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!

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...