Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Bus Zone

No, not the Volkswagen Bus - we're talking public transportation here.  Every weekday afternoon I drive a bus around the Seattle area.  This is one way I earn money to keep Westly on the road (it also comes in handy for living expenses like food, shelter, clothing and so on).  I did not meet with a career counselor at some point in my life and choose this job.  I had recently closed  an ailing retail business, and was not enthusiastic about my seasonal job at the Camera & Sound counter in Target.  I was (and still am) working for UPS in the mornings, but only part time.  I needed something more, and had a somewhat latent desire to serve the public.  An opening for part time bus drivers came up and I figured one more resume in the pipeline couldn't hurt.  As it happened, I was hired and it has turned out to be a very satisfying job.  Once I got comfortable occupying such a large piece of real estate on the road,  I began to enjoy and look forward to the constant parade of interesting people and the stories they tell, with and without words.

The 60' articulated coach
My preferred ride is the 60 foot articulated (bends in the middle) coach.  This seats about 60 and another 40 or so can stand when necessary (please hold the hand rail and stay behind the yellow line).  It weighs around 60,000 lbs with a full load.

Driving the bus can sometimes be stressful and on rare occasions even dangerous but it's never dull.  Ask any bus driver and they are sure to have plenty of  stories about their time behind the wheel.  I'll share some of mine occasionally in this blog.  Let me assure you, the stories you are about to hear are absolutely true.  Well, at least 99% true.  Sometimes I may add or subtract details here and there to protect the innocent (and my job) or to make it a little more exciting.  If you think you can pick out something I made up, send a comment about it and I'll let you know if you're right.

To get a job driving the bus, you first must submit to a battery of psychological tests.  I guess they figure they can teach most anyone the mechanics of driving a bus, but not everyone can handle the kind of people and situations that turn up in a bus driver's day.  If you can pass that (and many don't) then you have a few weeks of class to learn all the details about keeping on schedule, collecting fares, where to find restrooms, etc.  You must pass a grueling exam and driving test to get your commercial drivers license.  If you get through all that then you drive for a couple of days on an actual route with an experienced driver looking over your shoulder.  Then you start your own route, but still with another driver helping you for the first few days.  And finally, the big day when you're on your own.

On the first day of my initial route, with another driver along, I was feeling like I had everything under control.  I had made it through the busy streets of downtown Seattle and up around the narrow passages on the Magnolia bluff.  Then, on the return trip, disaster struck.  I was cruising slowly along a neighborhood street.  About half way down a block between stop signs, a rider decided to switch seats.  I heard a scuffling noise behind me and a shrill voice calling out to Jesus for help.  I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a lady laying in the aisle, flailing her arms and legs about like an overturned turtle trying to right itself.  I pulled over, we helped her up and inquired if she was injured and needed medical attention but she declined.  It was early December and she was wearing a very large heavy jacket and hat.  I think this provided enough padding so she didn't get hurt.  We started out again and a few blocks later another rider revealed that she had been struck in the eye by a take out container of Chinese food that the falling lady had pitched as she toppled.  She was worried she would get a black eye, but she also declined medical help.

Now I was a little worked up, but made it downtown where another rider told me as he stepped out of the bus that I had driven through a controlled intersection without stopping while back in Magnolia.  The other driver asked him why he didn't say anything at the time, but he scooted down the street yelling over his shoulder that he would surely report us.

When we returned to the base, we filled out two accident reports and one incident report.  The other driver (a 10 year veteran) assured me a combination of events like this was highly unusual and would likely never happen again.  So it was that I learned early on to check my rear view mirror often and be wary of any rider movement inside the coach.

I never saw the falling lady again, but the lady who took the take out in the eye turned out to be a regular rider and she become my bus-buddy.  She had a job provided domestic help in one of the large homes on the bluff and I'll never forget the day she boarded from an avenue of multi-million dollar homes and told me in breathless wonder "I just saw a chicken walking up the street!!".  My last day on that route, she wrote out a page full of wonderful things about me as a commendation, but when I presented it to my supervisor I was told it could not go into my file because she hadn't called or mailed it in.  I placed it in my own file where it remains to this day.

I receive The Awesome Bus Driver Award

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