Deacon Who?

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with the end of an era. Not one of major importance, given the grievous times in which we endure. However, it is nevertheless with great sadness I announce the death of my artistic twin.

MAY 5, 2014 - JUNE 30, 2021

Deke didn't want to die. None of us do, but it comes to each just as every life on Earth greets a sunrise. We're all doomed from birth to someday breathe our last. It's not something most dwell upon. In Deke's short sojourn, he began having fun and through his eight years described much of his 240,000-plus miles on this website. Some of it was painful, at times light-hearted and others angry darkness obscured his original intent. For an eight-year-old professional, Deke was sad at how often he sat here, spiraling down into a world he had not envisioned at his literary birth.

I wanted to describe Deke's fiery exit dying "behind the wheel", even imagined every scenario I might write it to be. Every one seemed fake, but that's not how I roll. Just the facts, dude. Deke is just... gone baby gone.

* * * * *

It was originally intended to be a frivolously literary venture through an exciting new career. And so it was, the first few years. This blog attracted readers because Deke described a life very few considered interesting. Except by those who live it, every moment of their waking lives.

Being a transit operator encompasses much more than the daily trudge to a workplace. It invades every aspect of one's life, daily routines and even our weekends. We become slaves to schedule. One second late can result in the loss of a day's pay, or even losing the job if we fail to assimilate into transit's military-like ritual. 

Time begins working backwards from the time we awaken. Each 3-4 month period, we choose our work schedule for the next season behind the wheel. At that point, a seasoned road-relief operator will begin planning. For us, the job begins by relieving another operator who starts their route early in the morning at the garage. They sign their work on average 15-20 minutes prior to its start time. They pick up that route's pouch. Read the Re-Route sheet if it's dated that day to see what alterations they need to incorporate in their run. Then they walk out to the assigned bus and inspect it as the engine warms up. Logging into the Computer Aided Dispatch computer and the farebox, adjusting their workspace for the 100+ miles awaiting them, they mentally prepare for a day during which they might not return home from. It's a vital ritual performed by thousands of operators across the globe.

I chose to avoid the garage, the early morning ritual in favor of skipping forward in the day. The pay is better for those who work the 2-Midnight roll. Plus, I'm a loner. My personality rubs many wrong; it's better I avoid the masses.

For two years I worked the Extra Board and experienced the crowded conditions of the early-morning bullpen. Although many people entered into my life who have contributed great value to my soul during this phase, it was fleeting. The pressures of constantly putting on a happy face so early in the day to so many, combined with the stress of landing runs I became increasingly weary of, convinced me to sign a regular schedule. 

Chase the buck. That's been the bane of my existence for the entirety of the past 40 years of professional toil. And yes, my decades of work have been professional in nature. It is too easy for the working class to allow society's dictates to describe years of dedication to whatever "job" we land. It has been my goal in each of my careers to do my utmost best in each of them.

Accolades be damned; my efforts were for self-gratification. Why? Because Mom dedicated herself to the belief this brain-injured infant had the ability to great things. She willed me to walk and excel when "professionals" told her to "forget" about me and shove me into some cold and dead-end institution. Everything I have accomplished, albeit miniscule in the grand scheme of global wonderment, has been because my parents never gave up on me. It has been a lifelong goal to prove those doctors wrong, to shine a light on Ma & Pa's dedication to me, their belief in my abilities to love and create through my writing.

So here I sit, this final time writing to you. Here. I don't always know who will chance upon this blog, but evidently I have struck a chord. Over 600,000 times according to Blogger Stats. You may be in India, China, Ireland, France, Canada, or in my beloved United States... it doesn't matter where. The mere fact that you're reading this post evokes emotion because I know it wouldn't be possible if Mom had believed Doctor Dumbshit's ominous statement "I don't believe Patrick will never walk or talk or have a 'normal' life." Her reply: "Bullshit. If I have ANYTHING to say about it, he most certainly WILL."

My literary career began the year I learned to read. Having long disproven the doctors' disbelief in Mom's determination, my life has been astonishing leaps above expectation. Maybe I stumbled a few times and missed my mark. I have often lacked timing. Every accomplishment has come long after it should have. I tend to procrastinate. Pressing tasks are often completed much later than they should. It is a lifelong fault, and each time I face a wall it takes too much time to climb. I'm constantly missing the 8-ball. Occasionally I hit it on the first shot, but usually it takes a luckily-made second chance shot. 

* * * * *

If you have paid attention, you have noticed my writing has become stale. If you're as old as I am, it's like Rerun Season was on TV way back when. Part of it stems from transit management's recent disability. For the past decade it has taken the stance that "the only good worker is a scared one". I have pounded my anger into this chalkboard screech through many a post. Earlier this year, I recognized my pattern was to ignore the literary gems this job affords my artistic soul in lieu of blasting management for yet another (and constant) insult upon US. In fact, it became nearly impossible to return to my bloggerful roots. At that moment, I realized Deke's time was done. My writing about this career could not turn the corner and find a fresh direction. 

Two years ago as I drove Line 9 across the Tilikum Crossing in Portland, I thought of a new story idea and immediately began writing it. Since then I have written on it in bursts and spots, opening and closing the bus door on it through a series of inspirations and doubts. This year I realized my writing career cannot climb any higher if I persist in this addiction to blogging. I knew it was either Deke or something better. So long, buddy. It was fun, for a while. Now it's time to reach a bit higher. Ma and Pa insist that I keep doing so until my hand no longer retains a pulse.

For eight years I have used this platform as a therapeutic tool. It felt good to blast the ills operators face. Then I watched readership plummet. It became obvious many no longer found solace here. Sure, a dedicated few encouraged me to keep writing. But there were signs it had to end. My rants became that annoying skip of a record that required a leap from the easy chair of relaxation to force the stylus forward. Once so coaxed, the sound was the same. Deke had finally rolled back to Ground Zero. Again. The realization struck hard, but it finally was forceful enough to slap me in the face so hard I understood.

* * * * *

So here we are. My first post and the second described just why I began this venture. Because the next dozens became part of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane (no longer in print) I made them invisible from the blog. It was a ploy just so you would buy the book. (Laughter) It worked for the few dedicated readers who shelled out the $15 to get their copy. Enjoy them... there's only about a thousand or less.

Over the next few weeks, I will open the earliest posts back into the archives. But I cannot write here again. Deke is dead, and needs to stay so. I never believed the book would be a best-seller. I had hoped to do a bit more than break even; it didn't happen. Oh well. A writer's life is like that: win a few, lose more. That's okay. It feels good just to have put it out there.

Although this blog has run its course, I promise to keep writing. It's what I do. I cannot stop until this body finally gives up. It's just time now to point these fingers ever onward.

* * * * *

So, here we are. Thank you for reading. Eight years, across the entire world. Wow. I'm honored and beyond grateful. I'm amazed, humbled and happy. Thank you a million times over. This has been my greatest achievement. So far.

Along life's bumpy road, my greatest wish is that all your ups and downs be in bed. Peace, and love to y'all... I'm out.

-- 30 --

Farewell Deke N. Blue

A shout out to my brothers and sisters 
at rail. I'm sorry to have never written
your stories. My love for you however
is as true as that for my fellow
bus operators.

Deke's Note: See below.

I have tried many times to end this odyssey, with no success. It should have happened long ago. But some habits, even good ones as you know, are difficult to overcome. This time, I have to do it. 

Once upon a time, I began writing about a new and exciting career. Across the street from where I now sit. My sons were teens, I was nearly a decade younger and still full of testosterone-charged vitality.

As I gaze out this Alice's House window, the early morning sunshine illuminates the house we all shared much joy together as my family and I matured. The property has taken on new life with my now-neighbor's vision. It looks different, but comforting in its memories. In this house, my dear friend Alice Crader once lived. I would often venture over as she sat on the porch just outside this window, just to chat with our neighborhood matriarch. 

Alice loved to read, and was very supportive of my writing. Because I love roses, I often deadheaded her blooms with my ever-present pruning shears. We talked of anything and everything as we watched my sons and their friends playing basketball on yonder hoop. Little did I know, Alice's House would become my Forever Home. We are only the seconds here... Alice designed and had this home built to her specifications. We love it so very much.

Across the street, FromTheDriverSide was born as I sat at the keyboard wondering "what the hell should I write next?" Writing is my soul’s mirror. Thoughts reflected me, and became words via fingertips. I wrote strange nothings or short stories, always searching for a muse. Then one night as a rookie bus operator, I thought it would be cool to write a journal of sorts about my life as a bus operator. Along the way, I documented several feelings related to those who make the wheels roll.

Early on, Al Margulies (RANTINGS OF A FORMER TRIMET BUS OPERATOR) asked "who is this guy?". He marveled over my comment that people were dangerously-close to being squashed "flatter than a sand dollar on diet pills". Later, he chuckled at my comment that some people were "too lazy to masturbate". He has constantly plugged this blog on his own, and once interviewed me live online about my book as I excused myself on a date with my Beloved. Thanks, Al... your support has always been more than a word digger could have imagined.

Next came another new friend and brother Tom Horton. He helped edit my book, encouraging me every step. When OPB's Think Out Loud interviewed me, he sat in the "Green Room" with Beloved and listened as I stumbled through the grilling I received. Tom has been conspicuously absent from my life the past few years, and I miss him. But he has dealt with many personal obstacles and I love him enough to leave him be. Even so, thank you Tom for being one of my earliest and most constant supporters.

Having been read across this magnificent globe has been my most rewarding accomplishment. We who do the work of transit often have similar feelings no matter where our buses roll. To have my words viscerally felt by hundreds of kindred souls is my treasured honor. I have always written what it feels as THIS operator; to know that it resonates with my fellows makes it difficult to stop.

Along the way, I have made some incredible friendships with many I hope to someday meet in person. Fellow writers Robert at in Florida, Author Billy Alsheimer in Rhode Island, Bruce Whalley in Melbourne Australia, Tommy Tompkins ( have inspired me along the way, and impressed me with their individually-creative insights on transit. Although we operate across separate continents, there are parallels which bind us together in this strange world of transit. The parallels and perils of our profession draw us closer than than the miles which separate us. I dream of a Meeting of Artistic Transit Minds someday, where each of us (and others not necessarily or immediately known to this group) come together. If Billy has his own dream realized, I hope to help.

Most of all, I thank my Beloved. She has endured being referred to as "Mrs. Blue", which she detests. She has supported me through my many episodes of self-doubt with steadfast devotion to my craft, edited my ill-advised phrases, soothed my mistakes over which I feared the worst, helped edit the book and celebrated each triumph these past eight years. Beloved is my First Reader, my most revered and trusted critic, and the first editor of any word that might be misconstrued. Mostly, she is the dampening of my excesses, the balance to my excesses. Beloved brings peace when life seems all turned turvy. Thank you, my sweetest dearest love. Hopefully this endeavor grows into something much greater.

To write my experiences as a bus operator has rewarded me in more ways than I can describe. Mostly, I hope I have done honor to a profession that is often ignored unless something tragic occurs. My tales have been in dedication to the thousands who grasp the wheel no matter what confronts us. We are often assailed by the riding public and those who oversee our every moment in service, but we persevere.

Deke's Note: This was meant to be the "last" one, but I found the voice once again to hopefully do justice to eight years of writing. You want to read it, go ahead. It's just above this one.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Farewell LIl' Buddy

"What, you want to sit here? I'm busy."
RIP Silas aka "Pudding".
April 1, 2011 -- June 14, 2021

Deke's Note: Tonight, I am emotionally spent. Sure, it's my weekend and I should be enjoying it. Except for one horrifying and sad point of reality, I am.

He has been with us since he was a wee lad of six weeks. His mother either died or abandoned her litter, which is unnatural at best. From Day One, when a school bus operator found five newborns in the Willamette bus barn and hustled the surviving two baby brothers to Paws Shelter, he was hand-fed and coddled. 

On the way home from adopting this wee fella, he crawled all over me as I drove us home. Purring in my ear, knocking my hat off and digging his kitten claws into my shoulders, he chose me as his favorite human. I reciprocated. He has been my constant companion throughout this blog, as I put together my book... he insisted on loving me. I have responded in kind. 

We have endured a love-hate relationship: he loved to make a mess of his litter box and watching me clean up after him. Silas pestered me until I shared my dinner, then insisted I feed him wet food before heading to bed. If his water bowl was stale, he would tip it over and feign innocence. Wherever I wanted to sit, he beat me to the spot and dared me to move him. I still have scars from our disagreements.

Now, he's dying. Only 10 years old, middle-aged for a cat. My son used to let him out at night when we lived across the street. Silas would roam, then meow outside my lad's window until he let him back inside. We have kept him indoors, fed him special food, endured his frequent urinary troubles and scolded him for terrorizing Lady Kitten. He has moved with us twice. When I come home from a long shift driving a bus, PuddinTat is the first to greet me, demanding to be held so he can purr in my ear and knock my eyeglasses askew with affection. It's something I look forward to. This week, for the first time in a decade, he will no longer be here to welcome me home.

Today, we have to say goodbye. His health problems have become too aggressively expensive to maintain. Having dosed him with the last pain meds on hand, he lay in my wife's arms for two hours. He snuggled me as I held him, purring through his drug-induced daze. Tears dull my vision as I write this, because I know next time I write you, he won't be here stepping on the keyboard demanding attention.

People refer to pets as "fur babies" and other such cutesy names. Silas is simply my buddy. We have argued, loved and endured a decade together. Now, he's in too much pain to hold onto any longer. Devastated I may be to lose him, it would be cruel to allow him to endure any more suffering.

When I drive this next week and you happen to catch me en route, please don't be offended if I don't wave. Look closer and you'll see tears flowing down my cheek. For when I lose a friend, it's okay to cry. I'm doing it now, and he's snuggled close to me.

So long, you annoying, lovable little fucker. I will miss you most assuredly more than you will me.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

600,000 Hits and Still Growing Friends

Thank you very much for reading.

650 posts. Over a million words read in over 20 nations worldwide. A book. New friends and possibilities. It all began as a simple writing exercise. It became a habit I’m apparently unable to leave behind. 

Habits can be suffocating. I’m hoping this blog can adapt in style and energy, but lately the writing is stale. Posts often sound repetitive. I have tried to stop writing here before only to have another topic pop up as I drive my bus. Still, I am buoyed by your comments of support. Mostly, I write to give YOU a voice, the countless thousands who do this job with little appreciation through thousands of dedicated hours in the seat every day.  

Whenever I contemplate ending this blog, too many issues cancel the decision. There are still many roadblocks to overcome. My solution is limiting future posts to issues upon which I cannot honorably ignore. To produce consecutive series on Maintenance, Dispatch, Road Supes and Rail still resonate, if my fellow union brothers and sisters will help me. I desire to help those whose job is a vital role in any transit-powered economy. It's a far cry from what this blog's original intent was.

While the jury deliberates upon whether this blog is just a stepping stone to joys yet to be found, there is still work to be done here. I hope some of you decide to chronicle your own experiences behind the wheel. Each of US have many stories to relate.

My delight has been to find several other transit voices, those who echo my own initial excitement as I began this career. It's a writer's dream to reach others at the farthest ends of these fingers' touch. I enjoy my new friend Bruce Whalley in Australia, who rode with me in '19 with his wife upon their visit to Portland. My life is enriched by Constant Readers Ken and Helen Coates of Newcastle Upon Tyne, England; they met us during our 2019 Scotland Adventure, after having made their acquaintance on holiday at the Oregon Coast a few years earlier.

A very inspiring and friend I have yet to meet in person, Tommy Transit, taught me how to creatively acknowledge those who ride my bus. My friend and fellow author Billy Alsheimer in Rhode Island, has been working on his dream of producing a television series about bus operators, one I prod him about often. My fellow blogger Robert in Florida (BusTropical is awesome!) is someone I exchange postcards  with and has long supported this blog; someday I hope to ride his Florida roll.

To you countless others who have reached out to me the past eight years, or asked me to sign my book for you... priceless memories I will never forget, thank you ALL for giving me constant and overwhelming joy!

Thanks again. This blog has been the most rewarding experience I’ve known as a writer. It's definitely one of the highlights of this wonderful life. I’m honored you have allowed me this podium. If I’m lucky, I’ll step up from it as an improved artist to a wider audience. One can only hope, eh?

Peace, y’all.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Unite and VOTE ATU757 Members!

Deke's Note: PLEASE VOTE! I do so almost every time. Whether it be a local, state, national or union election. Sometimes it's a slam dunk. I know who, what, and how I'll vote long before the ballot arrives. THIS election has been different.

First, my apology. I promised to continue a tradition where I would pose questions to our local union candidates and post their responses here. For several reasons, I failed to do so this year. I'm sorry if I let you down. I won't discuss why it happened so this time, but I regret not following through on my promise.

Next, it has been a long-standing policy of mine to keep my political votes private. Especially in a union in which several candidates are friends of mine, who I love and respect on many levels. Each has dedicated much of their time (and money) to improve our lives as transit workers. We ARE a family; sometimes a dysfunctional one prone to argument and intense division. I detest negative campaigning; it disgusts me. It's the same wherever people depend upon others to level the playing field for each other. Even so, we rise or fall as one.

I thank each of the candidates for their time. Every one of you has a specific vision of how things "should be" within ATU757. On some occasions we agree, others we differ. However, please know that even when we vehemently disagree, you are above all... my brother/sister. I respect your point of view. This is an honor on the highest level for me. Even if we disagree completely on tactics or the means to which an end is met, I am eternally grateful for your devotion to our local. Each of you running for office has done incredibly more for me than I have for you. THANK YOU ALL!

Each of the top three office candidates have worked hard to do what they believe is best. Some of you I know personally. We have shared joy and pain together. Others I do not know as well as I would like to. When I color in that ballot square, it may not be you. For weeks I have studied your words and tried to understand your ideals. It has been very difficult to make my choices; one has been especially agonizing, picking between two or even three.

I'm a classic Libra in that I have a very hard time making decisions. Especially 50-50 propositions. That's why I rarely, if ever, place bets. Often when I am convinced of a "sure thing" I have been incorrect. That doesn't mean my choice will be wrong either way. 

This election is vital. They all have been. Whoever wins will undoubtedly make mistakes that leave some of us feeling we voted incorrectly. When this happens, remember the other person having won instead, may have done something else we disagree with. 

None of these candidates are perfect. Mistakes will be made. It's the human condition. However, I prefer to believe as an optimist, that whoever wins the election will work strenuously on our behalf. They will be the buffer between management and US. It's vital to support our team even when we may disagree.

Now please mark your ballots and send them in. It's time to make our choices. We have seen dismal member participation at our agency in recent elections. Your vote might swing the election to your candidate. Every one counts.

Whoever wins, please give them support and encouragement. If we keep fighting amongst ourselves, we lose. I pledge my full support to the victors-to-be, whether I vote for them or the other one(s).

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

So-Called "Heroes" Roll On

Deke's Note: Never before have I so earned a vacation. When I finally set the brake in the yard ending that final shift, my sigh of relief was more pronounced than ever before. Why? Because this past year has been more challenging than anything any of US have ever experienced. The relief I felt was overwhelming. Still, I did my duty. Cleaned my operator area of any detritus left over 10 hours, closed all windows and overhead vents, and scouted for any items left behind. Upon exiting my rolling office, I tried to exalt in my joy of vacation, but it puttered out like a bus fart. Here's why.

"Heroes Work Here" greeted my last vacation in October of 2020. "Bullshit" was my constant and ready reply. That "h" word has been thrown around like a battered beach ball at the final hours of Spring Break, and it is ripped, torn and the color kicked right the fuck out of.

We approved a hard-won, yet still inadequate, labor contract after over a year of negotiations. Management played hardball even as we choked through smoky fear and a pandemic economy. We have yet to be rewarded by back pay, as management sits back and plods along as if WE don't matter. Hey folks, we suffered through numerous economic hardships supporting our families while fearing our own economic frailty. While others screamed for righteous recognition upon the ladder of the vaunted American Dream, our profession stagnates. Years of miles upon the unforgiving streets has yet to earn us respect even as the cost of living soars above all who struggle to pay the lords of capitalism. THEY get rich, WE get tired, often dying before we are RE-tired. 

Gee, thanks. F-you very much. 

If I were truly a "Hero", my back pay would have come instantly upon ratification of our agonizingly-long contract negotiations. Yet, we wait without any hint of when the heavily-taxed money we should have seen years ago appears before us.

Any true hero would have been hoisted upon the back of Management personnel, given a true welcome back to the Garage, the GM Himself heralding my safe return after 15 months of guiding the Bacterial Express through pandemic/choking smoke/ice and snow with the same determination shown during "normal" conditions.

No, please don't call me a "hero". Unless I save a toddler alone and blocks from home some early morning. Or only if I stop some testosterone-fueled beast from terrorizing a lass, pull a family from an early-morning house fire or stop my bus to pull a motorist from their crumpled car before it explodes. More horrifyingly-real and commonplace these days, if I stop another from catching a random bullet.

We do this across the globe with regularity, yet we're kicked to the curb whenever respect is due. 

I do not consider myself heroic just for doing my job, no matter how perilous the conditions. I just wish my transit management did. Instead, it would rather persecute us for the silliest of perceived infractions. 

We roll wheels no matter what assails Portland. Incessant rain, occasional snow/ice storms, fire or disease, we show up. It would be nice if this simple fact were amplified to our populace, along with simple rules for riding, by those whose job it is to protect and support us.

It's sadly telling that we are lamely labeled "heroes" while our management tirelessly assails us, hidden from media coverage. The only time our story is told is when one of us is falsely-accused of some ridiculous lie, or in the case of my beloved brother who was recently the victim of an errant bullet, thrown to the masses in a simple case of the all-too-bloody commonality American "freedoms" afford us.

Humans are frail. We ask a lot, so that we may pass a better tomorrow upon our beloved spawn. Machines we are not, but that is what we are doomed to become. When we are replaced by non-feeling robots, management will no longer have to worry about contracts or human rights. You see this in their bored faces whenever we implore the "Bored of Directors" to hear the least of our pleas. They are the robots of today; WE, the worker bees who make the honey you all benefit from.

Beware the moment "heroes" are replaced by robots. You won't feel guilty for not thanking us on the way out a bus or rail door. Just keep on looking down at your phones, folks. Nobody will greet your entry or wish you a fond farewell, or stress over hundreds of dangers which could propel you forcefully forward into a disastrous situation while skillfully eliminating each instance. 

You're welcome. Humans guide you to your destination no matter your ignorance of our professionalism. Operators, Dispatchers, Road Supervisors, Maintenance... we're all out there ensuring a smooth ride for your pampered safety. Our management coddles and supports each whiny complaint even though you fail to acknowledge or even see the countless disasters we avoid while you surf the internet. 

Just keep ignorant, Safely-Guided Public. You have no idea how unsafe our management propels you into your ungratefulness. 

We show up anyway. We have mouths to feed, roofs to maintain, futures to build. And you know what? We'll keep doing it no matter how much you insult/assault us. No thanks to you, we're there every 15 minutes or so.

You're welcome. Now please pay attention. Have your fare ready before we open the door. Be kind, respectful and honorable. That's all we ask. The rest is up to US.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Easing into a COVID-Earned Vacation

At least Portlanders have retained our 
infamously-odd sense of humor
throughout it all.

Deke's Note: SO much to say, but so little time. You see, I just earned another VACATION from driving a bus, and it feels OH SO SUBLIME! Also, it took time to wade through Blogger's bullshit "new stuff" before even accessing this site. Finally, I can write to you! Bear with me; my thoughts are jumbled.

I'm so damn... tired. It has been a full seven months since my last vacation. COVID was in full killer mode, it was my birthday week, and a lot has transpired since last October. Usually, seven months is just that. Pandemic-wise, each week feels like six. I cannot remember one from the last. They're all full of random bullshit, and it piles up to the point I don't want to recall any of it. But as a blogger, it feels like I must do so. 

The past year: COVID rears its ugly head and causes panic; ridership plummets as people self-quarantine; Deke pens a story nobody reads; the economy nosedives as people lose jobs; historic fires blow choking smoke and embers into our buses, forcing us to close bus windows we had hoped would blow virus particles free from our lungs; protests and violent riots chase us out of the downtown transit mall further terrorize our workforce from operators to supervisors and maintenance workers; a fierce winter storm shuts down transit for the first time in modern history. If Mother Nature wanted to wreak more havoc, she could not have thought of a more chaotic year.

The worst part of it all, to date, was hearing mid-shift last week that my beloved co-worker had been shot while behind the wheel. Our worst fear, realized in one who sacrificed his body to be bloodied in the seat working his day off to help a management that has fired many experienced workers and forced many others into retirement before their time. It's a wonder that bullet didn't kill Dale, but he's a helluva lot tougher than those who manage us. I am so thankful he is on the mend, and making us realize how happy we are that bullet didn't hit him a few inches askew.

Even so, transit workers constantly show up to serve our fellow citizens. Even as management concocts new ways to torture us. Suspensions, terminations and utter ridiculousness follows us every roll of the transit wheel. We roll along, gritting our teeth, determined to do our jobs no matter natural or corporate obstacle. No hazard pay, ridiculous signs lamely proclaiming "Heroes Work Here" as our numbers were terrorized by a bloodthirsty management, and a plummeting morale among those who kept transit afloat despite its mismanagement of our well being.

This past week, I told you management had called for volunteers to be on our Director of Bus Operations "new task force on safety". Ha! I thought. Okay, I'm game. Let's see if this is the real deal, or just another ploy to get our hopes up only to slay us with "budgetary constraints" and other corporate jizz for "we really don't give a shit, ha ha!" After one meeting, the jury is still out. Chances are good, it's all for show as I expected. I mean really, don't we already have another such corporate "safety committee"? What came of that? I'm not feeling any safer.

We're still waiting for the money they owe us in back wages after approving a new contract. A simple computer query would instantly calculate what we're owed, yet we still await payment. Huh. That's how they treat "heroes" I guess.

Why should I put any strength behind my agreeing to discuss "Operator Safety" with a management that is more concerned with disciplining us than paying us what we're due? I'm skeptical, to say the least.

* * * * *

Most of all, tonight I am relieved. For nine days I won't have to put my life at risk for a public that would rather bitch and moan about any perceived mistake I might make, no matter its ignorance of the ridiculous rules I operate within. 

A few asked what I'm a gonna do my week off.

"I'm not gonna drive a bus," was my reply. And that's vacation enough. 

* * * * *

Driving a bus is not anything like it once was. The past decade, Portland's transit agency has doubled down on pleasing the unforgiving riding public while making our lives miserable. The toll on those who roll wheels has become insanely-past unbearable. Yet here we are, still and always showing up for work even in the most miserable conditions. Pandemic, fire/smoke, ice/snow/freezing rain or unbearable heat, we take the wheel while management brazenly brags it is "working from home". It's difficult to show any respect for those who rain horror down upon us as we suffer the worst possible conditions.

Meanwhile, we have an Interim General Manager who seems to have a heart. Like many of us, I hope for the best but am conditioned to expect the same ol' same ol'. I gave up my quest for the top job because my "qualifications" don't meet corporate standards. Why put myself out there? It would be a joke to the "Bored of Directors" to consider someone who actually understands the plight of transit operators. Their purchased media mugs would make a joke of my "lack of qualifications" and I would be subject to ridicule. No thank you. To chase an impossible quest is more than I can stomach. My ego is not sufficient to withstand the scrutiny necessary to pursue the improbable. I'm faulty at best, unwilling to defend my perceived misgivings, at worst. I have too little time to fight battles I cannot win. Fuck it. Sam, go for it but don't forget where you began your transit career, like most of us.

I have been beaten down by extremely-low expectations from those whose very job should be to support US. To say I'm tired belittles the reality of my utter mental and physical exhaustion. I'm 60-years-old, hoping to find some security in a looming retirement after 40+ years in the blue-collar workforce. The government taxes us heavily when we work more than we're expected to and then sucks even more when we leave the workforce. When I die, they'll tax my carcass for the pittance it's worth. Retirement is not a pretty scene for most of us, but it's ALL we have to keep us going. Most of us won't live long enough to enjoy it anyway, given the toll this profession has on our mind/body/soul.

Retirement into a casket is all too often our lot. It's too sad to contemplate.

So here I sit, happy to have nine days absent from the seat's torture. I'll dread my return to the seat. I will play, enjoy time with my wife and sons, begin and finish home projects, work on my upcoming novel, drink to excess and rest at every opportunity. At my age, a nap is 40 minutes of bliss. Yard work, housecleaning projects and helping Sam move will ease my aching soul. Seeing dear friends will be a calming elixir. Treating my PTSD, avoiding transit-related nightmares... byproducts of this profession. Even on vacation, I cannot escape the reality of a profession which beats us into a hardly-recognizable facsimile of who we hope to be. 

The sun has risen. It's time for me to snuggle next to Beloved for my first rest sans alarm in too long a time. Nighty night, dear readers. Stay safe, would ya?

Sunday, May 23, 2021

My Operator Buddy Was Shot Yesterday...

Deke & Dale... two feathers of the same bird,

Deke's Note: The past several months, I have struggled with the agony of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don't know where it began. Yet it has built such a time bomb within me I agonize over its detonation every day I awaken with the prospect of venturing "out there" in my 20-ton mega roll. Yesterday, the reality of my daily malaise crowded
 my normally-chill roll into a relaxed "Friday" on the serene Line 35. Rolling past the horribly-silent Oregon Public Broadcasting, the media outlet I hoped would trumpet our collective fears, I mentally composed this post, the story of every transit operator's worst nightmare.

Dale, we don't know each other as much as I'd like to. But you showed up to my 60th birthday party last fall. Fully-masked and good-humoredly bullied for your entirely-white beard but still fully-engaged in the moment your brother Deke was celebrating. I was truly touched to have you attend even as this *&%)ing pandemic ruined every other public gathering. You celebrated with me the joy I found in this new home as I entered my seventh decade. We have always connected on a cerebral plane, yet found too few precious moments to reflect in person other than at Center Garage.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked back to my 35 bus on layover at University of Portland, casually checking social media, when a friend of mine alerted me you had been... SHOT! ALERT! PORTLAND BUS OPERATOR SHOT IN SERVICE!

My heart skipped several beats. I had to find the breath within to keep from fainting.

* * * * *

When I was an Extra Board Operator, Dale was famous for sprinting toward the sign-in sheets just as his time was to expire before he became the dreaded Oversleep Dude. Several times, I stood poised to sign his run, knowing he would invariably slide in SAFE just before the clock struck doom. A few times, I held my pen over the sheet just as I heard him slam into the doors screaming "DON'T SIGN IT I'M HERE!" Having had the opportunity to learn he rode his bike to the garage, I knew he faced many obstacles he often faced rolling down Holgate to Center Garage. His constant support of this blog also garnered him special consideration, although I could not admit that when I held his run open to the chagrin of whichever Station Agent ruled the day. His seniority over mine in addition to his charming self kept me vigilant in knowing he would always slide in just before the clock struck its' deadly chime. His thankfulness when I "cheated" on his behalf a few times fully-endeared me to this wonderful example of humanity. Through our many such encounters, I learned how intelligent and fun this man was. We found our friendship, collecting tidbits of comaraderie along the way. Dale's unique personality eased into many souls, and he has found a loving following even though he may not understand or realize it.

* * * * *

I was walking along, texting my Beloved, when a pal messaged me with the news. YOUR name popped up, Dale... as the VICTIM. I stopped at this news, in the middle of the crosswalk on a busy street. As operators, we all fear such bad news. When it happens to someone we actually revere as a friend, it is heart-stopping, agonizing.

Here I was, mid-shift, hearing that my friend had been pierced by a bullet while working his day off. It was too much to immediately digest. I resumed walking but failed to accept those words.

I did not know if he was alive. I feared the worst. I burst into tears, trying to remember if I had seen him since my 60th (COVID) birthday party last October. I had not. How much more horrible I would felt had he died? So many emotions flooded me as the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) beckoned me back into unwanted reality with its "time to drive again" beep. 

I stood outside my bus, floored by this news and numbed by its harshness. For several moments, I could not breathe. When my lungs finally exhaled, the aftermath was a sob-induced gasp.

As I told the Road Supervisor who met me downtown, I never thought when I signed on to this job I might not make it home to my Beloved after a shift. After a week when we collectively said farewell to a sister who was murdered in her home, I was already overwhelmed with grief for those who knew and loved her. While I did not ever meet her, she was a sister the moment she signed onto this (often) thankless profession. We knew the same trials professionally, likely rolled some of the same routes or streets. That in itself drew us together into a web we all unknowingly, collectively, roll. 

Road Supe Mustafa was gracious as always. He looked into my red-rimmed eyes and saw the grief, the pain and fear we all endure. Some are tougher than I am, all-to-true. I don't know how YOU all do it, but maybe I'm just so damn empathetic it oozes from within. When it's somebody I love and admire, the news is just too much to bear.

Having been granted a pass on my final run of the evening, I trudged wearily into the bullpen to find a very-concerned Station Agent Stephen, fellow operators Chris and Jeremy sitting in as dazed a condition as I felt. It was awkward, but oddly comforting all the same. We all know our brother Dale. Knowing the victim of a tragedy makes it all the more real. Exchanging news notes, we commiserated on the horror of the news one of us had actually taken a fucking bullet doing the job of transit.

It was unreal. Other-worldly. What if it had been me? We all drive routes which at any time could prove deadly.

We hear of violence against transit workers almost daily. The horribly-shocking murders of Tampa, FL Operator Thomas Dunn two years ago, and Irvine Jubal Fraser just prior have haunted many of us as we continue to roll transit's extremely dangerous routes every day across this wondrous blue globe. 

Yet we are the un-celebrated "heroes" of everyday life. We're overlooked, taken for granted. If one of us dies, I doubt if we'd even garner that vaunted 15-minutes of garrulous fame. This is a profession which is glossed over, not newsworthy. Unless we're accused of some petty, unsubstantiated incident in which we're painted criminally without an attorney present. When ultimately exonerated we're not publicly so. Just another example of Dirty Laundry unwashed in the public's apathetic eyes.

As a bus operator, these stories are never far from my conscious thoughts. Will I be the next victim of some passenger who belongs in a mental institution? How would I protect myself against some weapon-bearing assailant? Would I be successful in defense, or laid to rest with the "thoughts and prayers" for my Beloveds? It has become a constant reminder to me every time I say farewell in our driveway as Beloved blows a farewell kiss upon my departure. Just to drive a bus. Just to give rides to my fellow Portlanders.


Have we devolved into such feral animals as to fear even ourselves? Evidently. We're set upon by those we serve, only to become 15-second news bites when one of the pampered public hits some erroneously-exposed nerve. We have become Don Henley's musical detritus, multiplied by a publicly-numb weariness of all that is important to nearly nobody.

OPB graciously interviewed me when my book was published, but since then has remained silent when confronted with transit's grisly realities. Transit's media relations in Portland silently acquiesce in collective ignorance to that which transit dictates. This is the silence which loudly assails OUR quiet diligence to perform in the worst circumstances since 1918. We show up for work, the media continues to snore in its collective ignorance to our plight.

Fuck you, Portland. We'll continue to serve as we have for a century, no matter your disgraceful refusal to report our collective plight. Snooze away, Corporate Media, as you're paid to do. Ignore the working public even as you pretend to celebrate US. We still have a job to do, and that we will, continuously and proudly so. 

* * * * *

My sleep was interrupted yesterday by an alarm beckoning me to a job I no longer enjoy. It is a suffocating atmosphere led by some nobody who believes a workforce must be "scared" into submission. We no longer know what is true or acceptable. We are assailed by a public that calls in more complaints than commendations. I have not had a positive connection called in for nearly a year. Every moment I'm in service, my goal is a smooth, on-time and pleasant roll to whatever destination awaits the passenger. 

Crickets. Gee, thanks.

Only when I ail the public's ignorant belief of how transit should roll do I hear back from it. This pathetic apathy in itself is extremely depressing. Still, I endeavor to excel. No matter the lack of commendation. That's just how I roll.

* * * * *

When Dale was shot, I emotionally collapsed. Perhaps if I felt more justified in my dedication and that of our many, would I feel confident enough to persevere through the vicious unknown. Thankfully, my grief was supported by those who feel it is their job to do just that.

Thank you brothers and sisters of Dispatch and Supervisors, Station Agents and fellow brothers and sisters. Mostly, thank you Dale, for reassuring me you will live to fight another day. For a few horrific minutes, I feared you were lost to us. I hope you return for my "60-AND-1" birthday party. It's gonna be a blast, buddy.

* * * * *

We never know if we'll again grace our hallowed homes' wonderful bounty. We take the wheel each day because it's our job to do so. I close my garage door with a heavy sigh of relief every night, especially my Friday.

I am sure Dale didn't think his working a day off would land him on death's door. None of us do. Thankfully, that bullet failed to pierce some life-sustaining organ. I'm so happy to anticipate Dale attending this October's Deke Birthday Bash in October. He will likely be full of wisecracks and constant stories of his wonderful life. And me? I will be simply celebrate his being there.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

My Eighth Birthday as Deke

Deke's Note: Hey kids, I'm officially eight years old (again)! Yes, it was May 5, 2013 that I began blogging here on ye olde FTDS. So much has happened in this less-than-a-decade span in my life it truly boggles the blogosphere. The first 4.5 years of this blog are forever archived and preserved in the first edition of JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane; you may never see them again unless my attempts to persuade you to buy the book fail. At this moment however, the book's first edition is done. If you have one, thanks a billion. If not, you missed out on a simple chronicle of my first fumbling attempts at describing a career no one person could describe for everyone; it's a personal road we all travel with a multitude of views from the seat of an unforgiving public bus. 

* * * * *

It has become a joke with my Beloved and I: "Deke is eight years old today," I'll say in a child's voice. Beloved giggles and imitates my tone: "And I'm not even born yet." What a cradle-robber I am. (And oh so happy to be so.)

Several times over the past three years, I have almost stopped writing here. The only thing that prevented me from doing so was simply this: we all suffer much of the same no matter where we operate a city bus. Whenever I contemplate the end of this blog, another post pops into mind as I drive. How can I abandon those with whom I share an intense relationship with? Sometimes I consider it cowardly to bow out, because the plight of a transit worker is rarely documented. I feel responsible in some warped sense of duty to document my work so my fellows feel represented and appreciated.

Rather than writing for personal gain (I make pennies every month on ad revenue, but nothing else save for the occasional book purchase), it has always been my goal to simply give a voice to those who feel marginalized in a blue collar world dominated by the white collar fools who run it. I am fiercely protective of my brothers and sisters, as I hope you can tell. Sometimes my anger overrides a level-headed and conservatively-considered response, but that's because I often write just out of the driver's seat, FromTheDriverSide. It's intense from that viewpoint, extremely volatile many a time, and that's not something one can forget easily. My words come from deep within, and this is an intense form of self-therapy. 

Transit workers are thrust upon the public into its grisly depths. We are met with the best as well as  humanity's darkest hours. While horrifically untrained to deal with the extremes, we are unfairly judged when we err. Even when our lives are threatened, we are subject to harsh discipline if we say anything considered inflammatory, or dare to angrily respond to many unfair insults. Even though children are often the most rude and prone to the most egregious violations of passenger conduct, we are strictly forbidden to toss them out of our rolling office. Many take this as free reign to terrorize us with their childish antics, no matter their age. 

Many have asked: Why are you so ANGRY, Deke? I've been accused of being recklessly-furious in my writing. Fuck you very much, I have earned every moment of ranting. The riding public takes my dedication for granted. They think a few bucks entitles them to the right of telling me how to do my job, or to "just fucking drive the bus and shut up". Yeah, what I said a few sentences ago, you erroneously-protected mob. I prefer those passengers who pay their fare and are ready to do so upon boarding, those who greet me warmly and obey the simple rules of the ride. Much more so than those who think not paying their fare allows them the right to abuse me and my rolling office full of decent people who hope to make connections further down the line. 

Yeah, I'm often angry. I dislike what this job has done to my soul. It's just what my dear brother Lance said in a private moment we shared on a break. That statement profoundly touched my driver's soul. My own has always sought the good in people. Now, I look upon many with an unnecessary frown I soon realize is unfounded. Sometimes my transit-hardened self is unnecessarily prejudiced on someone who looks a certain way, only to find myself humbled by that person's wonderful personality revealed during an oh-too-brief conversation. But then, that moment can be spoiled when my soul mis-judges a seemingly-nice person who rattles my soul with a wrath no biblical passage can soothe.

This week has challenged me to extremes I didn't know were possible when I began writing this blog. I posted on FaceBook that one night was the worst I've had as a bus operator. Why? Because a person boarded my bus the first run of my route one afternoon who has been homeless so long he is crusted with layers of filth. His feet were bare, covered with open festering wounds dripping with possibly-staphylococus infectious ooze. He is someone those who drive my route routinely pass up. His hair is infested with lice, his clothing the same as what he wore last year but is now infested with God-knows-what including urine and fecal matter. How did he board, you ask, without my forbidding it? Only because the intending passenger I lowered the ramp for was a gentleman and insisted this rolling biohazard board ahead of him.

Foot imprints I cannot forget.

As he boarded, his bloodily-infected feet preceded him, passing just a few feet from my face. The smell was overpowering, the visual something I could never forget over a thousand lifetimes. Of course, he did not pay fare. He never has. Didn't even apologize. Just rolled himself into the prime ADA-priority position without so much as a thank you to the gentleman who followed him up the ramp. 

What was I to do? Block the ramp to a federally-protected passenger because he's a Petrie dish of all that could ultimately kill me? I trembled in fear of an ADA complaint which could land me in deep trouble with a management that has historically-protected the most dangerous passengers ahead of its own drivers. Every 33 driver knows he's a collective "do-not-board", but once he successfully boards is impossible to be rid of. Given I had but eight minutes left of the run with a bus full of people intent upon making transit connections, I was left with the ultimatum: JUST DRIVE. I was already late because the operator I had just relieved is consistently late to the relief point. It's my responsibility to deliver my payload to its destination as close to on-time as possible. It was a horrible tight spot betwixt that proverbial rock and reality.

When he exited at the end of the line, after being pleaded to by his assistant/fellow rider to go to the hospital to be tended after, I was left to scour the bus as usual for the requisite trash and Lost-And-Found items while opening EVERY window to allow the stench to escape my rolling office. In his wake, my afflicted passenger left a horribly-disgusting calling card:

Upon seeing this, I was many things at once: disgusted, sickened, depressed, angry, horrified to be so close to what society has deemed forgotten/discarded/ignored: those who cannot adequately care for themselves. I was distraught when I called Dispatch. His countenance so horrifying, I couldn't even give an accurate description of him. So disgusted by what he left behind, I was unable to (once again) give my fellow union member the words which would signal the proper response. I failed in my responsibility to adequately describe a situation which should have ended with a medical response to someone who desperately needs professional attention. Instead, I lashed out at my Dispatch brother, telling him I felt "marginalized" and unsupported in his response. In retrospect I felt horribly guilty for failing to properly describe the horrifyingly real plight of this man us operators are so deathly afraid of serving. Mostly, it's because we realize there is little anyone is given the slightest power to truly help. He sadly falls into a group which society holds little respect and NO compassion for: those who are truly unable to help themselves out of a hole too deep to crawl out of.

How is it that our country supports a military budget that overwhelms that of our collective "enemies" while the least of threats to national security are actually the most intense to our collective well-being? If we cannot take care of those of US who need it most, why are we so concerned with the Middle East? They have been fighting wars since Christ was a child. It is intensely arrogant of this rather-young nation to think we're so important we have any influence whatsoever upon a conflict that will last forevermore. How can we claim moral superiority when millions of our own suffer in such squalor and unnecessary pain? Half this country is so self-centered it cannot reconcile itself with Christ's most-passionate plea: love one another as you would have them love you. 

I have been bombarded with the word "hate" so wildly thrown about the past decade without the most basic understanding of what it truly means. I do not hate my political opposites: I pity them. They throw this word about as if it makes them pious. Instead, it only magnifies the meaning of word as it truly describes them. We are no better than those who have less than we do, if we marginalize and denigrate those who have less than we do. True, WE work for what we have and boast. True, WE pay taxes and are therefore entitled to our excesses. Or are we? I would rather my tax dollars HELP someone who lacks the desire I have to succeed rather than see those who do not suffer for their lack of intelligence and/or willpower. There are truly those out there who do not have the strength to survive in today's harsh realities. Am I better than they are? That truly depends upon what society decides is most important: love and compassion, or bitter division.

I would rather my tax dollar help those who truly can no longer help themselves rather than pay for yet another endless war fought by those who have the most money can buy. Hey, I can barely pay the bills with the wages I vigorously earn via 50+ hours in the seat of an unforgiving city bus. I'm not "rich" by any means. If I were to lose this job, I would join millions of others who have fallen into the cracks of a horribly-unforgiving scheme designed by the richest 1% not give a damn for those who can no longer "earn" a meager living.

This past eight years has been the most instructive of my six decades. Life is often cruel, and those of us on the bottom of the capitalistic pay scale work ourselves to death with little to claim at the end of our useful years. Too often, we retire into a casket, leaving our survivors to scramble and pick up the crumbs we leave behind.

I yearn to leave a legacy in my wake. It's what I was born to do. Given my precious mother's dedication to ensure I excel even though my brain was injured pre-birth, I am determined to far exceed the least of professional expectations. Hopefully, you will find my writing worthy of mention long after my earthly body has become dust upon some lonely Scottish shore, Oregon coast and Arizona prairie. Whatever the case, I mostly hope you look beyond what we are told is reality to actually see what I do. People are constant, corporations are fleeting. WE live, love and carry on in those we leave behind. Along the way, we find many we either casually encounter or with whom make a true connection. However so, I plead you treasure each human encounter, throw away any awkward preconception, and learn to love what you may not have previously understood.

To love one another is the ultimate goal. That is one of the main precepts which prompted this blog. To describe an occupation few can understand unless they grip a wheel with the steely determination to safely ferry our payload to each destination, and somehow find a few glimmers of joy along the way.

Even though it becomes more difficult every shift, there remain many who make my day bright. Thank you Aaron, for protecting me in a potentially-even-more-violent situation than it actually was. Thank you lad, for aiding a lady whose 18-year-old dog was actively dying as we rolled together. Thank you Bob, Rob, and Robert for making my evening rolls more humane than they were before you boarded. Thank you Jason for giving me props in light of your precarious life struggles and having me sign my book you paid precious dollars for. Thank you everyone who boards my Dirty3 with a smile and thanks me upon your exit.

My view as I finish blogging.
After nearly nine years of operating, my fears are forever illuminated by those who make the horrific moments just another dim memory. These people drive my fierce commitment to practicing a smooth roll into life's most drastic, or more hopefully serene and happy, consequences.

And so I shall, until I cannot any longer.

Peace be always with you and yours,

Deke N. Blue

Friday, May 7, 2021

Snakes and Rats Abound

Choking smoke, pandemic discipline. How much more
can we allow before we RISE?

Deke's Note: Lately, we received notice that our social media/blog posts are on the chopping block of management's constant attempt to silence our collective voice. I have constantly fought for our right to be respected. For almost eight years now. I wrote a book about what it takes to take the seat of a city bus every day. From before I was hired through the first 4.5 years, I chronicled the amazing sights I saw and felt while operating. Since then, I have witnessed the horrid downfall of what was once an honorable profession. It all boils down to one infallible edict: respect.

At this point, my voice is but one fed up with local transit management's abusive treatment of those whose jobs make theirs even possible. Too many of us have fallen victim to a cabal which has no demonstrative oversight. The local media's silence is abusive as well. We do our jobs the way we know best. We show up for work no matter what assails Portland, and this has been so during our 100+ years of service. Fifty years ago began a steady decline in employee morale which has been supported by those entrusted to prevent just that. 

From trainee to retiree, I invite you to RISE and insist this downward spiral be rendered extinct. WE can make it happen. It only takes one fluttering flake of snow to fall to create an avalanche. Help US stop the abuse, or we'll be the village ultimately buried by the unchecked behemoth we have allowed to overwhelm our honorable profession.

* * * * *

Given the amount of ridiculous disciplinary actions lately, it is vital to warn my beloved brothers and sisters. There are rats (one in uniform) who will throw any of US under the very vehicles we drive, just to save their own worthless ass. Their venom is forced through even the most restricted fangs of imagined "solidarity" in a cowardly strike meant to save the snake's own skin.

Be careful what you write on social media: the vultures are watching, waiting, and poised to feed on your discarded bodies. Disclaim EVERYTHING related to your job.

I thought our newly-installed (albeit "interim") GM, being a former operator, would put a stop to the constant harassment and unnecessary discipline of frontline workers. However, it seems amplified, like a Led Zeppelin tune forced through 100 speakers in a 90-sf room with no windows through which the public can witness countless abominations.

Portland, your transit operators are under siege. You think the protests and riots are bad? Pfhtt. Try looking through our windshield, while the media ignores attacks and the public tosses poisonous darts from outside AND within our vehicles. 

* * * * *

People everywhere are sick and tired of wearing masks. While their presence is annoying, WE have worn them long before they became a mandatory part of our heavily-restricted uniform. Not only for our own safety have we donned this questionably-efficient safeguard, but for YOURS as well. We each serve over 100,000 people every year. There is no way of imagining how many viruses confront our collective faces whenever passengers board. It's a miracle Portland bus operators haven't massively been infected with COVID-19, yet we have somehow escaped  infection rates of other locales. Compared with cities like Seattle, LA, New York(!), Chicago and others, the last I heard less than 100 of our numbers have been infected. Somehow, none of us have reportedly died from it. 

Management will undoubtedly attribute our "luck" to its one-step-behind and often-ineffectual dictates including widely-available mask supplies and hand sanitizer on OUR (yes, when you board a bus, it is MINE for as many hours a shift I operate it) vehicles.

However, what you don't see is our vulnerability. "MASKS REQUIRED" blares our overhead signs, but there is no bite to this "requirement". WE are NOT ALLOWED to refuse service to those who do not, will not, wear what often becomes a chin diaper to those who flaunt transit's failure to enforce a state/federal mandate. We are at risk to these maskholes, but our jobs are at stake if found to be momentarily maskless. Hypocrisy abounds, and we are sick of it.

Part of our inability to enforce federal law stems from management's feeble attempts to "protect" us from an unwilling segment of society that despises being told what to do. THEY (public crybabies) run transit, not any Code of Conduct. THEY believe transit has no "right" to tell them how to behave while riding OUR vehicles, and have shown their disrespect in many violent ways against any operator who expects them to obey the rules. WE are vulnerable to hundreds who refuse to safeguard others, yet WE are persecuted for so simple an infraction as lowering our mask to take a drink and taking a few seconds too long to re-cover our faces. 

This hypocrisy puts US in danger every moment we operate a 40-foot-long Petrie dish in which our every respiration puts our lives, and that of everyone we love, in extreme peril. If our management truly cared about US, it would allow us to not only enforce this rule to its utmost, but would provide immediate support upon pushing the ultimately-ineffectual "Mask Refusal" button on our console. Every operator who sends this message is simply saying "here's another person who shouldn't be allowed to ride but we have to or you will suspend us". 

Gee, thanks. You folks who are entrusted with our safety and well-being are more concerned with pampering those who fail to even pay fare, let alone obey the rules. Heroes, my ass. You couldn't even use the chunk of dough the feds gave you to provide us with hazard pay during this pandemic, as other cities did. Our union had to call in the International Amalgamated Transit Union heavies to get you to even listen to our representatives at the negotiations for our yearlong contract talks. Negotiations in which you insisted upon a terribly-long list of "takeaways" while ignoring our pleas for the most basic of necessities. In the end, we get a pittance of what we have earned through our professionalism despite your harassment. Wow, I truly feel heroic with a pay raise that once again failed to match the increased cost of living. It certainly doesn't reward us for choking through the past year where every moment on the job we risked our very lives.

All this... as management wussies blatantly bragged about working from home as we slaved away "out there" in the trenches of public service. All this... whilst you lauded us as "heroes" while suspending many of us for pure ridiculousness. All this... as we braved tumultuous protests and tear gaseous violent riots through downtown Portland's war zone. All this... while we choked through the smoke of last summer's disastrous fires that displaced many of our members and increased our risk of COVID-19 exposure because we were forced to close our windows just so we could breathe while driving.

Now, as we choke down the contract YOU hail as a major compromise between ATU757 and management, the threats of suspensions and terminations increase every day. Operators with decades of exemplary customer service and safety awards are being harassed by middle management hacks who have never driven a city bus in service or forgot what it's like to be in the seat. None of them have suffered through what we have this past year of pandemic, riots and choking smoke. 

It's insult approaching damnation from an undisciplined group with no apparent oversight. I thought our acting GM would, given his history as a former operator, strictly forbid such behavior. No. It's only getting worse. Evidently, management is encouraging union members to snitch upon our own to further its unfathomable desire to rain down terror upon those who have suffered more than its feeble words of "heroism" could ever eradicate.

  • Suspensions for "mask rule" violations of the most ridiculous circumstances: taking a drink at a stoplight, or daring to grip the steering wheel instead of pulling that pesky mask back over the nose when it slips down.
  • Taking the side of habitual whiny dipshidiots who complain when an operator refuses to accede to their demands, even when doing so breaks every safety rule imaginable.
  • Harassing veteran operators who receive a complaint for not reprimanding maskholes for refusing to comply with the overhead "MASKS REQUIRED".

WE are required to kiss every ass, albeit grossly derelict, unrepentant or outwardly-hostile to our noblest efforts to please everyone. 

Well, folks, I believe my lips have puckered enough to these un-supervised assholes who think they are in control of my ride. I refuse to kiss their often-unwashed butt cheeks. To do so is blatantly disrespectful to those with whom I share this honorable profession. Unfortunately, in doing so I am in direct conflict with  managerial intent on rewarding misbehavior while disciplining us for doing just that.

I was trained to OPERATE within SAFETY guidelines, and to insist everyone who boards behave accordingly. Anyone who (actually) pays fare should be expected to abide by the ages-old Code of Conduct. Those who refuse to pay are often the most poorly-behaved and most vocal complainants. Unfortunately, the only one held to account is the very person employed to convey each passenger safely to their destination. Management's idea of "customer service" is wildly-divergent from transit reality, and WE have a proud 100+-year history of safe service. MUCH longer than this hypocritical, manic war upon common sense.

Once upon a time, transit management and its operations staff considered ourselves "family". Many a retired employee has stated they don't understand how today's environment evolved from that which they remember. Most are aghast at our working conditions, and fret over each contract negotiation because they fear past promises to them are trampled over every time. To me and many others, today's relationship between management and union employees is disgusting. Revolting. Sickening. Yet the local media REFUSES to investigate. Shame on you for supporting this abuse of those who make Portland's economy roll. Given your collective silence on such malfeasance, it would seem your lack of journalistic ethics is paid for by the powers which hold us accountable for those who abuse us. 

It's time we be granted the right to STRIKE again. Oregon's Legislature needs to return our power to hold these incompetents liable for their collective tyranny. Failed to fund the retirement fund for 30 years? No biggie. Secretly raised the salaries of non-union employees while hollering to local media that union employees were "greedy"? Oh well, we'll pass on that issue. Hire a replacement for GM McFarland who was fired in Canada? It's what he wanted, so we'll just agree to disagree with the union. In short? Yeah, they fall right there

Good grief, Portland. Transit management is failing not just US, but YOU, in heaps. You're being duped by remaining blissfully ignorant, complaining about those who safely guide you to your destination while unfairly demeaning us by your willful ignorance. The occasional compliment is nice, but your refusal to support US amplifies management's belief your silence is golden. And so, they pounce on us with disgusting glee, with NO meaningful oversight.

* * * * *

To those of you who are new, get this decades-old rule among frontline workers: NEVER, I repeat, NEVER EVER, throw your fellow union members under the bus. Have a complaint? Tell your union rep. Somebody piss you off? Maybe it was a misunderstanding or simple mistake. Whatever the case, keep it blue-on-blue, or soon to be polyester-on-uncomfy-fucking-polyester. You may learn something, but even more important, you may save a fellow brother or sister undeserved emotional pain from a management hell-bent on making our lives miserable. Even if another Operator pisses you off beyond imagination, do NOT report it to management. This is a union rule as old as transit itself: DO NO HARM TO YOUR FELLOWS. Period

To our passengers: We'll get you home or to your appointment or your buddy's house for a 30-rack of drunken bliss, in spite of your collective rudeness. There are still enough decent passengers who are respectful of my service and smooth ride to thank me as they figure out how to successfully operate back doors of buses which change with each new model. 

I'm so glad MOST of my passengers are respectful. THANK YOU, faithful riders and readers. I just wish our management would take a hint on how to behave. I also wish our weak local media would take note and finally hold management responsible for its ineptness. Maybe then I wouldn't bitch so much.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

I'm Just Wandering...

Dear Reader,

For eight years now, I have chronicled my life as a bus operator. It evolved as a simple writing exercise, to pen what I know best. That just happens to be, in any writer's experience, what we do most often. At the beginning, it was exciting to tell you what I was feeling as a brand-new bus operator. Wow, the moments I have shared with you over this near-decade. It even spawned a book! 

Now, nearly four years after publishing JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane (now out of print), I am at a crossroads. My heart strings keep pulling me back here to tell you what I feel behind this unforgiving wheel. The future, however, is nagging me to leave this beloved tome behind and surge forward. Writing my feelings to you has been the most rewarding literary achievement of my life. Truly. Before this blog, I wrote intermittently of memories past, not having any semblance of ambition as I aimlessly pecked away at this lonely keyboard. Today, I look back upon over nearly 600k "hits" on my bus tales. It is enormously gratifying, and extremely humbling. While it fails to excite others with its magnitude given other bloggers' zillions of hits on their own blogs, it is a personal highlight in a life many others would consider humdrum. 

I was born with a brain injury. If not for the fierce determination of an intensely-devoted mother, I would have died long ago in some institution for those given-up and hopefully forgotten by those without Mom's will that her own son stand and deliver. Mom saw the light of determination in my eyes the moment I was born, and worked tirelessly to ensure I had the tools to excel. If this blog hasn't delivered, then it's my own damn fault. Mom gave me the gifts; it was up to me to strengthen them. Here, if nowhere else upon this jerky 60-plus-year journey, I hope to have reached the souls of even a few of you.

I have both excelled and failed. Here. In this bus operator's journal. While so far I have failed in this post to describe to you what it was like to drive a bus 150 miles in 10 hours today, it has become an alternate goal over most of this decade to share my inner thoughts. At this point, my mind has become numb. Pandemic, protest/violent Portland riots, isolation from beloved friends and excruciating passenger moments... all have dulled my senses to the point where I JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane, like my job insists. Meanwhile, my soul has suffered too much to adequately describe the incomprehensible pain endured the past 15 months.

I have truly lost the ability to describe my life behind the wheel. Terror inhabits my mind and the dreams, both conscious and otherwise, is too intense for words.

Still, the writer within pulls me here. Why? Very few of you read these words any longer. It seems my 15 minutes is about 20 too late. Another writer would have ended this literary sojourn long ago for more promising endeavors. Me? I'm hopelessly hooked to this medium. I'm Wandering, just like James Taylor's song:

Oh, I've been wandering early and late

out of New York City to the Golden Gate

and it don't look like I'll lever stop wandering...

Every time I think it's time to let this ancient exercise fade into yesterday, another one of you enthusiastically pipes in. You tell me that I get where you are, that my words echo your own. That makes it even harder to leave. Thank you. It's for YOU that I write, because WE are one. Driving a bus is the same no matter your locale. Some runs are easier than others, but each city with public transit has its share of ne'er-do-wells who challenge our inner strength to rise above their bullshit just to safely transport them along with the truly appreciative.

Only the small percentage of riders shine enough to make it all worthwhile. Those, even though struggling with the pandemic economy have enough to pay their fare, are the sunshine which pushes us through that excruciating few miles to smoothly drop them at their destinations. They smile as I greet them and thank me on their way out. Their voiced appreciation is just enough to make up for those who won't even look at me, let alone speak, as I greet them with genuine acknowledgement.

Today, I heard the news one of my closest friends has been invaded by cancer throughout his blessed body. We have been, along with his equally-adored wife, inseparable friends since 1983. We grew children together, perfected our collective trade, raised many a drink and grilled tons of beefy flesh together over the years. Suffering the collective pain of a struggling middle-class, we pulled each other up many a time, through the roughest of times but having fun all the while. Now, tears stream from eyes which have seen enough pain the past year to last a lifetime, now dealing with the impending loss of one so dear to me I cannot fully express my indescribable love for him.

Joel not only gave me a job as a typographer; he taught me the craft in its sunset years as a profession before the personal computer craze. His soulmate Deb was hired two weeks after me, and whipped a drowning business into a money-making dynamo in Tucson's intensely-competitive publishing heyday. We crafted intense algebraic equations on a computer which produced mathematic equations for many a collegiate textbook. Back then, it was all typographic code, not WYSIWYG. Imagine charging $100/page for a publisher, at the rate of 50-100 pages per day. Joel crafted magical sequences (macros) in which we simply input the numbers, and commands dictated the typesetting equipment's output of a perfect equation. Every time. Our fingers input dollar signs, and because of it we were able to eke out a wonderfully-memorable moment in time where we raised each others' children and downed many beers in celebration. 

Several states apart and decades of memories later, we remain inseparable. I cannot fathom a day without the ability to call Joel just to "shoot the shit". Given his prognosis however, we surely both realize such days are too short to call numbers. It is agonizing to know that our next conversation could possibly be our last. Recognizing this, I hope to remain strong, give my sweet friend only hope and help him laugh over past exploits. Joel's laughter is contagious: deep, booming and sincere. My dream has been, since I began writing it, that his voice be the dominant player's in the movie I hope this next book offers.

Growing old is fraught with depressing news. Earlier today, my CAD showed a message to be on the lookout for a man suffering from dementia. Doubling down on my already-resident sadness, I learned this man was once a local bus operator whose passion for the job I still emulate. He was constantly on the microphone, pointing out which stops connected with another bus or rail line, or perhaps a nearby destination. He was engaging and fun, full of transit wisdom. I always exalted riding his bus. Now, he suffers from dementia, and I didn't even know he had retired.

Truly, life is fleeting. Fragile. Short. Not just for a blogger, but for all of us. 

Have a favorite bus operator? PLEASE call Customer Service and gush about them. We see far too many ridiculous complaints and far-too-precious commendations. Operators: see a brother/sister you haven't in quite a while? Screw pandemic considerations and give them a hug. It might be your last opportunity. Even if it ends up killing you, those left behind will remember that you cared enough to let your true feelings show. 

There is no sure bet in regards to this bastard COVID. No matter how hard we work to ensure our own safety, it's still a 50/50 wager. Many are throwing caution to the winds because we're tired of fearing our most endearing feature as humans: love for one another. I wish I would have found our brother Anthony tonight. Hopefully, one of us did.

That's it, folks. I'm tired. Instead of working on that ever-elusive novel, I chose to write you instead. It's a habit I don't want to lose, although I probably should. Even if the "hits" dwindle to a dozen per post, those 12 will remain forever precious to me. Like Joel, Aaron, Darius, Jason, Aidan, Brett, "The Three Robs" and nameless others, I truly appreciate those who are extremely kind to me as I ferry them home. 

The public-at-large has a dim view of the transit operator. I'm thankful for those who not only know my name and alter ego, but also for those who simply thank me for the safe ride when they exit. If not for y'all, I would have dumped this gig long ago. 

Thank you for indulging me,

Deke N. Blue

The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with...