Unhappy Driver

Northbound 71, December 23, 2011, 8:01 p.m.

We have a driver who is visibly unhappy and driving very poorly. An elderly woman who has not been offered a seat slips on the floor and goes to her knees. She is helped up and placed in a seat way after the fact. She is embarrassed and apologies. Above her is a large group of (I wish they hadn’t been playing to perceived type but) teenagers who are wielding cell phones and yipping and shouting and trying to humiliate one another to the extent they have not even noticed the woman falling.

One of the people who helped the elderly woman up shoots a glance at one of the teens’ ringleaders that says “C’mon, grow up, insert profanity.” One of the teens in tow catches this glance and tosses him a snark-laced devilment look that says “I love that we sicken you.” The kid literarlly starts whooping. Like whooping at the top of his lungs whooping. “Yeee-HAWWWW!” Friend and foe alike start tossing oaths at dude and the now totally addled driver makes an announcement few understand, a request of some kind. He does so while making a turn and nearly hits a pedestrian on one of those left-hand turns into a WALK crosswalk that proved fatal last year. Pedestrian is anger-whooping and actually shaking a fist at the driver who looks absolutely stricken. Guilty, miserable, woe-begone; something. Just not at all angry or defensive. Culpable and lousy-eyed.

Much of the remainder of the trip the driver is tensing into his brakes and short-stopping to the extent that the teens make a wrestling match out of it and many riders are actually booing and jeering the driver. A few people get off the bus for fear of their safety.

I put in a call to TriMet to complain about the driver and they tell me “it is a training issue and will be addressed.” This does fuckall good right now and I fail to think to call the police. As though the driver is the lone remaining authority on the road; as though he is somehow apart from legal sanction. And I feel bad for the guy, he looks just miserable.

Someone has marched to the front of the bus to confront the driver who barely responds to the hands on hips righteousness being laid out (justly but not body language sensitively; too imposing and judgemental). The driver dismisses dude but dude remains over the white line staring at the driver driving. This last for about three stops before the driver makes another announcement that we cannot understand.

Many stops pass without incident before a sort of tired quiet settles over the bus where (after the standing teens have thinned out) we get a good look at the driver. It is just an unambiguously unhappy man having a particularly unhappy day. A strain of guilt spreads down the aisles. We swallow his awful driving for another forty minutes.

There are a world of pedestrians who won’t know this man is coming.

© Scott Tienken

About Scott Tienken

Scott Tienken is co-editor of The Cartophile Imprint, a publishing/music/and public arts website. His current novel, Mass Transportation, the second installment of his Portland Trilogy, takes place on the northbound 75 busline to St. Johns. He is founding member of the Pine Needles music collective. He is a certified city and public art project geek, works for the county library, and is looking for a chess partner. (Scott Tienken owns the copyright on all his contributions, please contact him for permission to republish).
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7 Responses to Unhappy Driver

  1. joe says:

    I put in a call to TriMet to complain about the driver and they tell me “it is a training issue and will be addressed.”

    How can you put in a call and get a response at 8:01 pm. Aren’t the offices closed. Embellishing a little maybe?

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    Sounds like the kids need decent parents, rather than just raining on this guy’s parade.

  3. al m says:

    Well we keep hearing these sorts of stories, there is a toxic atmosphere that exists for bus drivers in the Portland area.

    You’ve described the mayhem inside the bus, my heart goes out to the driver who is expected to be some sort of super human and has 40 eyes staring at him, evaluating his every move.

    Your not sitting in the drivers seat and don’t have the visual perspective that he does.

    Do you think you could do this job? Face 10 hours or more of that mayhem 5 days a week?

  4. Adri says:

    My heart goes out to this driver. There are too many people (and about 99% of teens) who are so hostile to the bus drivers not being perfect to their standards or just plain ignorant. It is sickening.
    TriMet has played a large hand in creating this for the bus system. We mostly have TriMet to blame.

  5. Totally agree re: toxic atmosphere. Sometimes wonder if part of the problem is that bus service is really so darn good here (far, far better than the other cities I have lived in) that ridership feels a sense of heightened proprietorship over the bus experience and expectations are raised totally out of whack when we are thinking about the near chaotic public experience of managing/driving/securing a bus route.

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