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, April 11, 2021

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 toward the original goal of this blog: to chronicle what it's like to ferry people of all descriptions in a 20-ton beast of vehicular grandeur. It's the proverbial Forrest Gumpian box of  chocolates. This post, and that to follow, illustrate four stories of extreme passenger interaction. This post is the "sad" part. Anyone who has endured this career for several years can attest that driving is the easiest part of the profession. Dealing with the vast spectrum of the human condition offers the greatest opportunities and extreme challenges to our collective soul. Hopefully these stories give you insight as to the humanitarian element of transit operation.

(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.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

My Latest Transit Ordeal Relived

Deke's Note: In May, I will celebrate my eighth birthday as a transit blogger. I usually joke in a childish voice about my "birthday" as the alter ego Me, but this writing exercise has been many things. Personal journal, therapeutic exercise, chronological record of my career, and the avenue upon which I have cultivated many tremendous friendships. It has seen me grow from a wide-eyed newbie to hardened veteran with little space in between. It's time to rekindle the original intent of FTDS: to describe what it's like to be me, just plain ol' Deke the Bus Driver. Here, I give you insight on the perilous side of the job, and how I hope to grow from a recent experience.

* * * *

I can't tell you the details. They are part of a pending court case, so I have to be careful. I don't want to put myself, incident participants, or my transit agency in legal jeopardy. Instead, I'll describe how the events of a few nights ago have affected me. Here goes.

Short story made shorter, three of my passengers quickly interacted in a violent scene. No blood was shed, but it could very likely have been. It unfolded within a two-minute window through which I was simply a witness with no control over the situation. My personal safety was not directly threatened, but it could have been. One of the three passengers saved the day for all of us, and it was described by him as the most harrowing incident of his life. In my mind, this lad is a hero.

Police intervened, statements were taken, and after a 36-minute delay, I moved the bus down the road. Instead of doing what so many of us should after such violent disruption to my normally-peaceful roll by refusing to drive again, I employed the tough-guy approach. There were regulars on my bus who simply wanted to go home after a long day of work. It felt my duty to deliver them safely, and I stubbornly resisted to do less. 

After years on this job, "driving" a bus is second nature. The body is in tune and control of the bus is never in question. Constantly scanning, reacting to traffic anomalies and finding the smoothest patches of the road come naturally. However, it takes a great effort of the soul to do so in a truly-safe manner. If mind/body/soul are out of sync, it is not the ideal situation an operator MUST function within. My mind was swimming with what had just happened. My body just drove the bus; that is a function it could likely do while asleep. (I do not recommend this, even though many of us have done just that on rare occasion.) At this point, a bus operator is functioning in a diminished capacity. My mind, instead of being focused, was awash with what-ifs instead of what-is.

The proper course of action here should be second nature for those supervising us: remove us from service. Immediately. Usually, this involves a supervisor making an informed decision on-the-spot. Had a supe been at the scene, he/she would have immediately determined I was visibly shaken, controlling my emotions for the sake of some ridiculous notion of noble sacrifice. However, a mistake on my part failed to alert Dispatch to certain vital points of the incident which would have drastically altered their take on the situation. I am their "eyes and ears" out there. Through the shock of what was immediately unveiling before me, that incredibly-vital aspect was absent from my verbal interaction with my lifeline of support. 

I cannot fault anyone but myself. Yet no matter how much training and insistence we follow protocols to the tee, the heat of a moment stops time, blurs reality and negates any sense of what should be done. Press Priority Request To Talk or the Panic Button? Give a play-by-play of the situation even when words fail me? Scream HELLLLPPPP? I tried to be calm, but left out vital details as they unfolded within feet, even inches, in front of me.

Video clips of Operators Thomas Dunn being murdered, Irving Jubal Fraser grappling with a violent "sleeper" before his own death, and countless others facing grave injury or death were prominent in my mind. Everything blurred into a slow-motion movie with me as the inept reporter.

All I saw and heard were snippets in what could be my final moment. Shock set in instantaneously at the exact moment I needed clarity and calm. So much was happening in the space of a few minutes my mind was focused only upon the scene before me.

We all second-guess, replay what we could have done other than what we did. We wonder what else might have happened with every possible scenario imagined. In my experiences during which extreme incidents played out, I have always made mistakes which I agonized over when hindsight overtook my thoughts. Perhaps you can empathize, but I am my own worst critic. 

I like to think experiences like this have taught me something. Each intense experience plays out in a different mind movie. I am unable to pull vital hints from the Violence Memory Banks during a perilous moment, because time has that devilish way of muddling instant response. It results afterward in intense anger at myself. Punishing oneself for imperfection is often the worst result when relief at still having a heartbeat should be paramount.

* * * * *

As I rolled on, my "hero" passenger still aboard, we formed a bond. I hope my words adequately expressed admiration for his poise, his ability to carefully pick the right time to intervene. I felt guilt he stood between me and possible harm. He likely saved lives through his actions. Without him aboard that night, I would have intervened and put myself in danger. His fellow passenger could have suffered grievous injury, or worse. Maybe one of the other passengers would have felt compelled to step in and suffered for it. One of us could have died.

My leader stopped to offer support and give my remaining passengers a ride. However, my bus was a crime scene with statements needed from them. I was trying to talk with Dispatch when my brother came to the window. I don't remember what Sister Dispatch said because I was dealing with the scene on my bus, my leader and what She was trying to tell me.

All the while, I failed to say the one thing Dispatch desperately needed to hear: gun. That one word was paramount to the entire conversation, and I failed to say it. An entirely-different set of protocols would have been set in motion.

My wife offered probably the best reason I did not say this word. I cannot argue, but don't believe that was the sole cause for it.

"You probably feared," she said, "the wrong person could have been an officer's target when they arrived on the scene." Perhaps she's right: one displaying a weapon cannot be immediately identified as a good guy. I certainly would feel much worse if he had been wrongly targeted.

As it unfurled, the situation was quickly defused by the first responding cops. They were efficient and professional. They calmed us rather than what recent negative police publicity might suggest. Their response helped me give my best recollection of the events as they occurred. Transit cop remembered me from a past incident and was very calming as he took my statement. I was very happy with their compassion and patience in our collective unsettled state.

Back to the "after roll". As the peaceful yet forceful hero of that night exited my bus, we shook hands. It was the first time I remember having such a personal moment during this damned pandemic year. We locked eyes. I hope my thanks to him were adequate, because I wanted to embrace the guy. I was so grateful for his bravery. Conversely, I knew this ordeal had been a great shock to him. He made me feel better than I likely did him. It took me a moment after he left before I could drive again. Tears of gratefulness dropped from my eyes and blurred my vision. I simply felt lucky to be alive and still able to drive. That would soon change.

* * * * *

Only a few passengers remained after he left. I remember being angry nobody thanked him for his bravery. When they exited, I don't remember any said a word. It seemed they were annoyed at having been delayed. I wanted to silently curse them for this, but I knew they had shared the same ordeal. In fact, they had been closer to the initial action than I had. My response? "Have a nice night." As usual.

Five minutes later, my bus emptied of the final witness. Their silence left me sad and wondering. Will they lodge complaints against me for whatever reason wandered around their traumatized minds? Rather than allowing my anger any reign, I simply forgave them. Their mere presence during such an ordeal allowed them their own post-incident shock. Perhaps the next time they ride, a hopeful few words in remembrance will suffice.

Still late beyond my final break, I rolled past intending passengers "Drop Off Only". No guilt or shame crept in as I rolled past people who had likely waited longer than they deemed acceptable, only to watch me roll on by. My leader was not far behind, servicing not only my passengers but his own as well. At that point of severe "not giving a damn", realization of my state of shock slammed me full force. At that point, I realized it was not wise for me to continue in service. I informed Dispatch of this and they pounced. Out of concern for my safety, and others. I was officially driving with "diminished capacity".

Struggling with my emotions, I was overcome by the force of my Sister Dispatch's concern. Not only for public safety, but also my personal state. Not only was I upset over what had happened, but also that I had allowed myself to serve in such anguish. People could have shed blood, every operator's worst nightmare. As this gradually became obvious, I fixed upon its gravity. No, I could not continue in service. My mind was awash with what happened and what might have. 

At the end of the line, where I normally would have the longest break before starting my final run, I called it. Not able to continue "in service". Dispatch gave me ample time to recover. For about 20 minutes, I alternately fought anger, sadness and frustration. I vaped two full tanks, used the restroom and splashed my face after washing my hands furiously for perhaps the 10th time of the shift. Screamed at the mirror in anger at myself for the failures I blamed myself for. Called my wife, and was soothed.

Extra Service filled my last run. I briefly explained to the waiting passengers that I could not serve them but another bus was coming. Afterward, I took several deep breaths to calm myself. Then, I drove the bus back to the garage.

Setting the brake in Lane 31, I thanked God and asked He bless the true hero of that night. Then, sighing and caressing the temples feeling a massive headache coming on, I gathered my belongings and trudged into the garage to write the report. Computers not cooperative, I said "FUCK IT! I'm going home to write the damn thing."  

The night was over, but the experience adds to a growing case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than has been many incidents in the making. I hope this one is adequately addressed before the next makes its' nasty face known to me. Experience tells me it will rear its ugly head again. Hopefully next time, this learning experience will help me deal with it better.

Meanwhile, I slink into my weekend with a double shot of whisky, buoyed by the fact Beloved and Sons are here to begin the healing. Again. As usual. 

I only hope the next incident, which is sure to happen given the violence gaining strength every day in society, spares me or my passengers grievous harm.

My prayers are not only for the good, but the instigator of it all. Someone asked him to wear his mask, and he freaked out. I wish him peace and healing. However, I wish him the hell away from my ride forevermore. Don't need that on my bus.

Thank you, Hero Passenger. You won't ever have to pay for a ride again on my bus. Don't flash that Hop Card because a DayPass forever awaits you.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Another Tragic Transit Management Disaster

Historic transit view replaced by "progress".

Deke's Note: My brother operator told me this week "drivers at 7-12 years tend to be bitter, angry." He did not elaborate as to why. 

I have avoided publishing this for two weeks. Yeah, I'm still creating the Mother of All Blog Series. The past month has been one of depression. Every ounce of energy is devoted to the job, which saps the dwindling reserves within. By the time a week of shifts is done, my mind/body/soul is depleted. I fell asleep working on my new book after 600 miles in the seat a week ago.

Daniel called me a few weeks ago with his horrific news. His story deflated the last ounce of hope I had for our fellows being truly "respected" in the work we do. Management is wildly out of control, with no true oversight.

And so it goes... 

* * * * *

Daniel is the epitome of a legendary blue-collar bus operator. His extensive background in the entertainment industry, coupled with a masterful comic's mind, makes him a snug fit in Portland's "Keep It Weird" personality. With considerably more commendations than complaints, he has safely guided thousands of his fellow citizens to their destinations for over eight years.

Today, he is out of a job. Why? Because he dared take less time than required to recover from double-shoulder replacement surgery. Although he returned to the job a month earlier than expected, he apparently missed too much time recuperating from a surgery which has added another decade or more to his being a "true" hero to his beloved community. Now he must scramble to find another job in one of the most horrific times to be unemployed as a devoted American taxpayer. 

Strong in his allegiance to all we hold dear, determined to do his best, his employer of eight years simply... discarded him into the millions of today's unemployed masses. In the worst possible economic conditions.

Without respect to his dedicated service through disastrous weather conditions, braving the unmasked throughout a worldwide pandemic, choking through the dense smoke of Fire Season 2020, suffering hundreds of humiliations daily he smiled throughout with classy humor. 

It wasn't enough. He simply missed too much work. It's disgusting. 

This is one of many seemingly irreparable rifts between "them who has'na nevah" and those "who bravely grip the wheel all day long for decades". We should not have to fear being fired for simply missing work while recuperating from surgery. This is a pattern that has shamefully become normal. This is a profession which sucks the lifeblood out of those who catch shit from every direction we turn the wheel, only to be disciplined or outright fired for simply taking care of ourselves. Thrown under the very bus or light rail vehicle we operate. By those entrusted with our safety and the well being of all who ride.

Disgraceful. Degrading. Disgusting, his treatment by a transit agency which says "hero" out one side of its mouth while spitting "fired" out of ITS other.

"IT" doesn't care about me, or you either, fellow operator. IT only cares about its bottom line, which has gravely suffered during this unprecedented pandemic, through which its operators have safely guided transit's beloved "customers" to their destination. All the while, we begged a deaf upper management to enforce transit code, which simply asks riders to "respect the ride". "Leadership" refuses to allow an operator any authority, and disciplines any who dare to exercise what was once a given. Even when Standard Operating Procedures are on our side. It's a ludicrous, impossible working environment, yet we endure. Out of respect for the job, and thousands who rolled wheels long before we were born.

Instead of preserving the dignity of those who safely roll The Beast amidst Portland's undisciplined motorists, it chooses instead to discard those who dare use too much sick leave while recuperating from life's most harrowing moments.

Even though it is now a federal crime to ride a transit vehicle of ANY type without wearing a mask, we banter about who will be suspended first for enforcing a federal mandate. It's a sick, but prevalent attitude, amongst my workmates. We have fallen to such despair as to expect the worst treatment offered over decades of calamitous disrespect.

It's painfully obvious our current management's main goal is to flush out the most professional, dedicated transit operators, many who have given their entire working lives to this honorable profession. Many are too close to that coveted retirement date, therefore registering as targets of harassment when they should be highly honored for their service. Celebrated, given a true "hero's" easy roll into a well-deserved retirement. With benefits promised, earned through service of such intense humanity the greater public is not informed of by the demise of an interested media.

It makes fiscal sense to fire those closest to retirement age. We are expensive in the long run, having sacrificed our bodies to incompetently-designed operator seats. Many of us have endured a lifetime of hard work prior to transit, where our age and experience have been thrown out with the evening trash. We find this final career to offer our retirement some semblance of reward and comfort, only to find death lurking shortly after celebrating an honorable departure. We are evidently to blame for decades of managerial mis-management of pension funds while we languished under an agreement keeping our raises minimal in hopes of management honoring its promises. Ha! What suckers we are.  

Still, crickets from the local media: passive co-conspirators to a massive fraud against those who are an integral lug nut in the wheel comprising Portland's economy. If one reporter had the balls to stand in defiance of Corporata's death-grip on transit, to write a true history of the transit worker's decline over the past few decades, I might fall over from shock. I'm still standing.

* * * * *

Of a few funerals for brothers and sisters, how many in management have you seen in attendance? Last year, our Sister Freddi Evans passed and only ONE did I see. Mary drove a bus several years prior to opting out of union service. She had a history with Freddi, and so honored her with a moving eulogy. Where was our GM? ANY of the "Bored of Directors"? Safely ensconced in their ivory towers, blissfully disconnected from our beloved sister. Freddi left behind her children and devoted Operator husband and fiercely-devoted fellow operator advocate, Henry Beasley. I still wear Freddi's Flower on my fedora. It's the least I can do to honor our beloved, departed sister. I doubt more than a few upper management skulls even remember her. WE do.

* * * * *

One of my generation, Daniel learned that work is essential to the ever-challenging climb up the financial ladder. His steady, union-fought paycheck allowed him to buy a house. Given a freshly-minted set of replaced shoulders, he should have another 10-15 years or more of publicly-celebrated service behind the wheel. However, today's "suspend or fire FIRST" brand of transit management, he was discarded because he missed too much work. This evening, he worried aloud to me that he hoped his meager savings allowed him to pay his mortgage the next two months. He has been supporting a family member through dark times. Tomorrow, he may lose it all. Just because he chose self-care over pain. 

Why? Because of a seemingly vindictive, cruel and out-of-touch management. Gee thanks Daniel, but your heavyweight-supporting shoulders cost you your job. Too bad your job was too much a burden for them to support. Buh-bye now. 

Damn him! How dare he take advantage of medical benefits to fix a physical ailment accentuated by thousands of hours in a poorly-designed bus operator seat. Of all the nerve to miss work while recuperating! Instead, Daniel should have evidently been unsafely slaving away through his pain for a management that couldn't be bothered to even send him a GET WELL card while recuperating. Instead, it savagely counted the hours of his medical leave as "missed time" and fired him when he came back to work. Early. After being duly cleared for service by a Trainer.

Daniel still suffers pain and endures hours of physical therapy and conditioning exercises to ensure his new joints acclimate to his body. He's in better shape now than he was than before the surgery. Now, he will lose his medical insurance and the security of an honorable profession he so dedicated most of the past decade to. Discarded to the dung heap that is Corporata's workplace uncertainty, Daniel is understandably frightened and worried for his future. So much for being called "hero".

This is one of many ghoulish acts suffered upon our agency's frontline workers. Hero, my ass. You just FIRED one. Stop punishing us for nature's gravitational pull upon our aging joints!

NOW do you see why I want to be General Manager? It's time to STOP disrespecting those who give their lives to an honorable profession, and START an era in which Portland Transit truly honors those who make our transit vehicles SAFELY roll folks to their destinations. Celebrating those who have always provided service with a light-hearted chuckle, while insisting the societal norms of decency and respect be followed.

Am I "angry and bitter"? For Daniel's termination, and for all of us insulted by callously-disrespectful and cruel middle managers with an axe to grind against those with whom they could never equal? HELL yes. His termination is a slap in the face to all of us who have endured the past year of insulting treatment by those who have NO reciprocal oversight.

"Heroes" slip-sliding into yet another Silver Thaw.

Until decency in transit prevails once again, there is no hope for those who diligently provide safe rides on bus or rail while its management works against US. We are mere pawns to a callous and unnecessarily discipline-first-regardless-of-common-sense-and-decency upper management. THEY need to go; we have proven our worth through millions of safe miles.

Give me the GM job. I would fire every disrespectful one of 'em. If they fire ME, this post will probably be the culprit. They hate being called on the carpet, highly discourage whistleblowing to the tiniest Tweet. They have no visible self-discipline. Although we outnumber management 4-1, I join the few who dare color red the blood my fellow brothers and sisters shed to management's gory delight.

Over 200 attacks on transit workers in 2020 here in Portland. Did you hear any media coverage on THAT? No. Only the relentless attacks upon our downtown business district merit journalistic attention, rendered dead by an unrestrained angry nighttime crowd which destroyed everything in its path. Our downtown is now a third-world war zone marked by shuttered businesses and boarded-up storefronts. Through it all, our buses and light rail vehicles roll, operators' heads high as always, working as only we have ever known: proudly.

Daniel's termination is how they reward our efforts. Good grief, people. You're welcome

* * * * *

We once were, as I'm told, truly a family. Brothers and sisters watched out for each other. Management had enough sense to filter false complaints before they even reached frontline workers. Maintenance personnel benefited from a highly-vaunted Maintenance Apprenticeship Program which rewarded service workers' dedication with the promise of on-the-job training leading to a step up in their career. New operators came into a profession with deep respect for those who had walked in their shoes, and understood the traditional "wave" of concern for their fellows. Today, self-puffed non-union punks call in unsubstantiated and untrue complaints on operators without having to identify themselves, without fear of recrimination for their misdeeds when invariably proven false.

Corporata has driven a worldwide-leading transit agency into the muck of disrepair and disrespect. It has failed in its mission to "improve" and still, the same "qualifications" for the top job remain. It's a classic definition of insanity, defined by some learned source: "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". We're tired of this governmental insanity, and desperately require a reversal.

A new brand of GM is in order, one who truly understands transit from its most-basic roots, having rolled wheels with boots showing wear on their heels from constant pivot from brake to accelerator, the opposite similarly worn from activating turn signals rarely used by private motorists. Years of service as operators keep the public safe from their own mistakes. A seasoned operator has learned to predict dangerous behaviors and avoid serving motorists their brains upon their own bloodstained windshields. This professionalism however, seems unimportant to anyone but US. We save thousands of lives every day; collisions with our vehicles claim a tiny proportion of the mistakes motorists make in our presence. Sadly, our professional driving is forgotten when injury or death happens in the path of our vehicles, the inference insistent that we injured or killed the victim. The professional is maligned, the motorist rarely noted for their own recklessness.

We are sane, given the insanity thrust upon us every hour in service. We are smart, coming from vast and varied professional backgrounds. We are imminently qualified to replace those whose collective incompetence has ground our civic valor into dust.

Yesterday's trash:
the abandoned transit operator
As I've written before, transit would still roll smoothly and on time without management. They could not do our job. Until, and unless, it is replaced with those to whom transit is second nature, our wonderful system will continue its decline toward systematic failure. To simply do what WE always have is all any transit agency truly needs to roll safely through the next century.

Daniel hopes to serve once again. We pray for his reinstatement after such unfair and foolish disrespect. All he wants to do is serve; all THEY want to do is reign terror down upon an already-disheartened fellowship.

Roll safely, brothers and sisters. THEY may not have your back, but I do. So do countless thousands of current and former frontline transit workers across the world. If only WE could UNITE, remove management's lethal noose around our collective neck, we would truly shine once again. Until then, just bend over. They're not done fucking us; contract talks are at a standstill due to their unforgivable list of takeaways. And so it goes...

"Heroes", our collectively-abused and insulted ass.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Transit Management Grow UP!

Deke's Note: WTF? A brother operator told me management is considering suspending him for uncovering his face to take a drink. One YEAR ago. Before masks became mandatory. Whilst sipping a sip attempting to save his own life by not contracting a virus few even knew about then. Just bend over, buddy. You're screwed under this psycho regime.

This cycle of abuse MUST stop. We have been on the front line of this pandemic since long before it slithered onto our shores. Throughout, we have been subjected to a public scrutiny more intense than any other public servants. One slip over the nose and mouth, even to take a drink at a traffic signal, and some ne'er do well with a fragile chip needing shattered will call in a complaint. To insult a front line worker by even allowing such a whiny bitchfest to reach our mail is far beyond reprehensible. 

Give ME the GM job, and MOST complaints would stop at the source. We have enough problems just keeping our vehicles safe from the largely un-policed hordes of horrid motorists. To allow the least to make life more difficult by pouncing on every supposed gaffe the ignorants believe foul, management further strengthens its incompetent malfeasance those whose sole purpose should be to support US. Above capital projects, above selfish self promotion, above its seeming nightmarish fantasy to gloriously abuse us. 

Management has devolved into some sadomasochistic scheme to drive its frontline workers to the heights of despair. Once there, we expect the knife to pierce our already-worried souls. While it is more apt to come from some crazed passenger, we shouldn't expect our "support" staff to wield this deadly weapon. You are slowly, methodically and efficiently killing us. Too many die of stress-related illness during this career or soon after leaving it.

Just STOP, would ya? Re-evaluate your priorities. Find the goodness in your souls, whatever remains there. We are not "dirty", as the Laird of HR decrees. We work no matter what pains us, smile through the insults and ignorance your indifference allows.

Few of you worry leaving your loved ones as you work. Not only that fear travels with us to work, but we also agonize whether we will bring COVID home to those who eagerly await our safe return. You can quarantine; we cannot. During the worst of it all, you had the luxury of "hiding/working" (our GM actually had the cajones to state non-union workers "hid" while performing their duties) from home. Another of many heart-piercing insults management has thrust into our collective hearts this past year.

Additionally, you send the worst negotiator in human history to do your dastardly deeds. You disrespect us by leaving a painful list of takeaways on the table during contract negotiations while allowing petty mid-managers to wreak havoc upon our very souls. You're miserable at your jobs, but I'm on time 94% and my passengers enjoy my friendly and safe ride. What have you to show for your lack of effort? Not a damn bit, losers.

WE have faced this pandemic head-on, balls and breasts to the wheel, every time a passenger boards our bus. There has been no way to realistically "social distance" ourselves from this pandemic, no matter what toothless SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) you change at a whim, all to benefit the least of those who ride our vehicles. If someone refuses to wear a mask, coming maskless within inches of our personal space/infection zone, we have simply been instructed to enter a "Mask Refusal" code into our console. Just Drive, dumbasses. Unskilled labor. Dirty people. No biggie to you: safe at home while monitoring each supposed crime we commit doing what you're too goddamn chickenshit to attempt. If you had the slightest ounce of respect for US, you would erase your outrageous proposals and accept our union's original offer, a true bargain for the incredible gems who toil amidst any and every disaster the rest of the world deigns to "hide" from. Hey, you have no more "capital projects" to afford. How about investing in those who do the work you're "over-qualified" to perform?

Did you realize nearly 150 New York operators DIED from COVID?!? How about the hundreds of others whose loss we mourn daily on social media? Your past GM had never even heard of Thomas Dunn when you hired him. Smiley Doug hadn't even read the State Audit of our transit system when the "Bored" decided his numerous failures qualified him for the job.

Mr. Dunn was murdered while driving his route almost two years ago in Florida. His death scares the crap out of ALL of us. Does his death matter at ALL to you, or the fact that it could happen here in Portland? Given the alarming uptick of attacks upon us the past several years? No. You bowed to public pressure during the 2020 Summer of Discontent and decimated our transit police division. Gee, thanks for your support. Not only are we at risk, but chances are help is now even further away.

Yeah, I'm pissed at you. Again. For putting my fellow brothers and sisters through more pain and misery than usual, which was more than enough prior to this cruel plague. For finally deciding to clean filthy transit vehicles mid-shift, only forced to do so because of COVID. Before, buses were only "sanitized" four times a year. They were filthy germ-infested armpits of transit, documented long before you decided to "act" in a face-saving measure while posturing it as "protecting our front line". You had to do this to save face. Otherwise, you obviously would not have given one hairy shit. As it is, filters on our bus HVAC system are only replaced "every 6,000 miles", which translates into anywhere from 3-6 months given the vehicle's service levels. Putrid manner of "protecting" your front line, folks. You should be ashamed. I would fire most of you my first day as JCMP. This would save US a helluva lotta dough while immediately improving frontline morale.

It was altogether fitting I saw no management presence on March 18. "Transit Worker Appreciation Day" is a farce in Portland, and other locales across this blue marble in space. I'm relieved there were no false shows of support from our management on that day, at least on the night shift. Perhaps day operators saw some half-assed dog and pony show, but the 9-5ers are long gone whilst I brave the night. Not even a discarded carrot awaited my arrival at Center Garage. Fitting, indeed. I might have said something altogether insubordinate had I seen anything even attempting respect after exposing myself to another COVID-infested shift.

Given management's/Bored penchant for sending "Customer Service" reps to do its faux dirty work, I might have simply cursed and walked away. Maybe management should remain under quarantine, given its cowardly fear of exposure to what we constantly breathe 10+ hours every day.

Governor Brown should fire the entire "Bored" of Directors for its callous indifference to the plight of ATU757 workers, and promote me to the position of General Manager. With your Deke at the helm, life for my beloved brothers and sisters would immediately change for the best. 

We have an interim GM, hopefully a positive given the shameful exit of Canada's failure. Someone who has actually operated a bus. He's a hybrid management dude, so the blue jury remains wary. How long has it been since you drove a bus, Sam? It's funny how quickly they forget shedding the blue for a suit. Are you one of them, or must a fresh Blue replace you?

I'm tired of being disrespected. Just STOP. Please. You owe us at least that much.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

New GM An Edsel or Maserati?

Deke's Note: As we enter the final third of a human's expected life span, lessons learned reach tempest levels. I'm frustrated with management's third-grade mindset of "leadership". They pretend to know better, but we're most wise. We do the hard work of transit, they take credit for our efforts. At some point, the puppets must replace the puppeteers, or else we must burn. This is my final take on the future of Portland transit in its "search" for leadership. It's here. Within me. My final career is either a simple bus operator, or General Manager. I will not accept anything in between. Until there is a radical shift in direction, I cannot, will not, aspire any further. Get too close to a flame, and your very soul is only soot. With realistic expectations, I give you all that remains after yet another 10-hour shift behind the wheel of a city bus. My Friday leaves me physically and emotionally spent, like thousands of others who do the same across this beautiful blue marble floating within infinity. My love and respect for you is boundless, and I'm proud to be your brother.

In this post, I will summarize how I believe a transit General Manager should act, and add a few points. Still undecided whether I should apply for the position, I am capable of creating a positive work environment. Why? Because I actually do respect my fellow Operations brother and sisters. 

Those hired as GM in the past had all the "requisite qualifications". They failed miserably. This grew into an unhealthy distrust between management and the backbone of transit. There is also confusion by the riding public as to the standards by which they are expected to behave as passengers. Should they listen to the operator, or whine to Customer Service when they don't get their way? The current midset is to encourage the latter and discourage the former.

Instead of hiring another corporate bobblehead to lead a blue-collar workforce, consider bringing one of US in to mend the growing chasm of disrespect. The path ahead for transit must not, likely will not, resemble anything like the past. The pandemic has changed everything. Transit must evolve to responsibly grow ridership while protecting its front line. Both these arrows have wildly missed the bullseye the past decade.

Given the constant abuse of union workers, and mistaken priorities which shifted control of the agency to those who make the most trouble within it, the time has come for a drastic change of direction.

Here are a series of issues which need immediate resolution to begin healing the massive rift between US and the "leadership" of this transit agency.

  • Respect our union, and negotiate in honest good faith. Once again, management has failed to realistically negotiate a new contract. The lead negotiator once said "the only good employee is a scared one" disqualifies him. I would have fired him on the spot, but Vancouver's Failure/Portland's Spoiled Leftover GM gave wholehearted support of these insults. Abusive, unprofessional rhetoric rains down upon us like the mess shooting out of an ornery bull. Responsively, our International ATU leadership came to Portland to lend strength to our local's efforts to force management's "team" back to the table. It's like negotiating with a class of unruly middle schoolers who believe transit workers are "dirty"; their tactics resemble those of schoolyard bullies. One kid bullied me until I punched him in the face. 
  • Dismantle the Service Improvement Program (SIP). It's time to stop the outrageous discipline while failing to instruct passengers how to ride. It's simple: STOP trashing us. Continuing this horrid program highlights utter indifference and disrespect to transit's front line. It has become a tool by which decent, longtime professionals have been suspended or even had their livelihoods stripped away via foolish and nonsensical policies. The Board's failure to investigate and address SIP-related problems is unconscionable. Many complaints come from those who misbehave, misunderstand or believe themselves above the Passenger Code of Conduct. Wait, that must have gone out with the last bit of trash.
  • Grow a set. We are being attacked out there in growing numbers, yet you caved in to a minority of people intent on removing our first line of defense: Transit Police. Instead of decreasing it by 75%, your responsibility to US should come first. Our plight dictates it should be increased by 200% or more. Last year, we were attacked approximately 215 times by the public we serve, nearly double the amount of 2019. Officers who respond when we need protection during an attack are vital. It doesn't matter to any of us the race of someone who punches, spits on, slaps, menaces, threatens, or throws any number of objects at us. Cuts to this vital protective service shelter our attackers, leaving us even more vulnerable. What about OUR civil rights?
  • I would increase Fare Inspection,  while encouraging the poor and working class to apply for reduced-fare status. FREE transit is not a realistic option. Collecting fare is now considered an attack on a coddled few. Those who value transit pay fare. If a community is invested in transit, there is a shared responsibility and respect. 
  • STOP feeding the capital projects, and instead invest in the facilities we already have. Remodeling outdated garages is a positive. However, many operators have end-of-the-line facilities which border on disgusting. Honey Buckets are anything but. Front line workers deserve clean and well-appointed facilities instead of paying fast-food joints to use their often-filthy restrooms. We don't expect the Taj Mahal, but deserve better than dodging rats and nefarious individuals haunting our personal time.
  • Given the pandemic destruction of our downtown economy and the same throughout the Metro area, we face a new economic reality. Many small businesses have shuttered for good. We need to re-think transit's role as a post-pandemic economy takes shape. Where will the "new" jobs be? Can we expect new enterprise to emerge from COVID dust, or will the workforce shift to new economic horizons? Designing new transit byways will become necessary. A new mindset is necessary. Will the same old/new GM recognize this, or stubbornly insist on continuing backwards? 
  • Management has no oversight. It is not held accountable for its many misdeeds whether it sneaks in a million-dollar-plus raise or sharpens its swords against those who make transit work. I would hold myself accountable, along with the entire "leadership" structure. Stubbornly holding onto failed policies only spotlights the fool. Fixing these problems will not result in the pendulum swinging wildly to the opposite; it will guide it back to the center where progress happens.
  • Hold METRO responsible for its constant failure to provide positive leadership. Instead of holding transit responsible for its hollow promises and failed leadership, it is content with the status quo. Also, how a metropolis this size cannot keep winter conditions from paralyzing it is ridiculous. Hey Portland, buy some damn snowplows for cryin' out loud! It is unacceptable for a city to fail to respond to recurring weather events, even when ice coats our streets. Doesn't happen in Chicago, or Minneapolis, Boston, Detroit, New York... why can't we learn from our colder sister cities? Our government's lack of preparation, and its lackluster response, is embarrassing. Granted, this year's ice storm was unprecedented, causing our transit agency to cease operations for the first time in modern history. Transit earned a rare brownie point for removing time loss for those unable to make it in to work; thank you. We were all pleasantly surprised, given its harsh treatment of us lately. However, given the city's utter refusal to plow and treat many of its streets and causing horribly-dangerous conditions, perhaps transit should take the lead. Buy our own plows and do what the METRO consistently fails to: be the solution rather than the problem.
  • Make it fun to work here again. Celebrate the best in one another, work together to achieve realistic goals, and find avenues to reunite transit as a functioning family. Create programs to reward positive achievements. Welcome the union, rather than fight it. Realize we are one community serving an even larger one. Embrace one another, seek new solutions to old problems, excavate the enormous mine of possibilities buried within our midst and forge a partnership rather than a decades-old animosity.
  • Honor retirees by welcoming them back and honoring their service. They belong in the bullpen, offering advice and experience to all of us. Those with decades of experience are a resource which has been discarded. Give our honored veterans the chance to make us all better moving forward. Rather than watching our honored retirees sicken and die after devoting their productive years to our city, give them purpose and a reason to remain part of the family they helped create. My fondest memories as a bus operator are remembering the stories and advice of those who came before me.

Like Forrest Gump said when he grew weary of running, I'm tired. Exhausted. Having to constantly highlight the obvious failures of "leaders" taxes the simplest of minds. I would rather follow my brother blogger's (read Don Iler) example by writing about our interesting routes. However, I cannot allow our collective abuse to go unreported. To remain quiet would go against everything I believe.

The question has been put to me, snickered about by others, whether my "lack of experience" disqualifies me from becoming GM. No management experience, nor that of budgetary/fiscal/regulatory psychobabble. Abraham Lincoln had little formal schooling, yet rose to become perhaps the most effective leader of our country when it needed one most. While I could never boast equal greatness, I do believe dire circumstances require shredding the edicts of failure and adopting a radical approach. My singular strength is the ability to communicate on equal footing with people of all levels, and to respect those with whom I disagree. Great ideas come from the unexpected direction. My aspiration to the top post is singular: I desire to restore the eloquence Portland transit once commanded: simply listening, debating, and forging new agreements toward a common goal of respectful progress where it has not existed of late.

Ayup, I have slaved away as a blue-collar chimp these past 40 years. My only college education is some 100-plus credit hours sans a degree. I have earned a PhD in Blue Collar Reality. I only desire to do right by my fellows, to work together with those of diverse backgrounds to improve our lot. These past four decades have taught me one thing: either bend over or STAND and FIGHT. My backside hurts enough already, so it's time to BATTLE. For you and me, for those who labored before us, and for those who follow, do not settle for what others would discard. You all deserve the best leadership into our future fraught with the unknown, built upon a solid foundation from which we RISE.

We deserve a true partnership with management and its bobblehead board, rather than a dictatorship with rudderless oversight. It is honorable to work collectively toward progress. Righting a capsized ship requires many hands working in harmony. Eventually, these thousands of hands raise everyone up through mutual respect. Mouthing faux compliments whilst murmuring diabolically-nonsensical sidebars must be forever abolished. A true leader recognizes the strengths of those who toil in the trenches, and works tirelessly to champion their efforts. As GM, I would work tirelessly to uplift rather than allow any slight taint those who toil in service to our service area. Such devotion promotes those who have the vision necessary to not only fix a problem, but find solutions necessary to avoid repeat disasters. We deserve such leadership after an intolerable lack of such.

The Board promoted a former operator as the Interim GM while it "searches" for a suitably-qualified successor. We are hopeful. Undoubtedly, they will repeat former gaffes and plop another Corporata bobblehead into the top spot. Unless they surprise everybody by hiring a radically-different model, we will be subjected to another Edsel. I prefer the Maserati.

Zoom, Deke style. #Deke4GM

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Broken Promises and Wounded Souls

Thanks to the dedicated souls of Maintenance
who work so hard to keep us rolling.
They constantly earn my respect!

Management assured us that turning on the microphones and expanding the camera view on the operator's seat would not lead to spying. They promised that when investigating an incident or complaint, the scrutiny would be only on the time of the incident.

They asked us to trust them. We did. 

I heard an operator say he was recently called in to speak with a manager about a complaint, and the meeting devolved into other times in his shift during which he supposedly did something wrong. Five day suspension.

"I had to drive Uber to make up for the loss in pay," he said, shaking his head.

This isn't the first time I've heard such a tale. Maybe management has forgotten its promises. We have not.

In addition, I also learned those tasked with reviewing data pack information were caught at Center Garage spying on operators outside of the agreed timelines. Somebody complained. Soon after, the staff was moved to a location where its activity could not be so easily witnessed. Management has proven once again, it will do what it wants to the detriment of its most valuable employees, without fear of reprisal. It simply cannot be trusted to do the honorable thing.

Morale is at an all-time low. Those who run our transit agency have NO oversight. They change Standard Operating Procedures on a whim, and seem hell-bent on suspending and firing honored veterans. Rather than respectfully supporting those who make their own jobs possible, their actions are confusing at best, nefarious and injurious at worst.

Those responsible for these severe indignities should be punished. We consistently exceed impossibly high standards, while those whose main goal should be supportive in nature, are allowed to run roughshod over us.

This behavior must stop.

If we had the right to strike, these injustices would slither into the Willamette River with the remainder of Portland's dirtiest mistakes. We should all petition the Oregon Legislature to restore our legal right to strike. This is mine.

We have had several administrations whose actions have wounded a devoted family of professionals. It's time for our family to rise up against this mountain of injustice and eradicate it forever. Only then is it possible to regain the heights of acclimation our system once earned around the globe.

Once again, I refuse to accept the false show of "support" on Transit Worker Appreciation Day '21. To allow management's phony declaration of admiration would be a grave error of weakness. We must unite  for the noble sake of our collective honor. We have a tradition of over 100 years of service behind us; they have 50 years of constant blunder and plunder.

Management and the Board stubbornly refuse to bend in appreciation during contract negotiations. Given our Herculean efforts and sacrifice over the past year of pandemic, fire and ice; any attempt to placate us with candies, fruit and broken trust highlights its utter contempt for those who make transit work.

We cannot trust them to suddenly change for the better. They have shown their hand plainly, with too many slaps in our collective face. It is time we become the change we need.

In solemn solidarity,

Deke N. Blue

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Part Two - What Matters Most

Deke's Note: Some of you might be thinking, "Has Deke finally lost his mind?" Perhaps it was lost long ago, but I keep on because I cannot believe this is how things should be. It's just an inner flame which has always smoldered within, urging me to argue against ridiculousness. Many of you agree, some maybe not, that transit could be better if an actual front line worker was at the helm. Some of you have actively argued against my quest given a lack of "managerial" experience. I get it. But still, my devotion is more to you than to any personal ambition. I'm tired of our being disrespected and held down when our efforts make their jobs possible. If YOU won't take this step, then I MUST. It stems from my parents' beliefs that bullshit can be overpowered with common sense and dedication to honorable principles. If we allow the current situation to continue, we might as well consent to irrelevance. I refuse.

* * * * *

How do we move forward with a fresh face at the helm? Hire one who has not risen through the ranks of Corporata. It begins with a thorough shakedown of the status quo. It would be a massive shift from top-down to bottoms-up, leaving the metropolitan populace with more questions than answers at first.

We are not beings accustomed to radical change. We have lost our collective ability to adapt to massive shifts in what has become normal. This past year has challenged our collective sense of what should be versus what is. We're more adaptive than we give ourselves credit for. Instead of fearing such a massive shift in leadership, I ask you to instead consider it could work. 

You Know Your Job Best

As GM, I would surround myself with many of you who consistently trumpet innovation. Initially, I would leave the regulatory to the bureaucrats as I learn its intricacies. It may seem risky, but I learn quickly. I can smell bullshit miles distant. My main goal would be to re-structure the wheel and immediately begin mending the fences between management and union membership. How, you ask?

I believe the most pressing issue is R-E-S-P-E-C-T. First, immediately moving from a ceremonially-distanced office, my place of business would revert to the Garages. I would move from each location daily, opening my door to those who have been distanced from "leadership" for decades. Since transparency is the greatest way of instilling trust and earning respect, my goal would be to roam amongst those who roll wheels. I would encourage people to speak up about what they believe could help us all, and study each suggestion. Many would be implemented immediately, others given every opportunity to become reality. I would hire several front line workers to replace those currently above us who have stumbled. 

Most important, I would not, could not, leave the union which represents us. I would insist dues be deducted from my paycheck, therefore keeping me part of an institution which has long outlived the transit agency by 50+ years. This would demand my focus be upon those whose dedication makes non-union jobs possible in transit. It would make me even more accountable to the ideals I present here: total restructuring of the transit wheel.

A major concern is the current model of "Customer Service". It places all the weight on front line workers, without the slightest concern for their authority or safety. If a passenger becomes incensed with an Operator's request they follow the oft-forgotten Code of Passenger Conduct, they call in a complaint. That complaint is sent to the assistant manager at the garage where the line/train originates, then to the operator in question. Sometimes, the wrong operator receives the complaint. There is little oversight here. Their time is wasted, the Station Agent has to find an operator to fill the run during the meeting with management, and there is a considerable waste of money. Adding frustration to an already-stressed human being, who ultimately learns they weren't even the person in question, it's a silly-assed way of dealing with issues. That's only one instance of how complaints are treated.

It would be best if Customer Service included a full-time, experienced Operator on rotation in the call center. This department should be given full-investigatory power to look at tapes and listen to audio, to determine who exactly was driving at the time. They should be allowed to contact the complainant during the investigation. If complaining passenger is found to be misrepresentative, uneducated as to transit code, or simply lacking in common sense, the complaint should be turned into a teaching moment. Before any complaint is received by an Operator, it should be fully-investigated as to accuracy. This would eliminate the common "Bullshit!" response by an Operator. We all know when we screw up and when we are simply insisting on passenger compliance. 

If a complaint is found to be false or a misunderstanding of transit reality, it should fall upon Customer Service to call the complainant, educate them on the rules of transit and thank them for calling. Period. If for some reason a complaint is determined to warrant Operator interaction, it should be done from a less-drastic point of view. Perhaps the Operator did do something warranting correction, but is more a Teachable Moment than disciplinary. If an Operator shows a pattern, they should be given every opportunity to correct it before any action be taken against them.

As GM, I would direct that NO suspensions or terminations would happen without my approval. Until management learns how to lead correctly without unnecessary punitive actions, The Buck Would Stop Here.

Passengers Have Responsibilities

Transit is not a right; it is a paid service and a privilege. With privileges come responsibilities. We need to re-instill respect for the front line workers rather than allowing the riding public to overrule transit authority. In turn, front line workers should be given back the power to rule the road, rather than having to second-guess a largely-inconsistent management. There is a time-honed manner of transit: passengers should know what is expected of them, and respect the ride. Period. 

I would insist passengers adhere to the Code of Conduct. Be ready to ride, pay fare, and behave. It's simple. Don't argue with the Operator, don't cause trouble. Be expelled from the ride, suffer an exclusion for a month. Repeat offenders would see a stiffer penalty. Third strike would result in permanent exclusion. No whining, appeal or special treatment. Attack an operator? Immediate and permanent exclusion from riding any transit vehicle. Pack up and leave the city.

The pendulum of responsibility has swung too far toward the pampering the miscreants it discourages decent people from riding transit vehicles. Remove the problem, increase ridership. Show some resolve, and the trouble-causers might think twice before disrupting the ride. Too many Portlanders are wary of riding because our transit management is too soft on those emboldened by a lack of authority. Reward the responsible riders and remove the troublemakers.

Increasing transit police presence is imperative. Attacks on front line workers have increased dramatically over the past several years. Management has gutted the transit police, under pressure from a community vested in the "All Cops are Bastards" movement. They call for "defunding the police" without any comprehension as to what that means for the law-abiding public. Yes, I agree unnecessary violence in policing is a problem needing immediate reversal. It doesn't mean we should turn to "community policing" because this could lead to a vigilante-style society which does nobody justice.

A decimated transit police division puts transit workers in grave danger. Our lives depend upon protection because we are not allowed to protect ourselves. Don't believe me? Just ask any of over 200 transit workers who were attacked in 2020. Many have been suspended or even fired because the "Operator used excessive force" when defending themselves against an attacker. I'm sorry, but if someone is attacking me, they deserve my full defensive excesses, no matter the damage I inflict upon my assailant. If someone uses a deadly weapon in an attack, an Operator should be afforded equal force in defending ourselves, because of course we cannot have any weapon on our person. Nor can we flee, stuck in a small space with little room to maneuver.

Leave Fido at Home

Another important rule needing change would require federal assistance. Too many people bring Fido aboard, causing disruptions by not knowing the rules of Certified Service Animals. I would ask the Federal Transportation Safety Board to lobby Congress in amending the Americans with Disabilities Act to require "service animals" be certified, and documentation of their certification be presented to transit agencies. Only those with such documentation would be allowed to bring an animal aboard a transit vehicle. I'm sick and tired of ambiguity pertaining to Fido. All anyone has to say is their pet is a "service animal" and the only question I'm legally able to ask is "What service is it trained to provide?" Those with any knowledge of the ADA are quick to give an acceptable answer. Anyone else falsely claims I'm not "allowed to ask that question". 

It is irresponsible to those with true service animals to allow people to bring their pet aboard without fear of reprisal. A Service Animal is one that has been intensely-trained to serve someone with special needs. Someone who brings an untrained pet aboard is an irresponsible danger to all on board. If their dog attacks a Service Animal, they are putting a person with disabilities at severe risk. A disabled, or God forbid, dead Service Animal causes great distress to its associated human. It has happened many times where a Service Animal has been attacked by Fido. The flimsy "he's my companion animal" excuse should never be allowed. Every pet is a companion. A Service Animal is a faithful, highly-trained servant.

* * * * *

To summarize, our new GM must have credible working knowledge of the real world in transit to effectively lead this, or any, public transit agency. I'm not easily impressed with someone who has a lofty résumé full of VP/Manager/Master's/or similar credentials. We have suffered enough under their collective inability to understand rubber or rails. Let them fill positions where their experience is needed. Make the GM a leader of people who understands the human element of transporting people. 

My father was once in middle-management. He was a Manager for the State of Arizona and was tasked with hiring people whose job was to help others. He was widely-respected and loved by those he managed, simply because he trusted them to do the right thing. When they made a mistake, he gently corrected them. Dad taught me, "You are bound to make mistakes in life, and good people will train them out of you. Poor management will punish you unnecessarily."

Dad also said, "If you want to know if someone is trustworthy, look into their eyes as you shake their hand. If you don't like what you see or feel, trust your instincts." 

I'm not sure I want to meet those in current positions of upper management, because I might not like what I see. Given the opportunity to lead our transit agency, I would look long and hard into the souls of those entrusted with your safety, and act accordingly. My only hope is when you look into mine, you'll like what you see.

* * * * *

NEXT UP: Part Three will focus on implementing changes which positively affect those who have been negatively-effected by decades-long cuts in benefits transit workers earn. I would also launch fixes to improve this high-stress occupation, including health and child care, apprentice programs, retirement benefits and the value of honoring those with decades of experience. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

How to Be A Transit General Manager - Part One

Deke's Note: I have wrestled with this series for a few months now, my mind fighting itself for the most effective way to present it. Instead of using some set form of outline (procrastination) I have decided to just go for it (decisiveness), see what comes out. You never know what my mind will write.


I feel like Forrest right now in many ways. Trying to be an optimist in a pessimistic world. Everything is upside down and turned around these days. You all know what I mean. There is no guarantee life will return to "normal". I'm not sure that's possible. Going backward is something Ma warned me against, and I finally understand.

Progress means to forge ahead with new ideas. Maybe all this upheaval will wake up the slumbering bumbling masses from its cellphone daze. I doubt it. The one thing I have learned over the past year is that humans (especially Americans) are spoiled so bad we smell like all the food I just tossed out after being without electricity for 72 hours. Rancid. In our lust for "information" we sort it not by truth (who knows what that is any more), but by what we want to believe. Common sense is no longer a common denominator. Only a desire for more of what we cannot have is what drives us. Until and unless someone can race ahead of the herd of lemmings to stop the chaos and division, we're doomed to roll off into oblivion. 

I'm not that guy. Evidently, a bus operator is not worthy of even a sliver of respect. However, I am racing the pack to block us from that steep cliff. This series of posts is designed to stop the plunge. The current one does not, never did, and never will, work effectively. The "Bored" of Directors will echo the definition of insanity if it makes the same mistake by plucking our new General Manager from some LinkedIn puff baby with a self-aggrandizing résumé. I have a better idea: hire me instead.

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Management is too big for its britches. It is discipline happy, downright abusive. Intimidating. Inconsistent. Infuriating. Insulting, Inept and Inefficient. I believe the new General Manager should be connected, concerned, and completely invested in the collective health of all who make transit work. Instead of reigning from a lofty perch at Harrison on High, I would move my office to all garage locations, transparently guiding onsite rather than dictating from afar. Encouraging, listening and supporting those with whom I have toiled going on nine years now. By remaining in touch with those who do the work, I could more effectively manage transit's most imperative functions.

I do not believe being an effective leader involves isolation from those who depend upon you for their collective well-being. Unless you are intimately-associated with those doing the work, you cannot expect excellence. Distance instills a severe lack of respect, a system-wide demoralization and lack of enthusiasm. With me at the helm, each employee would know I have their back, because I have been where they are. I have never operated a Light Rail Vehicle, but many of my friends and classmates do. My respect for them is equal to those with whom I roll rubber on roads. Rail ops are subject to the same ridiculous discipline as bus operators, and I'm sick of hearing about the disrespect by those whose mission is to support frontline workers above all. It's a disease for which only common sense and mutual respect can eradicate.

Road and rail and maintenance supervisors, dispatchers, station agents, trainers, vehicle cleaners, yard workers... ALL ATU members, in no particular order but equally, should come first in every consideration. It seems the past few decades here have centered around capital projects which do little to nothing in improving the system with the frontline workers FIRST. Instead, workers are considered obstacles rather than part of the overall solution. Rather than improving conditions for those who provide the service, management thinks of more ways of pampering an already-spoiled ridership. It sides with the problem-causers rather than uplifting those who serve them. It's a disgustingly-insulting management model which must be replaced immediately if Portland transit, or that of any local agency worldwide, is to move forward. It's a new world operating on wobbly legs soon to buckle and fail.

People who feel valued will contribute mightily; those who are treated as begging peasants are disregarded. Our "family" is worthy of love and respect. Just this past year, we have persevered through a deadly pandemic, choking smoky wildfires which threatened our homes, and just recently a prolonged icy/snow which shut down our transit system for the first time in modern history. Many showed up for work as our loved ones suffered through power failures at home, risking our safety just to provide the service our community depends upon.

As your General Manager, I would immediately change that title to "JCMP (Just Call Me Patrick)". Why? Because I am you and you are me. Instead of simply "working from home" I would commission an all-terrain vehicle as a Command Center and work all hours of every day of such a weather or other event to ensure my ESSENTIAL workers are supported and connected to the mission upon which we are all devoted. I could not rest easily knowing many of my frontline workers are braving the worst conditions if I were cozily snuggled up to my Beloved next to our warm fireplace. This would be my final career, folks, and I would dedicate my time to the collective health of all who provide the service we have for over 100 years.

Effective discipline at least shows respect for its subject, not ridicule and shame. It teaches more than punishes. It forgives rather than insisting on the punitive. A well-disciplined work force self-regulates the collective heartbeat. Management's objective should be to keep the beat steady, calm and healthy. A broken model causes its staff to shrink and bristle with indifference. This causes disharmony and ill health. Unless the model is reformed and re-defined, just dig a giant hole and bury all the LRV's and buses along with those who make them work. Why? Because we're so low at the moment we've already started digging.

Portland Transit today is the typical corporate model. It consists of a hierarchal chain of command, with the GM on top of the heavy pile of bureaucrats. Our current GM has no idea what happens on the streets, nor does he seem to care. He does not have his finger on the pulse of transit as it exists worldwide. He just smiles to the wind, indifferently leaving contract negotiations to his "Laird" of HR, who seems hell-bent upon making the lives of his minions unbearable. Mr. GM is evidently quite content to allow the heavy hand of insult full reign while he smiles at the cameras and assures everyone "management is doing its very best to ensure the safety of everyone". Bah. Humbug. That's blissful bullshit, bulbous buffoonery at its best. Or worst, I should say. But well, "b's" are big at the moment.

Think of spokes on a wheel, radiating from the outside toward an inner core, wherein lie the "lug nuts of transit" (RIP, Operator Thomas Dunn of Florida). Each spoke should take its cue from the hub, providing support and encouragement. Strength of the core should be the most densely-focused, as it provides the strength of the whole. Where the rubber meets the road, management should be constantly pressuring local governments to remove the potholes which jar our spines into paralysis. Its main focus should be from the outside in, giving its all to the benefit of those who do the true work of transit. 

Sure, there is need for paper-pushing regulatory gurus, budget planners and such. A General Manager doesn't necessarily need to have governmental or administrative experience to lead. He/she should instead have the desire to encourage staff to do its best for everyone involved. A true "team" has no "I" in it, or so I told my youth basketball players.

My first month would involve replacing corporate resumes with transit workers with similar backgrounds. Those who want to stay would have to take a leave of absence from their current position, go through Driver Training and pass. They would then be required to drive in-service for no less than a year before re-applying for their former positions. Each applicant would be screened like other frontline workers for time loss, safety and performance. If they make the cut, they would be placed under their replacement to learn the new psychology of the position. Only then might they actually understand the importance of empathy and compassion for frontline workers. Hopefully, when a supervisor arrives at their vehicle to settle a dispute and interrupt an attack might they realize the dangers we face every day on the job. Only then, will they be truly qualified to lead. Upon returning to their department, their new boss will be a former Operator. Hey, life can be ironic and payback a Rampant Lion's bite on the butt.

Pretty drastic departure from today's reality, you say? Yeah. Walk a mile in my shoes, and you'll be shocked at what you see, oh ye who haven't a clue what I now do.

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Harry Truman was kept out of the loop as Vice President. When he became President upon Franklin Roosevelt's death, Harry was largely unprepared for the top job. However, he applied his own knowledge as a Senator and motivator of people to become one of our nation's most respected leaders. Abraham Lincoln rarely attended school as a child, and self-taught himself into being an exemplary attorney. Elected to only one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, losing his bid to become a Senator to Stephen Douglas, he still rose to become our most-revered President beside George Washington. Abe was not "qualified" for the job, as his detractors sullenly lamented. His vision and compassion won him the respect of those who once belittled him. Instead of denying the voices of his opponents, he trusted them with Cabinet positions so he could keep his "enemies" close while simultaneously picking their brains. In the end, he mastered them all, winning their support and acclaim.

While the position of Transit General Manager does not remotely compare with the U.S. Presidency, it therefore need not be bloated into something unattainable to a blue-collar worker without a college degree. At 60, I have worked many service-related jobs and come away with valuable insights into human interaction and the means of motivating people to do their best for the common good. One of my favorite role models was Mary Gallagher, President of Intergroup of Arizona where I was an IT Desktop Support Tech before transferring to Health Net of Oregon in 2002.

Every Friday morning, Mary pushed a trolley through each department, dispensing coffee, tea, sodas, pastries and fruit to her staff members. She took the time to speak to everyone, listening to our ideas and concerns. If we told her of our children, Mary remembered and upon encountering her in a hallway, she would ask "How is Baby J doing these days? Starting to teethe, I bet." I always felt connected to her, and busted my butt double when she requested our department achieve any number of deadlines. She not only heard us, but acted on what she learned from the people she led. Each one of us openly wept when she died suddenly in her 40s. Mary truly cared about and valued those who were the lugnuts of the company, and we exceeded each challenge she requested. 

I am most comfortable amongst those who have no pretensions of greatness. Honesty in oneself and an ability to laugh inwardly are my strongest traits. Whenever presented with someone in a position "above" me who I feel required to address as "sir" or "ma'am" I am immediately distrustful; they are the most dangerous personalities in leadership. If they demand respect, they are usually not worthy of it. If they show me respect, I am more apt to listen and respond overwhelmingly positive. The moment I shake another's hand, my instincts tell me whether they are trustworthy; I hope my soul is true when people look into these eyes.

One "senior vice president" I dealt with in Corporata was the prime example of piss-poor management. His example reminds me of one of our "leadership". As a member of a team managed by a California-based chief, local VP Seth felt it his duty to ride our asses like the champion rider he was not. Just because Seth didn't like our relative autonomy, he complained to our manager we were not doing our jobs, and prompted Ben to fly up to check on us. Ben was very supportive of us, and truly pissed that a Veep was unnecessarily pulling his chain, but he dutifully took the assignment. I remember Ben apologizing to my co-worker and I for "investigating this bullshit". He knew our track record and had recently upped our pay by 17% that year because of our exemplary job performance.

Ben interviewed Seth, other VP's, the President and department heads as well as a various assortment of staff workers. What he found was in direct conflict with Seth's complaints. He told Seth to go straight to hell, stop harassing his team members and wasting his time on "bullshit". Then, he took us to lunch to congratulate us on making "the team" look good. 

Working for Ben was one of my favorite professional moments. I felt valued and respected, and I busted my ass for the awesome team I was part of. We all worked together and it was blissful. I still have many friends who worked with and "above" me. When my department was outsourced in 2009, it felt like a management-forced divorce; I felt discarded but still love those I served; they in turn missed our timely, personable and friendly service, begging us to come back as "temps" to save them from the severe disconnect from those who replaced us. I still mourn losing that job, but keep in touch with those I served. It was a position in which I respected those who in turn respected me, and we did wonderful work together. Today, I love driving bus and meeting new people, but hate having to second-guess a management that is inconsistent and hell-bent on making our lives miserable.

"This is the best job I've ever had," one operator told me as a newbie, "but the worst company I've ever worked for."

We need more folks like Ben and Mary to run transit, not Seth. It's an irresponsible management model that has led our agency into unprecedented and constant battles with ATU757. It has devolved into a shooting match, with each side poised to take the other down. 

It need not be so.

Our current situation can only accurately be described as an abusive relationship. Leadership's only mission seems to split our union, to cause disharmony. It encourages non-union busy bees to degrade us with anonymous complaints when we dare lower our face mask to take a drink or breathe fresh air while on break. It suspends or terminates experienced workers who have earned value as veterans for the silliest of "infractions". Its irresponsible and confusing edicts cause us to pause in real-life dramas where our physical safety is an immediate concern.

Will I be suspended for acting in an entirely-human manner? This is a question no operator or other frontline worker should have to ask oneself. Yet we do.

That is a position many of us are faced with every day. We don't have the luxury of examining past precedent in the moment while dealing with a crazy person screaming spittle into our faces. One "false" move (as defined by those who have never held the wheel of a 20-ton vehicle in their hands) could result in heavy-handed "discipline". It's easy for them to Monday Morning Quarterback our defensiveness, but human biology over millions of years overrule some managerial misinterpretation of "professionalism" when fight-or-flight is the immediate biological response.

Take too much time to recover from surgery or a life-threatening health event, and you're fired. Just ask my buddy Dan, who came back to work two months early after two shoulder replacements. All he wanted to do was get back in the seat and serve his community; eight years of dedication and countless commendations from the public he served was not enough to circumvent the current reign of terror under which we endure.

It's time for a change. I am one who can revamp a failed model. I believe I will be the General Manager you would be proud to work with, rather than against. Let me hear you, loud and clear. Share this post, consider it, add your suggestions and ideas of what can work rather than what does not. It's time for positivity to be the literary twin of: SAFETY FIRST!

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NEXT UP: How to move forward into a positive work culture, keeping frontline workers safe above ridiculous public whining, and educating a horribly-pampered riding public. Stay tuned.

It's time transit workers could sing along with James Taylor
 to his song "You've Got A Friend"

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 ...