|Photo courtesy Katy Philp|
Deke's Note: Okay, I'm back. Having grieved my classmate/brother's untimely death, I am filled with an incredible amount of creative energy. However, it is dulled with the aftermath of driving a bus 600+ miles this past week, and the two prior. Along with that, I have endured what thousands like me across the world deal with every day, each second we're behind the wheel of a 20-ton behemoth. Forgive my rant. My original intent when I began this endeavor 8.5 years ago, was to chronicle the life of a bus operator. Take it or whatever, this is it.
Having failed the past four years to achieve management's ridiculous requirements endowing me with its "Master Operator Program" awards, I'm once again at the bottom. Zeroed out, deemed ineligible for any Operator of the Month consideration. My brothers and sisters will not be given any opportunity the next year or so to elect me Operator of the Month, because not only do I document our perils "out here" but also because I have failed to attain the corporate maxim of 16 hours or less of "time loss". in a 12-month period. No matter my approximate 95% On Time Performance, superior Customer Service stats, or sixth-in-a-row National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Award.
Because our agency requires no more than two days accrued sick leave over 1,960 hours of safe service to attain points toward its vaunted "Master Operator" status, I have failed once again. Although transit insists we "stay home when you don't feel well", doing so disqualifies us from its most vaunted/prized distinction. Since I value my life over some bullshit award, I doubt I'll ever make "Master Operator". Although I would never ask you to, you'll never have the opportunity to vote for me. Not that anyone who works past evening hours ever has that opportunity, as the ballot box is shunted behind the Station Agent's desk and out of Late Night Eyes. I have constantly had to ask permission to vote for my brothers and sisters having arrived after midnight for five years now.
That's okay. I want to live as long as my father did, honoring his values of self over corporate idealist bullshit. Awards don't mean much when you're under decades of wind-blown grass. I'll use my accrued sick leave because my family matters MUCH more than the heartless agency I work for. Yes, it's my last career other than writing. No, it's not God. Mine is much more forgiving.
Last night, I set the parking brake in the yard after gliding into a Neutral stop. I laid my head upon the wheel which had been my merciless master for 600+ miles and 53 hours over five days. I sighed with deep relief at having survived yet another battle zone in the pandemic battlefield upon which we are constantly attacked. Every inch of my body hurt. My head from the thousands of calculations and visual scans, my shoulders from "rocking and rolling" (without benefit of hearing Tom Petty or The Eagles), my upper/middle/lower back in agony from twisting every possible way in a poorly-designed bus seat, my thighs burning from five thousand variables of pressing the air brake pedal, my ankles down to my toes screaming in agony from the progressing arthritis which comes from nearly a decade of fine-tuning stops so passengers aren't jarred onto the floor as they prepare to step off my vocational choice.
I could not rub CBD remedies into my agonized joints once I arrived safely home. Even though they don't usually contain enough THC to register in a random drug test, I dare not take the chance in fear I fail. People all around me take advantage of the lax marijuana laws, but federal regulations require I'm not allowed to smoke a bowl after a long shift of being told by the unregulated public to "JUST DRIVE, asshole" while ensuring their safe arrival to whatever may await them. Ah, the indignity we endure. Such is the life, I suppose. Oh well. I get paid regardless of their insults. And so I do, 'JUST FUCKING DRIVE'. Quite smoothly, I must brag, minus the slightest commendations phoned in via their constantly-attuned attentions.
In one week, I have provided an estimated 2,500 "safe" rides, in that I have afforded them smooth/incident-free passage to their destination. This is about a third of what I provided Pre-COVID. Sometimes my bus has been empty, which is breathtakingly sublime. For a brief moment, I am unassailed by the masses who think riding a bus is a right, negating any sense of social responsibility via some uneducated protest against this invisible virus which assails humanity. Our overhead blares "MASKS REQUIRED" more often than the line number displays, yet each bus operator's hands are tied when the slightest attempt at enforcing this empty requirement (weak request?) puts us in a conference room with some puffed-up manager who assails us with the latest SIP ("Service Improvement Program"?!?) from a similarly-over-entitled complainant who argues against our insistence masks be properly worn versus being too-damned-beyond-giving-a-damn.
Any of us could die from COVID, but all the management would do is offer some half-assed public statement of regret while simultaneously raking another operator over the coals for attempting to enforce its' toothless policy "requiring" masks. No mention of the operator's faithful service over a year of service during a deadly pandemic while it worked from home. Not necessary, because the "Bored of Directors" silently nods at whatever line Management serves it.
If we try to enforce the mask rule, someone will call in a complaint. If we fail to enforce it, another will call in a complaint that we failed to. We're screwed either way, and a third in that anyone who ChinMasks or totally ignores the toothless "mandate" could ultimately infect us with a virus that has devastated TWO MILLION-PLUS deaths worldwide. This isn't my sole take on the issue; it has been confirmed by a brother who has been called in to defend himself against both scenarios. It's another reason our current management needs a total shakedown to eliminate such consummate bullshit.
Yes, I'm still working on the Deke Manifesto, an all-encompassing rationale as to why the past 30 years of management has FAILED and needs a thorough restructuring.
We're evidently not considered "Frontline Workers" where the vaccine is considered. I understand: Teachers, healthcare workers, police, firefighters, FIRST. Yeah, they're our "heroes" and rightfully so. But transit workers are conveniently forgotten in the overall discussion, and we are rightfully PISSED OFF.
I have been wearing a mask since early February, 2020. We had no idea how massive this pandemic would totally isolate us from one another or completely destroy life as we knew it. However, my Beloved and I quickly realized the dangers a bus operator comes into direct contact with thousands of those who could be infected. Beloved instantly went to work on her sewing machine and fashioned me several versions of a mask until one worked. One of my sisters also provided me with one of her own creations. I wore them constantly on the job. A month or so later, my transit agency finally found a supplier and mandated its frontline workers "mask up". It lamely "requested" passengers mask up, without providing "teeth" to this requirement. Instead of insisting the public comply, it simply passed responsibility to the frontline worker without backing us up with meaningful consequences. This ultimately left us out in the cold of an unprecedented brutal Portland winter. Then, it responded with typical cold weather responses of suspensions for "rude behavior" amidst callous treatment by those for who we toil.
It's heartless, folks. I cannot remain silent about it as a transit blogger. It is my fervent wish that these heartless managers whose relentless reign of terror be banished forever from Portland's transit history. If ONLY...
One night, after being brutally verbally accosted and called a "racist white motherfucker" for asking someone to wear a mask, I realized early the riding public didn't take COVID seriously. Some wore masks, others couldn't be bothered to protect their fellow Portlanders. At this point (March, 2020), I sat here and wrote a short story that poured forth from this tortured soul of a bus operator. It chronicled the relationship of an operator and passenger who didn't connect until a virus had claimed every nuance of normalcy either had known. It chills me still to know that if we don't pull together to defeat this tiny bastard, it could play out in horrifying reality.
My ears felt it first. Rubbed raw, they necessitated removing the mask for brief moments, risking being ratted out by a hyper-paranoid ridership. It was difficult to take a deep breath. Was I infected?!? Oh damn! I insisted on a COVID test once I began to feel symptoms. "Not detected" was the first result. Still, I remained horribly apprehensive, given my profession's direct contact with the public-at-large. At that time, given my symptoms, I was told to quarantine for two weeks, so I did. There went my accrued sick leave. The second time I felt synptomatic, I was covered by a federally-mandated leave of absence. It wasn't a "vacation" as some perceived. It was two weeks of constant self-checks, rest and flu-like symptoms I hoped wasn't "IT". Luckily, I survived another "Not Detected" screening.
Did my transit agency INSIST on its' frontline being tested every week? NO. Just a lame corporate-response encouraging us to be diligent in washing our hands and constantly wearing a mask, even alone on deadheads with no passengers.
There was no public support for those who risked our lives taking Portlanders to work through last summer's intense public protests and violent demonstrations which demolished our beloved downtown and crushed, along with the pandemic, our vital downtown business district. We have been on the forefront of the past year's news segments, but the buses and light rail vehicles have passed through without little more than a mention. The news media ignored us while New York City's transit workers suffered over 150 deaths (and climbing) from COVID-related illness. Still, we're fighting for our very lives in another extremely contentious, bitter contract battle with those entrusted with our safekeeping.
THEY have failed; WE have persevered.
The past year has seen a bitterly-contested national election, yet transit workers for all our collective political divide, have persevered as brothers and sisters to do what we have always known: to safely transport our fellow citizens through fire, violent outbursts between citizens and police, and a pandemic that shows us that human decency MUST prevail above division.
I'm still here. I still want to be GM, if only to show Portland there is a better, more forward-thinking way to lead our transit into the 21st century and beyond. You KNOW what I go through each night I take the wheel of a city bus; those who "manage" us have no idea what they're in charge of. It's time for a change, and I offer it. To those who believe we have no voice, it's time to discard the "norms" our board stubbornly in favor of. The corporate way has failed, miserably so.
Frontline workers do the work of transit every day, across the globe. We're held back by those who occupy the top tiers of transit, who have failed their Operations slaves and the public at large. It's time for a change, and I am one of many who could achieve it. If only "they" thought the same way.
Meanwhile, I drive a bus while a passenger offers a "huff off my can of Dust Off, man." Will I suffer a complaint if I rudely refuse with a "Why the fuck would I, ever?!?"
Reliably, some possibly power-infused manager would take offense to my response. With strong, persevering dedication, we are constantly attacked. From the outside, but even more so, from within. Still, our riders gain more respect in today's political climate than those who do the work vital to every community. Sorry, but that's just not right, in my humble blue-collar opinion.
Who then, deserves, the mantle of leadership? Hmm... only the brightest will "get it." Unfortunately, the most assailed are the least-heard. Therefore, you'll see once again, a doltish corporate head appointed to continue the assaults upon frontline transit workers. New face, same game.
That's how it goes. Still, WE roll wheels on pavement and tracks. Until someone with blue-collar common sense steps up, so it shall remain.
I'm still here... are YOU?
With respect, I am YOUR
Deke N. Blue