5th Avenue Angels


No one on earth can feel like this,
I’m thrown and overblown with bliss,
There must be an angel  
Playing with my heart.

By the Eurythmics, June 1985

What you need to know #1: In downtown Portland two streets are designated transit ways and that is 5th avenue a one way South street and 6th Avenue a one way North street. Each is made up of three lanes, the most left lane is the auto-lane, the middle lane is the transit way lane for bus and Light rail train travel, and the right lane is where the busses and the trains pullover to service their stops.

What you need to know #2: What are angels? While there are many ideas of just what an angel is, to some an Angel is a beautiful celestial being, while some others believe we turn into angelic beings when we pass. I, as an atheist and a bus driver have a little different view. For me it’s simple, an Angel is a person whose life I have saved by my defensive action as a bus operator.

I’ve said it a hundred times, driving is a life or death job. In your hands as a bus operator you save lives every day. What you do and what you don’t do has a direct impact on life and death of those about your bus. When you see a bus driver you never see the Angels they have created but trust me they are there in uncounted multitudes, An army of Angel’s following each driver. They earned these Angels every time they saves someones life.

Now let’s get into this weeks tale, this is from events about a month ago.

On this night I’m doing a 19 bus. I’m sitting on Burnside about to turn on to 5th Avenue, that transit mall I mentioned above. It was cold, raining and about 8:30 so no rush hour. It had been a quiet Tuesday so I felt I had nothing to fear. It doesn’t work that way, unlike other jobs where you have down time or times when decisions are not critical while a bus is moving every action you make is critical.

I was about to be reminded of how critical every action could be.

As I made my turn from Burnside to 5th avenue one of the local street people decided that it was his time to cross the street, red don’t walk hand be damned! With a wave of his paper bag covered bottle he strolled forward after standing unmoving while the walk signal said he could go.

As my bus sweeps the turn there is a time when he disappears into a blind spot, I noticed he was not on the curb and stopped. I was only going five miles an hour in my turn so stopping was easy. Sure enough he pops out from behind my left rearview mirror. Yelling and screaming that he didn’t need to stop no matter what the crosswalk said or the fact that I had a green arrow for my turn.

“That’s one more Angel” I laugh to myself, as I always do.

That’s my tried and true response. It makes me feel good and it stops me from focusing on the actions of others. It’s not about what they do, it’s about what I do and I’m in the Angel making business.

I service my first stop and that puts me in the far right lane. My light turns green and I do my scans, No one running for my bus, no other busses and trains to my left so I start to pull out… AAAAAAHHH!!!

A driver of a black and gold escalade in the far left lane decides to ignore the bus only signs and all the laws about intersections. He does this without warning cutting from the far left lane, through the travel lane for busses and trains, right across the front of my moving bus so he can enter the underground parking structure for the US bank tower.  Normally they have to go around the block to there left and enter the intersection from across the street from the underground parking structure. Not our Mr. Escalade, he was in a hurry, a hurry to become another one of my Angels.

I let him pass, no honking or nothing. “Honking doesn’t stop an idiot” My trainer Pete always said.

“That’s one more Angel” I laugh to myself, as I always do. Two in two blocks that was rare.

I continue on up 5th Ave, There is a surprising amount of Traffic but there was still two weeks to go until Christmas so maybe that was not so surprising after all. Two Cyclist following the automobiles up the Auto lane become frustrated as I approach. I see them swerve left, no too close to the curb for them to pass, they then come to the right of the auto lane and by reflex I start to break.

“Hey look” the cyclist think to themselves, I can see their thinking process by the way they are riding, “There is a double white line on the right. What does that mean? Wait I know! It’s a bike lane, That little 6” gap between the two white lines is a bike lane! They swing into the Mini-Bike lane and that puts them in danger of meeting my bus. I slow down even more keeping pace just behind them. I have just enough room to pass but no safety margin because they are in what they think is a bike lane and it is not.

  At the next intersection what I fear could happen, happens. the lead car is turning left slowly and the second car swings to the right to go around, crossing the double white line. The cyclist to avoid getting side swiped have to catapult into my lane and suddenly slow down. I’ve already seen this coming and I come to a complete halt as both car and cyclist go through a red light.

I laugh cause I’m in the Angel business and business is good.

“That’s two more Angels” I laugh to myself, as I always do..

Yes the double white lane is not a bike lane but try telling that to the over eager. They had no idea that had I kept rolling I would have flattened two cyclist. They are my Angels now and they don’t know it.

My second stop is uneventful, easy even. No problems landing, picking up my riders and taking off again. I’m on edge because of the previous encounters but there was no Angel making here. That felt good. I pull away heading to my next stop when around the corner comes a speeding Mazda. By corner I mean the car was going the wrong way down a one ways street, Portland loves one way streets. The Mazda driver had realized what was going on and in a panic, turned off of one wrong way street, onto 5th avenue the wrong way as well and was face to face to me. I stopped, turn on my four way lights and the car screeches to a halt. I had no idea Angels drive Mazdas,

“That’s one more Angel” I laugh to myself, as I always do.

Now I’m nearing my PSU stop the second to last stop on the bus mall of 5th Avenue. As I approach I can see a huge crowd of University students and others waiting for me. They all crowd towards the stop and that sets off red alerts in my head. Too many people and all are right up to the edge of the sidewalk.

    As I pull in a young woman, a freshman maybe, drops her money. Without thinking she leans down sticking her head out over the curb, You know the thinky part of her body. Despite this action at the last second I’m way ahead of her. I was approaching the stop at a crawl because of the crowding. I came to a halt easily and tapped my horn. She jumped and looked up right into my headlight, well within arms reach.

She boards my bus, pays and walks to the back without a word.

Most Angels are like that after I save their life… most never say a thing. Maybe it’s embarrassment or maybe they don’t feel their Angelic power, I really don’t care as long as they are safe and unharmed.

“That’s one more Angel” I laugh to myself, as I always do.

Now the last stop on 5th Avenue. I pull up and my heart is beating fast. I’m ok with one or two Angel encounters per Mall trip but all these encounters in one night? While I’m going over this in my head, a huge dump truck pulls up next to me blocking my sight of crossing traffic.

At this intersection we get a green light before the dump truck but since I can’t see around him I just sit until he moves. He moves about a lane and a half and stops with a jolt. I’m just switching my foot from brake to gas so it’s easy for me to stop. In a flash a Motorcycle zips across the stopped dump trucks front.

Just like that I see that I’m not the only one in the Angel making business.

“That’s one more Angel” I laugh to myself, as I always do, only this one belongs to the dump truck driver. Good on ya dumb truck driver.

That’s it, this night stuck in my head because how could it not. Now I wanted to say two things more.


  1. I would like to take credit for my safe driving but it was learned. Learned from old Pete and from all the classes I have taken. I believe in Safety and that means taking responsibility and always, ALWAYs be looking. There are no safe drivers, just safe driving. You are only as good as you are driving moment to moment.

  2. This is a bit more philosophical. Every once in awhile you will hear of a bus injuring a pedestrian or worse. What I want to say is this, When the worse happens don't be so fast to jump on this driver and start pointing fingers and calling names. You have no idea how big their Angel pool is. That driver could have saved hundreds or thousands of lives but you will never know it. Don’t worry those of you who need a good crucifixion the press will crucify them, Transit agencies will blame it all on the operator and the law is stacked against all commercial drivers. So the ugly witch hunt will happen, all I’m asking is to have some compassion for the driver, just a sliver if you will. That driver did not get up in the morning with a plan to hurt anyone, don’t panic they will have their life ruined, a career ended and they could have legal actions and civil actions to follow. All that will happen without the public piling on. All I ask is look with open eyes at some poor operator and try to see all those uncounted Angels that follow them. Let ugly justice be done but have some compassion for the operator. I think we can do that much for a fellow human being and someone who may have been in the Angel making business just like me.

That’s it for this week. With any luck next week I will have my first video done.

Until then under all conditions keep Rolling Easy and please please make as many Angels as you can.