Anxiously proofing the first copy of my first book.
I guess driving out of North Van was too good to be true. I signed a regular package of routes, I was riding my bike to and from the depot, I was living the dream. I had only heard one bad thing about driving in North Van. Actually two bad things. One that the depot would eventually close and relocate to Burnaby and two that the current management team was tough. Today I found out exactly how tough they were. My adventure in bus driving came to a screeching halt. Which is apparently what I should have done.
Right before graduating my Instructor Jackie surveyed the class to see how many of us had never been in an accident. A few of us, including myself, raised their hands. Then he proceeded to tell us that we should all expect to get into a few accidents during our probation. Don’t worry. What we should worry about are onboard injuries, sleepers, (sleeping in and missing picking up your bus) and red lights.
As predicted I did end up having 2 minor accidents. One where I passed another bus too closely and took out his sideview mirror and another where I was pulling out of a stop and my back bumper contacted a pole. I was told by many supervisors and bus drivers alike that these were very common accidents and actually the best kind of accidents I because they didn’t involve pedestrians or vehicles not owned by the company. What I was told by the management team in North Van was that I was still on my 675 hour probation, could be let go at any time and now I was driving with two strikes. I was sent back to Vancouver for an additional day of training.
Strike 3 would come in the form of a red light ticket at Marine and Taylor Way. My last day on the Spareboard before my signed package of regular routes would kick in. It was 11:30 pm and I was doing my final run of the night. I was driving the 239 Capilano/Park Royal and had just picked up some pretty drunk passengers at Park Royal heading for Lonsdale Quay. I pulled out of the stop and noticed that the light at Taylor Way had just turned green so there was no point in me staying in the bus lane. To avoid getting on the on-ramp for Lions Gate you have to be in Lane 3, so I started merging over. By the time I had done two proper lane changes with shoulder checks I looked up and my green light was yellow. I was way too close to the intersection for a hard brake especially with passengers on board, I decided it was safer to go through. I would later find out that the light turned red .03 seconds before my bus crossed the stop bar and the red light camera went off with a series of flashes. One of the drunk passengers on board made a comment wondering what the flashing lights were. I told them it was my career dissipation light flashing. They were probably too drunk and too young to get the Backdraft reference.
My timing couldn’t have been worse. For the first time in it’s company’s history CMBC had come under public fire for it’s corporate spending and it’s knee jerk reaction has been to start laying people off. Nobody is safe, some of my old instructors back at the training centre, the cafeteria and staff, two entire classes of graduated drivers and they’re looking for more. So after 6 months of applying, 6 weeks of training and 600 hours of driving it was that .03 seconds that cost me my job. Funny, I always assumed it would be the blogging.
More than one union member has assured me that the reasons for my dismissal are unjustified. And although my case is currently under review with a strong chance of me getting my job back, the whole experience has forced me to reassess my reasons for being a bus driver in the first place.
For now, I’ll continue with my sabbatical and enjoy my time off with the kids. Summer Camp Counselor doesn’t pay much but it’ll look good on my new resume.
(another short story from the bus of @david_dehaas)
There’s not many times you get to save a life as a bus driver, you mostly just try to avoid taking one. But this night was as close as I’ve gotten so far.
It was day 6 of my Line Instruction and I was driving with a female instructor named Carol. She was the sort of driver who wouldn’t have looked out of place on the streets of New York with Roz as her name tag. A short no nonsense woman with a hacking smoker’s cough and a low level case of pneumonia stacked on top of that. But that wasn’t going to stop her from going to Vegas the next day and coughing up phlegm over my shoulder the whole night. We were doing an afternoon run that would stretch into the early evening on the 19. The 19 STANLEY PARK/METROTOWN was one of the nicer routes I had driven so far in Vancouver. It didn’t go down the infamous Hastings corridor but it did go through East Van on a slightly gentler road known as Pender. Coincidentally, or ironically if you asked Alannis Morissette, it also passed three of my former agencies.
We were on our last run of the night and it had started raining. The dark, plus the rain plus the fact that I was driving a Trolley made me glad that it all would soon be over. Carol was taking a break from hacking over my shoulder to check her gambling itinerary and as I approached an intersection I noticed there was someone stumbling through the middle of it. Directly under the electric wire that I had to follow. I slowed down and tooted on my horn. I’ve never been a big fan of how bus drivers use their horns. Most of them seem to use it as a stress ball or like it was attached to traffic seeking missiles. I gave a friendly toot which seemed to jar this person out of his stupor. He started stumbling for the curb. I was following him closely trying to light his way and every time he took a drunken misstep back towards traffic I’d give a friendly toot. It was almost like I was controlling him with my horn. It reminded me of my misspent youth and a game called Frogger that I had plugged most of my Dad’s coin jar into. By the time Carol had noticed what was going on and made her way to the front I had successfully gotten the guy out of the intersection and back to the curb. He turned to give me a friendly wave and that was when Carol reached over and blasted aggressively on the horn, while leaning over me and shouting out the window, “Stay out of the intersection idiot!” The guy’s friendly wave quickly turned into a one finger salute and the typical bus driver - pedestrian relationship was reestablished. Carol turned to me, and reprimanded me in that throaty smoker’s voice, “This is no time to be polite, there are lives at stake.”
I remember thinking I should really write that down somewhere.
Me: Why not?
CG: Looks like he could go on a bad killing spree.
Me: You can tell just by looking at him?
CG: I know about these things.
|—||Crazy looking guy referring to a normal looking passenger.|
It was my last official day of driving in Vancouver. I’d received the call I’d been waiting for from the North Van Depot and had already spent a couple of days there doing my route training. It was going to be soooo much better. All I had to do was survive one more day of driving out of the Van Van Depot.
The Spareboard seemed to be smiling on me too. I got a nice Sunday midrun on the #19. The 19 may be numerically close to the 20 but they are worlds apart. The 19 STANLEY PARK/METROTOWN was a sought after route with decent layover times and a nice terminus in Lord Stanley’s park. The worst thing that could be said about it was that it was a trolley, or it was supposed to be a trolley. When I showed up downtown to pickup the bus at my relief point I noticed all the 19’s had been switched out for diesels. Apparently some major construction on Kingsway had caused them to put a fleet of diesels in place of my electric nemesis. Score.
It was a quiet day with pleasant passengers. What can I say. No junkies, no drunks, no transit cops. It was actually a little boring. The most interesting thing that happened during my shift was that my former cleaning lady Ney got on board. Probably to spend some of my former advertising booty at Metropolis, the big mall at the end of the line. And although that was steeped in irony and sprinkled with Karma it still wasn’t much to write home about, or a book about.
My last run of the day would be from Metrotown to 41st street. A shortened run and then a quick jaunt back to the depot and my Vancouver tour of duty would be over. I followed the proper protocol and informed everyone on the bus that the stop at 41st would be the last stop. We wouldn’t be making the full run back to Stanley Park. I unloaded everyone at 41st and then started making my way back to the depot NOT IN SERVICE. The sweetest 3 words in any bus driver’s work day.
I was feeling good. Maybe even cocky. Maybe my lightning rod for crazy shit had finally reversed it’s polarity. Since I was on a diesel and not a slave to the wire I could take any route back to the depot. Maybe I’d improvise. Sure. A left here. A right here. I started feeling so good that I started singing. A mash-up of New York New York and I Did it My Way. Quietly at first but I slowly built it up to Broadway like proportions. Yes even I was duped by that first season of Glee. And that’s when lightening, in the form of an old Asian man decided to strike. Suddenly there he was right behind me screaming. It instantly reminded me of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau being attacked by his man servant Cato. I had no idea what he was screaming about but I had some idea that he wasn’t happy. I also had the feeling that I may have shit myself just a little.
He had popped up from that little seat directly behind me that is completely blocked from view. I called it the Chuckie in the Box seat because people were constantly popping out of there and scaring the fecal matter out of me. When I realized he wasn’t physically going to attack, I pulled over. I tried to explain that the bus was out of service and that I was heading back to the depot but he just kept shouting the same word over and over. I tried speaking slowly. More shouting. I offered him a piece of paper. More shouting. I tried to discuss the relative merits of guinea pigs over hamsters. More shouting. Clearly he understood me as little as I understood him.
I couldn’t just kick him off the bus if he had no idea where he was and I couldn’t bring him back to the depot and put him in Lost and Found. Or could I? No. I was getting pretty desperate when I spotted a fruit market just down the street. I pulled into the curb and asked the group of people standing in front of the store if they could tell my passenger that I was out of service. A younger Asian gentlemen offered to help. He started shouting at the old man. The old man shouted back. They shouted some more. Such a pretty language. Finally when the shouting was done, the younger man turned to me and said, “Fraser.”
The old man turned to me crossed his arms and repeated that word he’d been shouting. Apparently it meant Fraser Street.
So off I went. We didn’t make a lot of small talk in the next few minutes and I kept my singing to a minimum. As we drove I couldn’t help but wonder why we had spent so much time learning about air brakes in class and so little time learning conversational Mandarin. I dropped him off at Fraser and we exchanged the only word in our mutual vocabulary. I bowed my head and said, “Fraser.” Then he bowed back and said something that may or may not have been, “Fraser.” By the twinkle in his eye I suspect it actually meant Jackass.
Good-bye Vancouver, it was fun.
(an excerpt from a mostly unwritten book by David_deHaas)
Jordan was right. Weird things do happen in the back of buses.
Jordan was the creative director at an advertising agency called Taxi Vancouver. Please don’t let the name confuse you. They have nothing to do with that other group of professional drivers. Anyways, why she was offering me her job was more than a bit strange to me. She had tried to hire me once before as a senior art director and now she was moving on to a national role and offering me the top creative spot at the agency.
I turned it down. I felt bad about it too. In fact I felt so bad about turning it down that Jordan was the first person in the industry that I told about bus driving. She instantly assumed it was a joke and joked back that I should reconsider because, “Weird things happen in the back of buses.” By now she probably realizes I wasn’t joking and by now I realize she wasn’t either.
This weird night began like any other, I was commuting to my relief point on Victoria and 63rd to pick up my bus. Along the way I met a fellow driver and when I told him I was driving the 20 he gave me a blessing. It was a good start. The 20 is the route that no other bus driver wants so it generally falls on the lap of the most junior driver on the Spareboard. That was me. I didn’t realize it at the time but a transfer to North Van was in my future and this would be my swan song on the 20. I was to pick the bus up at 6:30 and bring it back to the yard by 1:00. A fairly short night but they pay you for a full shift because nights on the 20 are super concentrated with pure crazy.
When you pick a bus up on the road the first thing the driver that you’re relieving tells you is whether it’s a “good” bus or not. Good being the code for no damage or any other mechanical problems that would affect your shift. This driver told me the bus was good but I noticed he had put a big yellow bag over the farebox that said out of order. His strategy on the 20 was if everyone gets a free ride everyone’s happy. Smart. I went with it and it worked. The night went fairly decently and I managed to drive that big articulated trolley with a skill that only weeks of screwing up constantly can give you. The night and my driving was smooth until that last trip downtown on a stretch of Hastings known for free rides and free basing.
A hard looking woman got on board clutching her little purse tightly, she looked like Iggy Pop dressed up as Madonna. She asked for a free ride and I motioned to the farebox cover, “Everyone gets a free ride tonight.” It was probably the 300th time I’d said it and it worked every time. She went to sit down in the back with a big slightly dazed smile on her face. The problem with those articulated trolleys or “Artics” as we call them in the biz is that it’s really hard to see what goes on back there. It’s 60 feet away and often it’s still somewhere around the corner that you’re turning. When I first started driving them I was a bit mesmerized by my the rearview mirror because it reminded me of a great scene in the only Will Ferrell movie worth watching, Stranger than Fiction.
When I checked my rearview I thought I could see the woman kneeling on the seat and looking out the rear window, I could also see a group of 6 students who’d been drinking in the back making their way to the front.
A perky girl who was obviously more sober than her boyfriend asked me, “Excuse me Mr. Bus Driver do you mind if we stand up here.”
“No, not at all.” I assumed they wanted to hang out with me because of my ageless good looks.
“There’s a woman shooting up in the back.”
“Oh.” Once I got over the shock that they didn’t just want to hang out, I realized what she was saying. “Oh.”
“Shouldn’t you do something?”
“Uh, yeah right.” I decided to take immediate action and make an announcement.
ANNOUNCER VOICE: I’d like to remind all passengers on board not to do anything on the bus that they wouldn’t want captured by one of our 6 hi-def security cameras. Thank-you.
After making the announcement I hung up the ridiculous looking old school telephone receiver and smiled to the students. I thought it was a pretty good announcement. I was tempted to tell them that I also do voice work.
They weren’t as impressed. “Is that all you’re going to do?”
“I guess I should pull over?” Not sure why I was asking the students what to do, probably the same reason I wouldn’t make a good creative director.
So, I started to pull over. Now you would think that any city bus should be able to pull over to a curb right? Isn’t that where you pick up passengers? Wrong. When you’re driving a trolley you’re attached to an over head electric wire and if you get too far away from that wire you can lose your poles. On this stretch of Hastings there had been a lot of construction and the overhead wire had been shifted from it’s curb side position. I pulled to the curb and immediately lost my poles. The procedure when that happens is drilled into your head. BBM4. Brake (emergency) Bleed. (the air pressure from the doors.) Master. (turn the bus off) 4. 4 Way Hazards. Then warn everyone to stay on the bus while you leave in your high visibility vest of shame and try to wrestle your poles back onto a 600 Volt wire.
“You guys stay on the bus, I gotta go reset my poles then I’ll take care of the woman.”
“You must really love your job.” She said it with a level of sarcasm that only the very young can achieve.
“Actually I do, but it’s more of a sabbatical. I used to be in advertising.” Not sure why I was telling these kids about my sabbatical but for some reason I was. I donned my high-vis vest and started my lost pole walk of shame. Perky’s perkiness went up a few notches, probably because of the visions of Don Draper in her head, as she explained to her friends, “Hey guys, our driver used to be a Mad Man.”
Not sure if she meant the double entendre, but I felt it. Maybe this was all a little bit too crazy or as my old writing partner Katie would put it, bat shit crazy. I had a bit of time to reflect as I went around to the back and realized that one of the poles I had lost was now firmly wrapped in some overhead rope. This bus was going nowhere soon.
I got back on to explain the situation and everyone including Miss Iggy Ciccone was heading for the doors. Apparently the loss of movement and power was enough to get the woman to stop what she was doing and head for safer places to shoot up. I was reminded of an old Saturday Night Live commercial spoof about a car’s ride being so smooth you could circumcise a baby in it. Well my driving of electric trolleys was definitely not smooth and any attempt at circumcision would probably end up with a botched transgender result. On her way out Iggy passed me and I felt obliged to tell that her, “You really need to be more careful.” What I mostly meant was that shooting up on my bus was not a good idea. What I also meant was that shooting up in general was not a good idea. Pretty sure she didn’t understand either meaning.
The college kids thanked me for the ride and wished me well on my sabbatical. There may have been some more of that high grade sarcasm in their voices. As they walked away I could hear one of them say to the other, “Aren’t sabbaticals supposed to be nice, like vacations?”
Fucking kids these days, they don’t appreciate anything.