Deacon Who?

My photo
(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!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Ahh Skye, at Long Last We Meet!

Deke’s book now resides on Isle of Skye, Scotland! It was my pleasure to gift this book to our lovely host Katie at Taigh Ailean Hotel, for she has presided over our incredible stay here on this mystically wonderful day.

Began our day with a tasty traditional Scottish breakfast, then drove 25 minutes to the entrance of the Fairy Pools. A 20-minute hike led us to a magnificent compilation of wondrous sights, which will likely linger for my remaining moments. From there I dipped my feet and fingers into the western shoreline of the Atlantic, staring dreamily into the bright horizon.

Into a deep and dark forest I roamed, recalling the timeless words of Mark Twain, Rabbie Burns and other classic authors. My mind is but a whisper of the soul which inhabits this Earthly body, and my soul is more at peace than it has ever been.

At work, I try to blot out the constant noise; here, only silence interrupted by birdsong and breeze. I am so very much at peace, and extremely aware.

Nothing more need be penned...

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Scottish Adventures Part II

Sorry Deke, it’s difficult to write on a phone. Given a keyboard, I’d regale y’all with a plethora of adventures.

Driving on the right side of a car on the left side of the road is tricky but doable. Only rolled over two curbs, no PA’s! A few more days of driving, bus drivers to “Deke” yet in Dublin and Edinburgh, if they’re amenable.

People in Scotland are kind and polite, except those who drive BMW’s , Audi’s or Benzes. Seems to be a worldwide pandemic. Do these folks take a course on “How to be an Asshole?”

The Scottish countryside is amazingly gorgeous. I highly recommend it rise to the top of anyone’s Bucket List.

Passed out a few foldup buses and MAX vehicles, four copies of JUST DRIVE, and many of Deke’s business cards. The remaining two books are up for grabs.

Off to Isle of Skye today. Slainte!


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Scottish Travels - Chapter 1

“Freedom and Whisky gang thegither”
-Rabbie Burns

Hello from the beautiful land of the irascible, rebellious shores of Scotland! In all my nearly-six decades, I pen me thoughts from abroad. I never dreamed I would ever have this opportunity, but here I am, writing from my phone in this ancient, mystical yet altogether present reality.
I fail miserably to describe the incredible vistas I have witnessed five days running. Each new sight leaves me wallowing in astonishment. Where Portland Oregon is lacking, Scotland offers a myriad of new wonders. I am simply overwhelmed by its never-ending bounties of visual orgasms.
My beloved sound asleep and my wanderlust fully aroused, I stumbled out into a drizzly Wigtown eve and found a welcoming bar. Upon my entrance, a braugh lad bought me a double Oban 14yo double. As we spoke, I found him to be a construction worker. Given that houses are usually 119-years old and usually more, I felt a felowship with him. Buzzed as we were, the effects of alcohol failed to separate us from the bonds we share as laborers. 
Then Bob came along and I asked him to teach me some Gaelic curses. Instantly, he indulged in an oft-insulting diatribe I couldn’t understand. The bartender verily and heartily responded with hearty outbursts of laughter. Albeit confused, I joined in their laughter at my expense.
I lurched upstairs to my room, and here I leave you. More to come... later.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hey Scotland...

Patrick is coming your way, landing in Edinburgh Sept. 21. Beware, he'll be bearing gifts from Portland, OR!

He is my special envoy to your lovely land...

Patrick Takes Over

Portland Bus Operator Patrick Coomer

Deke's Note: Wow, the week prior to vacations are painful. The body aches for relief from the rigors of pressing an air brake pedal (on average 800 times/day), twisting, turning and always watchful for dangers. I have winced at media reports and managerial slights, one eye turned toward two weeks of blissful absence from this vocation and the other focused on the safety of those he transports with pride.

Patrick and I began writing at almost the same time. In some ways, we're better than one another, each goading the other to improve. We argue who is the better writer, but he tends to best me more often than not. Still, I'm the one with a third of a million "hits" while he languishes in virtual nowhere-land. Maybe this nod to him while I take a much-needed hiatus will improve his visibility. Please be gentle... he's a needy lil' prick.

With this post, I "brake" (sic on purpose) free of this job for a few weeks, as my long-awaited vacation looms. I'm not going anywhere. My alter-ego, best bud and confidante is, however. This is his first in a series (if he chooses to write as often as I do) of Guest Posts. If it's sporadic, give him a break... he'll be in freakin' Scotland and Ireland for cryin' out loud! I'm jealous, because he's with that hottie wife of his, all alone. Lucky bastard! I'll mimic his trip with ample tastes of Scotch and Irish drams, keeping in close contact as he allows. Meanwhile, don't try to find me... I'll be incognito. Carry on, Patrick... and thanks for the break. I need it.

The book which captured the attention
of a worldwide audience. Worth a read!

U.K. Vacation: Introduction

By Patrick Coomer

Hello brothers and sisters of the road, and many other followers of Deke's FromTheDriverSide! I've had a really busy year in preparation of this trip of a lifetime to Scotland and Ireland my darling Stacey and I are about to begin in celebration of our 25 years of wedded bliss.

Not only have I had to prop up the Deke and counsel him against the exhaustion we've both faced as city bus operators as he constantly contemplates "coming out," but also battled my own fatigue and ridiculous SIPs which were obviously misunderstandings from passengers who just don't understand transit.

I told Deke to just rest and work on his new book while I take the pressure off of him to produce this worldwide-phenomenon of a transit blog. It's amazing he has garnered 18,000 hits the past 30 days alone, far surpassing 2017's 15k in November. When he published his book, Deke's blog had 170,000 hits; today it has surpassed 322,000. His stats have nearly doubled in just two years! That's impressive, but he remains humble.

Deke recently told me, "I don't write for stats. All I ever wanted to do was tell our story, as honestly as possible, from the seat. Few others were doing it when I started, but hopefully more begin to speak up. Anything other than that is just icing on the transit brownie."

Deke began here as a "newbie" only hoping to practice his trade as a writer. I encouraged him, and am very proud of the successes FTDS has achieved, let alone his book "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane," which I will distribute to our Scots and Irish fellows. It is with pride I share his work with operators over 4,600 miles distant, and it is my hope his words resonate from there as they have here, and with people in Canada, France, Australia, Russia, China, Brazil, Italy, Spain, and many other countries.

Yeah, Deke is tired of the fa├žade. For nearly 6.5 years, he has written this blog for you, from his perspective in a city bus seat. I know how it feels, because I do the same job. We're brothers, confidantes. Sometimes we are so frustrated with each other, we have nearly come to blows. Yet deep down, we have loved each other for decades. I pick up a phone, and it's like Deke is speaking through me as we converse. We know what the other will say before it is said. I'm very happy we're so close. It hasn't always been so, but as we grow old together, we become closer every day. And that, my friends, is as it should be. Gone are the petty feuds and jealousies, the antagonistic and competitive bullshit. All we know now is solidarity, a oneness with each other... the understanding of decades together. And yes, we're comfortable in this familiarity.

I won't tell you HOW we know each other, but it's a relationship that transcends family ties. I have a contractual agreement with Deke not to reveal his true identity, and I constantly trust you to honor my own commitment to his anonymity. We both depend upon your solidarity. Neither of us can afford management's harsh discipline for our collective sins at this stage of our careers. Yet, the threat is real. Still, we continue together in hopes management will somehow merge with the collective wisdom of those who make their jobs possible. As Deke has said so eloquently before, we could do our jobs even more efficiently without management's interference. This said, I say #DEKE4GM with great enthusiasm. We are one of many celebrated careers, but we hold the joker card which gives us more power: the knowledge of what makes transit tick. If society would allow transit workers to manage, Portland would quickly once again regain its once-vaunted #1 standing.

Even though you may sometimes disagree with Deke politically or otherwise, he trusts the brotherhood of transit to honor the solidarity he loves you for. Deke adores his brothers and sisters nearly as much as his own family. You know from personal interaction, our collective ties are stronger than anything management's weak "branding" stands for. We care about each others' families, and come together when disaster strikes. Management is simply there: we're doing the work they take credit for.

He was a blind bus operator once upon
a Halloween Eve...
When my father died, I was moved to tears when so many of you reached out to me. Deke, having suffered the same loss, allowed me to grieve personally with him. Even after five decades together, we became even closer when Dad passed last year. He knew Pa Coomer well, having flown with him over the rough skies of many an Arizona summer dawn. He laughed as Dad taught me to drive over a rough high-country road when I was 10. Yeah, Deke goes way back with us all. His memories resonate with my own, and we are forever friends.

I was the first to suggest he write about being a transit operator. It is a great honor to be entrusted with his blog as Stacey and I embark upon this wonderful journey to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary together in the magical and historic United Kingdom. The rebellious Scots who willingly gave their lives upon the Culloden Battlefield in 1746 remind me of our American ancestors who bravely defeated the British and secured our nation's birth 30 years later. It is with humility and respect I will visit this spot where a thousand Scots sacrificed their lives in service to whom they believed should have been their king. My own ancestors fought in the American Revolution, as they have in every war our country has embarked upon during its tenure. Perhaps it is this rebellious nature which guides me, and my brother Deke, as we urge our own to STAND and fight as ONE for the rights of Portland transit workers and those everywhere.

Even though Deke is tired of hiding, he continues fighting for us all from the keyboard. In order to support his family, he needs this job. Still, he bravely reports "from the seat" because he knows nothing else than speaking personal knowledge to truth. If management discovers his true identity, he could be summarily dismissed for freely airing the collective megaphone of our frustrations.

Deke has one objective: to tell the story very few will. My buddy is brave, often reckless in his disdain for our management's miscues. Sometimes, he tends to sway toward the extreme and uses language some might believe is fucked up. Still, anyone who has held the wheel of a 20-ton bus in their hands will understand, we are often pushed to extremes. Some may consider his language obscene, but we're often abused much worse than the public is given to understand.

A bus operator's "office."
Our management cannot speak from our experience. Deke bridges that gap. People from the corporate world have overtaken transit management, especially in Portland. It is commendable they have taken steps to try and understand us more. Few have gone through operator training, but were forbidden via union rules to fully-engage in Line Training. If they were compelled to drive in service for even six months, they might feel more forgiving when we err in their eyes. Perhaps if they drove a late-night 72 or 4 or 6 or 9, they would understand the pressures we feel behind the wheel. If allowed to take the wheel while we trained them how to do our jobs, the meager $1/hour extra we're paid to do this vital task would raise five times. Those who we do train to drive our routes would agree we deserve more than the spare buck we have been been paid for decades to share our knowledge with those hired to someday replace us.


Whether I agree with our leadership, I support our union with fervor and devotion. Even more important, it is vital every union member VOTE at every opportunity, to show up at meetings, to let your individual voices be heard. While I rarely attend, I do try. When family matters intervene, I find myself unable to join my fellows. It's hard to balance blood family with our union, but whenever possible, please make every effort to do so.

Many of us tend to denigrate our union leaders because of disagreements and politics. While I may not always agree with them, I believe our leaders have our best interests at heart. Without them, we would be in much more dire straits. We seem to fight with one another more than we discuss and come together upon the issues which are the most vital to our collective good. Some tend to hold on to past elections as if they are more important than the issues at hand. Such divisiveness only strengthens the opposition. It is evident not only in local unions, but also in our national politics. We were once a country which could disagree while working together to form compromises that moved us forward... together. I mourn this solidarity, but remain optimistic we can once again learn to work toward a more positive future.

Maybe I'm just an old fool, but the late and great comedian Richard Pryor was right: "You don't get to be old bein' a fool. Lots of wise young dudes deader than a motherfucker."

Three of my favorite operators: Jen, ChaCha and Jay
 joined us in #BANDTOGETHER 2018.
Will you?

As I prepare to leave Portland for the longest journey of my life, my fellows will join our local brother Henry Beasley here (and the movement's founder, Dwayne Russell, Sr. of Jacksonville, FL) in #BANDTOGETHER 2019. Once again, we will wear a BandAid on our "passenger side" cheek for the week of Sept. 15-21, with the number of attacks upon local transit workers written upon it. Our local media refuses to accurately report violence against US while pouncing on any alleged mistake by our numbers, no matter how outrageous and unsubstantiated. We will inform the public, because our media fails to do its job. Now in its third year, #BANDTOGETHER has inspired thousands of transit workers to join us this year. We'll blast downhill in growing numbers until our massive plight is fully heard, or we will eventually bury those who refuse to listen.

Two more days of ferrying my townspeople to wherever they choose, and I'm done through October 8. That's the day Dad died last year. He was so happy to hear we were going to Scotland. My birthday is October 5. The last time we spoke, Dad called as usual to sing the "birthday song" as horribly as possible. His last words to me: "I'll wait for you." He made good on his promise, and I shall make good on mine. I'm not sure how or when, but I'll let you know, on FTDS, how my trip is going and how it has been. If not, I'll let you know upon my return. Until then, I hope Deke gets rested, drinks a shitload of whisky in my absence and writes like mad on his upcoming novel. Like many, I can't wait to read the finished tale.

Thanks Dad, and Stacey. Without either of you, this journey would not be possible. I hope to do Dad's words of wisdom justice: "Have fun every day."

Next time you hear from me will be from some distillery over yonder. Until, during and always, may you all have safe journeys, whether as bus operators or otherwise.

Patrick Coomer
Bus Operator

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Reader? Speak Up!

I've noticed an upsurge in readership lately. However, the large majority of you are SILENT.

What say you? Do you agree with my writing, or not? It is the desire of any writer to be noticed, and I'm grateful for your visit. However, what's on your mind as you read this? Create an account or not, but please divulge your thoughts as you peruse my posts. Also, from where do you read?

Don't be so silent! I get enough of that from people staring at their stupid phones riding my bus. The art of conversation has been murdered by the "smart" phone invasion.

Thanks for reading!

With love,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Investigate Me? Go Ahead, Inept Boneheads!

Where we operate, our "office."
We see all your antics from this lofty perch.
Imagine one of your loved ones killed as the result of impact with a Portland transit vehicle. The mere thought of losing them is enough to drive any of us mad with grief. Invariably, the first thought people have when this happens is, it's the operator's fault.

Ugh! This upsets me at many levels. First, any operator's main goal is to traverse the thousands of obstacles put between us and our end time is to arrive without any incident whatsoever. We are highly-trained and vigilant during our time on duty, determined and committed to keeping our fellow Portlanders safe. Second, we do so with full knowledge of our fellow citizens' inability to watch out for their own safety. This fact alone makes us even more vigilant in watching for imminent disasters.

Now, a terribly unfortunate parent, whose child was tragically struck down by a transit vehicle, has successfully lobbied our legislature to pass a law requiring a panel of non-transit citizens be employed to "investigate" any collision between transit vehicles and the public. No mention was made in this news report as to what the poor lad did to contribute to his tragic early demise. It also failed to report how the MAX operator has replayed the incident thousands of times in his or her recounting of the incident. Chances are very high that the lad was not watching out for his own safety and crossed in front of a moving megaton vehicle. We're very sorry for his loss, but I'm betting that operator saved more lives in their years of operation than they will ever be given credit for.

Why is our transit agency's management not held responsible for educating the public on the dangers of interacting with our heavy vehicles? It is horribly irresponsible in allowing the media to castigate its very operators with whom it is responsible for training (and protecting from unfair public blame) to avoid such disasters. It does very little to educate our fellow citizens on how to be safe, relying on lame and sparse posters rather than taking an active part in warning people of the dangers involved when in the presence, or aboard, our vehicles. In my opinion, given the public's refusal to take responsibility for its own safety, our management should be trumpeting LOUDLY what actions could ultimately save our precious fellow-citizens' lives. But hey, just like the local media, it seems more intent on blaming US rather than taking any responsibility for its own failures. I feel horribly disrespected as a vigilantly-safe operator that my transit agency, and my union, has not taken to the airwaves in defense of our collective vigilance in ensuring YOUR safety. This failure is disgusting at the least, and horribly dangerous to the public at large.

In the past decade, an individual's personal responsibility for their own safety on our streets has deteriorated to the point where it is now someone else's duty to ensure they remain safe. Many operators believe people have grown careless and often foolish in their lack of awareness of the dangers around them. They dart between cars in front of our vehicles, flipping us off and cursing us when we honk to alert them of our presence. Hey folks, we're just trying to let you know that your actions caused us great stress at the thought of your death due to your ridiculously-unsafe actions.

The last thing we want is for you to end up a victim of a collision. We saw you, and likely predicted your foolish stunt, seconds before you committed an act which could have resulted in a fatal interaction between us. Because of our professionalism, your lives are spared thousands of times each day. Yet your inability to recognize this goes unnoticed and largely unappreciated. Then, one horrid incident changes the lives of the loved ones left behind. Once again, the operator is automatically blamed, whether intentional or simply implied via the news media's frenzy to blame anyone but the victim. It's bad business to blame the dead for their own actions leading to their demise. What becomes more important is to find someone else to blame, and that lands squarely upon US. Fuck that, we did everything we could to prevent it!

Note the disrespect from bikeportland's Jonathan Maus, whose quote was both injurious and insulting to the professionalism of Portland's transit operators. "Until now," he wrote on the blog, "the agency has always investigated themselves when one of their light rail or bus operators hurts or kills someone."

Wow, Mr. Maus. While you have in the past accused me of not considering other points of view, this statement mirrors the onus of impartiality pointing directly back toward your own reflection. It implies that any injury or death involving a transit vehicle is automatically the fault of its operator. In most cases, the blame can be laid directly at the hospital bed's feet, or sadly directly within the casket of the victim. Still your words leave no doubt as to your inability to comprehend the degree of probabilities which assail those of us you choose to blame.

Yes, our transit agency takes each incident involving contact with our vehicles seriously. Even when so minor as a mirror strike, our Accident Review committee watches video and determines whether the operator involved was remiss in their duties. If we err in calculating the distance between said mirror and the collision point, we are assessed with a Preventable Accident. This remains on our record forever. If any operator is charged with five of these within a certain period, we are subject to suspension, or more likely, termination. This policy is to ensure operators remain vigilant in our duties, and is always foremost in our minds while operating a transit vehicle. Joe Camaro is nowhere near as safety-conscious as your trusty transit operator.

In the rare (yes, rare) occasion where we make contact with a fellow human being or another vehicle, our review board is even more vigilant in determining what caused it. The prevailing question is: Did the operator do everything possible and as they were trained to do, to prevent it? If we make even one error, it can be assessed a PA. When we appeal this decision, we must prove we did exactly as we were trained to in order to prevent contact. It is a very intense investigation which leads to this moment, and nobody takes their part lightly.

The committee is comprised of managers (who are always on the lookout to castigate us for the tiniest of infractions), operators, safety committee members and union officers. They view video of the incident and discuss every moment before, during and after the incident. How did the operator react prior to contact? Were they aware of everything around and behind of their vehicle? What factors contributed to the incident? The operator involved was immediately pulled and given a random drug/alcohol screening, and that is a vital factor in their deliberations. What of their safety record prior to the incident? What day, what time in their service did this occur? Had they incurred complaints regarding this type of situation before during any point in their career? Were any factors present which would point to the operator's ability to avoid such an incident? They also consider the actions of the "victim(s)." Were they watching their cell phone rather than what was going on around them? Wearing headphones? Arguing with a companion?

We are expected to be professionals, and we are. Believe me, the last thing we want to see is anyone or anything making contact with our vehicles. Yet Mr. Maus' comment implies that we're automatically assailants, or at the worst, murderers.

Oregon City, the birthplace of the West Coast.
Transit operators are fully-trained professionals who take our jobs very seriously. Each year we are subject to "check rides" by trainers who meticulously note every part of our actions at the wheel. They give us pointers, counsel us on bad habits they observe, and give us instruction on anything we need to improve upon. Most operators welcome healthy criticism and work hard to improve every moment we're in service. I certainly do. In addition, we're all taken off the road one day each year to receive additional training and instruction in Recertification Class. This too is the direct result of a grieving parent's insistence that we be held to higher standards than other motorists.

While I agree to the importance of our annual Recertification, management has watered it down so much as to become just an exercise in boorish corporate bullshit, full of edicts from those who have never done the job. This makes it a sad joke among us. If it contained more substantial training regarding the finer points of vehicle operation, it would be more effective. Instead, its recent goal has become to regard those with decades of safe operation as "cowboys" rather than an opportunity to learn from them what their honorable service could teach us all. Once again, the corporate takeover of transit illustrates the blunders of management rather than a celebration and honoring of the wisdom of millions of service miles could offer.

Other classifications of professional drivers are not given as intense scrutiny as your transit operators. And yes, we take it all as seriously as we're expected to. We tend to ignore the corporate bullshit fed us, but perk up when the trainers discuss something pertinent to our jobs.

The one thing that struck me when I heard this news of the TriMet Crash Advisory Committee was, "Sure, okay, but what about when a private motorist strikes and injures or kills another on the roadways we share?" Sure, they're often subject to alcohol/drug screening at the time of the incident, but how often are their driving privileges revoked? When the failure is determined to be the fault of the motorist, they likely retain their right to operate a vehicle, without so much as a slap on the wrist. In our case, our very livelihoods are in jeopardy. A safe and highly-experienced operator could be removed from service in lieu of a horribly unsafe private motorist. And this makes us ALL less safe on the road.

We see so many infractions of motorists who are inexperienced, impatient and foolishly-dangerous in their actions I believe over 50% of them have no business driving. Our trainers taught us the Smith System of Driving, which insists we scan constantly and watch for dangers 12-15 seconds ahead. Those who fail to do so are a liability to everyone else on the road. Where is their motoring ability questioned? In the news media, is there any follow-up as to their driving record or mental state at the time of an incident? No. All that is reported is that a collision occurred, and whether the motorist "was cooperative during the investigation."

I would become disgustingly rich if my profession allowed me to train other motorists how to drive as my father and transit trainers did me. It would cost people $250/hour for my millions of miles of experience instructing them how to become safe and predictive drivers. For 10 hours a day, I would make much more than I do transporting my fellow Portlanders every day. Most of whom I would instruct likely have had multiple citations or collisions on their record. Many would flunk my test, and would make our streets infinitely-safer.

As a former over-the-road tractor-trailer operator and private motorist, I have had one citation and zero collisions in 50 years of driving. Take that into your advisory committee and shove it as far as it will go. Each member of this bullshit council should have their own driving record scrutinized as intensely as those of my fellow operators. I have no qualms about judging you for your horrid actions behind the wheel, because I own the moral high ground here. Plus, I will forever trumpet my fellow operators' safety over yours every moment of every day we're in service. I wear this badge and share it with fellow operators in the utmost pride, when I say I operate my vehicle safely every second I'm in service. If you or one of your loved ones makes a serious mistake in front of my vehicle, rest assured years of service and experience will guide me in ensuring their life continues, as the passengers on my bus avoid injury due to the stupidity of whatever I encounter ahead. If fate dictates the opposite, please do not automatically blame me, because I will do everything I can to save your loved one. It's what we do, every second of our service to our community, here and everywhere we roll.

As for my fellow brothers and sisters who have suffered the horrid scrutiny afforded them at having been unfortunate victims of an incident involving the loss of life, I offer my condolences yet fully support their actions. I am fully aware of the obstacles they face, and confident they did everything they could to avoid the disaster they are unfairly-accused of causing.

If you want to "investigate" us, fine. However, I'm doubtful this can be done impartially. Take that, Mr. Maus and everyone else who believe transit operators are anything but the safest on the road. Your arguments are bunk. I'll remember it every time a bicyclist flips me off after I have saved their unsafe ass. You're welcome, and I wish you a safe journey in spite of yourselves.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Perks of Riding

Brett Harrison, transit fan and warrior
for the cause of operator safety.

Deke's Note: I have been blessed by the masses, and I thank each of you every day. A few however, stand out and shine a bit brighter for having graced this web address with your written "take" on transit. One major reason I enjoy my job is it grants me the opportunity to meet some really cool folks. I've made so many friends with fellow operators, but also passengers and readers. Our invited writer today is a very special person, known and loved by many in Portland transit.

This Guest Post was written by a senior in high school. He's a "transit fan," as he puts it. As I know him, he's a decent and kind soul who is wise beyond his years. Brett busted me as "Deke" about the same time our other transit buddy "Double A" did, but he has graciously kept my thinly-veiled secret. I've known him since he was a wee lad of about 10 who rode my bus with his father. He knows more about the buses, our system and routes than most of us who do the work of transit. Often, he sends me a text of concern if I'm off-schedule. It's only because he truly cares, and that is sincerely touching. Last month, he joined our March on City Hall in support of HB 2677, and earned even more respect from all of us.

His first draft truly impressed me. Rarely do we encounter young people who possess the artist's soul. As I read his post, I was truly floored. Because I see such great potential in him as a writer, I wielded a fierce red pen in the editing phase. He didn't flinch, and took every stab with a doctor's measured and steady hand. As if I wasn't already impressed, this fact elevated him even higher in my esteem and respect.

Rather than go on and on, I'll simply finish by saying he's a wonderful, generously-giving soul who is very dear to me and many of my fellow operators and supervisors. Thanks buddy... this assignment gets an 'A'. Now go do your homework.

The Perks of Riding

by Brett Harrison

I rode my first bus at just the age of three.

Photo by Brett Harrison
Dad and I rode Route 34 which rolled down my home street, connecting to other routes. We eventually arrived at the zoo, where I was scared looking at the animals. Since that first day, I have never turned away from a bus, and I quickly came to love riding transit. I choose to be a transit fan because I have the opportunity to help others anytime of the day while meeting new people. 

Transit fans are your typical riders but we ride for pure enjoyment. We don’t always commute to work or commute to run errands. We look just like everyone else on a normal day of our lives, but typically know a little more about the buses we ride.

As early as I can remember, Dad would take me every weekend and park in downtown Milwaukie in order to catch a bus. We cruised around the city from dawn to dusk, until we got tired. We always capped the day with a mint chocolate chip cone at my favorite ice cream parlor. It was a typical outing for us to explore the city and find sights I had yet to see.

When I was about eight, I began riding the bus alone. My parents trusted me to get to school, and I knew the system enough to where I wouldn’t get lost. My very first day, I rode the route 33 connecting to the 34 at Oregon City Transit Center. My 33 driver was very kind and we always shared life moments and experiences on the bus. Then one day my most favorite drivers disappeared for a very long time, leaving me wondering, where did she go?

“Why is she not here anymore?” I asked my driver. His response made me think. 

“Oh,” he replied. “I beat her for this route in signup by three spots.” That’s when I became a transit fan. 

After that, I began to absorb transit, learning many of the routes and the jargon bus operators use. Then one day I was labeled a "transit fan" by an operator.

Just a few days later, I saw a driver really struggling with his route. He narrowly missed two cars and was biting his nails in nervousness. He seemed scared, so I decided it was time to display my knowledge. I told him how to turn every corner, and helped him the rest of the route. He had a huge smile on his face and perhaps grateful help had arrived when he felt lost and alone. I then exited the bus feeling satisfied with what I had done. Nearly four years later, we are great friends. 

Photo by Brett Harrison
Throughout the years, I’ve found myself to become an operator advocate, helping everyone I can, whether an operator or passenger. The reaction I hear is always different. Some offer me a smile, yet others tell me “I wasn’t talking to you.” That does not affect me or other advocates; we move on and help others who are willing to take it. 

Throughout the country, every city has transit fans and advocates. We ride for fun or to help others. I know of about five transit fans here in Portland, Oregon. Everyone has their own drivers they know and help. They welcome us every time we step aboard the bus. 

Deke is one of those drivers. I have ridden his bus for several years now. We end up talking about sports, fellow passengers, or things we see on the road. His ride is always smooth and he deals with problem passengers efficiently. After years of reading his blog, and later the book "JUSTDRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane," I’ve learned more about public transit than ever before. He describes what operators endure day and night.

When I first rode Deke’s bus, I talked to him as a regular operator, picking up clues of his being "Deke." Shortly after that, I realized it was him all along. He’s helped me through so many years of my life and would always help with whatever is needed.

Another operator I enjoy riding with is my route 96 driver. Throughout middle school, I rode with her every night. During her breaks, she would tell me to focus on the task at my hand: my homework. I would walk into school the next day comforted it was done thanks to her insisting on my doing the right thing. 

Many transit fans advocates aspire to become bus operators, eagerly awaiting our 21st birthday with a clean driving record to join these seat warriors. Youths tend to be very straightforward when asked our career goals, and the answers can be shocking. “I want to be a transit worker,” some reply. What people don’t understand is some young transit fans spend years preparing to become bus operators. If you know what you want career-wise, follow your dreams. Some will discourage you, but only YOU know what is right for YOU. 

Transit fans are like many adults who ride, except we have studied transit as passengers and have a better understanding of what it’s like to be an operator. We really appreciate what transit workers endure, because we have watched closely. If we can help in any way, we feel we’re a vital part of it all. 

Oregon House Bill 2677 would protect transit workers by making it a felony to assault them while on duty. It could help decrease the number of assaults by providing for strong punishment for such a crime. Transit fans strongly support this bill, because we want the operators we know and love to feel safer. 

Photo by Brett Harrison
I hope every night when I go to bed that all operators I know, and those I have yet to meet, will finish their shifts safely. I marched for a purpose as an advocate, to ensure changes are made and our voices within transit companies are heard throughout the city. 

Operators do not deserve the dangers they face while serving our community. I once witnessed an operator get a steaming-hot cup of coffee splashed in her face. She had refused to allow a passenger’s exit after the bus had left a stop. People need to quit assaulting operators for doing what they are trained to do: give people safe rides. If passengers can arrive home safely, why shouldn’t the operators?

Whew! This was my first guest appearance on a blog, and it wasn’t easy. Deke is not the most gentle of editors. Even so, I pulled through okay. I expect to awake tomorrow with new energy so I can be an even stronger advocate for the many Portland operators I have come to know. 

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...