Sunday, January 31, 2021

Rimpy and the THNGVB Saturday, Part III: The Sickening Sequel

"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.