A Field Guide to TriMet Operators

When you rack up as many transit miles as I do, you either start to notice things, or you start to go crazy. Or, in my case, a little of both. I’ve taken to noticing who is operating my train, or driving my bus, and I’m here to help you newbies out with a handy field guide. Enjoy!

The Cowboy – This species usually drives a bus, rather than a train, because the hat and boots aren’t visible enough in a MAX cockpit. A recent meta-analysis of bus driver research reveals this to be a dying breed. Long ago, when I first moved to Portland circa 1976, I had a cowboy bus driver on my line. He’d sit behind the wheel and just kind of squint off into the middle distance as he drove. Later, I began to worry that maybe he was just nearsighted and was too cool to wear glasses. Celebrity prototype = Slim Pickens.

The Bulletproof Grandma – I had one of these operating my train the other day. I remarked at the time that she should be carrying knitting and cookies in her bag. Mine had a tendency to accelerate with caution and hammer the brakes, just like all good grannies, and when she got on the P.A. to ream some poor guy for blocking the door with his bike, she sounded like the granny from the Tweety Bird cartoons, yelling at Sylvester the Cat. Celebrity prototype = duh. The Tweety Bird Granny.

Speed Racer – These guys are great if you’re running late and ALREADY ON THE BUS. You’re screwed, though, if they’re a minute off schedule and you haven’t leaped in front of the bus to force them to slow down long enough for you to climb on. The Speed Racer will make you feel like a depression-era hobo grabbing a moving freight train. God help you if it takes too long to get your bike onto the front rack – you didn’t need those feet anyway! Celebrity Prototype = Mario Andretti

The Tour Guide – These operators are awesome unless you have a hangover and are desperately trying to get the world to shut the fuck UP. Relentlessly cheerful, the Tour Guide gives you the weather, tells you the scores for the local sports teams, and remarks how great it is to be alive. A prime example of this species often operates a rush-hour Blue Line out of Hillsboro, and I love him. It takes a lot to get me to remove my ear buds, but he can do that trick. This would be me if I operated a train, and half my passengers would circulate a petition to get my mic shut off. Celebrity Prototype: Kenneth from 30 Rock.

The Taxi Driver – Every once in a while, when those bus doors open, you get hit with a blast of scary personality-disordered anger, emanating from the driver’s seat and making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I had one of these drivers last week. I don’t know what the universe has done to piss this guy off, but short of kidnapping Jodi Foster I’m not sure what to do to cure it. Had I had the chance, I’d have gotten off at the next stop and waited for someone whose glance couldn’t make me pee my pants. I think it’s a testament to Trimet that you hardly ever get the Taxi Driver. Celebrity Prototype: Travis Bickle.

The Consummate Pro – Operating a train or bus packed full of the rich diversity of human life must be quite the gig. When people bitch about their bus driver or train operator, I usually think to myself “I’d like to see YOU do that job, even for a day.” There’s no way that most of these folks get the paycheck, benefits or respect that they truly deserve. Trimet may be a monolithic, sometimes-clueless corporate entity, but the people on the front lines often impress me with their patience and professionalism. Not always, mind you… but often. There’s a guy who drives on the 57 Westbound who amazes me with his tolerance of all manner of human frailty and foibles. That guy needs more money. Celebrity prototype: The bastard child of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs, and Mr. Rogers on steroids.

There are, of course, many more operator types than can adequately be cataloged here. They are, after all, like snowflakes. If you get a good one, and there’s a good chance that you will, give them a smile and wave of thanks when you disembark. If you get Travis Bickle, DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT. Just a word to the wise.

Story by official TriMet Diaries contributor Dr. Jeff Guardalabene, who also blogs at drjeffblog.blogspot.com. Follow @doctor_jeff on Twitter!

About Dr. Jeff

Dr. Jeff, in real life Dr. Jeff Guardalabene, is a Portland-area psychologist, who logs 300-plus miles on TriMet each week. He often live-tweets his commute to avoid intellectual stimulation. He lives with his wife and their five children and blogs about psychology issues at drjeffblog.blogspot.com. Follow @Doctor_Jeff on Twitter.
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6 Responses to A Field Guide to TriMet Operators

  1. Adri says:

    hahaha! Great job, Jeff! I couldn’t quit laughing while reading this.
    I didn’t want it to end.
    Now when is the sequel? ;)

  2. queen_elvis says:

    I had a Tour Guide when I took a bus up the hill to the International Test Rose Garden. He was great, and very helpful — I was grateful for his detailed advice about where to wait and which train to take. Probably he was used to dealing with tourists. Looked a bit like Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

  3. AL M says:

    Not bad, as you stated there are many more types of drivers than the ones you talk about.

    I’ve broken them down into two general categories however, enlightened and unenlightened.

    The enlightened operators actually care about the people on the bus, the unenlightened ones don’t.

    From those two categories spring the numerous subcategories, of which there are literally dozens and dozens.

    I’ve found studying the personalities of transit operators quite fascinating, one of these days I might actually write a book about that, I’ve got plenty of material to draw from.

    It seems like the Trimet HR department uses a dart board to hire people since the people working here are so different from each other.

    You’d think they would have a better handle on what constitutes a decent operator but then again not too many people are stupid enough to get involved in this sort of work, it’s grueling and demeaning, the part time to full time and seniority baloney is a definite deterrent to finding decent people.

    At least They have moved away from the cronyism and nepotism that had run the hiring practices of the past.

  4. Adri says:

    I’ve got one bus driver in mind that fits (mostly) the definition of the ‘speed racer’. Always a great driver to ride with, but could talk as long as there was somebody to talk to. Jabber, jabber, jabber, jabber. Cracked me up. I loved it.
    I think I’ve had each one of those kinds of drivers at one time or another. I simply find it fun. :)

  5. Cameron says:

    I felt a surge of excellence when I saw you reference Kenneth from 30 Rock. I’m no longer the only guy who does that! Excellent piece, I loved it!

  6. Paul Johnson says:

    Glad to hear that the Blue Line still has the Tour Guide out of Elmonica. He’s an awesome operator if only for shutting off the autoannouncer completely and doing it all by hand old-skool.

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