Deacon Who?

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

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Managing Bully Teens and Management Replacement

Deke's Note: All day today, for the first time in a while, I had a great desire to write for you. It was so overwhelming as to be annoying. What once was a vice is now a habit. Some have stopped reading over the past several months, but many of you still do. No matter how long I go, you still read. And that's precisely why I keep doing this. Thank you. I'm too pissed off to quit now.

Ahh, my Friday night. Although I enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day off in the middle of my week, it was still long and arduous. People are COVID weary. We all want it to "just disappear" as someone said earlier this year. It has not. In fact, it has grown with abandon. Perhaps because we have lost our collective will to do battle. I'm one of the most stubborn, stick-to-my-guns people you may ever meet. It is my goal to do whatever I can to keep everyone on my bus not only welcome, but safe. Concentration on guiding The Beast is my first goal. To smoothly and professionally guide my passengers safely to their destination is not just my job. It's something I am committed to personally as well.

Each job I have held, whether typographer or fruit picker, truck driver or journalist, I have striven for perfection. This isn't because of some misguided sense of superiority, but rather a personal commitment to be as good as anyone could possibly be. Maybe it's because my mother was so dedicated to ensure my most basic early success, then as my biggest supporter. I have a personal confidence that often falls short of my expectations. No matter what I attain, there's always a nagging voice propelling me further. So now, eight years into this job, every day is a challenge to improve at least one facet of professionalism which fails my sometimes-impossible standards.

Imagine my dismay this week when a young teenaged boy refused to turn his cellphone audio off. As usual when this happens, I keyed up the mic and implored the entire bus to "Please turn your device's audio OFF while riding on the bus. I truly appreciate it, and thank you." The first refusal is but a minor annoyance. After three such announcements, each a bit more insistent than the last, the white noise continued. I wasn't sure of the culprit, but it became evident it was the fare evading teenie child in the very back seat, because he was the only one who responded to my repeated requests.

"I can barley hear it myself, asshole. Just drive the fuckin' bus."

When he said this, I was already running hot, stopped to burn time. I shut the bus off. For emphasis.

Immediately, a half-dozen sighs of impatience were audible. I was tempted to fake a breakdown, but most of my passengers were fare-paid hard working folks who just wanted to go home. Even so, I had to insist transit code be followed. If I cannot concentrate, I cannot safely operate. White noise in the form of normal conversation is okay. Anything else is contraband. Everyone besides this recently-diaper-clad child realized the necessity to adhere to public bus etiquette by not assaulting others with noise nobody else cared to hear.

Whiny Witless complained he needed to be somewhere. I informed the entire passenger load that we could continue as soon as quiet was restored. Whiny boy threw a tantrum. I was afraid he would drop to the floor and thrash all four in his tirade. Some may believe this a fault of mine: insistence my authority be respected. You're correct. A power play, to be sure. I'm tired of the disrespect of a growing number of people who cannot be bothered to even say hello, as Shift Hour Nine is nigh and my customer service skills are as frayed as Granny's gray undies.

Management's constant support of ne'er-do-wells, while exhibiting a lack of such for those who do the jobs which make theirs possible, is enough to make George Orwell himself succumb to the pressure. Not me. If I can't concentrate, my smooth roll (both inner and professional) is too disturbed to continue. No matter how many times I counsel myself to "Just Drive", it's simply too much to ask. That, and the grating anger of being treated such by a non-paying/less-appreciative child, was enough to tip the scales. Not only do I fight for my brothers and sisters at the keyboard, I refuse to be bullied by a rude crybaby who needs someone to spank his spoiled ass.

Finally, the noise stopped. Immediately, I fired The Beast up and rolled back into service. Dispatch had called me, and I described the situation. My orders were to roll once peace was restored. If it wasn't, then I was to call again and await further instruction.

I desperately wished we were back in a day when I would have been commended for marching to the back of the bus and confronting the child for his horrid behavior. Today, that could land me in jail. Judging by a long history of mankind's abuse of children, I understand that is no longer acceptable. But someone needs to spank this brat. Nothing more, mind you. He just needs a few taps on the behind to remind him respect of his elders is not only necessary, but expected. We have lost our ability as a society to properly instruct children of their upcoming place in this world. While it is greater than it was 50 years ago, there's still a necessity for them to demonstrate proper behavior in public. Each spanking my parents gave me long ago is still remembered, along with the lesson involved. It was not abuse, it was instruction I'll never forget. I was never punished in this manner by anyone but my parents, but the mere hint of disrespect to an elder resulted in a phone conversation with them to result in a punishment I did not want to fathom.

* * * * *

This incident is only one of a growing list of indecencies inflicted upon ATU members worldwide. If not insolent children, it's from adults who act as such. This growing number of insulting incidents has one cause: management borne of Corporata, rather than from within a treasure trove of experience.

For over 100 years, union members have provided exemplary transit service to our communities. Once upon a time, workers rose through the ranks to lead those they once served with. There was mutual respect, and problems were ironed out through respectful debate and reasoned resolution. Now, management is governed by a growing number of corporate nobodies who have no idea what their mistreated prisoners deal with. Those with practical experience are replaced by those with none. Unless our "leadership" have driven a city bus in service, we have no reason to respect their unrealistic "customer servicey" bullshit. They have never been spit upon, punched, threatened with guns or knives or physical violence in their post-graduate experience. White-collar failures have no place in the blue-collar world. Instead, they "work from home during a pandemic" and depend upon pie-in-the-sky corporate bullshit which has no place in real-world transit.

I want to be General Manager. In three years, WE would (once again) become family. My office would be in The Fishbowl at Center Garage. Operations would be restored to The Respected. Mechanics would once again have that time-proven Apprenticeship Program to pull Union trainees from. Troublemakers would be excluded from transit, frontline workers would be regarded as heroes. Complaints would be investigated and fully-vetted before even reaching the accused. End-of-route facilities would be improved. Frontline workers would be the focus, rather than the blame. Instead of a discipline-first reality, ours would become respect-first, discipline last resort.

"The only good employee is a scared one," Laird Cusack, current head of "Human Relations" is quoted as telling ATU757 President Shirley Block.

"The greatest employee is the valued one," future GM Deke N. Blue says.

This is not a pipe dream. It's entirely possible. As a confident 17-year-old, I walked into a collegiate Journalism Department a respectful incoming freshman. I walked out of there as a two-year Editor of their student newspaper, which won more awards than any before, or since. I still have the desire, the dedication and the drive to do my best in every job I've ever held. It's time for my last job rolling into retirement with the same BANG I began with. Don't ever doubt me... I would not fail you.

Deke for GM. I'm currently writing my platform for totally reforming Rose City Transit, as it should be renamed. I encourage you to start the movement and hashtag it #Deke4GM. Just listen to this tune; it's my theme song. And stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

We Autumn Leaves

Although we all suffer from pandemic exhaustion, I am thankful for many things. Mostly people. My family for starters, but also friends and fellow transit workers across the globe. YOU are the wires which hold me up whenever "it" seems too heavy a burden. There have been times when one of them has broken, or frayed, but whenever this happens, another pops out of nowhere and refuses to let me drop.

I am thankful for this beautiful home we now occupy. Millions sleep in tents or worse, with nowhere to wash their hands or even use a toilet. Although I have worked hard all my life and was even homeless myself for a short time long ago, whenever I feel low it is this reality which boosts me back again. We can all list precisely our failures. It is okay to celebrate the victories without need to feel guilt at having attained them. Some revel in their bank balances to gauge success, others some accolade attained through diligence and competence. My success is to have met thousands of people who constantly teach me patience, respect and honor.

As I approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am simply thankful to be alive. It's likely all who read this can agree, given the complexities, anguish and fear this year has spawned. Although I have harpooned our management for its many misgivings, I still have a great job which I'm fairly competent in doing. My writing is read by more people than I could have ever hoped... even management. There are wonderful people in this city who remind me on occasion that my efforts, even "bravery" as a few have put it, make a difference. In their lives. And that, most truly, makes up for the countless slights, threats, indignities and indecent acts thrust upon me the past year.

Whenever I think times are tough, I am reminded around many a curve that many others have it much worse. This pandemic has spared no group. Its vicious efficiency as a murderer is not to be taken lightly. It is without a doubt the most dangerous threat of our age. Yet humans have proven countless times to be vigorously successful defenders of our species.

Americans must unite, as in times past, in order to rid ourselves of this pandemic. Plague. "Rona" or whatever you want to call it, is ruthless. We must be more so. In our 244 years we have gained independence from a powerful monarchy, survived a horrific Civil War and countless others. Two of these wars have been worldwide struggles which we, along with our allies, won. As these battles raged, those at home pulled together to lend support to the cause. Today, we are regarded by many as weak, petty and foolish for not being able to collectively do the right thing. It is not a political virus, it is biological and will attack humans no matter our "beliefs" or assertions of individual "freedoms". With freedom comes responsibility. In order to lead, we must first set an example. We cannot expect respect solely due to past triumphs. Respect, like victory, must be constantly earned.

Once again, I'm left with the phrase "divide and conquer". Long a vital tool of the powerful, it has been devastatingly efficient. Give a massive number of individuals the seed of doubt and it grows into an untamed swamp which seemingly has no end. Replace that invasive plant with a series of those toxic to it, and the good eventually overcome the bad no matter how invasive.

We need to find the right seed, and see that it is planted within each of us. Even though individuality is as human as compassion, we are like leaves on a tree. Although separate, we are part of a branch which connects to another and ultimately to the trunk. We may be unique, but we also share what all the other leaves do: a community of one larger being. If one leaf becomes infected, the entire tree may die. In autumn, leaves turn color and fall back into the earth, fertilizing the tree and ensuring it lives longer so other leaves may also bask in the sunshine of spring and summer.

It is my wish that you all come together, learn to ensure the health of others while preserving your own. With any luck, our next spring will dawn brighter than that of 2020. 

Happy Thanksgiving, and many more to you and yours.

With love and respect, 


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Sunday, November 15, 2020

COVID and Me and Management

Deke's Note: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It's expensive, but we have earned it. Inch by rubber-meets-the-road inch, mile by insulting milepost. But our "leadership" has weakly voiced it while knocking us down behind the scenes where the public cannot see. Here is how.

Head of "Human Relations", a vague term which is corporate-speak for "keep 'em down", has told our union president that "scared employees are the best kind". He backs this up by putting forth a contract that takes away decades of hard-fought victories while indicting and convicting US of silly and usually-false charges by a public that is codified, pampered and believed over his own workforce. He is also quoted as saying "public employees don't deserve" retirement security. Even those who devote their entire lives to serving in a body-killing job.

Transit workers everywhere are victim to a corporate takeover of transit. Rarely do you find someone in upper management who has actually operated a city bus in service. They just don't get it. This job is dependent upon our being shepherds of the public's safety, which we do admirably. Those above us have not earned their positions through the blood and sweat we shed each day in poorly-designed seats with little time between runs to stretch, eat or pee. 

Now we're supposed to roll with windows closed. Management insists we are safe because the HVAC filters are changed every 6,000 miles. I did some math today regarding this figure. Given each bus rolls approximately 250 miles a day (conservatively), that's once every THREE months. That leaves a LOT of potential for this deadly virus to pass through dirty filters.

I refuse to leave my windows shut, and loudly protest a passenger walking onto my ride who begins shutting windows. Yeah, it's cold and wet outside. It's a lot warmer and drier inside my bus even with half the windows OPEN. Get used to it, Portland. It's about to get even wetter and colder, but MY office windows will remain open to keep the air flowing in and OUT. Even if the filters were changed each week, I'd still choose airflow over stagnation any day. Given management's lackluster efforts regarding clean air on transit (especially on light rail vehicles, in which open windows are not an option), I'll take my chances and wear a freakin' sweater. Buck up, buttercups... I refuse to budge on this issue.

Our riding public only sees (if they even look at us upon entering our rolling office) a body in the seat. Many appreciate us and at least say hello, but even more refuse to raise their eyes in the slightest of greetings. When someone acts up on our ride, they behave as if they're the boss and we have "no right" to correct their errant behaviors. A quick call to "Customer Service", which these days ought to be renamed "The Whine Line" gives them immediate power to make our lives miserable. Complaints should be screened for truth, the caller's identification recorded, before ANY of them make the trip down the line to our inbox. Instead, this system is so poorly-managed that many operators receive complaints for work they were not operating within. Even easily-disproven lies make their way into our personnel files and are never erased. 

Put a news camera in front of our management's "leadership team" when the weather is bad, and they'll sing our praises. Meanwhile, they're busily thrusting a knife deep into our souls with ridiculous, morale-assassinating discipline. Still, we show up for work. It could snow a foot overnight, but your transit operator makes it in even if they have to cut their rest hours short to ensure they arrive on time. One second late results in an "oversleep", one of transit's most egregious faults, a most-embarrassing transgression we're rarely guilty of. We're proud of our record of showing up no matter what disaster descends upon the city we serve, while the glorified few sit cozily by their warm hearths, "working from home today due to (whatever conditions WE brave)".

During the heights of this pandemic, our "leadership" has hidden from view, afraid to venture into the hellish storm of viral nightmares we endure each minute in uniform. A uniform, I must mention, that far surpasses ridiculousness in its elemental inadequacy. We toil in clothing that is dark in color, dour in appearance, and utterly less-than-respectful of our position in Working America. The latest form of disrespect is an edict which insists our SHOES be black ONLY, able to be SHINED. Only the military, police and fire have more strict uniform policy than transit's frontline workers. You would think our comfort would reign paramount in a profession that saps the strength out of the heartiest souls, but "leadership" would rather have control than ensure our comfort. It's ridiculousness at the utmost, which is about the ONLY thing management does well. Oh yeah, other than not offering us financial recompense for our heroic efforts they trumpet.

Once again, I say PUT TRANSIT OPERATORS FIRST! Hire someone for General Manager who has parked a bus in the yard after a 10-12 hour shift, slumping under the weight of all one must carry back to the garage. Tired, often dejected after being insulted, threatened, attacked and/or assaulted with no "leadership" backing us up afterward. All we can look forward to is the smile on our similarly-beleaguered Station Agent's face, and their genuine thanks for another job well done. Shit trickles only downhill, and I wonder how much of it my fellow SA's take from their higher-ups. Thankfully, they do their best to see it doesn't roll off of them onto our already-stained uniformed bodies at the end of the line.

We have allowed this to happen. We don't storm the "Bored" of Directors meetings demanding they wake up from their power-induced snooze. Over half our membership can't even be bothered to vote in union elections, let alone come together to send a selfie to union stewards asking for participation in an International-led drive to shame "leadership" back to the negotiation table to eke out a fair contract.

I have made nearly 50 calls to local members pleading with them to join me and others in signing a petition to call "leadership" (I use that term in quotes because of the irony in this term) to its failure to bargain in "good faith", given all the hardships we have endured in serving so proudly the transit agency it is supposed to shepherd in equitable fashion. Many with whom I have a relationship have responded immediately; others have yet to call back. If we fail to fight the monster, it wins. I'm not one who gives up easily, and will likely call another 10-20 this weekend. I refuse to lay down to the monster that has enveloped our professional reality, and I cannot accept apathy from anyone. We have too much to lose, and management acts as if it has already won.

ATU International has stepped in to force TriMess back to the negotiation table rather than have our stalled contract talks settled by a state-appointed arbitrator. TriMeth has stubbornly refused to budge from its ridiculously-insulting stance, much like a meth user who refuses to abide by transit code on a vehicle. It's pathetic how they treat us, and get away with it. In my less-than-humble opinion, the whole lot should be shit-canned so hard they land with a resonating THUMP in the city sewer. Replace them with a team of dedicated professionals who have spent tens of thousands of hours in the seat, who KNOW what it takes to make the wheels roll.

Given the opportunity to serve Portland as transit's General Manager, I would turn the whole thing on its head and shake vigorously for about a month. The crap at the top would fall, and those not-deserving-to-be-bottom-feeders would rise to take their place. We would revitalize the entire system. The passengers would feel more welcome, with troublemakers forever excluded rather than patronized and pampered. Operator facilities would blossom and morale would soar. Capital projects would be shelved until the system was revamped, remodeled and revitalized with the spirit Portland transit once boasted as the finest in the world. No longer would frontline workers feel disrespected; their every need would be amplified and their service glorified, rather than today's atmosphere of utter disrespect and disciplinary exhaustion.

My shoulder aches tonight after a grueling 650 miles in the seat this week. I keep trying to re-adjust my driving style to save whatever part of my body aches the most. In the past month, I have been threatened, abused, ignored and insulted. Still, I wish my riders well into the rainy Portland evening after rolling into another patented smooth Deke stop. I smile at them, compliment their Portlandesque individuality, and genuinely wish them well no matter their countenance. It's not my job... it's just who I am.

* * * * *

On a positive note, it was grand to roll into Downtown Portland last weekend to find a crowd of people dancing joyfully upon Pioneer Courthouse Square. I don't know or care how you voted, but thousands of folks happily demonstrating beats the hell out of the past six months of angry protests. We need to find a way back together again. I'm tired of the divisions, the acrimonious FaceBook arguments. It's time to find  common ground once more. I have friends on both sides of this central point I occupy. Each of you matter to me, especially when we agree to disagree. Life is better with friends who can debate and still laugh together.

* * * * *

We have had the roughest, most sad year of my life. In 60 years, not even the Vietnam protests, Watts riots, 1960s assassinations, economic ups and downs, or natural disasters have topped 2020's horrific wake. It will be written about for decades as being a turning point in world history. How many more must die from a tiny virus before people take it seriously? I've watched videos of people succumb from this miniscule killer, begging us to take precautions. 

Still, the most stubborn say it's their "right" not to protect themselves, or others, from falling victim to the biggest threat since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Have we learned NOTHING from history? Viruses are not political, they are simply biological. Like your heartbeat, breathing, your very being on this plane. Will you fly away from those who love you because you're too stubborn to take precautions? Will you kill your beloved family members in refusal of a worldwide threat? I hope not.

I drive a bus. Thousands of people, some who might have this virus within them, walk and breathe in my space every year. I wear a mask not just to protect myself, but you as well. If I have it, my soul could not bear passing it to you, no matter your political persuasion. I have love enough to share with millions. If I die of COVID, it matters not. If you did because of me, my soul could never rest in peace.

Be safe, be well, be vigilant. I promise the same.

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...