|Thanks, Dean Turner, for shooting me whilst rolling along one of Portland's|
most-busy routes, Line 9-Powell. Here, I lounge while allowing a few minutes
early-time click down until I can roll once again.
Deke's Note: The relief I feel setting the parking brake after finishing my Friday work is like nothing I can easily describe. The bus shaggers awaited my arrival, so I left the motor running, walked through the bus in search of any left-behind items, shut the windows and roof vents and cleared any remaining garbage. It takes a few minutes to gather my belongings. Then I hopped out and shouted to those who awaited my departure: "IT'S MY FRIDAY!" It's not real until that point.
Too many times, operators make the mistake of prematurely envisioning our off-time. That's when mistakes are made. I learned long ago to concentrate on the task-at-hand until the job is complete. This post describes my past week, hoping Friday came sooner than usual but keeping fully-focused throughout yet another COVID-19 "freakout".
My Monday found me fearing the new work week. What was gonna happen? Would I be infected, or was I already? Even though we're considered "frontline essential employees" we're still not being tested. I could already have the virus and just not be showing symptoms. Every day I see memorials to transit workers who have died, mostly from New York, Chicago and other large metropolises. Portland is rather small in comparison, and widely-spread out. We have been practicing "social distancing" for so long our populace is growing weary of it. Traffic is increasing, as if the hordes of our neighbors are saying "to hell with this, we're going OUT!" Rush hour here is just a tiny bit heavier each week. It thins out fairly quickly, but it seems Stay at Home is being tested more each week.
Once again dragging myself out of bed, complaining all the while, waiting until the very last minute to haul my butt into the shower. Donning the uniform, I felt a an indescribable dread. Will this be the week my body fails to fight off this conniving little bastard? Will one (or more) of us fall victim as we have seen hundreds of others suffer the past few weeks? I'm doing everything I know how to, fighting this pandemic on a very personal level. Usually exposed to thousands during a work week, I'm still coming into contact with hundreds now that service and passenger levels have been drastically cut. What more can I do, but this:
- I wash my hands at the end of the line, for at least 30 seconds. I use my butt cheeks to open doors (if ANY one of you photographs this, envision the fleas of a thousand camels infesting your undergarments), use district-provided hand sanitizer upon regaining the seat.
- While realizing a mask doesn't protect ME from floating micro-particles of the virus, it might help my passengers from inhaling anything I might throw out there which could do THEM harm. My sister Ahna custom-made me a mask which I first wore today. It fit quite nicely thank you, and I didn't have that annoying fog-up of my spectacles while breathing through it!
- A few times (not every) each shift, I take a few sanitizing wipes and go through the bus, wiping down surfaces such as stanchions and other points of human contact. With any luck, perhaps I kill the little bastard outright instead of allowing it to contaminate a passenger, who could in turn, infect me or others, down the road.
- Unless they need the bus lowered, I insist passengers heed the PA warning to exit via the back door, even though many haven't a clue how to open it. They still look at me accusingly, as if I'm purposely keeping it locked. Dumb shits; simply watching someone successfully opening it should give you a clue. But no. Instead, you'd rather watch your YouTube videos spreading fake news about injecting toilet bowl cleaner into your veins to stop Corona from turning your blood into festering Mexican beer
* * * * *
When I went to my road relief point on Monday, it was so eerily-silent. Powell and Milwaukie is usually an intensely-busy intersection. Every weekday, thousands of vehicles pass by in a normal hurry to whatever ills await these impatient motorists. Of all weekdays I have driven Portland's Line 9, it was so quiet I could hear my footfalls across six lanes and a median to echo off the unoccupied walls of the piano store across the street. I whistled, and it came immediately back to me. A Line 19 bus arrived, and as its doors opened, the PA announcement bounced loudly off the walls a block away. The street was empty. Not a car in either direction. It sent shivers up my spine, and made me wish I had not written that short story so early in the Corona-era nightmare we are now all so weary of.
As usual, I recited my Daily Mantra. "Be Safe, be Kind, be Courteous, be Polite, be Patient, be Considerate, be Vigilant, be CALM, be Smart, be Smooth, but above all, be SAFE." It took a few deep breaths for it to sink into my shivering soul. It required a deep breath, holding it, to allow it to take my soul where it needs to be to ferry the 20-ton Beast through yet another shift. Because yeah, even though I consider myself "manly", there's nothing like a deadly pandemic to scare the macho out of me. Having no alternative than to JUST DRIVE, I steeled myself for another roll into the abyss. Just another day at the wheel, I told myself. Yeah, right, the crusty leprechaun on my arm sneered back.
* * * * *
It was a pretty good week, considering the obvious. I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a regular I had driven a signup before without having the honor of getting to know him. Dean is a quiet guy, which naturally drew me to him. Having given him a ride every day of 12 weeks prior, he simply greeted me upon boarding and thanked me on his way out. It's this decency in people I am drawn to doing this job. Prior to my acquaintance with Tommy Transit, I may have hesitated trying to make a connection. Maybe not, given my penchant for reaching out to those I'm drawn to. Even so, one day Dean was the only passenger I picked up from 5th/Taylor one evening. I made my customary joke that I hoped he could find a seat, and he chuckled, remarking on my "heavy load" consisting of zero others. This was my queue. I engaged him, learned his name and offered my own in gratitude for his riding my bus for months. We found a common love: photography. I don't know if you have noticed, but 99% of the photos in this blog are my own. Sometimes they are magical, others they're just images of what I see "out there".
I've been a photographer for over 40 years. At first, it was a love affair with my high-school graduation present from Mom and Dad: a Minolta SRT-201. Next, my own acquisition of an Olympus OM-1n as a college journalist. Mom taught me the basics of composition, and my soul took over from there. When I see something which intrigues me, I shoot it. Always have, always will. It's just me, and how I see life.
Dean dug that. We talked about images, and how technology has come about. He began bringing his personal collection of digital cameras aboard each day, showing me their quirks and advancements over the years, and what their finer points of technology afforded him as a photographer. Having recently purchased my first digital SLR, I admitted my ignorance of making the transition from film to digital. Dean taught me what I have been frustratingly unable to figure out on my own. "Use f8, with an ISO of 100, as a base, then branch out from there," he said in his quiet, soothing tone. I will try this, Dean. I miss Kodachrome (RIP), TriX, PlusX, PanX and the many other forms film has been replaced digitally. Digital is something I hope to master. For now, my iPhone does a pretty sweet job.
I'm very appreciative that this lack of passenger load has afforded me the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Dean, and others I simply didn't have time to engage before this worldwide "panic-demic".
There's Joel too, who is a bit trickier to engage but otherwise fascinating to me. Before this moment in our collective history, he simply boarded with a slight smile and nod to my existence. He gave a silent wave upon exiting. Now, he warmly greets me and wishes me a great good night. All since I asked if he was a reader a while back. Yes, he replied. Always one to pounce upon a marketing opportunity, I turned him on to this blog and hopefully the book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane".
To my great reward, Joel did read my words, and offered his appreciation. I still don't know what he thinks about it, and I yearn to because his quiet ways amplify an implied intelligence. He hinted he enjoyed it, and that was buoyant to this artist's soul. Still, we now enjoy a moment of banter as he boards, and I hope he realizes I relish seeing him. He's appreciative of what I do, and that is a great reward. I strive to provide a smooth, quiet and uneventful ride. To see a regular board is great solace, and my driving is finely-tuned to their comfort. Joel is a gentleman, as evidenced by his quiet grace, private yet appreciative, each time he boards each evening. Thanks, Joel, for your peaceful and honored entrance onto my humble ride. I hope we become more acquainted, if it is to your liking. Your name is the same as an extremely-close and revered longtime friend of mine, who I miss as we exist 1,400 miles distant from one another. Our nickname for one another may be obscene to others, but is privately endearing. My name for you is simply: Revered Regular.
Finally, I cannot end this without mentioning the great joy boarding another former "regular". Oscar uses a wheelchair for mobility, and I was afraid I would not see him again after weeks of not seeing him where I normally would. Finally one evening this last week, Oscar awaited Line 9 at his normal stop at 5/Davis.
His eyes met mine as I opened the door. I was elated to see this young man again. He's lively, polite, intelligent and intensely-kind. For weeks I had hoped to see him, but was beginning to fear he was one of many unemployed regulars. Many have either lost, or seen their jobs gone idle, during COVID-19's stranglehold upon our economy. My sons are both awaiting a call-back to work, and I wondered if Oscar was one of them.
"HEY BUDDY!" I exclaimed as my door opened to his beaming face. "Where ya been?"
"I've been catching an earlier bus because of shorter hours," he said as he rolled up the ramp.
"Oh," I replied with a smile, "so you DID leave me for another driver! Well!"
Oscar laughed. "It's good to see you again!" he said, rolling himself into his patented Priority seating area, securement refused.
"You have no idea," I replied. "It's really good to see you, even though I'm embarrassed. For the past two weeks, I've been racking my brain to remember your name. I'm so sorry."
It was all cool because he had forgotten mine as well. Still, the bond we shared from the previous signup resonated. We commiserated over the pandemic's toll, both sad at its toll. He taught me another new lesson about those who use devices to aid their mobility.
"People don't respect my wheelchair as it being part of me," he said. "It's been hard to keep that social distancing thing on transit."
Having many friends who use devices to help them locomote, I found this fascinating.
"You mean," I asked, "they treat you differently than others?"
"Yes," he replied, "it's as if because I use a wheelchair, I'm less human. I still hope for that six feet, at the least!"
Oscar is more human than many who ride my bus. He's kind, considerate and polite. He's intelligent in his conversation, more deserving of praise than most who have no idea their ability to stand upon two legs is a blessing.
I was so happy to see him again, but had to stop in short of gushing. It's just not cool to man-hug someone you admire, unless it's invited. Oscar, if I have time next you board, I hope you're cool with it. Because sir, I am always happy to see you on my bus.
That's it. I could go on, but you've likely reached the limits of your literary comfort. Today is an endless limit of what folks are willing to endure. I'll end this with a simple reiteration of one of this week's "Thought of the Day".
"If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito." -- Dalai LamaI've done so. I'd rather roll with y'all. Be safe, remain healthy. This is my main prayer today, and every day we live through this nightmare. Thanks for reading, my dear friends.