Friday, August 2, 2019

Another episode of the ‘reddit Bus driver’

At least I finally figured out it’s a her. I sense a little more understanding as to what she has gotten herself into with this job she’s now 7 months in.  (She wasn’t making it up)

Yeah, yeah. This is is a stupid title. I’ve never been strong on the title front. However, I’m now thinking that I should have started with the first line of that song and used each line as a title to a story about driving the bus. I’m sure I could come up with enough silly parallels to make it work.

Today was full of ups and downs, just like any other day at work for me.

Literal ups and downs, because of the plethora of speed bumps that are being installed on Portland roads. Buses don’t do well on speed bumps. Even at 12 miles an hour, in some buses it can feel like the back end is bottoming out. I hit a manhole cover today going about 20 and it made a huge BANG. Some buses have incredibly poor rear suspension and it can be embarrassing when I don’t expect a little bump and then hear folks groaning in the back. One lady hollered out once, “Well I guess I don’t need to go to the chiropractor this week!” That got a chuckle and an apology from me.

I saw a little dog today that was having a perfect up-and-down moment. It was on a walk with a lady who was using a cane. This little Pomeranian was on a short leash and right at the lady’s heels. With every step, the little thing got a boop to the nose by the end of the cane. I thought to myself that this has got to be the only dog in Portland who doesn’t get excited when they hear “walk”.

Thankfully my night ended with the good stuff. It did, however start off kinda rocky.

Only 6 blocks into my first run, I had a very grumpy woman get on my bus. She didn’t seem grumpy at first. At the fare box as she was putting her money in, she stated that that was all the money she had but she needed to get to her job interview. She gave me $2.15. I said it wasn’t a problem and gave her a $2.50 ticket. I guess what she meant to say was, “Hey, could I get an all day for this?” (a $5 ticket) because as soon as she looked at the ticket she exclaimed, “stupid bitch!” and sat down.

Oh well. Not a good way for her to handle that, but whatever. I’ve been called worse.

At the next stop she basically orders me to make sure she doesn’t miss a transfer to another bus. I say sure and ask her if she knows what stop it is. (Most people use directions from their phone or have it printed out with the stop name and number. I wish I knew all of the bus lines and transfer stops but I don’t.)

“Well I don’t know! I don’t work for TriMet! Isn’t that YOUR job?!”

“I can look it up for you when I get a chance.” Her transfer wasn’t until the other end of my line and I had plenty of time to find that information for her.

“Oh, suuuuure! Are you really gonna look it up or are you just lying to me, bitch?”

She continued on and said a whole bunch of other crazy things directed at me.

At this point I told her that she could leave my bus. I was only three stops in and I had a feeling that she would continue to be a huge distraction for the majority of my route. Not gonna happen. Call me whatever names you want to, but don’t try to pick a fight with me while I’m driving a 40 foot bus through heavy traffic.

She refused to leave so I continued on and notified Dispatch. A couple stops down a supervisor was called to meet up with me to escort her off.

I got to the stop and waited. I told her that she could either leave on her own or wait. I apologized to the other passengers and made it very clear that this woman was the problem. Usually (from what I’ve heard) this kind of pressure from other passengers and the embarrassment alone can help with a quicker exit. It didn’t necessarily work this time. She sat there and waited.

In the meantime, I had a couple folks who asked if it was going to be long enough for a smoke break. Who knows? I’d make sure I didn’t leave without them when the time came.

Just a moment later, the grumpy woman asks if we are waiting for her to leave (DUH!). There was a resounding “yes” and then she left. I think she probably sat there and realized that she didn’t want to deal with a road supervisor. They mean business when they show up, and it’s probably a safe assumption that she’s met one (or five) before.

Seconds after she walked away three road supervisors appeared, probably thankful that they didn’t have to deal with her. She was headed off to catch the Max, unhappy that she was going to be late for her job interview. I don’t imagine her getting any job with that attitude, but I sure hope she does! Maybe one day soon she can be grumpy in her own vehicle and save the rest of us a headache.

In my 7+ months of driving, this is the first time that I’ve requested help in removing someone from my bus. I believe it is a mix of luck and also slowly finding my voice as a bus operator. I’ve had some scary moments in the past—much worse than this—but was afraid to ask for help. Either worried that the person/people would see me calling dispatch and escalate the situation, or thinking that I would be “bugging” dispatch for something that I should be able to handle on my own. My confidence is slowly growing and I’m finally starting to learn from past situations. Sure, the grumpy woman wasn’t a threat to my personal safety, but she was a distraction that could cause safety issues for everyone on the bus.

Once we got back on track (7 minutes down), a young guy came up to me and said that he had recorded her from the moment she became combative. He wanted evidence in case she hit me or went off on someone else. I can’t imagine there being much to his video, but I did appreciate the “back up”. He’s a familiar face that I see around town, as well as so many others. I wouldn’t be able to do my job confidently without the amazing folks who ride. They are an audience that keeps me alert and honest. They are also peers that help me feel safe and not alone.

Finishing out my route was a stressful one. I’ve found that once I get about 8 minutes down on this route, I start picking up my follower’s passengers, which means that I stop at more stops and it takes longer for folks to board and find an available seat. With more people, I also have more drop-off stops. At this point, a bus doesn’t have a chance to make up any time and instead it falls further and further behind.

That’s why you may see “DROP OFF ONLY” signs on buses. It gives us a chance to catch up a bit and put some space between buses. I totally understand that that is NOT something that you want to see as a rider. Your bus is late, and then it just drives right past you, making you wait even longer. It totally sucks. I get it. I’ve gotten the double-bird I don’t know how many times from folks waiting at stops because of this. But I’ve also got a busload of 40 people who need to get to where they are going. A lot of times the follower bus is almost empty (because the late bus has got all their riders), and may just pass up the “DROP OFF ONLY” bus, getting their riders to the destination first. It happens. I’ve been the late bus as well as the nearly empty bus passing up the late bus. It sucks when it affects you. I get it. But we are all doing our best and 97% of the time, being late is completely out of our control.

That doesn’t keep me from feeling guilty about being late. I notice when folks board the bus and they are grumpy with me because I’m 6 minutes late and they had to stand in a shadeless area waiting for me for 6 extra minutes. I notice when folks don’t say “thank you” like they normally do. I can feel the cold shoulders. I also get to watch my break slip away. However many minutes I’m running late is subtracted from my break time. My 17 minute break turns onto an 8 minute break. Just enough time to run to the bathroom that is 2 blocks away and maybe text my boyfriend to ask him how his day was.

So yeah, that first run was a doozy. The rest of the night went pretty smoothly. I got to see some of my regulars who always brighten my day. I love running into folks who I’m used to seeing on a completely different route. It’s like running into a friend at the grocery store. That happened three times tonight. I love that “small town” feeling that I get in this city.

My last run of the night was a fun “UP”. I am the second to the last bus that heads out of town and at about mid-route there are no other buses heading back into town. Anyone who I pick up and take further out would be stranded until 4:30 or so in the morning.

I pulled up to a stop and an inebriated young man walked up and leaned on the side of the door and stated that he didn’t know where he was and wanted to go back to downtown.

Only about 5 minutes earlier had I passed the last bus heading that way. He was basically stranded and drunk in a neighborhood that he wasn’t familiar with.

I weighed my options briefly. I could (1) call dispatch and see what they could offer, but I knew nothing was running in the area at that time, and calling dispatch would make me late. I could (2) say “good luck, buddy” and then worry about him all night, hoping he got home safe, or I could (3), let him hop on my bus, finish my route, and redirect my deadhead back to the garage in a way that could get him closer to home. Of course I picked option 3. He’s safer on a bus than he is wandering on sidewalks that he doesn’t know.

Option 3 is not a standard practice for TriMet, but sometimes they will let us run someone off route on our deadhead to get them home safely. I’ve done it before when a teenager fell asleep on my bus—I drove him the mile back home instead of making him walk at 2 in the morning.

I know, I could argue taxpayer money yadda yadda, but if something went wrong in these situations it could cost us taxpayers a lot more.

So I called dispatch and asked for permission to run this guy home on my deadhead. It was a bit out of the way and I got about 20 minutes of overtime for it (yay!).

When he first got on, he seemed a bit uneasy about it. I was currently traveling the opposite direction he wanted to go. I could hear other passengers offering to look up buses for him. They asked for his address and he gleefully gave it to them.

“Do you have beer in your fridge? We are all headed to your place now!” I hollered out, thinking I was being funny.

The last lady on the bus, who knew that I was going to give this guy a ride back in the other direction, told me to be safe. She seemed worried for my safety, being alone on the bus with this drunk dude. I thanked her. She was very sweet. If she only knew what I had to deal with on a regular basis, maybe she wouldn’t be so worried?

On our off-route deadhead, I got to listen to this guy’s stories about Portland. He grew up here and has taken the bus since he was 6 years old. He reminisced about doing shrooms on the St. John’s Bridge when he was a teenager and riding his bike through town. He was a nice guy who was overly thankful about his “special ride”. He told me with authority that he was going to call the TriMet CEO and make me the Bus Driver of the Year. (Haha, that’s not how it works, but cool.) It was overall a nice twist on the mundane drive back to the garage.

When I let him off I went to high five him and it turned into an awkward over-the-head handshake. I couldn’t expect anymore from this moment. It was pretty fantastic.

Sorry again about the terrible title and my lack of transitions. I had to get this out before I forgot about the night. It was a good day of work. These days are what makes me happy.

The guy who I gave a ride home to asked me what I liked most about my job. I told him, “It’s always an adventure.”

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