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!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

My Recovery: Wayne Kyle Style

So long for now, Line 9. Thanks for your hefty dose of sweet humanity.

Deke's Note: My last two weeks as a transit operator have taught me more than the previous seven combined. Just acknowledging each passenger with a smile or praising comment, then gifting them a personal story followed by a related inspirational quote, has brought me closer to many of them. These moments I've shared have taught me how so many are open to whispers from our souls. It's a tradition I will continue. Hopefully with practice, I'll perfect this mutually-rewarding gesture. People ache to be acknowledged; in this time of technological disassociation from humanity, it's the only way I can connect to those whose lives I so diligently protect behind the wheel.

For two years now, I have seen a carrot dangling in front of my apathetic eyes. "Don't miss more than 16 hours due to sick leave, or you will not make the next step up the ladder," they tell us. It doesn't matter if you're so sick your life is in danger, or that you are contagious to anyone who comes in contact with you. All upper management cares about is whether your beat-up body is in the seat.

Transit workers sacrifice ourselves so deeply to this job that many of us don't live more than a year after retirement. Our bodies are abused and beaten, used up, then replaced with another eager soul with great dreams of "not being that guy". After a few years, even the most rosy-eyed newbie learns the cards are stacked against them. With each new contract negotiation, this job with "wonderful benefits and opportunities for advancement" becomes yet another pipe-dream in the annals of corporate slavery. We all become, at least once but usually much more than that, jaded and angry as we "hit the wall". This, among other painful factors, is why transit workers are some of the most depressed in the world.

When one of my closest friends ever died this past week, no words can describe how excruciating a grief I felt. Sobbing while driving is not conducive to safety. However, every option to my marking off had been exhausted. From my Station Agents to Assistant Managers, every effort at my being relieved came to a burning-rubber halt. At the end of a signup, too many operators mark off, leaving no extra bodies to fill an empty seat.

A few early flowers trumpet the spring
to come, which Wayne will not see
as an earthly soul this year.

My Inspirational Thought for Today, pulled from my cherished Oban Distillery hat this morning, was one written by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. As our country's First-Mom during the Great Depression and ensuing World War II, she took it upon herself to sow the seeds of hope for a nation feeling anxious. Each week, her newspaper column implored millions to dig deep into their well of personal strength. It was this internal fortitude she described which propelled me to safely drive my bus that dreadful day I learned Wayne Kyle had died.

As a professional driver, I'm ashamed for not marking off to properly mourn. I was even more grief-stricken when Wayne died than when either of my parents passed. That's intense, given my respect and admiration for Mom and Dad, whose dedication for my tomorrow made today possible. We love our parents and owe them great debts for their multitude of gifts to us. But our friends also ken us from deep within, and are most-often the sounding boards for our sins, hopes, dreams and failures. While parents push us from behind up to a certain age, our friends pull us through from there. Both my folks had lived great lives and were ready when their souls were recalled. Wayne and I still had plans together, and I feel robbed by his untimely departure. Incredibly cheated by it.

Wayne saw through the searing pain of my divorce. He would not allow me to wallow in self pity; instead, he demanded I stand up and live once again. For over a year, I forgot how to laugh, unless I had my daughter with me. Anna was a lively toddler, and I would dance her around in my arms, singing along to Glenn Frey's remake of "Soul Cruise". Our time together was all I craved, and I poured every ounce of energy into those three days each week. When Anna went back to her mother, I replaced my grief with intensely-hard work.

When my workday was done and Anna was with her mother, Wayne was there to find ways to help me laugh, to envision the beauty I refused to see. It had become easier to accept defeat than embrace the love surrounding me. Gradually, I began to breathe again. The hurt remained, but it softened whenever Wayne said something outrageously irreverent, daring me to laugh.

One day of extreme grief for his death was all I could afford. Wayne's soul implored me to continue. To ignore him would have been disrespectful to the toughness he always displayed. Within that hard outer shell, Wayne's heart pumped out goodness and concern for everyone around him. Even toward those whose ass he thoroughly-kicked, physically or intellectually. One night of drunken sobbing after my pain-drenched shift was enough. He allowed me a day to recover from it, then demanded I saddle that horse and ride again.

Last night, I did gallop back into Portland's dense traffic. It was much easier this time. The tears had mostly passed, save for a few renegades I quickly willed away. Wayne respected the job I do, having read many of these posts over the years. To wallow any further in grief for my friend would have done him a great injustice.

Once again, my Beloved picked one of the folded-up gems from my Oban hat for today's ride. It was only fitting she chose this quote. During an evening trip when I read it to my passengers, it deeply struck home in one young lad. I thought this had landed on largely-deaf ears, given the continuing banter of some lively fellows in the back. Yet this one lad felt it.

He walked up to me before departing and thanked me "for all you do, especially for what you said to us. It means more to me," he said, pausing and turning away so (he thought) I couldn't see his face scrunched up in personal pain (I did), "than you could ever imagine."

He then offered his hand to me, which I shook. Warmly, pressing deep into his grieving soul, searching his eyes to feel the pain within.

Inside his hand was a $10 bill. "I want you to have this, as a token of my appreciation for all you do."

I immediately protested. For the past two weeks, sharing inspirational quotes has rewarded me much more than I believed my passengers had received. Even though many have expressed their appreciation for my attempts to "uplift" them, this lad's tears affected me deeply and needed no recompense.

Perhaps these shoes are a gift
from a friend whose own
are too big to fill.
He insisted I take it, so I placed it into my shirt pocket. In honor of this generosity from his soul, I will find one who needs it more than I do, and thus "pay it forward".

"You must do the things you think you cannot do." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

I drove a bus through a river of tears Wednesday night. This was something I didn't think possible, but given the circumstances, was wholly necessary. And Wayne? He just smiled through it, sending me comfort all the while. And that, my friends, returned the smile I lost just 36 hours before.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

My Tears Blind Us Forward

These shoes... filled with the footsteps
of memories
from a life's friendships...
not to be trod
within again.
Deke's Note: My brother and good friend Henry Beasley has always counseled us not to drive with "diminished capacity". He's absolutely correct, but I failed to take that advice yesterday. Oh, I truly should have. What I'm about to impart to you all today will illustrate exactly why. Still, and all the way through this post, I sob in grief for one I loved so much.

My mind, soul and body are numb. Just over 18 hours ago, I learned just as I awoke that one of my closest, dearest friends... died. It was such a shock I threw my phone into a wall and sobbed a wail of anguish I hadn't felt since either of my parents took that final journey.

I shouldn't have driven a bus in my grief. However, the passengers who stepped up to soothe my pain were lifesavers. I couldn't score a TDA (Turn Down Assignment) for a lack of available operators, but I did gain some wonderful memories. One came from my Assistant Manager who was very understanding, comforting and patient during our phone call this morning. While I often bash management, my harshest critiques are for those occupying the highest reaches. Those who have done this job remember the intense pressure we face providing safe rides, especially when confronted with personal tragedy.

* * * * *

Wayne and I met each other in late 1984, just as my family's typography business was born. I was "It": VP, Business Manager, Typographer, Bookkeeper, Customer Service Rep, Maintenance Technician and Anything Else the business needed. My father helped by making deliveries and sales calls. Dad would bring them in with his good ol' fashioned honesty and hometown ease of making an acquaintance. It was my job to wow them with my ability to produce typography precisely for any print job.

One day, Dad brought in an order from a new customer: Wayne Kyle at Capitol Fastprint in downtown Tucson.

"He's quite a nice fellow," Dad told me, "I think you'll really like him. But he's never heard of you. Make sure you 'wow' him, and I think you'll have his steady business."

It was a simple business card order, which I had set in type many times before. Still, I took special care to give it that "Perfect Type Company" pizzaz. Probably spent more time on it than the $12 I charged him. Rather than wait for Dad to deliver it the next morning, I decided to deliver it myself after I closed up shop. Not only did I realize my craft was important in securing customers, but like Dad, I knew a personal touch could often close a deal.

I walked in to Capitol Fastprint on Pennington Street to find an intense-looking, well-dressed man running a printing press. Standing in the reception area, I knew better than to interrupt a printer while he was working. After a few minutes, he stopped the press. I coughed. Wayne turned around and smiled his best businessman-smile. He was a few years older than me, but not many.

"Hello there," he said, "give me a minute while I finish this up."

I nodded and continued waiting. All the while, I proofread my product for perhaps the tenth time that afternoon, not wanting to give it to him with any mistakes. Any errors in a new customer's job would surely be the stroke of death in Tucson's typography industry of the 1980s. There was a slight deviation from what he had given me, but I was betting he would understand.

Finally, Wayne came over, offering his hand. "Hi, I'm Wayne Kyle, owner and operator. How can I help you?" He was friendly, engaging and confident.

"Hey Wayne," I replied, "I'm Patrick. My dad stopped in earlier and you gave us a job, so I thought I'd deliver it personally."

"Wow!" Wayne exclaimed. "That was fast! Yeah, I remember your Dad. He was cool, that old guy. Said he plays guitar and sings. So do I! Hmm... let me look at this."

I fidgeted nervously as Wayne took the plastic bag with his order and my product to his desk and sat down. He glanced at the copy, then at my work, back at the copy again. He looked up at me.

"You didn't do it exactly as it was written," he said.

Here it was, my magic moment. "No Wayne, I didn't."

Wayne sat back in his chair and arched his back. "Why not?" The look in his eye was both curious and fun. He was testing me, but I was ready.

"Why wouldn't I?" I answered, my own eye-twinkle sparkling mischievously. "Your customer spelled his own street name wrong. Imagine everyone's embarrassment at that! He'd try and get you to re-do the cards for free, and you'd argue you weren't responsible for his mistake. If I brought you something less than perfect, then I would have felt like I cheated you. We all would have been screwed, someone would have lost a customer. Not cool. Nothing spelled incorrectly leaves my shop that way. Hence, our name. So, I fixed it."

Wayne arched back again in his chair, chuckling, rubbing his eyes. I could tell it had been a long day for him. It had been for me as well. The time was 6:00 p.m. and we had opened our respective businesses 12 hours before.

"Great answer," he said, settling back down and looking at me. "I noticed the error when your Dad stopped by, but this order isn't due for a few days yet and I was curious about the son he bragged about. He was right... you are good!"

Smiling, I reached out and shook his hand again. It was firm, quite a bit stronger than my own. This beast of a man could have crushed my hand, but he knew I depended upon them. It was his way of exerting that ages-old masculine superiority over me, but I didn't flinch and equally met his grasp.

"Thank you, Wayne," I said. "I was hoping you'd notice."

"You just won my business," he replied with a full grin, standing up and still gripping my hand. "It's closing time. Want a beer?"

We shared many beers that night, and hundreds more over the next several years. Wayne and I became close friends very quickly. He was strong, vibrant and confident. Several months later, he guided me through a dark depression when my marriage failed and left me a broken-hearted single father. Many an hour we shared discussing our failed marriages and what our future might bring for us and our beloved daughters. While we both harbored resentment toward our former spouses, we acknowledged the value each had brought to our lives. Somewhere along that year, we became brothers.

* * * * *

Wayne's sense of fun had no equal. His daughter Jennifer was his greatest love, and I came to adore the sparky 10-year-old redhead who hugged my toddler Anna like a big sister. She was his only child, and he gushed over her.

One Friday, Wayne called and told me we were going bar-hopping that evening. I certainly had nothing better to do, and eagerly agreed. As long as I was the one of us who got drunk, he could drive. As he rolled up Speedway Boulevard, Wayne spied a sign I hoped he would pass by. It was the Bashful Bandit, Tucson's infamous biker bar. He slowed his VW van and my heart rate doubled.

"You're not thinking..." I began.

"Fucking-A right," he laughed as he turned into the parking lot full of Harleys. "We're gonna crash a biker bar!"

"Oh dear Lord," I sighed. "You're wearing a pink shirt and tie! Are you suicidal or what?"

"I got your back," he chuckled.

My back wasn't in question here. My 150-pound scrawny ass wasn't nearly-adequate to back him up if trouble arose. And yeah, it surely would.

Wayne refused to shed his business attire. I could not have ever bravely-enough sported such bold clothing, but he feared nobody. He'd been a fighter his entire life; I had only been a lover. Still, he refused to allow me to "wuss out" so I followed him into that bar.

He no sooner stepped one foot into the threshold when a booming voice greeted us. "Take that fucking tie off!"

I froze; Wayne kept striding through the doorway. Lest the door slam me in the face, I stepped in behind him. My life began flashing before me. This was a widely-known no-man's land in the Old Pueblo. Enter at your own risk, or be thrown out with blood on your clothing.

As the door closed behind us, the bar became hushed except for the loud booming sounds of ZZ Top blaring from the jukebox. I held my breath as we both grew accustomed to the bar's darkness. Wayne actively searched for the source of challenge.

"Why don't you take it off for me?" he answered.

Lois, Wayne and I celebrate the completion
of our 1987 Calendar.
Oh shit, Wayne, I thought, you have killed us both! I had no idea where his inner badass had come from, but it was surely a place I had never visited. Now my buddy had challenged the toughest crowd in Tucson and I was but a coerced accomplice. With any luck, I'd score a few punches before being overwhelmed. My adrenalin rushed, my body poised to defend itself.

Wayne found his source of challenge in the darkest corner of that bar, and boldly strode up to the table. It was dominated by a large, smirking man surrounded by some very tough-looking hombres. They held those gazes only warriors primed for battle do. Then, I noticed a change in both their demeanors.

Wayne softened a bit from his battle-ready stance, tilting his head in recognition. A slight smile appeared on both faces.

"Hey," the biker said, "aren't you..."

"Wayne Kyle," my friend boldly announced, adding "and aren't you one of the Miller twins?"

"Yeah," the biker said, smiling. "I remember you from high school. Badass motherfucker you were then, and by the looks of things, still are, given your wardrobe choice in here. But dude... willya take off that damned tie? You'll give us a bad name." With that, Mr. Miller gave a great, booming laugh.

Wayne reached over the table and shook Miller's hand, laughing in recognition. Out of respect, he took his tie off.

"Only for you," he said, smiling while glancing at the still-menacing glares around that table, still challenging anyone else to insult his chosen fashion. Mr. Miller, regardless, introduced Wayne to his friends, while ignoring me.

For years, Wayne ribbed me about that incident. Conversely, I silently cursed him for almost ending my 20-something-year-old life. Even so, that moment showed me the fierce side of a personality I have always admired. His determination to prevail inspired respect in everything he did, be it work, personal beliefs or family love. He taught me to never fear any form of adversity; to always be true to myself and never doubt my inner strength.

* * * * *

We had many moments of hilarity together, most notably of the fiery kind.

One of many nights when we designed a calendar together with his trusty lady employees Lois and Suzie, Wayne decided we should use his cache of M-180 fireworks to light up the back alley. An empty-five gallon bucket was the prime target of his first (and only) blast of that evening. We lit the fuse and beat ass back to the back door of his printshop. Within seconds, a thunderous BOOM concussively-shook the shared walls on the block. In our drunken revelry, we shared a great laugh at the noise and bucket's destruction that moment resulted in. After a few minutes and a shot each of the shop tequila (with bottom-lurking worm) inherited with the printshop purchase, we decided to do it again.

As Wayne entered the back alley, he was followed by me, Lois and Suzie. We were immediately greeted with the flashing blues-and-reds of police cruisers and the sound of a circling helicopter overhead, Wayne's first instinct as he ran face-full into a cop was to palm the firework into my hand, which I instinctively-passed back down the line.

"Wow!" Wayne exclaimed, "did you hear THAT? What the hell?"

Wayne's reflexive exclamation proved vital to our presumed innocence. It was classic Wayne: the instigator feigned innocence via sheer bullshit. The cop was immediately convinced we were not to blame for the supposed "bomb".

"Please move back inside," the cop warned. "We're not sure what is going on here."

Once the door closed, we collapsed in laughter. As we continued our drunken revelry, the cops outside combed the area we tipped the famed tequila bottle in celebration of our cover-up.

* * * * *

Wayne constantly encouraged me to keep writing. While I never had the honor of visiting his personal library, I'm sure my book stood proudly upon his shelves, and I'm eternally grateful.

We all have friends. Some are fleeting, others linger a finite moment longer. The tiniest fraction of our personal encounters remain, constantly enriching our souls. Now that one of my most favorite souls has left us to rollerblade the heavens, it makes me fearful of losing any more.

Hans, Roger, Deb, Joel and REB, and (now) others who remain... please reach out more often. We're all gaining years more quickly than youth ever allowed us to imagine. Each moment we share together becomes constantly more precious.

To those of you who have helped boost me in this horrendously-vicious day of grief, thank you. Even though they could not relieve me, my Station Agent brothers and sisters surely gave it their best, but no Extra Board ops were available. To Angel, Jon and Lance, who saw me in my darkest depths of despair during my brief breaks, I hold you in my highest regards.

Angel saw me sobbing that night, stopping her time-constrained march to the restroom to offer a comforting hug. She has become one of my closest transit sisters this signup, and I truly appreciate her loving care. Lance reminded me we owe each other a Scotch-infused moment in time, and his true concern was touching. As usual, my first outbound follower Jon knew not of my soul's pain until we reached our collective destination. At that point, his shoulders sagged in sad recognition for my grief, and his words of support were truly appreciated even though I did not have the strength to properly appreciate them.

Most of all, I took great comfort from several passengers who noticed my suffering as I drove them home. As I've written the past week, my normal routine has included an additional Deke's touch, in the form of daily inspirational quotes. Thanks to my new and wonderful friend Tommy Transit, I've adopted "Deke's Inspirational Quotes for the Day" to my daily roll. Today's quote was punctuated by a noticeable tone of sadness.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wayne always spoke about issues which matter. People didn't always agree with him, but he showed respect. Last summer he was very concerned a rally by white supremacists could turn violent. He went armed, but handed out water on a hot day, helping everyone remain hydrated. Prepared for trouble, he didn't seek it. Strongly opposed to discrimination, he disagreed with many gathered. However, he was more interested in learning why they believe as they do and hoped to change some minds. It was a touching gesture, displaying his optimistic belief in humanity.

Several weeks ago, Wayne and I shared a five-hour ramble on the phone together. It was so fun! We talked of our shared past, the pain and joys our friendship has seen each of us through, and what the future held for us. He was still haunted by the death of his beloved Janet some years before, yet happy Stacey and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Scotland. He met my Beloved when our love was new, was present for our wedding and kept up with me (on and off) throughout our amazing union. Over the phone, we laughed, cried, drank copious amounts of booze. We grieved over those lost and envisioned old age together. It was truly memorable and life-affirming.

Wayne died this week, alone. As we often say to comfort ourselves, he lives on in us all. Given his wide-ranging love of many, it was a terribly unfitting end. He had vicious dogs who would not accept visitors, he warned. That didn't matter. Whenever I visited Tucson, he was there every time to greet me. We shared so many years of love and pain together, it was required we reunite whenever I visited. Wayne was always on my list of "must-sees". Now, I see his mischievously-twisted smile in tear-stained memories of our fellowship. With time, my vision will clear and his smile will remain.

For days, he lay lifeless while many of us believed he had once-again been thrown into the FaceBook "jail" he often occupied. Wayne had a boisterous voice and fearless proclamation for his beliefs in American freedoms. Even those who disagreed with Wayne knew he cared for them. Wayne was someone with whom you could intelligently-debate while finding common ground. If your only beef was political and you couldn't find anything which bound you, and your only response was to insult him he willingly (and sometimes forcefully) let you go. It didn't matter what you stated; he firmly believed our current political discourse pointed toward oligarchy and he was determined to help you understand. Wayne  explain himself from a position of knowledge. He agreed with me, in that our sense of debate without malice has all but disappeared from American political discourse, and it saddened him.

Wayne actually read the Constitution. He successfully-defended himself from lawsuits, even though not trained as an attorney. During my divorce proceedings, he constantly fed me valuable pointers in my desire to protect us from decisions which severely-limited the rights of fathers in the '80s. Because of his solid support, I won joint custody of my daughter.

The shocking departure of loved souls scars our souls forever, but their memory endures, inspiring us to seek new heights. It takes immense amounts of strength to push through these moments. I'm seeking the strength to persevere with the painful reality I can no longer call Wayne. Our last chat will last a lifetime, and I am thankful.

I mourn that Wayne can no longer share himself with the world. However, I know he's here with me now, as are the countless numbers of loved ones lost. Among them is my father, who instinctively saw the value of Wayne. Thanks again, Dad.

Rest in everlasting, dreamy peace, my rowdy pal. May God forgive your trespasses (and ours together), and shine His everlasting light upon your eternal rest. I'll find you among the stars I look upon each night I drive a bus. I'll see ya again someday, buddy. None of us emerge from this gig alive.

Thank you for the memories. I love you, and always will my brother. RIP, Wayne Kyle.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Van Gogh Quote Scores Big

Deke's Note: The first day of Week Two: Inspirational Quotes started with a bang, ended with a thud. Still, my passengers have recently seen a part of me I should have been sharing this whole time.

When I relieve the AM driver of my run there are usually only a handful of people onboard. It's early afternoon, just before the rush picks up. As I began to drive my Monday shift, I glanced into the mirror to see the usual crowd, folks who ride every day and a few others. One was a man about a decade or more older than me. He uses a walker to get around, and I have enjoyed serving him on  occasion.

Last week, I waited until the outbound trip to read my quotes. This week however, I felt that maybe these passengers were being cheated. People have enjoyed this new feature, even though the initial reaction is silence. That's one reason I began doing this... the bus is soooo eerily quiet these days.

Today, I just shrugged and read the quote after a short preamble in which I implored my pax to not listen when others try to discourage them.

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." 
-- Vincent Van Gogh

Usually, I'll hear a "thank you" or two, but not this time. I thought it had bombed or perhaps not been heard. People have become even more "plugged in and tuned out". Still, many prefer not to enter into conversations from their seats. If they're going to engage me they will start to go out the back door, stop as if something is bugging them, then saunter up to the front door.

Today's lone commenter wheeled his walker up to me and stopped. I was early, the light was freshly-red, and he was poised with a faint smile. His words floored me.

"You know," he began, "upon hearing that Van Gogh quote, I was immediately reminded of the poem, Flanders Field." Given my route's final stop is actually on Flanders Street, I thought maybe a joke was at hand. This however, was not to be his motive of delivery.

Looking skyward and to his left, he began to recite the poem from memory. Sadly to say, even though I should have, I am embarrassed I have not heard it before today.

"In Flanders Fields
the poppies blow
Between the crosses,
row on row
That mark our place
and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below
We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved
and now we lie
In Flanders fields
In Flanders fields
And now we lie
In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, 
Though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
In Flanders fields"

He thanked me twice as he exited. I was loathe to allow his leave without finding the right words to show my appreciation. "No, thank you!" was all I could muster. "That was incredible!" Before my brain could further spark its speech center, he was gone.

This magical interaction evoked my inner smile the rest of the day. No matter there weren't many responses the rest of my shift, even though I recited the quote several times more. That gentleman's eloquence, his smile and his delivery were a gift magically engraved into my soul.

Yeah Tommy Transit, I think you're onto something here. Thought for the Day, Quote of the Day, whatever. Find something inspirational and LIFT up your passengers. Their days are often filled with very tough moments, so why should their last contact with humanity be a negative one via a grumpy bus driver?

Thanks to one wonderful man reciting a memorable poem written in 1915 by Canadian WWI soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. John McCrae, a poem that is celebrated by veterans worldwide, my day was golden.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

My Improved Roll Takes Shape

"A boy is born
In hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls
That ain't so pretty

His parents give
Him love and affection
To keep him strong
Moving in the right direction

Living just enough
Just enough for the city.

His father works
Some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet
He barely makes a dollar

His mother goes 
To scrub the floors for many
And you'd best believe
She hardly gets a penny

His sister's black
But she is sho'nuff pretty
Her skirt is short
But Lord, her legs are sturdy

To walk to school
She's got to get up early
Her clothes are old
But never are they dirty

Her brother's smart
He's got more sense than many
His patience's long
But soon he won't have any

To find a job
Is like a haystack needle
'Cause where he lives
They don't use colored people

Living just enough...
Just enough for the city... ohhh

His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his life walking the streets of New York City
He's almost dead from breathing in air pollution
He tried to vote but thim there's no solution
Living just enough, just enough for the city... yeah yeah yeah!

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don't change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, just enough for the city!"

--Stevie Wonder, Living for the City

(A song which awoke me from my childish slumber of white privilege.)

* * * * *

Deke's Note: Whew! What a week. It was one of the busiest in recent memory, given the Pacific Northwest's odd gift of sunny and warm late-winter weather. Still, it was a great one even though I suffered physically from the onslaught of 56 hours in service. Giving people rides is what I do, and I certainly did. It might have been a record-setting week for number of rides, but Deke's "Positive Thought for the Day" added a generous amount of positive passenger interactions. A rarity, I must add, and it was more than I had hoped for.

In an inspired bit of mid-week passion, I wrote the other night how excited I was about the reaction of my addition of uplifting quotes from inspiring people to my normally hushed roll as a transit operator. Tonight, after a week in service and suffering from my normal Friday Fatigue, I invited the "plugged in and tuned out" populace aboard to take heed, I regaled them with today's picked-out-of-my-Oban Distillery-hat quote.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

A few times, it seemed as if the bus farts meant more than what I had proclaimed. Nobody seemed to notice my desperate attempt to engage the riding public with what I believed a truly-inspirational and uplifting message. Then, magic happened. As passengers exited from the back of the bus, they purposefully walked to the front and thanked me for Emerson's quote.

"That was really cool," one lady told me as she exited, "to give me that Emerson passage," one kind lady told me. "Thank you."

It struck me with a force of affirmation equal to that with which I had offered it: honestly and with passion. Her tone was sincere, and the smile she left me with shone as bright as that winter sun we have been graced with this week. It warmed me just as equally. I had made a difference in her transit experience! YES! Faaaarrrr out! Isn't that what my employer brags about even though it has no idea who it manages, the very souls who drive Portland to and from whither they go?

After a week of this "experiment", all I can do is give thanks to he who reached out and helped me see the light I have shaded my eyes from all along: Tommy Transit. This dear man has uplifted thousands of Vancouver, British Columbia's passengers for three decades, and now those who ride his Party Bus on Galiano Island. It is borne from one kind, decent soul who decided his mission as a bus operator encompassed the unselfish desire to lift people from the despair of darkness into the light of love and positive thoughts. Tommy reached out to me just a few weeks ago. Since then, we have had several email and text conversations on the plight of bus operators who toil through the darkness without seeing the light of what could be.

Full-time city bus operators of worldwide metropolitan areas  have the grand opportunity of reaching millions of people just like us every day, each year. More than the Pope, the US President or Queen of the United Kingdom. Each full-time bus operator provides rides to approximately 150,000 people each year. Most are just like US. Those who toil for infinitely less than our collective worth, just to stay afloat beneath the rich man's realm.

We collectively await the day our bank account is awarded the wages we have earned, only to see those precious pennies sucked away by the landlord or mortgage or student loan leeches and other  countless bills our tenuous existence depends upon. After all that is paid, we're left with the meager slop described by the Charles Dickens "Oliver Twist" character when he asks for just a wee bit more sustenance. Of course, Oliver is met with the cruel ridicule of the headmaster who mocks his cries for mercy... something we're all too accustomed to as hard-working pawns to the master of capitalism which ultimately enslaves us all.

I pay my countless bills which allow me the least of luxuries, levies galore even to the point of local transit tax extortion I had no choice to vote upon, and countless extra leechy-grabs upon the wages I slave to earn every minute I'm in service to our beautiful city. Whatever is left goes to food, gas and other necessities, only to afford me the crumbs I'm expected to be grateful for earning while bowing to the master's feet each day of occupational slavery. If I'm lucky, these leftovers are enough to afford me the occasional trip away from the urban prison I call "home".

As a loyal citizen to my city, I'm expected to suffer pain and not complain. That's capitalism at its worst. Anyone who calls for anything progressively better is labeled socialist. I'm sorry, but my life's devotion to hard work should afford me more than the "privilege" of working oneself to death for little more than basic sustenance.

All I can do is work. I have slaved thousands of hours over 40 years of service to Master Capitalism, without much more than the love I have tilled within the garden of my soul. This garden blossoms whenever one of my passengers reacts to the respect I show them each time they board my bus. It's a respectful admiration, collectively-cultivated over decades of shared hardship and constant dreams of a better tomorrow. We all rise, shower and dress for the new day's prolonged torture, without much hope that anyone gives a damn whether we even make it home safe. News flash: I care that you do.

You may not recognize it when you board my vehicle, but even through this dazed glaze derived from millions of miles in service to humanity, I am there to see you safely home. That's what my thousands of brothers and sisters do as well, millions of times worldwide each day. You only hear about transit when a rare occurrence of tragedy strikes while people roll. Without fail, local media assails you with the suggestion painting transit workers as the ultimate culprit. It doesn't matter how many millions of safe miles we provide each minute of every day; when shit goes down involving injury or tragedy, the headlines automatically blame the operator.

Transit workers are the most-defiled and least-defended of service personnel. True, there are others who toil at the mercy of the public yet are denied society's respect. Still, those who do the work are viciously pitted against one another. People today are encouraged to blaspheme the holy rather than assail the evil. It has been so for millennia, and so it will continue until we RISE UP against those to  whom we unfailingly bow.

Dem vs. Repub, blue vs. white collar. Rich vs. poor. White vs. black vs. brown vs. beige. It doesn't matter which flavor you favor, the opposition will fight you at the expense of us all. They will constantly build walls to separate us because if we could somehow all unite, their power over US would quickly dissolve. It's an ages-old tactic to pit us amongst ourselves, by those who stand to gain the most from it: those who have what they don't want us to attain. Blood will forever be spilt amongs us, as long as we agree to be conned by whatever media flavor encourages us.

One-hundred sixty-or more years ago, blacks were enslaved by ruthless masters who ripped them from their African homeland and shipped them to a faraway, foreign land. Here, they were bought and sold them as worthless chattel. President Abraham Lincoln paid with his life to ensure their supposed "freedom". The 14th Amendment to our Constitution gave way to bigots working even harder to ensure their being held down for another century before Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Senator Bobby Kennedy sacrificed their lives to ensure all voices mattered in our society.

We are still senselessly-separated by once-realized victories of past racial wars. Even though people whose skin color differs from mine have provided valuable contributions to human kind's collective good, these values have been degraded by the ancestors of past slave masters who somehow still maintain control. This has always insulted my sense of what it means to be an American. We're all connected by the shared bond of what our Founding Fathers based this country upon: that all men (and women) are equal. It took them nearly another hundred years to make slavery illegal, another hundred to begin advocating for full voting and basic decency rights. Today, we still have a lot of work needed to ensure we look at one another equally, regardless of societal differences.

For a country that was supposed to be the beacon of freedom to a world of ancient cruelty, some still harbor a general lack of respect for one another. Discrimination is borne by any group which believes itself superior to another, while its collective actions suggest it collectively lacks the decency which is the basis of their complaint.

Let us be reminded of the sacred words of the United States of America's most beloved of all documents save for our Constitution, the Preamble to our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Upon the power of this sacred passage, our country could have been overthrown a few times already throughout our sordid history. First, we had to reaffirm that ALL people are created equal. Given the Bible's insistence that humankind was created from the coupling of Adam and Eve, who are we to argue what color these two were? Given the location of their meeting, biology itself dictates their skin color differed greatly from my own: white. Ideally, that would mean our Biblical origins suggests God Himself wanted from us his highest command: to love one another.

I believe there is but one race: the human one. Please do not refer to me by my skin color. Rest assured I will not judge you for yours. We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of whatever God we honor. I love us all. Even when you piss me off.

Once bigots realize they are truly equal to that other-colored co-worker who shares their own daily struggles, hopefully they will finally accept we're ALL equals. Acts of cruelty against one another are the only disqualifying factor to our shared humanity. We're all of intrinsic value, yet we needlessly fight each other while the big fishes gleefully feast upon our unnecessary hatred. Those who have will tear at those who have not. For millennia, they have laughed at us as we have always done their evil  bidding.

This is not a post supporting socialism: it's simply my description of the powerful minority encouraging the masses to cannibalize ourselves. As we battle one another, they get richer and gleefully gather the delectable crumbs of our mutual self-destruction. Once WE have been disposed of, nobody will remain to do their bidding; humanity will eventually cease to exist. The coddled rich will not know how to fend for themselves without a caste system to support them. Perhaps that what Planet Earth needs most to survive: the extinction of humanity. I hope and pray not. I'll bet the survivors: fishes, land animals and insects would appreciate our demise. We've done enough to ensure their annihilation, truly.

I don't "hate" you for feeling differently than I do. Please stop using the word HATE in relation to our differences. Instead, find an avenue through which you can substitute its four-letter opposite: LOVE. I really do feel that for you. I'm sad we have lost our ability to compromise. Our political divide is over-amplified by those who rule the working class, rather than what constitutes our history of shared beliefs.

Truly, I sympathize with our collective plight. I pray you find it within your soul to realize the least of us are being used for one purpose: to serve those who have the most. If we can unite long enough to realize our commonalities are stronger than the differences we've been taught that separate us, perhaps we could forge compromises to propel us into a healthier future. Instead, we're mired in a societal war not seen since the American Civil War. Still, we work, live and roll together toward a tenuous tomorrow. It's a shaky existence we drive toward, one which needs a reroute if our future is to attain any successful harmony.

I safely transport those who either don't have their own transportation or choose to ride public transit. Whatever the case, I'm here with, for, and living among you. Please treat me with the respect my millions of miles of safe driving deserves. My near-60 years have seen me driving for almost 50 of them. My first trainer was Albert, my father. He once taught driving to 1950s Chicago residents who had previously flunked Driver's Ed, and was the most patient man I've ever known. He decided to teach me early, when I would still listen to him. His simplistic but common-sense lessons remain with me today as I guide my lumbering Beast full of my beloved Portlanders.

Yeah, I drive a bus. It's not something to be looked down upon, or to be some easy target for your collective frustration. I'm your equal, and also your biggest fan. We're swirling within this gene pool together, and I hope we can someday learn to find harmony. That's why I have decided to regale you with my "Positive Thoughts for the Day". One step at a time, they say, may find our paths intertwine. And that, my friends, is where we become collectively vital.

Thanks for riding, and operating, alongside me.

With respect, I am

Deke N. Blue

Friday, February 21, 2020

My 'Positive Thought of the Day' Update

Being a grumpy bus operator can be injurious, especially if you piss off the wrong person. I've been kicked, spit at, cursed, called every name you can imagine. Anyone reading here who has done this job can relate. However, there have been times when my overall attitude might have prevented abuse. It's easy to allow the stress of this job dictate my own behavior. After all, it is one of, if not the most, stressful jobs one can do. One moment you may feel fine and the next you find all rational thought and patience has flown out the side window. An insult or rude action can quickly provoke one who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From the initial contact, a point of no return can be instantaneous.

Unless they have done our job, many in management have no idea what it's like to be constantly in fear of an attack. We hear all this corporate bullshit on "de-escalation techniques" and "keeping your cool" but have little or no real training. We're not psychiatrists or psychologists but are expected to deal with the nuttiest branch on the human tree. After a while, we lose any ability we may have once had to cooly deal with potentially-violent passengers. In our mind, once verbally-assailed, we're in self-defense mode. The body's mechanism is called "Fight or Flight Syndrome" but management ignores it and expects us to be sugary and sweet, even though our antagonist might just have a .45 or 10-inch blade under their outer wear.

Prolonged periods of stress can turn a once-jovial bus operator into a snarling, drooling wildebeast in the time it takes a traffic light to change. Unless you have developed intense superpowers when dealing with stress, no amount of training is powerful enough to overcome PTSD. Over the past year, I've found myself often very surly, pouncing on the smallest insult to my tenuous equilibrium. If you know me personally, I'm sure you can tell that's not my normal demeanor. Usually, I'm the first to forgive a slight and truly sorry if I offend someone. Hugs, when allowed, are my chosen form of greeting. If we hit it off when I meet you, rest assured I will grow to love you and treat you as such.

Feeling very upset lately with the hardest part of my job (my greatest joy in former professions), working with the public, I was desperately searching for some catalyst to soothe and rebuild that relationship. Tommy Transit reached out a few weeks ago and we have quickly developed a trusting bond in which he is leading me away from the shadows. I'm still prone to quick temper, but I've taken the first step in reconnecting with those I serve.

* * * * *

The first day on my new path, I was very nervous. I do tend to have a little fun on the Public Address system, but it's usually short-lived. For the past three days, it has been more involved. On Monday, when I had a few minutes of drive time between stops, I keyed up the mic.

"Hello Portland!" I bellowed perhaps a bit too loudly. A few people visibly jumped. (Roops, I thought, and pushed the mic back a few inches. "Sorry about that initial outburst, but I'm really excited to introduce a new feature to you all: Deke's Positive Thought for the Day."


I was truly on stage now; ready to bounce, flop or ooze onto the floor like the stains left by empty beer bottles and spilled mocha lattes. A moment of stage fright took hold, but I shook it off. It was go-time for this grand experiment and I was fully-committed.

"This one has been with me since the beginning of my adult life," I resumed. "In fact, it has propelled me whenever I've set out to do what others have said I couldn't. Augh! Don't ever let someone tell you your dreams are impossible! Nonsense! This quote was penned by Richard Bach, who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of my most favorite inspirational stories. So without further ado, here it is:

"You are never given a wish, without also being given the power to make it come true."

To my great surprise and delight, someone began to clap. A moment later, most of my passengers were applauding. At first I was sure they were clapping for Mr. Bach. Then, some of them were discussing how some of their other bus operators were fun, interesting or constantly grumpy. As several of them exited at their stops, they smiled and thanked me. With this signup just over a week from ending, I had finally made more than a few special connections with my rush-hour crowd. It felt extremely uplifting, and that remained with me the rest of my shift.

People that evening were complimentary, chatty and for once, not as hypnotized by their cell phones. It was if we had gone back in time to the days of auld when folks actually enjoyed having conversations with complete strangers.

See? Just a little change in my modus operandi created a vastly-different environment in my rolling office.

On Tuesday, I plucked Neil Armstrong's folded-up quote out of my Oban hat.

"I believe every human has a finite amount of heartbeats. I don't intend to waste any of mine."

This one netted silence. Actually, my high school crowd that afternoon reacted more positively than the adults. It is from them I hope to get a bit more reaction, because of their penchant for dismissively ignoring me as they board.

Oscar Wilde"s statue in Dublin, Ireland
Today's Oscar Wilde's statement of individuality  needed little introduction, so I kept it short and sweet. Noting how I truly admired the statue of Wilde in Dublin overlooking his home there when I visited last year, I asked the students to take special heed of it. They are in the heyday of forming what type of person they want to be, and I remember being a teenager and wanting to "stick out" above the crowd.

"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."

While the initial reaction each of the four readings was quiet, a few people left with a nod of "thanks for the quote".

There are 15 more to go, and I'll be on my spring route before this well runs dry. If the experiment continues to be so well-received, perhaps it will become as solidified in my routine as The Mantra. I hope it does.

(Thanks Tommy!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Thoughts for the Day

"Strive not to be a success, but to be of value." -- Albert Einstein

Mistakes are the tools of future triumphs, I've always believed. Lord knows I've made more of the former than of the latter in this life. Yet I keep writing to the sky and believe I'll someday be a star someone can see tomorrow.

Kinda sappy, you say? Yeah, well. That's who and what I am: The Sap King.

Looking down as I walked down our street one day as a lad of about 10, a neighbor once told me, "If you're always looking down, you'll miss something of higher value."

I was probably looking for loose change, or something else a 10-year-old might find fascinating. However, Miss McNaught's words of wisdom stuck with me. Every time someone has told me I would never catch a dream I was chasing, I later showed them my prize. Hopefully, this inspired them to go a'hunting.

A new friend has inspired me to go a'hunting the bright rays of hope in others. So, I wrote down a few dozen inspirational quotes which have helped me. Into a hat they go. On my way to work, I'll fish one out and bring it with me. For the next three weeks as I drive a bus, I'll pick a special moment with my passengers. Then I'll unfold the piece of paper and read the quote aloud to them. With any luck, Tommy's "Thought of the Day" will become a tradition for the rest of my career.

I hope it inspires conversation as we roll together. To look into the mirror only to see heads bowed in prayer to their handhelds, I long to inspire connections be made and dreams turned into successes. Many are so obsessed with reading about others they forget to listen to themselves. If one person decides upon hearing any of these quotes to forge ahead with whatever moves them and finds their success, it will have been well worth any number of impatient sighs.

Stay tuned... I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tommy and Other Tidbits

I just watched a documentary on David Crosby. He was very sad, approaching the end of his life. He's still writing though. As I watched and learned about one of the phenomenons of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, a strong desire to write something/anything nearly stopped my own heart. It didn't matter what it was about, but when you have done something you love for many years, the urge is like that of an addictive drug.

This fall, I will turn 60. My pseudonym approaches its seventh birthday but I'm moving beyond anonymity. Writing as Patrick once scared me, but cowardice is destructive. Management may not always like what I write, but the feeling is sometimes mutual. Still, we both have transit jobs to do and I'll do mine as long as they (and/or my body) allow. Hopefully, I continue to improve in both my profession and art. Hell, many of you have chided me when these words crossed some invisible line of decency, and I deserved it. Your love and support though, have never wavered. Mostly, you have encouraged me to keep writing this blog. OK, you win.

Several times the past few years I've been ready to stop blogging, and even stated it was time to shut it all down. Each instance of this has been met with some cathartic interaction with a reader, giving me love and respect. It's kinda hard to stop when people support me, even when y'all say you would understand if I stopped. Lately I've discovered more transit blogs written by the folks who make wheels roll. That's so cool! Some of them write better than I do, with more intelligent takes on issues than I can offer. The more the better, I say. Our profession is so misunderstood and rarely portrayed. There are many talented operators in our world I'm surprised we're not flooded with blogs. When FTDS makes its final hoorah, I'm happy to know there are others who will easily fill the tiny void I leave.

Yesterday I read a comment from a brother asking why I keep posting my blog where he can see it. It was on a thread I'm not really related to except within our shared union brotherhood. He said he just skims right past my posts. That's okay. I'm not so egotistical to realize these words fail to entertain some people. It's life, it's real and honest. I offered to stop posting there, but the brother said he couldn't speak for all of the other members, and that he would just keep scrolling past. He told me to just keep being Deke.

What a generous gesture, I understood, and thanked him. Still, there was a bursting kernel of truth in what he wrote. I'm not vain enough to continue self-promoting. The two times I tried being a salesman were the only professions in which I failed. If someone truly feels the need to share what I offer here, then it should be up to you to make that decision. Begging you to do so is dirty pool. All I care about, man, is just to write one operator's truth to transit. Some of you will enjoy, agree or disagree... but your simply reading is enough for me. Thank you.

As another age milestone luckily lurks this year, I see my youthful musical heroes growing old. Linda Ronstadt lost her voice, but she still promotes the good remaining within. The greats are fading but they're not slinking into obscurity... they still perform their art. While I lag behind them one or two decades, it'll be a snap of the return key before I am where they are now. It's a bit scary but our constant progression is fact. Youth and mystery cloud our end-point when it seems too far ahead to fathom. If someone my age, or considerably younger, dies, I'm left wondering, "Why them and not me?" Truly, when it happens to me, somebody else might repeat these words. Unless I'm an asshole, of course.

Part of my daily work Mantra could all be summed up by saying "Just don't be an asshole." But it carries too negative a weight. Such a statement is best said in a more positive manner. So last week I added "Be Fun" in honor of my father also, James Taylor. Dad said "The secret of life is to have fun every day." JT wrote "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." Both are selfish pleasures, but both men have inspired a great deal of joy in my life as well as others with whom they shared their love.

So many possibilities to make a positive impact
in our world of interaction.
A new positive influence has entered my life recently. Tommy Transit is a former Vancouver, British Columbia city bus operator. He has an innovative manner of "getting into alignment with others" using what he calls "Seven Steps of The Art of Acknowledgement". He realized as an operator that people simply long to be acknowledged. A kind word can uplift someone where indifference puts others off. I've written many times about how discouraged I am when passengers don't even look at me when boarding. It makes me wonder if I exude some negative aura. Maybe if I adopt Tommy's art of shining my fun rather than allowing storm clouds to gather above, the sun will shine again on my bus. I have allowed the dullness of these years cut me off from scores of very decent human interactions. In an era of mass attacks on transit operators, this attitude of allowing separation could become deadly.

Tommy Transit may be done with Vancouver's transit system, but he dislikes the word "retired". Instead, he chooses to be "re-fired" with enthusiasm to continue uplifting people. He and his partner Michelle have launched "Bus Drivers On A Mission". It's a business concept based on traveling the world giving motivational speeches to scores of dumped-upon transit workers, hoping to help us discover a more-positive way of greeting our public. Full-time operators give about 150,000 rides annually. We personally interact with more people, he estimates, than the President, Pope and Queen each year.

"It's a chance for operators to brighten the world," he explains, "one compliment and smile at a time. If you do this, you can create a ripple effect which could echo goodness across the world."

Even a grinch can find his smile
when a hug comes along!
This is a cool cat, Tommy Transit. He also wrote a book, "Tommy Transit's Bus Tales: How to Change the World from 9 to 5" which I hope to read and review soon. In turn, he's currently reading "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." (Thanks to whoever loaned their copy to him!) When I come across someone whose goal is to spread smiles, my soul is drawn to them. We've had a few conversations the past few weeks, and they have greatly helped my attitude. I hope our new friendship is as beneficial to him as it already has been for me. Even now, I'm smiling at the thought of our new friendship.

There you have it. A post I hadn't planned. Just free-form writing from whatever lurked within. I don't expect to share it, nor will I ask you to. If people are meant to read my blog, they'll find it own their own or via my "Deke Writes" Facebook page. It's just me after all, and y'all know I'm just a goofy guy who loves to see you smile.

Thanks for riding along!


Monday, February 17, 2020

Roll With My Outbound Line 9

Deke's Note: The busiest trip of my Line 9 is the 6:30 roll through Portland's Downtown Transit Mall. After years of pushing my roll to meet the demands of an out-of-operational-touch management, I have learned to split each route into segments. Conquer one of them, and the next may fall into the positive as well. If not, Dad always taught me to have Plan B, C and D ready to implement. Often, it comes down to D. (For someone who thinks "D" stands for "Dumbass", you haven't lived the life of a transit operator. Sit back and take this lesson from one who constantly does.)

Whatever our Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) dictate, the ultimate time I leave North Terminal is when I believe it is prudent to. I know what awaits my Beastie. Their needs, numbers and particulars. After two weeks in, I have already dialed their needs into my run time. Even if an upper-management-pressured supe is there to watch me depart, whether it be considered "early" or "late". Luckily for me, I know my Union brothers and sister Road Supes assigned there, and they have done my job.

On this run, I know Oscar awaits me in his wheelchair. If I'm rolling a 4000-series bus, it behooves me to ready the right-side priority seating in anticipation of his boarding before I begin the route. These new buses are extremely-difficult for him to lift the seats, given less-than-user-friendly controls.

Management seems resigned to the City of Portland's failure to intelligently-program the traffic signals on the north-end of the transit mall. Anything I can do to ensure efficient boarding time helps me be ready to go on the ridiculously-short green light at 5/Davis. If I have to hold longer than that, a MAX will surely pre-empt the next green light, making me wait an unbearable two extra reds. When this happens, I leave there a full two minutes late.

Once I finally roll the next five blocks into my next stop at 6/Harvey Milk (Stark), I'm a full 90 seconds late. If the MAX is one stop behind, chances are good it will again pre-empt the signal and roll ahead of me. My bus is often standing-room-only before I turn off the Transit Mall. If all works right, I can arrive at the 6/Taylor time point precisely on time. However, if that happens, chances are about 80% that Line 17 is already in the first position. If it's driven by a pro, they see me rolling up slowly behind, because I know their light is about to go green. (I hate to stop my bus twice: once in Position 2 and then again at the first.) They already have their doors closed and are ready to roll. If they miscalculated and ended up early, a true "pro" will roll on the next green to the next stop's fourth position, throw on their 4-ways, and make room for me to roll.

Our Scheduling Department seems intent upon ensuring Lines 9 and 17 arriving simultaneously at our shared outbound mall stops. Before management's "on-time performance" push came into play, schedules were a bit looser. This synchronicity was meant to allow passengers the opportunity to effortlessly transfer between lines. Bus operators would actually welcome these interactions. It was once called "the meet", an actual layover. In days of old, operators of both lines had enough time to leave the seat and stretch a few minutes, relating their respective stories with one another. This was an historic tradition between operators.

Nowadays, there's no time in either line's schedules to allow for anything other than let people off, board new passengers, and hopefully close the doors in time for the green to GO again! If a different line lingers longer than a veteran would, it delays the bus behind them and causes unnecessary stress and a re-calculation of schedule. If you're running to catch a bus which has closed doors as the light turns green, sorry... you missed it. That's the harsh reality of transit. Deal with it. At least you're early for the next bus. We have to roll, in order to faithfully serve those who arrive at their stops on time.

After the Taylor time point, if just barely-late by a minute or so, we have to wait as the Streetcar pre-empts a two-light cycle before we can cross Market. Gunning the accelerator after a smooth yet horribly-slow roll uphill from the Columbia stop, I can only hope for enough acceleration to safely pass through the next intersection, pass the stopped Streetcar to roll into Harrison after the 17 has departed. With the Orange Line a few stops back and a fresh red, I can board the roughly-20 people in ample time before the light goes green again. Whew! Dodged a bullet there.

Merging into the far-left lane to access the left-turn onto Lincoln, I allow a few car-lengths behind to make a safe lane transition. Turn signal flashing forever long, I have to not only pay close attention to my mirror but also to the view ahead, which typically involves dodging the law-breakers who believe Bus Only means "everybody except me".

Approaching the Lincoln Avenue MAX station, I survey the scene ahead. Of course, there are always awaiting passengers for either my 9, the 17 or 19. If there's a 17 ahead of me, I'm resigned to following them all the way to a distant Powell/Milwaukie stop. If they're behind me, they're likely thinking the same, with a similar sigh of acceptance. Whoever's in the "lead" will hopefully do our part to be efficient. If I arrive at 1st Avenue first, I'll delay my roll over the sensors as the light turns green to hopefully allow my following brother/sister to successfully follow through. If I'm lucky, they're of the same mind if I'm behind them.

A few minutes later, both buses arrive at the OHSU/MAX/Streetcar stop prior to the Tilikum Crossing. This is one of my favorite stops because it usually awards me with my most-gracious regulars. I'm usually a few minutes late there, but I know the paddle moving forward "bubbles" before my next time point.

"Welcome aboard!" I greet my favorites as they enter my mobile office. I value their patronage. Some may not acknowledge my greeting, but a few smile and make eye contact. This is something more treasured than they realize.

Many are medical professionals who work at Oregon Health Sciences University up on "Pill Hill". Their jobs are much like mine in the amount of human suffering they encounter. Once upon a time, I was a fellow of theirs as we entered our adult entry into Portland Community College's Biology 101 in pursuit of a better future. Torrey "Mad Hatta" is now a nurse at OHSU. While I failed to reach my then-dream of a career in the medical field of choice, Torrey persevered to earn his own. I am in awe of his accomplishment, but I do not mourn my failure because it led me into this fascinating opportunity to serve working Portland.

After passing over the awesome Tilikum Crossing transit/pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the majestic Willamette River, the only one of its kind in the USA, I roll through the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) stop. Then I push to arrive on time at Powell/Milwaukie.

The next 12 miles of my route are straight down Powell Boulevard. It is one of Portland's most heavily-traveled interior arteries. It's full of peril. Dark stops await, with transit-hopefuls crouched within half-assed shelters from the elements. Intending passengers expect us to see them in their all-dark clothing, and often call in complaints against us if we fail to catch their invisibility. Unfair? Of course.

I roll carefully, fully-expecting to service every stop up to 52nd, whether to allow passengers to exit or board new humans with fake "service animals". I have to be extremely vigilant. Traffic is heavy, motorists are intent upon finding any excuse to cut me off to arrive first at the next red light. Pedestrians are loathe to use crosswalks, and I am constantly scanning for them. Many a time I have stopped (smoothly, in honor of standees on the bus) in time to avoid hitting jaywalkers. Most have no idea how difficult it is to see them.

I'm almost a "veteran" bus operator. It has taken over seven years to get here, but I'm constantly learning. My eyes, my head, body and soul are working together so I can see and predict anything which might come into the path of my 20-ton urban assault vehicle. I don't like to think of it as such, but given the dangers we face, it's an unfortunate reality of this profession.

As I've gained the experiences learned through years and 150,000-odd miles behind the wheel of a city bus, one thing remains vital: to see what is and what could be as I push through the constant dangers presented every second.

Approaching the 72nd Avenue stop, I'm apprehensive. If someone requests this stop, it involves pulling into the right-turn lane near-side of the intersection. Thus hogging the right-turn lane, I have to be doubly-aware of the cars approaching on my left. Sometimes, a motorist will illegally use the travel lane as a right-turn lane, and make that maneuver directly in front of me as I prepare to merge back into traffic. Given the size of my bus, they cannot see those who have just exited and are crossing on the green pedestrian signal. There have been many instances where I have honked the horn in warning to both pedestrians and the motorists who cannot see my former passengers in the crosswalk. Luckily for all of us, nobody I've seen has been involved in this tragedy I constantly fear.

Once I arrive at the 82nd Avenue intersection, a choice awaits me. There, the near-side right-turn lane is also one legally allowing transit to use as a through-way to the far-side stop. If a car is poised there, I'll remain in the traffic lane. On purpose. Why? My passengers who hope to alight near-side will always ask. Because those cars are required to wait for passing traffic on the cross street, then also the opposite direction left-turning green arrow awaiters, not to mention the pedestrians waiting for the green "Walk" signal. Unless the right-turn lane is empty when I arrive there, I won't take it. This may annoy a passenger who needs to catch that ever-present Line 72, but their safety is my main concern. Sometimes they ask me to allow them exit from the travel lane, and I have to refuse. They may have to make an extra crossing, but I'm also concentrating on the path ahead and a full passenger load intent upon making their connections on time.

If I'm under five minutes behind at the 92nd Avenue stop, I breathe a sigh of relief. Then I must battle the myriad of law-breaking motorists to merge back into traffic. From there I'm allowed extra time to make the next time point near Powell Garage, and then onto the next one at 122nd. Usually, I can pass up a few stops in this stretch and make up a few minutes of late time.

From 122 to 136th Avenues, it's currently a massive construction zone. We never know when flaggers will delay us. Many a collective sigh can be heard over the overwhelming silence of a cell phone-hushed ride when we're delayed there. Sometimes we're speedily flagged through, but one or two days each week I have been forced to wait several precious minutes for construction activity to clear. Sitting there, I re-calculate the rest of my route's time. I'll look into the mirror and do a quick passenger count, estimating where I might make up the time I'm currently forced to endure.

Finally, I'm given the flag to proceed. Often, my calculations are corrected by requests for the next several stops. I just sigh in resignation. At this point, I know any possibility of making up the late time is for naught. Just roll with it, I tell myself. And so I do. The most important part of The Mantra takes center stage here: Be Safe.

RIP Freddi Evans...
your smiles and hugs remain with us forever,
along with your fierce dedication to the safety
of all those with whom you
so faithfully rolled with.
Along the way, I'm often given valuable moments of appreciation. Transit passengers may be glued to their phone screens, but they're very adept at multi-tasking. They see what's happening ahead of my windshield. When they reach their stop, they'll often stop before exiting to thank me and wish me safe travels. I gratefully acknowledge their parting words and roll again. It's another part of my mantra which reminds me to Be Patient and Considerate of their appreciation. It's important to be thankful.

When I approach the 181st intersection, there are often less than 10 passengers. The final fifth of the run lies ahead. Mindful of the reduced speed limit from when I last rolled this route, I concentrate on this extremely-dark stretch. If I allow myself to be complacent anticipating the next break, bad things can happen. That's where the Be Vigilant portion of my Mantra is most important. Often, operators can falter at this point of their run. Especially if vacation or their end-of-the-week awaits their arrival. We cannot afford to let down our guard, even in the last few feet of our run. Safety is the Operator's most-intense goal. Our very jobs depend upon our readiness to conquer the most-dangerous aspects of driving. Let down our guard for even a moment, and someone's life is ended or horribly-altered, as well as our own.

As I guide the Beast past the 2700 Block stop approaching Downtown Gresham, it's still very dark. I roll around the curve toward Birdsdale mindful of the nearside stop at that intersection. The light is green, nobody awaits in the pitch-black night wearing Portland's favorite color (dark), and I can make up at least one minute of the three minutes late showing on the CAD. A few moments later, I roll through the Eastman Parkway light and into Downtown Gresham. I navigate the turn onto a very-narrow Main Street and I hog the middle line. Oncoming vehicles are wary of my vehicle's size, except the pickups who think their 7,000-pounds outmatch my 40,000... their retractable rearview mirrors fully-extended even though they tow nothing behind them. I'm a bit of a bully here. Only if they stubbornly refuse to give an inch do I slightly-alter my steering to accommodate their lack of driving skill.

One more obstacle awaits: the MAX tracks just before I turn onto NE 10th Drive leading toward Gresham Transit Center. Some passengers ask why I can't just pull up another block so they can more-easily access their transfer vehicle, especially if Portland's winter skies are pouring wetness down upon us. Sorry folks, but this is the end of the line. I will, if pressed, explain why I cannot, will not, pull into the transit center proper. Usually, the pax know the drill. They ride every day and don't need any explanation as to why they have to walk half-a-block or so in the unforgiving elements to their next connection.

Finally! Relief! I'm alone, at long last. Abdominal gas passes, to my personal relief. I walk down the length of the bus, retrieving trash and left-behind items to be logged into Lost & Found. Someone spilled their coffee on a seat, I wipe it up. Future passengers need not be assailed by what is left behind. This bus is my office, and I like to keep it clean. It's respectful for me to offer the cleanest environment possible to my passengers.

The only time we can relax is once the bus is locked down and we're finally its only occupants. Texting or calling my Beloved is a welcome reward.

Stepping off my ride, I take an active part in my nicotine addiction. We're well-acquainted, and mutually-relieved to find ourselves again. About 85 minutes have passed, and we eagerly become re-acquainted. Unless I'm hungry. If that's the case, I munch on whatever I've brought to quench it, and wash that down with water or my ever-present supply of Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper. Afterward, the necessary rush of nicotine followed by voiding the bladder brings my bus forward to those awaiting my impending departure.

As always, I greet my post-break passengers with a smile. Some I recognize, others are regulars of my leader who missed my leader Bruce's ride.

After emptying the trash can in the bin outside, I walk the several yards between my vehicle and the stop sign ahead. I psyche myself up for the roll downtown. Often, these few moments involve a few more moments reassuring Beloved I have survived yet another Line 9 Experience. Then, I slip this modern ball-and-chain back into my pocket. It's set to "Do Not Disturb" yet left ON. If circumstances require, this status allows me to quickly call for help outside my bus if access to onboard radio is not possible. Safety first, management. I'd rather live rather than the horrific alternative. Given that we're always vulnerable to dangerous interactions, if I need to call for help I don't want to risk having to retrieve and then turn back on my lifeline.

Deke is soon rolling back toward Downtown Portland. It's a less-strenuous 75-minute run, often more relaxed and time-efficient than the eastward roll. Thanks for riding along!

Sadness BusBits

Deke's Note: After the fright, stress and flashbacks of the violent incident on my bus just over a week ago, I have ached to reach back ...