Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Rimpy and the THNGVB Saturday, Part II: The F*ckening

Old men forget; Yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.

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.

Interstate/Lombard Transit Center (ILTC) is a transfer point between several bus lines and a MAX light rail line. It's also where you tend to get your more difficult passengers. I was just about to depart from ILTC when a man came running up to the door. I reluctantly opened it back up. The man came aboard and said, "I'll be quiet" and rushed back to a seat without paying. I wasn't fussed about the non-payment. If TriMet doesn't care, why should I? I was more concerned about his statement. After many years of bus driving, I've learned it's never a good sign if someone opens with such a declaration to a question no one asked. In fact, if they do, you can be pretty sure they're going to do exactly the opposite of whatever they promised not to do.

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

Rimpy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Saturday - Part One: The Set Up

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!

Route 75

(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.

Milwaukie's Trains:

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.