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 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.


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.

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