One of the things I’ve always loved about being a TriMet bus driver in Portland is people thank their bus driver. Call it an odd Portland quirk, or just good people being nice, but it’s something I’ve always loved, especially when you consider how many important jobs go unappreciated in this world.
Of course the pandemic has changed the whole world, making full buses empty, clogged roads more barren than a politician’s heart, and helping my job become easier and infinitely more stressful. Especially at the beginning when we had no face masks, no hand sanitizer, no gloves, no sanitizing wipes, and in many cases no bathrooms with running water with which to wash our hands at the end of the line, it felt like we as drivers were soldiers being sent into battle without bullets or helmets, fodder for the coronavirus cannon. I would come home and read headlines about transit workers in Detroit, New York City, Boston, and Seattle dying from the virus and worried that it was only a matter of time before it ripped through Portland and started knocking out my family and friends.
Thankfully, it hasn’t happened. And as the days go by, and the buses start carrying more people, and the roads fill up with traffic, I’m worried that it’s only a matter of time before the virus starts going through the community and through my friends and coworkers. It still might happen, but I know now more than ever that my community loves and appreciates us bus drivers. Well, most of the community at least, that drunk spitting on my Line 75 bus a couple of weeks ago because I wouldn’t let him get on with an open can of malt liquor can find better ways to show his appreciation beyond his expectoration.
Around town, I’ve noticed people putting up signs at bus stops and elsewhere thanking us for continuing to drive. I knew driving a bus could be stressful, that it could put me in strange situations, that I could meet all sorts of strange and interesting people, but I never thought doing my job would put me on the front line of a dangerous virus. It brightens my day to see those signs, especially since fewer passengers on the bus means fewer people to make me happy. I see your signs and I can’t wait for you to get back on the bus one of these days when this is all over.
But the biggest thing that has been keeping me going these past few weeks besides coffee, Airborne, and a-whole-lot-of pastries, has been folks waving as I drive by. You might think this happens more often, considering us bus drivers are always waving at each other (those of you who don’t, I know who you are, and, yes, I am cranky about it), but it’s not everyday we get waves from people on the street, or at least waves that don’t involve a solitary middle finger. When families are out on walks, parents hold up their kids and everyone waves at the bus. It warms me up and lets me know that even though my bus might be empty, that I might feel unprotected, that I might be a little scared, at least those kids out there are still excited by the whoosh and jangle of a bus going down the road.
It’s not just the kids though. Other people wave too. Folks out for walks, people with their dog, couples sitting in their front yards. I miss them all on my bus and it’s nice getting acknowledged for a job that lots of people are dying from these days because of the virus. I know this mission is important even if it’s hard getting in that seat everyday.
So keep on waving and making signs. I appreciate it and it gives me something to look at besides the one passenger on the bus and thinking about where his old man santa beard ends and his face mask begins. Stay safe out there and keep waving, I know this city still loves the bus even if it’s empty.
This is a personal blog and while I am an employee of TriMet, the views expressed in this blog are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of TriMet.