I know I've fallen down in my intentions to write a new post every Wednesday. It turns out that writing my memoir "High Turnover" is taking a lot more out of me than I had anticipated, and I have nothing left over for this blog. Hopefully that will change soon. Meanwhile, please visit "High Turnover", won't you please?
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
The 5:30 PM run of the route 20 (O-Town to College Town) which I drive one evening a week is a little different than most loops. In general, early morning runs leave each transient center once an hour at ten minutes to the hour. The inbound (to College Town) and outbound (to O-Town) buses pass each other at about the midway point between the two towns. I should point out that the first three runs leaving College Town are like express runs because they go directly from the College Town Park ‘n’ Ride near the freeway to O-Town and bypass the southeast corner of town (where the mall, Walmart and other large shopping centers are located). This is for the benefit of county workers commuting from College Town to the Butt County seat of O-Town so they can get to work on time.
Around nine o’clock the runs drop down to once every two hours. In the afternoon, the departure times switch to ten minutes after the hour (to allow folks to get from work or school to the buses), and again the route 20 buses start running about once an hour. I say “about” because there are buses leaving the College Town Transient Center at 3:50, 4:30, 5:10 and 6:10, to accommodate all the people returning home from work and college.
By contrast, at the O-Town Transient Center, in the afternoon and evening, after the usual ten-after departures, there are buses leaving at 4:00, 5:00, 5:30, 6:10 and 7:10. The 5:00 and 5:30 buses also skip the SE corner of College Town and go directly to the Park ‘n’ Rice (which should be called “Ride ‘n’ Drive” if you’re going home), to complement the early morning expresses. Personally, I’ve never seen the point of this, since those county workers are merely returning home, and it doesn’t matter if they’re a little late, although I love being able to avoid what I’ve dubbed the “mall crawl” during rush hour traffic.
Another thing you need to know to understand the wacky story I’m going to tell is that the transit system has a policy we call “the extra three”. If the bus I’m driving is running late, and someone needs to transfer to another route, I am allowed to ask the driver of the desired route to wait an additional three minutes past their departure time. The only time we are allowed to ask for more than three minutes is if the other run is the last one of the day. Then, the recieving bus must wait as long as necessary (within reason). Of course, this only applies if the two runs in question are actually connecting routes. In other words, the first bus must be scheduled to arrive at or before the departure time of the second bus. For example, if I’m driving a local College Town bus that isn’t scheduled to arrive at the transient center until 6:24 PM, and someone on board wants the last route 20 to O-Town which departs at 6:10 PM, well, that person is just shit out of luck. You probably wouldn’t believe how often that particular scenario comes up.
The 5:30 route 20 out of O-Town is peculiar because it isn’t scheduled to arrive at the College Town Transient Center until 6:14 (despite skipping the mall crawl), so technically it isn’t a connecting bus with any of the buses which pull out at 6:10, even though that is only one minute past “the extra three”. In the case of local routes, it’s not the end of the world if someone misses one of those runs. It may be inconvenient and irritating as hell, but at least there will be another bus an hour later.
Where it gets sticky is in when it comes to the last route 40 to Mountain Town at 6:10. The transit authority is strict in its insistence that the 5:30 inbound route 20 is NOT a connecting run with the last route 40, and I support their decision. There are some drivers who will ignore that rule, but I am (usually) not one of them. I know that sounds harsh, but the transit authority redeems itself (and therefore me) by providing a special route 31 which goes directly from O-Town to Mountain Town once a day at 5:05 PM. There are also ways to work around the lack connection at the transient center and the fact that since the 5:30 20 skips the mall crawl, it has no bus stops in common with the outbound 40. If the passenger is fit enough, they can be dropped at a particular stop at Olive and 8th Street (the westbound one-way street into town), and then they can hustle over one block and back two to the 40 stop at Pine and 9th Street (the eastbound one-way street out of town).
Unfortunately, the typical person who wants to get from O-Town to Mountain Town of an evening isn’t even aware of the existence of the route 31, let alone the obscure fact of the lack of a connection between the 5:30 20 and the 6:10 40. So, about once a week I have to deliver bad news to someone,
or stress about trying to get them to 8th and Olive in time for them to run and catch the 40. A lot of passengers will wait until the last minute to mention their desire for a transfer to the 40, and for that reason I will tend to run a little later than necessary so that by the time they do, the 40 is already long gone. Evil, maybe, but they don’t tend to forget that lesson.
Okay, enough backstory – now to the wackiness. We were on the highway a few miles from College Town on the 5:30 inbound 20 when this very twitchy young man came up from the back of the bus (the preferred choice of all sleazy weasels, scuzzy buzzards and mangy rangers) This guy just could not sit or stand still. He asked if he could catch the route 40. I tried to explain that I didn’t connect with that bus, and of course he began whining and pleading. Finally I told him that I could try to drop him at the aforementioned stop so he could run over and try to catch the 40. He didn’t seem to completely comprehend what I was telling him. That’s the trouble with a lot of druggies and head-cases – you bend over backwards to try to help them, and they fuck it all up anyway because they can’t keep a thought in their head for more than a few seconds.
Against my better judgment, I radioed the driver of the 40 to tell him that I was going to drop a guy at 8th and Olive so could he please give him the extra three at 9th and Pine. He informed me that he was running late enough that I should just go ahead and bring the guy all the way to the Transient Center. I tried to inform my wiggly passenger of this good news, but it just seemed to confuse him more. He kept trying to get out at every bus stop from the Park ‘n’ Ride to the transit center. Finally at one stop he seemed bound and determined to deboard. He said that he was just going to run over one block to the corresponding stop on 9th Street. I told him that the 40 didn’t come down that far. He dumbly repeated, “It doesn’t come down here?” I said, “No, it turns down Pine Street”, which he also had to repeat in stupefaction. I told him very emphatically that if he got out then, he would miss the 40. He decided to stay aboard, but he said, “I don’t trust you, man.” I said, “I’m trying to help you here, buddy.” After a few minutes he seemed to see the sense of this, and apologized. He said he just needed to get to Mountain Town because the doctors up there would give him Ritalin instead of Adderall. He said he didn’t like Adderall because, “I…JUST…CAN’T…MAKE…MY…BODY…HOLD…STILL!” This was said through clenched teeth, which just added to the creep factor.
After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the Transient Center, and I was horrified to see the 40 starting to pull out! I quickly grabbed the radio and called the driver, saying, “Hey Route 40, I thought you said you were going to wait for me!” The 40 did stop, and I was grateful to see the back of Mr. Wiggles.
After that, I determined to just stick to my guns and let wachy people who won’t read a bus schedule take their chances.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
I think I may have missed a Wacky Wednesday. Typical of me to announce a weekly feature, and then drop the ball after a few installments. If you had already been eagerly anticipating last Wednesday's post, I apologize, but I'm betting you weren't. Let's move on.
One blistering summer day, I was driving the route 30 in little Gridlock (the scene of two previous Wacky Wednesdays). As I approached one stop, a man sprang out of some nearby shadows and ran toward the bus. He was a typical-looking homeless psycho/junkie-type – skinny, dirty, bedraggled. This particular specimen was wearing a book backpack backwards on his bare chest. Sticking out of the top of the bag was a puppy. A live puppy, perhaps I should add.
At first I thought I was going to have yet another sketchy “service animal” claim (I'll get into that subject someday, but every time I sit down to write about it, my blood pressure spikes, and I have to go lie down), but then I realized that the animal was essentially in a carrier, so it could come aboard that way.
The real problem, then, was the guy's lack of a shirt. We have a rule that shoes and shirts must be worn while riding the bus, and I consistently enforce that one. After all, would you want to sit in a bus seat if you knew that the previous occupant had been rubbing his sweaty, dirty, greasy, possibly diseased flesh all over it?
A lot of times shirtless people waiting for buses at least have a shirt with them, and will put it on before boarding. I asked the guy if he had a shirt, and he said he didn't. I kind of understand the desire to not wear a shirt if you're walking around outside, but I really can't fathom not having a shirt. There are a lot of places besides buses that won't let you in without a shirt. So I guess if you don't care about being able to access places that the rest of us take for granted, then more power to you, but you're a weirdo.
I told the guy that I was sorry but he couldn't ride without a shirt. He began whining and begging, saying that it was awful hot and he was worried about his dog. I did feel sorry for the poor dog, but I didn't say what I was thinking, which was maybe owner-man should have thought of that before he set out without a shirt, or maybe that he wasn't in a good situation for owning a dog in the first place. Instead I just kept repeating that the answer was no. Eventually he turned away, muttering imprecations, and I shut the door and started to pull away, when suddenly he ran back and started banging frantically on the door. I should have just kept going, but I thought, “Oh, maybe he has a question about when the next bus will be or something”, so I grudgingly stopped and opened the door. He shouted, “Santa's not going to bring you anything nice for Christmas!” and walked away. It was such a bizarre thing to say that I was more amused than angry.
The most common place to find potential bus passengers who don't have a shirt is outside the jail. They got arrested shirtless, and that's how they got released, but they're not riding my bus, even if the county is paying for their fare. Sometimes I wish I had the means to buy a bunch of cheap T-shirts so ugly or embarrassing that no one would normally wear one - maybe in a nice, bright shade of pink. I'd then have something printed on them like “I tried to ride the bus without a shirt”. I'd carry a couple of these with me everyday, and offer them to the occasional shirtless fools as an alternative to walking, just to see what they choose. I know – I'm an asshole.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
Getting back to the notion that “the only stupid question is the one you don't ask”, I can offer a couple of shining examples of that.
Over the course of this job, I've learned that you have to be very careful in how you phrase things with the bus riding public in order to avoid misunderstandings. And I'm not a garrulous (or even a particularly friendly) person, so I try to minimize how much conversation I engage in with passengers, but I've also learned that it's necessary to be a little proactive so people don't become upset because they missed a connecting bus because they didn't tell you they wanted it. For example, If I know I'm going to be arriving a little late at the transient center, I ask the people on board if they need to transfer to another route. Then I can call the drivers of those routes on the radio and ask for “the extra three” (minutes).
But there is another type of stupid/unasked question that comes up occasionally, and one which I've been slow to develop a method to counter. Normally, when someone asks if my bus goes to a specific destination, I assume they know where that place is. If they don't they'll usually ask something like, “Can you let me know when we get there?” I'm willing to do this, but it makes me a little nervous. I have a lot on my mind when I'm operating a bus, and sometimes I forget their request, but usually I'm pretty good at remembering. Much less frequently, however, people ask about a destination without knowing where it is, and then apparently think that I'll remember that they asked about it and will tell them when we get there, and then get upset when they miss their stop. I must have been sick the day of training when they taught us how to read minds.
One time, a strung-out looking couple consisting of a white woman and a black man boarded an O-Town route I was driving. Normally I don't mention race if it's not germane to the story, but it definitely is in this case, so don't get up in arms. They asked me if my bus stopped at the Jiffy Mart, a gas station/convenience store, and I told them it did. That Jiffy Mart is a popular stop, not necessarily for any charms of the store itself, but just as a handy landmark. At the risk of sounding classist, it's in a poor neighborhood, with several trailer parks nearby, so a lot of dodgy looking people get on and off there for the purpose of illicit assignations.
When we got to the Jiffy Mart, several people disembarked, and several more got on. I was busy with the boarding passengers, so I paid no attention to whether the couple had gotten off - I just assumed they had. Yes, I know the old saying about how “when we assume we make an ass out of 'u' and 'me'”, but it was a reasonable assumption. A ways down the road, here comes the couple shuffling up towards the front of the bus. They asked when we were going to get to the Jiffy Mart. I told them we had already been there – stopped and everything. They were upset and said they didn't know. It's possible they had fallen asleep and missed it. It's amazing how quickly some people pass out as soon as their butts hit a bus seat. Even if they had been awake, I couldn't comprehend how they could have missed it – it has a huge sign that says “JIFFY MART”.
I stopped to let them out so they could walk back to the Jiffy Mart. When they asked how far away it was, I knew that they hadn't known to begin with where they were going. I knew we were now a full mile from the store, but I didn't want them any more upset than they already were, so I lied and said it was about half a mile. I can't recall if I told them if they had just asked me where it was when we set out, they would have had a more successful outcome.
As the man was getting out of the bus, he said, “I know you're racist, too, bus driver.” I was rather offended, because I'm not, but I was more confused by the statement. By “too”, did he mean that I was racist like so many other white people, or that I was racist in addition to my many other faults?
In the other example of this type of intelligence-challenged interrogative, I was driving the infamous route 20 from College Town to O-Town on a Sunday. On weekends, the route 20 is a little different from weekdays. The local O-Town routes don't operate on the weekends, so the 20 attempts to fill that gap by adding an extra loop from the O-Town transient center to the Walmart and back to the OTC before leaving for College Town. It's a huge pain in the ass for us drivers, because it means we don't get any kind of layover in O-Town, even if we're running on time, which we usually aren't on weekends.
As we were approaching the OTC, a woman (surprise, surprise, a strung-out looking woman) came up and asked me if my bus went to Walmart. If it had been a weekday, I would have told her that she would need to transfer to the route 25 to continue to Walmart, but since it was Sunday I simply said “yes”. She seemed happy with this answer and went back and sat down.
We got to Walmart, and several people got off and on. I then returned to the OTC, and then got under way back to College Town. And here comes that same strung out looking woman asking when we were going to get to Walmart! I of course told her we had already been there. She wanted to know why I hadn't told her. I said, “Because you didn't ask.” She started to go on about how she wasn't familiar with the area, and her friend was waiting for her there, and blah blah blah. Apparently she and/or her friend didn't have a cell phone, or maybe the friend didn't have a car. This really sounded like I had disrupted a planned drug deal.
I tried to explain that if she had simply asked me to tell her when we got to Walmart, I could have helped her, but she couldn't seem to see the sense of this. The Walmart was visible from the stop, so if she had been paying attention, she probably would have seen it.
I let her out at the next stop, which was now the closest I could get to her destination. This time I told the truth about how far she'd have to walk (two miles). Then I had to tell her how to get there. As she walked away, she said, “I don't know this area. I'm from San Diego!” Yeah, I got that she was a stranger in town, but I don't know how where exactly she was from mattered.
That second incident made me more wary when a person I don't know asks me about a named destination, but I haven't quite hit upon the best way to suss out whether they know where that is without sounding weird or dumb. Yesterday yet another strung-out looking woman in College Town said she needed to go to Bob's Tires, which is sort of like the Jiffy Mart in that it is near an extremely sketchy trailer park, and so a handy landmark for sketchy people seeking other sketchy people. I told her there was a stop right in front of it. Then I thought for about it for a second, and asked her, “Do you know where it is?”. She said, “Yes”, then after a pause she added, “Do you know?” I answered in the affirmative, but I didn't bother explaining why I had asked. So I need to work on that one.
It shits me that I'm obliged to have to drag information out of people like this, but it seems to be a necessary evil of my job, and it shouldn't have to be. After all, our buses have electronic signs inside that show what the next stop will be. Because I can't see the sign while I'm driving, I don't know if ours says “Walmart” or just the names of the streets intersecting by that stop on the weekend route 20.
Of course, those signs are of no use to the blind (ooh, sorry, I meant “visually impaired”) and illiterate, so we also have a recorded voice that announces certain stops. If you're deaf and blind, you're just shit out of luck, I guess. It used to announce every stop, but some whiny drivers complained, so they dialed it back to only announcing time stops and popular destinations (when it's working). In the case of the weekend 20, I'm pretty sure that the announcement says the name of the intersection, but I can't recall if it says “Walmart” as well.
I suppose I could eliminate all doubt by calling out all the stops all the time, and I would but I'm afraid of developing polyps on my throat. Besides, there will always be people who don't speak English, or have ear buds in, or just wouldn't hear me for whatever reason, so what's the point? And where does it end? What if I said, “Next stop, “College Town Mall, Pier One, Target” but forgot to say “Toys Я Us”? Could someone sue the transit authority because they weren't afforded the opportunity to buy their child the latest iteration of an Elmo doll? Okay, yeah, that's silly.
I know it's just wishful thinking to want people to ask about what they don't know instead of waiting for the driver to provide all the answers, but a boy can dream, can't he?
A new "Wacky Wednesday" coming out next week (October 7). Sorry about missing last week.
A new "Wacky Wednesday" coming out next week (October 7). Sorry about missing last week.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
College Town has two sets of numbered thoroughfares – with “Street” or “Avenue” after the numerals. There are 23 numbered streets starting in the central business district and getting higher in number as you go south. “The Avenues”, as the neighborhood is locally known, begin a few blocks north of downtown and increase in number as you go north, and there are a total of twelve of them. There is room for a 13th one, but it has a name instead of a number. There is a myth that the town planners were superstitious – which doesn't explain why there is a 13th Street. Maybe different rules apply for businesses and residences.
Cutting proudly through these avenues is the jewel in the College Town network of streets, which we shall call “The Promenade”, because that name is an almost exact synonym for its actual name. The other afternoon I was driving up The Promenade when two teenagers got on across the street from College Town High School, which is a couple of blocks south of 1st Avenue.
The distaff half of the pair asked me if there was a bus stop at 8th Avenue. I told her there was one at 7th and another at 9th. She said, “Which one is closer to 8th?”
I looked at her for a moment, to see if she was serious. Apparently she was, so I said, “Well, 8 is between 7 and 9, so I guess it's up to you which one you want.” They opted for the one at 7th.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
This is just a quick tale of wackiness for your Wednesday. Immediately after the intersection detailed in last week's post, there is a bus stop. When I finally got through that dreadful incident, two teenage boys tried to board my bus. The first one was holding a debit card, which he began thrusting at every likely looking slot and hole on the fare machine.
I stopped his aimless actions and told him that we didn't take such cards. He looked quite crestfallen, and said that the card was all he had. I said, “Well, I'm sorry, then you can't ride.” He and his friend shuffled away with their heads hung low.
I have heard that some transit systems do accept fares from debit cards, but ours does not. I've had passengers ask if we do, which is a legitimate question. The important word in that sentence, however, is “ask”. At least they asked. They didn't just start flailing away at the machine with their bit of plastic.
Most of my riders on that route are regulars, and I had never seen this lad before, so he may have been new to the area. His behavior seemed to suggest that he was perhaps familiar with another transit system which did accept debit cards. Okay, fair enough. But if that were the case, and you went to a new system with unfamiliar fare machines, wouldn't you at least ask how to use the card on that machine?
Whether he was new to area, or only to this bus system, he was just a silly teenager, and probably a stoned one at that. That may not qualify as wacky, but coming so close upon the heels of the tweeker intersection, it was definitely a one-two punch of dumbfuckery.
Monday, September 14, 2015
There is a popular saying, often heard in academic settings, which goes something like this: “The only stupid question is the one you don't ask.”
That may sound trite, but there is truth to it. If you're too afraid to ask a question for fear of looking dumb, then you choose to live in ignorance, and that is a stupid choice.
I talked about this once on my defunct podcast, but I'll quickly reiterate it here. Ignorance is a harsh sounding word, but it basically means “not knowing”. Stupidity is a lack of common sense or good judgment. For example, I don't know anything about nuclear physics. That doesn't mean I'm stupid, it just means I'm ignorant on that topic. However, if I were to attempt to build or operate a nuclear power plant without knowing what I was doing, well, that would be stupid.
However, I don't agree that there are no stupid questions. I know I'm a bit of a cranky old bastard, but I think that if you can't ask a question in such a way to get the information you seek, then that's a stupid question.
Let me give you an example: “Where does this bus go?” I hear this particular question on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, especially at the beginning of each university academic year, when hundreds of new people flood into College Town. It quickly became my least-favorite question of all time.
You might be thinking that this isn't a stupid question. After all, people need to know if they are getting aboard the correct bus for where they want to go. And I'm ignoring the scores of people who won't bother to read the bus schedule before hand, or even lift their heads to read the head sign on the bus.
So why is this a stupid question? Have you ever known a bus that only went to one place? The question makes a certain crude sense in the question of the regional routes. If I'm driving the Route 20, which goes only between O-Town and College Town, and I'm sitting at the College Town Transient Center and someone asks me “Where does this bus go”, I can simply answer “O-Town”. This is leaving out the likelihood that the person probably wants to go to a specific place in O-Town, but that brings us to the real reason this question bugs me.
Take the case of the Routes 14/17 (they're the same route, but in opposite directions) in College Town, which serve such diverse and popular destinations as the Jesus Center, the state employment/county welfare office, and several shopping centers, including the ever popular College Town Mall. If I were to take the “Where does this bus go?” question literally, I would have to start listing all the stops. Obviously, this would be time consuming and way more information than anyone needs.
I realized early on that most people asking where a bus goes usually had a certain place in mind, but attempts on my part to guess which one always ended in failure. If I judgmentally assumed that a teenager wanted to know if the 14/17 went to the mall, and I said that, then 9 times out of 10 they would say something like, “Oh, so you don't go to FoodMaxx?”, which I also do. There was another side to that coin – sometimes people would use something like “the mall” as a landmark for the general area they were interested in. I could answer yes to this question, but it sometimes backfired because there was another route that would have gotten them closer to where they really wanted to go.
I quickly realized that the best response to the question “Where does this bus go?” was to say, “Where are you trying to go?” Almost invariably, they had a specific place in mind, and I could then tell them whether or not I went there. I say, “almost invariably”, because one time that question didn't work. A teenage girl asked the infamous question, but when I asked my usual follow-up question, she just laughed one of those weird little simpering laughs so common with the species, and repeated her original question. I blinked a couple of times in stupefaction, then I said, “Well, that's kind of a long list. If you could tell me where you want to go, I can tell you if I go there or not.”
I finally got it out of her. Can you guess where she wanted to go? Yep. The mall. If she had just asked that in the first place, we could have saved about half a minute of useless back and forth. I couldn't understand why she seemed so resistant to answering my simple question. Was she afraid I was some sort of creeper who wanted to follow her for nefarious purposes?
In conclusion, the reason “Where does this bus go?” is a stupid question is because it's not very useful for getting the information you need. If you know where you want to go, why not just ask that, and save you and the driver some time and effort? Is that so hard?
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Since my current position as a public transit bus driver is my 82nd job, I've been meaning to try to update this blog more often, mostly as a companion project for my memoir High Turnover: 82 Jobs in 35 Years. I've been so busy writing High Turnover, however, that I've been neglecting this one.
So, I've decided to start a new feature here called “Wacky Wednesday”, to come out...you guessed it...every Wednesday. The reason I chose that day and title is because of a curious phenomenon I've noted amongst the bus riding public which I've dubbed...oh, you're good...Wacky Wednesday.
A lot of my passengers are on various forms of public assistance, and the bulk of their benefit payments happen around the first of the month. There are state and county-level payments like food stamps and “welfare”, but the real biggies are at the national level. The Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is basically for people who can't work for whatever reason (think “young and crazy”) but who haven't earned enough work credits to qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD), whom for short-hand you can just think of as “old people”. I may have that a little wrong; if you want to fact check me, you can learn more here.
I've always basically understood that the crazies get their money on the first of each month, and the old folks get theirs on the third. Of course, if those days should fall upon a weekend or a national holiday, then they get their payments on a business day immediately before the usual date.
So the first few days of every month are always incredibly busy for public transit. After all, people need to get out and get stuff done when they have money – that's understandable. Some of them will have problems like senility and mental illness that make them harder to deal with, but basically they're just trying to take care of business. Unfortunately, there's also a certain segment of that population – usually from the SSI recipients – who just want to drink, take drugs and have fun. Apparently riding the bus is part of that fun. If they can blow shit at the bus driver at the same time, then they've just upped their fun level to over 9000.
In short, the first week of every month is usually fucking Hell, then things settle back to their normal hellish routine. However, after I'd been at this current job for a while, I noticed a spike in crazy behavior around the middle of each week. I began to think of this time as Wacky Wednesday. I was curious about the cause of this, so I did a little research and found this handy chart.
My guess is that the SSA decided that paying everybody on the first and third was just too cumbersome, or maybe it was having too big an impact on the rest of society. After all, buses can only hold so many gibbering lunatics. If I'm reading this chart correctly, if you entered either program after May 1997 (and if you're not somehow on both programs simultaneously), then you will receive your payments on the second, third or fourth Wednesday of each month. This explained Wacky Wednesdays (WW). That 1997 date also explains why there was no WW the last time I drove public transit back in the early '90s.
That 2nd, 3rd and 4th Wednesday payment schedule has also made me very grateful for those rare months that have five Wednesdays. However, that brief respite is tempered by another phenomenon which I've yet to fully comprehend. In the last few days of each month, there is a subtle but discernible upswing in wacky behavior. I call it “ramping up towards the first”.
I have a few hypotheses as to why this could be: 1) some of the more stable wackos (yes, there are such people) may be able to get monetary loans from friends, relatives, designated payees or even payday loan establishments against their impending benefit pay date; 2) some of the less stable wackos (junkies) are probably able to get “fronted” drugs by a friendly dealer against their upcoming payday. Of course, I could be wrong about either of these ideas, but they make sense to me. I can't think of any other reason that people who shouldn't have money or drugs seem so active prior to payday. There is a third factor at work, I believe; sometimes the more desperate junkies are out hustling to find some – any – means of procuring their favorite substances. Those types are often the most edgy and potentially dangerous. In short, there isn't a week without some surge in wacky behaviour.
That was a long way round to explaining the meaning of “Wacky Wednesday”. What it means for this blog is that I will try to publish a tale of wackiness every Wednesday. I can't guarantee that a particular incident actually happened on a Wednesday, but it will definitely be wacky. The one or two listeners of my abandoned podcast “Raise the Thunderbeam!” always seem eager to hear more stories about the crazy people who ride the bus, and I hope this will satisfy their and your morbid curiosity.
So, without further ado, a tale wackiness for this inaugural Wednesday:
This wasn't actually a case of wackiness on the part of a bus passenger. It was just something I witnessed from my bus, but which had a direct impact upon my operation of said bus. In fact, it was one of the most egregious examples of dumbfuckery I have ever seen.
I was in the small town of Gridlock, sitting at a red light on the state highway which passes through it, waiting to make a left turn onto a major side street. I was the third vehicle in line at the light. This is probably the busiest intersection in the whole town, and the traffic light can take a long time to change. There were two tweekers standing on the corner to my left, waiting to cross the highway I was on. It was unusual to even see tweekers in Gridlock – most of the population of the town is comprised of hardworking Mexican farm laborers, and conservative white farm owners. But here were two members of the species in all their glory – skinny, white, no shirts, more tattoos than functioning brain cells and goofy-looking bicycles.
Just as the green left-turn arrow came on to allow me and my lane companions to enter the intersection, these two fuckwits suddenly jumped out into the crosswalk and started walk-riding their bikes across the four lane road. It was almost as if they were waiting for MY left turn arrow to start their street crossing journey. Maybe they were so high they couldn't understand what the various colors of traffic lights mean. Or perhaps they just didn't care one way or the other what the lights were doing. But if that were the case, why did they wait until that particular moment to make their move? Maybe it was just Opposite Day. The first vehicle in the left turn lane managed to get through before the tweeks got in its way, but the pickup in front of me had no choice but to stop so as not to hit the idiots.
The real problem was that this intersection was the kind where the left turn lights are staggered rather than at the same time. In other words, the traffic on my right was going forward with their light while we left-turners were trying to go. I was momentarily afraid that the tweeks hadn't perceived this danger (the pickup was large and had a camper shell, effectively blocking their view), and were about to blunder in front of speeding traffic. Then I had the rather evil thought, “Eh, would that be such a bad thing?”, because I was furious, but powerless to do anything. If I had been at the head of the line, I probably would have leaned on my horn (and maybe added some hand gestures as well), but to have done so from second in line I would have been catching the innocent pickup driver in the crossfire.
Then the tweeks saw the moving traffic, and they stopped in front of the pickup. Incredibly, rather than retreating, they generously waved the other traffic on – while standing in front of the poor pickup. Either a gap in traffic appeared which allowed the meth heads time to finish their crossing, or the on-coming drivers wisely decided to stop in case these morons launched themselves in front of them. I could just imagine what must have been going on in the cab of that pickup – possibly murderous rage, certainly some sort of gesturing, likely a few choice words – but amazingly, there was no horn blowing. Maybe its horn didn't work.
As you can probably guess, this bizarre behavior cost me and the pickup our turn at the light, and we had to wait through another long cycle. I was already running late, and now I was that much later, thanks to some chemical wackiness.
Next week's post features another as-yet unparralled example of dumbfuckery, which happened just moments after I got clear of that tweekeriffic intersection. See you then.
Friday, June 12, 2015
Sorry I haven't posted in a bit, but I'm working on a new project, and I thought it might be a good idea to revive this blog, as it is closely related to my new project.
I have a new blog, called HighTurnover: 80 Jobs in 35 Years. There is a permanent image-link to it in the sidebar of this blog. I'm hoping someday to turn it into a book (remember those?). It is a sort of memoir chronicling my convoluted and highly prolific (if not profitable) work history. As the title suggests, between the ages of 15 and 50, I acquired and lost 79 separate jobs. My current one, which this blog is about, is holding steady at number 80. If you would like to know more about why I've had so damned many jobs, please stop on by. I try to update it once a week. As a tie-in, I'm going to try to post to this blog more frequently, regaling you with tales of my work-a-day life, lashed to the steering wheel of public transportation, dealing with extreme personalities.
I recently had an experience which seems perfect for this renewal of the exploration of this theme. Read on...
The other day I reduced a grown man to tears. I'm talking about racking, small-child-quality protracted sobbing and wailing. I didn't mean to; it just sort of happened. Here's how.
It seems like it's always the small acts of kindness that I end up regretting – they often lead to more trouble down the road. In this case, I was just about to pull away on time on an afternoon run from the College Town Transient Center for a trip to O-Town on the infamous Route 20. Before I could leave the curb, however, I saw a bedraggled character shuffling toward me, waving his hand. He was probably only somewhere in his 50s, but a life of hard living had made him look and move like a considerably older person. His pants were drooping around his hips – not because he was a gangsta, but due to his knocked-kneed gait and general lack of attention to sartorial details.
Against my better judgment, I waited for him. Technically, I would have been within my rights to have left him behind. The buses have designated departure times, which are well-publicized. All the people already aboard the bus had managed to be there prior to pull-out. Now, it's possible that a passenger can be delayed through no fault of their own, such as by being aboard a connecting bus that is running late. I don't think that was the case with this gentleman. All the other buses due at that time were present, and I had called out for transfers via the radio before departing.
But I decided to be a nice guy and wait. He climbed aboard and ran a 30 day pass through the fare machine. He was kind of chuckling to himself the whole time. I wrote him off as either crazy, drunk or high, or – as often happens – a combination of two or more of those possibilities.
All the other buses were pulling out at the same time. For a little ways, I was being trailed by both the Route 41 (Mongolia) and the new (since I last posted to this blog) Route 14, which, along with Route 17, replaced the defective Route 15S).
One of the disadvantages of being the driver is that my view of what's going on behind me in the bus is limited. I don't always have the luxury of being able to turn around and see what is going on or who is speaking to me, especially when the bus is moving. This is especially true depending upon the configuration of the bus. Some have a large bulk head behind the driver which effectively blocks our vision even if we do turn around. So I have to rely upon the interior mirrors, but they don't show me every far-flung nook and cranny of the interior space.
I mention this because shortly after we started rolling, some unseen male asked me if the Route 14 was behind us. I said it was indeed one of the buses behind us, to which he replied that he needed to get on that bus. I asked, “Why did you get on this bus, then?”, to which he had no response. I started to pull over at the next stop to let whoever he was off so he could transfer, but when I asked who wanted the 14, no one responded. So I moved on. I never did find out who that particular weirdo was. I suspected it was the shuffling chuckler, but I'll never know for sure.
We made it to O-Town without further incident. As I was turning onto County Center Drive (which is home to such popular destinations as the probation department, the jail and the courthouse), the chuckler said that he wanted the courthouse stop, which was a little unusual as it was about 4:30 in the afternoon – generally too late for most folks to be conducting business there. I slowly passed the first stop (probation), but no one rang the bell, which didn't surprise me, because of the aforementioned lateness of the hour. Chuckles thought I was stopping, so he said “Top of the hill, sir”. I told him that I knew where the courthouse was. Yes, that was unnecessary of me. So sue me.
As Chuckles was getting out, he asked me when I was coming back around. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what he asked. If it wasn't, that may have contributed to the later difficulties. As it was, I told him what time I would next be back to that stop. He seemed satisfied with my answer and went on his way.
Approximately half an hour later, I was back at the courthouse stop on my way back to College Town. As I expected, Chuckles was waiting, along with several other people. Now, on that particular run, my “inbound” (to College Town) 20 runs very close in time to the “outbound” (to O-Town) 20 on County Center Drive. When I see unfamiliar faces waiting for the bus, I ask them if they are indeed College Town-bound. Doing so helps to eliminate those unhappy circumstances when someone who was intending to head further into O-Town inadvertently boards the wrong bus and doesn't realize their mistake until we're on the freeway, where it is then too late to let them off and they have no choice but to go all the way to College Town (and hopefully then back to O-Town, unless it happens to be the last inbound run of the day, which would suck much).
I didn't bother to ask Chuckles if he was going back to College Town, because our earlier conversation had apparently established that fact. Chuckles ran his 30 day pass and said, “I'm going to need a transfer to the city buses.” I reminded him that he didn't need a transfer pass with a 30 day – all he had to do was run it on the bus he was transferring too. He grunted in seeming affirmation and shuffled back to a seat.
All hell broke loose when we got onto the freeway. Chuckles suddenly began screaming that he needed to get off. We all were quickly informed that he couldn't go back to College Town because he was on parole and needed to check into the O-Town rescue mission by some certain time (which he said was either 5 or 5:30 – I can't remember which, but he was already too late for 5 and probably wouldn't have made it by 5:30 even if he had gotten on the right bus).
I had to raise my voice to make myself heard over his hollering. By now he had made his way up to the front of the bus, but the yelling continued. I told him that I was sorry, but I couldn't let him out on the freeway. He disagreed with this. The terms “bullshit” and “fuck you” were hurled in my direction. He kept insisting I let him out. I told him that if he didn't calm down I'd have the police remove him. He said something to the effect that I should go ahead and call them. I asked, “Why, what are you going to do?” - you know, just to see if he was planning something drastic.
I told him he needed to have been more careful what bus he was getting on. I reminded him that the destination signs on the front and side of the bus said “College Town”, and that I was the same driver who had brought him from College Town. That's when he dropped this bomb: “You lied to me. You said this bus was going downtown!”. This flabbergasted me. I had said no such thing (at least not intentionally). What incentive would I have for lying to him?
When I was able to think calmly about it later, it occurred to me that when he had gotten off my bus earlier, he may not have said, “When do you come back around/”, but maybe something like, “When do you go downtown?”. So my saying “about 5:10” may have sounded like an answer to that second possible question. In which case, this was a simple misunderstanding, but hardly a “lie” on my part.
At the moment, however, I wasn't calm. I didn't comport myself as well as I would have liked. A fair amount of the shouting going on was on my part. It must have been terrifically uncomfortable for all the other passengers.
Chuckles eventually retook his seat. And then the sobbing started. He was going on in a loud caterwaul about how he was going to go back to jail for violating his parole. And it was all because I had lied to him about the bus going downtown. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't put him out on the side of the freeway. I called dispatch on the radio and asked for either a road supervisor or the police to meet me at the first stop in College Town because of an unruly passenger. I suppose I could have stopped on the side of the freeway and called and waited, but I saw no reason to make everyone else on the bus late because of this one miscreant.
When Chuckles/Wails heard me calling for the police, the wailing just got worse. Now he thought he was going to have some kind of additional charge filed against him. I began to feel sorry for the guy. It was obvious his mind didn't function properly. I had only asked for the PD as an alternative because I couldn't always count on there being a road supervisor available.
I don't know how the police feel about having to come out and remove disruptive passengers. I had only had to call them once before for a couple of a-holes who wouldn't get off the bus after I told them to because they were yelling at another passenger. They stubbornly chose to wait for the police to arrive because they felt they had done nothing wrong. Usually the threat of the police is enough to get the occasional reprobate off the bus. I have no idea what transpired after the police removed them. Certainly they hadn't committed any crime, but it seems like the police, no doubt irritated at having to come out for something so silly, would want to try to make it worth their time by running their IDs for out-standing warrants or search them for things they shouldn't have. But I don't really know.
With that experience in mind, I took pity on Chuckles/Wails. I told him that if he would calmly get off at the first stop, then I would cancel the police. He agreed. I didn't think he looked capable of being devious, so I called dispatch and told them the situation was under control. As it was, the road supervisor on duty was waiting for us at that stop. He spoke briefly with Chuckles/Wails, and that was that. I told C/W I was sorry I had yelled, and that maybe we had a misunderstanding, and that I had no reason to lie to him. He mumbled “Thank you, sir” and shuffled off into the sunset.
I've mentioned it on my defunct “Raise the Thunderbeam” podcast (still available on Spreaker, if you're curious), but I don't think I have previously written in these pages of an unfortunate after-effect of these stressful encounters with irate passengers. A minute or two after the initial conflict, it feels like my lower back muscles seize up. It actually might be the relaxing of the muscles after tensing up for “fight or flight”, or perhaps some side effect of adrenaline. I don't really know, but the pain is excruciating. It feels like my spine is being crushed. I feel like a victim of Vincent Price's “the Tingler”. Unfortunately, it usually happens while I'm still driving. This is not an ideal condition in which to be operating a large vehicle. To be really safe, I should probably pull over till it passes, but I'm embarrassed to have to tell the passengers why I'm stopping. Plus, it might incite further attacks from the person who caused the trouble in the first place (if they're still on board).
After four and a half years on this job, it still happens, only not as often. Smaller conflicts no longer cause it, but big ones like Chuckles/Wails incited still do. So I guess I need to learn a different way to deal with such situations – like avoiding getting into yelling matches with passengers. Or not waiting for people who are late for the bus.