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.