or, How to drive a bus (part 14)
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At starting time, 6AM, Vivian approached Mitch and I, and pointed us to a table in the drivers' lobby. When we'd sat down, she gave us a bizarre talking-to that I'd characterize as an anti-pep talk.

"Today," she said, "will be your final driving test—"

Nobody had told us that today would be our final exam, so to speak, so that was news.

"—and I'm not sure I can pass you," she continued. "You guys are making too many mistakes on the road. You have to drive better today. You both have to stop at every railroad crossing. You have to make complete stops, not rolling stops..."

This was a speech that Mitch needed to hear. He's made plenty of mistakes, lots of them big mistakes, and when he goes a while without making mistakes he makes up for it soon, by making a flurry of mistakes all at once.

She was delivering her speech to both of us, though, and I haven't made many driving mistakes, certainly no big mistakes, so I asked, "What did I do wrong yesterday?"

"Let's go over that," she said, and brought out our daily workbooks. These are the documents we sign at the beginning or end of every day, where the teacher lists what we've done right or wrong, and what we need to work on. I was damned curious to see what she'd written about my driving the day before — when I'd driven close to perfectly, if I say so myself, and I do.

What she'd written was, "Needs improvement."

"Give me the specifics," I said.

She replied, "We'll cover the specifics on the road today."

I stood up and asked her to step aside with me, because I didn't want to say what I was about to say in front of Mitch. Vivian followed me down a hallway.

"Several times, you've called me Mitch," I said. "Last week you gave me Mitch's workbook and asked me to sign it, like I'm Mitch. Me and Mitch, we're both fat old white guys, but you do know that I'm not him, right? You do know that I'm the guy who hasn't curbed the bus, hasn't slammed on the brakes, hasn't done 40 in a 25 zone, hasn't turned from the wrong lane, hasn't failed to slow for speed bumps, and hasn't needed to have railroad crossings explained over and over and over again."

"I know who you are, Doug."

"Then you know that I drove pretty damned good yesterday."

"Then do it again today," she said, and walked back to Mitch at the table.

♦ ♦ ♦

Angry and getting angrier, I followed Vivian and Mitch out to the bus.

She told him to do the pre-trip inspection again, same as yesterday — he's shaky on that procedure, among many others, and needs the practice.

But you know what? I'm shaky on the pre-trip inspection, too, and need the practice. For a while, I watched over Mitch's shoulder as Vivian rushed through explaining some things to him about the pre-trip. Then she walked away, and my presence seemed to be making things harder for Mitch, so I stepped onto the bus to start unfolding the seats.

On disabled-access buses, the seats are folded out of the way, so passengers in wheelchairs can be brought on and be secured. For the past week and a half, though, our training hasn't involved any wheelchairs, so I didn't know why they'd folded our seats up.

Then Vivian was on the bus, and told me not to put the seats down. "We're going to have a wheelchair on the bus today," she said, "and you'll be securing it."

OK, another surprise. Let's see if I can remember what I learned in the securements and belts class. Securements, I have down. Belts, not so much.

Vivian sat in the wheelchair, quizzed me on every step as I did the securements and belts, and found fault with absolutely all of it. I'd forgotten things and made a few mistakes, so I deserved some of what she said, but even at the things I did correctly, Vivian wanted me to do everything slightly different.

She had rules I'd never heard before — Vivian rules, I guess. The wheelchair should be an inch and a half from where I'd set its brakes. The hook should be attached one notch below where I'd attached it. The front securements should be a bit closer to the wheelchair, she said, though they were at exactly the distance we'd been taught. And then, after the securements were completed, she told me that my front securements were too close to the wheelchair, and should be moved back — to where I'd had them, before she told me to reposition them.

Then came the belts, and as I've confessed before, and admitted to Vivian, I need more practice on belts. (I'd already asked a different teacher for a day of remedial work on belts, but his answer was nebulous and tilted toward no.)

Did my best, though, and I probably could've gotten Vivian belted in properly, if she hadn't interrupted everything I did to tell me to do it ever so slightly differently. When she decided I was lost (or she'd gotten me lost) she told me to sit in the wheelchair and she belted me in, telling me step-by-step what she was doing.

Several of her procedures didn't quite match what we'd been taught, but Vivian wasn't the person who'd taught us securements and belts. That was Sienna, and Sienna had said, "Everyone does securements and belts a little different, and your step-by-step might not be exactly the same as another driver's, but that doesn't matter, so long as you get the passenger secured and belted properly."

To Vivian, every small detail mattered. You can't pass Vivian's surprise test on securements and belts unless you do the securements and belts exactly the way Vivian does securements and belts, so maybe Vivian is the only person who could pass Vivian's test.

♦ ♦ ♦

I was still belted into the wheelchair, on the bus, as Mitch slowly but eventually completed his pre-trip inspection. When he stepped aboard, Vivian asked which of us wanted to drive first.

I was angry — about the surprise final exam, about Vivian's anti-pep talk, about her mistaking me for Mitch, and about her wheelchair mega-pickiness — and I didn't want to drive a bus angry, so I said, "Mitch can go first."

He was angry too, and I knew it, so that was me throwing Mitch under the bus. Sorry, man.

♦ ♦ ♦

So Mitch drove first, and did quite poorly — driving too fast, braking too hard, drifting in his lane, getting every railroad crossing wrong, and even curbing the bus for his fourth time.

He added something new to his mix, too. When the road twisted a bit and the early morning sun hit him square in the eyeballs, he took both his hands off the steering wheel at 30 miles per hour, to adjust his sun visor. Vivian wasn't even watching at that moment, but I barked out from the back, "Mitch! Hands on the wheel!"

Vivian looked toward the front, but by then Mitch was again steering with both hands, so she asked him what he'd done.

He said, "Nothing, I think Doug's messing with us."

I said, "Yeah, it was just a reminder. Always keep both hands on the wheel, and also, remember to use your turn signals, and put the headlights on at dusk."

"Actually, Mitch," said Vivian, "we drive with the headlights always on."

"I'm still not Mitch," I said. "I'm Doug."

My apologies to Mitch, though, for almost ratting him out. It wasn't on purpose, but my instinct for self-preservation kicked in. I'm all for camaraderie among us working stiffs, but I don't want to actually be a stiff. 

♦ ♦ ♦

It's been drilled into us that we must never exceed 3-5 mph when making a sharp turn, because it's uncomfortable for the passengers, and might even topple someone out of a wheelchair.

Apparently there's a little-known subsection to that rule, though, making it OK to gun it around a corner if you've been waiting a long time for an opening in traffic. That's what Vivian did when she was driving the bus, after backing us out of a tight corner Mitch had maneuvered us into.

♦ ♦ ♦

By the time it was my turn to drive, I'd calmed down, and drove pretty good. Not as good as yesterday and the day before, though. I made some errors of judgment, in both driving, and dealing with Vivian.

She had me drive through the Highway-99 tunnel, and as we emerged in South Lake Union, traffic slowed to a crawl in both lanes. After several minutes at one mile an hour, we saw that a full-size Metro bus had been in an accident, and the outside lane was blocked by wreckage of a car.

Vivian told me to move the bus into the inside lane and continue  northbound, but from her vantage point behind me, she couldn't see that the path from one lane to the other was cluttered with debris — a car bumper, a hub cap, a hundred nuts and bolts and flanges, and two metal parts, sharp end up, that could've sliced our tires.

I should've done what she said, driven through the debris and into the other lane. Any damages to the bus would've been on Vivian the teacher, not on me the rookie, right? I'm trying to drive safe, though, not stupid, so instead I turned the bus right, off the highway, and onto a small street that wound its way down a hill.

"What are you doing?" she shouted. "When I tell you to do something, DO IT!" Clearly, Vivian was annoyed with me, but I was annoyed with her, too.

Her driving instructions usually come late, and she often confuses left and right.

She makes jokes that aren't funny, and laughs at them.

She quizzes us on rules I swear have never been mentioned to us.

She talks and talks and talks, and not much of her talking has anything to do with driving a bus.

And she talks very loudly, so the sound of her voice reverberates off the glass and metal and plexiglass interior of the bus and into the interior of your cranium, all damned day. She is a headache wearing a safety vest.

And as we roll along city streets, she's only sorta watching us drive, looking out the windshield once in a while. I don't even know how she didn't see the bumper and hub cap in the road.

♦ ♦ ♦

Later, she decided she wanted Taco Time for lunch. I was driving south on Lake City Way, and Vivian told me to turn right, across traffic, into the Taco Time parking lot.

Two problems. though:

-1- There was a suicide lane to turn into the restaurant, but I wasn't in that lane, and at 30 mph it would've been a sudden and unsafe move to switch lanes, brake, and turn.  

-2- We were in a road-work zone, with safety cones arrayed across the parking lot's entrance, and I couldn't quickly assess whether cutting through the safety cones was safe.

I explained this to Vivian, and continued driving south.

"When I tell you to do something, DO IT!" she shouted again.

Next, she told me to turn the bus onto a small side street, and from there turn onto an even smaller side street. Her intent was to loop us around the block, taking us back to Taco Time, but a FedEx truck was blocking about 2/3 of the tiny one-lane roadway, and some residential trash cans were on the other side of the street. To get the bus through, I'd need to either wait for the FedEx truck to move (the driver wasn't in it), or get out of the bus and push the trash cans back to the sidewalk.

At this point, though, Vivian ordered me out of the driver's seat, and her tone made it clear that I'd fucked up. She backed the bus into someone's driveway to get us turned around. Before backing up, she got out of the bus and walked all around it, as we're supposed to do, but when she needed to reverse the bus a second time, she skipped the walkaround.

"You didn't do a second walkaround," I said, which earned me a glare.

"I'm glad you said that, and not me," Mitch whispered.

Then Vivian told me to drive again, and directed me onto northbound Lake City Way. From the right lane, she told me to turn left, meaning I'd need to cross two lanes almost instantly, to reach the left turn lane. That's against the rules, of course, but there was no traffic to speak of, so fuck me, I did it.

What I didn't notice, though, was that the left turn lane was separated from oncoming traffic by a mini-curb in the middle of the road, like the one in this picture. ⟹

The bus was at an angle in the turn lane, blocking traffic beside us, because she'd had me diagonal the highway. I waited until oncoming traffic was clear enough that I could turn the bus left, and as we turned, the rear wheels rolled over the lip of the mini-curb.

Yup, I'd curbed the bus.

Vivian, of course, freaked out, and told me to stop the vehicle. Every curbing, we've been told, must be reported at once, and a road-supervisor must come out and access the damage (though there's never any damage). There can be no exceptions to this, all the teachers have told us repeatedly, and indeed, every time I've been aboard a training bus that went over a curb, it's been reported, and we've waited for a road-supervisor.

So I stopped the bus, but instead of taking pictures and calling a road-soup, Vivian sat in the driver's seat. "We're past due for lunch, and I'm hungry," she said. "I'll report it later."

Did she report my curbing of the bus later? When I asked, she told me that she had, but nobody asked me to file an incident report, like happened with each of the other curbings I've ridden through.

♦ ♦ ♦

At fast-food for lunch, Mitch and I were standing side-by-side at the urinals, and he said, "I'm surprised Vivian's not here, telling us how to pee."

I looked around the men's room, just to be sure.

♦ ♦ ♦

While Mitch was driving again, I pulled my notebook from my bag, and started writing things down (notes that evolved into the article you're reading now). After a while, though, Vivian noticed me scribbling, and asked what I was writing in my notebook.

"All the stuff I'm learning," I lied, and then changed the subject to something out the window. After that it seemed wise to put my notebook back into my bag, but this page could've been twice as long if I'd taken more notes about what was happening.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

My second stint driving that day was flawless and silky smooth, and back at the bus barn I backed the bus into its proper stall with no difficulty.

Then Vivian told us to wait at a table inside, because she needed to talk to her boss about our sorry performance today. We sat together, me and Mitch, and talked about how frustrating it is to drive for Vivian.

When she eventually sat with us, she started by saying, "I don't know how much either of you need this job, but you're both making too many mistakes. You guys aren't passing. I talked to my boss, and he's OK with giving you one more chance tomorrow, to pass your on-road driving test, but frankly, you're not passing unless you show big improvement."

I was speechless, but not angry. It was more a feeling of Whatever will be, will be.

"Don't stress out!" she said. "You guys are driving like you're stressed out, so relax!" This was thirty seconds after telling us we'll be fired if we don't drive better tomorrow.

Vivian wants to flunk me, I think, because she's confusing me with Mitch, and/or because I've refused to do some of the kooky things she wanted me to do, like driving into the debris from that accident on Aurora.

She said she'd have our workbooks ready first thing tomorrow, so here's what I expect Vivian will write up, as my mistakes for today:

Securements and belts. Guilty as charged. As I'd told Vivian, and as I've told other teachers, I need a remedial day on securements, and especially belts.

Curbed the bus. Guilty. Vivian had me flustered, sure, but I was behind the wheel, so it's on me.

Horseplay on the bus, for my 'wisecrack' about keeping both hands on the wheel.

Railroad crossings. Vivian sent me into a wacky industrial neighborhood with unannounced railroad tracks scattered over a few blocks of narrow streets. At one point, she shouted that I'd stopped too close to a set of diagonal tracks. We had 4-5 feet of clearance, but it was kinda close and I didn't argue. Maybe I should've argued, but jeez, it felt like we'd been arguing all day.

Made left turns from the wrong lane, which is bullshit, but needs some explaining: At an intersection, if there are two lanes turning the same direction, the bus must be in the right-most turning lane. That's because of the bus's big turning radius — if you're in the wrong lane, you're likely to clip a car that's in the lane beside the bus.

Vivian had scolded me for turning into the wrong lane, twice, but both times she hadn't been watching, and was unaware that there were two turning lanes, not just one. Our bus was in the correct lane, and we'd turned into the correct lane, and I'd said so at the time, both times, but I'll wager she writes in the workbook that I screwed it up.

Following too close, which is also bullshit, and extremely bullshit. When other drivers pass the bus and merge in front of us, it fools the safety-eye into emitting a single beep, the signal that you're following too close. The bus driver, though, can't stop other drivers from cutting us off, and almost immediately the other vehicle is far enough ahead that you're back to a safe following distance.

Anyone who has a safety-eye or similar tech ought to understand that, but when three cars in a row passed the bus, earning three beeps from the safety-eye, Vivian said very loudly, "You're following too close! That's what the beep means, so stop following too close!"

She hadn't been watching, only heard the three beeps, so I explained to her, as I've explained to you, how passing tricks the safety-eye. Vivian didn't seem convinced, though, so I expect she'll write in the workbook that I was following too close, repeatedly. Which isn't true, even once.

So those are the goofs she'll probably list in my workbook, some of which are goofs, and some aren't. Maybe she'll also write me up for some of Mitch's mistakes, since she seems to think I'm him.

But you know what? I made other mistakes this morning, mistakes that Vivian didn't even see.

• I stopped at a traffic light with the bus's nose well into the crosswalk. Vivian didn't notice. She wasn't watching.

• Waiting to make a left turn in Ballard, I inched the bus into the intersection, like you do with a car when you're turning. It's a habit, but you're not supposed to do that with a bus, because it takes so much longer to turn at 3-5 mph, you could get stranded in the middle of the intersection. Vivian didn't notice, though. She was talking about her sister-in-law.

• I drove past a man waiting to cross, at a marked crosswalk. The rule is, I should've stopped the bus and let him walk. Vivian wasn't watching.

• And here's the mistake that worries me most: I whooshed us right past a Metro bus that was picking up passengers at a bus stop. That's what I'd do if I was driving my car, but the bus is much wider, and our clearance was less than I'd expected, only inches, at 25 mph.

It really rattled me. I'd been a hiccup or a shoulder twitch from wrecking the bus and almost certainly injuring people. Vivian hadn't noticed, though. She'd been telling Mitch about her house.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It seems obvious that Vivian has decided I'm not going to be a bus driver. I'm sure she'll fail me for some random reason, but the real reason is that I've said "No, I won't do that" too many times.

When she fails me, though, I'm not sure I'll argue. We'd missed hitting that Metro bus by perhaps three inches. I could hear the 'whoosh'. I can still hear it.

I like buses, and it's been fun driving one for a brief while, but maybe it isn't what I should do for a living.

♦ ♦ ♦

Life is a long series of surprises, though. What was waiting for me when I got home? An email that says I'm under consideration for that job answering phones for Metro Transit. They'll contact me soon, they say, to arrange for an interview.

Sunrise usually follows sunset, or so it's said.

Next: Friday
or, How to drive a bus (part 15)

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5 
Part 6     Part 7     Part 8     Part 9     Part 10
 Part 11     Part 12     Part 13     Part 14     Part 15


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  1. This woman! If the facts are as you reported then I don't like her!!!

    I am sorry the job didn't work out for you.

    1. Me too, but oh well.

      If anything, I may have been too kind to Vivian. Some more Vivian moments are sporadically popping into my memory, so there will probably be another page, dedicated just to her. :)

  2. You think Doug fudged the facts? I hope that's bad sentence construction and not wondering about the veracity of somebody who's reported in painful, accurate detail about his life for many years.

    Having said that, Doug made a different choice than I would have made. I have always preferred to go down swinging. Getting counted out in your corner can lead to sadness later.

    Of course, as a webfriend of Doug's I support whatever decision he makes and hope it all works out for the best. I hope walking doesn't disqualify him for his MetroInfo dream job. He'd be good at that.


    1. Your gallant defense of me is appreciated, oh knight in shining armor :) but as I've occasionally confessed, I'm not above embellishing reality if it makes a story better or funnier.

      Vivian got no embellishments, though. Every word written about her was true.

      Getting old, I guess. I just found no fighting spirit in me, to play "bus politics" or do whatever might've gotten me the job in spite of Vivian. It would've been a short-term job, anyway.

  3. Just to be clear, the woman is a dick, and Doug doesn't need two of them.


    1. Oh, I don't know about that. At my age the primary system malfunctions sometimes, and it would be marvelous to have a backup dick.

  4. It's been too long since I've written, I am still out here though, still enjoying what you write. Disappointed that you're not going to be a bus driver. I was looking forward to stories about your days and nights driving the bus, strange characters along the way and all.

    Don't let it blue you out. Keep writing please. I always love it.

    1. I'll stop writing when you pry this keyboard from my cold, dead hands.

      Disappointed? Yeah, me too. Then again, what's life but a (hopefully) long series of disappointments, ending with an ultimate disappointment?


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