One Bus Drivers 9 Year Battle.
Humans are a mix bag, some good and some bad. Some want to be good and are accidentally bad, some are really bad but, despite their best efforts turn out to be good. You never can tell what people are, or what they will become given time. I would like to assume that I’m good, but I know I have my buttons, I know I am a fragile mortal just like you who are reading these words. This tale is one of petty, spiteful vengeance drug over almost 10 years. I wish I could tell you that I’m innocent in this war, the truth is, I’m just as guilty as my enemy.
Prelude to WW Freckles
A little over nine years ago I was a new bus operator, fresh out of class and ready to deliver quality customer service. A little side note: if you ever decide to become a bus driver, do it in the spring, this way after the six weeks of training you have all summer to drive before the difficult times of winter appear. DO NOT do what I did. I entered class November 1st 2006 this meant when I went out on the road for my first solo runs it was the middle of December. It’s hard enough learning to drive a bus, the pressure of your first runs, learning new routes, worried about being on probation, Now add snow and ice to this and you have what I like to call a stress cooker.
The first snow and ice day I had to deal with happened at night. At night on a route I did not know. Not only did I not know the rout but I didn’t know the neighborhood, not a good combination. I could remember the words of my trainer, good old Pete. “When in doubt ask the locals, they wanna get home just as bad as you want to get them home.” Oh Pete, I love and miss ya.
What can I say, it’s a bit uh… humbling? embarrassing? humiliating? I can’t put my finger on it, it’s just that to go on the PA system and ask for help seems to be less than awesome when you are the bus driver. You feel defeated in a way. Still you gotta do what you got to do, so I did.
First up was a guy who looked like a track coach. Running shoes, grey sweats and and over stuffed down jacket, all he needed was a whistle, clipboard and stopwatch. He had that commanding way of talking like most coaches do. Turn here Christensen!, Now Turn here Christensen!, now drop and give me 20! Christensen why are you drinking water during practice, water makes you weak! (That was the late 70’s for ya)
Soon the Coach was done, “Good Luck!” he said, striking out of the bus without a second glance. He obviously had places to go and laps to time in the falling snow.
Then Came Freckles.
He was short, dark haired, all smiles and freckles, striking blue eyes. Like most young people he was drastically (Some would say laughably) under dressed for the weather. He just had a look, like an all American, “hey you can trust me driver” look. So I did.
“Left, right, right, left,” he directed with authority. The snow picked up and the streets got more narrow. Then I noticed that I had not seen a bus stop sign in some time. I was just about to say something when he said in an excited tone “This is it, that’s my house.”
I stopped and opened the door.
He was telling a lie, it wasn’t his house, but I could go no further. The roads were too small, the snow to high and the ice too slick. He did live nearby but this was not the bus route. He had used my bus as his private limo to get close to home.
“Hey” I said. “Why did you bring me here I can’t get out.” It was true, I was going to have to back out, in the dark, in the snow and on ice.
He turned, smiled and said in perfectly clear and angelic pre-puberty falsetto, “eF You Bus Driver!”
That was our Fort Sumpter, the Pearl Harbor of what was to become World War Freckles. Funny thing is, if you use transit regularly, it is likely you will run into the same driver someday and if your neighborhood is served by only a single bus route I can promise that meeting was guaranteed.
Score Card Bus Driver:0 Freckles:1
Round 2 FIGHT! (About 2 months later)
During an evening rainy day commute I was heading out of Portland on the 9 Powell run. It was a long run and I was well over half way when who do I see waving to me from across the street? Freckles!
Sweet pay back!
He was not at a stop, heck not even on the right side of the road. I had a light just turning green, He could wait for the next bus that was just behind me… some place. Powell is one lane and I was not going to stop, block an intersection and wait for him to cross the street, not in commuter traffic. He would just have to catch the next bus and enjoy the rain at that uncovered bus stop.
As I passed him I looked out my side window and waved, then gripping myself I pantomimed a little shiver as if to say “Oh this rain is cold, too bad you are under dressed… AGAIN!
His face fell as he saw me. Oh so sad.
Score Card Bus Driver:1 Freckles:1
Second Battle: Strategy (One year Later)
Freckles may have been young and evil but he was not a fool. Worried that I would pass him up he would always stand at the bus stop looking away. Or if there were others at the stop he would hide away in the brush, then rush on my bus before I could close the door.
The next time we met was again on the 9-Powell bus… like I said if have to ride I will see you again. He had been at the Skate Park and was now waiting at the stop with some others. It was about midday and my guard was down.
Boom! Just like that he was on my bus.
“Hey Frosty,” he said with a smirk.
“Hey Freckles,” I said back equally smug, after all I had scored the last point.
In the back of the bus Freckles proceeded to eat his sack lunch out of his backpack making sure that he left every bit of garbage on my bus. It was a real mess and at the end of that run I would have to clean it up because I was going to be out 6 more hours and a dirty bus is never a good thing.
He rang the bell and three other people were getting off the front door but he chose the back. He paused just before the door shut, holding them open. This went on for about a minute until “Hey Bus driver, F-You”
With that he was gone…leaving me with the dirty bus.
Score Card Bus Driver:1 Freckles:2
Sea Attack! (Two Years Later)
So it went on and on. Every time I drove the 9 I would look out for him, but chance is a strange thing and it was years until I picked him up on an inbound 9-Powell bus.
Portland was in the grips of a crazy stormy Autumn day. Winds out of the South brought turbulent warm gust up to 40 MPH that’s uh 4 Million KPH for you metric people. The winds blew every leaf off of every tree and right into every drainage gutter and grill. The heavy rains filled the streets and gutters. It was awful.
I came off my break to a full bus and there he was! in the back! grinning and hiding. Now 15ish and much larger but it was still him, still little freckles. I could hear him tell his friends about me, about that snow day.
In my mind I was thinking of things I could do then I thought… wait what am I doing? Will this madness never end? I have to be the bigger person. So I just drove my bus listening to smug little Freckles tell his story.
What happened next I swear is just by chance. Really I swear… stop looking at me like that. It was chance I say. I was ready to bury the… stop laughing at me!
When he rang the bell I pulled over, only there was a gigantic puddle. all I could do was pull the front up to the curb leaving the back of my bus sticking out.
“Please exit from the front door” I announced and an old woman with a walker did so. Not Freckles, no not Freckles. Sensing some pay back he lined up on the back door, ignoring my warning.
“Hey driver!” He called. “eF-YOU!” he yelled and pushed open the rear door. Still looking at me and laughing he either did not see the puddle or saw it and thought it was not very deep.
He began yelling and high stepping, splashing up a storm as he tried to get to the sidewalk. I pulled away as soon as he was clear of my bus. I had wanted to end the war but it was clear that the war would go on.
Score Card Bus Driver:2 Freckles:2
Outflanked! (Unknown Time After)
I’ll admit it, I thought I was safe.
Another rout, another part of town.
It was summer and it was hot. One of those days when everything breaks down all over, commuter trains, busses, cars, trucks, cabs. traffic was bad and everyone is grumpy.
I was at Gateway Transit center miles away from any previous Freckles battle sightings. There were broken down buses galore and I had to swing around to the pickup side. I parked my bus at my stop, opened my doors and shut my bus down. I only had 5 minutes and I headed for the restrooms.
I know what you sane people are thinking… You left your bus open? Yes because that’s Trimet policy. So I head back to my bus suspecting nothing.
I don’t know if he yelled his usual good bye or I just thought I heard it. I remember looking over my shoulder at an over crowded commuter train finally pulling out. There he was, just as the doors closed. His two middle fingers raised. It was him… Freckles!
He was now heading towards downtown and so was I, Maybe just maybe… then I sat down.
There is a special feeling made by a bus driver seat when it’s wet. When you sit on it, the moisture squeezes out and soaks through your pants instantly. Only it wasn't a little moisture it was a lot. I shot out of my seat perhaps saying a few expletives.
“Some boy,” said an old man's voice, a rider. “Came in and dumped his drink in your seat I think.” I stood there dripping Mt. Dew, I looked in the garbage and there was a big gulp cup that was not there when I ran to the break room. Around me sickly green liquid leaked out of my pants and rained down upon the floor.
“Thanks,” I said to the old man seated just a little ways away from me. He had seen it all and didn’t warn me. “Thank you tons”
I was 90 minutes in on a 10 hour day… a 10 hour day with damp pants.
Score Card Bus Driver:2 Freckles:3
Blood and Mud (That Autumn)
The next time we met was early that fall. I was cruising down the street once again on the 9-Powell and it was getting dark. I was at the part of the route where no one is getting on or getting off.
I saw a group of people moving in the darkness towards a bus stop. They were waving and were not going to make it before I passed the stop. I slowed and slid over, opening my doors just passed them and waited… and waited.
They slowly strolled on past. 5 young men, walking as if they had not a care in the world. They walked right by my door. Gone was the frantic running and waving. They had made me stop and…
“Hey bus driver!” said the last one stepping back to my door. No! it couldn’t be! “EF! YOU!” Freckles shouted.
HOW DID HE KNOW?
HOW COULD HE HAVE KNOWN IT WAS ME?
DID HE HAVE SOME SORT OF BUS DRIVER SUPER SENSE?
No he didn’t. He just liked to harass drivers, the fact that it was me was as big a surprise to him as it was to me.
I was not mad because they made me stop. No big deal, just another moment in my long day. I was mad because he was now 2 up on me.
Score Card Bus Driver:2 Freckles:4
Is That A White Flag? NOPE! (A Year Later)
Then a long period passed. I had almost forgot about World War Freckles. That little kid was gone and the young man now stood before me. I was almost to downtown when I pulled over to pick up none other than Freckles and his wonderful pixie of a girlfriend.
When the doors opened and he saw me I saw fear in his face. I smiled my best evil mastermind smile but said nothing and he and her passed by me and headed for the rear of the bus. He was carrying a large pizza box and by the smell of it was full and just cooked pizza.
I decided to let it go. There could be a truce in the war for dates. So I just rolled on not thinking. Then I heard her laughing and I heard him talking in that conspiratorial tone. You know the tone, the tone your coworker takes when he is telling his wife he loves her in a crowd.
Were they laughing at me?
Was he telling his stories about how he dumped his Mt. Dew on my seat. I glanced in the interior mirror and he was looking right at me laughing.
The Evil Dan appeared on my left shoulder and did battle with the little good Dan. They fought and fought as Freckles and his Girl laughed and laughed.
I decided to honor the truce, after all he was on a date right?
I heard the bell. We were at his neighborhood stop and I pulled over clicking the door to open. The front door opened automatically and the green light went on over the rear door. All you have to do is push on the rails there and the door will open.
I saw them get up laughing and glancing at me. I reached down and grabbed the handle for the doors. I knew what was coming…
I don’t know if it was the presence of his Girlfriend or the smell of the Pizza that was throwing off his game. This time he spoke to soon. He was walking down the two steps from the raised rear deck.
“Hey bus driver!” He shouted so loud everyone on the bus jumped. “Fuc…
I have several excuses, one is when he shouted I jumped and my hand accidentally flipped the door handle to shut. The other is the small Evil Dan won the fight with Good Dan and ran down my arm and flipped the door handle. I will accept either of those explanations, even if you will not.
The problem was this, Freckles realize he had started his exit statement too soon and so had to speed up to get out the doors on the right beat, right on the “..ck you!” So he hit the door just a moment after the green light went off and the doors locked.
The Pizza box squished perfectly between the door and Freckles. I flipped the door to open. To anyone casually observing he just mistimed the door, destroying his pizza in the process. Only I knew, well I knew and he knew what had happened and that’s all that counted.
The normally unflappable Freckles, to use a term of the street “lost his shit” He yelled and called me names but what I really heard him saying was “You Scored ON ME!”
Score Card Bus Driver:3 Freckles:4.
Victory Bus Day or VB Day.
That brings me up to last year and back in the snows. I’m pulling out of downtown by Portland State University. The Bus is full to the line, I make my last stop downtown and one person gets off so I can only let one more onboard. It’s an older gent with a wood walking staff looking like a modern Gandalf. Then behind him I see Freckles. It’s been 9 years and Freckles is a man, a man in college.
I smile, he frowns and I shut my door.
I’m about to even the score card, but I can't. I’m about to pull away but figure what the hell. I open my door and say “Freckles” his freckles are almost all gone now covered by a scrubby beard. He looks at me and I wave him in.
With great hesitation he enters the bus as if entering a bear cave. He has to stand right next to me as I roll.
I look at him at the next light and we both laugh. “Truce?” he asks
“Truce?” I say, “no way!” his face goes pale. “How about we both declare victory and go home.” He smiles at that.
“Yeah, Ok! Yes,” he says. “It’s been some time”
“Yes it has,” We exchange names. He tells me he is a PSU student but will be going on to U of W next year. We saw each other a few more times. Each time he yelled from the back down as he left… this time remembering to open the door first. “Hey Bus Driver! Thanks for the ride!”
Though I don’t feel much different ten years after starting this job I know ten years is a long time. I see that in the eyes and faces of my riders. I have seen the young grow up, the middle age get married and move on and I have seen the older rides face the hardships of trying to get bye.
You see it all as a bus driver the entire human condition from newborns to those just hanging on. You don’t get a clear view, it’s like a living scrapbook seen under a flashing strobe light. People caught by the flash at different points in their life, blink! young, blink grade school, blink! teenagers, blink! an ass full of Mt. Dew.
That’s how it is on a bus… trust me I drive’m
Thus ends World War Freckles.
It’s time to count the dead to forgive and move on and most of all to Roll Easy.