Day 233 – Checkride
The signs were all there, it was going to be a difficult morning.
The morning ritual is always the same: park the car out in the skinny lot, make the walk to the main building, sign in, grab a time-slip and a piece of scratch paper, note the number and location of the morning’s bus, go hit the wash room.
This particular morning the quiet of the restroom visit was disturbed as the station agent’s voice boomed from all the speakers “i5 access from Morrison Bridge is blocked. Use alternate routes on your deadheads.”
I emerged from the men’s room to a flurry of activity. New operators were all hastily comparing ideas for alternate routes. I picked up “the pouch” for my morning run from the station agent and asked “newbie question: is there a ‘preferred’ alternate route to the start of the 8?”
“No, just get there.”
“Given it might take longer is it ok to roll out early?”
“You won’t get paid for it.”
“That’s not what I’m asking… this is all new to me, I’m just asking if it’s allowed to roll early when there’s a blocked route.”
“Just get there. Run late if you’re late.”
I went over to some other morning operators I’ve spoken with before. One older guy was giving route advice. I asked “i just need to get up to Dekum and MLK.”
“Hell, that’s easy, just get on Grand and keep going.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured, but with this fog I’m wondering if it would be a good idea to roll early.”
“I would. Better to burn time at the start of your run than feel rushed in bad weather.”
The operators milling about agreed on leaving early, so we headed out to the yard to find our busses a good 15 minutes before official sign-in time. In the back of my mind I worried about leaving early and my overdue checkride1, but decided that was something I had no control over. The fog was thick as pea soup and would worsen as I rolled north. The veteran operator was right, better to get up there early, drive slow and safe, that was what I did have control over.
The ride up Grand to MLK was uneventful but the fog did indeed thicken. I was down to 20 mph on MLK with about 5 feet of forward visibility. I caught up to the #6 bus that runs up and down MLK. He was going slower than I was, but he had the added joy of looking for customers hiding out at service stops. I pulled into a stop to let him get some distance on me.
A few moments later I was sitting at the start of my run a good 10 minutes early in “night park2” waiting for the schedule timer on the CAD/AVL3 to count down to zero so I could begin my trip to downtown and OHSU. I got out of the bus and walked up and down the sidewalk a little. I was feeling pretty good having managed to get to the start of my run via a new route without incident. The fog was incredibly thick but the air had an invigorating salty edge. The bus sat there silently, all the lights glowing in the fog like something out of Blade Runner. I then noticed the white car across the street on 6th with the parking lights on. A person got out and walked directly to me.
“Good morning, Jeremy,” said the examiner, “I’ll be riding with you today.”
The examiner took a seat near the back of the bus and when the CAD/AVL hinted to “please depart now” I fired up the bus and started my run.
I knew something was wrong the moment the second service stop came into view. Where there should have been two people today there were six. I popped open the doors and a woman I didn’t recognize steamrolled into the bus and came right up to me, “the earlier bus never showed up! We’ve been waiting for nearly 30 minutes!”
I stayed completely calm, “I’m very sorry to hear that. There was some kind of a crash on I5 this morning. He, and probably other buses, may have been caught up in that. Grab a seat and I’ll get you down the road as quickly as I can.” At subsequent stops I opted to be proactive: “nothing like waiting in the fog for a bus that doesn’t show, eh?”
By the time I reached the Rose Quarter Transit Center my bus was packed. Amazingly I was only 7 minutes behind schedule at this point. I managed to load everybody waiting at the Transit Center, but then I saw the guy in the mobility device. It was standing room only packed right to the line. There was no way this guy was going to fit, but there was also no way I was just going to close the doors and pull away. I secured the bus, got out of the seat and went straight over to him. “Sir, we’re having a bit of a problem this morning due to a crash on I5. If you need this bus I will do my utmost to get you onboard, but if you can wait for the next one, which should arrive in less than 7 minutes, you’ll probably have a better ride and you might even get there before me since I have a lot of customers to deal with.”
“Son,” he said looking at the mob scene on the bus, “I’m fine waiting for the next bus.”
I got back in the seat, sent the “ADA pass up” message to dispatch via the CAD/AVL, rolled out of the transit center and headed for the Steel Bridge.
At the popular 6th Ave & Pine service stop mayhem ensued. Half the bus wanted off, while half the crowd at the stop wanted on. I tried to direct people to wait for those getting off the bus, but it was a chaos at the front door. Dispatch chose this moment to call me. I opted to switch focus to the call and let the customers sort out who was getting on and off.
“Eight-oh-eight” I said into the radio/phone thing.
“Eight-oh-eight, explain your ADA pass up message.”
“The bus before me never made his run so I was completely full at Rose Quarter and could not take a customer in a mobility device. I departed the bus and spoke with the customer. He agreed it would be better to wait for the next bus. Seemed completely ok.”
“This was at Rose Quarter?”
“Ok, yeah, good call… I think he’s already on a bus. Zero-seven-ten4.”
I hung up the phone and checked on my bus full of people. “Ok everybody, grab something to hold on to, ‘cuz we’re rolling!”
“Rolling late” came from somewhere in the back.
“Hey, that crash on I5 involved an ambulance roll-over,” said a woman near the front of the bus, “so some people are having a worse morning than we are.”
The remainder of the run went smoothly with nearly everybody getting off at the Casey Eye stop, and the balance getting off at the VA hospital and then the first OHSU stop. Surprisingly nobody got on at either stop and I was nearly empty rolling back into downtown.
I felt great. Sure I was behind schedule, but I just delivered a bus full of people to their destinations without any incidents. I felt part of a solution, I felt I was participating in the life of a city.
I tried to make up a some time on the run back up to Dekum & 6th which turned out to be a poor decision. Nothing bad happened, but I did have to make a harder-than-normal stop when a car I thought was passing on my left suddenly opted to make a left turn and stopped in the middle of an intersection. If I hadn’t been pushing to make up time I ‘d have waited for the car to do whatever it was going to do. Like I said, poor decision.
The last passenger got off at Dekum & Claremont, so when I arrived empty back at Dekum & 6th I secured the bus and got out of the seat to stretch. Despite the hard stop at the intersection I still felt great. It was the most stressful morning yet and I felt I’d handled it well.
The examiner came off the bus and held up the top sheet so I could see the hash marks and declared “you didn’t scan at 21 intersections. And those were the ones I could see.”
My candy-colored-happy-balloon-of-self-congratulatory-glee vanished with an inaudible, to all but me, “pop.”
Just want to conclude by saying the examiner was not wrong and I don’t contest any of the findings. All situations like this are learning opportunities and like a good Borg I’ll assimilate the report and use it to become a better, safer operator.
But I wanted to set the scene, to explain the almost comic situation of giddiness coming to a crashing halt. While the examiner proceeded to highlight my errors in my mind I concocted visual metaphors of the moment that ranged from the classic physics question “snowball being thrown fast enough that upon impact all the ice is converted to water,” to any number of Coyote/Roadrunner moments when Coyote’s dog dream of snagging Roadrunner comes to a brutally abrupt stop.
This was the first of many check rides. I suppose setting the bar pretty low from the start is one way to show progress later on (again assuming I stay with this odd departure of a career).
- A check ride (also written as “checkride,” and “check-ride”) is a regular occurrence for all operators in the transportation business including bus operators, aircraft pilots and ship’s captains. It’s where a certified examiner (an examiner is above “trainer” or “instructor”) rides along and carefully observes an operator’s technique. It is frequently stressful especially for new operators. ↩
- the master switch on the older busses has four settings, “engine off,””day run,””night run,” and “night park.” Night park shuts the engine off, but keeps the all the lights on so customers can find the right bus in the dark. ↩
- The CAD/AVL is the handy data display/communication device bolted somewhere near the bus operator. It controls text messaging with dispatch, audio stop announcements, fare collection, and, to most operator’s dismay, scheduling. ↩
- When dispatch concludes a call the last thing they say is the time. The interaction is not over until the timestamp. Once the timestamp is given it’s ok to hang up the receiver. ↩