Sunday, October 4, 2015

More Stupid Questions

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.

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