Friday, June 12, 2015

Tears for Fares

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.