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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!

Monday, January 27, 2020

What Bus Operators Want

Deke's Note: Still reeling from the loss of Freddi Evans, bus operator and dear friend, I saw the headline of our weekly rag in the newstands this week. "What Bus Riders Want" it screamed in big red letters. "Yeah," I thought sardonically, "I wonder what the whiners think now." I picked up a copy, meaning to read it that night. Took me three days, but I finally "got a round tuit". The reporter gave a slight-bit more than the lame attempt this publication's mostly stoner-advocate reporters usually put forth. Had the reporter any true journalistic skill, she would have ridden more than just one bus line researching the story, which remains largely untold in media outlets other than this one. In doing so, she would have perhaps spoken with some bus operators as well, which would have added another dimension to a rather lopsided article that only dealt with the opinions of Metro, transit and a few selected riders of perhaps a two-hour bus ride. Here's my response to said article and ever-lame media outlet that constantly ignores those who make transit WORK. 



Dear Willamette Week Readers, Brother/Sister Operators/Maintenance/Supervisory Personnel, and Fellow Portlanders,

I just read the WW article "What Bus Riders Want," and I couldn't help but notice what was missing. That is, the other half of the transit equation: "What Bus Operators Want".

The article states Metro Council will ask Portland-area voters to approve a $3 billion tax to benefit transportation. Our agency states it won't extend any bus lines to more logical and passenger-friendly end points because it doesn't "have enough drivers". First, it doesn't actually take more operators to extend a bus line past its end-point; it just takes better planning, a better response to those who need transit. Our agency says it's hiring 20 new operators a week. When I began in 2012, the agency had just lifted a hiring freeze, a result of the Dubya Depression. Then, there were about 750 full-time bus operators; now there are over 1,100, plus nearly 300 part-time operators.

We have seen a few new lines added, some schedules extended to Frequent (every 15 minutes or less), or even 24-Hour Service. This requires several operators to fill these lines. Problem is, some new operators don't make the cut. Others transfer to rail. Of those 20 new operators each week, a year down the line there might be 10 or less remaining. It's a tough job. Perhaps if this new tax helped provide for better conditions for the operators it hires, many more would be attracted to this intense job. Also, if transit management rewarded those who make the wheels roll with better benefits and more-commensurate pay for the work we do, it would be a more attractive career. Instead, it coddles its corporate upper management with unearned raises and bonuses while ignoring the demands our union collectively bargains for every contract negotiation. It works harder to take away than it does to give back to those who make the wheels roll, and that leaves union employees feeling frustrated, downtrodden and betrayed. We didn't sign up to be abused, yet each year management finds new ways to be punitive rather than innovatively-invested in our general well-being. So much for our being a "family". We're more a dysfunctional one than happy.

Case in point? I've worked here nearly eight years, and as a single-wage earner still cannot afford to buy a house for my family within the area in which I serve my fellow Portlanders. I toil behind the wheel 55+ hours every week. Conversely, our GM was recently awarded a fat raise much higher than his subordinates are proposing for my brothers and sisters. He has never driven a bus in service.

Additionally, management is proposing a ludicrous end to the Maintenance Apprentice Program, which encourages service workers to train as they move up the ladder to become journeyman-level mechanics instead of spending thousands of dollars on a trade school to scoot in as a non-union worker. It's a classic "union buster" our corporate-born management is trying to sneak past us, but we're not buying the bullshit. I will vote NO to any contract which allows an end to apprenticeships. This program has been widely-successful for decades, and there is not one logical argument that supports ending the program. However, we've all seen what happens in management: the higher you climb, the less oxygen there is.

It's true that buses often run late during rush hour, because we share the streets with private motorists, truck drivers, delivery vans, school buses, and any number of other road users who pay horrific taxes to roll upon ill-maintained roadways. However, we have improved our on-time stats to the tune of 90%. That's pretty impressive, given the growing amount of traffic on roads that weren't designed for today's heavy loads. Nine out of every 10 buses are on time. Pretty damn good, given what obstacles skid into our path every moment we're in service.

The Metro and transit plan is to add dedicated lanes for buses. That's nice, but it's too bad the cities in our transit district don't have enough resources for police to patrol and cite offenders. In my nearly eight-year tenure as an operator, I've seen police pull someone over for not obeying the yield light exactly twice in my 130,000+ miles driving a bus. Never has one cited a motorist around my bus for disobeying this law (ORS 811.167). Motorists know this, and regularly zip past as I try to merge back into traffic. On the few streets that have been designated as "transit only", motorists have collectively responded with "bullshit, I'll do what I want and get away with it." It's a snub to law enforcement and transit that goes unchecked every minute we roll. Any time you see a red, blinking light, it means to pay attention and OBEY, dumbass... it's the law!

As for "being kicked off a bus for not having fare," this is largely uncommon. Bus operators are trained now to leave fare enforcement to those who enforce transit code. Fare evaders are given a ride, yet warned that a Fare Inspector could cite them if they are caught without proof of payment. Some operators remain sticklers about this, but a great majority of us just roll without hassling people. It's no longer our responsibility to give a damn about fare collection; this new management simply wants us on time. We work hard to accomplish this, but our first priority is to arrive safely, and that often sends the schedule packing. If we don't concentrate on safe driving, we're likely to not arrive anywhere, let alone be on time.

Oh, and to those who whine about fare inspection "targeting" those of color, just STOP! It's simply bullshit to believe this for even one second. It's whiny, dishonest and totally untrue. When a Fare Inspector boards a transit vehicle, they ask everyone for proof of fare, not just those who say "I'm brown, I get it." The sad fact that minorities or other working-poor may have low-paying jobs is not lost on local transit. The working poor are offered lowered rates for riding; some may be too proud to take advantage of it, but the option is there. To accuse my brother and sister Fare Inspectors of racial profiling is a cheap shot that clangs off the rim. And it truly pisses us off, as it should any truly-thoughtful citizen.

Also, to "fear" a larger police presence on transit is truly disingenuous. I've met several Transit Police officers, and they have told me this assignment truly opens their eyes to the plight of the poor in our city. They are decent, hard-working blue-collar workers like most of those they serve and protect. They need not be feared, unless by those who are law-breaking trouble causers we'd rather not see on transit anyway. If a cop rides my bus, I'm very grateful because passengers are more apt to behave in their presence.

My experience has shown the cops to be very responsive any time I've needed their support, and I've seen them deal with people who caused me trouble. They listen, are often empathetic, and more times than not have actually helped rather than arrested someone. Yeah, I'm a white guy who has never had to deal with racial profiling. How can I be any sort of authority where policing is concerned? Because I have observed the work of these dedicated men and women who don a uniform and kiss their loved ones before leaving a shift, not ever sure they'll safely return home. My money is on them to do their job honorably, much more than I'd bet on some wayward jerkoff who just wants to cause trouble on my largely-peaceful ride full of honest Portlanders.

In one discussion with an off-duty cop, she told me, "We're just working folks too, ya know. Just like you." I would truly welcome a larger police presence on transit, but I know that where transit says it lacks operators, police forces lack cops. That's probably why there are fewer traffic citations issued... the cops we already have are busy responding to reckless violent acts committed across our increasingly crime-infested neighborhoods.


The article ended on a positive note, I was glad to read. Most contacted by the reporter were happy with their transit experience here, in comparison with that of other cities. It also stated that "the explosion of homelessness, threaten(s) to crowd buses and trains out of the public imagination." That was a very creative and poignant sentence. It further stated that the majority of those who choose not to ride transit have some very weird misconceptions about transit being "dirty" or "unsafe", or even more troubling, that their fellow Portlanders are "untrustworthy". I'd trust transit passengers much more than the rude BMW drivers who speed up when I put on that Yield light merging back into traffic and speed past with uplifted driving test score in sign language as they zip past. Any day.

So, What Do Bus Operators Want? Here's my alternative angle on this lopsided article.

1) Have your fare ready when you board. You're likely at that stop for 5-10 minutes, waiting for us to bounce from stop to stop in heavy traffic, fighting lawless motorists and sweating the clock as we persevere toward your location. Instead of spending waiting time checking your social media, take a few moments to get your pass or cash ready. The longer you take to board, the later my bus becomes for those waiting down the line.

2) Greet your bus operator. I smile and welcome everyone aboard, and it's sad how many won't even look at me, let alone utter a word of greeting. I work hard to give you a safe and smooth ride; the least you could do is simply acknowledge my presence. To those of you who smile and thank me for being on time (which I am, 92% of the time), I truly appreciate that brief moment you give me. Thank you.

3) Be respectful and courteous of others. I am old-fashioned, and truly get annoyed at hipsters who bound aboard ahead of elderly people with walkers, or those who use mobility devices and need the ramp deployed. While these ill-mannered punks rudely brush past, these folks sit in the rain and wait while I growl at this inhumane display. Their parents would likely chide them for such behavior, but it's me who is charged with instruction on basic social graces. I will often stop their boarding, insisting they get off while I board the Americans with Disabilities, often veterans who served our country with honor and deserve every respect we can afford them. Otherwise, it could be as simple as someone allowing their phone's audio to blast the eardrums of fellow passengers and a seriously-distracted operator. Turn the damn sound off!

4) Don't insult or assault us. Last year, we reported over 113 incidents where passengers attacked us. In 2018, there were 116. While I'm glad the stats went slightly down in a year, we still don't deserve any of them. When we roll to your stop with our Destination Sign reading "Drop Off Only", please do not insult us for not allowing you to board. We didn't do this solely to inconvenience you. Shit happens, bud. First, we're horribly late through no fault of our own, and this status is designed to get us back on schedule. Please accept this worldwide transit reality. Arguing with us over our refusal to board you only makes us later. If we pull way past the stop pole to allow passengers to exit, that means our follower is directly behind us, ready to board you. Use your eyes for something other than that phone in your hand, which if properly used, could alert you of the very fact you refuse to see. That's why they call it a "smart" phone.

5) Plan your trips. Our transit agency's website (trimet.org) provides passengers a plethora of information about schedules, and can even alert you to any anomalies as we roll toward your stop. When you see our arrival is within a minute or two, that's the time to prepare your fare, stand near the pole so we can see you at those darkest of stops while you wear Portland's favorite color (dark), and be ready to board. Transit takes teamwork, and yours is greatly appreciated. If you choose to sit in a shelter, hunched over your phone, don't whine to Customer Service that we passed you by... if we can't see you, it's your fault. We have just a few seconds to determine if someone is waiting at a stop because we're scanning a 180-degree view plus our rearview mirrors as we guide that 20-ton beastie down the road. We do not have X-ray or superhuman vision. If you want to catch a bus, it's your responsibility to make sure you are seen.

Those are the five most basic tips for riding, FromTheDriverSide, which the WW, our transit agency and other media outlets constantly fail to inform the riding public. You're welcome. Safe travels, fellow Portlanders.


Respectfully,

Deke N. Blue
Worldwide Transit Blogger/Author


Sunday, January 26, 2020

Pay Your Fare Portland!


Should transit be free in Portland? In my humble opinion, a resounding HELL NO!

You'll rarely hear an argument "for" it from transit operators who deal with hordes of freeloaders who cause the most trouble on our rides. Any service so vital to any economy's success depends upon a public invested in its operation. Once you remove the requirement of payment, you also send a message that respect of said service is no longer necessary.

The most simple reason: nobody respects free. Nothing good should ever come without a price. The majority of Portlanders pay their transit fare. It's a very inexpensive and efficient way to travel around our city. For over seven years, the $2.50 fare for two-and-a-half hours or $5.00 for an entire day ticket has not risen. Compare that to the price of a home, which has skyrocketed where Portlanders' income has remained less than the rate of inflation. Not only that, with the new "tap" fare system, once a passenger has reached a certain number of rides, their transit becomes free for the remainder of the month. This means that an adult paying full-fare can ride every day of each month, 24-hours a day, for $100. That's the price of a paltry few Uber rides from the airport to the outer reaches of our service area. Pretty damn good value for about $3 a day. Just owning a personal vehicle costs anywhere from $200-$750-plus every month when you factor in car payments, gas, maintenance, parking and insurance.

This has to be one of the most ridiculous proposals I've heard since I began driving bus. For once, even management agrees this is a terrible idea. (For management and Deke to agree on something, it must be a ludicrous, at best, proposal.) When I first became a bus operator, downtown Portland was known as "Fareless Square". This was discontinued in 2012 as the national economy's recession and a $12 million budget deficit necessitated its timely death. Turning the entire metro area into a free-fare zone would benefit the tiniest percentage of ridership while penalizing the majority of a largely-decent passenger population.

The value of transit rests mostly with transit operators and maintenance/supervisor staff who are intensely-trained professionals where ride-for-hire drivers (and most private motorists) usually are not. It's an easy trade off: ride with one who is trained with your safety in mind, or spend considerably more on someone who likely has no professional training whatsoever. Ride transit and ease yourself in and out of a workday without the hassle of traffic, finding a place to park and other considerations the typical motorist deals with daily.

The vast majority of passengers faithfully pay their fare. The proposed "free fare" is a terrible idea. Those who advocate for free transit insist that only 11-15% of Portland transit's budget is paid for by fares, yet fail to compensate how much impact losing that seemingly-small income would have. First, eliminate fares and how will that revenue stream be replaced? Oregon has one of the most-heavily taxed workforces in the nation. We are already paying a transit tax, even those of us who provide the service. Will the state increase this tax (not approved by its citizenry) to make up for revenues lost by free fare? The federal government, when it's not passing laws to weaken unions representing most blue-collar professions, is constantly looking for ways to cut expenditures as it lowers tax rates on those who already pay the least: the richest of the rich. Like it or not, your free fare will have to be paid by someone, and I'll lay heavy odds on it being our further burden to bear.

Kansas City recently decided to go "free fare". Their system provided its citizens with just over 13.5 million rides in 2015. In comparison that year, Portland bus transit boarded over 65 million passengers. Perhaps a smaller system can find alternative means of funding. Imagine New York City losing revenue in fare from their 775 million annual riders? It's impossible, at best, to even consider.

Whenever I've had trouble pop up on my transit ride, it's usually one who fails to pay fare. Why should we encourage people to increase disruption of a normally-peaceful ride by doing away with fare altogether? In a transit system as large and complex as Portland's, where over 300,000 people ride daily, fare accounts for about a million(?) dollars a day. Considering a full tank of fuel for one bus costs hundreds of dollars and there are 600+ buses on the road during rush hour, where do the "free fare" advocates think we'll raise the deficit resulting from this loss of revenue? Will it magically appear, or drop freely out of our rainy skies? Given the amount of human waste my maintenance brothers and sisters routinely have to scrub out of our buses, that's commensurate with the value "free fare" would create for local transit.

I foresee "tent cities" moving from the streets to our buses and trains if this proposal is approved. Transit workers will be put under more stress and subject to even more attacks. If automation ever becomes a reality, it's the decent, hard-working Portlander who becomes the victim of fareless foolishness. Many of whom I've queried say they would find another means of transit if humans are replaced by automation. Then, transit would see less ridership, and therefore less federal funding.

In my opinion, fare should be doubled given its rising value. It would still remain the most economical transportation option. So yeah, free fare advocates, NO to your idea.

Do I sound heartless? I'm not. I've been homeless myself, once upon a time. Still, I paid for everything I needed, a working taxpayer every day. Back then, there was no excuse for being slovenly. My trash found its way into a perfectly-legal receptacle... not strewn about the municipality in which I chose to live.

We deal with the poorest of the poor on a daily, hourly, almost minute-to-minute basis. Yes, you can ride "at your own risk". Sure, the tired lie of "I lost my pass" allows you a ride. It's raining hard, you are cold and have nowhere else to go, and you're welcome to ride if you behave yourself. Still, we are often treated to your mentally-ill based tantrums, hassling of fare-paying regular passengers, and demands for courtesy stops where it is not safe to do so. We're ridiculed, attacked, threatened and constantly disrespected with increasing regularity.

Operations and management have enough issues to deal with already, without trying to implement a needless, expensive giveaway in such an economically-vital service to our community.

Sorry, but Portland, just pay your fare. It's the right thing to do.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Stop the Bots

If you're employing some "bot" that inflates my readership stats, please STOP. I only want true statistics of those who read my words. I don't need, nor do I want, any attempt to bogusly-add readership of this blog.

Thanks,
db

Three Beginning with G



Guy in thick eyeglasses, peered out the windshield from just behind my shoulder. Creeped me out. Asked him what he was looking for. "Where's the Plaid Pantry?"

"Which one? There's about 10 between here and downtown."

He needed the one a mile behind us. It was raining, cold. "Turn around and take me there?"

"Um... no," I responded, checking to see if he held a weapon. "I cannot do that, sorry."

After seven years of driving, someone finally asked me that!

* * * * *

Glad management held off on chaining the bus fleet given the past week's threat of "heavy snow." Seems it did snow here and there, but nothing more than a spatter in our service area. It has been hit or miss with chaining the past several years, often missing the mark by reacting to a major non-event, or failing to do so until several inches had already fallen. Portland weather is hard to predict on any given day... this time they got it right.

* * * * *

Given the troubles bus passengers have in opening the back doors on each new bus model, I have a few ideas for future Beast purchases. Rather than allowing a status quo to continue as Gillig puts forth faulty design upon further mistakes. (There are of course different manufacturers, but our agency has been stuck on this brand the past decade like a stylus on a record scratch.)

Instead of these fancy gimmicks nobody understands not to grip, push or beg to open, let's just make it easy for them. Since they once opened as soon as the operator clicked the door control, passengers have been flummoxed as each subsequent model failed the consistency test. Now we have the riding public collectively perplexed when it comes to opening the back door themselves, let's take their constant input and give them a say in future models. Since technology is moving so quickly, I think my suggestion is plausible.

When the bus stops and the operator clicks the handle and the green light shines above the back door, all the passenger would have to do is stare at the driver like we shot their flea-bit fake service animal and loudly snarl "BACK DOOR!" At this point a voice-activated sensor would throw the doors open. Once the passenger has cleared the bus, the door should not only slam shut faster than the State of Oregon stole our tax surplus kicker, but an outside speaker should say, "You're welcome, dumbass."

For the front, given that 80% of today's passengers refuse to even look at the public servant in the operator's seat unless "someone stole my..." or "I left my pass at..." or "I'm just gonna ride at my own risk", perhaps the ramp could be rigged to catapult their freeloading butts off the bus and into the great beyond. This might be more effective than expecting our buses to enjoy the level of fare inspection the MAX does. A more effective deterrent, anyway. Worth a few seconds consideration, FromTheDriverSide.





Monday, January 13, 2020

My Snow-Doubtful-Yet-Wary January 2020 Roll



Deke's Note: Forget them not, the Maintenance Warriors of the road valiantly toiling in all types of conditions to come to our rescue when the bus or train suffers a mechanical failure. In that vein, your bus or rail operator rolls to you regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way. Transit is 24/7/365 or 366 (as this leap year affords us), no matter what. Leave your car at home, ride with us for a safe roll to wherever your life needs you to be. Along with my thousands of my brothers and sisters, I will brave whatever elements prevail to give you a ride. Oh yeah... you're welcome.

As contractual talks endure the increasing insults and incessant demands of cozily-coddled transit management, let us remember those union brothers and sisters who bravely fly to our rescue when something goes wrong. Operators are largely insulated from the elements through which we drive. Our Maintenance brothers and sisters sit in trucks, ready to respond when something goes awry. They are exposed to whatever Mother Nature throws down. I know many of them, having had them rescue me when I could not move further... safely.


This coming week, weather reports have snow falling heavily or lightly, most likely not at all. Still, our Maintenance personnel are ready to respond. They will be ready to lay their backs into the depths of winter's frozen slush as they chain our rear duals in response to untold inches of winter's brutal offerings. As is often the case, our management waits until the snowflakes have fallen for hours before responding to the obvious, giving our valiant fellows little or no warning before sending them out on a chain gang experience in the worst possible conditions.

I remember several years ago driving the 8 as an Extra Board Operator, when I rolled up behind my leader who couldn't maneuver her bus up the slight slope approaching 5/Broadway. Sitting at the bottom of this slight slope, I watched many the ill-advised motorist plow by me while I waited for my sister to urge her unchained Beast up to the stop. When she finally was able to muscle it up the slope, she had to hold just prior because some dumbass didn't know the right lane there is a bona-fide bus stop.

Precariously perched just above that slight incline, she waited until the jump-light shone green to give the accelerator the heave-ho before I floored my own pedal. By the grace of whatever being guides us all, I slipped up that slippery slope and rolled through the intersection without slamming into the scores of vehicles precariously perched within my path. However, when I turned right at the next light, I found myself stuck behind my sister, who could not navigate the left turn onto 6th. Each time she tried, the rear end of her bus slid precariously close to the parked car at the right curb. As she realized the futility of her attempts, she wisely stopped-and-locked. I opened my door to her as she walked back to my door amidst a flurry of hefty white flakes flooding our path.

Beaming with solidarity, Sister clambered aboard my bus. Addressing both myself and those few aboard, she proclaimed: "We're not going anywhere soon.... I'm stuck and unable to proceed, so here is where we'll all sit until rescued."

For the next 40 minutes, we became acquainted. My passengers quickly abandoned the stranded bus. We enjoyed a video encounter and wondered how long it would take before our rescuers arrived. After five minutes, my follower hiked up to join us, followed by his own and that behind him. We discussed our situation and realized we were stuck until help arrived. It was fun getting to know one another.

A few trainers happened to come upon us after 45 minutes of being stranded. Chris had bags of kitty litter, one of which he spread in front of my leader's duals. She was able to slip-slide-crunch and make a right turn back onto 6th from Caruthers. Upon her success, Dispatch advised us all to proceed to North Terminal, where Maintenance was busy chaining the rear duals of buses. Management had once again failed to take heed of the weather warnings, and had sent crews out after the 4-inch/hour snowfall had begun to throw chains upon our vehicles. Several of us sat waiting our turn at North Terminal while dozens of buses took that few minutes to use the restroom and enjoy a respite from winter driving. Once the metal surrounded our duals, we radioed Dispatch with our "Ready for Service" messages and were directed to our points of service.

Tonight, three years after the last major snowstorm hit our fair city, I sit here comfortably-numb, enjoying a stream of Irish libation as I remember the slippery roll of 2017. I hope the weather gods are good to us and the predictions of many inches of white stuff followed by treacherous freezing rain are replaced with the typical cold rain we normally see this time of the early new year.

Over the years driving this 20-ton beast of a vehicle, I have learned its abilities and limitations. The tricks of many veteran have guided me through feet of frozen slush, and I will persevere to give you a safe ride when even your 4x4 is left at home during the worst Portland winters present us.

If the forecasts are blown to the wind and a foot of snow falls, I hope y'all are as happy as I am. However, rest assured that even though we'll be late, your bus will eventually show and provide you a safe ride. If you leave the car at home and depend on us to get you there, please be patient. When we're chained, 25mph is our top speed. Given that and the road conditions we face, it's all we can do to just arrive at your stop, no matter how late we are. Please treat us with kindness, because winter conditions require every ounce of skill and patience our experience affords.

Transit operators are prepared for the worst. If conditions warrant, we sleep at our respective garages. When roads are largely-impassable to passenger vehicles, we're still there to drive our buses or operate Light Rail Vehicles to their destinations. We may be later than usual to your stop, but our job demands we be there regardless of whatever conditions confront us. While our management sleeps cozily in fuzzy blankets, we brave the elements to provide you inexpensive and safe transport. If we sleep at our garage, management won’t provide cots, blankets or food. Remember this whenever our union enters into contentious negotiations with transit management that hopes to replace our diligence with automation. Your fellow humans keep our Beasts tamed and on the straight and narrow while our fellow Portlanders slip slide into the ditches.

We're proud of our skill, and so you should be of us. It takes a lot of training, skill and concentration to guide 20-tons of steel and glass pointed straight to your homeward destination, and we're proud when you exit with a word of thanks. Your constant pats on the back when you exit combined with calls of goodwill to our Customer Service Line (503-238-RIDE) remind us that you care about our dedication to safety in the best AND worst of conditions.

If it's snowing to beat Paul McCartney's band and your long-awaited bus stops in the middle of the street even though you're standing directly at the pole, please walk out to the bus when it stops. We cannot roll to the curbs piled high with winter's bounty, for fear of becoming stuck and stranding y'all. We'll stop, lower the bus, and wait for you to slip and slide out to our beckoning warmth in the void of the Northwest's chilliest temps. Take your time, and carefully step toward us. Warmth and friendliness beckons within.

Even when you trudge through the heaviest of heavenly snowfalls between bus stops, I will slow and beep my horn at you. Don't have fare? I don't care. Just get onboard. Fare inspectors be damned, I'll give you a free ride. You're likely cold and wet, having just finished a long shift at work. If you're appropriately thankful, I'll also slip you a free pass. I'm a human being too, regardless of city lore describing me as a heartless "over-paid bus driver". I've been in your sodden, frozen shoes many a time in my own life. Just get on board, give me a smile of appreciation and settle into the warm depths of my smooth ride. You are, most definitely, welcome.

And that, my fellow beloved Portlanders, describes your average transit operator as winter wreaks havoc upon us all. Even if I have to miss the loving arms of my beloved, I'll sleep at the garage just to give my fellow citizens the ride they have come to expect and (hopefully) appreciate all the years I've been behind this keyboard and its associated wheel.

Be safe this winter's week in the first month of the year within our Lord, 2020. I certainly aim to be, in your collective behalf.

db

Deke's Postscript: Even as I wrote this, the Portland weather forecast switched to just another week of cold rain. With any luck, it will hold true. I'll likely shiver in the wet dreariness awaiting my Line 9 at the road relief point this week, grateful the slippery stuff avoids us once again upon our winter's transit reality.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

My Musical Roll to Your Fantastic Good Night



Deke's Note: When I locked into the first position on Track 22 tonight, it was the end of yet another long, eventful but quickly-forgotten week behind the wheel. Except for celebrating FTDS's 400k hit, that is. Let's see what else I can remember...

I'm currently enjoying a healthy dose of Irish medicine as my Friday night winds to a close. After 55+ hours as a bus operator, my weekend has become a celebrated respite from the hellish reality recently completed.

Given the constant addition of Dipshitus Erecti's sudden excursions immediately in front of my bus, this has been a typical week behind the wheel of 20 tons of glass, steel and related urban foolishness.

I'm currently watching/listening to Dan Fogelberg's The Leader of the Band, a song dedicated to his beloved father. We shared heroes, Dan and I: our fathers who now art in Heaven. Once, as a young lad and citizen of Boulder, Colorado, I had the opportunity to see Dan walk past me as I waited in line to see his friend Tim Weisberg's concert at the Boulder Theatre in 1981. A smartly-dressed and handsome man of about 5'10" walked past as I stood just about 75 yards past the entrance of the theatre. He was shy, guarded and trying not to be noticed. We made eye contact. I smiled and nodded silently in respect, and he responded in kind. There was no need for me to say anything, and his eyes pleaded so. Knowing his presence was enough for me; evidently NOT for those behind me in line.

"HEY! THAT'S DAN FOGELBERG!" some dumbass behind me blurted out. I shuddered. How ridiculously childish, I thought. Everyone in Boulder knew Dan's face, there was no need to call him out. He was shy and widely-known for valuing his privacy. It was a local norm to give Dan (and any other musical phenom like many who enjoyed that funky town) his space out of respect for the wonderful music he created.

Dan was as much a part of Boulder as the song "Same Old Lang Syne" had become. This was the time in which he released "The Innocent Age," an album magical in time and scope. It was sad that some dolt felt entitled to call Dan out as he quietly walked past the line waiting to enter the concert hall. However, it's part of the reality he had accepted as a widely-known musician. Quickly with a side nod to those who applauded while he walked across the street against traffic (exit, stage left!), I felt he appreciated my silent nod of recognition. I was happy to give him the respect he deserved. His prowess as a musician reminded me of Dad's respect for classical guitar and voice; their words often intertwined especially via their shared love of Christmas music.

Later that night, my fan's devotion at having spent an hour standing in line for General Admission seating to Tim Weisberg's concert was not only rewarded by Tim's incredible performance but also for his encore. As Tim came back onstage, he introduced Dan Fogelberg. The entire hall stood and cheered in appreciation. From my fifth-row seat, I was reduced to an open-mouthed howl of delight. After earlier making eye contact with Dan, one of my favorite artists of all time, here he was... 20 feet in front of me once again, acoustic guitar in hand, settling onto a bar-stool. He filled the auditorium with the opening guitar notes of "I'm Wasted, And I Can't Find My Way Back Home," and I was instantly mesmerized. He tapped his right foot to keep time. For the next 10 minutes, Tim stood by playing his flute as his friend dominated, pulled each note from that musician's hard-tuned  soul and incredible tenor voice. Dan had each of a thousand ears hanging upon each soulful note, every vocal nuance magnified within an eagerly-intent audience. I swayed in tune with every note, standing in respect via my musically-induced trance. It's a moment nearly 40-years hence which still resonates within my soul... magical in nature, a wonderful moment in my musical life's repertoire. Second to Dad, Dan Fogelberg's music will always resonate supreme within me.

When some youngster boards with their own music blaring, I gently ask them to turn it off. The music of my soul is humming within. Anything that competes with the Gillig motor's noise or typical human conversation, I cannot abide. The bus noises are constantly in need of attention. To monitor passenger conversation tones while simultaneously hearing music or YouTube video noises is impossibly horrific to my concentration. Gently and politely, I ask people to mute the sounds on their electronic devices. Their favorites likely don't match the tastes of their fellow passengers. They certainly cannot compete with the music which drives my roll. Try Heart's rendition of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven if you want to hear me sing along. Or Dan Fogelberg's hearkening to days past with his Same Old Lang Syne ringing in yet another new January 1. Please mute your YouTube or whatever cell noises lure your attention while riding with a bus full of people who could care less what drives your musical tastes. Your music or other audio delights likely don't agree with the tastes of the operator or your fellow passengers. SILENCE! That's the best way to roll on transit.

Oh, how I wish I could drive to the tunes which have delighted me throughout my almost 60 years! It would make the miles roll so much easily. Sigh. Only within the mind I have left. Given the disgust I'm afforded as a transit operator, a musical escape into Chicago Transit Authority or Linda Ronstadt or Chuck Wagon and The Wheels or Neil Diamond would be a heavenly relief. But no, I need to keep in tune to the sounds of the bus and the street noises surrounding me as I drive. The only music I hear is within the soul I've listened to my entire life. It's intermingled with the constants of transit, and I hum its constant tune while paying diligent attention to those who fail to. After seven years, I've learned to hear what's necessary and tune out the white noise. That's the only way I know to drive this bus.... peacefully, smoothly and always attuned to the constants which surround my vehicle.

Now, it's my weekend. Y'all's bus noises have faded into the past, like your Hop passing avoidance of a personal greeting. I have saved many lives and struggled to remain kind during the hours prior to your boarding. Still I roll these dark city dangers in my quest to provide my fellow Portlanders whom I'm paid to: a safe and smooth roll to your collective destination.

You're welcome.

Love,
Deke

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

My New Favorite Cuss Word

Several times each shift, I mutter under my breath or sometimes aloud, various cursing insults directed toward the public outside my bus. Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters, or those annoying "for hire" scooters or mini-bikes.

Usually, it's a "dumbass", "dipshit" or "idiot" which emerges from my tightly-knit lips as I recover from yet another potentially-disastrous maneuver I successfully avoid. The other day, a new blended insult escaped my mouth, quite by near accident.

"Dipshidiot," I said after predicting a speeding car on my left nearly rear-ending someone in his lane, just a car-length in front ahead of me, cut directly in front of my bus. He had to slam on his brakes to avoid another rear-end collision with the car three car-lengths ahead of me. Because I was scanning my mirror and recognized what was about to happen, I applied just enough brake pressure to smoothly stop and avoid turning said "dipshidiot's" car into a twisted piece of fatality.

I like it. This has become my new go-to insult. If you have other creative curses for those dipshidiots in your area, I'd love to hear them!


Sunday, January 5, 2020

My Personal Hell Versus Friday's Visual Delights



Deke's Note: Here I return, instead of to that novel to which I long to finish. Ahh, beloved blog readers, here I am once more. Writing a new book is fraught with fright. It could fail miserably, but here, my words are welcomed worldwide. Some of you may even look forward to what I present every week. It has become somewhat of a crutch, an excuse to not journey into the unknown and often-cruel world of fiction. Here within my real-world reality is where we have known each other nearly seven years. It's comfortable, comforting, my accepted and peaceful realm. It seems cowardly to write here, rather than to creating another world in which dreams rule over thoughts and reality. You have been my sole support as a writer all this time. It's hard to believe I will excel elsewhere within the written world. Many of you probably only read this blog because it deals with the realities we face together. To dream that you would follow me upon a literary path other than this is a larger leap than I could ever hope you would take. This blog has become so deeply-ingrained upon me it seems more a habit than simple foray into the mind of a simple transit operator. It inhabits my soul, which is a bit troubling. I'm no longer "hidden" among the depths of our lives. I've become part of it. Whatever "it" is, I'm invested within, and also upon the responsibility to describe how this bus operator feels as I drive a 20-ton Beast. Here I go again, this time delving into personal terrors while transporting my fellow citizens.

Transit is indeed one of the most stressful jobs, but it's not always bad news. The greatest difficulty I think we all face is not knowing when the toughest parts of the job come a haunting.

Today was my Friday. Generally, this is cause for celebration. Saturdays, depending on the route, can be either busier or much more laid back than weekdays. On the 35, weekends are a bit more relaxed than during the hectic work week. That's why I've driven it Saturdays for several years. (Yeah, the "mysterious Deke ruse" ain't workin' so well these days, folks... I'm "out" for all impractical purposes.) How I wish the upper reaches of this roll afforded me the opportunity to stop the bus and take a few photos from the majestical heights of what I see: Mt. Hood in its winter white blanket, the middle-Portland stretch of the Willamette Valley and the wooded hills from there to Estacada. Although brief, I'm afforded brief glimpses of the wondrous beauty my forested home bestows upon a 35 operator.

So. Lately, I've come to dread work a few, if not several times, each week. I don't always know why, but often I do and don't want to admit the source. It's a foreboding sense of doom I fight off like a little dog attacking my ankle. There's little to base it on except for the constant stories worldwide of abuse waged upon transit workers. Not only operators suffer the wrath of an unforgiving minority of passengers. Supervisors, maintenance workers and others are treated to violent outbursts which wreak havoc upon us all. When one suffers, so do we all. It's a pandemic, and I'm not sure anyone truly has all the answers to prevent the increasing violence against us. Even management has awakened to a fraction of our woes, having begun installing weakly-effective barriers to help protect us. Thanks for that. If you created a legal department tasked with aggressively prosecuting those who assail us amidst your outrageous growth of middle management positions, that would help even more. Given that there's rarely, if ever, a presence of our transit management in court proceedings when those accused of assaulting us are on trial, this addition would be greatly appreciated.

Many of us suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some do because they have been violently assaulted either physically or verbally. While it may not seem as intense as being beaten, verbal assaults can shake us to our core. Because we're "public servants" it seems we're fair game for people to thrust upon us their frustrations and anger. Maybe it makes them feel better to punish us for whatever sins have been nagging them, or whatever has happened to them. You can smile at someone, heartily welcome them to your ride and have them unleash on you like you just kicked their ugly dog (or brother).

For me, such an attack is an intense ride into yesteryear, and then my own PTSD kicks in.

I was married once upon a time, to a very abusive, sexually-abused as a child and chemically-dependent person. We were deeply in love for a brief moment in our youthful selves. This devolved into a nightmare scenario where I never knew when violence would strike. Taught never to strike a woman, all I could do when the violence burst out from her personal nightmares was to fend her off. It was devastating to have someone I adored above all be so violent toward me. I loved her so much! How could she do this to me?!? A very young, innocent lad who had only loved a few times before and never so intensely up to that point, it was a searing pain I believed nobody had ever felt. As the years worked to ease the havoc it had wreaked upon my soul, I realized millions like me (mostly female, but sometimes male) had endured it for thousands of years. Seems human nature is very cruel to its own, especially to those we believe "love" us. Stevie Wonder put it most poignantly to me when he sang "All in Love is Fair".

Life for years after my divorce at the tender age of 25 was pure hell. I was angry. Trust became something only a trusted few could earn from me. Only my closest friends could get through the hard shell I passionately-lashed out from my hardened soul. They remain with me today, loved ones who guided me through hell and into my present. After enduring eight years of a few brief passionate encounters, my final love gently eased her hand into the cracks of my broken heart. I welcomed her gentle massaging the embers of anger smoldering deep within me. Now, the anguish of my youth is a memory thanks to the sage patience of my Beloved.

We celebrated our 25th anniversary in Edinburgh, Scotland last year. This time, it was us and Father Andy in St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, our love but one of thousands echoing the past four centuries of marriages within its sacred depths. Given what we have endured, it was fitting we pledge our undying love for one another here, where the echoes of love's constance shines from its sunshiny rays of stained-glass windows. It gave us hope that our love will echo there in its constance, at least until we reach it again some years hence.

At times however, a nightmare can squeak past her protective grasp of my tranquility. This only happens when someone on my bus rekindles those horrific memories. My breath quickens, my face hardens into a mask nobody who knows me today would recognize. Flashes of torturous nightmare scenes flood my mind. Ancient wells of fury burst to the surface and I'm unable to control them. Those who provoke me could be asking for troubles not equivalent to what I suffered. Granted, this only happens when one pushes me beyond the limits of reason. Usually, I can soothe the minimal rants or raves with a joke or heartfelt word of compassion.

Years of service as a transit operator have taught me to recognize when people have had a hard day. We all know what that's like. It's when that 0.5% of habitual troublemakers board who remind me of "It Who Shall Not Be Named" that I tend to have trouble calling upon my reserves of patience to deal with. Those of you who read this with more than 40 years to your experience upon this blue marble will know what I'm talking about. Some younger may have an inkling, while anyone under 25 has yet to truly experience life's darkest trials. Whatever the case, we all have a common knowledge that life becomes increasingly harder to bear between 20 and 40 years. It's how we deal with the deepest adversity which shapes our adult logic.

At these times, which are rare, I've learned to recognize what is happening. I'll pull over, tie up the bus and warn whoever is misbehaving they have two choices. 1) Take a moment and stop the offensive behavior; 2) Get the fuck off my bus; their behavior is not tolerated among a group of good people, and; 3) You can leave voluntarily or in handcuffs. If I don't do this, things can escalate quickly. If my words fail to communicate, I surrender the "power" of my position to one much higher up the chain of command. I am not violent by nature, never have been. If I were to be physically attacked, I cannot guarantee any measure of control. It is this scenario I constantly strive to avoid.

Humans have evolved over millions of years. Throughout, a biological constant has remained. From  earliest times whenever our species has been attacked, our DNA has a built-in protective element. It's called the "fight or flight" syndrome. When faced with physical danger, our bodies respond by a heightened sense of alert. Our heartbeat increases; blood and energy pools in the center while the muscles and senses are multiplied. In a word, we physiologically become prepared to fight to the death or retreat, whatever our innate senses feel poses the best chances for survival. It is no longer within our control to prevent this biological state; it just happens, and we're not able to call upon lawbooks or transit precedent while dealing with imminent danger. We're faced with simple survival, and our biology takes over, plain and simple.

In the case of my first wife's attacks upon me, my main goal was to protect myself. A few times, I truly believed she was intent upon killing me. I was terrified. Being attacked by someone you love beyond description is something I hope none of you ever experience. Only once did I strike back in anger, and I felt so bad afterward I vowed never to do so again; it's a promise I've kept. My gentle father always taught me never to hurt someone of the opposite sex. While unfortunately my life has seen me "hurt" ladies, it hasn't been physical in nature. Early on, my amorous nature injured the feelings of girls I truly adored simply because I couldn't remain faithful to one while courting another. I eventually lost the love and respect of both. When I saw the pain my actions caused them, I vowed never again to be false to another. I have kept it since, and promise to, forever.

I have sought counseling to deal with the residual anger from my first love. Lasting wounds linger and at times interfere with my interactions with the public I serve. This job requires a steady hand, not one raised in anger toward someone who doesn't deserve the wrath of some distant past. While I've managed not to engage in physical combat with another since that fateful relationship, I fear the residual damage it caused.

Having been threatened, verbally assaulted on many occasions, goaded into unnecessary confrontations, spit upon, cursed and insulted so deeply I wanted to commit violence, I'm thankful to my father's guidance. I have avoided returning what I've received, and found it within myself to forgive those who hurt me. Also and most importantly, I have the love and constant support of my Beloved, the guiding light in my life, who reminds me what Tom Petty wrote, "don't sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff".

As I walked to my road relief today, that overwhelming sense of dread attempted to overtake my peaceful preparation. My Beloved was asleep; usually I can depend upon her love messages to prepare me for what dangers may lurk, but I could not interrupt her doze. A few weeks ago, so was rear-ended by a mindless teenager and she now has whiplash and PTSD of her own to deal with. To awaken her healing slumber is something that would make me feel guilty in the face of the pain she feels. Adding my fears of the unknown to the terrors of her present reality just seemed unfair. While she would gladly rise up from her own discomfort to ease my own, my love her forbids me from putting more stress upon her loving plate. Only for her can I always be strong and resolute, and this was definitely a day deserving such loving diligence.

I took a deep breath as I eased The Beast into the Transitway for the first time on the mall, released it, and repeated The Mantra for perhaps the 7,350th time in my career, I gave myself up to God and any remaining goodness transit has to offer its' frontline workers. "Be safe, be kind, be courteous, be thoughtful, be polite, be patient, be considerate, be vigilant, be calm... be smart, be smooth, but above all, be safe." A few blocks down the road when my panic seemed all but assured, I repeated these soothing 12-points. Another deep breath, hold... release. That did the trick, and the wheels within my pent-up soul rolled free once more.

Ahh, another Saturday roll on Line 35. Downtown, south over the Willamette's western banks and mid-town hills, back down into Lake Oswego, a roll through the rude streets of West Linn and into heroin-addicted fools constantly inhabiting Oregon City Transit Center. All went smoothly. People were glad I rolled into their stop on time through a driving wintry rain, and that their operator welcomed them with my patented (and genuine) smile as they boarded. I was at peace, loving my job and those with whom I serve, including those I provided a safe and smooth ride to all day long.

The panic attack which greeted my work day was forgotten as I rolled into a stop and lock in the yard tonight. All was well, my work week complete. The yard was silent except for the rumble of my bus engine. A Maintenance brother greeted my arrival, ready to roll my bus into the fuel lane and wash rack. He was kind and happy to hear it was my Friday, wishing me a great weekend. We exchanged New Year's greetings, and I trudged wearily toward the garage, absently tugging on my vape after two hours behind the wheel. It only took one deep drag; my lungs had already been assailed with exhaust all day long, so it was a fair trade.

Dropping off my pouch and Lost and Found items with our dear Station Agent, I wished her a peaceful evening and proceeded into my end-of-shift ritual. Pee, wash the bus off my hands and face, breathe, greet fellow night-shifters and walk to my welcoming and much-more-comfortable car seat. Afore-mentioned seat swallowing this aching body a few precious relaxing moments before propelling it homeward. Ahh... sweet freedom!

As promised, I have fulfilled what I set out to do from the beginning of this blog: to write what it feels like to be this bus operator. Hopefully, you feel my words. If not, peace be with you as always. Thanks for reading, once again.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Lil’ Deke Spreads His Idyllic Wings

Deke’s Note: 394,000+ hits, this first day of the year 2020. Wow. When I was a child, I thought cars would fly when 1970 arrived. In fact, perhaps I could as well! 

As an eight-year-old, I put my theory to its ultimate test. Shuffling my sandal-clad heels upon the curb of my sidewalk, closing my eyes and willing it so, I channeled Lost In Space, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. I dreamed of self-flight.

Dad was taking flying lessons from a crusty old crop duster pilot, and like my only idol I yearned to sprout wings and soar into that sunny Arizona winter-blue cape. A breeze playfully noogied my inch-deep crew cut as my upturned face savored the sunshiny heaven. We had migrated west just two years earlier; no way would I have stood on a sidewalk the first day of January wearing shorts and tank top in northern Illinois.

Gathering myself, I wondered if I should flap my arms for added lift once airborne. Imagining what that spot of Tempe sidewalk would look like from 25, 50, 100, 1000 feet, I braced for liftoff. Willing every millimeter of my physical and spiritual being to take the form of our feathered fellow beings, I invited the wind to lift my mortal gravitational bondage.

Eyes closed, mouth upturned at its right corner (my still-trademarked smirk), I took that magical leap. And landed in the street.

So much for youthful dreams. It was there I grasped the meaning of gravity, and except for about 200 hours of flight time with Dad in a tail-dragger Cessna, I’ve been grounded ever since.

Happy New 20s, my friend. May we all learn to soar above the trials we’ll face during this new decade.

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...