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!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ultimates In Transit Service (Especially Chip)

Deke's Note: You might think, hey these bus drivers get paid a lot of dough to just sit and drive all day. What you fail to realize is the inordinate amount of crap we have to endure each shift. Occasionally, the detritus of everyday toil is pleasantly interrupted. Here's a verbal clip of a current day in the life of a Portland transit operator. It encompasses the good, the bad and the ugliest of worst times we endure on the job every day. Bless you brothers and sisters... I KNOW what you're going through. No matter whether here in Portland, Oregon or anywhere across our great country... Alabama, New York, Texas, Michigan, Florida, California, Rhode Island... north to Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary, and west to Vancouver. We ALL see the worst, and truly the best, of humanity. I bow to your hard work and diligence in the shadow of the worst that could happen to US and those we love. Roll safely, and know I truly love you.

* * * * *

We're often faced with challenges from passengers who are wholly ignorant to the reality we are bound by Standard Operating Procedures. Some of them are federally-mandated, and far beyond our control to ignore.

As I stood with a few fellow operators at a layover in Gresham last week, one of my closest transit buddies, Jeff, told me of a passenger he had a dispute with. She tried to board his bus with a gas can. He informed her it's against Federal statutes to board a public transportation vehicle with anything containing a flammable liquid.

"I'll just put in my bag then," she told him.

"It's still not allowed on the bus, ma'am," he replied. "If you had a bomb and put it in a backpack, it would still be a bomb."

Jeff is not one to suffer any type of fool. Especially one who is beyond foolish.

The passenger stared at him, intent on having the upper hand. Jeff stood his ground, as any of us would, and do, every time this scenario unfolds.

"I'm going to report you," she threatened. I laughed aloud at this. The puny threat those without a chance pull out of their gas-drenched bags when we call them on their bullshit. Not happening, Granny.

Jeff didn't bat an eye as he told her, "Here's my bus number (pointing upward), let me know what they tell you."

She exited in a huff, having been righteously thwarted. Good job, Jeff. It happened to me, several times in fact. Once, I had the last laugh.

"Why didn't you look at your gas gauge before you ran out of gas?" I asked one indignant intending passenger a few years back. "It's not my fault you were unprepared. Get off my bus with that wannabe-bomb, or I will forcefully evict you." Luckily for me, he exited and I shut the door as soon as he cleared the threshold. I was afraid he'd douse me with gasoline and light me up.

* * * * *

One of my favorite sisters on this rough road told me of a disturbing incident she recently endured. Servicing a Downtown Portland stop on the Transit Mall, a man blocked her doorway and began berating her. Knowing there were buses behind her in the busiest of our transit rolls, Angel asked the man to either board or clear the doorway. He would not. Instead, he threatened and berated her. She began to get nervous, as the area was besieged by Federal agents determined to escalate the intense emotions of nearby protesters.

Finally, he cleared the door, which she immediately closed. This fool walked in front of her bus as she prepared to leave the stop. He menaced her from the weak position in the pathway of her 20-ton vehicle, which only infuriated her. However, to her credit and professionalism, Angel just waited until he moved away and it was safe for her (and him) to proceed.

That's one reason why, newbie operators, you don't become impatient while languishing in the second or third positions of a transit mall stop because the lead us isn't moving. They are likely dealing with stupidity you cannot see. Be patient, be supportive of your fellow operators. Some of you have not operated long enough to warrant Trainer Bishop's declaration you've worked here "minutes". What you cannot see is likely what you will someday yourself. Chillax, brothers and sisters.

* * * * *

In a lighter note, I must take time to salute the new hires who have come aboard to sanitize our vehicles at transit centers. These good folks, many of whom who may have been unemployed due to COVID-19, take considerable care in wiping down our buses. Prior to their belated hiring by our reactive management, I took time at the end of each run to wipe down the poles, seat backs, and (later) hand sanitizer touch points with wipes I took several of the night before from the stores afforded operators in our garages. I did this not only for the good of my passengers, but for my own well-being. It was truly a point of self-preservation, given I fear the germs of those who do not have the benefit of restrooms where hands can be thoroughly-washed. I used about eight wipes as I searched my bus for trash, lost possessions or even (God forbid) suspicious-looking items.

I truly do care about those who ride my bus. It's not something I take lightly. I've been a blue-collar worker my entire life. Realizing the sacrifices many people like me have suffered, I could not bear the thought of a hard-working stiff touching a stanchion on my bus, scratching their eyes and becoming infected by this little bastard we're all living in fear of. So yeah, I APPRECIATE the efforts of these new hires, who may not be with us months hence because our management doesn't understand that COVID-19 is only ONE infectious disease shared along transit vehicles every moment of each service day.

Because of the lowest-paid workers of our current workforce, I can use those few extra minutes to actually breathe, to revel in the 20 minutes or so between driving stints. A few bites of nourishment, a loving respite with my wife or sons/daughter, all because of the diligence my bus is afforded by the efforts of people we should have employed LONG before a pandemic made management react, rather than thinking proactively by making this a staple of the transit experience years ago. God, how I wish a former bus operator would be named General Manager of our inept, out-of-touch management. Things would surely be more efficient, cost-effective and frontline-friendly than they are now.

THANK YOU to the 150-or-so people currently employed to sanitize our horribly-filthy rides. I hope, but don't for one moment believe, management recognizes the importance of this vital service. You should be afforded the opportunity, like yard shaggers and other Maintenance workers, to take advantage of what once was our honored Maintenance Apprentice Program where hard-working apprentices could aspire to move up within our agency to train as Mechanics. Unfortunately, our management would rather hire non-union workers than reward upwardly-mobile blue-collar hopefuls. Still, you are at risk too, given our worldwide nightmare. I pray you remain virus-free, and I appreciate your hard work.

* * * * *

I cannot leave this post without mentioning Chip, the General Manager of The Cheerful Tortoise on Sixth Avenue downtown near Portland State University. He rode my bus the other evening, and I truly enjoyed our conversation.

What a motivational, strong and inspiring character he is! One of the reasons I took this job eight years ago was because I enjoy meeting people, especially those of inspiring character. This young man, born the same day one year earlier than my incredible daughter, brought brightness to my Friday evening not seen in months. His conversation was heartfelt, lively and inspiring.

Chip described his own COVID-hell, but he did not beg sympathy as many have to my great dismay the past few months. He's just like millions of other Americans who are victims to a pandemic not properly-addressed from the beginning. He lost weeks of work. Chip's wife is an Emergency Room nurse, and her continuous Herculean efforts kept their household running through our Metro-area's months-long shutdown.

His love and respect for his wife shined within his words, along with the pain he felt not being able to work during that nightmarish moment in time. Chip described the hardships they fought through. His wife stripped upon arriving, throwing her clothes into the wash before showering to wash away any lingering threat which may have clung to her even though she had showered at work before driving home. She is one of MY heroes: those who treat everyone who walks through their doors, no matter how many days they consecutively do so, without reservation or judgment. She deals with the least-healthy on a good day; these days she is subject to anyone who might carry the virus we all fear.

Still, Chip was chipper. Even though he works 12+ hour days, he is thankful to be working again. He recalled his first day back at the Tortoise, where he confronted a storeroom full of empty bottles and cans. Knowing they needed to be recycled, Chip loaded up his truck with a hundred-or-so bags full and headed toward a nearby Safeway. He was confronted there by what he described as a young fellow who was headstrong in corporate-driven dictates that he could only allow 144 recyclables per trip. Contemplating this obstacle, Chip recalled he was initially upset with the young man. After weeks of no billable time, Chip knew he had a lot of work to do just to get his pub ready to re-open.

"At first," he recalled, "I was really pissed at this guy. I had a full storeroom of empty bottles and cans to clear, and he was insisting that he could only take so many. After a few minutes of giving him a really hard time, I stopped. I realized he was just doing his job, like I was trying to. I thought of what this period in time has done to so many others, and I stopped arguing. It wasn't his fault. And I was being an asshole. I had to stop, rethink things and remember my humanity."

The next 10 days, Chip showed up with the pre-requisite of recyclables. It became his morning routine, until the storeroom was clear, and he could clean up what had been left behind. From a time when we didn't realize what was coming.

Chip regularly rides a bus to and from work, so his wife, who works 12-16 hour shifts at a local hospital, could drive their only car. When he first boarded, he politely asked me to remind him when we reached his stop. He was dog-tired, and I could tell when I saw his bloodshot eyes.

"I fell asleep one night and ended up at the transit center," he told me. "It was the last bus, and I had to Uber home, even though we couldn't afford it. I still can't afford it, so please don't let me miss my stop."

How could I not remember this man's stop? Of all I've seen, the most respect I have is for those who have found their employment once again after this hellish scene we've lived through since March.

"Sure," I told him in a reassuring voice, "which stop do you need?" There were only about three passengers. If I can't remember one passenger request, that's the time I should hang up my hat and badge.

He told me, then began a discussion I'll never forget. He first thanked me for doing this job. "Without you guys, Portland couldn't work at all. Thanks for what you do, sir."

After days of silent dismissal, this statement nearly brought me to tears. It was the last day of a work week in which I had endured more stress than many do in a year. Recognition is something we rarely hear. Often, I feel the mongrel dog being shooed away from table scraps left behind by someone taking their trash to the curb. Having one, obviously exhausted from his 14-hour shift, giving me praise after working a mere 10 hours, is wondrous to my soul. It's humbling at the least. I promised Chip I wouldn't let that happen to him again.

Even though exhausted, Chip rewarded me with a conversation I'll likely not forget. He had recently celebrated a birthday, which was the same as my daughter's. His Cheerful Tortoise employees wrote "Happy Birthday Chip" on the pub's marquee. This sign is one that I have passed many times as a bus operator, and it daily offers either a humorous or inspirational message. The fact Chip's employees chose to honor him on his birthday is a testament to his dedication to those who work for him, and truly cherish his example. I told him that it was obvious he was admired by those he manages, and he just thanked me.

"I was truly humbled by that," he said. "We have a special bond between us. Those who work hard get my deepest respect. Those who don't, don't last long. We're a close-knit group, and that happy birthday message really made me feel honored."

We spoke of the many challenges people face these days. Masks were prominent in his comments.

"I hate the government telling me what to do," he said with a sigh. "But I wear a mask because it's the right thing to do. It's so disturbing that people don't want to wear a mask. It's not a political thing, it just needs doing."

The "passion flower", dedicated this post
to Chip, the GM of the Cheerful Tortoise.
I'll bring my wife sometime after
this pandemic, buddy.
The Thank you, Chip. It wasn't long after that comment that you exited my bus. You wrote down my bus number and asked my name, promising to call in a commendation. I told you that wasn't necessary. Just having an inspiring and thoughtful conversation was plenty, but you insisted. Too many people complain without acknowledging when public servants sacrifice themselves for the common good. After recently receiving a complaint from a fake-ADA passenger who refused to wear a mask, your kindness made the insults easier to accept.

Bless you Chip, your wife and family, and all those like him who only aspire to earn a living and do the right thing by others. You inspire me to continue seeking the good in those I serve. As you have shown, it is well-worth the patience I found on my Friday, just to hear you.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Portland Transit July 20202020202020

A few years ago, this gentleman graced us with concerts
on our Downtown Transit Mall. Now the stores are
boarded up, the streets are not safe, and we need
to focus on a better future.

Deke's Note: Now that Portland seems the top news story, my blog has seen an uptick in hits. Sorry if I have disappointed you new readers, but I've been busy driving through an unprecedented time in everybody's history.

COVID-19 has interrupted everyone's life across the globe. No matter where you're reading this, your life has been affected by a crippling epidemic not seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Some poo-poo this pandemic as "the flu". The rest of the world acknowledges ALL humanity faces danger from this horrific tiny killer which threatens our closest family members. It's real, it's deadly, and it is imminent unless we pull together as ONE to fight it. Unfortunately, the fight has turned inward. Portland is on the front lines of many battles, and our internal war turned outward is now world news. This war is felt on a daily basis by those who work in transit. We see all sides of the fight, no matter where we stand individually. I hearken back to those who founded this country, as their words remain prescient now more than ever, as we battle one another for the soul of our nation.

Preamble to Our Declaration of Independence, v1-2.4:
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government. Laying its foundations upon such principles, and organizing its powers on such forms, as to them shall be most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards, for their future security.

Let us begin with what the United States Constitution was based upon, the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. (Please listen to this musical interpretation, by clicking the link in previous sentence, before reading any further.) It was sung with eloquent beauty by The Fifth Dimension in the early 1970s, nearly 200 years after it had been penned by our Founding Fathers. The mere singing of our country's Preamble by a group of five extremely-gifted black people is incredibly humbling even now, 155 years after the passing of the 13th Amendment which lawfully forbade the holding of another person as a slave. After first hearing this so beautifully sung as a lad of 12, I endeavored to study our country's government and its laws under which I would forever stand. Freedom and justice are the basis upon Portland's 60+ days of protests. Not just the needless executions of thousands who have been unjustly murdered without a trial, but for all of us who toil under a repressive regime that began as a simple anthem for the oppressed. How ironic this "great experiment called democracy" has been reduced to tatters today.

* * * * * 

It seems my being a white male nearing 60 makes me "racist". Not true. I was raised by two parents who realized early in life that people are who they will be, determined not by the color of the skin but by the color of their character. Just as the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us in the 1960s as I evolved. Had I been so taught, my ass would have been beaten bloody by my small-town Arizona childhood classmates. Life in Florence, Arizona demanded we respect one another or end up sporting daily black eyes and bruised bodies. Our small town was a melting pot of America. Native, Asian, Black, Latino and White. We all lived, played and grew together. Only by our love for one another did we consider ourselves equal. Still, there were some separations for which I'm sure we're collectively ashamed of.

I once saw a black underclassman in high school deck a teacher who dared get in the middle of his showdown with a redneck. The teacher was simply trying to break up the fight, and received a Ali-type punch from a kid blinded by fury. Duke had been called a "nigger" and I watched as this freshman took on an upperclassman, and righteously kicked this racist kid's ass. Mr. Turner was simply in the wrong place at the right time.

This was the result of racial fury ignited not even a decade before by Malcom X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We were ignorants as white kids, watching the national explosions rocking our country. Life in Florence, Arizona was Racism Lite; it existed, but was muted because in small town America people needed to get along. We were a close-knit community. It was mostly the parents within whom racism existed. It didn't always translate to the younger generations.

Not until we had families of our own did we realize how divided we truly were. White parents often had better jobs than our black friends' parents did. We truly believed we were "kin" back then. Reality for our black classmates was entirely different than ours as middle-class white kids. That's part of the "white guilt" I feel today. I did have it better than my black classmates, but I didn't realize it because it wasn't obvious to me... it was to black people. Not so much more than my Mexican-American brothers and sisters; they were more accepted having been constant in Central Arizona many generations before others arrived.

I'll be 60 on my next birthday, and I finally realize that I have always benefited from "white privilege". While not proud of it, I realize it gave me a hand up further than my lazy ass deserved. I never worried about finding a job or decent place to live. I never understood the plight of those whose skin color differed from mine. Even so, I have worked my blue-collar ass off all these 40 years.

Keep Portland Weird, we're fond of saying.
It would be nice to see this guy out again.
Many of my black classmates have excelled much further than I have. Because of stupid mistakes and the complacency afforded me, I have not excelled where many of my black classmates did. My failures have often outshined my successes. My whiteness has not made me a better person. It has only given me opportunities I failed to grasp.

President Theodore Roosevelt "shocked" the white elite when he welcomed Booker T. Washington to dinner in the White House. The country's media at the time went ballistic, with the Sedalia Sentinel of Missouri printing a story entitled "Niggers in the White House", in which it stated "we shall have to kill a thousand niggers to get them back in their places". At that time, the very thought of a black person dining in the White House, instead of serving the white elite, was not accepted. Now, even after eight years of a black man serving as President, it seems we have fallen backwards rather than moving forward. To be killed simply while "being black" today is more than shocking, it's beyond the pale. People are pissed, and emotions have exploded. It's about damn time.

What is racism? It's simply a belief that you are more valuable in God's eyes than someone who simply appears differently than you. It does not define the kind of person you are, it only implies that the color of your skin differentiates you somehow. The Most High will judge us for how we treat our brothers and sisters of all colors. He does not favor any one color, race, creed, religion, sexual identity or type of fucking car you drive. He wants us to treat one another with love, and that's why He sent his only Son to save us from ourselves. We have been asked simply to love one another, no matter what. And to date, we have failed.

In 1968, the 100th anniversary of black people being given a Constitutional right to full citizenship, our country had assassinated Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, all three champions of civil rights for all Americans. Many thousands have been lynched, declared guilty in vigilante courts. Even those who made it to a courtroom were robbed of their constitutional right to a jury of their peers; often the 12 were all white.

It happened to all whose names demand we speak today, trumpeted by the thousands of protesters across the nation. Here are a few who are not always mentioned: Tyquarn Graves, Betty Mujinga, Trevor Belle to name a few. May their lives not be forgotten or their names spoken in negative light. So often, White America tries to find a past associated with the murdered which might somehow justify their deaths. Our Constitution affords every American a trial, and punishment is often-unfairly meted out by the courts. In the case of Mr. Belle, a citizen of the United Kingdom, his death came from COVID-19 after his taxi passenger spat on him rather than paying his fare.

* * * * * 

As I drive a city bus through Downtown Portland each night, I am torn between fury and sadness. I'm angry the federal government has sent "troops" (who are they? mercenaries or U.S. soldiers?) to try to contain our internal protests. I'm sad our federal government is attempting to silence the cries of thousands who support the rights of the suppressed. I cannot in my heart feel any animosity for the protests here or anywhere else. However, I do feel for a Wall of Moms, Dads or Veterans, even volunteer medics, who are tear-gassed every night. Just for standing up for the American ideal that the FIRST AMENDMENT of the United States' Constitution affords them the right to protest. It's something soldiers past fought and died for, and now they are simply "crowd control".

Protesters are voicing their opposition to a government that seems to have said, simply, 'SCREW YOU MIDDLE AMERICA.'

My support of the protests stops where the destruction begins. We live in a beautiful city that has been damaged by anger. Nothing good can come from defacing public property. Our economy needs to restart. Our local government has promised to be more proactive, and we need to give it a chance to do so. We need to clean up, rebuild our collective identity and find a way forward so we can leave the past in the dust of injustice.

We ALL have a right bestowed upon us by the Founding Fathers to peacefully protest without fear of persecution. One group of protesters actually took control of a federal outpost in Oregon a few years ago, and they were ultimately granted virtual immunity. Oh and by the way, they were armed with guns. When thousands of Portlanders descended upon a federal building in downtown Portland last week, with the Mayor taking part, the Feds tear-gassed them. When our FIRST AMENDMENT rights are assailed by the federal government, then I ask this: why should we allow it?

Far too long has the federal government instructed us how to exercise our rights. Now it's time for the people to instruct the government. And that's why thousands of Portlanders have come down HARD the past 50+ days. Our government has become destructive of the very pillars of our democracy. It's our right, no, our responsibility, to refuse to bow down while tyranny reigns.

Once again, I point to a part of the aforementioned Preamble, which pinpoints with utmost clarity what battle is being fought here:

that "...mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

We're abolishing a few of those "forms" here, folks. Get out, feds, before we RISE and forcibly evict you. A few hundred thousand of us at once might just get the job done. Your tactics are fascist, not welcome. Go home, before too many more Oregonians get hurt. We'll figure it out on our own. We always have. Bye bye now.

Monday, July 20, 2020

RISE! Will Ya?

Over a thousand Jacobite soldiers were killed
upon the Culloden Battlefield in Scotland,
fighting for what they believed was their
God-given right to rule the United Kingdom.
No cannons, swords or rifles can adequately win
the battle we now face.

Deke's Note: Gee Deke, where ya been? Alternating between fear of having COVID-19 and utter boredom in self-quarantine for the second time. Reading, thinking, healing and tending to my roses. Reading, because writing just hasn't been possible. Watching news reports and praying for my fellow transit workers throughout the tumultuous times we're living through. Thinking, always thinking, trying to sort it all out. We cannot find any collective truth to anything which matters. Once we think we have found a way through the muck, some tidbit of information filters in and muddies the waters once again. Still, we must ultimately find our way or be forever lost to the floodwaters of history. If we're lucky, we'll rise, thereby finding oxygen.

I don't care for either "party" right now. If either major political persuasion could still be called a "party", well it's certainly not fun. All I pray for is your safety. The rest of the world has found a way to deal with this pandemic while our country argues (as body counts rise) whether it's even real. 

A close friend of mine is dealing with the pandemic in very close terms. I have as well, but choose to concentrate on Jeff's reality. His eldest son's wife contracted the Coronavirus and has been battling it for months now. I'm not sure how she was infected with it; that's not my business. However, the residual effects of this virus are still being learned by the scientific community, and she will remain at risk until such time as a "cure" is found, if ever. Given the times and this "new" (hence the prefix "novel" COVID-19) threat to humanity, I tend to rely on science to figure it out rather than some political idealogy. 

Ever since the dawn of humanity's search for knowledge, science has been either embraced or denigrated. Those who fear what they do not know are wont to assail the educated opinion. Now opinions are loosely-held beliefs, hypotheses are beliefs under study, but facts are proven. We do not have enough of the latter to adequately rely on the former. How long did it take scientists to prove the Earth is a sphere rather than flat? A few thousand years, give or take. Not until astronauts left our orbit did photographic evidence appear, yet there are those who still believe that science and mathematics are all but a farce, a "scam" upon all humanity. Sorry folks, but I watched Neil Armstrong set foot upon the Moon, and it could never be that thousands of people successfully perpetuated a myth that our world is anything but a wondrous blue marble shining within the magnificence of infinity.

Yes, we have been fooled before. Not by proven-science very often, and certainly not by mathematics. Math is a constant; zero is not an ultimate end to the numerical because you can travel either direction from it and still find a determined outcome. Scientific discovery takes more time and deliberation; a hypothesis must be proven before it is accepted, and even then it can evolve into something more definitive. 

"To know, is to know that you know nothing.
That is the meaning of true knowledge."

-- Socrates
Viruses have been around since life evolved. They are life. They can be death. Just because we wish them fallible doesn't mean they do not exist, nor that they are as deadly as advertised. COVID-19 is not the flu, folks. It attacks all the internal organs, and may be transported through our bodies via our blood. The virus is still under study. I get so pissed when I see someone claim this virus is equatable to the flu without any scientific studies as backup.

Yeah, I get it... it's "new" and largely misunderstood. But failing to see its' danger to humanity is no reason to stick one's head in the sand in hopes it will "just go away, disappear". Leave your head down there too long, and science has proven you will suffocate. Refusal to test, believing that will lead to fewer cases, is like signing up for something you could never afford, believing the money will magically appear when the payment comes due. It's folly, a farce humanity cannot afford, yet we're taking that risk with Coronavirus although we're not sure our species can survive its' possible devastation.

I trust science and modern medicine over political belief. It has helped me live through some times I could not have, without. There is nothing I have learned in life which supports a political opinion over a scientific one. So when politicians try to persuade me to believe them, that an economy is more important than my health, I tend to call bullshit. Without me, and you, and your family and friends, there can be no economy. If there is a threat to humanity, I'm automatically prone to turn to the scientific and medical community to give me answers. When politicians try to silence these voices, I will push them aside in order to better hear what millions of years of evolution has taught me. My will to live and protect my family and future generations is stronger than any political persuasion.

So, I wear a mask. The less my humidity-borne exhalations mingle with your air, the better for you. When you also wear a mask, it helps (even though it does not necessarily prevent) keep yours from assaulting me. Therefore, the risk of the virus infecting either of us, is less than one of us selfishly ignoring the others' health. 

Why is the United States of America, which won World War II alongside our allies, now the last in the world when it comes to health? Because we're selfish, that's why. We're spoiled little crybabies who mistakenly equate "freedom" with responsibility. During the last Great War, our parents and grandparents sacrificed a lot more than we're asked to today. Many went without food. Basic necessities of life, with which none of us today could imagine, were rationed. (If you think a shortage of toilet paper is bad, try going back into time and living in 1942.) Factories were re-purposed to provide the necessary tools of war, which ultimately saved us from the fascism of Nazi Germany. Our forebears realized the sacrifices necessary to save humanity from evil, and pulled together for victory.

Today? We could be overrun by some foreign power and save for a few gun-toting wannabes, we'd be ultimately helpless. We would lose the war. Why? Not because of our military, still the most awesome force in the world, but because of rampant selfishness, lack of strong leadership, and an unwillingness to pull together and do what's right for the common good. One side holds up a failure of a leader, the other assails him, and still another blasts both while similar groups advocate for pure anarchy. We're more split now than the country President Lincoln was inaugurated to lead. 

Get your collective heads out of your asses, fellow Americans. Trust not what your political ideals insist upon. Allow your humanity to lead instead. You know, instinctively, what's "right". Come together, work toward the common goal of forward movement. We cannot go backward, and even if that were possible, our past is not as good as the future must be. Discard forced-upon divisions and leave them to the dung heaps of the past. If we fail to do this, then just bow your heads and accept defeat. There is merciful strength in unity, but horrific weakness in division. 

I prefer not to have this window for eternity.
The working class has allowed itself to be driven into puppetry, and the richest of rich hold our strings. They delight in our fighting each other while they enjoy the spoils of our battles. They laugh at us, convinced we are too ignorant to fight back. For the past 70 years, the working class has been beaten down, encouraged to fight each other over political doctrines we should have seen clearly through. We're all the fools here. Our masters have succeeded in pushing us all into smaller groups which can be easily annihilated once the time is right. And now, that time has come.

I may disagree with you, but I love you just the same. If some foreign invader held a sword to your neck, I would shoot him and save you. We're Americans, and so we should stand as one.

Love one another. Seems to me the main point God asked of us. We have failed, but there is still time to prove otherwise.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Thanks, George

Sometimes you have to stop and look,
or you fail to see the wonders.

It's a bit tricky, this dream we call life. Whenever you figure one part out, another challenge arrives. You don't get much time to celebrate the bit victories. It seems though, that we spend most of the time debating options even when the obvious solution travels beside you.

Am I sick? People ask me that and I have to wonder. I feel better now than several days ago. My soul, now that's an entirely different realm. It bounces between realizing each emotion I'm feeling. Too often, I'm angry. Surely, you've noticed that in my writing this year. It's usually directed at our upper management because I truly don't think they "get" what it's like to do this job, and it doesn't feel good to be called "heroes" when we don't believe we're treated as such. Sometimes, I'm too harsh in my criticism. For someone to understand this job, they must do it. That's the main reason I began writing about it. Now, I'm spinning my wheels in an angry ditch, and I'm stuck. Waiting for the tow truck of calm and reason to rescue me. I've put out the call, but the tow needs to come from within, or I'll keep throwing out mud instead of finding even ground again.

Hopefully, those of you who feel the anger in my words realize that some of it is pointed inward. I'm very hard on myself. My own worst critic. Whatever profession I've been in, except one (sales!), I have excelled. This bus gig requires not only a steady hand on the wheel, but a calm reserve and sociological precision. We have to deal with a myriad of personalities, phobias, socioeconomic and cultural differences. People test us daily, sometimes hourly. If we fail at one aspect, others are in peril. It's a constant juggling game, multi-tasking and emotional roller coaster.

Many believe we "just drive a bus". How hard could that be? Anyone who has done it understands how insulting that can feel. People may not intend to demean our profession, but unless they actually watch what we do and all this job entails, it just doesn't register. Once in a while, somebody stops on their way out the door to say "Thanks for driving, I appreciate what you do." To me, that makes up for those who don't acknowledge the service provided them.

Last week on a late outbound trip, I was feeling angry. Unappreciated. I just wanted to finish my run and be done. Earning my paycheck, but nothing more. Then, something wonderful happened: sincere appreciation.

A 20s-something fellow started to exit the front door. In my state, my only thought was to insist he exit through the rear door. After all, the announcement to wear masks, keep distance and then... he stopped as I held up my hand.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Impatiently, I slid the "protective" partition back and said "What? I didn't hear you. Would you please..."

"I know we're supposed to exit to the rear," he interrupted in a soft but pleading tone, "but I wanted to thank you again for what you said a few months ago. You inspired me to chase my dreams."

Immediate embarrassment on the grumpy bus driver's part. Shame. This kid was pleading to be heard, and I had pointed him to the back of the bus. I sighed, put my hand to my temple and drew a deep breath. Calm thyself, bonehead. Stop being a dipshidiot, Dekus Erectus.

I looked up him, acknowledging his need to speak. A tear formed at the corner of his eye, and I felt even worse.

"I told you that?" I asked, somewhat astonished given my current state.

"Yes, you did, and..."

"Oh yeah!" I replied, recognizing his kind face. "And you gave me a ten-spot in gratitude, which you really didn't have to. It was very kind... people don't usually respond like that. Let me just ask you though, did you?" I smiled at him then, for the first time.

"Did I what?"

"Chase your dreams? Are you doing so now?"

He smiled as the tear coursed down his cheek. "Yes, I did. But if you hadn't said what you did that night, I probably wouldn't have. Thank you, again. And, thanks for what you do every day. You made a difference in my life."

With that, he exited. "No," I replied as he walked away, "thank you."

Humbling moments like that tend to hit when we need them most. For months now I have abandoned my "Thought of the Day" because it seemed nobody was listening. Also, my mind and soul have been in turmoil and I refused to force it. I'm the open book kinda guy. You can always tell how I feel by the way I look. My frown needs to bounce the other way around.

The next day, I picked one of my folded up pieces of paper, determined to bring the better side of me to work. I smiled as I read it, putting it in my pocket. Good ol' George Carlin, RIP.

Later as I drove, I took a deep breath. Keying the mic, I read it aloud.

"If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?"

A few heads back there jerked up and stared at me. Sooo... you aren't actually plugged in and tuned out, eh? I said to myself. Then I just smiled, and left it right there. A couple of nods, then transit life returned to normal, heads bowed in homage to technological deities.

Thanks to my good friends Billy, Bruce and Tommy. You're right. Sometimes it helps us to just "put yourself out there" and let the passengers figure it out on their own. Evidently, it did hit home to one of them.

"Nice quote," she said. "George Carlin, right?" She smiled and winked as she exited... the back door. "Thanks, driver."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Testing 1-2-3-4...

Thanks to passenger Dean Turner for this photo.

1:30 a.m.

I was tested for COVID recently. Results within 24, they promised. A ticklish swab in each nostril. No big deal there.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” Tom Petty sang.

“Am I positive?” My first thought, ever since my first day off began.

Symptoms erupted. Then exploded. Not the ideal way to start a weekend.

“Nah,” my rational self answered. “Just another stomach virus, you’ll beat it just like when the kids were little and they brought every slithering bug home.” I nursed them all, my immune system impervious to these minor bugs.

For four months since the pandemic came to control our lives, I’ve braved crowds of people on the job. Who among them were infected? Wore my masks constantly; my ears have callouses. Washed my hands at every break. Used/abused the alcohol wash provided by the employer. Wiped down not only my driver's area, but the stanchions, doors and several other touch points a few times each shift. Kept the mask supplies abundant. Arriving home, I stripped and showered. Is it enough?

Nervous, am I? Yeah, a bit. More later.

* * * * *

4:20 a.m.

No, I’m not celebrating “420”. Just can’t sleep.

Took my temperature a while ago. Very low grade fever. It’s almost as low as those who damaged our city’s 120-year-old elk statue. Hopefully it settles back down to my normal cool range.

* * * * *
6:00 a.m.

Must have been the shortest "fever" I've ever had. Back to a cool 97.6 degrees. Feeling better too! Hope it's a constant trend. My immune system seems to be winning whatever it's fighting.

Still, I keep thinking of the selfish people who refused to wear a face mask on my bus, were rude and even threatening about it, shooting my stress level soaring beyond a bus operator’s limits. One of them an “ADA bully” and the other just plain stupid. Thanks, you assenheimers to the nth degree multiplied by infinity. I’ll pray you're not infected either.

* * * * *
2:05 p.m.

My test result was uncomfortably vague. COVID-19 was "not detected", my healthcare provider stated. Whew! Can I go back to work now?

Nope. They tell me I have to wait, symptom-free, a full three days until returning to work. Damnit, one more day off before I return. Started working on the COVID Leave form; gotta keep the bills paid. Called Station Agent to inform them of my return-to-work date.

* * * * *

Just to double-check on the correct date to return to work, I called my healthcare team again. The nurse put me on hold to consult with a team member a bit higher up. A few moments later, she told me the "new recommendation" was that I wait a full 10 days since my last symptoms before returning to work. Rats, I thought, my SA is not gonna like that.

You see, I'm not only at higher risk because of my age and health issues, but working with the public-at-large isn't exactly an ideal profession during a pandemic. It's best to be safe, which I try to be in all aspects of life. At this point, it's not wise to tempt fate. Plus, I don't want to possibly-infect my co-workers or passengers. What if I were to develop symptoms again, and I'm just currently asymptomatic? Not only does that scare the ear hairs off me, but I would also be worried about sharing this with someone else. My family is already at risk. What if a subsequent test came back positive?

Damn, what a mess. Not knowing if that pesky pandemic pesters my personal parameters, I have to find more stress relieving activities the next several days while monitoring the employer's response to my situation.

* * * * *

Many across the country are tired of the pandemic. Hey, we all are. That doesn't mean we can abandon precaution. That's why we discipline our children, so they learn right from wrong. Most wear masks, and I thank them. Yet some folks are refusing to wear them. They say their "constitutional rights" are more important than my health. Gee thanks, fellow Americans. I've seen articles about people who refused to wear a mask and were pushin' up daisies a week or two later. Brilliant, boys and girls.

Once upon a time, the rest of the world looked up to our USA. Now, they're worried about our sanity. Some have become too spoiled by our supposed "freedoms" and not very brotherly in their concern for others. It's scary enough to be exposed to an invisible assassin, let alone worrying whether my next rude passenger could anonymously kill me.

Thanks again Dean Turner!
My 60th birthday is fast approaching. I know the possibility of a celebratory bash is unlikely. I probably won't even go out to a restaurant. I'm much more concerned about making it to this birthday, and the next, and so on. My father lived until he was almost 92. I'm hoping to match, or beat that. He told me "the secret of life is to just keep having birthdays."

And so, my self-quarantine continues. Boring? Yeah, a bit. But I'll just pull on my Big Boy Pants and deal. If not just for my sake, but also for yours.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Hero, My Ass

Another mostly-empty bus; thank God for Saturdays.

It's difficult to describe my feelings right now. We're all in a strange place, and everything we know as "normal" has gone awry. Mostly what I feel is pissed off, for a number of reasons. I can't go into them all at the moment or I'll likely have a stroke. It has all been boiling and is often right at the point of blowing through my steam hole.

Here's just three points I'm dealing with right now as a Portland bus operator. There are dozens, but these are topmost in my mind.

1) Yes, we are "heroes" to risk our lives every moment we operate a city bus. No more, no less than many others who have endured to serve the past three months. True, Oregon's COVID-19 numbers are less than many other states' statistics. Mostly because we're trying to keep it at bay by adhering to simple actions set forth by health professionals. However, as the economy has slowly awakened\ we have seen a sharp increase in positive test results for the Coronavirus. The more people interact with others, the likelihood of catching the virus increases. It should scare the hell out of us. Given that under normal conditions, a full-time bus operator comes into contact with approximately 150,000 people each year, our chances of being infected are exponentially-higher than most. Given our transit agency's lax attitude toward our well-being and health versus its pampered "customer base", our infection risk is amplified a hundredfold. No hazard pay. No consequences for those who board and refuse to wear a mask. Of course, the economic conditions have rendered many jobless so no fare enforcement is a temporary economic reality. However, a great deal of people who can pay refuse to do so because they know they won't be penalized. A bus operator can tell the difference between a classic fare evader and an honest citizen who can't even afford to pay attention.

Anguish through art, captured upon the boarded-up Apple Store
 in Downtown Portland.
2) Our "Leadership Team" is anything but concerned for its frontline workers. Sure, it puts up pretty signs and floods us with slogans about how "Heroes Work Here". Its edicts and sanctions tell a much different story. I do give our General Manager kudos for replying to emails, but his wording is largely defensive and his methods reactionary. Am I supposed to feel relieved to know he is doing "everything we can to ensure the safety" of those who do the actual work of transit? I'm not. He was hand-picked by his inept predecessor, so that does little to bolster confidence in the new guy's abilities. Sure, nobody could have predicted the mess this pandemic caused. However, I wonder why there was no plan in place ahead of time. Simply because our "Leadership" doesn't know how to lead. It rolls through the motions like a fly zipping through my window, then stopping to wonder, "What the hell am I doing here and how do I get out?" It considers its union workers annoying speed bumps to its ultimate goal, which is to rid itself of its pesky human liabilities. A glaring example of its unpreparedness its inability to limit boarding/exiting to the rear door. OOPS! Can't do it with the new buses it replaced older, safer ones the past several years. Replace air-controlled doors with electronics, and passengers still can't figure out how to open them. If an emergency required a total shutdown, the newest buses are a death trap because you cannot open an electric door with no electricity. Duh.

3) This brings me to certain members of the GM's "leadership team" (not capitalized for good reason). For the past 10-15 years, our transit agency has morphed into some Orwellian Corporata, created by, and for, the benefit of itself. Its lax oversight by a Governor-appointed "Bored" of Directors means it can pretty much do what it wants, and to hell with the lugnuts of transit. Besides our smiling untouchable "leader", he has an axe man to do the dirty work. That's the current Director of Employee and Labor Relations. This fella is a doozy, folks. He's been quoted as saying "morale doesn't concern me", and flippantly saying he doesn't think public sector employees deserve a pension or retirement income. Great choice, Mr. GM. Perhaps "heroes" deserve a bit more respect than a boot print on our way out the door.

I could go on indefinitely. I've been verbally assaulted and threatened recently, disrespected several times each week. I was called a "white motherfucker" by someone I politely asked to wear a mask. He also threatened to pull me through my window as I refused to acknowledge his misplaced anger. My brother Henry was spit upon. Others have been punched, threatened and harassed, but the guy at the top of the chain doesn't give a damn about morale. My health insurance premium tripled last December, erasing all the previous pay raises our last contract afforded us. If I'm seen not wearing a face mask while on duty, now I'm threatened with suspension or termination, but my passengers fear no recrimination. I can't work from home, and it takes grit of superhuman strength to endure on the job in normal conditions, let alone under pandemic uncertainty.

Waiting to see the light in vast darkness.
We're not respected by "leadership" unless you consider coined slogans and public relations bullshit anything but unfettered pandering. I could die before the end of the year, and the only thing you'd hear is a collective sigh of relief. "At least we won't have to put up with this Deke guy any more." There might be a publicly-declared "moment of silence" in some awkwardly-worded public address system announcement "mourning" my death like the clumsy "white guilt" attempt at political correctness we heard a few days ago in memory of Mr. George Floyd and others needlessly murdered. Sadly, there has been no mention the past year of Thomas Dunn, a Tampa Bay Florida bus operator who was murdered by knife-wielding passenger a year ago this May. He pulled his bus over and secured it before bleeding out in the seat. All Mr. Dunn's "leadership team" could say afterwards was how "safe" its system was as Mr. Dunn lay on a cold slab in the morgue. Our GM had never heard of Mr. Dunn shortly after his death.

So... nah. My demise wouldn't be newsworthy save for the initial blood spill. Blood and gore draw media attention; working class anguish does not. I'd be replaced by some wide-eyed rookie with 10 minutes of experience. Hey, I might even get some mention on the local news. But a day later, it would be business as usual. No mention of my 200,000 safe miles, scores of commendations, or literary anguish via Blogger.

I'm no hero. I'm just another expendable body in the seat.

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...