The Times Are NOT a-Changin'

It would be wonderful if management heeded
its' own words, "woven" into our
collective transit reality.

Author's Note: The pull is too strong. It was nine years ago I began writing this blog about what it's like to do this job of transit operator. A lot has changed since then, be it myself or the job or the pax or management. This blog is a nagging habit I just can't shake. I don't want to. It feels just a bit more real now. Still, the feelings are the same. The pull towards writing truth to our job is too agonizing to ignore. Sorry Troll novel, the job calls. We've all been through the two most excruciating years, so I'd be remiss in not writing this. 

* * * * *

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time

Any fool can do it, there ain't nothin' to it

Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill

But since we're on our way down

We might as well enjoy the ride

The secret of love is in opening up your heart

It's okay to feel afraid

but don't let it stand in your way, no longer

-- The Secret O'Life, James Taylor 

* * * * *

The first time I heard that song, as a 16-year-old full of love and joy, sadness and teenaged angst in my soul, it clicked. What are we all trying to do in this life but somehow find the good? Nearly 50 years later, I love this song even more. In fact, when I finally let go of this mortality, I hope you hear it at my memorial. It has been my favorite JT song for so long I sing it to myself nearly every day. It encompasses who I am. Just enjoy your life, folks. It's that easy. Otherwise, why listen for your heartbeat? 

Likewise, as long as my hands are upon the steering wheel of a city bus, I have to write what I feel out there. For nine years now, it has become a habit I cannot steer askew. Even killing Deke N. Blue didn't wipe it out of me. Even knowing management was on to me, I enjoyed the fantasy that I could write what I feel without Big Brother Transit trampling upon my First Amendment rights. 

Why they didn't scream "STOP!" is beyond me. Politics aside, this is America, and we are a body inherent with certain inalienable rights, my favorite being the freedom of expression. As long as THAT one lives, there is hope for us all. No matter our political beliefs or whoever agrees/disagrees with you, I support YOUR right to speak as you feel. It is in this vein I began writing this. 

So here I go again, God help me

* * * * *

Everything is appalling "post-COVID". The lack of cops, shelter for homeless and those among them who desperately need residential treatment, and common decency on the boulevards. Road rage has become just another excuse for mayhem and murder. Just getting behind the wheel of a lumbering bus puts us in danger of those who truly believe our sole responsibility is SAFETY. Not just those of whom we transport, but for ourselves. While we may be only numbers to management, we're a lifeline to the communities we serve. It's an abhorrent disconnect.

We SEE everything while reporting crimes, fires, accidents, assaults (upon US and others), even murders. The latter have increased exponentially as the scores of frontline workers have said "FUCK THIS!" and sought employment in less-dangerous fields.

It's difficult to imagine that amongst all that has threatened us for millions of years, something so tiny as a virus, which is ONLY visible under a powerful microscope, could reduce what we imagined was civility to a seething mass of inhumanity. Instead of turning our powerful human abilities toward killing this new strain, our political selves decided to make it a social media debate. How childish we have been as a whole. Us vs. Them, in living color. But hey folks, this tiny killer didn't care who you voted for. It took YOU, YOUR loved ones. 

COVID is a wake-up call. No matter our beliefs, we humans are still vulnerable to the vast array of tiny assassins which could extinguish our entire number with the flick of a variant.

IF Big Money wanted us gone, it could be done instantly. But hey, who then would do its bidding? Without US, there would be no worth to money. Without the mere mortals among us who do the WORK they benefit from, humanity would be reduced to the status of cave women who not only bore them, but had the intelligence and wherewithal to keep them alive. 

The human race has always been beholden to the female, yet still we demean the strongest. We rape them, then expect them to bear the seed we so cruelly have spewed. Today, women outnumber men. As it should be. They are much smarter than we are. To think otherwise is simple folly. They are our MOTHERS, SISTERS, WIVES, FRIENDS. Still, as a whole, we mistakenly place them below US. This has become a culture war with devastating implications. Who are WE, without THEM? NOWHERE, guys. Without our mothers, we would not exist. How, then, can we justify this myth that males are superior to females? It's an easily-argued point that women could just as easily dominate men via sheer number and intelligence, negating physical strength through sheer numbers.

Sorry guys, my vote is with the women in my life. Yes, I still sob with grief over Dad's death nearly four years ago. However, my mother gave me even more than Dad, and he would agree. Mom gave birth to a son who was brain injured in utero. Through sheer determination, Mom fought like mad to see me through what she decided was just another of life's anomalies. Without much science to back her up, she found ways to force my brain to repair itself. She succeeded, and here I am. Whether you agree with me politically, you MUST agree that Mom's determination won in the end. I may not be the most intelligent conversationalist, but I am nowhere near stupid.

I am not what the doctors then declared: "He will never walk, or talk. He will be severely retarded. Put him into an institution and forget about him."

Everything I am, have been or ever will be, is because Mom refused to agree with the prevailing "wisdom" of that time. 

Mom was nine months into her pregnancy. Abortion was not an option, nor would my loving parents have ever considered it even in my first trimester. Mom and Dad were the product of the Baby Boom following Dad's service in World War II. Their third child was expected to be as the first two. Then, Mom fell in the kitchen. The next day, I came into this world with an orange-sized hematoma pressing down upon my speech and motor cortexes. Despite that accident, I became ME. Because of Mom's insistence this was simply another problem she could fight through, I succeeded through her devotion.

I guess it's Mom's persistence which courses through this writer's veins to insist that YOU have a voice here. So, not wanting to lose this literary ramble, I'll venture even further.

* * * * *

Sam Desue, I KNOW you're reading this. You took this job believing you're the answer to the failure of previous General Managers because you have always wanted this job. Well Sam, you have it. What have you done with the "honeymoon" granted every leader? Squandered it, unfortunately. I wrote about what needed doing, told you it would take a complete shakedown of transit management, and you basically ignored me. Meanwhile, you oversaw a mass depletion of your Operations workforce. Scores were fired, retired or simply quit. Because why? Those who are immediately above us, non union people who seem fired with a vendetta against those who roll the nuts-and-bolts, were not reined in. Had it been ME, I would have mandated COMPLETE respect of Operations employees, shaking the tree free of the nuts clinging to the weakest branches of the managerial tree. Instead, they were allowed to continue riding  roughshod over US with a vengeance, taking the word of malcontents who complained about US simply doing as we were trained. And still, it continues even though we're about 300 Operators short of fully-staffed.

Because of mis-management, Portland's recovery has been further stagnated given our agency's drastic service cuts due to a lack of Operators. Still, our Board of Directors silently nods in agreement over transit's inept practices, as if they are simple bobbleheads to whatever transpires. And "Metro"? What is it other than just another conduit to transit's multiple Bridges to Nowhere? I'm sorry, but it's simply obvious that if you cater to transit's least-desirable passengers, you cannot expect an increase in ridership. Duh.

"Make Transit Free!" some boneheads shout. Yeah, sure. That allows even more troublemakers to run roughshod over those decent folks who depend upon us for a safe ride. 

Nothing free is ever valued. 

* * * * *

It's a tough job out there, Sam. In the decade I have served as a bus operator, I have watched people slide into an abyss where they are so intent on looking at their handheld devices they transferred responsibility to others, namely US. Management simply encouraged it, making it widely known that the voices of the malcontents would be valued over those who appreciate transit.

"Smart" phones have allowed the public to become a stupid, seething mass of irresponsibility. That device in their hand has the ability to tell them almost exactly when a transit vehicle will arrive at their location, yet they refuse to acknowledge it. Instead, it has become a weapon pointed solely at Operations employees. In fact, a few months ago I read in shock how management in one statement said that while fare evaders would no longer be prosecuted, they were taking a strong stand against those who attack us. Who the hell do they think is the largest group of our assailants? Certainly NOT those who dutifully pay their fare and behave, but those who blithely ignore us or mutter "I'm riding at my own risk."

THERE IS NO RISK TODAY! Management has simply given the biggest troublemakers permission to ride without consequence. Ugh, it's so frustrating!

One intending passenger had the gall to complain that I passed them up one night. Admitting they were at a dark stop, sitting away from the pole in the dark, the phone telling them precisely when I would arrive. It was a construction zone in which traffic was routed two lanes distant from the stop (which was temporarily closed, by the way). Instead of shining a light 40 yards away at a very-dark spot, and waving their arms to get my attention, they instead expected me to read their mind and read their intent, even though it was not even remotely suggested by their passivity. When this complaint reached my inbox, I shuddered, muttered and shot it from 3-point land into the nearest trash bin. "Come see me" said the manager. "Bullshit," was my masked reply. I scored a basket, and lost out on my ninth-consecutive "Customer Service" award. Oh well.

In their whine, they stated how after a long-day's work they had to walk home from the stop, which was less than a half-mile from the line's terminus. Perhaps if they had heeded their "smart" phone's warning my bus approached, they could have signaled me. If I had seen them, I would have serviced the stop even though it was closed. I hate leaving people behind. However, I cannot serve someone who does not make the slightest effort to be seen.

* * * * *

My daily route guides me one way past a construction site. On one CORNER along the route. Five weeks now, the 35 has been re-routed around the rebuilding of one side of an intersection. Because the rebuild extends into the intersection, buses cannot easily swing around the corner. Thus, we are routed 3/4-mile past our normal turn onto Greeley to Denver, right toward Rosa Parks, right onto that road back to Greeley, left onto regular route. Granted, rainy weather dampens any progress, and Spring 2022 has been unusually-wet, but this simple corner reconstruction has taken MUCH longer than it should. A couple of weeks and it should have been completed. Meanwhile, 35 ops have been rolling this re-route which takes 3.5 minutes off our regular route time. Sometimes, this makes us later than we can make up. 

Capital Improvements. Hah. Major inconveniences to not only bus operators striving to keep a route on schedule, but to passengers trying to make connections to other buses/trains on time. Only problem is that Portland projects take MUCH longer than necessary. All that stands between my route and the construction is the lack of attention to that particular project. It only needs asphalt re-fill around the cement edges. This could have been accomplished as soon as the cement cured. Instead, the trench around it remains barricaded, along with our 3.5-minute delay. Typical transit/construction scheduling snafu: just deal with it.

"Heroes" my ass. If we truly were, management would have harassed the city into finishing this project quickly. Instead, I doubt it even registered on anyone's radar. Except Dispatch's.

During rush hour, this re-route is particularly painful. Arriving there typically 1.5 minutes behind schedule, this will delay me to five minutes late by the time I'm back on-route again. There's a "bubble" in the paddle between there and the Rose Quarter Transit Center which will shave a few minutes off, but I'm still two minutes late entering downtown. Given the bus/train dance, I'll be lucky to exit the transit mall less than five minutes down. Once I roll left onto Macadam Boulevard off South Waterfront, I'm typically 5-7 minutes late, only to find the Sellwood Bridge approach backed up well past Terwilliger. Agonizingly slow, I'll inch forward to find the bridge stop EMPTY, with nobody on my bus pulling the stop request cord. When I finally roll through the green, I'm 10-15 minutes behind schedule, and conditions afterward dictate I'll still be behind when I reach the gridlock approaching the on-ramp to I-205 and the final leg into Oregon City, my end point. This means that the "recovery time" of 20 minutes becomes 2-3 (plus or minus) given the time needed to traverse that final leg.

Folks, when the schedule says a bus is to leave at a certain time, please take note when it arrives. If it shows "late" arriving, please don't lobby a barrage of questions at the harried operator whose main goal is  to pee, stretch and gain the seat once again to serve YOU. We are human, with all the needs our bodies require. If we exit the rear door with a sense of urgency upon us, refrain from approaching for we're on a purely-biological mission.

Nearing my 10th anniversary as a bus operator, I have learned so much it defies description. All my training and experience has taught me to operate SAFELY, and to deal with the end of the line as well as my body allows. If I'm short with you, please realize I have human needs which must be met if I am to professionally serve you safely and courteously. Upon my return, I am more able to answer your queries.

* * * * *

Sam, it's imperative that you realize you need to RETURN to OUR roots. Forget Capital Improvements for now. Unless it deals with improvements along our routes, it is not imperative at this time. We have played second fiddle too long, over two excruciating years of pandemic watching dear friends and beloved veterans die or retire because of management's over-zealous disciplinary excesses, or succumb to the virus delivered to us via un-masked/un-vaccinated passengers.

We are TIRED. Instead of your endless daily meetings with local community leaders, I urge you to take 12 hours (a typical shift of your depleted Extra Board Operators) on both bus and rail to fully realize what happens on our vehicles. Once a week, take the time to study the reality of Portland transit from an Operations viewpoint. Once you have an idea of what is actually happening, you might realize what the system NEEDS you to do, rather than what Metro wants you to do. 

There isn't a "need" now, or in our immediate "post COVID" future, for a new rail line from downtown to Tigard. There IS a "need" for you to concentrate on what Portland's transit reality has been for two-plus years. How transit has changed due to a horrific pandemic, and how the aftermath has impacted employment zones. Study each line's particular challenges. Find ways to provide decent facilities for those of us who provide the service YOU are entrusted to improve. Concentrate your efforts on improvements which benefit those who provide the service, rather than dreaming of a tomorrow which is not likely to materialize. TODAY is OUR reality, sir. Yesterday is simply a painful reminder of how management has constantly failed those entrusted beneath its leaky umbrella.

So yeah, we're pissed. Again. As well as we should be. It's as if our sacrifices through humanity's biggest threat since the Spanish Flu of 1918 are all for naught. Once again, we performed heroically throughout the midst of humanity's biggest scare in a century, without being properly honored.

Those hired at this juncture MUST take note of the time you come into the transit picture. Right now, consider yourselves "scabs" in view of our collective plight. Given our legal inability to strike, you are being hired in replacement of hundreds who left the job disgusted with our working conditions. You have been coerced into a job in which you have little or no support. That sign-on bonus is just a carrot that can be jerked away on all but a whim. 

If you're considering a career in transit, I cannot honestly support your decision. We're still waiting for R-E-S-P-E-C-T. From the public, AND from local management and Metro. It's harder than ever to be a transit worker. Expectations are worse than you can imagine. If you try to follow Standard Operating Procedure to codify management, you'll likely piss off some whiny malcontent. If you take the time-honored stance that if they're not "ready to ride" and pass them up, you face the ire of a blind manager whose only job seems to harass its most-valuable employees. That $7,500 will be the most painful bonus you've ever collected.

Management: STOP hurting those who make your jobs possible. ONLY then will you find people flooding your HR portal with applications. Learn to treat US with the respect our MILLIONS of SAFE miles every year are worthy of your utmost respect. WE know our jobs, and you forgot. It is NOT vital what the passengers dictate, but what decades of precedence insist: adhering to the Code of Passenger Conduct must be honored at ALL times. Transit Operators must be respected as the Captain of the Ship. As long as we endure, our rules are sacrosanct. 

Given that, is Management ready to increase our wages by 75% to give respect to not only inflationary realities, as well as giving retirees their due, given what we have ALL been through?

I refuse to hold my breath. It's bad for my health.


  1. Strong stuff and true. I ride the #6 along corridors of homeless tents and hope some hopped up person does not ride on my bus. But it is inevitable that will happen, I hope to survive the encounter.

  2. Silverliner_2@yahoo.comMay 11, 2022 at 8:05 AM

    I'm reminded of our management... wanting to 'better' relations between the unions and management, but at the same time still pushing for 1-man train crews and still refusing to bargain seriously as we approach a 3rd year without a new contract, nationally.


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