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Deacon Who?

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(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

My COVID-19 Journal: Week 4


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 Lama
I'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.

db


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

WHO Are YOU?


I constantly scan this blog's readership for international readers. Upon occasion, I hear from someone thousands of miles distant from my location in Portland, Oregon. Still, I see "hits" from all over this blue marble we call home. Who are you in Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France and other locales?

If you're simply someone who reads this blog by accident, I still hope to hear from you. Why are you drawn to my words here? I realize today's internet allows for "hits" by those who happen upon my blog by accident, from hidden outposts which require secrecy to avoid scrutiny from governments which forbid "outside" influences. Still, I wish you would reach out to me. Are you really from another country, or has your computer simply reached this domain through a string of numerous bounces upon the worldwide web's numerous outposts?

It would do this writer's soul great justice to know that when I see stats from across the world that you actually read my words. I chased off somebody who thought it "fun" to assail my blog with an influx of bot-inspired hits a few months ago, which falsely-inflated the blog's stats with numbers that were truly a writer's dream rather than reality.

Now, I implore you all to speak up. Write me at deaconinblue@gmail.com and tell me your truth to transit. While I have only traveled across the Atlantic once in this lifetime to visit Scotland and Ireland, I dream of someday finding myself standing upon the lands of other countries.

Thanks for reading, now let me know where you lurk "in the shadows".

db

My Pandemic Apology and Forward Dreams



All this while, I have been living in fear. It is something I have reviled my whole life. Not once have I given into its intent to have the ultimate power in my life. For over a month, I have failed the first time of my life.

Now, I have realized I have no more fear left. I give my fears to God, and pray for the safety of all those with whom I have feared COVID-19.

It is not right to live in fear. My mother, when she was told I was born with a brain injury that would likely leave me unable to walk, talk, or think, told the doctors they were wrong. She did not fear their dire predictions that I was best left in an institution, to be forgotten in my likely-vegetative state. Mom and Dad fought for me, and through their strength and devotion, I learned to walk. I learned to talk, to read, to learn and to succeed. It took over two-and-a-half years for me to do so, but I did learn to walk. It was 47 years ago to this day that I jumped up and ran. I didn't just walk. I ran.

Mom began working my muscles from Day One. I was a limp baby. No muscle tone whatsoever. The fall Mom suffered the night before my birth landed me on my infantile head. I was born with a subdural hematoma, which grew even after I was born, pressing down and damaging my brain's motor and speech centers. My first photograph showed an infant with almost two heads, the swelling on my tiny brain was so great. Even so, my parents' love for me was so great, their elation at my very birth so intense, they promised to do whatever it took to guide me into a healthy and vibrant life. Every time I step out into a walk, I thank my parents for their refusal to accept my defeat. I constantly thank them for their dedication to me. In this, my 60th year, I continue this gratefulness. Within my soul, everything I have achieved is due to Mom and Dad's devotion. Because of them, I charge into COVID-19's scare with a renewed desire to not let them down.

In the early 1960s, there was no internet. Anything they learned was through Mom's intense dedication. She read countless medical journals in her quest to find a way to make my brain recover from the damage it had suffered. Her first exercises began by simply changing my diapers. She would cross-pattern my arms and legs, pulling them together and stretching those muscles, urging them to feel her pressure. I'm sure kisses and love murmurings were incorporated in there as well, because a mother's love is absolute, her desire we succeed circumvents any others' words to the contrary. As months evolved into my first year, my studio photographs showed a beautiful child sitting up and showing the face of a beloved child; what lacked in the shots were Mom's hands propping me up underneath the blankets in which I was swathed.

As year two came about, I could sit up, but still could not crawl. Instead, I scooted about on my butt or however else I could. Still, Mom saw my determination to locomote, to move on my own. It was then she found this one means of forcing me to stand on my weak legs, governed by a brain center that had been damaged at birth. It was a "standing box" into which she locked me into for hours each day. Of everything that transpired during Mom's insistent exercises, this is the only one which resonates with me today. She would lock me into that contraption, regardless of my screams of protest, then kiss me and close the bedroom door to my protestations. Only when she deemed it necessary would she come back and release me from its' grip.

Countless trips to the "Crippled Children Medical Center" emboldened Mom to keep trying new methods to force my body to overcome

Then one day, it happened. Watching TV while sitting on the living room floor in our Mundelein, Illinois home, something on the screen inspired me to jump up. I began running around, screaming with joy. Mom simply watched from the kitchen door, tears likely streaming from her face. I can only imagine the incredible joy she felt at that moment, and the reward of her constant dedication to be there at that moment as I defied the doctors' initial, dire predictions that I would ultimately amount to nothing valuable as a human being.

Yet, here I am. Full of faults, yet a fully-functioning and accomplished human being. Nearing my 60th birthday, I am grateful for the life Mom and Dad devoted so much energy into ensuring me. The depths of my appreciation cannot be adequately described in words. In this life, I have always defied the odds. Not only do I ferry my fellow Portlanders around in a vehicle that defies descriptive words of justice due to its intricacies of difficulty, but I do it with charm and style.

All my life, I have endeavored to bring laughter, to show love, to those with whom I encounter. Even in the depths of despair, I have found a way to do as Dad always taught... have fun every day. To bring a smile to someone's face is my ultimate goal, and doing so brings me great peace.

Today, I want to apologize to many people. To TriMet management, toward whom I have written many words of great disrespect. I have done so under the guise of utter contempt, feeling empowered to do so hiding behind a pseudonym while sometimes taking more liberty than I should. I am very grateful to be allowed to do this job, not only because of my early history but also because I truly love people. Some are not so lovable, but the vast majority of those I serve are decent, hard-working and generous. I have been humbled so many times by the passengers I serve, this job has been a God-send to His humble servant. My words may have also insulted or hurt my union brothers and sisters, with whom I toil and revere; I am deeply sorry to have injured any of you. Additionally, I have lambasted our local media; not only because it fails to report our good deeds, but because of my vanity due to its refusal to recognize my writing this single operator's truth to transit.

To anyone I have injured in heart, word or deed, I humbly apologize. It truly grieves my soul to know I have caused any of you to feel pain at what I have written here. Whether it be upper management, passengers, fellow operators or the random reader who stumbles upon this blog, I apologize for ever having insulted you.


This blog was originally meant to be simply a journal. My words have found readers across the world, but that's not necessarily something to brag about. Many a time, my posts have been written in moments of passion and anger, and these free expressions may have been a dagger to those who actually care about our daily toils. While I still believe upper management as a whole has a great deal to learn about those of us they oversee, I realize they are not "bad people". I only wish they read these words and find a new meaning for the jobs they hold. We're all beholden to one another. If we could only come together and forge paths together rather than constantly accusing and fighting one another, this world we live within would be so much sweeter.

If I fail to survive this pandemic, my greatest hope is you realize I only wanted you to understand this blog for what it was originally intended to be. One transit operator's reality as I did my job, lived my life, and loved my family and friends. On occasion, I shared many a funny or serious interaction with those I have served. Often, I berated my employers as they failed to find value in our constant toils on the front line of transit while they reigned supreme from their offices on-high.

At this time, I pray you all continue to practice the Social Distancing medical experts have pleaded we all do. Yes, the economy is suffering. People are scared and often without money to feed their loved ones. This is an historically-significant time in our lives, but it's imperative we continue working together to ensure our future. There can be no economy if we die in greater numbers than the "curve" allows humanity to endure. This uncertainty could endure for several more months, at least until a viable vaccine is developed and administered.

Do not, I beg you, give in to those who hold "life as usual" up higher than "life itself" and common sense dictate. Listen to health professionals first, politicians last. Humanity deserves dedication toward itself, rather than idiocy winning us only extinction.

My Beloved went to work, along with many of my brothers and sisters along with members of our worldwide community the past few weeks, to fashion masks meant to protect us from this tiny assassin. Even though COVID-19 viruses are tinier than we can even imagine, the simple face covering could protect us from inhaling the stubborn few particles which linger amongst us. Even though our management won't allow even so much as a one dollar shower curtain to protect us from exposure, we must still do whatever we believe is right. If a buck spent on a clear piece of plastic provides more of a barrier than our employer can provide, then I wholeheartedly-support its widespread use. A halfway-forward barrier is of no use as opposed to one that entirely separates us from impending doom.

I pray you all forgive me. Andrew Theen, Shirley Block, Doug Kelsey, the TriMet Board of Directors and everyone else in between, please accept my apologies if my words have injured you. Perhaps you believe you're doing right by us and my words are an affront to your efforts. They're not meant to be. They are simply what I feel at any given time, not to necessarily be taken as gospel for what everyone else might think. It's just me describing what I feel. Take them with a grain of salt, but thanks for reading just the same.

I truly desire to celebrate not only Deke's seventh birthday on May 13th, but also Patrick's 60th on October 5 this year. This is a pivotal year in my life. I'm working on a new novel as well as resurrecting one I began 22 years ago and hope to finish shortly after my Troll story is completed. My friend Billy is feverishly working on a pilot for a TV series about a bus operator, and new friends have expressed desires to pursue other creative endeavors dedicated to our "essential" careers. I want to help you ALL; I just need to live through this, as do you.

Peace, love, and safety to you and yours. That's all that matters to me. Especially now.

db

Monday, April 20, 2020

WE Remain United

I am committed to beating this bastard virus that has us all frightened. My goal is to proudly attend my 1978 Florence Gophers' 45th reunion in 2023, having beaten yet another bastardly viral threat. Still, a tiny voice inside asks, "What if...?"

If I fail to survive all the way to my coveted 90th birthday in 2050, I also hope to have attended my Class of 1978's 70th Reunion in 2048. We may be doddling along in walkers and wheelchairs by then, but knowing my classmates, at least Doris, Guy, Iris, Roger, Pat, Joe, Hans, Marilyn, John and his twin Mark, along with Mark F. and others will still be there.

Today, I only feel weary for what we're going through. This virus has yet to be defeated, but now we're seeing many of our populace defying scientific knowledge and a collective desire to return to "life as normal". It's a weariness we cannot sustain through defiance of the virus's sneaky desire to kill as many of us as possible. Without a vaccine, we're all vulnerable, but a political faction has seen fit to "fight the status quo". I'm sorry brothers and sisters, but frustration alone cannot defeat a tiny bastard we cannot even see. It will take MUCH more vigilance than we're willing to muster to defeat it. Your blustering hasn't a chance, so please just do whatever it takes to STAY HOME to stop COVID-19's spread.

At this time, our politics has us only accepting the "news" our beliefs allow, while health professionals worldwide spread a different, more-knowledgeable message. We cannot allow politics to continue dividing US, or we are truly doomed to become additional victims of this disease. It's not a virus that picks one political party over another; it is oblivious to OUR differences. It will kill you and your politically-divided neighbor as easily as it will take me, one who cares NOT what your previous vote dictates. It is an equal-opportunity killer, and until we band together to defeat it, we are ALL susceptible to its fatality.

At this point, I don't care WHO you vote for this November. All I care about is that YOU remain safe, along with your beloved family members and friends. We are all drawn together to fight an invisible assassin, so I hope you join me in taking every possible step WE can to defeat COVID-19's spread.

My greatest dreams right now, apart from us ALL making it through this China-inspired nightmare, are to hug my new friend and fellow-author Tommy and his beloved Michele in Vancouver, BC; to see my and share a hug with my friend and another fellow-author Billy Alsheimer as he enjoys his TV series success, and to finally meet my many newfound friends who read this blog. May we all share a victory hug once COVID-19 has breathed its last threat upon us, that we may move forward in our collective goals to make transit GREAT again in the minds of US as well as those of our passengers and eventually management's as well. I'm a whisky-glass-half-full kinda guy, and that's my ultimate vision!

May peace and safety reign supreme within all who read this message. My prayers are for your safe passage through this pandemic. Once it's over, then we can resume our political discourse. Until then, please join me in wishing the best for everyone.

With love, I am
Deke



Saturday, April 18, 2020

A COVID-19 Journal Entry


I just finished my weekday work, and now I have my last run coming up. My paycheck was horrid due to the fact that I have exhausted my sick leave time. So, 30 hours was unpaid on this pay period. Half of what I normally get went into my account. Luckily, most of the bills were already paid.

That's the least of my worries. Keeping possibly-infected people from boarding my rolling petrie dish is impossible. Whatever "fogging" is done to "clean" our buses leaves streaks on the barriers, yet operators aren't allowed to string up a clear shower curtain for the ridiculous notion it could "be a safety hazard". I think looking through a Dollar Store shower curtain might be easier than seeing through a streaky barrier.

The barriers are another thing. Who thought a barrier that still allows a passenger to reach around it is much of a deterrent from assaults? It hasn't stopped people spitting at us, or throwing liquids, any number of attacks upon us while on the job. Even grocery store checkers enjoy a better shield between them and customers than we do. I love the UK's fully-enclosed operator's area. Now that's safety, folks!

Can't even look at FaceBook these days. So many operators everywhere falling victim to COVID-19. Luckily, Portland still has only one reported positive case among operators, and that driver is back at work! Still, we feel isolated and vulnerable as we shuttle those still working along with those who just ride for want of anything better to do.

Our union is largely silent except for frontline shop stewards, making back-door deals with management and thoroughly pissing off even their own officers. There is no dialogue between US and our union. I first wrote "effective dialogue", but when there's virtually nothing, ineffectiveness is implied.

There is more traffic each day. People are growing weary of "Stay at Home" especially given the 70-degree weather we've enjoyed the past week. Toilet paper is still a premium find. At least gasoline is cheaper! Liquor stores are doing a brisk business.

We stopped taking money for fares about three weeks ago, asking people to obtain a Hop Pass at local grocery stores. Instead, the same folks board showing a wad of cash (who does that? they nuckin' futs?), shrugging at the sign over the covered-up cash box and sauntering past. Others don't even bother and just walk past without even saying hello. They know the Fare Inspectors won't likely cite them given how many people are unemployed right now. I just hit "Fare Evasion" whenever someone doesn't pay. It's not worth arguing over, and I'm too damn tired to "inform" right now.

I heard an interesting interview on the radio earlier today. It was with a fellow whose job is to help people stay focused and try to be happy. He described normal fear as opposed to what we're experiencing now. This pandemic is new to everyone. The problem is that we are constantly waiting to see if or when we're infected with the virus. This is different from fearing what we know. The trick, he said, is to realize "I don't know what will happen next week, or even tomorrow. What is important is that I'm well and healthy today, and that's what we should focus on."

Yeah, okay. So far, so good. But that nagging feeling the virus is stalking me and waiting for that one vulnerable moment to infect me, coupled with the grief for transit workers falling victim worldwide, and worrying about my family and friends is what totally exhausts me. The simple rigors of driving a bus 55 hours a week and its associated aches pales in comparison to the stress.

Dad had it right though, and I channel him all the time. "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time," James Taylor wrote. "Have fun every day, no matter what," Dad said. Both are all that's keeping me going right now.

Be safe, folks. I'm trying.

db

Friday, April 17, 2020

Rolling Through 2020's Nightmare

Burning time at 82nd Avenue. A surrealistic vision
via the absence of normality.

Deke's Note: It's truly strange driving a city bus through streets that are largely deserted when they would normally be heavily-congested. The snarling, honking, smog-producing hordes are mostly staying home. In Oregon, it's saving lives and I'm grateful. They could stay home the rest of the year and it would make my job much easier. Strangely though, I miss the hustle and muscle. I'm kinda like many other bus operators: weirded out to the max, man.

It's the middle of the week and I have the urge to chime in. Of course, this pandemic is like nothing we've seen before. This is our Depression/World War II, which The Greatest Generation not only survived, but lived to greatly enrich and propel our country into greatness. In a way, I'm grateful Dad didn't have to live to witness this horrific moment in time.

Those who survived the serious outbreaks of the past few decades have not dealt with anything this serious before. In fact, nothing remotely like COVID-19 has affected our lives since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Given medicine's intellectual infancy a century ago, people then were not prepared to battle that bug. Today, it is inconceivable that nobody, given modern medicine's ability to predict  such a bug, was truly prepared to do battle with this tiny mass assassin.

Oregon is fighting hard to limit COVID-19's exposure and spread. Only one Portland transit operator has tested positive for the virus. Thankfully, he has since recovered from Coronavirus and returned to work. Our employer, initially slow to enact protective measures, has taken steps to give us tools to protect ourselves, but the threat looms widely as long as wheels are on the roads and tracks of transit. Here are a few of the actions our agency has taken in response to the viral threat we constantly work under:

  • Reduced service so that most weekday routes run on a Saturday schedule; weekend routes now run even less frequent, using Sunday schedules. This action was due to a sudden drop in passenger counts due to the Stay at Home order put in place last month.
  • Limited buses to 10-12 passengers, placing signs on seats passengers are not supposed to sit in to further encourage a six-foot "social distance" from others.
  • Eliminated cash payment at the farebox. While some bozo is suing TriMet over this, I fully support the no-cash fare. Cash is dirty, and we have dozens of union brothers and sisters who are tasked with counting, banding and bagging the money taken in as fare each day. Their safety is important. Plus, the farebox puts passengers within two feet or less from the bus operators. Most passengers still pass within three feet of us while using the Hop Pass reader just inside the front doors of every bus. After weeks of not accepting cash, many try to con me every day showing wads of cash. While I silently curse their conning the system having known for well over two weeks we no longer issue tickets on buses, I also fault our management for failing to inform the public of this. If they only require tap cards for fare, where are the hordes of Customer Service personnel at major transit hubs, informing the public?
  • Increased cleaning procedures once vehicles return to their respective garages after a day in service. This is nice, but should be a daily occurrence even without a pandemic threat. Every vehicle is subject to accumulating multitudes of bacteria and viruses from the riding public. A student experiment nearly a decade ago illustrated how filthy our vehicles are. Little, if anything, has been done to ensure the cleanliness of our vehicles since. Given management's desire to scrap our Maintenance Apprenticeship Program, this is a glaring refusal to recognize the importance of many procedures that could be provided by entry-level employees hoping to rise. It's a vital assurance that operators and passengers alike be provided with a more-sterile environment than the horrid and filthy conditions we have worked within for nearly a decade. If it scraps MAP, I expect to see our GM and his minions out in the yard scrubbing buses after every day of service. If their only goal is to save money, this could be its sacrifice to that purpose.
  • On the negative side, management earlier this week threatened a bus operator with disciplinary action if he didn't remove a clear shower curtain he had rigged in absence of a protective shield on buses he drives. It was certainly more valuable than the half-assed shields which leave us vulnerable to spitting, punching, stabbing, shooting and any other number of attacks upon us, which have been on the increase during this pandemic. A clear shower curtain is certainly NOT a "safety concern", because one can simply see through it. The shields which adorn many buses are not truly deterrents, but simply challenges to those who celebrate the menacing to transit operators. I cannot imagine having nothing to protect me from the hordes of good-for-nothing professional fare evaders who have overtaken our vehicles during this pandemic, leaving hard-working essential passengers waiting for the next bus as they snooze with bags upon bags of their belongings taking up seats on our buses and trains. Street-livers have virtually nowhere to wash their hands, let alone their bodies. Still, they have taken this pandemic as an excuse to dominate our 10-passenger maximums, with management's edict left to wilt in our springtime sunshine. 

I have yet to see a true sense of purpose from our management to underscore its' frontline employees intrinsic value to transit's purpose. Simple slogans do nothing to make us feel appreciated. We're more threatened now than we were just a few weeks ago, and that was bad enough. Troublemakers are now emboldened by the police scaling back arrests except for the most vile attacks. While I have seen an increase in traffic stops (yay!) upon the idiotic Mario Andretti or Richard Petty wannabes on our streets, I fear for our officers who street people brag about threatening to spit on in retaliation for code enforcement. I wouldn't want to be a cop any day, especially now. My hat is even-deeper tipped to our brothers and sisters in dark blue who continue to protect us through the darkness of this pandemic.

Portland's Powell Boulevard at rush hour, such a vast difference
 from the normally-hundreds of vehicles which would be here
around 5:30 p.m. on a weekday.
Every day is a new dimension in surrealistic phenomena. It's just... weird out there right now. The first few weeks, I had the same "haha... just another H1N1 bullshit scare" mindset. Back then, I trusted our government, run by level-headed people who valued academia and its higher intelligence to prevail during such an emergency. Now, we're at the mercy of a wannabe dictator supported by those who crave only dominance over others. Their celebrated villiage idiot stopped checks to millions of needy Americans just to ensure his name appeared on the checks sent to ease their hunger and debt. It's fully ridiculous that we're even going through this toilet paper-hoarding other-world scenario. I'm afraid for our country; not that it will survive, but for what it has become: a selfish, "me first" society. It was headed that way already. Now, it has been realized and somewhat celebrated in an utmost need for unity.

We've heard reports of passengers purposefully coughing or spitting on operators while saying they are infected with the virus. I cannot confirm whether any of them were truthfully carriers of the virus, but it's indicative of a sick mind to do such a thing. Given the deaths of many New York transit workers and their fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters across this nation (and others) fear a long-lasting death toll amongst our ranks. Any amount of diligence must be practiced until a viable vaccine is found to protect us from China's fucked up virus. Imagine the world's premier economy: the killer of the world. So much for communism, eh? Don't mistake it for socialism... the two are hardly alike. One strives to promote itself for selfish desires; the other serves the people who make it work. Neither are perfect. Hopefully America finds a way to shine through all of this. Unfortunately, it has largely failed, given it was once the world's brightest light.

This post wasn't meant to be a politically-polarizing jibe at our nation's leadership. This country's  leadership however, has glaringly declared itself inadequate to conquer a global threat. Our economy depends on those who are most affected by the virus. Instead of focusing on keeping US safe, our politicians have fought to keep the ECONOMY stable. If anyone believes an economy is built upon anyone but those who make the money spent within it, they are truly mistaken. We must take care of ourselves in order for life to constantly improve.

Perhaps it must all fail. Maybe then we will learn from our mistakes. If we begin to realize we're only as good as what our neighbors provide where we lack, we might utlimately realize we're all simply human.

Humanity has only withstood the test of time because it found strength within itself as those in power failed to protect the masses. It is within the numbers of the working class citizens to RISE in support of each other. Perhaps then we may find solutions. If we can stop this incessant in-fighting may we end this mass-instituted slavery by the few over the many.

We are neighbors, friends, fellow citizens united in the jobs we do in service to one another. Big Money controls us all, only because we allow it. Their only goal is to divide us, which strengthens them to further control US. We worship together, form Neighborhood Watches, cheer our local sports teams while coaching our collective youths, engage in civil debates over barbecues while our children play together. WE are the world. Who are THEY? Only the collectively-weak in spirit; rich in capital, lacking in humility.

Yeah, I'm tired. My week is nearly over as a transit operator. I have counted people boarding and leaving to ensure I don't allow my bus to have more than 10 passengers at a time. Not only for my safety, but also for those who refuse to safeguard themselves or those with whom they ride.

After each shift, I come home to a loving wife who cannot yet touch me. Not until I strip, throw my uniform into the washing machine, shower and redress can I embrace her. She waits at home, in anguish of what I experience "out there" and yearns for my safe return each day I'm in service. Meanwhile, I'm at the mercy of every bum, societal outcast, newly-released felon, and countless decent people who may be infected with COVID-19. For 12 hours every day, she waits for my texts ensuring her I'm okay. She constantly monitors my son who has been without a job for almost a month, making sure he isn't without food, toilet paper or any other number of necessities. Sometimes, it's more difficult for those who wait for us to return home. Even then, my Beloved doesn't know if I'll do so... safely and without infection.

But hey, I'm just a bus operator. What do I know?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Here I Go Again


Deke's Note: Week 4 of Hellacious COVID-19. Here I go again.

I may already have the virus. In 5-14 days, the symptoms could appear within my body as they have hundreds of transit operators worldwide. I don't know if it's within me yet, but my soul is not ready to depart this Earth. There are too many things I have yet to accomplish.

If it is here inside me now, it can just get the fuck out. I'm done with fear. Now, I'm just angry and ready to do battle. My ancestry demands nothing less than all-out war. I will just keep on keepin' on, being Deke to the end no matter what obstacles I face. It's all I've ever known, and I see no reason to stop now.

I've seen CNN's Chris Cuomo bravely fight this virus from home while reporting his progress. I'm taking is words to heart. If it finally finds its way into my body I will fight it as he has: standing UP. Screw that little bastard. I didn't brave a pre-natal brain injury and an early battle just to walk and talk to be taken out by something our government has failed to protect us from.

I will not back down. It can enter my body, but I will kick its little ass right out. Goodbye, ya wee bastard. You're not welcome here. I have too much left to say yet to allow your viral beastie dictate my fate. Begone, asshole, you are not gonna take me without a knock-down, bare-fisted brawl.

Thanks to my sister Ahna Mallat for creating a washable face mask for me that will help me battle this viral pandemic. Already, I strip and shower every night upon entering my humble home. Uniform goes directly from body to washing machine, and I (thanks buddy Sam!) scrub the hell off my body before I can relax in my recliner and eat whatever Beloved has cooked before my arrival.

Masks, distiller-strength hand sanitizer and wiping my operator's station down be damned, I refuse to bow down to China's murderous mistake. I piss on China's communism, your desire to rule the world. If this was planned, then FUCK YOU. We will not bow down, we will not die without a fight.

Oregon has had a "Stay at Home" order for going on a month now. To my fellow citizens' credit, most have obeyed it. Except for the very youngest amongst us, the stupid, the wayfaring idiots and those who discredit the dangers we all face, it has had a positive impact on our state's collective safety.

I cannot stay home. I'm going to bed now. I have an essential job to do once I awake from this nightmare. I'll fight it to my last breath and heartbeat, because that's just how I roll.

Monday, April 13, 2020

My Struggle to Remain Positive

Deke's Note: And now for the good, if I can remember it. Damn.

My Saturday 35 run lopes through Lake Oswego. This week's easy roll gave me reason to smile, and actually choked me up a bit. Some folks saw fit to have special signs of appreciation put up where "essential" workers could see them. As I rolled up B Street toward the transit center I saw a sign thanking pharmacy workers in front of the RiteAid.

"Yesss," I said, balling my fist in appreciation. Muttering a silent prayer of thanks, I smiled. Somebody actually took the time to professionally print and prominently display a message thanking pharmacy workers for braving COVID-19 and its invisible threat. I smiled the next two blocks to my stop. There, I fought tears of appreciation as this sign came into view while leaving the transit center.

Thanks Lake Oswego, I felt truly appreciated
when I saw this sign.
 
It has been strange as a Portland transit operator the past week, more so than usual. For the first time in my stint here, and perhaps ever, we had to have a special signup as our transit agency was forced to cut service due to low ridership during Oregon's "Stay at Home" campaign. Instead of driving the 33 during the week until June, I did it for five weeks then switched back to Line 9 for the next seven. My Saturday 35 changed as well because my former run was snatched by my buddy and classmate Chuck. It's all good. My paycheck won't be severely-affected. I'm not sure if the service cuts will continue through the summer but likely will if we are to remain a "safe state" during the remaining danger of COVID-19. 

After a few weeks driving a new run, you begin to get a feel for the regulars, where the route can find you running early or late. Traffic patterns are logged and filed into a bus operator's mind. We become familiar with the sights, sounds and feels of a run. Suddenly, hundreds of us here in Portland found ourselves changing gears mid-stream. It was weird, but we roll with the flow, y'know. 

Because I didn't want to shake things up too much, I chose my former run for the remainder of Spring 2020. Still, only five weeks later, it had changed radically from the last time I drove it. No more school so I wasn't packed to the Yellow Line with high school students on my first outbound run. Those who boarded downtown for their Eastbound homeward roll after work were no longer working. Downtown was suddenly deserted, few cars, only a trickle of passengers boarded. Since we're limited to 10-15 (I keep it to 10 if possible), my main worry was that I would have to turn people away.

Our agency decreed that if we become loaded to the maximum number allowed, we're to roll up to a stop with awaiting passengers, keep the doors closed and make a public announcement they cannot ride. Ludicrous notion, but hey, these folks have never done our job so they don't understand the immense pressure that puts on us. It's simple to them, potentially-dangerous to us. The best way to handle it is to just put "DROP OFF ONLY" on our overhead signs and just roll. People understand that. It doesn't make them happy when a half-full bus passes them by either way, but they at least get it. The first time I followed management's silly protocol, one guy got so pissed off he nearly kicked my door in. That was also the last time I'll do that, complaints be damned. My job has become three times as hard and a hundred-times more dangerous in the past month than ever before. Why invite more tension? Homey don't play that game.
Mostly, I was surprised that rarely have I seen more than nine people on my bus at one time. Only thrice have I exceeded the 10 count and had to pass subsequent intenders by. At one stop, a rough-looking character actually asked if my bus was "maxed out" before he boarded. As I waved him inside, he graciously thanked me for "doing what you do man... I don't know how or why you do it, but I appreciate you dude". 

Whenever I've been a bit nervous about how folks might act, they have usually surprised me. As the stress of driving a possibly-COVID-contaminated bus builds up within me, I have found great solace in many passengers. They're not all gracious, but that's usually the case. We find the good when it happens and learn to appreciate it in its small but heartfelt moments.

Tommy Transit taught me the Art of Acknowledgement in his book "Transit Tales", and if you're a regular reader here you'll remember how I recently began Tommy's method of greeting passengers. The trick is to find something to compliment a passenger on without being too-forward. Keeping it light, but helping uplift those I serve has greatly improved the feel of my ride. Also, I've learned to smile at people again. Well, at least until fear took over. For over a week, I was too involved with what "could happen" to me as a frontline transit worker to allow myself to simply remain... me. My new outlook took a back seat to this invisible COVID-19 bastard of an invader.

It pissed me off. After all, one of my "Thoughts of the Day" was Eleanor Roosevelt's imploring her fellow citizens during World War II that "We must do the things we think we cannot do." Was my fear making me a hypocrite, or was I going to RISE and help uplift people at the time they needed it most? I chose the latter over the former. It took great inner strength, but I knew if I were to rise above the fear within I needed to channel it toward something good, a higher purpose if you will. It's difficult sometimes, but I finally resumed my new quest as an Uplifter rather than allowing this job to drag me down. Besides, it feels good when someone comes up to tell me how much the quote helped them feel better. Especially now, of all times.

I have been fighting to earn respect my entire life. For some reason, I've had a chip of self-doubt on my shoulder which constantly needs flicking off. No matter how I excel, it's never good enough. Finally I decided celebrating my victories is not necessarily arrogant or self-aggrandizing. I still know I can do better, but every achievement is briefly worth celebrating as long as I keep my sights set higher with each.

The other night, I had a mixed bag of nine people on my bus. I didn't know how they would respond to my imploring them to have a good day in the midst of so much bad news. Still, if I could uplift at least one of them, it was worth the attempt. So I shrugged and said, "Hey, why the hell not?"

I left them with this, by John Lennon.
"When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy'. They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life."

Thanks Portland, for mostly agreeing to
"Stay at Home, Save Lives."

Sunday, April 12, 2020

My Easter Prayers for YOU All



Deke's Note: Damn! Isn't this Easter?!? Where are WE headed? 

All this week I have longed to communicate my feelings to you all. Here, where my soul comes to relieve its burden as a "frontline worker". I've heard this term thrown out in countless platitudes as what folks are supposed to express. Often, it seems forced. Although we see it written in social media, our passengers have yet to echo this to us on a grand scale.

Before now, we were largely invisible within the greedy pig of the world economy. Finally, even Congress is counting transit workers as "essential" to keep Big Money's magical coinage dropping into its coffers. Meanwhile, the working folks are the ones who suffer, offering ourselves to the golden calf. After all, it's what is expected of us.

Yet I cannot count myself equally as vital as those who care for victims of COVID-19. Healthcare workers whether in hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, cancer treatment centers, and many others are most at-risk during this dilemma. There are also thousands of US who deliver this suddenly-vital segment of working class folks to their daily toils. Only now, our collective vocations have become a possible death sentence.

It is increasingly-dreadful to read what Facebook and Instagram have to report about the deadly toll this tiny assassin has visited upon us all. New York is hardest hit because it is so densely-populated. Still, those brave transit workers keep working.

Here in Portland, Oregon we're a bit more spread out, at about 3 million folks. We can realistically "socially-distance" ourselves, and the Governor's "Stay at Home" order has helped lighten our loads. Still, your bus operators are stuck in COVID-19 proximity from six to 10-12 hours or more every day. We show up for work in great numbers, even though many have had to "self quarantine" or "isolate" ourselves by staying home after finding symptoms our bodies cannot ignore. I'm not sure how many are sick, hoping not to be, or simply too afraid to expose themselves to this horrid nightmare. Many are falling sick but not counted because they will only be tested for the virus once hospitalized. This not knowing is possibly our greatest fear.

I am angry right now. At our leadership nationwide, for not taking early and immediate steps to keep everyone safe from a worldwide pandemic that was imagined a year ago by the United States' own Federal Emergency Management Agency. I'm also furious because so many have failed to take this pandemic seriously enough to STAY AT HOME.

What, is this some sick joke to you? Every type of social media has implored people to remain in place unless absolutely necessary, but many refuse. Some kind of political game meant to convince you to vote one way or another? It is NOT, folks. This is serious, and it's about time people realized our collective fate is in peril.

For five straight days, New York City has suffered over 700 deaths. That's 3,500 in less than a week, nearly 9,000 since this all began. You might say, "Well, out of 8.5 million, that's not terrible." Sure it is, considering this threat could have been avoided. None of these people needed to die. If it were to last another 10 weeks that's 35,000. Twenty: 70,000-100,000, in one city alone. That's a helluva lotta caskets. Many of them are transit workers, who dutifully show up for work while the dumbasses in society pile onto their rides not even realizing they are infected with perhaps the most deadly virus ever seen. They in turn pass it onto the next poor soul who crowds onto a transit vehicle after a long shift as an "essential worker", jammed up next to a guy who is just rolling to 7-11 for a case of beer. These people and countless others contract the virus and pass it on to their family members.

Madness multiplied by ignorance equals stupidity.

Just imagine if Portland were to see NYC's percentages, which is entirely possible if Portlanders stop observing the "Outlive the Curve" plea to "Stay at Home". We're about a third of New York's population, so let's say we see 233 deaths a day next week from the novel-Coronavirus ("novel" meaning something so powerfully-deadly we've never seen before). That would mean over two weeks we could lose over 3,000 lives. Multiply that by the next six months or however long it may take for a vaccine to become readily-available, and we could lose another 18-20,000. Unless we remain steadfast in our desire to protect ourselves, it could easily double or triple over a few months more.

This is a worldwide health emergency like nothing we have seen since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. It could be potentially much worse. I cannot even fathom the worst possible scenario. Actually, I wrote a short story about it early on about a month ago. Now, I can't even read my words now for fear it may come true.

I'm fucking scared as a bus operator. Sorry, but that's my current reality. Many of us are, but what else can we do but our jobs? Nothing, except to hope for the best. At least I still have my optimism, but it's taking quite a beating these days.

I've never been one to give in to hysteria, but America's, trend toward mass stupidity, tends to magnify it a million-fold. We're so politically-divided we can't see the mess we're in, let alone where we're headed. People tend to trust mass-religion rather than common sense these days.

As this Easter dawns with no coming together to worship the ascension of God's son to Heaven, it should give us pause to wonder why this has happened. Perhaps it's His way of reminding us to come together as ONE, as your first responders have. YOU might stay at home and stop the infectious curve from deepening; WE cannot. Perhaps this is the time we should look inward and find that soulful voice imploring us to do as He commanded, simply to love one another. I hope you cannot deny our innate goodness. We all have it, yet many don't let it shine.

I do not agree with Revelations. Sorry, but I believe it was written to scare people into believing something other than accept God's love. I don't believe some cowpoke on a white horse will fight the Dark One. I do hope, though. I hope we learn to practice the Golden Rule. So far, I have seen enough positive things to outweigh the negative through this nightmare so far.

Have we forsaken that age-old Biblical command from Mark 12:30-31? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength... and Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

We seem to have lost this holy advice through political infighting spreading anger the past 50+ years. This strife and anger aimed at one another has driven us apart. I'm tired of it. Religion has only driven a wedge between good people, not drawn us together. Protestant vs. Catholic, Jewish vs. Muslim... it's all led to war and death. It needs to just... stop. We have yet to find the one thing which could lead us toward a peaceful life together. Once we do, our life on Earth will long endure whatever challenges biology throws at us. We can get past this, if we only work for one another, rather than against each other.

Peace, safety and health be with you all. I pray for you all this Easter. Mostly, I pray my multitudes of fellow "frontline workers" remain safe and that we see less deaths and more promise toward healthiness amongst ourselves. Be you bus or light rail operators, road or rail supervisors, road mechanics, yard maintenance, station agent or any number of other transit angels, my Easter prayers are for YOU and our families, along with the many others who endure the front lines of this pandemic. May we find the path to health and safety, that we may grow together to make the future a better one for all.

May the power of our one God lift you up and keep you and yours safe and healthy as we endure this, the greatest challenge of humankind to date. I pray it be so; I hope you join me so.

With deep and lasting love, I remain your
Deke N. Blue

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Music in Word and Deed

My last JT concert, two years ago in Portland.
I hope to see him again this year, and several hence.


I've been wandering
Early and late
From New York City to the Golden Gate
And it don't look like
I'll ever stop my wanderin...

-- James Taylor, "Wanderin' "

This song gives me great solace, a sense of uninterrupted peace no matter what turmoil ails me. Dad was a musician much like James Taylor, a classical guitarist with an easy, relaxed but highly-tuned voice. Because of him, I learned to love musicians like JT, Linda Ronstadt, Steely DanBonnie RaittRoberta Flack, CSN&Y, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman, Chicago Transit Authority (not only our transit relatives but also the band!) and many others.

My Beloved bought me a JT concert ticket as an early Father's Day gift a few months ago. He was scheduled to appear here in Portland later next month, but I know it will be postponed or even cancelled. All that matters right now is that Sweet Baby James remains healthy. He's in his early 70s now, like most of my favorite musicians from a youth long since squandered. This would be the sixth time I've seen James sing live in 40 years. Each concert has amazed me, because he grows in his music rather than changes. The joy he feels while performing is etched into his gently-aging features, a smile often alights upon them as he croons wondrous lines from the storybook of our lives.

Any artist hopes their performance elicits joy in those we communicate with. This blog is my way of sharing what I love with you. It is an intensely-personal relationship we share, whether you know me personally or have just happened upon this site. I'm no James Taylor, but I AM Patrick. Always have been: fiercely-individual, refusing to copy another but also heavily-influenced by artists who found their own path through the severe trials life thrusts upon us.



Yesterday was my Monday, but after 10 hours, it felt like Thursday. Anyone who drives a bus through CoronaHell can attest to the immense stress we're feeling right now. Sure, for the first time in decades, our management is actually trying to enact measures they think will safeguard us. Problem is, the vast majority of upper-Corporata have no idea what we actually endure "out there". Having never guided a 20-ton Beast through mean city streets, they have only "guidelines" which make sense to them. Hey, I know they're trying and I'm grateful for that. However, no amount of knee-jerk mandates will protect us from the "Factor H" hordes who have overtaken transit where the majority have entrenched themselves within their homes.

Hell, I can't truly fault management for its great ignorance. I am grateful they're trying, but still angry they have waited so long to make our health its main concern. Still, our grave danger requires not only calm faith but an enduring strength which has always propelled us no matter what dangers we face. Taking care not to be a pest, I write our GM with concerns. To his credit, he has taken the time to answer not only my emails, but those of other operators who have written him. I've never met the man and I did not support his ascension to the top tier of our management, but our voices are rarely considered when such matters are decided.

Still, I find it imperative to wish GM and his "team" strength and wisdom as he treads these vile waters, the most turbulent humankind has endured since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. We are faced with incredible losses of revenue which will likely affect Portland transit for years to come, while also fighting to keep it afloat over the next few months as we endure the worst of what we face. Professionally, I may be often at odds with our management. Personally, I pray he finds the strength to do what's right for all who make the wheels turn. That can only come if he actually listens and learns from those of us on the front lines of transit. Perhaps now and afterward, he and his "team" will finally realize that WE are the fuel, the blood, the very energy which drives Portland to work and back home again.

Mostly, my prayers are with my union brothers and sisters worldwide, our elected officers and leadership. We have seen many fall victim to this invisible assassin, and each of us fear our own demise due to its unchecked violence. Our medical experts have been working non-stop to find a cure, a vaccine strong enough to stem the tide of horror it holds upon us all. Unlike our political or business leaders, COVID-19 knows no racial, socioeconomic or religious prejudice. It will kill you or me just as easily as we step upon that slimy slug on a rainy sidewalk. For the first time in modern history, we ALL face a common assassin bent upon taking as many as it can.

Oregon's residents are overwhelmingly awesome in this. Those who have to work, do. Thousands of Portlanders brave a hidden virus to serve their fellow residents. You know who I'm referring to: healthcare, police, fire/medical responders, food and hospitality service, refuse collectors, and many others. Of course, our profession is extremely vulnerable. We are constantly exposed to the worst possible conditions, and expected to simply deal with it as an occupational hazard. Expendable at the least, vulnerable at the worst. People consider us over-paid "public servants" but could not do without us. Maybe this worldwide disaster will inspire them to support us later as we continue our contract negotiations, but likely not. We do what's expected of us, period. Anything else is but a pipe dream.

Today, I resolved to cast off the fear, the terror, the constant stress of wondering if I'll become infected with the novel-CoronaVirus. I'm tired of it all. Everywhere I look on social media, doom stares back at me. People are scared, and rightfully so. Still, my job allows me the opportunity to see the light wherever darkness prevails. For once in my career, I'm watching as people giving way to others, respecting space and showing the compassion we have lacked for the past few decades. We're all mourning someone, or fearing for beloved friends and family members enough that we're cognizant of the danger everyone now faces. If only this could extend past our current dilemma to cast a guiding light upon our future, then perhaps humankind deserves another chance. As an optimist and dreamer, I can only hope this is true.

Once again, I found myself driving a route I recently left behind. Before. This. Damned. Persistent. Plague. Having made many connections with its passengers, I longed to find a few of my previous regulars. On my last run of the night, I did.

"Fred" the silent gas station attendant was one. He always boarded with hardly any recognition of the bus driver who always greeted him with a smile. This time was no different. Perhaps he was too self-absorbed (as are we all) to notice I was back. Perhaps my shaved face would have confused him, had he cared to look at me. Still, he quietly thanked me as he (gratefully) exited via the back door as the disembodied voice over the PA often implored people to do. That was plenty. Maybe he'll glance up at me tomorrow night and his eyes brighten a moment in recognition, but it's not something I expect. It's okay. As long as I deliver him safely to his destination.

Finally, there was Joel. Early last signup, and even when I had driven the route a few months before, this man intrigued me. Elegant in appearance and manner while dressed working class, he always acknowledged my greeting. Quietly yet politely. Late in the last signup, I decided to chance breaking his outer shell in hopes of drawing him out. Bus drivers have an innate ability to sense who might respond positively to an attempt to connect. To my delight, Joel responded as I hoped.

I asked him one evening as he boarded, "By any chance, are you a reader?"

"Why yes, yes I am," Joel responded. "Why do you ask?"

"Because," I replied, "you look like one. Quiet, reserved. I just guessed. Here's my card. I like to write, and you like to read. Check it out sometime, let me know what you think."

He took my card and promised to visit this blog. Evidently, he did just as he said. A few nights later he complimented me on it and promised to read deeper. I don't know if he did, but I'll bet he's a man who is good to his word. One thing I know: he began addressing me by my given name. He didn't need reminding of it, even though I was embarrassed to risk asking his again last night. I encounter 150,000+ people each year, and wish I could remember everyone's name, but it's an art I have yet to master.

With Joel on board, I was encouraged once again to offer my Thought for the Day. It's been difficult to find the right moment lately. We're limited to 10-15 passengers at any given time. I never know if these inspirational quotes will strike a positive chord. Most times, I just "go for it" and consequences can piss against the wind.

"Believe you can, and you're halfway there." -- President Theodore Roosevelt

It felt right, given our current situation. I glanced at Joel after offering this quote. He had a half-grin on his serene face. He nodded. A few folks acknowledged my attempt to lift them up. It was more than I expected. It worked.

No matter how stressful these times are, or this job, I find it imperative to continue in this quest to do what I can to lift folks up. Tomorrow is a new day, full of more challenges. However, I look forward to the opportunities that await us... both for myself and those who ride my roll.




Monday, April 6, 2020

My Transit Prayers For Us All

We are strong... we are OREGON!

Deke's Note: As a transit operator, all I feel right now is fear. It isn't something one wants to share with the world, but it's there. The toughest among us cannot help but feel it. This is not a time for the macho 'I fear nothing', but more one of 'I fear for those I hold closest to my heart'. Whether you ride my bus or drive a transit vehicle, my wish is that you and yours remain safe through this horrific dilemma we live through. No matter your political or religious persuasion, I heartily pray for your safety as we roll through this most-perilous time... together.

Call me a sissy, I don't care. So much is given to the male's supposed "superiority" through centuries of ill-guided missives dedicated to our supposed strength, yet most of us collapse in horrible grief when our mothers leave this world.

If not for my mother, I would not be writing to you now in this time of great peril of humanity. We're faced with an invisible assassin which ignores race, sexuality, political affiliation or religious affiliation. It only knows one reality: it serves to kill any human affected. In this mass assault, we have finally become more closely-connected than ever before. In its quest to eliminate our billions, we have finally become ONE. How horrifically ironic.

We have been separated by whatever the corporate mindset has decreed. Now, we're simply humans  assailed by a common virus intent upon killing as many as it possibly can. Still, we remain so separated we assault one another for toilet paper. Such a shitty thing, eh? Truly.

Still, as a bus operator in one of America's most-loving cities, I glimpse tiny yet abundant sights of kindness which inspire me to keep on keepin' on. We have the ability to love another enough to rise above yet another challenge to the human genome. There is love aplenty amongst us, and I have seen it in grand moments while doing my job.

Young men gesturing to an old man in insistence he board even though a sudden rainstorm leaves him waiting for the next bus as we can only allow 10-15 passengers on our rides. An elderly gentleman giving up his seat for a mother and her newborn baby. Fellow passengers picking up spilled grocery items for another with napkin-protected hands. People thanking me for driving in spite of this damned virus' dangers. Motorists finally acknowledging the Yield signal upon my attempt to merge back into traffic after servicing a stop.


I pray that we once again see Portland's streets
surge with vitality and a renewed promise...
to move forward once again!



How sad that it took a worldwide health emergency for these things to happen. Sure, they occur on occasion when all is safe and well; however it seems that people have become more "human" as humanity itself is so threatened.

Yeah, we are simply "government employees" as I saw a Facebooker comment upon one of my posts on Oregon CityChitChat 2.0. As if that means we're simply willing pawns to whatever disaster befalls humanity. Still, I am human, just as FB Asshole Who Anonymously Comments is. That should allow us the simplest degree of respect. If the government is faceless and sub-human in its service to those who pay my meager salary in death's possible grasp, perhaps I also deserve an equal amount of compassion whilst providing one of humanity's most-vital of services: inexpensive, safe transportation wherever you must go.

All I can do is what I am trained to. Once that commanding wheel of 20-tons is in my grasp, all I can do is roll as years of service has taught me. With resolve to avoid any dangers which present themselves. To keep those within my 40-foot professional prison safe from harm while they ride, simultaneously avoiding mishaps with the irresponsible motorists with whom I roll amongst. That's all I do... as just any bus driver does.

We are constantly assailed. You don't read news accounts of airline pilots, ship captains or train conductors who insist their passengers adhere to their edicts regarding safety. You only read about bus or rail operators who seemingly "fuck up" when someone doesn't pay attention and ends up injured or dead. The headline always reads "Bus/Light Rail Vehicle KILLS Pedestrian" rather than "Pedestrian Fails to Heed Warning and Ends Up Injured/Dead". It's always assumed that it's our fault that someone is injured or dies due to their own inability to ensure their own safety.

Before this stupid bug caught our collective attention, our local government decided to employ a panel of local busy-bees to "investigate" transit-related mishaps, as if our own internal investigations aren't enoughTruly. We are assumed guilty, having to prove our innocence even in the most obvious cases of our supposed "victim's" inability to sense the danger of several tons of doom headed their way. It's as if personal responsibility is a thing of the past. We're held responsible for the most ridiculous of humanity's failures. I remain incredulous, given my constant vigilance for those who fail to take their own safety into account. Why not employ a board which investigates the stupidity of those injured by their lack of vigilance for their own safety?

We are simply human. Although intensely-trained and constantly vigilant, we're only able to predict the obvious, often even past the least of what our imagination may suggest. Sometimes, even our most-intense vigilance fails to catch the most ridiculous of failures. Imagine the horror my fellow operator felt a few years back when a bicyclist slipped and fell into the rear duals of a bus, only to be chopped into bloody road kill pieces. Rolling up to a bus pulling away from a service stop, the cyclist made the fatal mistake of using one hand to bang upon a moving bus in hopes of stopping it, only to slip and fall into a 20-ton killing machine. That operator was not at fault; the cyclist did not realize the danger of simply touching a moving bus, and died because it. From that fatal moment on, the bus operator has had to live with that fatality, not of their own making.

Someday, Roger and I will once again
enjoy a friendship that has lasted
nearly half a century.

We work through the worst of conditions. This pandemic is the worst any human has had to endure. Police, firefighters, EMT's, healthcare professionals and vital-retail employees along with transit operators and are the most endangered. We go to work fully-cognizant of our collective peril. Still, WE endure. WE cannot "work from home" or escape the pandemic's constant threat to our health or that of those loved ones we might infect without even knowing we do so.

Even as transit management believes it is doing all it can to keep us "safe" from this pandemic, transit workers everywhere are constantly exposed to COVID-19. Masks and gloves alone cannot keep us safe... this bug knows nothing but how to kill. It will seep into US as long as we endeavor to keep the wheels of transit rolling.

Those of us who kick this bug's ass will long remember its' horrible grasp upon our collective resolve to endure. We will mourn those lost, hopefully small in number, incredibly dear to us even so. We must resolve to angrily demand our management consider us VITAL to its "Mission and Objectives" forevermore, rather than relegating us to budgetary items left to bottom-line negotiators.

WE move transit. WE are worthy of respect over and above simple budgetary concerns. For over a century WE have been the face and nuts-and-bolts of transit, and will always remain so. WE attend the same churches as our passengers, coach their children in sports and other endeavors. WE are the human FACE of transit, not simply some number on a list. Once this nightmare is past, please remind those who "manage" US that we are much more valuable than our ATU757 members are given credit for.

When you next board a transit vehicle wearing a mask, having had to wait an additional 15-30 minutes because the previous bus already bore its' maximum number of passengers, PLEASE do not berate the operator for your "inconvenience". That operator has likely been verbally-assaulted by several passengers a few stops back. Their stress level is likely MUCH higher than yours. Not only have they endured the normal stresses of operating, but also the stones of frustration thrown at them from those previously left behind.

I hate leaving people behind, having done so during normal operations. Given today's necessity of "social distancing" we are under enormous pressure to protect not only those already on our vehicles, but also those who wait in the rain hoping we have room for them. We are not heartless assholes who enjoy your pain as we inform you there isn't room for you to board. We're simply trying to do our jobs under the most stressful of conditions.

We will get through this. It will be difficult at the least, painful most likely, horrific and depressing for the next few months. Still, I pray our fellow Portlanders will prevail through a collective strength gained over nearly two centuries of perseverance that remains our local source of pride. Throughout our history, Oregonians have been resilient. We were the first settlements of the United States' Pacific Coast push.

Our ancestors endured the unimagined rigors of westward expansion to settle a region once only known to the Natives who peacefully resided here at least a thousand years before our arrival. Our ancestors settled here, faced hardships none of us could imagine in our now-pampered existence. They paved former wagon ruts into highways so future settlers could further-enrich this wondrous land of rich soil and wondrous vistas. We robbed its former inhabitants of their lands, and owe our prosperity to those who endured long before our arrival. We owe them a promise which we have constantly failed to provide: peace and prosperity. We can only repay our debt by a collective resolve to do right by one another, and to finally fulfill that promise.

It was my dream of a better tomorrow that I moved my family here nearly two decades ago. Once upon a long while ago, I rolled a tractor-trailer through Portland in amazement and awe of its incredible beauty. "I could live here!" I exclaimed as my truck rolled through the Columbia Gorge. Passing the misty wonders of Multnomah Falls, I yearned for the chance to stop and throw some bait into that wonderful river I rolled alongside. A few years later, I brought my young family here from Arizona, and we loved and grew alongside you all.

Now, I share a worldwide concern that we simply survive this pandemic. Given my constant exposure to those of you I love and work beside, only my Irish luck and centuries-constant American grit pushes me onward. I will continue doing my job until my body forces retirement. Until that time, all I have is what I do... write my truth to this profession. If this body falls victim to the bug we all fear, then so be it. However, I'll fight that little bastard with all I have. My ancestry bids me to do no less. We have lived on this continent since the early 1700s. I fear not, for my ancestors faced much worse. My will to persevere is imbedded in my DNA. I'll do what I must. It's all we have, isn't it? We  must not fear anything but fear itself, as Franklin Roosevelt implored us nearly a century ago.

This is OUR World War; our common catastrophic event. It encompasses the entire planet, all of humanity. Throughout my journey, I promise to write. Even if this little bastard invades my body, I'll fight and write it. With God's help and hopefully His guidance, I will do my best. However, my prayers remain with my family and also with YOU and your loved ones. May we finally find that inner strength to come together rather than constantly fighting amongst ourselves. If we fail, then kiss humanity's ass goodbye.

In the past week, I have seen many signs of Oregon's strength and commitment to our fellow citizens. A few days ago, we sent 100+ ventilators to New York, our country's most-densely populated cities and therefore virally the most hard-hit. Because we have been practicing social distancing for weeks now, our infection rate has lagged below national norms. In a gesture of goodwill, we give freely to our fellow citizens across this beloved continent in absence of our own government's response to collective agony. If our federal government cannot help its own, then it becomes the will of its people to rise above political ridiculousness to save itself. It's truly sad to witness the federal government's failure to take decisive steps to safeguard its own citizens in favor of an economy that cannot survive if we all die.

I pray, with all I have ever before, to see you on the "other side" of this. Peace, safety and health be with you all. May this Easter have special meaning for everyone, Christian or otherwise, as we collectively pray for humanity's renewal.

My enduring dream is that my Beloved
and I return to Edinburgh and
all of Scotland's long-lasting beauty.

With my deepest love and hopes for your enduring lives, I remain your
Deke N. Blue

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 ...