Day 405 – The Whole Story, or at Least Part One
It was never meant to last forever.
In the first episode of Serial Season One Sarah Koenig is explaining the difficulty of recalling where you were at a specific time in the past. At one point she ends a sentence with a sharp declaration “Are you sure?” That is how I have been living my life for the past seven months. It’s difficult, if not outright impossible, to fully explain how invasive an unrelenting split-shift, time-based job is day after day. There are two components to the job you must constantly be aware of: first, you must be at the garage to sign your work on time. If you’re one second late another operator will sign your work, you will get an “oversleep” and you will lose one piece of your work and accrue time loss. Remember this is split shift, so depending on how the station agent feels that day, you might lose the one piece or the whole day. In probation you can only miss 15 hours total before being dropped. Two oversleeps and you’re cut. The second unrelenting component is “are you sure?” That is the question you will be asking yourself over and over both while doing the job and in preparing to do the job.
I don’t mean to beat this thing to death, but seriously, try being someplace at exactly the same time, wearing the correct clothes, with the correct accoutrements, day after day after day. Oh, and do it two times per day. It will mess with your head. I guarantee you will constantly be thinking “can I get to the store and be back to the garage on time?” And then a voice will ask “Really? Are you sure?” The car will start tomorrow… “Really? Are you sure?” During training students are told over and over and over “if the words ‘I think…’ ever enter your brain, (as in “I think I can fit between those two cars”) stop and reevaluate the situation.” You’ll constantly be wrestling with “I think I can make it” and “Really? Are you sure?”
As this new reality takes hold you will, out of necessity, begin making choices as to what can and cannot be done in the time available. You will prioritize in unexpected ways. Yes, you will. Work/life balance? Are you kidding?
The bottom line is in order to meet the demands of the job you will drastically curtail life outside the job. The same could be said of any job, true, but there are two additional factors: first, you cannot as in CAN NOT, be in communication with the non-work world at any point during your driving time. Second, if you lose focus, for even a split second, there is a chance people could die. Now, that is a bit of hyperbole. The reality is more “if you lose focus for even a split-second somebody’s mirror is going to get broken.” But even in my limited experience I had bicycles shoot out in front of me, pedestrians suddenly decide they could make it across that street before the bus hits them, and dozens of assorted “holy crap” moments that all blur together after the shift ends.
The only way to guarantee you sign your work on time is to be early. The only way to be early is, well, to be early. The only way to maximize focus is to get sufficient sleep. These inconvenient facts quickly turn a “part-time” job into a full-time, part-paid, job. The only way to address this is to drive full-time, but that opens the door to added stresses of difficult schedules, late nights, weekends, “extra service” and the loved by some, dreaded by others, “extra board.” Thus we come back around to the question “do you have anything going on outside of the job?” and “what is more important?”
For me I’ve answered that question. I set out to see if I could go essentially from zero to an out-of-probation bus operator and I did. In doing so I learned that, given the choice, preparing dinner for my wife (along with a host of other non-work stuff) is more important than a burgeoning career at TriMet.
Thus, with that out of the way for now, let’s have some fun.
This rather unflattering picture is Rick Smith, “my” instructor. I mentioned Rick earlier in my “lucky” post. All of the trainers/instructors at TriMet are excellent. No shit, they are excellent. Some, as they explain it, are more excellent than others, but they are all great and I feel privileged to have been taught by them.
Another standout is Mike Bishop. He claims to be an Oregon native, but I swear his soul is from Asbury Park, NJ. With a voice and mannerism like Joe Pesci he is simultaneously hilarious and deadly serious.
The following are just a handful of the characters I met in my brief time with “The Agency.” One person missing is Isaac and another is Rob. I met Isaac on my very first day coming to TriMet for an interview. He had done a bunch of different jobs over the years and, like me, had decided to give TriMet a shot mostly just to see where it led. About a month or so short of exiting probation he was accused, by a Road Supervisor, of running a red light at a bad intersection. Unfortunately, as it was explained to me, there was no video evidence to support or refute the claim and in such a case the Road Supervisor’s claim takes precedence. Rather than be cut he chose to resign with the option to return in the future. This event, again as explained to me, left a very sour taste and certainly factored into my plan to resign after completing probation.
Rob was a couple classes ahead of me and we ended up swapping stories in the morning at the garage. Also we both had road relief in Milwaukie so for a bunch of weeks we were sort of stuck with each other. He was my reality check/big brother insofar as he was ahead of me in the process. He’s a good guy, is now a full time driver and has survived his time on the extra board.
I didn’t get Anthony at the beginning, but quickly learned he is whip-smart and usually a few steps ahead of me in any given situation. With a voice like Harvey Fierstein he has a deadpan style that just cracks me up. One rainy day he came rolling into the yard in an old 2100 high-floor bus while I was walking back to the main building. He popped open the door and I saw he was driving in his raincoat with the distinctive pointy hood up. He looked like a cross between grumpy cat and a garden gnome. “There’s a leak in the roof… right over my head!” Also Anthony always referred to the dreaded “over sleep” as “sleepovers.”
Al, Albert, has an engineer’s mind and was always asking the “what if?” questions. He got charged with a PA (preventable accident, during probation you can have one, get a second one and you’re automatically dropped) and from then on whenever anybody asked “how ya doin’?” he would reply with a smile, “today might be the day!” I’m glad to say he successfully made it out of probation and has gone full-time.
Lila is a true salt-of-the-earth type of person. She was a school bus driver before coming to TriMet and is probably the most quietly positive person I’ve ever met. Always willing to listen or help she uses “hon” to address people and it seems simply right. “Well, hon, you just be careful out there.”
Ric and I are similar in that we’ve both done a lot of things, with some successes, but nothing really “took.” He explained this phenomenon succinctly by saying “we’re ‘experiencers’ in that we like to do different things. Some people get a job and are fine just doing it. Once we get the job we’re usually looking for what’s next.” Too right. He’s also able to use “that’s cool man” in an infinite number of situations. Ric’s an avid gamer and I look forward to getting my ass kicked in various online events.
So aside from the people I met are there parts of the job I’m going to miss? Of course. I love to drive and doing it as a job was an interesting challenge. I am a better driver now than I was before and I was pretty good before. I’ll miss being able to enter conversations by saying stuff like “damn 19 driver was burning time in position one again” and “check your paddle, I think you make the Z stops northbound before starting your deadhead.” The best part were the early morning pre-trips. Getting everything set just right before starting my morning run. The hardest part was dealing with the public and I’m quite proud I did it pretty well. While I got better at it over the course of probation I remain a misanthropic curmudgeon at heart and never really liked dealing with the public. I can do it, but I don’t have the gift.
So… what comes next? Work-wise not a clue. Over the past month or so I built up a sizable list of “Things to do after TriMet” and will address them one by one. Many involve house maintenance. I plan to make lots of awesome dinners for Annette. We plan on taking short mid-week trips using the iStream. I plan to read more and practice guitar and walk Kaylee more. I will spend less money. We’ll just have to take it from there.
Oh, one final note for today: if anybody is curious about what it’s like to drive for TriMet and would like to hear it from somebody other than me go here: From the Driver’s Side.