Deacon Who?

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

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sadness BusBits

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

(I AM mostly the "happy idiot", struggling for the legal tender. (Thanks, Jackson Browne... I may be one of many "Pretenders").

* * * * *

The first third of 2021 was much like the last 2/3 of 2020. Passenger loads were light and I often stopped the bus just to kill time so I wouldn't arrive early at the next time point. The past six weeks have seen the populace emerging from COVID cocoons to brave the dangerous world I have lived through as they forcefully-quarantined. Our light passenger loads for the past year have resulted in our growing accustomed to an easier job. Now, we're having to quickly re-adjust to "pre-COVID conditions". Portland is back, folks. Whether conditions allow or not, people are forging forward into the unknown, just to pay the bills again. Along with heavier loads, we also have greater opportunities to observe humanity's greatest gift to itself. 

I have seen truly the worst conditions have forced upon us, and some of our finest moments as well. I ws a helpless witness as one passenger allegedly wielded a knife when another admonished him for failing to wear a mask, only to watch a third draw his pistol to keep the first from making good on his promise to assault his victim; had he not been there my nightmares tell a more tragic outcome. I have also seen the best in people caring enough to lend a helping hand when others turned an indifferent head. 

This week, I was witness to sad, yet uplifting moments. Each evoked tears to well within my watchful eyes. 

A few nights ago, a lady boarded with bags too numerous to handle because of the aged dog in her loving embrace. She apologized for taking precious time to board, but I instantly forgave and allowed that extra few moments. Time as a transit operator is relative; some require more, others less. It all balances due to the difficulty involved. The route I drive is constantly calculated not only to the schedule, but my time as an operator gives me patience because I know where precious moments "lost" can be made up further down the line. If I lose a few minutes at my end-of-the-line break, compassion allows me to forgive.

Once PupMama was settled, she informed me and my two other compassionate compadres that her traveling companion had enjoyed a gloriously-sunny spring day on the river in a boat. I imagined the sunshine and wind ruffling the tiny Pomeranian's fluffy coat. She seemed so content, snuggled close to her mom, seemingly snoozing close to the breast of she who loved her so dearly. 

Onboard were my trusted and newly-affirmed protector and friend Aaron and another lad who boarded with various pet supplies in tow. Lady described how her dog was 18.5 years old. We all exclaimed how incredible it was to have such an aged four-legged friend aboard! My Lillie was 14.5 when we finally allowed her to leave us. But the thought of having one a full four years older was astounding to me! The lady told us she had welcomed the pup of six weeks to her bosom and had been a constant companion/protector/mom ever since. 

As we neared her final destination, my passenger lass became worried about her pup's condition. My concern dictated a message to Dispatch in the form of "Restroom Delay". We exited with her. I was early at that time point, and wanted to ensure she knew where to go in order to meet those who had agreed to ferry her home. Mostly, I wanted to show love where it counted most.

The dog's head lolled backwards from Mom's chest, awkwardly-backwards and seemingly uncontrolled. I mentioned she must have been tired after the long day on the water.

"No," Mom sighed in sadness, "I think she's going." 

"Going?" I echoed. "To sleep?"

Mom sighed deeply, stroking her beloved pet's temple. "No. I mean, she's going." 

It dawned suddenly. Her dog was actively dying.

The concerned lad who had joined us with his own pet purchases grabbed her excess bags and told her he would accompany her to the ride in waiting. I watched as they began walking away. She apologized and thanked him, he dismissed her exclamations of his kindness and encouraged her to concentrate on her pup. I blessed her and thanked him for his compassion. He held an aquarium full of supplies yet he gladly handled two bags and her tag-a-long suitcase and fishing pole, insistent she concentrate solely on the precious fur bundle cradled in her loving arms.

It took me a moment to collect my emotions. After the tumultuous trials I had faced, I witnessed a loving moment between strangers lost in a moment neither will forget. 

I wiped tears away and needed a minute more than the schedule allowed to collect myself before I could drive the final third of that trip.

I realized there was never a need to ask the relationship of dog and partner; it was simply given. Like a mother and child, caregiver become human. Two of my dear friends had recently watched their beloved dogs die, and my thoughts of their grief suddenly overwhelmed me. Still, I felt how blessed this dear, sweet woman was to have 18 years with such a beautiful little fur baby. Wishing her a silent prayer of comfort and love, I finally regained my seat at the head of The Beast and informed Dispatch I was once again "Ready for Service". Even though I was not, I rolled back into my route.

* * * * *

Just a day later, my Friday run beckoned, a normally-quiet Saturday roll along the scenic Line 35. Feeling a bit edgy and more than melancholy, I took the wheel somewhat apprehensively. Although my end-of-the-week run is picked for its' laid back weekend atmosphere, my 72-lite weekday route leaves me shaken and ready for the worst transit has to offer. Usually, it's a comforting roll into this shift, but as anyone in transit can attest, you cannot allow a letdown of your guard. 

Strangely, it was more than uncommonly-quiet today. Weather was sunny to partly-cloudy. Cool, but not cold. Perfect conditions for a busy day. Even so, no more than 20 people rode my bus all day, from mid-afternoon until the early morrow. 

Late afternoon, downtown. A young man boards, the only rider aboard, shows me his pass and ambles past me. Immediately begins sobbing. Uncontrollably, soulfully and heartbreakingly grieving. My transit operator brain kicked in. 

"Oh no," I thought, "another nut case."

Immediately, I felt guilt at my sudden, heartless verdict. We have all suffered grief, why did I automatically attribute his sobbing to mental instability? Such and thus are common bedfellows. Grief consumed him, yet I equated it to transit "weirdness". This made me angry at my transit hardness, sharpened by the antics of many a past "pretender". Each human is part of a common consciousness, but I had unfairly categorized this young man. It was not gentlemanly of me to do so, and I was angry at my unwanted self. Had the countless daggers of a hazardous week so deadened my soul that I could no longer feel compassion for another human? My disposition toward this lad instantly changed to that of the man I have always hoped to be.

He sobbed quietly to himself, but later along the ride, I reached out to my only passenger, and keyed up the PA microphone.

"I hear your sadness, lad. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Buses make noise. All kinds of interference interrupts my audio input. Could not hear his response. I saw his wave of polite refusal, and simply let him mourn in silence.

About 20 minutes later, I saw his red shirt in my passenger mirror. 

"Hey lad," I said. "I'm worried about you. Your sadness is obvious. What can I do to help?"

Simultaneously scanning the road and Him, I waited. 

"Sir?" he asked quietly, "may I ask a favor?" Road noise nearly obliterated his voice, but my senses had zeroed in on him.

"Sure," I replied hopefully, "if it's safe."

"Can you drop me off...?" He described a spot across from a park I know well. Immediately, I assessed the safety of such a request and formed an educated response.

"Of course," I replied. "Under normal conditions, we're not supposed to do this until after 8:00 pm but in this instance, I'm happy to do this for you."

At this point, Laddie decided I was safe to confide in. All I heard him say was: "Sometimes I think I care too much, and it all caught up to me today. I just want to feel comfort from a neighborhood of my childhood."

He exited with a subdued but heartfelt thanks. All I could offer was to pray God grant him the peace he so desperately needed. Hopefully, He heard the prayer and granted it.

* * * * *

Too often, the rigors of transit make us forget who we truly hope to be. It's too easy after countless slights and insults to forget our inner selves. I began this transit quest with a firm resolve to be the bus driver people remember in a positive light. One who actually cares about every person who boards my bus no matter their outward appearance. Once shed of any visual shell, we're all in need of simple acknowledgement. This time, I avoided judgment in lieu of the humanity I hope guides my otherwise-tortured soul. My inner self begs to give solace to all suffering souls. Hopefully, my concern helped him find the peace he so desperately needed.

That, my friends, is the main reason I drive a bus. Through this near-decade, I am finally realizing some value to those I serve. Sometimes, I wrestle with inner demons and past nightmares. Still, the good moments tend to overwhelm the bad and lead me toward that place in which I can hopefully make a difference. If I keep studying the human condition, looking inward when I make a mistake, and applying those lessons forward rolling six wheels, then maybe someday I'll become a human worth his while.

With this fervent wish, I bid you all a peaceful roll into today, and thousands more tomorrow.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

My Latest Transit Ordeal Relived

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadness BusBits

Deke's Note: After the fright, stress and flashbacks of the violent incident on my bus just over a week ago, I have ached to reach back ...