Do you think that driving a bus is all about getting behind the wheel and driving? Well, yes! Yes it is, but there is more to it than just that. You see, we in the bus-driving profession provide many, many services to the public—services which they have no idea we are providing at no charge.
My trainer Old Pete said “They only pay you $7.00 an hour to drive. The rest of the money you earn is for everything else you do.” Thank you, old Pete. Your words live on in me.
So I thought I would make a list of all the free services we provide as bus drivers for the next time some conservative talk show host who knows nothing about transit starts telling you that bus drivers are evil you can say a qualified
1. Tree Trimming: you show me a bus route and I will show well-trimmed trees along the road. We give them that wonderful arch-like cut that allows delivery trucks access to your curb. We do all that free trimming and even extra trimming. When it snows or ices up we go to town. Sometimes we take out entire trees, but uh, only the ones that had it coming.
2. Homeless Shelter: I have been cold and nearly homeless—cold enough to the point of saying my life was at risk. So I have a weak spot for anyone getting on my bus to get warm. I give out lots of day tickets to those who are in need in the winter. I can never turn my back on someone who is just trying to get warm. Cold sucks. Cold is deadly and I, I’m the mobile cure station.
3. Extra Eyes: The buses here in Portland are equipped with a two-way radio system. We report crimes, fires, accident and all sorts of issues for the city, like lights not working at intersections, broken guard rails and anything else that pops up. I know it seems strange to think about it, but we are safety officers looking out to keep you safe. Didn’t know that, did ya?
4. Exercise: That's right. We work out the city. Now, you may be a few extra pounds overweight and you may be planning on starting that jogging thing next week, but you will sprint like Ben Johnson for the bus when it starts rolling by. Better than that, you will increase your caloric burn by waving your arms (and if we don’t see you, your middle finger). People always act as if the bus they are trying to catch is the last bus on earth. They run as if we had the last ration of food and water in the middle of a desert. For some this is their highest caloric burn all day.... For the bus drivers, it’s never not funny.
5. Social Lightning Rod: Hey, when the news is slow and there is nothing going on in the world you always have transit. We give the media, print and blogs something to complain about. No matter how good your transit system is, don’t expect to see that reflected in print, on TV or on radio. They just can’t resist knocking them. Every city I have ever been to has had the same syndrome. When things are good, complain about the transit system. When things are tough, complain about the transit system. When things get bad (like snows or 100+ temps) well… really, really, really complain about the transit system.
6. TomTom Guide: Or as I call it the DanDan guide. Why people think I have some magic information on where everything is and how to get there I will never know. Worse than that is that these people never ask for the DanDan guide service until DanDan is pulling into a crowded stop or trying to weave his way through rush hour traffic while dodging bikes, cars and pedestrians. Now I have no problem with people asking me for help. What jacks my piston is when I admit that I don’t know and they act like I’m the idiot, or I’m just screwing with them. They harrumph or ask the question again—like all of a sudden I will know where they are going, A magic transit ferry will come down and put the knowledge of your little neighborhood side streets in my dim bus driver mind. Okay, 40 year old children. Enough with your tantrums. If I don’t know I don’t know. I’m not the one lost though. This expectation of global bus driver knowledge is something that boggles my mind.
7. Entertainers: For some people, a bus trip is a game of "Let’s get to know the driver.” For some drivers this is a pain. I don't seem to mind because my mouth never seems to stop. In fact, when I’m not talking, I’m singing or talking to cars, bikes and pedestrians. For many it goes deeper. For them we are the only positive contact they have in a day. Talking with a driver is the highpoint of their day. I understand this, so I tend to oblige them for the first ten hours of driving. After that, my talk meter is done. What’s strange isn’t how many people talk to the drivers while they are driving, but how many people need to talk to the driver, need that feedback. They feel like you are disrespecting them if you are not the greeter at the Wal-Mart door. When I get tired I get focused on one thing: driving safely, not holding hands. Please do not seek life-affirming feedback from bus operators. You are a perfectly valid human being without our feedback. We could just be busy and focused—not always, just sometimes.
8. Medical Transport: I will throw down the gauntlet of challenge at the feet of any ambulance driver. Here is my challenge: I bet I move more sick and injured people to hospitals in a day than any ambulance. Oh, I’m sure the ambulance may have a lead in criticals but overall I move the masses of everyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken bleeding and gasping people to the hospital. It’s crazy.
9. Child Sitters: With this I'm just sort of kidding but I can tell you that every driver has to watch all those kids on board. From high school on down we are responsible for all those kids on the bus. You can' depend on parents to do the right thing. What I have seen parents do would turn your stomach. I'm the guardian of the kids on my bus. I'm the captain of my ship. Even when they get off my bus, I have launched myself out of my seat to stop a kid from stepping out into traffic. I would like to tell you that all parents on the bus are attentive and protective but to many a bus is a rolling Jungle-Gym and a moment for them to just relax and maybe catch a little snooze. “Oh wait did that driver say something about my kid getting off the bus?”
10. Tour Guide: This is one of my favorite things. When I get someone on the bus who is new to town and they ask me about places. I really enjoy talking it up about the wonderful Portland Metro area. Again, to some drivers this sucks, but I love it. Portland has some great history and places and I love sharing them. Sometimes this backfires, like two French visitors who treated me and everyone else on the bus as if we were baboons. They were so rude I sent them someplace they could really enjoy: a bus to Canby, Oregon, miles and miles outside of our service. Bye-bye, Frogs. I said as the bus drove off. I laughed. It was all I could do to stop the people on the bus from attacking them, so maybe I did the right thing there. Next day I had two Italians on my bus, They were so warm and friendly and even though they didn’t speak hardly any English, I figured out where they were going, got them on the right bus, got them a free lunch and sent them on their way with a big smile.
Ok, that’s all that occurs to me now. I’m sure there are more but right now I would like to focus on what we have learned here.
Always be nice to your driver. Don’t get jacked out of shape if the driver is occupied with driving safely. Stay aware of your kids. Run for the bus. Finally, being nice pays off way, way better than being arrogant Frenchmen.
Ok, life is good. Don’t you agree?
Isn’t it time you, too, Rolled Easy?