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Deacon Who?

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Attacked! Again


Deke's Note: We are family: Operators, Mechanics, Dispatchers, Supervisors, Station Agents, Trainers. We may squabble a bit, but when violence happens on our system, we pull together. I just wish those entrusted with running the joint had the same mentality.

A good friend of mine was threatened by a passenger last week. One of the sweetest, most-kind people, this operator simply informed the man he needed to exit the bus at the end of the line. He took exception.

Another passenger warned her the man had a switchblade, and this made her shrink back in a defensive position.

"My only thought was, 'I'm gonna die!' " she recalled. "I pulled my knees up to my chest, thinking if he stabbed me in the arms or legs I would live. If he got me in the chest I would die."

The man reached around the barrier and threatened her. "I would have kicked him if he had tried to stab me." That was her only defense, except attempting to escape through the narrow operator-side window. She has done this before when threatened.

She pushed the "Police" button on the CAD and said Dispatch/Supervisor response was quick and supportive, but her attacker vanished. When he left, the operator ran back to her follower's bus to take refuge in case he came back. Police told her the man matched the description of someone who had threatened operators on different lines the past few days. A repeat offender.

Afterward, the operator had three choices: continue in service, take a "TDA (Turn Down Assignment)" or use her sick leave. To continue her shift meant she would have been operating with diminished capacity, unable to concentrate because that event would constantly be replaying in her mind. Unfortunately, many do this. I have, and it's not a good idea.

She decided to press charges, but if the guy is caught and charged, his defense attorney will likely use a ploy that continues to weigh heavily against the victims: numerous delays. If an operator has to miss work because of court dates, we have to use leave hours. An operator shows up for the court appearance only to find it has been delayed. If we miss too much work, our employer penalizes us. Instead of supporting its victimized work force, this corporate-led "punishment first" mentality does anything but make us feel like the "heroes" those stupid signs say we are.

When was the last time one of the transit agency's attorneys appeared in court to argue for its employee/victim? I don't remember seeing our GM at a fellow operator's funeral earlier this year. At least her Manager was there, a former bus operator herself, mourning with us.

Do the upper crust even care? It appears not, given its failure to honor us in contract negotiations or be true partners in transit. This "Us vs. Them" mentality needs to stop.

You would think a transit agency would be extremely tough on those who attack, menace, and threaten us just for doing our jobs. Instead, they fail us when we need support the most. This is disgusting, but evidently okay with the listless "Bored" of Directors who just nod and agree with nearly everything the "Leadership Team" does.

I guess we're only good employees, dead or alive, when we're "in the seat". Didn't do Thomas Dunn of Tampa, FL much good. He died in his seat in May of 2019 after having his throat slashed while operating his bus. To his credit, he pulled his bus to the curb and secured it before he bled out in the seat. Operator Dunn gave his passengers, even his murderer, his final drop of blood to ensure their safety. At least he didn't break the number one rule we learn in training: don't damage the equipment.

Damaging the operator seems to be okay, though. I'm just relieved our sister lived to tell the tale.



Monday, September 21, 2020

Anniversaries of the Most Beloved Kind



I wanted to write on my novel tonight. Instead, I became entranced by YouTube videos. First, I found a channel in which two young studs listened to music from my youth for the first time, their reactions the basis for their channel. It was truly heart-bending to see them find the joy I did, and have since, listening to the many wonderful vocalists I have loved since childhood.

This week, my thoughts are with my own Beloved, the only person I have trusted wholly, loved with a singular passion impossible to describe and without reservation: Stacey. There, I wrote her name here. Now that I'm officially "out" from under my pen name, not needing to refer to her simply as "Beloved", which she has been for 27 years. She truly hated the moniker "Mrs. Blue", and I'm sorry my dear. I thought my identity was "secret" and thusly tried to protect us both, but I know you never were on board with the whole "Deke" thing.

I have been listening to a myriad of tunes from the 1970s tonight. The one that remains is Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. I first heard this song as a nine-year-old who had no thoughts of love or forever anything. It was the song, Roberta's masterful voice, which entranced me, not the sentiments expressed within it. I was too young to understand, but as the son of a masterful tenor soloist in my father, I understood the power of this song. Along with James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend", that year was when I woke up as a music lover. I had sung in a children's choir at Dad's urging, and Mom also praised my youthful soprano voice. As the years progressed, I lost interest in singing, but I could belt out the tunes nonetheless. I loved hearing Dad sing. His music was deeply ingrained into my soul, and I learned to appreciate vocalists and instrumentalists. Count Basie, who I had the awe-inspiring moment in time to meet, Louis Armstrong, Sara Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and many others whose voices soared with precision and soulful majesty have filled my life with a love I could never describe.

As I listened to Roberta for the upteenth-millionth time singing that song, tears streamed down my safe as I recalled seeing Stacey's face for the first time. Her serenity, powerful confidence and eternal beauty instantly captured my heart.

One year ago, we embarked upon a trip to Scotland to celebrate our 25th anniversary. It was much more than just a date to me. Until she came into my life, I was a lost soul. An early marriage screeched into a fatal collision with youth and reality, I had lost any hope of finding someone to share my deep well of love with. A single parent whose every moment was dedicated to a beautiful daughter, the victim of a lost love, I had no more passion for anyone but her. After several failed attempts at relationships, even with the one who abandoned my youthful passion through a tortured childhood she could not ever forget, my every forward movement was solely dedicated to the now and future of that beautiful child I had helped create. Any moment spent with my daughter was magic and nothing else mattered.

Then, Stacey happened. She appeared at my door, solely intent upon retrieving her notebook of poetry. As I opened the door to my "bachelor pad", I had no idea the powerful face which awaited me. Hers was the picture of serenity, power and confidence I hadn't even dreamed of. Instantly, my heart began to pound, my breath taken away. It was as if God Himself had brought her to me in answer to my countless nights of anger and tears and prayers and anguished hours of lonely silence had just... stopped. Stacey will probably attest to my jaw dropping as I encountered her, a lovely lass of 19, dressed confidently and staring at me intently.

Stacey knew my parents before I met her. She feared I would be my mother personified, a truly fearsome person in her own right. Instead, she looked into my eyes and found a troubled soul who was immediately entranced by her quiet, confident beauty.

For two weeks, I had read her poetry. It was neatly presented in a binder. Her typewritten or hand-lettered words presented a woman of advanced integrity and depth. I was truly intrigued by her grasp of what she described in what others her age might have struggled with. I could tell she was a "reader" because the language was perfect, the diction practiced and decisive. As a student of our language, I found her poetry lingered after reading. When she called and asked to have her words returned, I invited her to retrieve it. Personally. I wanted to meet her. Not out of anything other than curiosity; her soul was laid out in a language so deep it was our initial introduction, although she knew nothing about me.

As she entered my disheveled bachelor pad, I was immediately embarrassed. I hadn't taken much time to prepare for a visitor. The kitchen was bachelor-messy and I hoped she didn't walk past it to use my similarly-unsanitary bathroom. My daughter was with her mother, so I had a few days yet to prepare for Bear's return. Nothing seemed to faze her; Stacey simply smoothed her dress and sat on the couch across from me.

The next few minutes of our initial meeting remain a hazy daze to me. All I remember is blurting out that I would love to take her out sometime, to which she surprisingly agreed to. For the first time in nearly eight years, I was entranced with another. Completely "twitterpated" and enamored of this quiet beauty's grace.  An age difference of 13 years didn't dissuade our seeming mutual attraction. She met my gaze with no fear, no trace of self-doubt. When she left after just a half-hour, I instantly began grading my lack of decor, grace and demeanor. Even so, Stacey left with a backward glance and slight smile, as if she was feeling the same instant attraction I had.

Within months, we were inseparable and engaged to be married. Ever since, I have counted endless lucky stars to have her beside me. On Thursday this week, we will celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary, just a year since we made an epic journey together to Scotland to celebrate our silver.

Stacey helped me raise my daughter through the tense, turbulent years of Bear's teens. She had already won the child's heart, and she knew more about being a teenaged girl than I could ever imagine. Every step of the way, Stacey guided me through the hell my willful child put us through. Stacey's steely vision, understanding and knowledge was far beyond her years, being just 10 years senior to my Bear. An only child, she understood the love I felt for my then-only offspring and helped me make the decisions which would ultimately shape our lives together.

We made two beautiful babies together, who have grown to become strong young men today. My Bear is now a respected and hard-working member of an attorney firm, with far-reaching goals. Bear graduated high school with honors, after a challenging teenage journey. Throughout our life together, I have been comforted by Beloved's calm, stoic and beauty. After a hard day's work behind the wheel of a city bus, I know the hug awaits even if she is awakened by my return. Stacey is the iron bar upon which I lean, the well of power I channel when life throws its most-cruel darts my way.

Beginning this night wanting to write another chapter of my novel, I was struck by the music of my past. It led me to tunes which made me think of her. From the Rev. Al Green, to The Fifth Dimension, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and then to Karen Carpenter and finally Roberta Flack. I am hopelessly, irrevocably entwined with my best friend.

I hope you all have the opportunity to feel the comfort I enjoy in this incredible love we share. It's a feeling that far surpasses anything I've ever felt. Each accomplishment the past quarter-century I can attribute to the support Stacey has given me. If I died today, it would pass knowing I had the best time of my life spent with her and the joy she brought into my formerly-darkened world. Everything I write here is subject to Beloved's wise eyes. No matter what strangeness invades this mind, I can share it with her and find new insights.

My reward is surely much more than hers in this relationship. I'm not easy to live with, often subject to an artist's angst. Every day, Stacey does something that makes me smile, deep within the recesses of what makes me tick. I cannot think of anything that has ever made me doubt her love. I am truly one of the luckiest people on this Earth today.

Not only has my Beloved enriched my life beyond any reality I could have conjured, her parents have deeply enriched me as well. Few can attest to their inlaws deep love and support, but I can. Through each step of our life together, MIL and FIL have been intensely-supportive. Their guidance and love saw me through the loss of both my parents, helped ease the strife of parenting our kids, and been close friends throughout. Thank you JoAnne and Terry, for raising the wonderful woman I am forever entranced by.

Thank you, my love. Happy 26th, and hopefully we'll live long and happily for another 30 or so. As I approach my 60th birthday in a few weeks, the only gift I know will have the deepest meaning is her enduring love for the irascible soul I have become. And that, my friends, will guide me as long as this writer's heart can thumpity-thump.

Love you MOST, Stacers. Happy 26th, and several dozen more!


 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Writing Through the Haze


Headed into the smoke a week ago. Then... the same location
a week later. Ahh, Oregon rain has once again cleansed
our air and brought us some semblance of "normalcy"
back into our Northwest Oasis.


Deke's Note: What is normal? I'm not sure such a state ever existed. There was what was, there is what is, perhaps something good will bloom where naught did before. Life is so mixed up right now, I don't know that the "n" word will ever be properly defined. So be it. I'm not sure I want to know what that state is or should be.

Currently, I just take things as the monsoon wind blows them at me. After the past few months, it seems little surprises me. Why should it? We have all been blasted by a reality so harsh it's difficult to fathom. Every one of us can describe a personal hell as of late. Loved ones lost, property burned up, politics coming between decades-old friendships, brothers or sisters spurning us as the world burns in a firestorm nobody is prepared for. Yet, we survive. It's what humans do, what we have done for millions of years. Sorry, dinosaur deniers, try as you might you cannot logically deny science. After all, God created that, too. He even gave us logic, so your argument is without merit.

So, where does that leave us? Do I think it's biblical in proportion? No. The eternal optimist, I believe we still can find a way to survive. Together. What ails us most today is that we have been conned. Divide and conquer, the rich man's constant manner of controlling us, is working perfectly. We, the working ants or bees, doomed to slave away until death saves us from mortal torture. We, who allow ourselves to endure, all the while fighting each other over which slave master is best. Black folks finally exploded, after eons of insult, torture and oppression. Look what it got them? The rest of the worker bees turning against them because their "tactics" are inconvenient. Destructive. As if their anger is misdirected somehow. And how is that? Are they supposed to keep bowing down to the Great White Dollar-Doling Corporate Massa and be thankful they're being murdered or imprisoned disproportionately? I'm surprised at their patience to date. I'm also afraid, because as a white man I have benefited whilst they suffered. I wish it wasn't so. I'm also not guilty by association. I can only answer to my own actions.

Still, I hope we find a way to finally move forward as ONE race, the human kind. It will take a mass uprising of us worker bees. It's not important to take it all from the richest and re-distribute it. However, the time is long since past for a concerted effort to share more. Humans tend to attack what we don't understand. If it's not part of our psyche, outside of our comfort circle, it is feared. We bluster and fume easier than we muster kindness. You don't have to agree with someone to be kind to them, to forgive and move forward and forge compromises. When was the last time the two American political parties came together for the better of all? Me either. Not since 9/11 were we able to rise as ONE in this country. Then, we attacked the wrong country and appeased the guilty one. Damn! Once again, money won and we allowed it.

Those most afraid of what they do not understand are the most violent in nature, while those who understand their neighbors are the most kind. I have never been afraid to reach out to people, even when I know our politics are radically opposite. To reach within someone and pull out their best attributes is very rewarding. Often, those with whom I disagree have great treasures within their souls. When we find common ground, a friendship blossoms. As long as we avoid political argument, we have more to agree upon than otherwise. The more we talk, our differences fade until we find topics upon which we're in total agreement. And that, my friends, is a magical place to come into. I only wish we'd allow ourselves to lay down the swords which our words become, to realize we're all simple souls trying to find peace within and amongst one another. It's a lot easier than we allow; too often we're too eager to be right we fail to realize the other guy isn't always wrong.

Tonight, I'm at peace. Many of my fellow Oregonians are not. I feel guilty for my fortunate turn of events. We moved out of an apartment just over a week before a freak windstorm with un-Oregon-like low humidity roared into our already COVID-19 nightmarish hell. The combination exploded into a firestorm Oregon has never seen since we invaded this beautiful land and commenced ruining it some 200 years ago. No, we cannot "rake the forests" of fuel dry summers create. Forests often burn, given ripe conditions. With humans, it's alarmingly more frequent that our fire seasons have intensified the past 50 years. A carelessly-tossed cigarette butt, a campfire not properly-doused, or a teenager lighting fireworks in some hidden spot deep in the forest... any number of human errors can wreak havoc in this city we have created in the Great Northwest Forest. This time, Mother Nature decided to add Her anger to the mix. Hence, the Firestorm of '20. It will be forever compared to the greatest disasters along with Mt. St. Helens and the Big Earthquake to come.

I know people who lost their homes to this disaster. My fortune is dimmed by their misfortune. My son's good friend Reece evacuated, and part of his father's home in Estacada burned. Our good friends' son had to evacuate their horses and take refuge in their parents' home across the street from ours. A fellow operator had to leave her home in a Level 3 (GO NOW!) evacuation zone. Our old apartment was in a Level 2 zone for several days, and my bus route's southern terminus was just across the highway from there, closed because of its proximity to the closest fire and the resulting choking smoke.

The whole Oregon Firestorm Disaster is not over. Even though cool, rainy weather has overridden the previously-hot and dry weather, many fires remain burning across the Northwest and California. My prayers continue for the safety of residents and especially the brave souls who fight the flames. Where our transit agency once called us "heroes", the true ones continue to march into the fiery hell to contain what Mother Nature has wrought.

The "Deke Den", sans a few undecided wall hangings.

I thank the souls who guided me to move out when we did. Now, I have a home. I'm writing to you from my cozy den, looking across the street at the house where we raised our family. Alice Crader, who had this home built some 17 years ago and lived here until she left this Earth at 97 years last December, reminds me it is special. She was my neighbor for 13 years. Alice watched my boys play basketball from the porch just outside my window. Whenever I was out front trimming my roses, she would call out and I'd amble across the street to converse with her. Sometimes, I'd bring my garden tools and deadhead her roses as we chatted. She was an amazing lady, and I admired her spunk. The few times I entered this home of hers, I was amazed at its precision craftsmanship and beauty. Beloved and I enjoyed a dinner in this very room with Alice as host and chef, sharing stories and love in her dining room/my new den. We sat within arm's reach of where I write now. Ahh, the very history of this home! Thank you, Alice, for letting us live here.

There must be a reason we're here in this beautiful home. All my life I've been a worker bee. Writing when there was cause to do so, but still struggling to pay the bills and have a little fun here and there. Moving up or down, we always made ends meet. Now, I'm at the eve of my 60th birthday, still working my waning ass off to pay the bills, but with new hope beckoning in this incredible house. Having cheated death several times in my life, it seems I have been biding my time. Something BIG has beckoned me forward for decades. As my seventh beckons, I'm reminded that I wouldn't even be here if not for my mother's intense devotion. She willed me to succeed, defying doctors who said I'd never walk, talk or be worth a damn. Hey, I may not be now, but I haven't yet reached my destiny. I'm afraid of it sometimes. If I become a respected author, will I then die? According to the doctors who gave Mom that horrid yet faulty diagnosis of my supposed future, I should have succumbed to my prenatal brain injury before my fifth birthday, hidden away in some horrid 1960s "institution".

Instead, here I am. Again torturing you readers who have grown accustomed to two-minute reads prompted to you via cell-hell. Sorry, but it's my Friday night and this is my emotional explosion zone.

#BANDTOGETHER2020, in memory of Thomas Dunn
of Tampa, Florida. He safely secured his bus
just before he died... in the seat.
Bless you in safety. I end this week having worn a BandAid on my passenger-side cheek in memory of Thomas Dunn. Don't know him? Read my last post. It was #BANDTOGETHER2020 week, and I am sad because I have only seen two "selfies" from brothers joining in. After three years, I had hoped even more would have joined us. Alas, the devastation of a pandemic interfered, and I understand.

I did an interview with Tommy Transit and his lovely bride Michele where I tried to describe the why. Still, I did my best to memorialize our Tampa, FL brother Thomas Dunn, who died in the seat in May '19, his throat slashed by a knife-wielding passenger, after safely pulling his bus to the curb and securing it. We all fear this gruesome end, and that's why I had to do Mr. Dunn honor thusly.

Peace be with you, thanks for reading, and please continue praying for those on the West Coast who have been victims of a hellacious month. Also, add all transit employees who endure through any and every disaster that strikes anywhere. I want 2020 to end on a positive note. With your support, may God in His mercy spare more than be slashed, thrashed or splashed, forevermore.

Meanwhile in this beautiful home, I will finish my new novel (The Tilikum Troll) and then finish the tome I began (Gooch) some 23 years ago. May this home be ours another 30 years. I love it so.




Sunday, September 13, 2020

TIME TO #BANDTOGETHER2020!




Deke's Note: Apologies to Henry Beasley and thousands of you across the globe for this late notice, but it's time once again to #BANDTOGETHER. For the third year now, we will join brothers and sisters of transit across the globe to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price for their service in transit.


Imagine, hard as it is, that you're driving your bus and a man steps up past the Yellow Line. He then says "God Bless you" twice, then slices your throat with a knife. No warning or threats uttered, just instant violence. Your carotid artery pumping your life's blood onto the floor, you manage to steer your bus to the curb, then secure it, thus ensuring the safety of your passengers. Then, you die.

Horrible, eh? None of us could ever fathom such an end, but it's possible. It happened to Mr. Thomas Dunn of Tampa, Florida, just over a year ago.

Horrifying to contemplate, let alone undertake. And Brother Dunn did our timeless code of Safety First its ultimate justice. His brave sacrifice demands equal honor from not only those of us who share his occupation, but also from those who use the invaluable service of public transit.

Let us dedicate our Third Annual #BANDTOGETHER event to the bravery of Brother Thomas Dunn, and others who have been murdered doing this increasingly-difficult and dangerous job of ferrying our fellow citizens safely to their destinations.

No matter the dangers we face:
  • When we press charges on our assailants, our transit management does not support us going to court appearances, often disciplining us on time loss resulting from countless defense stalling tactics. Each agency should have a special legal division dedicated to ensuring anyone who attacks US be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, while vigorously lobbying state legislatures to make ANY attack on a transit worker a FELONY not prone to plea bargaining. Additionally, anyone who attacks us should be PERMANENTLY EXCLUDED from riding a transit vehicle.
  • Unflinching in our dedication to driving safely, facing many dangers the public never sees.
  • Constantly harassed, threatened, or attacked while simply adhering to transit code. These "barriers" management is so proud of do little to prevent a full-frontal attack.
  • Faced with numerous "takeaways" in contract talks with a management which says "heroes" from one side of its collective mouths while uttering "greedy and unnecessarily needy" from the other.
  • Showing up for work every day to serve our passengers, especially throughout this COVID-19 nightmare endured across the globe. Without "hazard pay" or the ability to refuse service to "maskholes" who refuse to safeguard their fellow citizens.
  • Safely operate through any type of weather Mother Nature throws our way, even as our own families face peril during our absence. 
Perhaps then, we might feel this term "hero" applies to US. Right now, it's an empty slogan as we fight for a contract which makes us actually valued members of our communities.

Please join us this week, September 13-19 as we honor Mr. Dunn's ultimate sacrifice and demand our collective transit agencies pull their heads out of their collective corporate asses and work diligently toward protecting their frontline employees. We deserve to be FIRST in their priority lists, not relegated to the dung heaps of "liability".

Place a BandAid on your passenger-side (right) cheek, with the initials "TD" written on it. Take a "selfie" of yourself on or near your bus, and post it with the tagline #BANDTOGETHER2020, sharing it on these FaceBook, Instagram and other social media outlets so millions see them. Also, please email me your photos at deaconinblue@gmail.com so I can share them here, where I hope to compile a great number of my brothers and sisters banding TOGETHER to fight this alternate plague. If we all participate in this noble event, my hope is that our humble stand in Portland reverberates across the globe and awakens our corporate-dulled management to collectively reorganize its efforts toward safety, rather than capital projects which make their resumes look better to future employers in Corporata.

When anyone asks you about your BandAid, please describe Mr. Dunn's murder, and that transit workers worldwide are honoring his ultimate sacrifice this week. It will also give you the opportunity to discuss your area's number of attacks on YOUR local transit workers.

Be frank, but remember the public has little idea of our plight. They think driving a vehicle is "easy" and that we are "overpaid" government flunkies not worthy of their respect. Take the time to patiently explain our jobs encompass more than just operating a bus or light rail vehicle. YOU know the dangers we face, so take the time to patiently explain our plight. The public deserves to know what you go through each day. Your fears and concerns deserve recognition, as well as your service to your community.

Supervisors, please join us as well as Station Agents, Trainers, Dispatchers and Maintenance Workers. You ALL know what it's like to do this job. Your solidarity shows respect to those who have paid the ultimate price. WE are brothers and sisters; THEY are intent on taking away from US to the point where we're no longer a force for change.

So far, we've heard nothing from our union about this, and it's been mushrooming worldwide each year we participate. 2020 has been horrible in too many ways. We have lost hundreds of transit workers to the pandemic, yet we continue serving the public. It's time we #BANDTOGETHER2020 for lasting change.

Please join us. Bless you and yours, be safe and well. That is my constant and lasting prayer.
With love and respect,

Deke N. Blue
Portland, Oregon

Deke Counts Many Blessings


Deke's Note: Finally, my Friday night! Well, it's early morning to many of you, but 2:25am is early evening to this night owl. Comforted, slightly lubricated, it's time to describe life as Deke finds it now.

Ever heard of The Fifth Dimension? A quintet of highly-talented vocalists, this was the first group I ever saw in concert. The year was 1971, I was a spunky 10-year-old, and I loved their music. Sure, the Jackson Five was hot along with many other groups, but I was enchanted with the vocal harmonies these masterful singers put out. Up Up and Away was the first tune up tonight, and it made me sigh. How I would love to sail up in a beautiful balloon and find only sunshine and fresh air! It is not to be, but the music takes me back to a simpler time, my childhood. And that, folks was half a century ago.

Enough dreamy bullshit though. Things here in Oregon are, well without more adequate adjectives, terrible. Nightmarish. Is Mother Nature, God and the Cosmos combining to punish humanity? In the midst of fighting a killer pandemic, Oregon experienced a freak windstorm combined with single-digit humidity and near-100-degree temps early last week, sparking a horrific firestorm never before seen. In the span of a few days, entire communities were engulfed in Satan's living room. A 12-year-old and his grandmother were taken by the flames, and many poor souls.

Many had but a few hours or less to gather what they could from their homes to flee. Horses, dogs, cats, goats, chickens and other farm animals had to be gathered and moved to safety. I cannot begin to imagine what my sister Jacqui dealt with, along with Kayla, Fred and Clover, and so many others faced when confronted with the unimaginable. I'm sure you join with me in prayer for the 500,000 displaced Oregonians this week. Empathetic to a fault, my tears have flowed not only because of the dense smoke, but every time I think of all the displaced families who may not have a home to return to, it's more than devastating. At this time, we're not political, we're simply neighbors hoping and praying for the safety of all.

We were lucky. Just two weeks ago today, we moved from an apartment situated just across the highway from a Level 3 (GO NOW!) evacuation zone. It is surrounded by old-growth timber, which after a normally-super-dry summer, is drier than my father-in-law. Of course, we had no idea whatsoever this would happen. Had we stayed there, the smoke has been so thick none of us could have endured sleeping there. Our former neighbors must be living a mortal hell right now, not to mention those just a mile down the road or just a bit further, in the sleepy burghs of Molalla, Silverton and all the farms dotting the beautiful Oregon countryside just south and southeast of the Portland Metropolitan area. My heart is sick watching the devastation of century-old farms, homesteads and all the memories this hellfire took with it.

Our new home is just across the Clackamas River from Oregon City. It sits near the confluence of that river and the Willamette, a mighty northward-flowing tributary which originates just south of Eugene, where the several mountain-fed rivers feed into it. Gladstone is a sleepy little hamlet in the southeast corner of the Portland metro area, where we raised our sons and made lifelong friends of our next-door neighbors. I was sad to leave it; this neighborhood is where the book JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane took shape, where this blog was born. Now, our new home sits directly across the street from that lovely little house where we shared so much love together. I'm constantly reminded there is a guiding hand in our lives, and how my wishes the past four years have been granted more gratuitously than I could have ever dreamed.

Pancho, the clock, favorite books...

Now, I feel guilty. What have I done to deserve such a fortunate turn of events? I hated living in an apartment again. That alone was my privilege shouting from within. At least I have always found a way to keep a decent roof over our heads, given my lack of a college degree. My working career looks like a chapter out of a Dickens novel, with a bit of Michener mixed in. Whenever our situation appeared bleak, Deke reached up and grabbed on for dear life and hey, I'm better off now than so many others. Why was I so depressed before? I've always wanted more. If I would only feel happy that I'm not one of the millions in this world who have so much less, perhaps I'd be a more-graceful human being. 

My constant need for more must stem from being born with a brain injury and feeling like I have to prove my parents' dedication wasn't for naught. I'm dealing with this. My Beloved has always calmed and soothed me, reminding me to be grateful for what we do have, rather than always wanting more. Even during this week when we might have been reaching just to keep out of the flame's grasp, she has remained stoic, composed and steady. It has been me one step ahead of panic, frightened we would lose every humble "thing" we have accumulated over our 27 years together, and a lifetime I had before Beloved stepped in to my darkened life. Those "things" mean nothing compared to the lives of her, our sons and my daughter, grandson and brothers, or our friends, my brothers and sisters, and those with whom we have shared this city for almost two decades now.

Life is fleeting, so it is said. It is true. As I approach my 60th birthday, I'm slowly coming around to what it's all about. And Alfie, it's love. That's all that matters, especially in the end. We don't take earthly possessions with us, so no matter how I love my great aunt's desk I've lived with for 36 years, or my great grandfather's clock given him as a wedding gift in 1890. It could go up in flames and I would still be surrounded by family and friends who put my humble belongings to shame. If I died today, it would come about knowing that I have made true friends with many incredible folks. My last expression would be a smile, although a single tear might trickle down knowing I couldn't spend more time with any of you.

My heartfelt prayers continue to be said for those who have lost. I have won, in spite of the horrors all around me. I do not believe myself deserving, but there must be a divine reason for this. There is work to be done. I am a writer who drives a bus for a living. This job has housed and fed us, coming at a time when I was at a standstill. Now it's time to make use of this good fortune, not just to prove something, but because a divine hand has guided me to this peaceful place where I must make my stand. These words are but a foundation of what must be said and done.

Thank you all for standing by me all these seven years. You have given me strength in your support. I have grown as a human, not just as a writer. I needed to become a better soul before these alphabetical pecks could evolve into something more coherent and lasting. With your help, and the guiding hand which brought us into Alice's House in the Clarendon Neighborhood, along with Beloved's loving presence, will steer me where I have always needed to be: home.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Deke in the Den

Deke's Note: Hello again, this time from our new home! It took this aging goof a while to get the Deke Den set up, specifically this computer, but I'm connected again. So here goes.

For the first time since this almost century-old oak desk and matching office furniture was given to me by my mother, it is not in our living room. Wow! A whole room to myself for writing and related mischief! I'm still hanging pictures/photos and other memorabilia, stocking bookshelves with my old favorites. The most amazing thing about this home? It's the biggest, most beautiful and peaceful spot I've ever lived. Pristine wood floors, hickory cabinets in the kitchen, a (gas) fireplace, vaulted ceilings, a garage and landscaped front and back yards. Even more amazing, it sits directly across the street from where we raised our sons.

Four years I have mourned leaving this neighborhood. My writing has shown the frustration welling within, often giving way to deep depression. Anger, too. My confidence level shot down to record lows. Given this hellish pandemic we are still fighting, passengers can feel an operator's slightest mood shift. Threats, menacing and even an assault visited me over the past few months as I drove one of Portland's rough bus routes.

Rampant riots, public fury... and us just trying to get through it with some sense of normalcy has been challenging. Even so, the media's depiction of "Portland Under Siege" has been largely overblown. Yes, there are protests, demonstrations, clashes with police and members of opposing groups. Downtown looks like a war zone, and the homeless camps multiply in one of the hottest COVID-19 infection zones in the state. I had to get out of there, or I would lose my last bit of sanity.

So I signed myself out of the War Zone, four days a week. I'm back on a run that I've done many times before. It's both comforting and sometimes annoying. The passengers on this line seem to think the bus is their personal trash can, even when they're three feet (or less) from the one on the wheel well.

There were some bright moments driving Line 9 before I left it. One came from a fellow operator. As I trudged into the break room at North Terminal, a blog reader called me "Mark Twain". This was not long after having a water bottle bounce off my hard head. I was grumpy, on edge and feeling particularly depressed. When Terry greeted me by that name, it stopped me in my tracks. Humbled and grateful, I turned to speak with him. He was so kind and complimentary. Even though we rarely see each other and he had to remind me of his name (a transit operator's lament), I have always enjoyed his company. It was music to me, having my writing compared to one of my favorite authors. In the restroom, I had to wipe a tear away. On my way out the door, I hope my gratitude to Terry was adequately expressed. Once my fingers begin dancing merrily on this keyboard with more regularity, I will surely endeavor to live up to his praise.

"Hello Dirty3 passengers," I said into the PA one day, "thanks for riding my bus. Please note that we have none one, but two trash cans up front at your disposal. Also, I appreciate you wearing your mask, even though some of you believe COVID-19 attacks your chin rather than your respiratory system. I know it's a pain to wear these damn things, but please wear them properly. You may only be on this bus 20 minutes or so, but I'm here 10 hours a day, exposed to everything that slithers aboard. My wearing this mask is also for your benefit, so please wear yours for mine and that of everyone else on the bus. Thank you!"

Usually this announcement is met with mixed reactions. Most people are plugged in and tuned out, and regularly try to exit the front door. There's an announcement which plays every few minutes asking people to blah blah blah go out the BACK door. For once, our roles are reversed, as I will bellow "BACK DOOR" to those able-bodied people who make their way forward to find the front door of the bus closed.

"Sorry," I may say, giving the universal hand signal to remove their earbuds, "the front door is disabled. Please exit to the rear." The most stubborn and rude of them will just stand there as if they don't understand their native tongue. Maybe they're angry that a lowly bus operator is telling them what they must do.

"Hey," one of them replied, "it worked when I got on the bus!"


I sighed, tired of blatant stupidity and/or selfishness. So I exercised my mischief muscle.

"It senses whether you're coming or going, or if you have a special need to have the front of the bus lowered for mobility issues," I said. "It alerted me that you are a healthy young 20-something who doesn't need special assistance to exit.So please use the back door. It works fine, if you read the directions on how to open it."

Of course, along with thousands of others who fail to pay attention to successful exits, he had no clue and ran right into it, bouncing off. He wasn't there long enough to trigger the sensor. He kept pushing the handle, looking helplessly at me. As if I would secure the bus and walk back there to open it for him. Maybe hold his hand as he walked across the street so he wouldn't get hit by some phone-stoned motorist. Nope.

A passenger sitting nearby sighed his impatience, rising from his seat, putting his hand just inches from the yellow strips on the door with the words "Touch Here to Open", triggering the door to open.

"Dumbass bus operator," Hapless Horatio yelled as he stepped off, "can't even get the door to work!"

I snorted, looking in the mirror at the helpful passenger. "Thanks for your help, buddy."

"Just drive, dude," he replied. So I did.

Such is the life of a transit "hero". 

* * * * *

On one trip in the middle of my week, I had three passengers who regularly read this blog. It was fun to see them all again, and I thank Jason, Devan and Ian for their comments. It's niceto be appreciated.

The flip side? One bus operator said "No thanks" when I asked her to look up FTDS. "Think I wanna read about this job after doing it 50+ hours a week?" I get it, sister.


Sadness BusBits

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