Deke's Note: What have I learned as a bus operator this past 2019? Perhaps there are many more than I can describe. Yet, it's always within me to describe what strikes home harder than a Kenyon Yovan fastball (Go Ducks Baseball 2020!).
As this year winds down, my aging self finds itself nostalgic for what's past and hopeful for what's to come. Each day I drive a bus, my constant desire is to learn something new. This keeps my skills fresh and improving. Daddy Blue taught me to be very cognizant of what's happening around any vehicle I'm in control of. Driving a 20-ton megaBeast, this becomes a constant reminder of how vital it is to be centered, focused and intent upon the safety of all within and around my vehicle. Even though my transit experiences have become second-hat, it's vital that my attention is so focused on what I'm doing that anything new in this transit experience is immediately recognized and documented within. Otherwise, I'm just not paying enough attention.
So, what have I learned this year? While it's difficult to separate incidents from one year to the next at this point in my career, there are many points to discuss. However, only the most important remain. Here's my Top 10.
1) Customer Service often only travels one way. If you stop my bus downtown to ask a question easily-answered by the convenient reader board just a few feet from where you stand, don't expect me to be overly-friendly. Our routes are tough, schedules often strictly-regulated upon conditions not allowing for foolish interruptions. Use that cell phone you're constantly staring upon to answer the most obvious questions you have about transit in Portland. Download "PDX Bus" which will give you any vehicle's location within the past minute, and your query will be answered. Please don't waste a bus operator's time to ask us when the bus we're not driving will arrive at the stop upon which you're waiting. A few finger taps will give you the information you need without delaying those upon my bus who are smart enough to ascertain the electronically-obvious.
2) Fido is not a Service Animal. Quit lying to us. Leave your mutt at home. Otherwise, find some other mode of transportation. We don't need your snarling beast on our ride, making law-abiding passengers feel any more unease than transit management dictates. The Americans with Disabilities Act (do you even know what this is?) does not give you permission to lie about your vicious pet being a Certified Service Animal. No, you're not allowed to bring it on board as a "companion animal." Every pet is a companion to humans. That doesn't qualify it as a highly-trained and expensively-maintained professional. Even though our government and loosely-affiliated transit agency is wimpy where it comes to enforcing code, we care. Leave your pets at home, and stop lying to us about Fido's certification. Someone with a true Service Animal needs to feel safe on transit, without fear that your untrained and unrestrained beast will attack their truly-trained SA without provocation.
3) I don't care if you have fare. That's the realm of Fare Inspectors, who could be awaiting your excuse-laden butt at my next stop. Go ahead and risk a $200 fine for your lack of $2.50. It's not my job to lecture you about our transit agency's fare policy. If you have it, show it or pay without delay. Your lame excuse about how you "lost" or "forgot" it makes no never mind to me. All I care about is rolling my ride on schedule. That way, I'll have time to pee, eat, vape, and breathe at the end of the line before taking on the next trip. I truly give not one minuscule damn about your long-contrived tale of woe. Unless you're a regular who has truly made a mistake, your excuses mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. Hey, if you're nice about it I might even print you a ticket. Just don't expect me to make this a habit.
4) Sometimes a bus is delayed. It's not my fault. If the overhead sign reads "Drop Off Only," I expect you to understand there's an in-service bus a few minutes or less behind me. This status is only granted buses when they are extremely late, and need a chance to make up the deficit. I didn't put that sign up there myself just to piss you off; Dispatch did. As passengers exit, don't curse me for not allowing you to board. This has been a transit constant for decades. Traffic and passenger loads dictate how I roll. No, I'm really not an "asshole". Get over yourself, look behind me and see my follower rolling in to pick you up. You're welcome. Have as nice a messed-up day as you just wished me when I shut the door in your rude face.
5) Don't expect me to board you in between scheduled stops, especially if you're downtown on our Transit Mall. Each stop is clearly marked with the routes serviced. We have rules we must follow, especially there. If my doors close, that means you have missed the bus. Once that light turns green, I will not stop and re-open them just for you. Why? Because if I do that for you, then another two or three will expect the same, making me miss the green and delaying all the great people on my bus who were on time to their stop. There's likely a bus behind me waiting to service the First Position, and you're simply late. You can call in a complaint, but I don't care. I won't even give management the satisfaction of showing up for a "come see me" due to your inability to show up on time. Your connection was late getting there? I'm sorry, but he or she was fighting traffic and slowpoke boarders just like I have. Transit is not, cannot be, perfect. You're a big boy/girl, learn the ropes and deal.
6) Please use headphones or turn off the audio on that precious cell phone. Your electronics do not rule over my need to hear the many audible details I monitor while driving The Beast. I'm listening for motor sounds, air brake compressor audibles, traffic queues, emergency sirens and other details competing for my attention. Your music video does not take precedence over anything. When I make a PA announcement, I'm usually annoyed you're unaware your nose-maker is competing for my attention while also likely annoying fellow passengers. My request to turn the audio OFF your device is actually a polite command. Would you argue with an airline pilot, train conductor or boat captain? Yeah, I thought not. Please treat me the same way. Your own safety could depend upon your compliance. Thank you.
7) I will not speed to help you make a connection. I drive my bus the same way whether I'm on time, early or late: safely. Circumstances will not ever change my roll. If you have to wait for the next bus or train, so be it. You're welcome for the safe ride.
8) I'm human, just like you. Some of us might be more friendly than the other operator, but whatever the case, please do not expect miracles from any of us. You're unaware of the miracles we've performed prior to, and even during or after your ride. Unless you'd prefer the bus to be guided by automation (a dangerous scenario being debated by Portland transit as I write this), just appreciate there's a trained human at the controls. We have to eat, use the restroom, take a sip or enjoy some quiet time between rolls. We truly treasure our rare moments alone. In these precious few minutes, please do not approach us unless it's an emergency and/or life-threatening situation. If we're on the phone, it's likely the first time in hours we've had the opportunity to speak with our loved ones who are worried about us as we navigate these dangerous streets. Wait for us where it's expected we'll board you. If you have a question for us, wait until our doors open for business. Otherwise, ask other transit passengers. Often, they have the answers you need. Give us our precious breaks, will ya?
9) Watch what we do in that unforgiving seat. Did you see that dually 4x4-truck cut us off, flip us off and almost run head-on into the car it couldn't see as it passed me across the double-yellow line while my YIELD light flashed brightly-red in their impatient face? See how I stopped to allow it passage rather than starting to roll which prevented a head-on collision with that oncoming and humanly-full family minivan? Did you look up from your Instagram feed as we smoothly rolled to a stop and avoided hitting a dark-clothed lad darting across the street just inches distant from our 20-ton bumper? We're always scanning 180-200 degrees to avoid any dangers to you or those outside our vehicles. If you watch what we do while you ride, perhaps you'd be more appreciative of our daily toils.
10) Give us a break... we care. This last one is the hardest. Often as I write something along this vein, tears begin to fall. Mostly, it's because I care about what I do, and for all in and around my bus. That's why I write my thoughts here; it's my therapy. I see so much inhumanity, foolish actions and horrific injustice between humans I have become uncomfortably numb. The job of transit operator is one of the most stressful known to humanity. Why? Because we're constantly on-the-job providing as safe a ride as possible in the most impossible conditions. Between traffic foul ups and inconsiderate passengers, weather and tight schedules, our job can be truly depressing. Still, this bus operator still begins each shift with an 11-Point Mantra designed to put my mind into full focus upon the vital job you expect from me. I'm out there 10+ hours, five days (and no more, thank you very much) each week, struggling amongst the many obstacles thrust before me, to safely convey you to your destination. My biggest nightmare is that somebody could be hurt, or (God forbid) killed, by the vehicle I control. It's a humbling responsibility each of us take very seriously. When you disrespect or assail us, we still return. It's an unspoken code amongst us that we persevere no matter what's tossed our way. Why? Because we're proud, caring and sensible humans who accept the harsh realities of this job and strive to do the best we can despite the circumstances we have become conditioned to endure.
* * * * *
What do I most wish for 2020? Above all, that transit passengers across this shared blue marble, learn to appreciate the work all involved in transit do for each community we serve. We're a human who has likely been spit upon, verbally assaulted nearly ever day, often assaulted or otherwise insulted, yet still rises to the seat in which we earn our daily keep. We do care, but expect compliance to the most basic of societal rules: treat your fellow humans with decency and respect. Please do as asked, without argument or debate. That's what keeps us all rolling, and if you can accept this we'll all get there safely.
May peace be granted upon you, along with all the love you expect and deserve. Rest assured that when you board my ride, you'll be greeted warmly. If you return my love, thank you. If you wait until you exit, you're welcome. I'm happy when you return to your loved ones after my smoothly-safe ride. That's all I hope for when my shift ends. My family is nervously awaiting my unscathed arrival as well.
Have a safe and Happy New Year. Like hundreds of thousands of other transit employees worldwide, I'll be there working hard to make your trip a smooth and safe roll home. Oh, and it's a free ride after 8 p.m., so that will make it even more interesting.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I love you all. Well, most of you, anyway.
With love and greatest regards, I remain your
Deke N. Blue