Ok, let me start by saying this, “Rage makes fools of us all.” For those of you who have read my previous blogs about bus driving you know I am a collector of rage. A fine connoisseur of rage filled incidents if you will. Why rage? I will tell you, because nothing so lays bare our limitations, prejudgements, nothing so defines our belief that somehow we can read into the intentions of others. Rage almost always reveals what we don't like to admit about who we are inside.
Now before this day’s tale one more observation.
Ask any driver from Portland to England, From France to Australia and you will find out one simple truth. When people lash out at you expect to be called by whatever is easiest for them to grab onto. Women are the B word, If you’re heavy it’s the F-word… not that F-word the other one for heavy people. For Black’s it’s the N-word, If you have a big nose it’s the big nose word, I think you get it, right? Good!
Do I think the person calling me a name is really a racist or fatist or bignoseist? No. It’s just rage, expediency and a limited vocabulary that traps them into grabbing whatever is easy. Any driver from any place in the world can tell you that one.
Before I start let’s look at the contributing factors to this story.
A Hot Day: It was the hottest day last year in Portland Oregon. Not Australia hot, but plenty hot. Nothing makes things go wrong faster than heat.
Busses Were Late: Most of the older busses have very small radiators when compared to the new multi-fan units we have now. These undersized radiators get dirty and their efficiency drops off to almost nothing. So on and on this hottest day of day’s breakdowns were common across the entire system.
One More Clue, Swan Island: For those of you not familiar with Portland Oregon, Swan Island was once an island until some creative landfills made it just more land. It is a place of manufacturing and warehouses and is also the end of the line 72. Just so you visualize this I have drawn a little diagram.
Approach down onto Swan island.
Break area nearest bathrooms
End of the line lay over
Exit path for Swan Island
7-11 store and bypass road allowing us to circle the block back to 2
Obvious Problem: Break area is before the end of the line. If no one is on the bus you stop at 2. If there is a rider who want the end of the line you have to go 3 first then use the 5 path to loop back to stop 2.
Ok now our tale starts.
On this hottest of all hot days I was driving a 72. coming down the hill onto Swan Island. It had taken a remarkable 28 extra minutes to do this leg of the 72 because my bus kept overheating. Overheating causes you to stop, open the engine hatch, speed up the engine while you sit, then 5 minutes after it says cool, you can stop shut the hatch then continue on. This happened to me twice and I think my leading bus was knocked out by the heat and had to be towed back to the garage so I was doing a double load of very very unhappy people.
The 72 is a long run and adding 28 heat soaked minutes to the run gave me a case of ExBS… ExBS strikes every bus operator on earth at one time or another. It’s scientific name is Exploding Bladder Syndrome. To fight the heat I had been drinking an ice cold bottle of water, well I had been an hour and a half ago when I started my run and now that water had to come out and it had to come out fast.
Having ExBS and yet driving at a controlled speed is a rare talent that I have mastered. All the time I’m driving onto Swan Island I’m charting my next step, running the math in my head. I have just enough time to stop at (location 2) run in and take care of business at the 7-11 then buy more water and I was…
BING! Someone rang the bell for the next stop!
Wait!!! someone was on board!!!
I thought I had been empty. Then they said “Could I get the last stop” DRAT! They wanted (location 3) far, far from the bathroom. What to do?
I recalculated my ExBS and realized I would just make it. It would be close and I would be in pain but I could do it.
I drove to the corner turned left and AAAAAGH! at the stop (Location 3) we have only two slots. There were three busses already trying to squeeze in that two slot space. All three busses with engine lids up… Ok I reworked the ExBS math. I would drop off my rider, shut my door, then swing around using the special (Location 5) bypass road and that would take me to sweet sweet (location 2) Then a quick run, not walk, to 7-11 and their glorious bathrooms.
I pulled up and there was a large group of riders waiting for the next bus leaving, I had a ten minute break so I knew it was probably not me leaving first, besides… You know… bathrooms.
I held up my hand and shook my head as I dropped off my passenger from the roadway. The people on Swan Island are usually pretty commutter savvy so they all stepped back understanding that I was not picking up… All except for two.
The two were African American, an older woman, mid 30’s and a young man, say mid teens, could have been son or brother or some relative. Since I was suffering from an acute case of ExBS I was not able to do a genetic diagram at that moment.
Now this woman looked like she was a warehouse worker and had worked a long day. She was very upset about the busses being late and very uncomfortable in the heat. She had no way of knowing my bladder was about to pull an Alien and bust out of my chest. She had had enough, obviously and just wanted on the next bus.
She ignored my upraised hand and started to push onto the bus.
“Wait a mo…” that’s all I got out.
“NO WAY!” she screamed. I was shocked and for a moment my bladder hid back behind my liver cowering…. but only for a moment.
“I’m not…” again she yelled over what I was saying.
“Do you know how long we waited!” Let me add this in her defense, Swan Island is a freaking oven. The heavy water vapor from the nearby river traps heat like a blanket and the entire island is cement, add to this that it is in a bend in the river so that airflow never really reaches it and you have a miserable oven. So I understood.
“I…” I managed to say as she started to board. I think my eyes were crossed now in pain as my bladder, now ok with the yelling peeked out from behind my liver and started hurting again.
“Uh NO! No way!” she screamed, escorting the young man onto my running bus. “You are taking us and I don’t care how late you are…” She went on yelling right in my face.
“I’m…” I desperately wanted to explain, tears of ExBS ran down my face.
“All those other buses just passed us bye and these busses are broke down, so you’re taking us!” She began screaming.
“I..” This was silly and what was that? Was I getting a little frustrated parked there taking up precious bathroom time?
“No, don’t think you're funny you fat f-ing white ass bus driver,” she said. “You were going to drive off and leave us.”
I summoned up my big bad barbarian voice and said “Listen I…”
She began screaming, “I know why your white ass don’t wanna give us no ride”
There it was, the Race Card!
“Oh I know why… and you know why too, Oh yes you do.” they began to sit down.
Clever of her to play the race card, but play it face down. Daring me to say anything… one peep and her card would be flipped up, she would run the table, drop the microphone and walk off the stage, battle won.
I was done.
“You sure Y.” Why would she listen now she had her hold card ready to play.
“You just drive this bus you f-ing white asshole,” she screamed.
I literally did not have time to react, I had no strength to explain. Had I said one word more I would have compounded her crappy day with a less than noble image of a 50 year old driver wetting himself.
I started to pull away and she turned to her companion who, to the boys credit seemed more than a little puzzled at what I was trying to say. This did not make sense to him and he smiled at me weekly.
“Look at his fat ass,” she sneered. “He better take us or I will have his job.” At that moment she could have my job as long as she took my bladder with her.
There was dead silence when I hit the bypass and turned back around by the 7-11 store. She said nothing but I heard her inhale for what I thought was another bout of yelling but it was shock.
I pulled over to our break area (Location 2), parked the bus, put on the break, stabbed the gear selector into neutral and leapt from my seat. Almost while airborne I remembered to undo my seat belt, I just managed to get it unhooked as I fell out of the chair.
I left the doors open and managed to gulp out these three words “Break! Bathroom! Pain!”
That’s all I could say as I ran for the 7-11
Just what she screamed I do not know but it was not pretty. They exited the bus heading back by foot to the bus stop where I picked her up while I ran the other way. She screamed racial stuff, fat stuff, but to be honest I could not even hear what she was saying, even if she had all the amps from an AC/DC concert magnifying her voice because holding my bladder while running was taking 100% of my focus.
I will now spare you the bathroom details.
Walking comfortably back to my bus, a couple of bottles of water in my hands, now I had time to think. Was this woman a foul nasty witch? A racist? or was she just a normal person in a horrible circumstance, pushed to the edge. Like her, it was easy for me to reach for the simple explanation, that she was every bit the racist she was claiming I was.
In truth it was obvious, she was on the edge. She was on the edge and let rage get ahold of her. She reached for the easiest things to blame. She read into my intentions what she needed to in order to make our encounter what she needed it to be.
She could have been a friend or neighbor. She could be someone who would come over to my house for dinner and maybe a game of Settlers of Catan where I would kick her ass (Cause I’m that good at Catan) and we would laugh. She was someone's daughter, and someone's best friend, perhaps married and maybe that was her son. In short she was just like everyone else.
In this case, powered by rage she had simply grabbed for the low hanging fruit of race and waist size. I shrugged my shoulders and wondered how this would look if my bosses ever pulled the tape.
I mounted up and rolled back to the stop. Freakishly there was not a single bus there. Just a huge pack of people and this woman and the boy. Before I stopped I took a deep breath and looked at my hand. There in black ink I had written my life saving words “Everyone is Someone's, Loved one.”
I opened the door and people spilled into the air conditioned wonder of my bus. Except for her and the boy, She stopped and looked at me with the deepest rage. She wasn’t going to ride and that was it. Before she could say a word I offered up two of my bottles of ice cold right from the fridge of 7-11 waters.
She looked at me.
She looked at the water.
The boy walked in without waiting.
“Is that for me sir?” He asked with a smile.
I said nothing. I nodded and returned his smile then handed one to her.
She snatched it from my hand.
“You aint’ buying me off,” she said then mumbled something. “I’m still calling in a complaint.”
I could hear a weight in her voice, there was more than just this going on. Not that this was not enough. It didn’t bother me that she misunderstood my kindness for a buy off. I could also see something else as we drove on. She was thinking over what had happened.
This was one time to let things go. To not say a word, she already thought me to be a really bad guy. What words could I speak to change that… nothing, not a word. I kept silent and let my driving and people skills speak for themselves.
When they left she slinked out the rear door without a word.
People who are pissed always use the back door as podium for those last evil words. She skulked out, eyes downcast, she knew.
Whatever else had happened on that bus ride to her home she had seen the light. She knew what she had done, I was probably a miserable ending to a miserable day and we have all been there. I was ok with that. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, something in her would react differently some day. Oh maybe not instantly, but she was thinking and maybe someday when rage gripped her she could just hesitate a moment or two and remember.
What she learned that day I learned as well, because it could have easily been the other way around if our roles were reversed. It could have been any combination of races in this bus driver and rider story and the outcome would have been the same. Because as I said before, rage makes fools of us all.
I’ve never seen her again, maybe I never will, but I will always hold out for the best because that is the very definition of how you roll easy. You try to win the little battles and let the wars take care of themselves.
To all bus drivers of any race, size, gender, everything you do matters. Remember this story in your darkest hour and be strong.
Roll Easy, every one of you.
Please Give Generously to ExBS research… Every bladder is precious.