Translate

Deacon Who?

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Vacation!

Empty streets in Downtown Portland are surely
to roll into the annals of history as
the fear lifts. I hope to never see them
like this again in our lifetime.

Deke's Note: I'm not sure which feels better: my first earned vacation as a bus operator after over a year of service, or this one after nearly eight years.


As the pandemic began, I forced myself into self-quarantine because my son had been exposed to a positive carrier of the virus. It was a new and daunting time for us all. I didn't know enough about it, but what I did know scared the hell out of me. We didn't know if our son would test positive, having already infected us both. Luckily for us, he's very studious and cognizant of the dangers it posed. I've never liked searching news stories.

Instead, I was afraid. Not for myself, but for my loved ones, co-workers and passengers. So, I stayed home for two weeks and ended up 31 hours short on my next paycheck. Given it was early in the pandemic, I'm not sure my voluntary self-quarantine would be covered. Evidently, it was not. No biggie, our stimulus checks came the same day as my short paycheck. We paid our bills and I was soon back at work. It was only then the real worries actually began.

For eight weeks I have rolled the wheels of transit. Each week, there has been a new edict passed down from management as to how we are supposed to deal with transit life during the Governor's Stay at Home Order. The fare boxes were covered over pretty much right away, as cash has the potential of carrying all sorts of little buggers, especially this one which could ultimately kill us and those who count the cash after each service day. Understandable. However, it gave the con artists more of a license to steal. And that they have, ever since we stopped accepting cash for fare.

As the numbers grew nationwide, Oregon's remained relatively low. Even as our neighbors to the north in Washington saw their stats soar like the eagles on Whidbey Island and California dealt with frightening numbers as well. New York City began reporting a new transit worker's death each day. Portland transit workers kept showing up for work, even though we too worried about what our transit management's weak handle on controlling passenger behavior deteriorated even further than it has the past decade.

When you deal with vast swaths of the public, you are vulnerable to whatever virus or bacterium which slithers past the front doors, remains on your bus for any length of time, and remains onboard the remainder of your shift. I had heard, before the pandemic, that my buddy Robert at bustropical.org works for an agency that regularly cleans its vehicles mid-shift and wondered why our transit management had failed to recognize this.

Then, I remembered that our General Manager didn't even know that a Jacksonville, Florida operator had been murdered in-the-seat the same year he was hired here. Throat slit with a knife by a crazy motherfucker. No wonder, I grimly realized, if he didn't even know about the dangers operators and other transit workers face on the job in other places why would he even be qualified to consider the dangers we face here? That's what happens when a lethargic Bored (sic on purpose) of Directors is too lazy (or instructed "from above") to set realistic guidelines when searching for the ONE who could truly turn its once-top notch agency around. 

Yeah, I've covered all that before. You want a responsibly-administered transit district? Hire someone who has driven a freakin' bus before. Otherwise, you're stuck with another corporate hack who doesn't appreciate the "lugnuts of transit" (thanks, and RIP Thomas Dunn).

The last week before a vacation is one in which an operator must be hyper-vigilant. We cannot look too forward to our looming weeklong freedom, or some danger might bite us on the wrong cheek, leaving someone else bloody or worse. All week I focused on the task at hand: safely delivering my passengers to their destinations. Most wore masks, and only a handful refused to wear a face mask. Not in the mood to argue, I just pushed the required message into my screen and rolled on. My Beloved's homemade mask rubber-banded to my raw-rubbed ears kept my passengers safe from whatever contaminated micro-particles I may have shared with them. I could not be bothered by worry; to participate in fear only breeds an unhealthy hysteria which further adds to the stress already unwittingly shoved onto my shoulders. We're just numbers, ya know. We're expected to do our jobs with ever-changing edicts thrust upon us. All the while, we're supposed to feel "appreciated" by shallow words and backroom deals which further weaken our status as fearless public servants.

Finally, my Friday night deadhead back to the garage beckoned. I felt slightly elated, but having driven this 20-ton beast for nearly eight years and 250,000 miles now, nothing is certain. Even when you stop-and-lock in the yard, you still have the responsibility of parking correctly. Sometimes, the spotter has no choice but to have you place your vehicle at the back of a track. If your rear door-side encroaches on the adjacent track, you could be at fault if another vehicle impacts yours. When faced with this, I'm diligent in making sure my bus is correctly parked even if it means I have to back it up and re-position before logging off.

As I set the brake, threw the tranny into Nite-Nite Neutral and shut the Beast down, only then did I sigh in relief. In years prior, I would take this moment to wolf-howl into the darkened yard that it was "VACATION, BABY!" This time, I just sighed. My shoulders slumped. The exhaustion of COVID-19 weeks of stress escaped into the now-fresh air I breathed when the front door opened for the final time. Sitting there an extra few moments, I wearily contemplated my new-found freedom. It's a shallow victory, given I'll be back there again before I know it. Even so, I took those extra seconds to revel in the fact that I had once again made it back safely. Nine days of freedom. Two regular days off, plus five days of vacation, then two more RDO's. I was finally free.

When I awoke today, I frantically noticed the time was much later than I needed to reach my relief point. Then, reality blissfully reminded me I didn't need to get out of bed. So I slept another two hours. When I awoke, the smile on my face as my head sank back into the pillow was exhilarating. Someone else was already there, my Line Trainer Hubbard, to do that dastardly Line 9 in my absence. I hope it went well for him, and continues throughout the week. Other than that, I'll try not to even think about it for several more days.

Now, I just have to remember to wear a mask in public. I don't know that I'm COVID-free because those who actively deal with the masses are still not regularly-tested in government's fear "the numbers will spike" if an accurate picture of this calamity is painted. It's imperative that I continue washing my hands for 20-30 seconds every 90 minutes to keep up the regimen that my job requires. My health and safety, along with that of my loved ones demands vigilance in this regard. Other than that, I'll just kick back. A few chores a day, then peace. And writing. My fingers on a keyboard constitute my art. 

A sweet passenger gave me this gift
when I signed her copy of
JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane.
It now hangs on my lamp, deskside
as I write. Thanks, Anna.
My book beckons. I have six days left before my butt sits in that seat again. I'll write until sleep beckons. Until then, don't expect another word from the Deke. Mic drop, I'm done for now.

Safety and love to you all. May you and yours escape this bastardly bug. Keep up the great work, stay away from the dangers of life "as normal" in today-speak.

Thank you as always for reading.

Deke

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

My Head Bowed on Memorial Day

The 11-year-old me with my only hero. Thanks, Dad.

Grievances. We have many. We are still blessed.

For now, we're just trying to live through a pandemic, doing a job which thrusts us into the thick of a horrific pandemic. Yeah, Oregon has been lucky. Very few new cases are being reported, with just under 4,000 statewide. Lucky? I'd like to think it's a concerted effort to reduce the spread via social distancing and the two-month-long shutdown which is responsible. Now, we're seeing our state re-open this week. While it's a bit daunting, we're taking great risk to serve as transit operators. I get it. Our economy is in shambles, and many have been out of work this whole time. Bills need to be paid, and our citizens yearn to return to "life as normal".

What will be the "new normal"? I don't really know, but I'm sure it won't ever be the same again as long as COVID-19 reminds us of its potential devastation. What good is any "economy" if its contributors all die? Surely, this is the thing of scary movies. Still, I'm sure it reverberates in the thoughts and souls of all mortal souls. What if God, or whatever supernatural being watches over us, is too pissed off at us to allow "life as normal" to continue? Perhaps our collective selfishness dictates Earth needs a cleansing of humanity to continue as the most beautiful marble in the solar system. I don't know, do you?

We're too eager to blame others for everything, while we continue fighting over things that were once controlled by a healthy attitude of cohesiveness and compromise. Now, we're at each others' throats. Compromise? It's either for or against. There seems to be no middle. But hey, I'm still there. Raised by parents wholly-dedicated their entire lives by one party, I branched away from their beliefs as I grew to find my own. Still, we had many productive discussions where we respected another's disagreement and found ways to understand each other. My parents encouraged me to study American history and make my own conclusions. They didn't always agree with what I believed, but they respected me. Love was the constant.

The word "hate" was never mentioned. Now, that four-letter word is thrown about with abandon, without the slightest understanding of how damaging it is to whomever believes in it. Wars have been fought to contain its rise, and compromise has always been there to end its' nasty reign. Now, I fear for my beloved country. All because we cannot seem to move past anger and division to find, once again, what once made this nation "great".

To wear a mask, or not? False bravado won't keep you from contracting this horrid disease. I've read what it does to the body, and it's not the way anyone would choose to die. Nor could I ever wish it upon anyone, even those with whom I politically disagree with. If some foreign invader came to our shores with the intent of overtaking our 244-year-old sovereignty, we would fight shoulder-to-shoulder to preserve our right to argue politics with one another, no matter our political affiliation. We would all come together to defend our home country, that which we all love. The more the strife among us continues however, the greater fear I have because we have lost our ability to reason. It's not dignified to our forebears who fought so valiantly to preserve our republic's freedoms, to tear each other apart for how we believe this country should move forward.

This Memorial Day, I thought of my many generations of ancestors who have fought in virtually every war since we reached these shores in the early 1700s. Many great-greats died in battles for "freedom" which devolved into economic battles fought by the poor to keep the rich healthy and wealthy. My father was a World War II veteran; my brother and his son both served honorably in the Army; my uncle (who just turned 95 last week) was in a unit which became what is now the Navy SEALS during the last Great War. I am humbled by their service, and also by those I grew up with especially Walt Rodriguez, Jim Bussey and his departed brother Charlie (RIP), Timothy Rodriguez, Alan Rieffer, and countless others I respect for their sacrifice and devotion to our country. While some of these folks disagree with my views, they still treat me with respect even though I feel their collective shudder as they consider my beliefs. It's this honor they bestow upon me I truly admire, being one of many their service has protected. One of my sons' best friends is now a Marine, and I worry and pray for him every day, as I have ever since he was a wee lad.

I stand and salute the flag, place my hand over my heart and remove my hat whenever the National Anthem is played. My patriotism is not to be questioned, for I am truly a proud American. Nobody can take that away from me. My parents taught me to be honorable, and I hope my actions demonstrate that.

Our veterans liberated Europe and defeated Japan in 1945. We have stood for freedom across the globe. Yeah, we've made political mistakes on occasion. But our military has done everything, and more, it has been asked.

All that said, I fear for our country as it is now. We need to remember what it is to be citizens of the UNITED States of America. We should be more humble, not arrogant. We're a small citizenry of a world containing nearly eight billion people. Our population of 230 million is one billion less than China, which owns our national debt. Our numbers are nearly that much less than India's. Still, we're one of the world's superpowers. What does that mean, other than we could all die should someone trigger the massive nuclear arsenal the world possesses? We're too wrapped up in "power for power's sake" that we forget we could all be dead in the flash of a mushroom cloud. What then, would our divisiveness grant us? A common, fiery grave, and that's all.

I remember the drills of the 1960s, where we huddled under our wobbly wooden desks. Even as a child, I knew a nuclear bomb would devastate anywhere it detonated. It was silly, but we did as our teachers instructed. Given the ludicrous notion that we could live through a nuclear winter or even the blast, my greatest fear today is that some madman with an automatic weapon could wreak havoc upon my family or friends with equal horror in some public place. In a muzzle flash, I could be gone, or lose someone I cherish.

Yeah, this post is a downer. Even so, ever the optimist, I'm praying for the best. I do hope we learn to once again argue for the common good, rather than to see one side or the other in perpetual power over the least of us. This country began with the premise that we are all created equal (yes, women should be included here, hopefully in a Constitutional Amendment).

"... in order to form a more perfect union (better than others is what they originally wished), establish justice (for ALL, not just the entitled few), ensure domestic tranquility (meaning we all have what we need plus the promise of a comfortable retirement for our hard work), provide for the common defense (THANK YOU Military!), promote the general welfare (protection from pandemics would surely count here), and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity (meaning generations long after we're gone), do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

On this Memorial Day 2020, may God Bless our country's sacrificial warriors. Today, the USA honors its fallen soldiers and others who fought for not only our country, but that we may ALL live to see a world in peace and harmony with one another.

Bless you all, as well, even though you and I may disagree on the path forward. I honor our lost souls and pray those who remain learn to work together once more. Peace be with you all.

In Memoriam and great respect, I am
Deke N. Blue


Sunday, May 24, 2020

It's Wet Here, Raining Even Harder





Deke's Note: Today marks the beginning of a weeklong May-StayCation for the road-weary Deke. There have been so many changes in policy lately my head is truly spinning. All has been meant to keep COVID-19 cases low as a result of riding transit. However, the spin seems more intent on protecting everyone BUT the operator. And yeah, I'm pissed. Again.

Dear GM,

Thanks for requiring and providing us with face masks and hand sanitizer, limiting passenger loads and adding public service announcements on our vehicles. Other than that, do you even know what dangers we face? No. You have never done our job. You're hopelessly ignorant of our perils, but I give you a B- for effort. I asked you a while back to do what you recently did, so I am grateful. To a point. Problem is, you're reactive rather than proactive. Leadership requires you to think ahead and takes steps to protect those whose safety you're entrusted with. Instead, you gingerly test the waters and then act. Unfortunately, it's a bit too little too late for us.

To only have one operator in Portland test positive is encouraging. However, we should ALL be tested, because regardless of the current political trend to avoid testing many for fear "the numbers could rise", WE are afraid many of us could have COVID-19 and not even know it. I am one of those. If WE mattered one damn bit, you would insist we ALL be tested, before anyone takes control of a transit vehicle. Operators, Supervisors, Road Mechanics and everyone in Operations should be immediately tested, every week. Those who test positive should be put into immediate quarantine, with FULL pay. You just received nearly $200 million from the federal government, and we expect it to cover ALL costs of this pandemic, not just to your beloved Capital Projects.

Portland eagerly awaits to be awakened again.
What good is a Purple Line to Tigard when few want it, the cost increases every day, while your frontline workers brave the viral public? You put out directives which threaten us with punishment if we deny boarding to any pseudo-badass who refuses to wear a mask. God, I wish this transit agency would grow some you-know-whats and enforce ever-weakening transit code, for once. It sure would be nice to see more "forever exclusions" handed out to those who terrorize transit every day we're in service. But no. The "customer", no matter their misbehavior, come first. We're an afterthought, a budgetary line item you hope to replace with Artificial Intelligence someday. Fuck you very much for that bit of human reality we're not accepting of.

Fare is required, but if you don't have it, don't worry because we'd rather suspend that nasty operator than enforce our policy. Face masks are required, but if you choose not to wear one, it's okay... Mommy Transit will feed and pamper you and that Operator has no business making you get off their vehicle. Your numerous bags of cans and bottles are leaking, but you can board and fear not the person in the Operator's seat... we'll discipline them if they leave you behind. No matter if your bags could contain the saliva containing COVID-19 which can hover for over a week if it dribbles onto the floor (or sometimes even a seat). Operators are there because we put them there, and they are to shut the fuck up and JUST DRIVE. There there, poor little pampered "customers", we're there for you. Even if you don't pay fare, we will discipline that bad old driver for having the audacity to tell you what to do even though he/she We'll take care of that uber-stressed, hyper-disciplined Operator if you'll just call and complain. Even if you lie, it's okay. We're there for you. If we can drive to the end of the line without calling Dispatch in despair, that's all we can hope for.

When will you step up and BE THERE FOR US?!? Grow a set! ENFORCE THE TIME-HONORED RULES OF TRANSIT AND STOP BEING SO WIMPY!

When will you finally realize you're dealing with over 1,500 transit operators who have constantly stepped up no matter the weather event or catastrophe, just to do our job? We're human, and we do the work of transit for our fellow Portlanders. You sign our paychecks, lord over us with your numerous (often ridiculous) edicts, the public face of transit. We do more than we're paid to do, but even one misstep even though however misconstrued, we're called on the carpet. Our passengers however are given the green light to complain without fear of consequence: that is OURS to bear, alone.

I know your job is fraught with many concerns and concerns from all directions. But for once, could you stop and think about US? Yeah, hello. It's me, Mr. Bus Operator who toils alongside Ms. Operator (the ladies who are more apt to become victim of Joe Badass's misogynistic disgusting behavior). While you sit up in that semi-ivory tower on Harrison Street, WE are rolling the mean streets of transit. Your homey-sounding emails bemoaning the hassles of working remotely ring false to each of us who sacrifice our health to the perils of rolling wheels and keeping them so.

Get your cute face on TV and insist people show respect. Not only to US, but also to their fellow Portlanders. This is a worldwide PANDEMIC, for crying out loud! It's time for transit to flex its muscle, enforce nearly a century of transit realities, and stop bullying US, who sacrifice our health for the public's trip to the grocery store or to ignore the Governor's Stay-At-Home Order to hang with homeys at the local skate park.

It's no longer bordering on insanity; it has far surpassed what a normal human should be expected to endure. WE should have the final say as to who rides our vehicles, not Corporata's wimpy "let's try to please everyone and to hell with the Operator" mantra. To even consider suspending an Operator for making an en-route decision as to who should be allowed to ride, is utter foolishness. Instead, it's outrageously disrespectful to the Captain o'Ship. I'm expected to pass up a regular who always has fare in hand while a five-bagged bottle-hustler who dares say after six weeks of riding free, "What, you don't accept cash?" gets preference? Fuck that. I have regulars who pay fare. We all do. They are doing essential work this past 6-8 weeks. Joe Bottle Dude is a con and is given a free ride to the next Bottle Drop while Alex the Nurse has to sit in the rain another 15 minutes until the next bus arrives? Leave it to US to make the determination of who rides and who waits.

STOP PANDERING TO THOSE WHO ENDANGER US THE MOST WHILE REFUSING TO EVEN ATTEMPT PAYING FARE!

"I tried to buy a Hop Pass," one slacker told me upon boarding one late night. "They wouldn't let me."

What the fuck? Was your money counterfeit or what? Does a 7-11 have rules as to who can pay them to buy a Hop Pass? No. That was the most lame excuse I had heard in the eight weeks we have endured this pandemical nightmare. It didn't even begin to pass the bullshit test. He gave me the same look as my dog did when she looked guilty for having tipped over the trash can for that tasty morsel of last night's steak bone. It was just as easily dismissed.

All I could do was shrug. I knew two regulars awaited me a few stops ahead, and I already had 12 aboard. Still, I pulled into their stop and welcomed them aboard. The policy says 10-15, and I refuse at that time of night to let a few numbers strand those who steadfastly pay their fare even when 50% of those aboard have not paid. Our Fare Inspectors are perhaps not allowed on buses mid-route. If they were, tons of slackers would be sorry they hadn't walked into a Fred Meyers, Safeway, 7-11, Plaid Pantry or WalMart to purchase valid fare.

Yeah, I know many people are broke right now. I recognize those who are honestly tapped out due to the economic crash from the con artists who think they have the game down. It angers me when someone boards at a transit hub without fare. They have cash in hand, stare at the farebox and shrug. "You don't take cash?"

"No," I reply. "We haven't taken cash since Lincoln was president."

This usually causes a pause. "What?"

"There's a fare station just over there at the MAX platform," I told one faker. "Take your wad of cash over there and buy a HOP pass."

"But... I'll miss this bus!" the slacker says.

"Yep," I reply with a smile behind my mask, "but at least you will have paid for that ride."

Folks, it's hard for everyone right now. But transit operators are wise to every game in town. We live it countless times a shift. You're no smarter than our experience. We cannot be conned. A bus operator knows there are hard-working stiffs waiting for us to roll their way. We get to know those who ride our specific line and train. The honest ones, they speak in real time. In words we understand and have lived ourselves once upon a time. Don't try to bullshit me, it doesn't work. It only pisses me off. I'd rather you honestly say "I'm currently unemployed because of the virus, and I would truly appreciate a ride." Honesty goes a long way with me. Bullshit leaves you waiting for the next bus, perhaps a newbie who is afraid of Big Bad Management waiting to discipline another Operator braving a miniscule COVID-19 micro-particle fake complaint.

I don't play your game, nor do I agree with Corporata's handling of this pandemic. Oh yeah, I appreciate its too-late reactionary steps, which they will later laud as a wonderful response to the 2020 Pandemic in their next "pat ourselves on the back" landmark book. Still, it will fail to celebrate the ultimate sacrifice Operators exhibit each day we expose ourselves to micro-particles which we breathe in every moment we're in our vehicles.

We're lucky in Portland. One operator has tested positive to date, and he recovered. So far. Still, the vast majority of us are untested, wondering, worrying, fretting whether we might be positive yet un-symptomatic. The first wave is nearly done, but this coming fall beckons. As Portland and the rest of the world gingerly re-opens for summer, the potential for a resurgence of positive test results beckons. Meanwhile, your trusty transit operator awakens each day, dons the uniform and prepares for what could be the first day of the last week of our lives.

Mr. GM, given your penchant for working remotely, how would you feel in my (newly-adopted ridiculous uniform policy-directed) shoes? Your sunshiny emails might take on a bit more dark undertone such as my frontline reality-laced blog posts have. Forgive my harshness, but I'm bone-weary having driven a bus through the worst (so far) of the 2020 Pandemic. Yeah, I'm pretty jaded. Can you blame me? Over 150 of our brothers and sisters in New York lost, many others worldwide, and the lives keep falling like leaves on a dying tree. Are we so insignificant that you cannot even give honor to transit workers lost?

Our GM didn't even know the name Thomas Dunn shortly after he was unanimously confirmed by the Bored (sic on purpose) of Directors. This is the name of an operator whose throat was slashed by a freaky passenger who blessed the driver (twice) before killing him. Mr. Dunn, bleeding out via is slashed carotid artery, managed to pull his bus safely to a stop, securing it just before he died in his seat. Given his ignorance of this, am I supposed to rally behind our General Manager? He hadn't even read the State Auditor's Report on our transit system when the Bored (sic on purpose) decided he was the perfect fit to become our General Manager. Disgraceful, to say the least. Now, we're stuck with a guy (fired from the Canadian position he held) who reacts weeks too late to make a credible difference in the lives he's charged with protecting.

Yeah, I'd LOVE to be the GM right now. If I were, transit would be 99% more safe, effective and responsive to what Portland needs it to be, from both the operator's perspective and the passengers as well. Right now, it's anybody's guess as to what will happen. If I were a betting man though, I'd lay a wager on transit screwing the union workers when contract negotiations resume. They have a VERY short memory when it comes to what WE do for Portland. That's just management's way of saying "we appreciate you", but fuck off.

Thanks, Mr. GM. Keep up the self-imagined good work. Just try to get ahead of the game instead of doing what you're told. Leadership dictates you anticipate the needs of the many rather than waiting to react to any given set of circumstances. We're waiting for you to shine, but it's pretty dark out here. Get ahead of the game, and maybe the sun will shine. For now, the rain continues to fall upon us. It's only getting wetter.

Meanwhile, I'll sit back and relax. I've earned my vacation, and I will gladly accept my pay for doing what I want for a change. My Beloved has a light list of Honey Do's, and my book needs writing. If you don't hear from me much this week, it's because I'm busy being Patrick rather than Deke. One needs the other more than than the other needs the imagined self. I'm trying to become ONE rather than two. Bear with me. For seven years I've hidden behind this pseudonym. Now that I'm "out" the fight within is less violent. The storm is calming, the writer's muse is being heard. Someday, I'll leave transit blogging to those who are up and coming. Until then, I'll just write what I must, when it seems most prudent.

Safe travels to you all. Don't forget to bless those who gave their lives that we may remain FREE Americans on this Memorial Day Weekend. Peace, safety and health be with you all.

db




Monday, May 18, 2020

I Salute Rail Ops Everywhere!

FromTheDriverSide is meant for ALL transit operators,
not just us bus jockeys. Praise, love and respect
for our brothers and sisters at rail.

Deke's Note: What is this ill-conceived disconnect between rail and bus operators? In order to become a rail operator, you need to be a bus operator. Do rail ops forget where they began, and then form a superior attitude? Not from what I've heard on a grand scale. It need not be so, if it is true. We're all here to do one job: to safely transport those who ride our vehicles. Period. This post is dedicated to my fellows who brave the rails.

Whenever I see a rail op, be they light rail or streetcar, I always wave at them. I respect their additional training and years of service at the controls of their vehicle. You are someone who has endured what I choose not to endure, yet strived even harder to become what you are: rail operators. Your job entails even more safety protocols and concerns than mine, and my wave to you is a sign of respect. It's a nod to that age-old admonishment all rail operators face: "It's not if you kill someone, but when."

I do not possess the inner strength to even consider that horrid hypothetical, let alone continue operating a bus with it hanging over my soul. My hat, if it weren't settled into my dash cradling the water bottle which keeps me hydrated, would be tipped to you all. Your job entails even more diligence than mine, even though I constantly deal with motorists who refuse to adhere to the most basic safety laws of the road.

Many of my classmates went to rail, including Jeff, Mustafa, Tre, Abdi and Kevin. They have asked me why I won't follow their career footsteps. Honestly, I'm nowhere near as brave as they are. Having driven (illegally for half-a-decade of that) for almost 50 years now, with a wheel and brakes at my command, I could not fathom the exponentially-horrendous responsibility rail ops assume when they take controls of a light rail vehicle. It boggles my mind when I see cars turning, people dashing, or any other human obstacles taking chances in front of a LRT which vastly-outweighs my humble six-wheeled bus. I have the greatest respect for rail operators, because I know they have only their wits to save people from self-perpetuated tragedy.

In my tenure as a blogger, I apologize for not doing a ride-along with my brothers and sisters who so bravely roll the rails. It would surely open my eyes to the dangers they constantly avoid. Whenever a tragedy occurs with a light rail vehicle, the operator is the first to be accused. That's grossly unfair, considering the numerous near-misses I see my talented brothers and sisters avoid on a daily basis. Once their professionalism ultimately exonerates them, it is not reported in the media. All you hear about is how an operator "injured" or even worse, "killed" someone. No mention is made of the victim's fault in their demise, yet the onus is always placed on the operator. Shame on our transit agency and the local media for not publicly exonerating the innocent and horribly-affected operator for doing all possible to avoid the disaster.

A large vehicle, whether it be a bus or a train, is difficult to predict the speed of. It's documented fact that the average motorist is unable to accurately determine the speed of an oncoming train, bus, or tractor-trailer rig. A car's speed is easier to predict, even though motorists who drive them are likely distracted to the point of not paying close enough attention to acknowledge the traffic light ahead is about to change to yellow, then red. Imagine being a rail op, who likely approaches any intersection with trained trepidation, who encounters someone who ignores the signals placed for their protection. Any collision with a vehicle pushing 100 tons is impending disaster, likely life-threatening. If a collision happens, the onus is automatically placed upon the rail operator. That operator has passengers aboard, who he/she is concerned with impacting if they initiate an emergency stop at 40mph or more. They are highly-trained, and extremely-aware of the circumstances resulting from contact with their vehicles.

Now consider the human impact of an operator whose light rail vehicle impacts an irresponsible motorist. All the media reports is "Light Rail Train Kills Motorist". The article will likely put the blame on the operator, even though facts exonerate the operator. It takes a lot of skill, folks, to stop a multi-ton vehicle in time to avoid impacting a law-breaking, impatient motorist without the slightest inclination their actions put themselves in danger. The operator must go forward with the realization that their impact resulted in the loss of life or involved serious injury. It's 9.9/10 times not their fault, yet the public perceives it so. Grossly unfair, given the professionalism of every light rail operator who bravely endures such deadly encounters.

When the operator is exonerated from any wrongdoing, the media is silent. Usually, a lawsuit against our transit agency, sometimes including the operator, is filed in municipal court. Each facet of the operator's career is closely-scrutinized. Any perceived "fault" is brought to light, even when the operator did everything they're trained to do. The public's perception is that our rail brothers and sisters "need more training" or "failed to sound the high-horn too late". It's disgusting, but today's society is loathe to accept its own fault when tragedy occurs. It's easier to blame a public employee with years of training and experience, as if that means nothing. That's what personal liability attorneys are for: to sue someone when your own lack of responsibility fails to protect you from your faults.


Writing this blog has brought me closer to not only my fellow bus operators, but many rail ops as well. From all over the world. You see, a rail operator cannot usually become one unless they've done my job driving a bus. This gives them a basic understanding of transit. It prepares them to accept anything that presents immediate danger. Once they apply to become a rail operator they undergo further, more intense, rail training. Again, they endure months of probation while they learn the rules of rail, over and above their previously-strenuous bus training. They're "newbies" all over again, and struggle to rise up the ranks of seniority they have already endured as bus operators. It's not easy, and it's not for everyone. Many drop out voluntarily, choosing again to take their chances behind the wheel of a bus.

Yes, I have great respect and admiration for my brothers and sisters at rail. Having spoken at length to many rail operators, I have learned the pratfalls they face and this gives me an even greater respect for what they do. So when you rail ops see me driving a bus as
y  we cross paths, not only will you see my wave of respect and brotherhood, but you'll note my strict adherence to policies regarding our passing. I truly respect you, and I hope you remember what it's like to be me.

I have seen hundreds of interactions between rail operators and the ignorant public, where many lives have been saved due to the diligent safety protocols employed by my rail brothers and sisters. There have been several times where I've seen a rail operator masterfully miss killing some cellphone-entranced dolt, a confused or illiterate motorist, or an errant bicyclist. Each time, I have enthusiastically waved, honked at and enthusiastically-saluted your professionalism. My hat is truly off to you wonderful people whom I proud to call my brothers and sisters.

So yeah, rail ops, I write this blog for YOU as well. Just ask any rail op who reads this blog. You might note that my words are true for all of us. Not just bus, rail, mechanics or supes. We're all a vital cog in the wheel of transit, MUCH more than the management which rides roughshod upon us without logical reason. My wave, smile, and nod is that of ultimate respect when I cross paths with you. So are my words here. Please know that even though our jobs may differ, I feel great love and respect for you all. Hopefully from here onward, this post nails that for you.

I have seen the devastation which results from any operator being assaulted. Whichever division it strikes is a hit we all endure, one we all feel. Rail ops and supes are equally as vulnerable as I am. I have been assaulted and know the pain associated with it. It is time we recognize our collective vulnerability and stop feeling so apart from one another. Wave back, willya?

Peace, love and safety to my brothers and sisters who brave the rails I choose not to. Thanks for doing what you do, and for being the ultimate professionals you are.

With great respect, I am yours as well...
Deke N. Blue




Sunday, May 17, 2020

Dear General Manager: LISTEN to US

Photo courtesy of Aidan Austin, transit enthusiast.

Deke's Note: Instead of replying to His Majesty, I decided to do so here. My last email to our GM asked if his decision to allow DOUBLE the passenger load, even as our service area remains closed to business due to continued elevated numbers of COVID-19 cases, was tantamount to killing us all. Since he hasn't replied, I decided to elevate the conversation to my worldwide audience. I hope this post strikes a chord within you, enough that you respond with comments detailing your own feelings to our collective managements' disassociation with transit worker reality.

Doug,

I apologize. My last email to you was written after four 10-hour days on Line 9, where at least 40% of all passengers do not pay fare. My job has me infinitely more-stressed than usual, prompting me to ask if you want to kill us all by allowing 19-24 passengers next week instead of a more-sane half that for the past several weeks.

I have diligently pressed "Fare Evasion" each time some slacker slithers onto my ride, in hopes you send Fare Inspectors back to their duties ensuring our passengers pony up the mere $2.50 for the privilege of enjoying my years of training and professionalism.

My job has entailed more than the usual stress during this pandemic. People are on edge. They think it’s suitable to take out their frustrations on transit workers. The public’s pandemic frustration is taking its toll… on US. Some operators have been spit upon by those who claim to be infected by this deadly virus which has virtually stopped all commerce on the planet. They harass, intimidate, and threaten us as we do the vital job of transporting them wherever they choose to go.

Constantly at risk, knowing face masks will not protect me if this lethal bug makes its way into my body, involves an enormous leap of faith every time I take the wheel of a bus. I did not sign up for this job to die. Instead, I did so because I enjoy serving people, love to drive, and feel transit operators are the cogs of any city's economic wheel. It’s a prideworthy endeavor, and I put my every ounce of effort and skill into every moment I’m in uniform.

It has become a ridiculous constant where someone will board, looking disheveled and poor, yet pull a wad of cash out as if they're about to purchase fare. Then, they feign ignorance.

"You don't take cash?" they'll ask. They think I'm easily conned, as if I'm not aware they rode transit to where they're now catching a ride back from where they originated. Cash certainly wasn’t accepted on the bus a few hours prior, and nothing has changed since their originating, non-essential ride.

I sigh, having heard this several times a day for the past six weeks. "We haven't taken cash for two months now. Cash is dirty, possibly contaminated. Please buy a HOP Pass. You can purchase them at...  (any number of retail outlets)."

At this, they usually glance at the bills in their hand and hastily shove it back into their pocket. Then, they shrug and walk past me to find a seat.

This behavior is not only disrespectful to transit, but to me. I work very hard to provide a very smooth, safe ride. When someone cons me, I consider it insulting.

Now, with Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties still shut down, you sent an email outlining your plan to allow DOUBLE the number of passengers on our buses. Not only is this premature, but it's disingenuous. I feel cheated, that my sacrifice of serving on the front line of transit is of no value to you. Am I simply expendable, like the nearly 200 New York transit workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19?

Early in your tenure as General Manager, a co-worker and brother of mine asked you about Thomas Dunn. You had no idea who he was. “I’m from Candada, you know,” was his reply. I was stunned to hear this. Eh? This story about your lack of knowledge of the transit world was truly disheartening to us all. When one of us is murdered, we ALL suffer the grief, no matter where it happens. You think like a CEO, rather than the leader of 2,000+ blue collar workers one paycheck from Tent City. This is exactly why ATU 757 was heartily against you being hired as our GM. You have no idea what it’s like to do the nuts-and-bolts jobs of transit.

When there's a snowstorm, those who make the city work show up. We do our jobs under the worst possible conditions, admirably as always. Sure, there are the expected sound bites from you as to how you "appreciate" our efforts. These are quickly forgotten as your subordinates bash us a few weeks later during contract negotiations. Always taking away, diminishing our invaluable contributions while feigning to "appreciate" our contribution to Portland's vibrant economy. 

Corporate America has no place in transit. Your management team, like your predecessor's, seems more intent on disciplining us for the silliest or false accusations, rather than holding us up to the public for the valued employees we are. Your Mission One should be supporting those who make your job possible: those who get the job done on the streets of Portland. Instead, it seems management's Number One Directive is The Next Great MAX Line Nobody But Government Cares About. You should be concentrating funds toward improving facilities for frontline employees, bolstering our benefits to ensure a secure retirement for us, and working with the cities we serve to improve the conditions under which we operate. Just give us a place to pee, then eat, in peace for the few minutes your punishing schedules allow. Is that too much to ask? Evidently.

We do not have a Golden Nest Egg awaiting US, even though our efforts ensure little more than a broken body and spirit after 10 (usually more) years of dedication to our profession. Each contract negotiation has shown management's callous disregard for our continued well-being. One day a year, under the guise of Transit Worker Appreciation Day, in which over half the workforce is ignored as you retreat after a 9-5 workday, does nothing to make us feel "appreciated". A few apples or bananas tossed our way does little to assuage the pain you meter out every other day of each year.

Photo courtesy of Dean Turner, passenger.
Oregon has successfully (so far) beaten the national infectious curve of this pandemic through strict measures. To loosen these restrictions now, while our service area struggles to reach the Governor's mandates through which we can re-open commerce, is truly foolhardy. It is also putting frontline workers at even higher risk for catching the virus, which kills more than it spares. I urge you to remain steadfast with the 10-15 passenger limit until such time that the current caseload dissipates and the curve has trended downward. Until our service area is ready to re-open, it is vital that your mandates reflect OUR safety, as well as that of the general public. To allow double the passenger load at this point is a dangerous choice.

At this point, operators across the world are banding together to send videos of support to transit workers in New York City, which has lost 118 union employees to the virus. More will be sent to London, where 42 have died from the virus. 

Yes, I realize you have taken drastic measures to provide for the safety of our frontline employees. Thank you for procuring masks, wipes, gloves and disinfectant. Thank you for reducing service and limiting the amount of passengers on our vehicles. I appreciate your keeping us apprised of actions taken with everyone's safety in mind. However, I keep asking why transit agencies worldwide, and governments as well, were not prepared to begin with? 

Transit has become more reactive than proactive. Your model seems to be modeled upon some utopian dream than reality. I'm truly afraid of when The Big Earthquake hits Portland, because we never hear about your plans for when it might happen. However, geologists predict the next one could be over 9.0 on the Richter Scale, and that would devastate our metropolitan area. When it happens, will your staff once again be reactive, or is there some plan in place? How many of us will die, be left stranded for lack of preparedness, or even injured without hope of rescue for hours while your team scrambles to find a plan?

You have done some things very well, and I commend you for that. However, your lack of preparation mirrors that of an entire world community that was caught off-guard. I lost 31 hours of pay when I voluntarily self-quarantined early on. Today, after working nearly six weeks after that, I could be infected yet asymptomatic, yet there have been no plans to test frontline workers. We cannot work from home, so we are constantly at-risk. Your kind words of "support" do little to quell our fears of contamination. 

Each frontline worker should be monitored daily for any signs of the disease. Our temperature should be recorded before reporting for duty, and after our shifts end. Buses and light rail vehicles should be cleaned at the end of the line, each time. HVAC filters should be replaced daily. Masks should be worn for an hour (at most), then replaced. Passengers should be required to wear masks and use hand sanitizer or be refused service. More than one route for those who depend on bottle and can redemption for a living should be instituted. 

The cities in our service area should provide more hand-washing stations. Perhaps each major transit station should have them as well. There are many other proactive solutions that could be made available with the ultimate goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19, but I don't see much thought being put into proactiveness. We're still reacting, and that keeps us all at risk.

Humanity has survived thousands of threats during our short rule on Earth. That's because our brains are more highly-evolved than any other species. Or, are they? Perhaps we're just lucky. I don't know. What I do know is that we have become complacent, arrogant and unresponsive to the dangers we face. Only the bold survive. Only the intelligent can work proactively to ensure our survival. 

Portland has a history of being a progressive model. Our transit agency was once the best in the world. Now, it languishes somewhere in the middle. Why? Because we lost focus somewhere along the way. Specifically, about a decade ago when corporatists took control. Your kind tends to think of models; the working class thinks in terms of survival. Put a former bus operator in your job, and I guarantee the focus upon employee morale would once again elevate us to the No. 1 position. We have a plethora of experience which could be mined for excellence rather than corporate "successes". Blue collar workers here are not impressed with our management's heavy-handed treatment of us. When the color of our shoes matters more than comfort and support, then we have a conflict in priorities.

Several times, I've had to pass up essential workers, fare in hand, because I have a bus full of fare evaders just riding to ride. I'm told not to judge, but that's impossible. Given the prospect of serving a regular who has worked through this pandemic just like I have, or some derelict fare evader who just wants a warm and dry place to sleep off their high, I'll take the fare-paying public every time. Either way, I concentrate on providing my passengers with a patented smooth ride every time. It doesn't matter that nearly every point of my body sitting in yet another poorly-designed operator's seat aches with grimly-borne pains which yearn to be soothed by my expensive bed I just finished paying for. My feet scream with yet another press of the brake pedal, some 4,000 times each week, but each service stop is approached with a smoothness honed over 7.5 years of diligent practice. These hips groan as I use them to mitigate the pressures put on knees and calves as I caress that brake pedal. My mind constantly finds ways to work with difficult passengers while jovially engaging the overwhelming majority of decent people I serve.

At least once each shift, my soul has to find creative ways of dealing with those who think their 20-minute daily ride trumps my years of experience. They berate me for "missing a stop" called for just as my bus is rolling past it. My soul also works overtime worrying whether this passenger will call in a complaint in which they lie about everything which happened, prompting some over-zealous manager to berate (even suspend) me for adhering to transit protocol which has existed long before any of us were born. Many have told me of complaints lodged against them, only to see "tape" of the event which clearly exonerates them, only to be told it will not be erased from their record. Why? Because. And that is more than wrong; it's horribly, crudely insulting.

Your job may not be easy, but I could do it. So could any of those who drive a bus, operate a MAX train, maintain any vehicle, stand for hours at a Station Agent desk, supervise those on the road or enforce fare. Yet, we're expendable and you seem above the fray. Do not take us for granted, or believe your scripted platitudes of "appreciation" fool us. Our pains, fears of assaults (which rise each year), and attacks upon our professionalism any time a pedestrian or motorist fail to take the most basic precautions in our presence, have built up within us a hardened and forceful belief that we are not truly "appreciated" for our sacrifices.

"We are public servants, sacrificing daily for the common good." Tom Horton, my beloved brother and fellow bus operator, coined it perfectly. Can you claim the same? Not even close, sir. Try harder.

Thanks again to Dean Turner, regular fare-paying
passenger/photographer.
I'll continue doing my job the only way I know: safely, smoothly and with a smile. There's no bullshit in what I do. It's all there in the 175,000 miles of safe driving. Tangible results. More commendations than complaints. And that, my friends, is something I can bank on.

With humility and sorrow, I am
Deke N. Blue
Bus Operator

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Payback

Ahh, the good ol' days, when the bus did all the work for those
who cannot do for themselves.


Pandemic pandemonium knows no limits. Transit workers everywhere do this job under enough stress in normal conditions. For the past two months, given the amount of our ranks who have died from Coronavirus, it has increased exponentially. On a rare occasion, we are treated to a smile-worthy event or two.

Here in Portland, we now have this announcement on our vehicles, which repeats itself ad nauseum throughout our shifts:

"Please cover your coughs, maintain at least six feet of distance between others, and exit through the rear doors. Thank you."

Few take notice, but repetition seems to have driven the point home to at least half the riding population.

However, many passengers still grapple with the imagined complexity of operating the back door on our newest buses. Instead of leaving a great idea alone, the folks at Gillig decided passengers needed to be less-coddled. Once upon a not-so-long time ago, back doors opened as the operator flipped the release handle. Now it is interactive. People need to know how the door works in order for it to open.

Self-opening doors, ha! A thing of the past. Today's passengers no longer pay attention to anything but the device in their hands. To actually glance up and see what model bus is approaching, noting its quirks, is beyond their comprehension.


A bus is a bus, so why should they need cognitive skill to exit? Puh-leez.

They stare at the door, or they ram it. A shrill alarm sounds. Then, they invariably stare at me as if I'm to blame for the damn thing not opening. "BACK DOOR!" they yell in an accusing tone, as if I'm not eager for them to leave. It appears they expect me to secure the bus, walk back and open it for them. Not in this lifetime, buddy.

"Cuddle up to the back door like it's someone you adore," I'll tease. "Then caress it between the handles. It loves that."

Blank stares ensue, until another passenger in the adjacent seat reaches out and breaks the laser's field, causing the mechanism to operate.

This causes us great frustration. It's very easy to open a door, especially if you watch how others do it. Basic Studies 101, Junior. It's funny how people my age are usually employ advanced observation techniques. One evening I watched as a lady balancing a baby, bottle bag and two bags of groceries back her bum toward the door, then swiftly pivoted and hopped off as it opened. Precise timing. Moms are the best!

Just the other evening, I grimly noted a young couple leave the very back seat and bound all the way forward as if to exit the front door. I kept it shut. They stopped in the Priority Seating area, clearly annoyed.

Before they could say anything, I bellowed "BACK DOOR!"

Oh, how I love that look on a passenger's face when this operator gets his just revenge.

Monday, May 11, 2020

WE Are One



I'm fed up. With this uncontrolled plague, with my fellow citizens who haven't the patience our forebears fought so hard to preserve, and with miscreants and con artists who flood transit.

It would be politically correct to bow to the hordes who take advantage of humanity's probable downfall, but I cannot. From the mishandling of novel COVID-19 to the whiny punks who shove their way into courthouses armed to the teeth with guns they have no good reason wielding. What, do they think they'll shoot their irresponsibility into being? It's disgraceful. My father fought, my ancestors did too, for the dream we all are now pampered by. We're sniveling it away through a collective temper tantrum. We could all die for the ridiculous and callous disregard for human frailty, but we're too coddled by modern necessity that we refuse to accept this calamity for what it is: another plague through which only collective vigilance will guide us safely through its pestilence.

In 1918, the world was beset by the Spanish Flu. Then however, we were a society which respected intelligence and the advice it had to offer for our own good. Today, we're aggravated by the uneducated few who believe their ignorance outweighs the common good. Trained minds who sacrifice for humanity are trashed in the putrid wells of common "morality", believing somehow their horrid selfishness will be rewarded. Maybe in the afterlife, folks. I'd prefer to delay that. Some who have access to masks refuse to wear them. They mistakenly believe this worldwide plague is some political device through which only the "good" will be spared.

There is nothing "good" in any of this. People of all pre-conceived labels will die from Corona-virus. It doesn't matter what religion you eschew, what color your skin is, or where you live. If this bug attacks your immune system, your only hope is good ol' fashioned L-U-C-K and historic DNA which has fought to keep your lineage alive through thousands of years. The virus won't care whether you're red or blue, Italian or Irish, Mexican or Canadian, Australian or Russian. The most devastating example: MTA workers in New York City, Chicago, Rome or any other viciously-huge metropolis or lonely outpost. It will simply kill you, and leave behind a wake of heartbroken relatives and friends to mourn you.

Bus operators are there for you, even when you ignore us as you board. We're highly-trained, vigilant professionals who drive our vehicles 25,000 miles each year through the worst elements you're afraid to. We're tough, caring individuals who sacrifice our bodies for the common good. You not even trying to social distance or wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) grossly displays ignorance and lack of respect for your fellow humans. Sure, a mask goes only one way. I wear one to protect YOU,  knowing it cannot fully-protect ME. Your lack of one simply displays disrespect for me and anyone else you come into contact with. I'm driving that bus for 10 hours, which you ride an average of 20 minutes. I'm much more likely to be infected by the 150,000+ people I serve each year. So fuck your non-compliance to basic safety guidelines requested of you.

One hundred years ago, people had more respect for each other. Sure, there were those who considered themselves "better" than others, but they were as wrong then as you are today. If we can limit those micro-particles which linger in any confined (or public) space that are infected with this latest contagion, then more of us will survive to respectfully co-exist another day. This bug will not favor one group over another. It is an equal opportunistic assassin.

And fight is all we seem to do these days. Whatever happened to respectful and spirited discourse and debate with the likely outcome of an honorable compromise that benefits the many over the desires of the few? It has devolved into some contorted reality where many factions believe their set of morals overcomes that of others. That's not what America's Founding Fathers envisioned. They knew we would disagree; yet they expected us to work together to forge a collective agreement on what would work best for the greatest number. Now, hard-working, devoted Americans fight one another over silly principles, or lack thereof, buoyed by silent but powerful influences. We're torn apart, simply because of political differences. It's sad, but I refuse to allow Big Money to alter my respect for my fellow citizens. WE make this country work, even as powerful financial (and foreign) interests endeavor to push us apart, to their advantage. Divide and conquer is not only alive and well, but flourishing. Many of my friends disagree with me politically, but they fail to realize I'm not devoted to one party over another; I am simply in favor of intelligence over fear and graft.

Yesterday was Mother's Day. Mom taught me to respect intelligence and distrust public opinion. It is through argument and information that opinions are born. She taught me to investigate and use information, through several sources which conflict with each other, to form my own. It's a lesson which remains valuable today, when people are torn by numerous "sources". Many seek to falsely-lead people to believe whatever "side" influences any source. If you read both sides of an issue, that which is false is usually easily-ascertained. Only with calm and deliberate discipline can one sift through bullshit to smell fresh air. Unfortunately, many people don't want to read something which disagrees with whichever political philosophy they believe.

Adolf Hitler did murder millions of Jews, folks. It's not a "hoax". September 11, 2001 was a terrorist attack brought on by an Arab hell-bent on wreaking vengeance upon what he believed to be an equally-terrorist regime. I don't believe a lot of the hysterical crap I've read about 9/11; all I know is that humanity is most cruel to itself. We are a world community, and modern technology has shown us how evil our species can be. I wish it could be used to bring us closer together, but I'm afraid that's simply a naive notion. All we can do is hope the better versions of ourselves can find a way to come together before we agree that everyone should die for some bastardized version of "the truth".

I don't "hate" anyone. Yet, some with whom I disagree automatically accuse me of this horrid emotion. For 35 years, I have not felt that emotion; I gave it up for someone I once loved. It's abhorrent to me, it's not Christian or God-like if you choose to believe in the Holy Spirit. When someone disrespects, admonishes me for my beliefs, or insults me, my first thought is forgiveness because I am entirely fallible as a human being. It saddens me that good people think I could ever hate them for their beliefs. I may think they are misled, and they likely believe the same of me. However, I wouldn't consider them friends if there wasn't something within their souls which draws us together. Perhaps, they find something within me that helps them believe I'm not entirely hopeless as a fellow soul. Either way, I love them and hope they feel the same about me.

When I die, my greatest wish for my eulogy is that people remember my respect for them. No matter what you believe, or even that we disagreed, I hope you know that I value you for the person you are, not what others expect or encourage you to be. That's what drew us together.

With that, I wish you all the best. It's all I hope for, and that's something you can bank on. If it remains solvent, that is.

db


Sunday, May 10, 2020

We Remain, We Drive, We Celebrate



Deke's Note: I celebrated my seventh birthday as a blogger this past Tuesday, your transit dude who wrote for several years as Deke and now has shed that pseudonym as the proper Patrick. Cinco de Mayo, an important festival day in my hometown of Florence, Arizona and birthday of my dear friend Deb (Fucker) Nuttall. There was no fanfare, no party, no whoop-tee-doo. This special day passed more to my inner celebration than anyone else gave it notice. That's okay. I write this more for myself than anyone else. It's my self-therapy, my go-to place when the words need to be written. It's been a good time, and now I'm officially seven. No telling how old I'll be when it all ends.

A lot has happened in the seven years since I first wrote here. In May of 2013, I was a green newbie, fascinated with the job and the people who rode my bus. A lifelong chronicler, it only seemed fitting I describe what I see. Considering I interact with about 150,000 people (some are the same, but still their faces every day and so they count as new each time they board) each year, I realized early there would be countless opportunities to connect with my fellow Portlanders as a bus operator. A bit nervous was I, a blue-collar troubadour for four decades by the time I gained the bus wheel. I knew my advancing years made this my final career... other than writing, which I hope will remain with me until I leave this blue marble as a free soul.

My style? Free, wandering, constantly seeking the truth which meanders through this grey matter as I roll six wheels through the Northwest's most majestic metropolis, Portland Oregon. Usually, I sit here listening to music (James Taylor, Chicago Transit Authority, Bonnie Raitt, CSN&Y, and many more who filled my youth with musical dreams) and just write what comes to mind. It's usually about what I've just experienced the week past. The thoughts, frustrations, questions, dreams... whatever I've felt, comes out in these posts. It may not always be pretty or flowing. It may piss off some folks, or perhaps strike a chord with my brothers and sisters. It's not written with any pre-determined angle or destination. Many times, it's a tangle of whatever flustered my tail feathers, coaxed a tear of humanity from my driver-side eye, or maybe just made me think of something other than myself.

Although this is little more than an operator's weekly journal, the support has been phenomenal from my humble beginnings to today's worldwide FromTheDriverSide audience.

Sometimes I think perhaps I should quit. Let someone else take over,  because there are many whose voices cry to be heard. However, I find it difficult. I've tried to stop, but then something happens that I must write about. It's constant. Maybe you're tired of hearing one voice among thousands whose voices are not recognized. For them I reckon this writer continues. My new book silently awaits my attention, but my blog readers are there too, wondering WTF Deke is thinking about now. It's a struggle to create fiction when non-fiction constantly commands my mind.

If you're actually curious, the new novel is about halfway finished. The first draft, that is. I thought of this story as I drove my Line 9 across the Tilikum just over a year ago. It was truly a moment of "what if..." that inspired a fun and lively story. The characters, just like those of 22 years ago in a story than went 1,200 pages before... I stopped writing. This time, the book is in progress. The characters are developing, crying to be completed. I just need time. But does anybody really know what time it actually is?

I've met wonderful people through simply writing this blog. My buddy Sam's mom Ellen is a constant reminder of the basic decency Americans consist of. She's sweet, intelligent, poetic, thoughtful and more like me than I am. There's Robert at bustropical.org, Billy in Rhode Island, Tommy in Vancouver, Bruce in Melbourne. One day in Spokane, I met Paul who had actually read my blog and book, and it was a purely coincidental meeting, truly unplanned and therefore magical. Many of you have written comments on the blog itself or notes on FaceBook. I read each, even if I cannot respond to them all. Each warms my heart, even if you disagree with what is written.

Many of you have also read my book. Yeah, it was a grand idea which didn't sell as many copies as I hoped. Maybe more will buy it after I'm dead. Still, many have bought it, gave it rave reviews and encouraged others to buy it. The response has given me great joy, and I thank you all. If you find me on the road, I will happily sign your copy. It's an author's dream to do so; please don't hesitate to ask.

It was a quiet, subdued birthday for this pseudonym. Yeah, you now know I'm Patrick. The ruse failed years ago when my transit agency figured it out. Still, it was creatively-inspiring to imagine I was just an anonymous voice in the void of thousands whose words are rarely heard, and often ignored. It is for you I write, not me. Yeah, it's a journal of sorts, but still... I write for the 180,000+ American union transit workers (including those lost to Corona-virus) and still thousands more worldwide. Our concerns have been downplayed as "greedy". Our status as "frontline workers" dismissed. Our murders considered sad happenings in the everyday world of transit. Still, we continue doing our job because it is essential. We matter. Black, brown, beige, tan or white, we do the job because it's one we're proud to do. No matter the danger, we're out there when others are content (and allowed) to "work from home".

I want to take this moment to envelop ALL my transit fellows in a group hug. I admire you all. Every fear, frustration and challenge you face on the job, I understand. Why? Because I live it. Each time I take the wheel of my bus, I feel what you do. Whenever someone threatens me, I remember Thomas Dunn of Florida, who was knifed to death in the seat. Will I suffer the same fate? If I do, I hope I have the strength he did, to secure my bus and keep my passengers safe.

Other than that, there's nothing left to say except this: I wish you all safety, health and comfort. Peace be with you and yours.

RIP to the hundreds of transit workers lost to this pandemic; may we remain strong in the face of your bravery, despite the dangers we face without support from our transit agencies and government. Take care of yourselves brothers and sisters; you know it's up to US to do so, because we're on our own... as usual. What else is new?

Respectfully,
Deke N. Blue
Transit Blogger/Author
Portland, Oregon, USA

Sunday, May 3, 2020

My Corona Plea for Unity



My bus rolls through downtown to pick up the photographer
who kindly provided this shot. Thanks, Dean Turner!

Deke's Note: Why do I wear a mask? Mine are cool. My Beloved has crafted me several as has my friend Ahna. Still, they're on my face for one reason: I care about those I serve. The mask may not protect me, but perhaps it will protect them from me. 

I drive a city bus. Instead of shutting down bus service, our transit agency decided to keep us driving throughout the most dangerous of times we've known. Our safety is of little importance. They hire 20-50 people every month with replacement of veterans in mind. We're only expected to "serve" eight years or so, before management's restrictive and intensely-ridiculous edicts drive us screaming from the job. They pound down our benefits and contractual agreements with apparent glee. Our collective suffering falls on hardened, deaf ears. Even our "Bored of Directors (sic on purpose)" sits through our ardent pleas for justice with scripted one-liners at the ready when we're done pouring our hearts out to them.

"Don't hire Doug Kelsey, he hasn't a clue." Ignored.

"Management failed to fund the retirement fund for decades, and is now saying WE must pay for its mistake." Yawn.

"Fix what's wrong first, before spending billions on a MAX line to where nobody wants it." Yeah, whatever. We'll do what we want, because we CAN. Deal with it, lowly taxpayer. So what the economic "revitalization" of MAX lines brought no new businesses, yet did bring an unwanted element riding transit just to ride, so miscreants and drug addicts could wreak havoc on Milwaukie. Once at the line's terminus, they ride a bus without fare to Oregon City, where they congregate, do their drugs and terrorize those who depend upon transit for essential trips.

Fare evaders ride buses these days with little fear of penalty. They just breeze past with "I'm riding at my own risk" dismissive statement while not even looking at me. It's something that a bus operator is accustomed to. However, when we "inform" fare evaders we're often verbally assaulted and called on the carpet for having dared doing so. Coronavirus limits what cops are willing to do. I don't expect cops desire having any close contact with those most likely to spread this deadly disease. Still, they have become so brazen in their actions as to endanger not only operators, but also the essential workers and other passengers we convey.

Wake UP, Management! You SAY we are "valued frontline employees" but your actions say otherwise. We're simply pawns in a chess game in which you only seek to get federal funding to further your corporate takeover of local transit.

Management outsourced our para-transit division to a Scotland-based corporation a few years back. Now our brothers and sisters there have been laid off, their medical benefits cancelled, and all the while First Transit begs off and collects USA-provided "relief" to funnel back to their coveted home office to spend on things less than vital than our local operators. It's a pitiful example of shirking responsibility to those which "make Portland transit great", and those who provide that essential service are now suffering because of it.

It's all a big stinking mess. We should be paid more in normal times, but this is anything but that and we certainly deserve "hazard pay". But no. Don't rock the boat, even when someone spits at us while telling us they're infected with today's killer virus. Don't record our disciplinary meetings with you, because transparency is not acceptable.

I hope none of my brothers and sisters buy into some future celebratory nonsense in our honor. We do this not only because it's our job, but also because we're proud to. For some, it's all we've ever known. Few seem to realize our duties bring us into constant contact with Multnomah County's elevated COVID-19 cases of needle-using druggies. We should just shut up. "JUST DRIVE," they tell us through their heartless edicts. And make sure your fucking shoes are BLACK. And shiny. For crying out loud. This isn't the military. What's next? Our underwear?

Four weeks is just about as much as I can take right now without taking advantage of my union-earned time-off benefits. The stress weighs upon every minute a passenger is aboard. When was the last time they washed their hands for 20-30 seconds? I wash mine for 30-40 seconds at the end of every run, which means about five or six times a shift. How do I know if some COVID-positive passenger has breathed their micro-particles of devastation into my respiratory system? However, I hope my mask keeps those who board my bus safe. I would feel horrible if I passed this virus along to those who depend upon me to safely deliver them to their destination.

So, Bored of Directors, I hope you read this, but it will likely (if ever) end up in your sight if some management dork types up some memo to my blog's anger. YOU should be taking great care to ensure OUR safety, but you're likely working from home throughout this horrific time in space. I cannot do that, thank you not so very much. It's my job to be at the "front lines" of any bug that slithers through my front doors, or in that spittle bursting from the lips of some freaked-out homeless dude who insists he's infected with COVID-19.

Hey, Bored Members, did you know there are now 53+ incidents of violence against transit workers this year? WE do. Your silence is deafening, while management wonks do their best to spin our pain and suffering in carefully-scripted corporate media responses which distance management from responsibility. Still, they make sure to leave open the possibility that any incident could be the operator's fault, because it is "currently under investigation". When we're found to be not-at-fault, where is the exoneration statement? I don't remember seeing any.

Bus stops which are impossible to see are magnets for passenger complaints. Those who wear all black or dark blue clothing, sitting there hunched down over their phones and not aware of traffic noises because of the headphones cutting off their auditory sense, call in complaints when that horrid bus operator passes them by. Hey, whatever happened to personal responsibility? That damned phone has the innate ability to TELL you exactly when the bus will be at your stop, yet you blame a bus operator for your own failure to pay attention? Grow up and stop trying to shift blame to those who work diligently serving the public. It's time for the public to grow some pubes, but it won't happen as long as management allows whining to control US.

For over six weeks, we haven't accepted cash as payment for fare. Still, the hordes of con artists board with wads of cash in their hands, saying "I didn't know you weren't accepting cash". Even when they have used this tired excuse every day for weeks, they must think it fun. If I were to challenge this obvious con, I would likely be called onto the disciplinary carpet for daring to "insult" our agency's darling miscreants. It insults ME, and every operator who dares take the seat in light of New York City's 80+ MTC Operators who have died from this virus, to allow these cons to ride amongst the honorable ones who pay their fare. Groups of teenagers just out for some fun take away rides from the honest adults who put themselves at risk just to make a rare paycheck amongst those who suffer through exhaustive layoffs. I can only allow 10-12 passengers right now. I prefer to give rides to those who actually need to be somewhere, rather than to those who want to ride.

But hey, who am I to decide who gets to ride? I'm told not to make judgements thusly, just to drive the bus and alert Dispatch when my vehicle has reached its capacity. Once upon a time, operators were backed up, considered the ultimate authority on their vehicles as are airline pilots, ship captains and rail conductors. Now, we're simply meat in the seat, waiting for automation to replace us. We have too many needs. We are too expensive, I guess.

I do MUCH more than simply drive a bus. I provide solace to those who have lost their way. My words comfort those in pain. I assure the hordes they will arrive safely to their destination while I listen to their tales of woe. Why? Because I care. Some automated version of transit will not have the ability I have, to communicate with those who value our service. Many times I have kept peace upon my bus with a carefully-worded message of humor and compassion to those who ride.

"If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito." 
-- Dalai Lama

Whenever someone boards, I greet them with a smile. Perhaps a compliment. Later, I give them "Patrick's Thought O' The Day," meant to inspire, or even humor those who grace my vehicle with their presence. Whether I think they're amenable or not, Tommy Transit's words of wisdom propel me onward. I am a human being. Sure, I possess faults or misgivings which could land me in trouble with the powers-that-be. Never mind that. I am a bus operator who is focused on providing a safe, peaceful and worry-free ride. If this requires me to be an "asshole", then that I must be. For the good of all, whether it be true or false.

Today, my heart lies heavy with the mourning of those who have lost loved ones to this horrific bug China shared with our unprepared world. Still, my job is to drive. No matter what danger lurks out there, I'm in my seat and I roll smoothly. Professionally. Whoever rides my bus is subject to the same dangers I am, albeit for a much shorter time frame. Keep the damn windows open, people. If I wanted them closed I would shut them myself. Cover your mouths. Be polite to me and those with whom you ride. Sit where you're supposed to and don't argue.

If we keep at it, we will largely survive this pandemic. Don't give in to the most fearful who argue we should abandon social distancing and go on, business as usual. That will only encourage that damned COVID-19 bug to make things much worse. This is not just the flu; it's a worldwide pandemic. Our country was once recognized as the world's leader. Now, we're simply leading the world in COVID-19 cases. Of all our 330 million-plus citizenship, half are impatient to get things back to "normal". If we do that, September could kill a great deal more of us in our lust for what once was.

This could never have been some political conspiracy. Viruses are humanity's most heinous enemy, besides ourselves. Only by working together to ensure our collective safety can we beat this latest assault upon our species. It seems to be an impossible chore given this political divide in the USA. If you choose to demonstrate against lockdowns, be reminded of someone you or someone you love has known, who has suffered a loss to this dastardly foe. New York City transit workers come first to my mind. Sure, there are thousands more of them than there are of us here in Portland.

While I may not always agree with our Governor, I support her decision to use everything within her power to ensure all Oregonians' safety. I could use a haircut, but I don't need one. My body cries out for a massage, but it's not worth subjecting myself or my masseuss to infection. I would dearly love to take my Beloved to a restaurant on my days off, but we can cook. We all miss Portland TrailBlazers games, concerts and farmers markets. Our way of life has been horribly disrupted. But what's more important? What good is an economy when its participants are mostly dead?

Life could be much worse, if we let it. For now, my hope is that we collectively stay the course. Allow humanity to beat this bug through intelligence and diligence, rather than giving way to our pampered modern existence. Otherwise, we could dwindle to a point where our numbers no longer allow us superiority amongst the world's leaders. We could be overtaken by China, to who we owe trillions of dollars of debt.

This is much bigger than simple American politics, my friends. We're poised at the precipice of massive failure, after nearly 230 years of democracy's beacon of hope to the world. Our status as world leader hangs in the balance. Instead of protesting states locking you down for your own good, try seeing things from another perspective. We need to come together to prevail, but so many are consumed with hatred for opposing political views they remain blinded to the goodness of working as ONE to see beyond the abyss we all face. It's painful to watch.

With all this in mind, I always wish you well. I pray for the great health and safety for you all.

Prayers for you and yours, I am
Deke N. Blue
Transit Blogger/Author


The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with...