Sunday, January 31, 2021
|"Welcome aboard! Excuse me while I close this door between me and you."|
This follow-up to the saga of that rotten Saturday should be short and sour. It's actually not funny at all, even though this purports to be a comedy blog, but I feel compelled to share it because, well...I'm compulsive -- and obsessive. Also, I said I would, and I'm too lazy to go back and remove mentions of this promised third part from the previous two posts. Besides, maybe some of you are still interested in hearing about it. Right? Yeah, let's go with that.
There is another recurring passenger who haunts the line 75, a female version of Little Leon. I'll call her "Sheon". Sheon is homeless and mentally ill, and likely also on drugs, probably meth. She is filthy and very skinny, and also unhealthy-looking, as one might expect. She never pays for fare, instead mumbling some excuse as she skitters, spider-like, to a seat. She can't sit still, nor keep her mouth shut. She almost always starts trouble, such as berating other passengers. I had previously been forced to ask her to get off my bus.
Some weeks, or maybe a couple of months, after the THNGVB Saturday, I was again driving the line 75, and had the misfortune of picking up Sheon. She bypassed the fare box, but took a mask from the dispenser that all buses and trains now have, and even put it on her face. Sadly, she kept pulling the mask away from her mouth in order to speak, which was constantly. Another female passenger asked her to keep her mask on. Sheon began yelling at the other woman. I tried to intercede via my public address microphone, asking for calm, and reminding Sheon that masks must be worn while riding the bus, like all the signage and the recorded announcements say.
Now this may sound totally insane, but we TriMet drivers are not given any authority to enforce the mask "rule". Neither is there anyone with such authority riding buses or trains. There are such people, but I have no idea what they do with their well-compensated time. I used sarcastic quotation marks because what good is a rule if it is not enforced? The most we can do is ask a passenger to wear a mask, and if they won't comply, we can press a special button (that was installed shortly after the pandemic started) on our MDT touch screens which sends a canned text message to the effect of "mask non-compliance". This isn't like pressing the silent alarm during a bank robbery -- doughty warriors in Tyvek suits aren't going to rappel from a hovering helicopter and remove the potential Patient Zero from the bus. I'm sure all the button does is record location and time for statistical purposes, much like our useless "Fare Evasion" and "Near Miss" ("almost accident", not "proximity of a comely maiden") buttons. I suppose if the "No Mask" button is pressed enough times at the same place and time, a supervisor might deign to investigate and hopefully address the situation.
Meanwhile, the interaction between Sheon and the irate passenger was getting out of hand. I could no longer safely operate the bus under these conditions. For good or ill, I arrived at the lovely Hollywood Transit Center at this point. I secured the bus, and told Sheon that she was going to have to leave. Of course, she refused. I had no choice but to put in a request to dispatch for help in getting her off my bus.
True fact about me: I'm a slow learner. I hadn't gleaned any wisdom from the errors I had made in dealing with Leon on the THNGVBS. When dispatch contacted me via radio, I once again made the mistake of listing all of Sheon's offenses: fare evasion, mask non-compliance, use of abusive language, and harassment of another passenger. Eight years of working for another transit system that actually gave a damn about those things had ruined me for working at TriMet.
As dispatchers seem wont do, this one focused on one of the less-important issues, such as fare evasion or language, so I was getting nowhere, slowly. While I was on the radio, Sheon came up beside my seat and was jabbering something at me. Our newest buses came from the factory with little barrier doors with a sliding window between the driver and the rest of the bus. It's far from being a totally enclosed compartment, like I've seen in other bus systems, but it provides some level of protection from angry passengers. The buses with these doors had been ordered before the pandemic as a means of reducing assaults upon drivers, and plans were made to eventually retrofit them on older buses. However, after COVID came around, TriMet realized the barriers were also useful for slowing the spread of the virus, so they attempted to speed up their order for more doors. Unfortunately, pretty much every transit system in America was doing the same thing, so it took awhile to receive the doors. I'll bet the makers of those doors are now sitting on huge piles of cash, Joker-style, and raising glasses of expensive champagne in toast to the pandemic.
I tried to tell Sheon that the main reason I wanted her off my bus was because she was repeatedly refusing to keep her mask in place. It was then that she stuck her hideous face around the barrier and coughed directly at me. I was so angry that I slammed the handset of the radio back into its cradle. This startled her, and she jumped out, yelling, "You're not going to hit me!" I wasn't planning to hit her, even though I wanted to. I seized upon this opportunity and shut the door as quickly as I could. Now she was off my bus! Yay! I called dispatch and let them know the problematic passenger had deboarded and their "help" was no longer needed.
Boy, was I wrong. She may have been off the bus, but she wasn't done with me yet. Much like that previous weirdo at the Hollywood Transit Center on the THNGVBS, she got in front of the bus, preventing me from moving. She also put down the empty bike rack on the front of the bus. This seems to be a popular tactic with angry, crazy people. She then would feint like she was moving aside, then get back in front of my bus as I attempted to try to resume my route. She kept this up for the same couple of blocks as the idiot from earlier. I couldn't believe that a near identical incident was happening twice in the exact same place. I tried contacting dispatch again, which is not easy while driving. Eventually she got out of the way, and I was able to leave.
Probably my biggest mistake that day was not immediately reporting to dispatch that Sheon had deliberately coughed at me. If I had, I could have gotten TriMet to pay for me to get tested for COVID. That probably would have been the responsible thing to do, considering the risk to myself and others. Since Sheon is known to the transit authority, some contact tracing could probably have been done if I had tested positive. I was just too upset to think straight. Actually, I was very tempted to quit on the spot. Who needs such shit -- risking your life and health transporting hostile, ungrateful, potentially dangerous people? But a cooler, or perhaps stupider, head prevailed.
I did complain to a manager about what had happened, after I had fumed about it for a couple of days. I was tempted to try to file a police report and maybe charge Sheon with assault. Perhaps that way she could be forced to be tested for the virus. But by then there wasn't much my wonderful employers were able, or willing, to do for me, other than to offer to test me for 'rona. Perhaps irresponsibly, I declined. I was feeling defeated. Obviously, time has shown that I didn't contract the disease.
I did some checking on my own, and I found out that purposefully coughing at someone and putting them in fear and at risk of infection is only considered assault if the assailant already KNOWS they are infectious. Sheon apparently wasn't infectious, or if she was, I escaped unscathed. Even if she had been infected, she might not have known it, which still makes her antagonistic action just as reprehensible.
It's absolutely disgusting to me that there are people who are willing to weaponize their sputum during a pandemic. In the case of Sheon, she probably doesn't have much control over her actions, but I have seen videos of otherwise sane people who are just stupid assholes coughing and spitting at hapless employees who have asked them to do the simple courtesy of wearing a bit of fabric over their gross gobs and snouts.
I did learn one thing from all this: like cops, don't talk to dispatchers. I haven't had to since that day, but if I ever again have to contact dispatch about a trouble-making passenger, I will stick to one relevant issue, and leave out any other offenses the passenger may have committed, so the dispatcher can't chose some lesser evil to ignore.
I also haven't seen Sheon since that day. Like the old woman who swallowed a fly, perhaps she died. I don't wish that on her, but, "she who lives by the sword", amiright? If she did die of the 'rona, and she had it that day, perhaps my mask saved me, so my getting tested wouldn't have changed anything, but it augers ill for anyone else who was in close proximity to her. It's scary to contemplate, and doing so for too long really makes me question my choice of careers. I can't wait for retirement. I hope I live that long.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Well, I'd better try to get the actual events of that dreadful Saturday down on paper before I forget anything else.
As I mentioned previously, the route 75 was one of the first routes I drove when I started at TriMet. I drove it three work days a week, and I'll admit I had gotten pretty tired of it. I had an early morning commuter run. It was very busy, and I had a hard time keeping the run on schedule. Therefore I had lots of grumpy-ass passengers who usually expressed their displeasure at my tardiness by glaring at me and not acknowledging my greetings. Some actually expressed their displeasure verbally, usually by helpfully observing, "Running a little late, huh?"
If I hadn't mentioned before, we drivers get a chance to change our schedules every three months by bidding on work we want. Being low on the seniority totem pole, I often get stuck with runs I'd rather not have had. A few "sign-up" periods in, I once again got a 75, but only on a Saturday. I had begun to think of weekend runs as being a little more relaxed than their weekday counterparts. You don't get as many commuters, and there's a little less traffic to contend with. This was the first Saturday of the new sign-up, and I had high hopes for a better experience. Fool!
The first of that day's runs (other drivers may use the term differently, but to me one direction of a route is a "run", two back to back runs equal a loop) was from St. John's to Milwaukie. One of the busier stops, near St. John's, is called the Interstate/Lombard Transit Center. As in "Interstate Street" (not the Interstate Highway System) and Lombard Street. Interstate Street used to be the main connection between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, on the other side of the Columbia River, via the "Interstate Bridge". Later Interstate 5 was built nearby and connected the two states, with the addition of a second Interstate Bridge to handle increased traffic.
|Interstate Bridge. Yes, it's a drawbridge. The only spot on the 1,000+ mile length of Interstate 5 where traffic has to come to a standstill.|
Shortly after we got under way, the man asked me something, but he addressed me as "King Bus Driver". It was then that I realized that he was Little Leon. In my defense, I had only met Leon a couple of times up until this point. There is nothing remarkable about his appearance. He looks very much like many other weird people who ride the bus every day. Besides, even if I had recognized him before he boarded, there was not much I could have done to keep him off. Nor did I have any known reason to forbid him. I only found out later about his on-going sort-of, kind-of, semi-permanent exclusion from the transit system.
It also wasn't long before Leon broke his promise to keep quiet. He soon started ranting to no one and everyone about god knows what. I asked him politely to keep it down, with no effect. However, he soon started calling someone a "faggot". I don't know if his victim was actually on the bus or imaginary, but hate speech is something I will not tolerate on my bus. I pulled over, opened the doors, and told Leon that he would have to get off. Of course, he refused.
Then, of course, I had a choice: I could either relent and let him stay on board, or tie up the bus and all the other passengers while trying to get help in getting Leon off my bus. I hate to delay innocent people, but I felt I needed to stand firm. For good or ill, we drivers cannot directly initiate a call to dispatch via the two-way radio. I pressed a button on my MDT (Mobile Data Terminal) to let a dispatcher know I needed to talk to them. When they responded, I said I had Leon on board, and then I listed the things he was doing wrong. Unfortunately, I also mentioned that he had evaded fare. I knew that in and of itself, that was a total non-issue for TriMet, but at my previous transit system, it actually meant something. I guess I was falling back on old habits, plus I was hoping that if I listed everything Leon had done against the rules, it might get me some help. But of course, the dispatcher chose to focus on the fare thing. He also wanted to know if I was sure it was Leon, because they had had a lot of mistaken identifications of him. Of course I was sure it was him, and not just because of his little catch phrase. By now he had already referred to himself in the third person several times. I reminded the dispatcher that he was using hate language. The dispatcher wanted to know what kind. I was reluctant to utter the word myself, so I stupidly said he was calling someone the "f-word", but I didn't elaborate that I meant a derogatory term for homosexuals. Naturally, the dispatcher thought I meant "fuck", and started going on about how we couldn't infringe on Leon's first amendment rights and blah blah blah. I could already see that I wasn't going to get any help. The dispatcher told me I needed to let Leon ride. So after wasting several minutes of my and the passengers' time, I was once again under way, very behind schedule. Leon had won that round.
He carried on for awhile longer, then finally quieted down. Soon I realized he was asleep. I didn't look forward to having to deal with him at the other end of the line, but at least the bus was peaceful for the remainder of the trip.
My layover in Milwaukie was only about 15 minutes long, and Leon had eaten up about half of that. I just wanted to eat a snack (I'm hypoglycemic, so snacking is important, and not just an indulgence) and trudge the two blocks to a TriMet toilet. Instead I had to wake up Leon and tell him the ride was over. It was the middle of the day and there were plenty of other bus lines, and the MAX, that he could bother, so it's not like I was dumping him in the middle of nowhere, as much as I would have liked that. But he again refused to get out. So I had to contact dispatch again. This time they agreed to send the police to remove him from my bus. Gee, if only they had done that the first time!
Leon voluntarily left before PD could arrive, so I contacted dispatch again and told them to cancel the call. PD arrived anyway, and spoke with Leon, but of course, nothing came of it. He hadn't actually broken any laws.
I had my snack, and my piss, and was able to get back on the road on time for my next trip to St. John's, so I can't blame Leon for what happened after that. He just set the mood for what turned out to be a very bad day.
A few blocks from the Milwaukie Transit Center, line 75 crosses a very busy state highway. Right close to that are the freight train tracks mentioned in the last installment. TriMet, in its infinite wisdom, saw fit to put a bus stop right on the corner before that highway, in a right-turn lane.
|The controversial intersection. The blue bus stop symbol is where my soul left my body.|
You can also go straight from that right-turn lane, but if it weren't for that bus stop, you could get in the lane to the left and avoid the turn lane altogether. When I approached the intersection, a train was just coming to a stop on the tracks on the other side of the highway. There was one car ahead of me in the right turn lane. The traffic signal stays red while the train is on the tracks to keep people from entering the intersection and blocking it for cross traffic. I could see the end of the train a short distance past the street I was on. I knew it would be a simple matter to use the pre-planned detour in order to get around the train. I just had to wait for the guy in front of me to make the right on the red (legal here), then I could go. So I waited. And waited. And waited. The guy apparently had no interest in going right. Obviously he wanted to go straight, and seemed content to wait out the train. Perhaps he was not familiar with how to by-pass the train. Or maybe he just didn't care. Cars in the left lane were making U-turns and find other routes. My bus is too long to make a U-turn. I could have gotten into the left lane, but then I would have to make my right in front of the other car. Highly illegal. Not recommended. Some of the drivers behind me were also making U-turns, but some opted to wait it out. I gently tooted my horn in an effort to get him to look in his rear-view mirror. I pointed to the right, hoping he'd take the hint. No luck.
Now you're probably thinking: why not get out and talk to the guy? I did, just not soon enough. Why is that, you ask? Well, it has been my experience in other situations where I've been stuck in my bus waiting for some situation to change, that by the time I've secured my bus and clambered out to try to deal with it, the situation suddenly resolves itself, then it's a mad scramble getting back into the bus and attempting to get underway while the people behind you honk impatiently. So I probably waited to long before finally getting out. I stood next to the man's car, waved to get his attention, got him to roll down his window, then politely (thought I SOOOO didn't feel like being polite to this absolute moron) asked if he wouldn't mind making the right because he was holding up a whole bunch of people. He consented. He genuinely looked like it never once occurred to him that he might be blocking traffic. I don't know how he missed the big ol' bus behind him. I guess in his world everyone is willing to just sit and wait for train when it's totally not necessary.
So finally I got to do my train detour, and now I was once again on my merry way, a good 18 minutes late. Yes, 18 minutes. I have to blame myself for some of that because I didn't get out and talk to the guy sooner. Of course, any one of the people in the cars behind me could have done the same. They may not have been able to see the car in front of me, and so assumed the bus and its driver were the problem. I was half-expecting to see someone get out of a car and stalk up to my door or window to yell at me, then see the real culprit. Why did it fall to me to have to do something about the whole sordid mess?
Anyway, I was now so late that dispatch said they would send out an "extra service" (back up) bus out to try to pick up some of the slack. I reasoned that even though it was Saturday, my "follower" (the next bus on that line) couldn't be far behind me. I was hoping they would tell me to go to "drop-off-only" mode so I might have a chance to get caught up. They eventually did, but not soon enough, so I was further delayed, having to stop and pick up irate passengers. There is an unfortunate phenomenon that happens when you are running so late. If you're, say, 15 minutes late, and your follower is scheduled 15 minutes after you, then you start getting not only the normal number of passengers that you would have picked up had you been on time, but you also start getting the passengers who have turned up at a stop expecting your follower. This only slows you down more, and is why drop-off-only is so important in such situations. This is what was happening to me while dispatch dragged their feet about putting me in drop-off-only.
When you're that late, minor annoyances and inconveniences that wouldn't bother you if you were on time become huge annoyances. For example, I got an old lady with a large shopping basket who needed the wheelchair ramp for her trolley. This is a fair use of the ramp, but this old lady was extremely particular about just where she wanted the ramp deployed at each end of her very short trip. My first choice of stopping points at her destination, wasn't to her liking, so I had to move the bus slightly. That may not sound like much, but when you use the ramp, you have to put the bus in neutral and set the parking brake, so small adjustments to the bus's position can become a considerable investment of precious seconds.
Finally, dispatch told me that when I got to the Hollywood Transit Center, I would be in drop-off-only until I got to the end of the line. I then wondered, "So, does that mean I should or should not pick up anyone who is waiting at Hollywood TC?", but I was already too frazzled to try to have that conversation with dispatch while driving.
Dispatch has the ability to remotely change the destination signs on buses, and they switched mine to "Drop Off Only" just before I arrived at Hollywood TC. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, "Well, that answers my question". Of course, if there were people waiting at the stop, it was going to be awkward to tell them they weren't allowed to board my bus. Perhaps that thought unconsciously influenced my next mistake. Remember how I said that St. John's-bound buses stop at a different spot in the Hollywood TC from Milwaukie-bound buses? Well, it had been several months since I had last driven the 75, and I sort of forgot that little fact. I dropped the passengers who wanted off at the wrong spot, which made no-never-mind to them, but was actually good for me, because there was no one waiting to board at that spot. As I began to pull out, I realized my mistake. As it turns out, there was one guy waiting at the correct spot. I was surprised there weren't more. The extra service bus may have already been through there and picked up whoever must surely have been waiting for me, but that one guy must have walked up after it had departed.
I faltered for a second in irresolution: should I get this guy, or not? I decided not to, because doing so would sort of defeat the purpose of being in drop off only mode. Besides, he had a chance to read my sign. He'd just have to deal with it.
Well, either he was illiterate, or he didn't notice the sign. I passed him up, but then had to wait at the stop light at the exit of the TC. The guy, who looked like a bit of young street person, started crossing the intersection on the diagonal. When my light changed, and I started rolling, he continued to saunter in front of my bus. He was apparently getting his revenge on me for not picking him up. He didn't try to get me to let him on. I doubt I would have. When someone has been that unreasonable about trying to board your bus at an unauthorized location, they don't tend to suddenly get reasonable once they're on board. He kept up this little routine for a couple of blocks. Every time I would stop to avoid running him over, he would move toward the sidewalk. But just as soon as I would start moving, he'd get back in front of me. Finally he let me go on my way. I guess he had shown me. I was just shaking after that. It's not easy to drive a bus when your nerves are shot.
That was last major thing that happened that day. If I've forgotten anything else, I hope I never remember. I made it to St. John's, and was even able to start my next run on time, I think. Either way, my day eventually evened out, and finally I got to go home and scream into my pillow before falling into a fitful sleep.
As previously mentioned, there is a sequel to the incident at the Hollywood Transit Center, but we shall have to wait until Part III for that. Thanks for coming on this tawdry journey with me.
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
One Saturday a few months back I had just the worst day at work. A perfect shit storm, where the first bad thing that happened seemed to precipitate a cascade effect of awful. I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to sit down and write about it. I originally conceived of blogging as a means of releasing some of the stress of life and work, but often it feels like blogging about it is just reliving it. Who needs that? Perhaps enough time needed to pass for me to process it and be able to put it into words. Now I'm probably making it sound worse than it was. Nobody died. It wasn't even traumatic. Just really, really annoying. And kind of funny, in retrospect.
Before I get into the events of that day, I feel that a little background on some of the persons, places and things involved in the story might be in order. The actual events of this Saturday will be in Part Two. There will also be a Part Three, for this tale of madness has a sequel! This way I won't have to keep interrupting the narrative to explain certain parts. If you want to skip over the backstories contained herein, I won't blame you. You can refer back to Part One when you're reading the next parts if there are any elements you're confused about. I'll even provide links in to THIS chapter so you can open up a new tab without having to lose your place. Aren't I nice? Onward!
(Note: I use the terms "route" and "line" interchangeably)
The 75 is one of the first routes I drove after I graduated from training. It is 19 miles from end to end. Not all in a straight line, of course - it meanders from the town of Milwaukie on Portland's southern border, through the eastern side of Portland, to the North Portland neighborhood (and once a separate town) called St. John's. It is not the longest route in our system, but it does take about 90 minutes to drive in one direction. That may not sound like much, but to me - coming from driving a bus system in a predominantly rural area - it seemed quite long, especially when you consider that you are in an urban environment the whole time. We had longer routes in my old system, but if you drove more than a few miles in any direction from one of our transit centers you would be in open country. 19 miles was about the distance between our two largest towns, and it would only take you about 50 minutes to complete a one-way trip.
The 75 is also interesting because of the variety of neighborhoods and communities it serves. Most of the route could be called low-income. St. John's is a rather dreary little community, faded from its glory days as a legitimate competitor to Portland as the major port on the Willamette River. Back in the 1930s, it even built a spectacular bridge across the river in an effort to facilitate truck access to its shipping terminals, which now seems oddly out of place in this remote corner of the metropolitan area...
Milwaukie, by contrast, is a rather affluent community. In between these two ends, the route passes through neighborhoods on all points on the social-economic spectrum, from economically disadvantaged to "Oh my god, that house is a freakin' CASTLE!". Very few of the homeowners in those latter neighborhoods use the transit system, but their domestic employees and non-driving children do.
Hollywood Transit Center:
Approximately in the middle of Route 75 is the Hollywood Transit Center. Although only three bus lines serve this transit center, it also provides access to a MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) station served by three of the four light rail lines, so it's a pretty busy transit center. Here is a screen capture from Google Maps of what it looks like from above:
|Looks like the top of Bob Belcher's head.|
The big brown blob is a patch of sickly grass. The irregular whitish rectangle (which turns out to be a FedEx truck if you zoom in far enough of Google Maps) to the right of the brown blob is the location of a portable outhouse for use by drivers. The smaller whitish square next to the truck looks like an outhouse. Google claims this image was taken in 2020, but since October 2019, when I started, the outhouse has always been where the truck is sitting. What's up, Google Maps?
|Look at the date! The truth is out there!|
Our porta-potty is surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a gate secured by a normal self-locking doorknob. Each driver is issued a single key for such locks throughout the system. Other doors are controlled by electronic card readers, and our ID badges grant us access to those. Once you unlock the gate of the fence surrounding the porta-potty, you then have to use the same key to unlock a padlock on the potty door.
It's always amazed me that TriMet put all this effort into building this transit center, and they've got all that room in the big brown blob, and the best they could do for us is a damned porta-potty. Hollywood TC is not like many of the transit centers in the system. Buses never "lay over" there for more than a few minutes (with the exception of the line 66 - see below), so a more traditional break room with toilets probably seemed unnecessary. But the length of time needed to unlock two locks, use the cold, filthy, uninviting privy, then re-lock the padlock is usually longer than any "dwell" time one might have there while in service. I reserve my "comfort breaks" for the better facilities at the ends of the route, and have not yet had the misfortune of having to use the Hollywood TC "Honey Bucket" (that's the actual name of the company that rents and services the porta-potties dotted throughout our system).
Okay, diatribe aside, here is a graphic which illustrates how the Hollywood TC works:
Depending on which direction they're coming from, buses access the TC from one of the two entrances at the top of the image, then travel counter-clockwise (or "lefty-loosey" for children of the digital age) around the blob to their appropriate bays. As you can see, the lines 77 and 75 each have two bays. The line 66 is an infrequent express whose northern terminus is the Hollywood TC, so it only needs one bay. The line 75 going south to Milwaukie stops at the bay at the south end of the TC, while the northbound bus to St. John's continues through that bay to the one at the north end of the TC - at least, that's how I do it. You could pass through the other bays if they're empty and the southbound bay is occupied. The buses seem to be timed so that they just miss each other, but they are often quite close together, so having separate bays helps to avoid congestion, and also helps to sort out northbound passengers from southbound passengers. The bays are clearly marked to show which direction the bus is headed, but that doesn't mean you don't get the occasional confused (or illiterate) passenger who gets on the wrong bus, then has to deboard at the next stop when they realize their mistake. This may seem like a lot of unnecessary detail, but it will be important to understand an event in Part Two.
The Hollywood Transit Center also has a recent tragic history which I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention, although it has no direct bearing on this story. Or does it? As previously mentioned, this awful day also has a sequel - a hauntingly similar event to one that transpired on the titular day, and in the same location. I think it was the subsequent event which really prompted me to finally tell this tale. When you consider the two events I'm going to relate, and the grisly history of the Hollywood TC, you - like me - may begin to think that this particular spot on the earth's surface must have some sort of curse upon it.
There is an infamous TriMet passenger named Leon, but he calls himself "Little Leon" - frequently, because he often refers to himself in the third person. I'm not sure how he came by that diminutive sobriquet, because he's actually pretty average height, although he is very skinny. Anyone who has been with TriMet for any length of time knows about Leon, even if they haven't met him yet. I have no idea what his last name is, nor would I care to "dox" him to that degree, other than to reveal that Leon was once the fastest man in Oregon. This is a verifiable fact, because there is a trophy with his name on it in a display case at his former high school right here in Portland, which has been seen by some of our drivers. I don't know if someone has since beaten Leon's record.
Leon is infamous because he's completely bat shit insane. You almost never get an uneventful ride when Leon's on board. He'll usually start screaming at another passenger, then refuse to leave when you tell him to get out. Often a supervisor or the police need to be summoned to get Leon off your bus. Rather than delay your bus and your passengers, sometimes it's easier to just let Leon be crazy, as unpleasant and distracting as that may be. Many times he'll impulsively and suddenly want off the bus before he's gone very far, or will fall asleep (usually because he's drunk). Then, of course, it's another investment of time waking him up at the end of a line and coaxing him off your bus. Spoiler alert: this is the sort of situation I found myself in on the fateful Saturday of the title.
Because of his behavior, Leon is frequently banned from riding, at least on a temporary basis. In fact, he's sort of on "double secret probation", like Delta House. TriMet seems unwilling to permanently ban anyone. What's more, such a ban is difficult to enforce. We're constantly getting new drivers, who don't know what Leon looks like. Sometimes his looks change. Not like a shape-shifter, but for a time he was sporting a bushy beard, so one driver from my training class didn't recognize him from previous clean-shaven meetings, and then was stuck with him on board. I'm pretty sure that some drivers won't let him on board just as a matter of principal, whether management would approve of that or not. What they don't know won't hurt them. Leon's not going to call the office, and any passengers familiar with him aren't going to complain. One of my fellow drivers maintains his own blog specifically about this job - you can find a link in my sidebar. He admitted in one of his posts that he tricked Leon (he didn't name him but we all knew who he was talking about) into not getting on his bus by pointing behind Leon and saying, "Your 20 dollar bill is blowing away!". Leon took off after the phantom note and the driver shut his door and drove away.
I did not encounter Leon during my first few months of driving here. During our six-month probationary period, my class had to meet about once a month for further education and training. At one such gathering, most of my classmates were telling tales of "Little Leon". I wondered how I had not yet encountered this notorious scoundrel. Turns out he usually haunts the Route 6, which I had not yet driven. When I finally did meet Leon, of course I didn't know who he was until after he was on board. I recognized him because of certain phrases he likes to utter, which I had heard about from my classmates. I also found out much later that Leon was then currently on a long-term ban from the system. Of course, no one had bothered to inform any of us of this. Then it occurred to me that the probable reason that so many of my fellow newbies were encountering Leon was because he knew we were new, and therefore not likely to refuse him service, like more senior drivers would. He also has a way of barging his way onto the bus and scurrying to a seat without paying (TriMet also doesn't enforce their own fare policy). Then he's dug in like an Alabama tick.
A bit should be said here about the train situation in Milwaukie, Oregon. There are a couple of major freight train rights-of-way that pass through the town. The 75 crosses both of these lines on its way in and out of Milwaukie. One freight line seems to be rather infrequently used, and the trains don't usually stop in town, although they can be quite slow. That right-of-way is also shared by the MAX tracks, but those trains are short and quick. The other freight line is the real problem. The trains frequently stop, blocking traffic at several crossings for ungodly lengths of time. TriMet has pre-planned detours for such contingencies which are detailed on special sheets of instructions each driver carries. Sometimes, however, the red lights start flashing and the crossing guard arms start coming down as you are approaching the tracks, but after you've already passed whatever intersection you'd need to utilize those detours. Before the Saturday in question, I had not yet had the opportunity to use one of those detours, but I have been caught waiting for eons at the crossings. More about this in Part Two.
Well, that should take care of the pertinent details about the system, the locations, and one of the prominent players in this little drama. I hope it wasn't too boring for you. If you're still with me, I thank you. I promise that Parts Two and Three will be chock-a-block with juicy tales of pains, trains and imbeciles.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
For my birthday (October 25th), I'm asking folks to donate to the Portland (Oregon) Rescue Mission. They do a great job of helping vulnerable members of my adopted community, and were instrumental in helping me to escape a dangerous situation and start a new chapter late in life.
Thanks so much for your consideration.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Of the many bridges in Portland, Oregon, one of the more notable is the Hawthorne Bridge. Built in 1910, it is the oldest lift span bridge in the United States. It also carries the most bicycle traffic of Portland's bridges, owing in large part to the roomy 10-foot wide bike/pedestrian sidewalks on each side.
Hawthorne Bridge is also the most frequently raised of the many movable bridges across the Willamette River, for a couple of reasons: 1) its undercarriage is the closest to the water of all the bridges (only 49 feet), so it must raise even for relatively small craft which can fit beneath the other bridges without their needing to be raised; 2) even when no water craft are present, due to its age the bridge is raised three times a day just to keep the moving parts lubricated and in good working order. So, traffic is frequently halted while the bridge does its thing.
Lately there has a been another frequent reason besides raisings that Hawthorne Bridge is often blocked to traffic: demonstrations against police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, as well as some tangentially-related protests.
The west end of the bridge is convenient to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a popular recreational and cultural center in the heart of downtown, as well as the staging area of many of the demonstrations. The westbound exit of the bridge - Main Street - passes between the Multnomah County Justice Center (home to the Portland Police Bureau and county detention center) and the U.S District Courthouse. Directly across from these buildings are Lownsdale and Chapman Squares, two one-block parks. This four-block area has become the locus of the daily demonstrations and protests.
Madison Street - the eastbound approach to the bridge - also passes alongside the Justice Center. So when protests get a little too rowdy, use of Hawthorne Bridge becomes impossible, even if the action isn't directly related to the bridge. Most protests begin in the evening, but sometimes they start during the day, such as when members of alt-right groups decided to have their own rallies, and mayhem ensued.
We Portland bus drivers carry predetermined detour descriptions in the event of downtown demonstrations. We also have designated detours for more mundane closures of Hawthorne Bridge.
But for me personally, Hawthorne Bridge is most notable because if you're going to see something weird in Portland (a town famous for its weirdness), it seems that Hawthorne Bridge is where you're likely to see it.
Shortly after the BLM protests started, a large group of local strippers had their own march to bring attention to racial discrimination in Portland's strip clubs. In case you haven't heard, Portland is also famous for its high ratio of strip clubs to population. Many of the demonstrators marched across Hawthorne Bridge in their scanty work attire:
Sadly, I didn't get to witness that particular event.
One day a few weeks back, I was driving (I don't own a car, so any references to me driving mean I'm working) on Hawthorne Bridge, and there were two men walking a large and very fluffy llama toward downtown. I slowed down to take a good look at this amazing, happy-looking creature. There was no ready explanation for why two men were walking a llama into downtown, but I was glad they were.
UPDATE: I met the llama! I incorrectly identified it as alpaca earlier. His name is Caesar the No Drama Llama. He was at a Black Lives Matter rally I attended. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.
When I first saw him on the bridge it was before he got a hair cut. Imagine that fur covering his entire body!
But just the other day I saw the most incredible thing yet on Hawthorne Bridge. As I describe this sight, some of you may recognize who I'm talking about, but I had no prior knowledge of this group, so my mind was somewhat blown by what I saw.
At first sight, I saw about half a dozen women draped head to toe in very red robes, walking slowly in a line toward downtown. At first I thought they might be dressed up like characters from "The Handmaid's Tale", but on closer inspection, they didn't have the white bonnets, and their costumes were much more complicated. I don't know much about fashion, or history, but I think their garb could best be described as Medieval. They wore something like turbans atop their heads, with shrouds that hung down along the backs and sides of their heads. Their clothing had lots of folds and cords and such. But of course, the most remarkable thing was all that red. Every inch of their elaborate costumes was a deep, dark shade of red.
There were about six women. Most of them were walking with their arms up at waist level and angled slightly outward from the bodies, their palms up, in a prayerful attitude. Two of them were carrying what I first took to be large peace symbols, or possibly just wheels with four spokes above their heads. They all stared straight ahead. I slowed way down to get a better look, but their shrouds hid their faces.
I also noticed that two official Multnomah County pickup trucks were parked in the left hand lane of the Madison Street approach to the bridge with their yellow roof lights flashing. It looked like perhaps they were preparing to close the bridge. I wondered if a protest was fomenting. Perhaps the red women were heading toward it, but all seemed quiet as I passed through the usual protest area.
Shortly after crossing Hawthorne Bridge, my route makes two left turns and then returns in the opposite direction, but by the time I got back to the bridge, the women were nowhere in sight. For the rest of my shift, I puzzled over who these mysterious scarlet figures were and what was their purpose.
My shift ended a few blocks east of the bridge when another driver took over the bus. As I was approaching the relief point, a message came over my mobile data terminal (MDT) telling us to use our Hawthorne Bridge detours until further notice. I was going to ride with the new driver as far as the closest point to the bridge before the detour began. I wanted to have a close look myself at the possible cause of the closure. I was also hoping to get another sight of the women in red. However, there was a passenger onboard who was really annoying me, so I decided to get out and walk the few extra blocks to the bridge.
When I got to the bridge, it was not closed. I was passed by other buses that use the bridge. It's likely that the detour had been cancelled by the time I got there. As I came to the east end of the bridge, the women in red were walking toward me. Yay! Perhaps I could talk to them and find out who they were and what they represented. Mayhaps they would let me take their picture. I didn't dare take a picture without their permission.
As we drew closer to each other, I began to feel very nervous. Seeing them head-on, I could now see that all their faces were painted deathly white. Some had bands and circles of other colors on their cheeks and around their eyes. The lead woman had a black band like a Zorro mask painted across her eyes. They were a formidable sight. I have this deep-seated fear (it's not irrational if you could see some of things I have seen, but it's too difficult to explain) of people wearing masks or with very pale faces. Still, I was determined to try to make contact with these creatures. I stopped as they passed, and rather lamely waved and said "Hi." They kept their heads straight ahead, but regarded me out of the corners of their eyes. None of them said anything. They just marched slowly and purposefully on past me. The red women were now being followed by two women and a man in normal attire. The plainly clad folks didn't march in procession, but they seemed to be familiar with the group.
I also now could see that the circles they carried contained what appeared to me to be a Roman numeral X, with horizontal lines at the top and bottom.
I stood for awhile and watched them go. I felt a bit shaken by this close encounter with something I couldn't explain, and by their somewhat spooky appearance and somber aspect. When they got to the end of the bridge, they turned off on a ramp leading down to an area known at the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. I decided to follow them. When I arrived I found the group gathered around two cars in a parking lot. One car was an average mini-van, but the other was a mid-sized station wagon that had been hand painted in DayGlo pink. On the side in large black letters were the words "Climate Emergency".
The women were now standing about, talking among themselves and their three companions in street clothes. They were also beginning to remove their red garments, revealing street clothes underneath. Although my rational mind knew that they had to be people in costumes, it was somehow reassuring to see them reverting to normal appearances. I was also a bit disappointed - I had been fantasizing that maybe they were some sort of powerful sorceresses come to join in battle with demonstrators against the forces of evil.
I still wanted to talk to them, but my natural shyness had taken control. I sat on a nearby park bench for a bit until the group got into the two vehicles and departed. I thought that maybe now I had enough information to be able to find out about them on the internet.
That wasn't as easy as I thought it might be. Search phrases such as "climate emergency" and "women in red Portland" produced no useful results. Their presence on the bridge (and possibly downtown) had apparently not attracted the attention of the local media, because there was no mention of them some of the news outlets I checked.
I set aside my search for a bit. Later I tried "the red robed women of Portland", and that led me to this:
This is what I had seen. Not these very same individuals, probably, but just like them. Now I understood the circles they carried. They are part of an international group called Extinction Rebellion. They call themselves the Red Rebel Brigade. I'll let you explore those links for yourself, rather than me try to speak for them, but I will share with you the video from their website. Sorry - I couldn't figure out how to embed the video itself in this post. Anyway, t's quite moving.
So, there was a perfectly logical explanation to what I saw. Of course, there had to be. I didn't need to be such a Nervous Nelly. On the other hand, it was kind of fun to have my mind captivated by something I had never seen before, if only for a bit. But I should have remembered the admonition of Marco's father:
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
I have debated long and hard with myself whether or not to write about this, and how to go about it. This may alienate some people who know me. I have a close relative who was until recently a police officer. Being of my blood, I like to think they are a good person. Having known this individual since birth, it’s hard for me to believe that “all cops are bastards”.
Also, I recently had the privilege of being able to view the virtual premiere of the Ron Howard documentary, “Rebuilding Paradise”, which examines the destruction of the California town of Paradise by the Camp Fire of November 2018, a disaster of personal significance to me, as I lived in the neighboring town of Chico at the town, and was among the first bus drivers to resume service to the area in December of that year. The film features an interview with a Paradise police officer who cries while recounting the story of randomly encountering a woman who had been on the missing persons list, and his joy at finding her alive. When I saw that, I thought, “I guess all cops aren’t bastards.”
The phrase “all cops are bastards” has been impossible to miss, since I now live in Portland, Oregon - a city that saw over 100 straight days of protests, demonstrations and marches (and, yes, sometimes riots) since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The protests only recently paused because of local wildfires and the resulting smoke. The protesters turned their energies to providing aid to fire refugees and other house-less individuals.
The phrase “all cops are bastards” and its many iterations has been graffitied and “slap tagged”, and has otherwise appeared literally everywhere one turns in Portland. I’m a basically law-abiding citizen, but I’m sad to say that most of my interactions with police have not left me with an overall favorable impression of the profession. But, surely, ALL cops aren’t bastards. Right?
Now I want to relate a recent story of an interaction I witnessed between a police officer and a civilian. It’s a fairly minor incident, I suppose, but it finally helped me find the answer to my personal query, “Are all cops bastards?”
Because of my frequently changing schedule as a local bus driver, for a time I had to take my lunch in downtown Portland. At the beginning of this particular period, I used to enjoy sitting on a bench in one of the park blocks known as Lownsdale Square and Chapman Square. These parks are across the street from a federal courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice Center, home of the Portland Police Bureau. This four square block area had become the focus of the nightly protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, but by day, things were usually quiet. Then the police began fencing off these blocks in an effort to keep away protesters. Then they removed all the benches in the parks. When the fences were finally removed, the benches remained gone. Now there was no place for me to sit while I ate my lunch. I’m old enough that it’s important to me to have back support when I sit for a spell. I’m not comfortable sitting on the grass or on a retaining wall or amphitheater step with no back support.
I eventually settled on eating my lunch on a concrete bench with a backrest that was located along the side of the Justice Center. One day, a uniformed PPB officer came out of a nearby side door with a female friend wearing civilian clothing. They stood for a while and chatted. I didn’t pay them much mind, but I was vaguely aware of the generally pleasant nature of their conversation. I just ate my lunch and gazed at my mobile phone, but I couldn’t help but think that this police officer seemed like a nice person. Again I thought, “Maybe all cops aren’t bastards”.
Then I became aware of a disturbance in the otherwise peaceful nature of the scene. A young woman had walked past the officer and his friend. Apparently the young woman must have said something the officer didn’t like. I became aware that he was raising his voice to call after her, and he was using phrases to the effect of “I really appreciate your comments”, and “I hope you have a nice day”, but in a very sarcastic tone of voice. As she passed by me, the young woman fired back something I didn’t catch (I really need to get my hearing checked, I guess), but I clearly heard the officer’s next response, which chilled my blood. He said, “I hope I run into you later.”
I couldn’t control my reaction to hearing this, and my head snapped in his direction, and I stared at him for a few seconds. And he saw me looking at him. I contemplated saying something to him about what I’d heard, but I opted not to, for I was wearing my work uniform and I was worried that such an exchange might be noted and find its way back to my employers.
A few moments later, the officer and his friend ended their conversation. The woman walked away, and the officer went back inside the Justice Center. I was left feeling disturbed by what I’d heard. On the face of it, a phrase like “I hope I run into you later” seems innocuous enough, but there was obvious malice behind it from the officer. Here was a grown man, in an official capacity, and he couldn’t just ignore the taunts of a woman in her early twenties.
And I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if that officer did encounter that young woman later - like at a protest, when it’s dark and he’s surrounded by all his cop buddies, and they’re all shrouded in their dark, anonymous riot gear, and things are noisy and tense and perhaps smoke or tear gas is drifting around. What might happen then? Would this unknown officer get to indulge whatever it was he wanted to do to this insolent girl in retaliation for her insults?
So, this cop had seemed like a nice person when he was chatting with his friend. He’s probably considered a nice guy by his family, friends and co-workers. But it didn’t take much for a different side of him to show itself.
This encounter made me understand the frequently-seen meme that goes along these lines: “If you have 1000 bad cops, and 12 good cops, but the 12 cops don’t do anything about the 1000 bad cops, you have 1012 bad cops.” That may sound overly simplistic, but what I saw made me realize that even though there surely are good cops, they can’t outweigh the wrongs done by the bad cops, who seem to be in the majority. So I can only conclude that, indeed, ALL cops ARE bastards, even if for some it’s only by association.