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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!

Friday, August 30, 2019

I Write and You Ride

The Great Northwest... I'm so lucky to live here!

Today will be the end of a year-long odyssey. I will have to say good-bye to regulars I've come to know and enjoy serving. However, it's vital that I avoid complacency. The new route ahead is one I've done before, and perhaps I'll see faces I enjoyed in the past.

For three months (at least), my rolls will feature new challenges. There will be new people to connect with, and sights I've missed since my duals last perused these 'hoods. Sure, there are traffic signals which annoy me along this route, along with stops that are poorly-placed from the operator's perspective. Certain public events will throw a lug wrench into my precise timing. Passengers will test my resolve, and find that I'm easy to get along with... until they cross the fine line of decency. At this point, they will learn that entitlement and transit are not sex partners. Although I have evolved as the years roll past, there are certain behaviors I still expect:

1) Have your fare ready. Don't sit hunched over in a shelter, wearing all dark colors watching your phone feeds instead of preparing to ride. If I pass you by, it's because I didn't see you. I'm not clairvoyant or prejudiced. Your social status is not important; your readiness to catch a bus is vital.

It was cool to meet you, Charles!
Thanks for your support
over the years.
2) Be courteous to me and your fellow passengers. I love giving people rides. It is my job, after all. Sometimes, we engage in lively and (hopefully) interesting conversations. Yeah, if you're cool I'll turn you onto this blog and my book. I am after all, a "writer who drives a bus for a living." However, if you regale me of other-world bullshit from a plane I'd rather not fly, you'll be ignored. Completely, yet politely. It's my job to provide you with a safe ride. I won't engage you if your desire to be heard no matter how strange interferes with my mellow ride.

3) What's my name? That's none of your business. You can refer to me as Mr. Bus Operator, thank you very much. If we strike a chord, perhaps we'll become personally-acquainted. Have a complaint? Please address me respectfully and ask for my perspective. I'll gladly try to ascertain why a certain bus operator acted as they did. Don't always expect my answer to jive with your expectations. It's a tough life, and we do the best we can. I will almost always side with my brothers and sisters, because our management doesn't have a clue what we do "out there." If you listen, perhaps you'll learn a bit about transit realities and become more forgiving if you understand better.

I appreciate my brothers and sisters
in Maintenance... YOU keep us
rolling in all conditions!
4) Sounds OFF on your electronics, please. I have to listen for problems, both on and off, my bus. The motor, transmission, and other functions are alive and well as we roll. If something goes off kilter, I need to know. We can filter out human conversation as "white noise," but your YouTube video is distracting. Plus, as another operator so eloquently put it, "the only music we can all agree on is... silence." If I hear a phone blaring, even at low volume, I will politely ask (without singling you out) that all silence your electronics while on my bus. Then, I will thank you because I truly appreciate your cooperation. If you refuse, I'll just stop the bus, turn it off and wait for compliance. I'll inform Dispatch that you're being an asshole, and they'll send a supervisor and/or cops to set you straight. Perhaps I'll step outside for a smoke. Doesn't matter to me; I'm paid by the minute. Your fellow passengers will then berate you until you comply because they need to arrive at their destinations. Once the dust settles, the bus will roll once again. Easy pleasy, as they say.

5) Know your own schedule. Unfortunately, my mind isn't capable of knowing the schedules of every bus or rail line on our system. If I could, I'd be too damn rich to be a bus operator. You need to catch Line 12 to ParkRose TC? Our agency provides a handy app to answer every query about schedules. You spend most of your time on my bus looking at your tiny screen, so please devote some of that time to answering your own questions. If you're antsy about catching that 12 in time, do not badger me if we're running behind your schedule. Chances are, I'm working very hard just to keep up with my own. If it doesn't mesh with yours, take heart: there's always the next one. If I'm running early and have to hold for time, please don't harass me. I make sure to be as on-time as possible to make sure those who expect me to be at a stop at 10:15 will find that I do just that, 94% of the time. And that, my dears, is pretty damn good, given the traffic headaches we face in our beloved Portland gridlock.

That's enough for now. Time for bed. I have to get enough rest to roll through Friday rush hour madness. To some who read this and ride my bus, we'll have time for "until I see you again" or "damn I'm glad you're leaving" as the day whizzes past. Typical fare evaders, trouble-makers and rude Hop Pass and Failure-to-Yield ignoramuses will give way to new ones next week. I've learned to appreciate the good folks and ignore the assholes. That's just what we do.

In a few short weeks, I'll be on vacation. It's a big one this time. I canna divulge my plans, but this will be one which results in an extended absence from blogging. It's something I truly and eagerly await, alone time with my lovely lady. We'll travel and spend valuable time together instead of conversing by text as I transport people. This time, I'll be the passenger. Hopefully, I'll remember all the points I've outlined here and make my operator's roll that much easier.

Thanks for reading. I truly enjoy this... I write and you read. It's like driving a bus: I drive and you ride. It's an easy trade-off.

Last time I caught James Taylor
in concert here in Portland.
Sweet Baby James... I often
hum his tunes as I roll.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Updates and Such...



Another satisfied reader of JUST DRIVE is one of many
who have had Deke N. Blue sign her copy
when he stopped in to see the dear lady.
Join her!

An uptick on my blog stats the past month, over 11,000 hits!

However, very few copies of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane have been sold. Did you know it's available in print, ebook and audio? The book chronicles the earliest moments of my career through nearly five years as a professional bus operator. If you already have it and haven't done so, please write a review on Amazon.

FromTheDriverSide is read all over the world, after its humble beginnings over six years ago as a simple writing exercise. Please support my humble quest as an author while I feverishly work on my next offering... a book of fiction which is incredibly fun to write!

Still available at Broadway Books
in Portland, if you don't want
to buy it on Amazon...

Please drop a comment on the blog when you have a chance. Or, write me an email at deaconinblue@gmail.com and I promise to respond. This writer is only satisfied when his audience takes a few moments to let me know how and why my words affect you.

To those who have been here for years, thanks for your continued support. I'll be back with more tales of the bumpy road we traverse. A new bus route beckons, and management's stumbles are always fodder for my literary cannons. In fact, it seems management is the only faction that wishes I would just stfu. Sorry guys, you cannot just run roughshod over us without at least some of us fighting back.

Deep into my seventh year of blogging, where I was recently ready to give it up. Thanks to your support, I am now full of desire to continue. Don't forget #BANDTOGETHER 2019 coming up September 15-21. Portland transit workers have endured 64 attacks so far this year, and we will be informing our public of this tragic statistic via a bandage on our "door side" cheeks. So will operators across the globe, as it promises to be the biggest year so far.

Meanwhile, my transit buddy Brett has crafted a Guest Post which we're currently preparing for publication here. Stay tuned... even more is to come!

Thanks,
db

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Extending A Pointed Middle Finger

Her hair lives! One of many uncommon yet endearing
sights in Portland, which helps keep our city
refreshingly "weird." Yeah, Mother Earth...

sigh... she's pissed too.

Deke's Note: Oh boy, this week I felt ridden hard by an angry bull, gored into a barbed-wire fence and left kicking the dust with my good boot. I've heard a lot about management's growing-bolder antics, and it makes me want to spur my mount. Here's my latest ride, a bucking bronco frightened by a coiled rattler... and me without my six-shooter. This keyboard will have to suffice.

Management was prancing around, celebrating its victory over us the other day at my garage. I avoided their shindig like slackers avoid paying fare. What they "gave" us in return is something they stole to begin with: an extra week of "hold back" on our vacation time. Not cool.

As I've discussed here before, it's true we're one of very few transit agencies without cameras pointed directly at our operators. It's not that we're outrageous troublemakers. However, given the past 10 years of managerial failure and outright frontline persecution, we just don't trust "It" to do the right thing with what they record.

Local district attorneys have complained they have no direct evidence with which to charge our assailants, so perhaps that's why many of these cases are pleaded down to a lesser crime or dropped altogether. I get that part. Even though they're attorneys, I'd still trust them more than I do our own management. That's the saddest part of all.

Our GM was just given a fat raise. Not sure why, since he's done nothing of note since he was hired against our union's strenuous objections. He was fired from his job in Canada, eh? We should have taken their lead and said, "No, thanks." He's out of touch because he's just another corporate wonk who would not last a week doing our job. In fact, I'd invite him to switch with me for a month. If he made the grade, he could have his job back. Maybe then he'd have a better understanding of the mammoth task we have as operators, mechanics, supervisors, station agents, etc. However, he would have to honor whatever changes I made in his absence, and he wouldn't like them... not one bit.

One drugged-out freak recently caused a major blockage
of our downtown transit mall, an unfortunate
but common occurrence in Portland.
I believe a transit agency's management should concentrate primarily on improving conditions for its frontline workers. We're the backbone, the lug nuts which keep the wheel from falling off. Management should be the grease, preventing friction among the moving parts. Instead, it pours sand in our oil, grinding down our cylinders. Perhaps that's the goal here: make working conditions so caustic they feel entitled to replace us with automation.

Management is top-heavy, overreaching, rude and ineffective. Managers often contradict what we've been taught, and suspend operators who have just been doing what we should. If we try to educate the public about safety, we're criticized. One operator was even told to "just keep your mouth shut" when he explained to a passenger how to be seen at a stop. This is disgraceful, but common behavior.

Another operator reported that some management wonk rode his bus, busily jotting down notes as she enjoyed his smooth ride. He happened to pass up an intending passenger. The manager pounced on him, demanding to know why he didn't stop. "This is an Express bus," he explained, "and that's not one of my stops." Even so, he was harassed and berated for just doing his job. Had it been my bus this happened on, the inept corporate lackey would have been invited to walk... immediately. As operators, we should be afforded the right not to be harassed on the job. Allowing this behavior is a safety hazard, as it only pisses off the operator. Have you ever ridden in a vehicle where the driver was aggravated? Yeah... their driving suffers because of it. Pretty obvious to the intelligent human, but perhaps not to unchecked egos.

The last thing a bus operator needs is a know-nothing harassing us. We get enough of that from the public management vigorously protects instead of shielding US. I hope the operator files a complaint with HR, alleging disrespectful behavior in our workplace. The bus (or LRV cab) is our office, and we should expect anyone who steps inside to treat us with respect. Evidently, management is above any display of such behavior while riding transit. No wonder the public feels it can do whatever it wants. For shame!

If you visit Portland, you'll often see
what city leaders have failed
to prevent... the utter
trashing of our city.
Decade-hardened veterans, who were once trained in "verbal judo" and whose authority on their vehicles was sacrosanct, are now referred to as "cowboys." While I would be honored to be associated with this type of human since I was raised around many a decent and honorable cowpoke, I take offense to management's weak attempt at demeaning operators who expect courteous and respectful behavior on their buses. A few of the cowboys I know would punch the lights out of anyone who referred to them in the sneering condescension shown our veteran brothers and sisters.

This week, I pulled up to a bus stop which features a small bench at the bottom of the pole. Upon it sat a fairly-regular passenger on our route. I thought she wanted a ride. When we see someone at a bus stop, our natural response is to pull over, open the door and lower the bus. As I did this, Maybelline looked directly at me as she extended her middle finger. Shocked, I tried to understand why she would do this. Drunk, most likely. She's a doozie, this one. I told her I would remember her salute next time she actually wanted a ride, then closed the door and drove away. Perhaps I should have gotten out of my seat, bent down upon my knees and begged her to ride, gently taking her hand in mine and gently guiding her to a seat, bowing in her almighty presence. Maybe then, management would say I did the "right thing." As Colonel Potter would say, "Horse hockey!"

With every antic displayed by management, it feels like Maybelline's finger. So Gov. Brown, it's time for a change. Put me in charge. I'll whip this agency back into shape, run it more efficiently and cost-effectively, while drastically-altering the culture so that frontline workers are finally celebrated. I don't need experience to do the job better than it has been done in over a decade. In fact, experience in management is exactly what has driven us into the mud. It's time to let the people who know the business take over, because the folks in charge now don't have a clue.

I respect my fellow co-workers. I wave at every fellow union member (supes, mechanics, trainers, para-transit and school bus operators), and treat each with admiration because I know how hard their jobs are. Some newbies haven't learned to respect those who have done this much longer than they have, but hopefully time on the job will teach them how much our dedication has cost. Once their back goes into spasms like mine has recently, maybe they'll wise up.

I'll still give Maybelline a ride. It's what I do. Even though she might flip me off again, I'm forgiving of the mentally ill. However, management needs to stop giving us the finger and offer a helping hand. Otherwise, their new camera angle might just catch a middle-finger salute of my own... reflected only in my steely glare.

Yet, for all its failed corporate politicos, Portland remains
a beautiful and often serene place to live.




Sunday, August 18, 2019

I Detest Portland Protests!

Local cops were likely really tired of trouble-causers after a full day
of protesting miscreants. My bus was simply delayed. The poor sap
driving that Line 8 had a front-row seat to whatever
transpired at 5/Pine. I rolled out 20 minutes late
from the 2nd position, with permission.

Deke's Note: I really should get to bed. It was an excruciatingly-long week and I'm beyond exhausted after 50+ hours in the seat. However, I feel a strong need to... JUST WRITE. So here's a snippet describing another wild day as a Portland bus operator. 

When I turned in my pouch Friday night, I asked the Station Agent about possible reroutes due to Portland's planned protests by the Proud Boys and those opposed. He was understandably vague. He knew what I was getting at... what was I getting into as we rolled into the next service day? I immediately understood that he didn't want to fan the flames of a collective unease about yet another Portland Protest. I looked into his eyes and noted the general weariness of a Station Agent with a hint of a plea: don't mark off, please.

With a heavy sigh, I promised him I would faithfully report to my impending run. While the bullpen that time of day is normally quiet, the sense of transit doom pervaded the entire building. Knowing the incredible effort our agency's nuts-and-bolts Operations staff would be faced with, I felt a duty to be one of its' trusted and experienced operators on the road during yet another tumultuous Portland Protest Day. While I dreaded what lie ahead, I felt a sense of pride and determination to roll through whatever is thrown our way. Heavy rain, snow, ice, extreme heat, violent protests... I've driven through it all.

First though, I met with my dear friends Tom and Michelle for lunch. Their 23-year-old son, a young man I coached when he was a middle-school basketball phenom and had ridden my bus regularly earlier this year, died recently. We had not seen each other for two years, and it was a cathartic event for us. I returned Joseph's identification card to them, retrieved from our Lost and Found Department the day after he died. It was sad for us all, but we passed the time away remembering all the good times we've shared, rather than crying over the dear lad we lost. Michelle turned Joseph's ID in her hands, and I avoided looking directly at her, feeling the pain and tears she will always have for losing her youngest. It's a nightmare none of us ever think we could endure, but these two are doing it. Hugging them both, I hoped they felt the love and sorrow for them and their four remaining sons which I've held inside since Joe died.

With this heavy heart, I left them and headed into the storm.

Gratefully, the protesters were usually far-removed from where I drove. My second run through downtown required a reroute down a street buses usually don't roll. Promising my passengers to find safe places for them to exit, I rolled carefully behind a 44 bus. At one tricky point, an ADA passenger in a wheelchair flagged me down. Positioning my bus as carefully as possible, the ramp was lowered to street level, which makes for a steep angle. Luckily, Lady ADA rolled expertly up the ramp to my sigh of great relief. Although she caught my bus traveling in the opposite direction from what she desired, I was able to safely deposit her within two blocks of the bus she needed.

From that point, the rest of my run was devoted to catching up on time lost during the reroute. At the end of the line, we arrived only a few minutes before I was scheduled to leave. But hey, I had to pee. Hitting "Restroom Delay" on the CAD, I briskly walked to the bathroom and made it back only two minutes late for departure. A few puffs of nicotine en route prepared me for what I believed could be a rush through a tear-gassed battle zone. As I started the engine, I bowed my head in prayer and a new confidence shone through my soul. Slipping The Beast into gear, I rolled back into the fray.

Luckily, the downtown reroute was suspended shortly before I arrived downtown. My sigh of relief must have rivaled a bus fart. When I got to the end of the line, I was customarily early and thus extended my normally-brief break. Fortifying myself with a meal break and call to my Beloved, I knew the rest of the day would transpire as usual... quietly.

Until the last run out of downtown, that is. As I rolled into the second stop on this final run, I was blocked by a bus in the first position and a clusterfuck of cop cars. Some crazed fool had started something with another guy, and it got ugly really quick. A quick-thinking somebody called the cops, and within moments, our first Transit Mall stop was aswarm with police cruisers and about 20 officers. Five buses were blocked while Perp was tased and subdued. Since we were stuck, bus ops and supervisors, along with passengers and standers-by congregated to find out what the buzz was. It gave me an extended vape break.

One guy passed and pointing to my ride, informed me "that's my bus."

"Oh yeah," I replied, "did you just buy it?"

"Uh huh," he said.

"Okay," I replied with a laugh, "where's my fucking paycheck then?"

He kept walking.

I time-slipped for the time lost, and slipped into another wonderful respite from this lifestyle I've come to endure. I'm temporarily free of the bonds which keep me captive five days a week.

Work my day off? Nah, I'd rather our Canadian GM take a shift behind the wheel. Maybe then he'd realize what WE go through.

Later, transit. I'm deep into a bottle of 12yo Singleton, and it's time to sleep off the week's trials. My Beloved just awoke and found me still at the keyboard. She's understandably upset with me... I've devoted more time to my readers than I promised.

Deke's in trouble again. Good night.
 




Saturday, August 17, 2019

My Random Thoughts for Today


A retiree pounced upon a driver's post about passing up an intending passenger for flipping him off. He seemed to think it was our duty to give this person a ride. I disagree.

Given the public's, and our own management's, penchant for disrespecting us both literally and figuratively, we are not going to give certain people a ride. Take a foolish chance to catch a bus, and you're too stupid to ride. Not only are you risking an accident from motorists having to brake suddenly to avoid hitting you, but certainly in peril of becoming part of the pavement. If we do stoop to this irrational level of "service to the community," we're actually doing a disservice. Not only is flipping a bus driver disrespectful to the nth degree, it amplifies a pandemic of horrific treatment of those who provide an invaluable service to our fellow citizens. It also gives those on the bus reason to say, "Hey, it doesn't matter what we do, they're gonna give us a ride anyway."

Usually those who mistreat us are not working and contributing to the common good. They are also more apt to cause trouble once aboard. Why should they be treated the same as those who are at their stops on time, and pay their fare even though they're usually one check away from the street? Are they less important than likely freeloaders who defy their own safety to disrupt an operator's smooth and trouble-free roll? Fare payers are infinitely more valuable to this operator than the miscreants who make our lives miserable. Sorry, Honored Retiree, but we have to make judgment calls all day, and some are likely to be unpopular. Like one operator said, "Would you expect a cabbie to give you a ride if you flipped him off?" We do a very tough job, but we're human nonetheless. So far, we've been attacked in many ways, over 60 times so far in 2019. Don't expect a miracle for your misbehavior... ain't gonna happen.

* * * * *

Had my on-time roll assaulted by the same guy at least three times today. He was drunk in early afternoon, expected other passengers to help tote his several bags on the bus, taking at least three minutes the first time to board. Each time he came aboard, the delay became progressively-longer. He was rude, and increasingly more drunk as the day progressed. On my final run, it is crucial for my passengers to reach a MAX station before the train leaves. This time, this obnoxious guy delayed us 15 minutes as he struggled with his overloaded cart. Granted, some folks have to tote their life's belongings with them to safeguard against theft. But they are usually respectful, timely and efficient. This guy tested the limits of my patience and was rude to me and the kind people who pitched in to help him. I had to leave the bus while he exited because I was so frustrated it was all I could do not to explode.

We all do "transit math" as we execute a run, predicting how long it will take given the excruciatingly-tight schedules we're expected to maintain. Factoring in a few slower boardings is expected. When one ill-prepared drunkard ruins your predictions, you are alone in shouldering the burden of those who are inconvenienced due to such a deviation. Some may think me hard-hearted, but too damn bad. I serve the masses, but reserve the right to be angry at those who fail to think of others. This guy was unable to think of anybody but himself. If I see him alone at a stop next time, I'm highly-tempted to roll right past. The only problem is that he will just cause my follower grief, and I hate to do that to my brothers and sisters.

* * * * *

My days are full of compassion, kindness and patience. These values are part of my 11-point daily mantra which I recite before each day behind the wheel. When I'm tested, it can take a lot of strength to remember patience. I do this because I take immense pride in what I do, and constantly strive to do better than I did the day before. Every day. Sometimes, I fail at some point. All I can do is strive to improve.

"You're one of the best drivers on this line," a lady told me earlier in the day. "You actually care about us."

"Thanks," I replied, "but my fellow operators care about you too. We just show it differently."

When you assail my good side, you're apt to see my temper foul quicker than if a BMW cuts off the bus. The majority of my passengers know the rules, respect them and are polite in their interactions with others. I'm not very sympathetic with the selfish. I was married to It, once upon a long ago time.

* * * * *

Our management is back to its typically-arrogant and operator-blind ways. As of April 1, our shoes must only be black. Forgive me, but I don't remember signing up for the military. If they truly gave one damn, management would realize comfort is the main concern. If our feet are confined to one type of shoe, we're not entirely safe. I wear a boot of two currently-acceptable colors: brown and black. It is capable of being shined, but I refuse to do so. My uniforms are clean, neat and worn with the respect afforded my position. There are many more points needed its poorly-guided notions, such as our collective safety. Give me the right to dictate management's uniform, and we'd see how quickly they realize how silly a notion that would be. Utter foolishness deserves the same in return. Shame on them for puffing up with unwarranted self-importance instead of supporting those who do the real work of transit. What's next, the color of our underwear?

* * * * *

The subject of a future post will be directed toward a new metro-wide committee whose task it will be to "investigate" collisions with transit vehicles. Once again, it's an obvious ploy aimed toward blaming US for the public's lack of safety awareness. Sure, transit operators are human, therefore subject to failing to predict another's foolish actions in our paths, just a millisecond too late before the "victim" makes contact with our vehicles. What the worthless local media is ignorant about is how many lives we save every day. But hey, let's face it: only blood sells.

Let that thought fester in your minds whilst I ponder further.

* * * * *

As I've progressed as an operator, each shift has become a lesson in extreme vigilance and patience. Before most of you read this, I'll be deep into Proud Boys vs. Antifa Part Ad Infinitum, protected only by my wits and sheer will to persevere against impossible odds. I hope when you read this, you are safe. My own safety is always in peril, as is that of every one of my brothers and sisters worldwide who provide safe rides to millions every hour of every day each year. Remember that when you berate us for the least popular decisions we have to make.


Guest Post: Shut Up and Sit Down




All photos by Deke N. Blue

Deke's Note: Way cool, I have a guest post from a transit passenger! He's been hot on the trail of your Deke a few years now, and I'm honored he submitted this piece for the blog. As I read it, I found it a refreshing change of pace for FTDS. I've blasted y'all with what it's like to drive the masses, but we rarely hear from a really cool rider. He's wise to our ways, yet understanding just the same. It's a well-written look at our profession from one who has ridden since he was a kid. I hope you enjoy this piece. I sure did. Thanks, CosmicCharlie! 

Shut Up and Sit Down

by @CosmicCharlie97


Back when I was a teenager, pondering my future options, I’d contemplated becoming a bus driver.

I loved to drive, and was good with people. One little catch: I also loved the devil’s lettuce, my “girlfriend Maryjane.” Since government agencies frown on their drivers firing up before a shift, my career as a twenty-ton land-yacht captain would have to wait for more ‘normal’ times. We’re still waiting for that clear patch on the ol’ drug test.

In the meantime, I’ve been known to drive a cash register at a convenience store in the heart of beautiful downtown Portland. It’s a lot like driving a bus, people-wise. Babysitting, massaging bosses’ egos, etc. You have your nice ones, your sweet ones, your strange ones. And your scary ones. At least at my job I don’t have to drive them home.

But I do have to get to work, a 100-block journey I have not yet been forced to walk. Thanks to TriMet, I get delivered within a mile or so of my targets every day.

They used to call the bus-pass the Passport to Adventure. For me, it still is. I’ve been riding  TriMet since the mid-1970s, riding the #74 from Sandy, Oregon to Gresham, switching to the #44 Sherwood/Banfield Express, passing Lloyd Center and transferring to the #6 Union Avenue bus for a ride up the future MLK Blvd to Jantzen Beach, where a $1.25 double-feature awaited. I’d commute home in the evening, last bus out of Gresham left at 6:35; be there or be stranded. My parents trusted me. I’m surprised they trusted the outside world as much, but they let me venture forth. I learned a lot about the real world on those bus rides, and am grateful for the education.

One day, as I was being pressured to choose a career at the Youth Program where I was enrolled, my supervisor needed cigarettes, and pulled up to a Plaid Pantry in West Linn. NOW HIRING! I looked inside. The clerk was sitting on the counter, smoking a cigarette and talking to a girl in a bikini. “I can do that!” I thought, and I’ve pretty much never looked back.

These days, my commute starts before school gets out, and finishes after midnight. I watch the Transit Tracker. Even though my house is three blocks from the bus stop, I must leave with six minutes on the tracker, or the bus will pass me. Even though I can walk the half-mile to the MAX stop in eight minutes, getting around the corner takes most of that time in TriMet’s universe.

I have three options for getting downtown and back, two bus lines and the MAX. Weekdays before 7 PM I can catch the bus three blocks from my house, otherwise it’s a walk under the freeway and over to the transit center where all the buses leave. They all arrive downtown within 35-38 minutes, dependent upon route and time of day. Do I want the pretty scenic view (MAX), the residential Portlandia-looking route, or good old Hawthorne, where everything is wacky?

We’ll do wacky on the way home. To the MAX!

I sit on the fire plug across the street from the bus stop, watching for the bus. On Transit Tracker, six minutes meant six minutes, and I see the headlights off in the distance. I cross the street, and wave my pass at the driver. I am always polite, give a nod. I understand if you don’t want to talk. Sometimes there aren’t enough words in the day. I still acknowledge. Usually I ride all the way to town, but this day he drops me at the stop by the freeway, down the hill from MAX. Past the homeless camps, making sure to walk against traffic, (flying bicycles) I reach the top, tap the Hop card and choose the end of the platform that matches the old-fashioned MAX tall-car. I have to climb stairs, but the view!

The MAX has an eclectic mixture. A woman applies makeup. A couple high-schoolers hit on a vape pen, pretending no one will notice. (No one but me does.) A special-needs kid calls a homeless woman a monster, leading to loud crying and awkward learning moments for all involved.

I stare out the window, opting out of music. I once heard a bus driver say, “Silence is the one music we can all agree on.” There was a time when I needed a soundtrack to my life, but I have come to appreciate the sound of nothing. I decompress, and we are all the better for it.

When the silence lacks, and I feel like I’m on a date with elderly Juggalos, I will tune out the world. I have an MP3 player the size of a Zippo lighter that holds 120 CDs with everything from Slayer for the rough nights, to Isaac Hayes for when I want to fall in love. The complete collections of Tool, Slipknot and Steely Dan. (I have nodded out to Aja more than once, and woke near home to Deacon Blues.)

Most of the time, though, I enjoy the live theater-on-wheels, groovin’ to the music in my head.

* * *

Past midnight, after 12 hours on my feet, I just want the day to be over. I work in the center of downtown, the buses to my neighborhood run on the south end. I have a minimum of eight blocks to the bus stop, with three options. None of the buses turn down the mall, so I have to hustle up the hill. I used to relish the exercise, but now I resent it. The older I get, the farther they make me walk! I remember when buses stopped every other block, by cracky!

The Tigard bus driver has shown pity on me. He’s seen me busting ass up the mall, and will sit for a second and wait to give me a lift. It’s one stop. (Eight blocks in seven minute walk for me.) The man is a God. The Hawthorne driver also is a buddy. He’s sat until the last possible second to keep me from being stuck downtown for another half-hour with the lovely folks I’ve been babysitting all day. I serve those drivers steaming heaps of praise.

Instead of collapsing at the finish, I meander up to the bus stop, after a couple puffs of attitude adjustment. (The Hawthorne bus doesn’t really always smell like weed; only when Hassan and I are riding.) The usuals are milling about, and the wait is rarely long. Using my Honored Citizen card like a club, (ladies first, tho) I snag a seat in the far back, where the windows open and the scary people sit. (You know, those guys who smell like weed…)

I love my fellow commuters, but I’ve just spent ten hours being nice to strangers, and I am tired of talking about the weather. I’m coming down from the rush of work, and tell people, “It’s the half-hour commute that keeps me from going home and kicking the dog.” I know how annoyed I get when there’s one loud couple on the bus; I don’t want some drunk eliciting my life story for every passenger to force-memorize.

If we must talk, we do so quietly. Sit over here, and keep your goddamn voice down.

There’s Buttcrack Bentley, a quirky fellow who looks like the Jeffersons' neighbor. His trousers are worn hip-hop style, though unintentional. And then the gal from the burger joint, whose schedule is a carbon copy of mine. (Almost every commute, both ways. Portland weird.) There’s Bluto, the old closeted redneck who hates rap. He once threatened a black kid’s radio, and got shouted off the bus. Welcome to Portland.

There are some I would like to get to know. The Latina who appears to be between 25-40 but is probably 50, and got stuck sitting in the back with us. She smells nice, and even waved at me when she got off the bus. I’m officially twitterpated! But because we all have to ride this bus, I will always be a gentleman. My commute is traditionally a quiet, safe one. It should be like that for everyone. I’m not going to creep the nice ladies out by bothering them.

I used to know, I mean really know, the drivers. Currently there are several I know by sight, but not by name. That will change if they last. Every three months there’s a new batch, as their schedules change. The long-timers treat me well, and the newbies learn to. Although, I swear there’s a conspiracy where on the last two weeks of every sign-up the drivers get even by being one minute early, leaving just as you hit the back bumper, etc. By the time your complaint is filed, they’re on a different run. Is that why drivers take vacation days during the first part of sign-ups?) Snopes please…

Half my Facebook friends are former bus drivers. A small sampling:

The Rampant Lion, who drove the “Loove Buus” from Northwest Portland. He’s still around, complete with sultry-voiced announcements.

I could text Biggdaddy or Blythers and say, “I’m late, go!” or “I’m one block away.” Although I’d never stop to text if I was one block away. Time is of the essence when there are only two more buses at that point of the night.

Cici was like everyone’s mom, yelling to “get on the floor!” when gunfire erupted at the door-line of Copper Penny.

There was David Crosby, who smelled slightly of patchouli and took his time, yet ended up on schedule anyway.

And Dan Booker, who would tell jailbirds looking for a free ride, “Telling me you just got out of jail lets me know one thing. You are an unsuccessful criminal. Come back when you can pay like a respectable citizen.”

They’ve all retired. I guess I’d be as well, had I gone the bus driver route.

Nah, they’d have fired me for smoking weed…




Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wanna Ride with Deke? Just Peacefully Step Aboard

The world is upside down; those who have,
versus those of us who have something,
versus those who have nothing.


Deke's Note: Perhaps I should have written this earlier, but I have in bits and pieces over the years. Hopefully, my words haven't been overly-negative toward the homeless, but I'm afraid it's a social ill we all tend to gloss over. Surely, many of you reading have either been there or perilously close. Here, I finally pay homage to those we often look past while hoping we don't fall victim to their plight.

They ride my bus, and often they do pay their fare. Sometimes they politely beg a ride. Others just brush past me without a word; perhaps they're tired of explaining they have no money. If they're short some amount, I don't care. You drop a few coins in the fare box, I print you a ticket. I've grown to realize life is too short to squabble over pennies. Our management doesn't care, why should I? My job is to provide rides; it's management's job to give a shit whether people pay.

We're victim to some of their horrific antics: abuse, insult, injury via assault. They assail us more than "normal" passengers. Still, our office is filled with those of all socioeconomic strata, every walk of the paths humans traverse.

I too have been homeless and also close to it, in my own life. As a newlywed 20-year-old who moved to Boulder, CO just for the hell of it, I was woefully ill-prepared for life. Neither of us had a job when we arrived, but we managed to find decent ones after a disastrous stint as encyclopedia salespeople... one in which we starved while begging people to buy into our less-than-honest pitch. After a few weeks of banging on doors, we gave it up and sought "real" jobs.

The deal-basher for me was when I knocked one day to find a little girl in a black dress opening her door to me.

"Hello," the kid said.

"Hello," I replied, smiling. I've always loved kids, even when I was one myself, which at that time I pretty much was. "Is your mommy home?" This was the best play, as the ladies were often more interested in the education of their children.

"No," the little girl answered. She looked directly into my eyes. "My mommy died today."

"Oh," I managed, choking. I took a step back. "Okay... I'm so sorry honey. Peace be with you." I turned abruptly away, shocked and feeling terribly guilty. I heard the door close softly behind me. Although my own mother would live another quarter-century after this episode, at that time I dreaded it. Luckily, my parents had survived through my childhood and would continue well into my middle-age.

I sat on the curb just down the street contemplating my next move, fearful how horrendous our financial situation was. We were living out of our Datsun pickup, stubborn in our desire to live on our own. However, this gig wasn't cutting it. After two weeks on the road, I sat on the corner of some residential district in Bumfuck Nebraska. I had under 10 bucks in my pockets, my wife had even less. We hadn't made a cent on this fool's errand, not likely to any time soon.

The little girl had really shaken me. It was that moment I decided to quit. Sitting there, I heard loud rock music coming from the house across the street. It was a "what the hell" moment, and before I could knock on the door, it opened to a wild-looking but smiling young man.

"Dude!" He looked genuinely concerned as he studied my face. "I saw you sitting in front of the Jensens' house, and you looked totally freaked out! Mrs. Jensen died today in a car wreck! Sweet lady, major bummer. Come in, you look like you could use a beer!"

"Yeah," I managed. "I believe I could."

I don't remember the rest of that afternoon, except that I made it to the pre-arranged pickup just on time, or I would have been stranded there. Reeking of beer and God-knows-what-else, my wife and co-workers quizzed me.

"Almost had a sale," I lied. "But they were too buzzed to give a damn about encyclopedias. Had a good time though!"

My supervisor wasn't impressed with my , and my fellow salesmen seemed a bit jealous of my good time. When I told them what had happened, everyone quieted for quite a long while. We rode in silence a good 10 minutes or more.

Had I not quit when we arrived back in town, I'm sure they would have fired me. I refused to go out selling any more in the few little towns we preyed upon afterward. In one town, I found a park and sat there smoking cigarettes and flirting with squirrels. It was impossible for me to knock upon another door. That little girl haunted me too much.

A week later, I found a job at a printing plant and began earning a paycheck again. We still lived in our truck. My wife worked at a health club, giving us somewhere to shower. By the end of my week, a soak in the jacuzzi revitalized my young body. She worked days and I nights. She'd pick me up at 6:00 a.m. and I'd drop her off at work, shower and head up into the mountains where I slept the day away. Come evening, we'd switch roles.

It was fun, in a way. However, we felt scared and lost even though the adventure of it was initially alluring. Our meals were meager, but regular. There was a sense of freedom in the midst of fear. Neither of us had suffered the loss we now lived. It didn't last.

Even though we lacked a proper roof over us, we could have tucked tail and headed home at any time. We fought through it and found a basement to rent. We survived.

Shortly before I met my beloved (current, and final wife), I was a lost and disillusioned single father of the wonderful child my first marriage produced. I made just enough money to pay rent and bills, and food for the weeks I had my daughter. Many a time, I starved myself to make ends meet. One time, I was cited for not having auto insurance after an illegal left turn in front of The Man. (This was my last ticket... 26 years ago.) I told the judge it was either pay for insurance or not feed my daughter. He basically told me to starve... it wasn't against the law to do that. Then he levied a fine and ordered me to buy into state-sponsored extortion otherwise known as... insurance. Pay in with no expectation of an invested return. There was no option.

Today, I remember how lucky I was in comparison to many who languish in today's hellish economic reality. Many are mentally ill, without the ability to work. There is little society does for these poor folks... they get by as empty-bottle peddlers, beggars. Others are just dopers who don't care what happens to them; they have given up any hope of a "normal" life. Some just don't think the battle is worth the fight. They have enough money to survive, and live wherever they can pitch their tent for the night. Given today's lack of empathy and compassion, it's easy to understand. When a two-bedroom slum costs over half the minimum wage doled out to the working masses, where's the allure?

The vaunted American Dream is as dead as half the Beatles. The Greatest Generation sold out to the rich man's party, the Greedy Old Patricians, leaving us fighting amongst each other over the crumpet crumbs dribbling down from the richest. Trickle-down economics efficiently emaciating the masses. Hard-working, decent people are pitted against those who do the same work for a mere pittance of what it costs to simply survive. Unless a major paradigm happens to shift, we're doomed to continue this slaughter of each other in misguided self-loathing rather than rise up and say: ENOUGH! Example: mass shootings too numerous and excruciating to delve into here. Their cause? Divide and conquer, beloved readers of all beliefs. We're ferociously pit against one another, too blinded by exaggerated and falsified bullshit to see the irony of our rage.

I'm one of the few who can legally ride transit free. It's a great benefit of the job I do. My salary is enough to keep housed, fed and insured. This writing gig doesn't earn shit, but I continue out of love for my brothers and sisters. Our management surely won't give us our due in pay or respect, so I write in hopes my words simply give us a voice. Without that, what else is there? Either way, we are the collective Oliver Twist, who dared utter: "Please sir, can I have some more?"

So, when poor folk clamber into my rolling office, it matters not whether they pay. While I don't agree transit should ever be free to the masses, I cannot help but feel solidarity with those who cannot pay. If they do, am I insisting they ride in exchange for some paltry meal? Is it that important they pay, even when some poor working stiff scrapes together pocket change to honestly offer full fare? It's truly a conundrum, but I favor compassion over a rich man's faulty ideology, any day.

The rich want us to fight each other: those who have a bit versus those who have little. It keeps them in power, and us arguing over petty bullshit. Remember this when you vote. I certainly will. Even though I "work" for a living, to what ill dreams has it provided? We're living proof of what has become the American Nightmare. I'm still one paycheck from those who beg a ride. We're not much different; I'm just a tad luckier than they.

Pay when you can. If you can't, on my bus I'll understand. Been there, somewhat... done that. Welcome aboard, just humbly accept and we're good. It's the least I can do.



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 ...