(I AM mostly the "happy idiot", struggling for the legal tender. (Thanks, Jackson Browne... I may be one of many "Pretenders").
* * * * *
The first third of 2021 was much like the last 2/3 of 2020. Passenger loads were light and I often stopped the bus just to kill time so I wouldn't arrive early at the next time point. The past six weeks have seen the populace emerging from COVID cocoons to brave the dangerous world I have lived through as they forcefully-quarantined. Our light passenger loads for the past year have resulted in our growing accustomed to an easier job. Now, we're having to quickly re-adjust to "pre-COVID conditions". Portland is back, folks. Whether conditions allow or not, people are forging forward into the unknown, just to pay the bills again. Along with heavier loads, we also have greater opportunities to observe humanity's greatest gift to itself.
I have seen truly the worst conditions have forced upon us, and some of our finest moments as well. I ws a helpless witness as one passenger allegedly wielded a knife when another admonished him for failing to wear a mask, only to watch a third draw his pistol to keep the first from making good on his promise to assault his victim; had he not been there my nightmares tell a more tragic outcome. I have also seen the best in people caring enough to lend a helping hand when others turned an indifferent head.
This week, I was witness to sad, yet uplifting moments. Each evoked tears to well within my watchful eyes.
A few nights ago, a lady boarded with bags too numerous to handle because of the aged dog in her loving embrace. She apologized for taking precious time to board, but I instantly forgave and allowed that extra few moments. Time as a transit operator is relative; some require more, others less. It all balances due to the difficulty involved. The route I drive is constantly calculated not only to the schedule, but my time as an operator gives me patience because I know where precious moments "lost" can be made up further down the line. If I lose a few minutes at my end-of-the-line break, compassion allows me to forgive.
Once PupMama was settled, she informed me and my two other compassionate compadres that her traveling companion had enjoyed a gloriously-sunny spring day on the river in a boat. I imagined the sunshine and wind ruffling the tiny Pomeranian's fluffy coat. She seemed so content, snuggled close to her mom, seemingly snoozing close to the breast of she who loved her so dearly.
Onboard were my trusted and newly-affirmed protector and friend Aaron and another lad who boarded with various pet supplies in tow. Lady described how her dog was 18.5 years old. We all exclaimed how incredible it was to have such an aged four-legged friend aboard! My Lillie was 14.5 when we finally allowed her to leave us. But the thought of having one a full four years older was astounding to me! The lady told us she had welcomed the pup of six weeks to her bosom and had been a constant companion/protector/mom ever since.
As we neared her final destination, my passenger lass became worried about her pup's condition. My concern dictated a message to Dispatch in the form of "Restroom Delay". We exited with her. I was early at that time point, and wanted to ensure she knew where to go in order to meet those who had agreed to ferry her home. Mostly, I wanted to show love where it counted most.
The dog's head lolled backwards from Mom's chest, awkwardly-backwards and seemingly uncontrolled. I mentioned she must have been tired after the long day on the water.
"No," Mom sighed in sadness, "I think she's going."
"Going?" I echoed. "To sleep?"
Mom sighed deeply, stroking her beloved pet's temple. "No. I mean, she's going."
It dawned suddenly. Her dog was actively dying.
The concerned lad who had joined us with his own pet purchases grabbed her excess bags and told her he would accompany her to the ride in waiting. I watched as they began walking away. She apologized and thanked him, he dismissed her exclamations of his kindness and encouraged her to concentrate on her pup. I blessed her and thanked him for his compassion. He held an aquarium full of supplies yet he gladly handled two bags and her tag-a-long suitcase and fishing pole, insistent she concentrate solely on the precious fur bundle cradled in her loving arms.
It took me a moment to collect my emotions. After the tumultuous trials I had faced, I witnessed a loving moment between strangers lost in a moment neither will forget.
I wiped tears away and needed a minute more than the schedule allowed to collect myself before I could drive the final third of that trip.
I realized there was never a need to ask the relationship of dog and partner; it was simply given. Like a mother and child, caregiver become human. Two of my dear friends had recently watched their beloved dogs die, and my thoughts of their grief suddenly overwhelmed me. Still, I felt how blessed this dear, sweet woman was to have 18 years with such a beautiful little fur baby. Wishing her a silent prayer of comfort and love, I finally regained my seat at the head of The Beast and informed Dispatch I was once again "Ready for Service". Even though I was not, I rolled back into my route.
* * * * *
Just a day later, my Friday run beckoned, a normally-quiet Saturday roll along the scenic Line 35. Feeling a bit edgy and more than melancholy, I took the wheel somewhat apprehensively. Although my end-of-the-week run is picked for its' laid back weekend atmosphere, my 72-lite weekday route leaves me shaken and ready for the worst transit has to offer. Usually, it's a comforting roll into this shift, but as anyone in transit can attest, you cannot allow a letdown of your guard.
Strangely, it was more than uncommonly-quiet today. Weather was sunny to partly-cloudy. Cool, but not cold. Perfect conditions for a busy day. Even so, no more than 20 people rode my bus all day, from mid-afternoon until the early morrow.
Late afternoon, downtown. A young man boards, the only rider aboard, shows me his pass and ambles past me. Immediately begins sobbing. Uncontrollably, soulfully and heartbreakingly grieving. My transit operator brain kicked in.
"Oh no," I thought, "another nut case."
Immediately, I felt guilt at my sudden, heartless verdict. We have all suffered grief, why did I automatically attribute his sobbing to mental instability? Such and thus are common bedfellows. Grief consumed him, yet I equated it to transit "weirdness". This made me angry at my transit hardness, sharpened by the antics of many a past "pretender". Each human is part of a common consciousness, but I had unfairly categorized this young man. It was not gentlemanly of me to do so, and I was angry at my unwanted self. Had the countless daggers of a hazardous week so deadened my soul that I could no longer feel compassion for another human? My disposition toward this lad instantly changed to that of the man I have always hoped to be.
He sobbed quietly to himself, but later along the ride, I reached out to my only passenger, and keyed up the PA microphone.
"I hear your sadness, lad. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Buses make noise. All kinds of interference interrupts my audio input. Could not hear his response. I saw his wave of polite refusal, and simply let him mourn in silence.
About 20 minutes later, I saw his red shirt in my passenger mirror.
"Hey lad," I said. "I'm worried about you. Your sadness is obvious. What can I do to help?"
Simultaneously scanning the road and Him, I waited.
"Sir?" he asked quietly, "may I ask a favor?" Road noise nearly obliterated his voice, but my senses had zeroed in on him.
"Sure," I replied hopefully, "if it's safe."
"Can you drop me off...?" He described a spot across from a park I know well. Immediately, I assessed the safety of such a request and formed an educated response.
"Of course," I replied. "Under normal conditions, we're not supposed to do this until after 8:00 pm but in this instance, I'm happy to do this for you."
At this point, Laddie decided I was safe to confide in. All I heard him say was: "Sometimes I think I care too much, and it all caught up to me today. I just want to feel comfort from a neighborhood of my childhood."
He exited with a subdued but heartfelt thanks. All I could offer was to pray God grant him the peace he so desperately needed. Hopefully, He heard the prayer and granted it.
* * * * *
Too often, the rigors of transit make us forget who we truly hope to be. It's too easy after countless slights and insults to forget our inner selves. I began this transit quest with a firm resolve to be the bus driver people remember in a positive light. One who actually cares about every person who boards my bus no matter their outward appearance. Once shed of any visual shell, we're all in need of simple acknowledgement. This time, I avoided judgment in lieu of the humanity I hope guides my otherwise-tortured soul. My inner self begs to give solace to all suffering souls. Hopefully, my concern helped him find the peace he so desperately needed.
That, my friends, is the main reason I drive a bus. Through this near-decade, I am finally realizing some value to those I serve. Sometimes, I wrestle with inner demons and past nightmares. Still, the good moments tend to overwhelm the bad and lead me toward that place in which I can hopefully make a difference. If I keep studying the human condition, looking inward when I make a mistake, and applying those lessons forward rolling six wheels, then maybe someday I'll become a human worth his while.
With this fervent wish, I bid you all a peaceful roll into today, and thousands more tomorrow.