then why do people complain when we act like robots? There is no perfect "way" to be out there. We all have our own personalities; some are strictly professional, others friendly and outgoing. Most drivers are friendly and courteous, not overly so, but just right. Our main job is to drive safely, not to make friends with everyone who boards. It's an impossibly fine line we balance upon, not sure what exactly transit-ignorant management expects from us. They certainly allow many false or frivolous complaints to land in our personnel files, but they're not very supportive of our roles as professionals. When we believe our actions to be just and true for the situation, we're often given the impression the public is never wrong. Bullshit!

What are we? Evidently, nothing warranting commendation from the self-important slug in Sister's case. Maybe they were so mistreated in life they believe nobody driving a bus should dare to be in a good mood, sharing joy with those who duly pay a fare (or not, as happens quite regularly thanks to a please everybody except the operator environment).

Life is how you treat it. This operator who was brutally subject to an unnecessary interruption of her roll, is the recipient of hundreds of commendations for her being a caring and decent operator worthy of public praise. This time, she was called onto the carpet for being what many of us have a hard time doing in light of the abuse we constantly endure.

This complaint should be investigated, as well as to the source. Was the complainant in a bad mood that day, intent on causing pain on the first person having a good day they encountered? Whatever the case, they don't deserve any job in transit management they conned themselves into. Especially those employed by a transit agency entrusted with the safety of everyone on board, including operators. If an unsubstantiated complaint is logged by someone in management which is unsubstantiated, that employee should be called on the carpet just like we are.

There is no excuse for throwing one's weight around; we're disciplined for this even when we have every reason to do so. We're not only charged with driving safely, but also for the well-being of those within or outside our vehicles. Any other transit employee should be held accountable for their frivolous exploits into territory they do not understand unless they have actually done our job. Maybe then these malcontents would think twice before wielding their unchecked influence. If their actions affect us so adversely that we're unable to safely operate due to being distracted, they should be disciplined if their complaint is unfounded.

Many of us were shocked at our sister's treatment, because we know her path has not been easy, yet she has conquered adversity many (who ride our buses daily) could not. One of our most complimented operators with hundreds of commendations, Sister is someone I emulate when somebody comes aboard my bus. She's a diligent, sweet, hard-working and deeply-earnest soul. Our management should be filled with people of her ilk, but instead they hire bitter fools who would be better off fielding calls in customer service of a much-less-important industry. Perhaps that would be a better outlet for their passive-aggressive tendencies. It certainly is not conducive to safe transit to hire people who wouldn't pass the vetting process we do.

This operator works 10-12 hours every day serving her community, has a loving husband and children who depend on her hard-earned paycheck to keep them from a much-harsher life. They are both some of the sweetest people I've known in this job. In fact, they are just like hundreds of my fellow brothers and sisters, the same people who invite you over for a cookout on a fine Portland summer afternoon. Somehow, while on the job, we're not viewed as such but as targets for frivolous complaints.

We all have choices in the seat: be cheerful and helpful, grumpy and unresponsive, or simply robotic. She chooses to be upbeat and fun, and that has resulted in tons of positive feedback from fellow operators and the public. Yet one unhappy malcontent (likely with a non-vital role) feels entitled to cost the transit agency hundreds of dollars in wasted hours based upon their own twisted sense of how an operator "should" act? It seems the money would be better spent in hiring positive people from within. Those who have done our job are better-suited to managing us than some failed flunky from Corporata.

Good job, my dear sister. I wish I could be as happy as you project. I keep trying, and someday maybe I'll match your enthusiasm in spite of all the crap strewn our way. Keep up the good work. You make us proud, and you give me reason to keep trying to make a positive difference. No matter what Joe Nobody says, you're tops on my list of favorite operators.




Monday, April 8, 2019

Portland Transit Fails Its Front Line



Deke's Note: The assaults just keep adding up, and management keeps blaming us rather than the perpetrators. There are numerous accounts of operators being suspended just for defending themselves, or insinuations of our bringing the assaults upon ourselves for daring to insist the riding public obey the most basic rules of human decency. We're made to feel guilty for our own assaults, rather than being supported in our time of terror and justified Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We're tired of being injured and then insulted by those whose job is to simply to support us as we do the real work of transit. Yeah, it's another blog rerun. If you agree with management, go ahead and close this page. If you do so, you support management over those who are tired of being the punching bags of a pampered public. And it you do close this page, you're part of the problem. Sorry, but that's how I see it, from the driver side. #Deke4GM

Just the other evening, another driver recounted an assault he did not even bother to report. He waved off my question as to whether he had reported it, as if it just didn't matter. It does, however, merit reporting. If not for himself, but for his fellow frontline transit workers.

He warned me about the guy, who was menacing and threw a cup of soda on him and threatened to punch him. My brother described the perp to a tee. Luckily, I never saw him. Otherwise I would have refused him service, and that alone could have resulted in another assault.

People in management have no idea what we go through out here. They have some misguided notion that transit passengers are all roses and fluff, full of good cheer and brotherly love. They seem to believe how we treat passengers dictates their behavior toward us. If we're assaulted, the question is always assumed: What did you do to warrant this preventable incident? Answer: we were doing our jobs as laid out in the Standard Operating Procedures. Expecting people to pay fare, behave reasonably and to respect the ride.

All these points are posted on our rides in large print. The biggest problem is nobody reads signs on transit vehicles. People feel entitled these days to act as they choose, and no transit worker whether operator or supervisor, have any right to correct their horrid behavior. Management backs them up, along with an ineffectual and irresponsible local media which eats anything transit feeds it. Nobody wants to rock the boat, except those of us who are on the receiving end of an unforgiving fist. We are ignored by the very media charged with reporting upon what ails society today. Evidently, our plight doesn't warrant their attention.

I have attempted on many occasions to bring the media's attention to our collective plight. Willamette Week: "we're going to pass" on the book. Oregonian? Crickets. OPB? Only if we're given editorial permission to cover a "feel good" story about a bus operator who wrote a book. Forget about any follow-up, you should be grateful we noticed you at all. Oh, you're being assaulted? Never mind, we'll pass too. Portland Monthly? Ha! You transit workers are lowly bottom-feeders, not worthy of mention to our high-end 22nd-story high brow residents. KOIN? KATU? You're inept, inattentive, lazy and out of touch. Transit management won't allow us to report that.

I guess we'll all just suffer in silent anguish. If our own management, local media and the general public don't care, I guess we're on our own. We can't even defend ourselves without fear of suspension or termination. And y'all just sit there and fail by letting it happen without even a swing at it. Thanks guys.

Female transit workers are especially vulnerable to disrespect and assault. Those who mistreat us are emboldened by what they determine to be the "weaker sex." This is without merit, because any lady who does the work of transit is tough, worthy of the utmost respect. They are equal to men in every aspect, yet they are treated with extreme disrespect. You don't hear about men being sexually-assaulted on the job, but women are constantly subject to harassment and vile treatment. The toads of transit feel emboldened to attack our sisters of the road. Many have been horribly assaulted in physical altercations that any man would consider worthy of instant physical retaliation. However, any such self-defense is not only frowned upon by our lawsuit-fearful agency, but also deemed worthy of suspension or termination. It's a disgusting way to treat those who should not fear risking their very well-being just to earn a paycheck. Cops have guns; we have only our wits.

Our politically-appointed "Bored" of Directors, which approved taxing the metropolitan-area working class to support its out-of-control management boondoggles, simply sign off on whatever they are told. Sure, they endure monthly meetings with the public, but they appear disinterested as to whatever public testimony they pay attention to. They're actually nothing but a glorified joke. Pandering as necessary, the board is too accustomed to accepting the status quo to do anything considered to be rocking a leaky boat.

We're tired of being disrespected by the public, but to endure it from our own management is an insult. It digs as deep as the blade one of us will have to endure to our very death before anyone takes the perils of our job seriously. Management sees numbers and liability; operators and others on the front line see psychological anomalies in passengers capable of bloody mayhem. Management controls the local media's perspective by dumbing down the number of us who are assailed on a daily basis.

Our brother Henry gives us real numbers of assaults and menacing incidents several times each month, but management has its own metrics to serve an apathetic media. Unfortunately, the media tends to not give a damn, as evidenced by the lack of any investigative reporting on the subject. They are a bunch of lazy, public opinion-pandering wussies who wouldn't know a story when it slaps us in the face every day we drive Portland to work and safely home again.

Missing from the local media are what we do for those we serve. Present are stories about how a MAX operator slowed down for a family of geese on the tracks. Hell, most bus and light rail operators give the feathered population the respect of any other pedestrians. It's a no-brainer. We don't want to kill anything, human or otherwise. Another operator walks a man with dementia to his door and gets a commendation from Dispatch but no other mention. Others constantly watching a 180-degree (or more) view around their vehicle to save other motorists from themselves warrant nothing more than an extended middle finger (which I'd STILL love to figuratively see bent back to the breaking point by someone who actually appreciates what we do).

One thing the media consistently fails to report are the dozens of life-saving efforts our operators perform every day. We're constantly bombarded with bulletins from law enforcement regarding missing persons, and quite often they're located due to the sharp eyes of transit workers. Dispatchers always tell us we are their "eyes and ears" on the pulse of Portland, but the media fail to see anything but what is fed to it by a dominant transit management. If our heroics on a daily basis were fairly reported, perhaps we'd receive the respect we earn every day. But no, we're "just bus drivers" to the general public, due to the lackadaisacal reporting methods of our ineffectual and corporate-fed group of media lemming lackeys.

According to management, the numbers of us who are assaulted are negligible. Why? Because many don't report incidents of menacing/threatening or actual assault incidents Here's a few examples of what transit workers go through every day of the year. In 2018, there were 116 incidents in which we were subject to a less-than-grateful riding public. They include spitting, sexual assaults, physical battery, intimidation and menacing, pepper spraying, liquid-or-bodily-fluid-drenching, and horrific verbal assaults nobody should expect to endure on any job. What's worse, we're not allowed to defend ourselves, which makes us sitting ducks to anyone who chooses an operator on whom to take out their aggressions.

If we charge an assailant with assault, we're assessed time loss for court appearances and receive no legal support from management when we testify. Most often, defense attorneys depict us as the perpetrators, and their clients as lily-clean victims of our supposed bullying. We're the typical example of "trickle down" anything: what flows down the pipes to us is usually yellow or brown, and it doesn't smell good. In short, we're the bad guys. I guess we deserve being shit upon, if we are to believe the propaganda.

Once a year, management all across the globe take a few days out of their self-important busy schedules to participate in their media-intense "Transit Worker Appreciation" events. They trot out their lackey media darlings as they make appearances on our vehicles to pass along meaningless baubles and inedible snacks to those of us who make their jobs possible. Oh wait. You work the swing/night shift? Too damn bad, they only work banker's hours. So much for extending service to 24 hours on some lines... those operators and supes rarely see a single lick of appreciation on their shifts.

Does this sound like "appreciation" to you? Even those who are treated to the exaggerated displays from upper management aren't convinced they truly care about the many plights confronting frontline workers. It's all a sham, and we're expected to gobble up their faux appreciation.

So management, your controlled media, and pampered public, don't expect us to bend over backward in our pain-inducing seats to accommodate your outrageous expectations. Because of your collective incompetence, we've fallen from being "one of the most influential voices of transit - if not the model - for American transit" in 2012 to not even being mentioned in a Google search today. It's disgusting, an insult to those of us who sacrifice our bodies and souls to make it all work. Why? Management, that's why. It is bloated, inefficient and incapable, unless you ask them for an opinion.

We also have an ungrateful and apathetic public which complains more than commends those of us who get them safely to their destinations as close to 100% of the time as is humanly possible. We're here 365 days a year in the worst of conditions to provide safe rides to an economy which depends upon its transit agency to transport a large percentage of the economy's workforce. Add an ineffectual and inept media who hasn't performed investigative journalism since Jesus was a child, and you have a transit mess. We need a major shift here, or we might as well call it a bust and abandon mass transit here for good.


Wake up Portland, you're asleep at the wheel. Good thing we're doing our job; you have failed not only us, but yourselves as well. Good job at doing nothing positive at all. We'll keep doing our jobs, whether you pay attention or not.

Oh and by the way, and you're welcome.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Kicking the Can Around


Deke's Note: I'm feeling great tonight. This blog registered its 280,000th hit this week, I had a  commendation from a situation I was sure would net me a complaint, and a passenger I had never met recognized me as Deke N. Blue. It was a week which saw Mercury in retrograde, whatever the hell that means, except for a slew of miscreants giving me a hard time. It would be an average week for a bus operator, but these things happen to all of us, not just to this writer who drives a bus for a living...

Hello world. I'm back, this time with a lighter heart. Not the usual harsh critic of management but rather your fellow road warrior, tweaker of tires (pardon the pun), brother at the keyboard. It's been a rough week. Anyone who says our job is "easy" should have rolled with me this week. They would have marveled at the insults and hardships we constantly face. Instead, I'm left alone to describe it for you. 

First, let me explain our version of "tired" for you, in the context of a transit operator. Unlike most jobs, ours encompasses every aspect of our lives. How we sleep, eat or use our time off is dictated by the job we do. From the first moment we awaken we are conditioned to perform. We eat breakfast, take care to ensure we are clean and presentable. Our lunch is packed and ready when we walk out the door at the precise moment necessary to arrive at the garage in time to catch the proper bus or train to our relief point. As we leave home, we're looking forward to the next 12 hours of our lives. It is up to us how each day on the job plays out. We can either be "up" for what lies ahead, or dreading it. It's mixed bag, and we have to be prepared for whatever rolls toward us. Management is only concerned with our being on time. Whether we ever come home again to our loved ones is of no real concern to the spreadsheet goons who rule over those who do the work of transit.

(I'm so beat now after 52+ hours this week I can't even think straight, let alone write coherently. I'll finish this later. Off to bed I go.)


* * * * *

Back now. It's funny that as I attempted to describe how tired I was last night, I nearly fell asleep smack dab on the keyboard. That's more descriptive than any other words might do justice. When the mind has handled so many tense situations, the body exhausts itself  and just shuts down. Sleep is all that can restore the body and mind. Last night, even my innate desire to write to you could not be fulfilled. In fact, I recently awoke from an evening nap.

Local artwork. Gotta love it!
Even as the years as an operator pile up, stamina comes and goes. I thought the past week's slate of beautifully-sunny days would fill my bus with happy passengers. It did, but it also allowed for the worst in some people. Still, I attempted to make their day better, even if for a few minutes. For some, this goal was achieved. I retain the ability to help people laugh at the common absurdities of life. When this doesn't work, simply leaving a situation to play itself out is often the best course. Fingers crossed all the while, I monitor life on my ride.

"Please," I said into my microphone on several occasions, "keep the audio silenced on your phones and other electronic devices. Thank you!"

While management would chide me for attempting to retain control of my bus as it panders to the lowest common denominators who would do anything to distract us, this is one rule I strictly enforce. When people ask me why, I politely explain. Normal conversation, while largely absent in these days of cellphonitis, is just white noise. When someone listens to music or videos, it is difficult to concentrate, or pick out sounds we need to hear such as normal engine noise or nearby sirens. Also I tell folks that if I allow one to listen out loud, then others think it's okay until there's a tumultuous and unwanted jumble of concerts playing. Plus, one person's favorite tune might drive most people mad. So, I insist people use headphones. It all boils down to my being able to safely deliver them to their destinations. 

"You can't tell me what to do," one passenger told me. "You're just a bus driver, so just drive. Asshole."

That tempted me to key the mike and insist everyone else but him to get off the bus so I could... "just... drive... asshole." Instead, I offered him a walk in the beautiful sunshine, or to simply do as I asked. Lazy bastard chose to ride, damnit. At least he shut his device, and himself, up.

My week ended on a positive note. Rather than bore you with the details, let's just say I helped a gentleman in distress. He was someone's father/husband/uncle and friend. Very sweet old fellow who had a kind word for everyone. A blessing in the form of a jovial gem, after a day full of sneering snotballs.

"William," I told him as we parted ways, "it was a pleasure serving you."

It is, truly a pleasure. Bus operators all over the world find people who need a helping hand, and we all strive to lend it. I was but one of many that night, and it felt damn fine.

* * * * *

The last passenger to depart this week surprised me.

"You're that writer Deke," he told me. I jumped in my seat, shocked that someone I had never met had shattered the bubble surrounding this manufactured dual personae.

I could not lie, and he would not be thrown off the scent. What he said next floored me.

"Yeah, you're Deke, and you're a legend."
Yeah, this felt good.
This made me laugh heartily out loud. "Why naw, I'm just another ornery old bus driver."

"Maybe, but just keep doing what you do." With that, he exited my bus, leaving me chuckling to myself as I swept the bus for trash and possible lost and found items. I shook my head, amused yet pleased my writing drifts on to the eyes of folks I'll never have the honor of knowing.

"Legend, my ass," I laughed to myself.

If he only knew the real me, he'd think twice about that. For now, I'll take the compliment.

Thanks, everyone. You're the reason I still kick this old can around.


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...