Day 297 – A Few Words About Discipline
Driving a city bus for the past few months has taught me useful lessons. No, really.
It’s all About Discipline
I would argue the process of becoming a driver for TriMet might be an excellent career choice for a recovering addict. Granted the addict in question must be in pretty good mental and physical shape, somebody maybe with one foot in the grave and the other foot on firm enough ground such that they’ve been clean for 30 days or so. Clean, but maybe struggling with structure and idle time and the temptation to fall into old habits.
From day 1 the demands of the training program kick in. Training starts early and doesn’t let up until the training bus drops students off at the park n ride. Idle time, you know, the time when even recreational drug users normally drift into the bars and collide with other users and decide “hey, let’s get high, what else do we have going on?” is gone because you know you must be up early the next day smartly dressed, with lunch packed, at the park n ride awaiting the training bus. Be late and you’re done. Be unprofessionally dressed or, later in the process, out of uniform and you’re done. Be sleepy or hung over and the trainer might make you their pet, then cut you from the program at the end of an embarrassing day. Structure and discipline rule the six weeks of training. Oh, and don’t forget at least two drug tests before the start of training and then random(?) tests for the rest of your time with TriMet.
Drivers (“operators” is the proper term) at TriMet starts out as a Mini-Run. Mini-Runners are there for one reason: cover the service needs of rush hours and that means, for most drivers, split shifts. Insanely split shifts. Shifts that, for example, start at 5a and end at 730a then re-start at 3p and end at 7p. There are exceptions, but most Mini-Runners do splits like these. The exceptions are 3 ten-hour shifts, and, most recently, 4 seven-hour shifts. But those shifts have downsides (learn 6 or 8 different routes) and many new operators avoid them while in the six months of probation. So these splits result in days that start early, pause when many other people are going to work, then just about when the folks you used to get high with are waking up you’re thinking about how you’re going to get back to garage to start your afternoon run. Once the afternoon run is over, which may or may not be anywhere near the scheduled end time, you’re too busy thinking about getting home in order to have a modicum of down-time before getting to bed early enough to get enough quality sleep so you can repeat the whole process again the next day.
There are additional requirements beyond just driving the shifts. While in probation you will have, at least, six check-rides with an examiner. If you do anything stupid on the check-ride you can be cut. If you fail to demonstrate progress from the previous check-ride you can be cut. Oh, you’ll also be driving new routes on holidays so be prepared to learn them in advance. There are also probationary classes you must attend that fall between your splits. Miss one and you could be cut but you will certainly accrue time loss. There’s also the probability you will receive complaints from customers and need to deal with the process of addressing those complaints. And there is the lingering possibility you will be involved in some kind of a crash. You’re “allowed” two preventable accidents (PAs) and a maximum of 15 hours of time loss while in probation. Get a third PA or more time loss and you’re done, but any PA or time loss on your record might impact advancement.
There’s also the demands and restrictions of holding a commercial driving license. Get one, 1, DUI and your license will be revoked. No license, no job with TriMet. Show evidence of insufficient sleep and under the law you can be considered drunk. Again, no CDL no job. Get a speeding ticket from a traffic camera and fail to report it to TriMet and you’ll be cut. You also need to maintain currency on your DOT medical card. Lose track of time and let it expire, get caught driving with an expired card, and you’ll be cut. Nearly everything at TriMet begins with “It is The Operator’s responsibility to [insert just about everything here].”
My thus far brief time with TriMet has helped me narrow my focus, eat better, drink less ethanol, get better quality sleep and develop a much keener awareness of what “being in service to others” means. The job imposes a brutal order on one’s life, but it also forces one to make, and then own, a host of decisions. There’s also the demands of “repeatability.” It’s one thing to get up, go to work, do stuff, then come home, but to get up and go to a job where you cannot be late and during you’re actual work you’ll have no access to your phone, to food, to a bathroom, and to do it day after day at exactly the same time, is extremely difficult. My previous experience of running tech for theatre helps, but the day-to-day reality is still a hard adjustment.
I have no idea how long I’ll be able, or want, to keep doing this, but the experience has been, on balance both unique and helpful.