Tuesday, March 23, 2010

vacation week

I'm on vacation this week. No bus driving for me. Just sleeping in, being lazy, and trying to get a little of the housework done.
There was a fire in an apartment in Golden Hill on Friday. I saw is as I was coming up Broadway on the 15. When I had the 2 I went right by there. The next day in the paper there was an article about it, and it turns out a man died in that fire. An old man named Sam Taylor. It just happens that Sam had been riding our buses for years. He was a older, light skinned, slender black man. I didn't know how old he was, but the article said he was born in 1926. So he was 84, or close to it. He was always really friendly, and remembered my name, as I remembered his. He was still in good shape, and probably would have lived well into his 90's, if not 100. But now Sam's gone. And I feel sad about it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

People ask the dumbest questions sometimes. My personal favorite: "Do you go up this street a little ways?" Me:"Yes" "Will you tell me when we get there?"
Of course, they all think I remember them from the beginning of the trip, even though I am not looking at them, and probably wasn't looking at them when they (I assume) told me where they wanted off. Out of nowhere, I will hear, "Is this my stop?"
Some famously unanswerable questions: "Do you go by the Starbucks?"
"Do you go to Mission?"
"Do you go by the Hospital?"
"Do you go to the mall?"
"How do I get to Wal-Mart?"

Of course, these all have a common theme. This is a BIG CITY, people! We have lots of Starbucks, lots of hospitals, lots of malls, lots of Wal-Marts. And every other damn thing is named Mission, or Scripps, or Sharp, or Balboa.
Once, just to pass the time, I mentally went through every route in our system, and EVERY ONE went by a Starbucks! So that one would be easy to answer, I guess. "Do you go by the Starbucks?" "Yes". Never mind that I've given you absolutely no information at all. If you're satisfied, so am I.
Some people don't want to give you any information at all about where they are going, but they still want you to tell them how to get there! Then there are others who want to tell you and everyone else on the bus exactly where they are going. "Do you go by the Welfare Office?" they shout. Or, "Can I have a courtesy ride? I just got out of jail and I have to get home." There used to be some shame in admitting these things, but no longer.
Speaking of shame, I haven't seen the alcoholic whose pants would always fall down in a while. I wonder if he is okay. He never seemed to be ashamed when his pants fell down. He could never make up his mind which to do first, finish paying, or pull up his pants. If he pulled his pants up before he finished paying, there was a good chance they would just fall down again before he was done. And in case you are wondering, he DOESN'T wear any underwear, and he is a natural blond. Once he got seated, he loved to tell about how he lived at the Golden West in the men's dormitory for $14 a night when he had the money, and slept on the street when he didn't. He was always getting robbed, because he carried around a bunch of cash, and was drunk all the time. Unless, or course, I picked him up at UCSD hospital. In that case, he was sobered up and on his way home to start the whole process again.
A lot of these bus stories are funny, yet sad at the same time. On one hand, I love the variety of things I get to see and hear in a day. On the other hand, some things are not so pretty. I try to be amused rather than annoyed. But annoyance comes with the territory, I guess. Sometimes the passengers say they are amazed at my patience. But I am not really that patient of a person, to be honest. It's just that I've been at this for so long, I've learned which way of handling things actually turns out to be quickest. Being rude to people is not going to shut them up or sit them down. My goal is to keep moving, NOT to educate the public on how to act. Their mothers either did that, or they didn't, and there's nothing that can be done about it now. Of course, sometimes I let my annoyance get the best of me, but it never fails to cause new problems, and slow me down as a consequence. So I am NOT acting out of patience. I'm just hiding my impatience because I've learned it's faster in the long run .

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The worst thing about my job is that you have all day to be alone with your thoughts. This can be fine if you are in a good place. It can be torture if you aren't. Luckily, lately I have been in that good place. I sing in my head, chat with passengers, even plan my day after work (usually futile, since my daughter will have different plans for me when I get home). But there have been periods of time when I absolutely DREADED getting into that seat for the day. As soon as I would sit down, here would come the negative thoughts. I'd chase them away, but they'd come right back. Usually this has happened during difficult times such as relationship breakups, or the time before the breakup when things just aren't going well. Those are the times when I wish I had been a mathemetician or something. Nothing like a good math problem to get your mind off other types of problems. Right now the biggest problem I have is setting the clock forward and having to get up an hour earlier. Lucky me, my life is boring!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Dry Spell

I guess I either ran out of stories, or got tired of telling them. Life is going on in bus world as usual. Today a guy was trying to point the way to a blind lady carrying a white cane. I told him she couldn't see, and she said "I can see". Way to make me feel dumb!
Putting my foot in my mouth is a habit of mine. Apparently I like the taste of my own toes. So I might as well tell the story of the girl with the big feet.
This happened a long time ago, when San Diego Transit still operated the 115. I had a student driver that day, so I wasn't doing all the driving. As we arrived back at the bus at the El Cajon Terminal (from the restroom), there was a crowd of people waiting to board. One of them was a tall, overweight young woman dressed in jersey shorts and a T-shirt. No bra, and she needed one, but it was very hot that day. She was very chatty as we got on, and we were carrying on a conversation, probably about there being a student driver, but I don't really remember. She was seated behind the driver, and I was across from him, so I could see where we were going and make sure he didn't make a wrong turn. As we headed up Marshall, I noticed that the young woman's feet were so large that they stuck out halfway across the aisle. Like a dork, I blurted, "Damn, girl, you've got some BIG feet!" "Size 16. " came the reply, "And I'm a boy."
There is NOTHING like making a fool of yourself in front of a whole bunch of people. I could have died. In my defense, his voice hadn't changed, he didn't shave yet, and he really needed a bra. "Oh, you're young," I said, lodging my toenails more deeply into my tonsils. "That's why your voice hasn't changed yet". He was nineteen. I didn't know what to say after that, and honestly, I still don't. If I had been a passenger on the bus, I think I would have gotten off and waited for the next one. He didn't seem too disturbed, though. He continued talking to me about the place he lived, (a group home), and how he wanted to get a job. Finally, he got off, and I never saw him again. Whew!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dave got on my bus today. I didn't see him, just his pass, until he said "hi Ellen". Dave is a good friend of my ex-fiance, Philip. I had months and months of difficulty getting over Philip. Only a few months ago it would have made a knot in my gut to accidentally run into Dave, or Bob, or Philip himself. I see Philip too damn often, since he is also a bus driver. But lately it's getting better. I don't play a constant rerun of one of our fights in my head all day anymore. I hardly think of him at all. When I saw Dave, it was a genuine pleasure. So I AM getting over it. It's about time!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Old Friends and Auto-pilot

Today I had my mind boggled by one of my passengers who, in talking with another passenger, mentioned my high school boyfriend! He didn't just mention HIM, but a couple of his brothers, too, so I could have no doubt who he was talking about. I asked him about it on his way out, and he said, yeah, he was friends with them growing up on 69th St. in Lemon Grove. Yep, that's where he lived, all right. Strange, small world.
One time a guy put a bike on the bus, showed me a pass and sat across from me. As soon as I pulled away from the curb, I was startled to hear him say "Hi Ellen". I looked over at him, and there was Frankie, a neighbor of mine growing up. He didn't look particularly different than before, but I hadn't seen him. I watched him put the bike on, probably looking at the bike. I glanced at his pass, but not up at the face. That is a strange feeling, to realize you have been dealing with people in such an automatic way that you don't even look at them, don't even see people you know! It happens with my regular passengers, too. Someone I've frequently talked to will get up to exit the bus, and I will be startled to see them, because I didn't know they had been there!
A sophisticated robot could probably do my job, and someday probably will. There are some of my passengers who apparently think that time is already here, judging from the way they ignore my greetings when they get on. Probably because of that earphone in their ear. About half the people who get on treat me like part of the furniture. But who am I to judge? I am herding them into the bus like sheep, not knowing one from the other half of the time. I guess it's a consequence of our crowded cities, our "fast lane" lives. We see so many people that they become part of the background, while we focus our attention on our Ipods and cell phones. Not ME of course. Not while I'm driving, anyway.
But I can still be in another world, just practicing the fine art of daydreaming. I've had arguments, tried to balance my budget, written an essay, and planned my future, all in my head, and all while driving the bus. After 23 years, the auto-pilot is well developed. It guides me down the street without an accident, but sometimes forgets to notify me when someone has rung the bell and wants off the bus. It's pretty good at getting me to stop for people waiting at bus stops, but it has failed to warn me when a turn was coming up more than once, especially when I've recently changed routes. THAT'S embarrassing! You've got a bus full of people watching you make a silly mistake. I missed a turn once when I had a bus full of middle-schoolers from Horace Mann. There's nothing like screwing up in front of 'tweens and teens. I shudder to remember it, and it was over twenty years ago!
But lest you think you're not safe on the bus, let me reassure you that I've never had a preventable accident. But as paying attention to the road becomes an automatic behavior, your mind gets freer and freer to wander, sometimes drifing into areas you'd rather not visit. That's when it's good to remember where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with. Back to the Present.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Back in the saddle

Started the new route today after a restful weekend. I'm doing an 11, interlined with a 15. A lot of drivers were against interlining when they first started it. Interlining is when you don't drive the same route all day. You stay in the same bus, but switch routes. That's different from a split shift, where you get relieved or pull the bus in, take an unpaid break, and then start out again on something else. Drivers were against interlining because it allows the company to save money by shortening our breaks. But the good thing about interlining is that it makes the day SEEM short. Driving one route all day is monotonous, and can seem to take forever. Switching from one route to another, especially from a long route to a short one (and vice versa), breaks up the monotony. I am working 8 hours and 45 minutes, exactly the same amout of time as I had on the route 2. But it seemed like a short day, And I was less tired than usual when I got off.
People ask me sometimes, 'how long do you get for lunch?' The answer, 15 minutes, often shocks them. 'How can they not give you a lunch break?' 'Isn't it required by law?' It is required, but with some exceptions. If you belong to a Union, as we do, you may bargain away yor lunch break. Why would we do that? Because a longer lunch break would be unpaid. So, if you can work from 6am to 3pm with an hour unpaid lunch, you get 8 hours of pay. If you can work 6am to 3pm with a 15 minute PAID lunch break, you get 9 hours of pay, and the last hour is at time-and-a half. An unpaid lunch break amounts to a split shift. There are enough of those available if you really want a long lunch. But most of us would rather do our work and go home.