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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, May 23, 2021

My Operator Buddy Was Shot Yesterday...

Deke & Dale... two feathers of the same bird,
10/05/20.

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.

WTF?@?!*&>?

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.



2 comments:

  1. Excellently written tribute to our friend showing our dangerous profession and the sad state Portland/Portlanders have fallen into.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Definitely a sad state of affairs these days all over! I am glad your friend and fellow worker is going to be okay! Keep on being safe out there, my friend!

    ReplyDelete

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