Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gun-slinging Bus Drivers

Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet represents one of the more memorable epic movies made in the modern era. I thoroughly enjoy James Cameron’s creative direction making the wistful ruminations of Gloria Stuart appear in "real time. Genius!

This afternoon I met Lydia, a Gloria Stuart of a different era. Lydia boarded my northbound route 72; her bubbly personality made me smile.

Lydia voiced amazement in bus transit improvements over the years, conjuring up the past as she recalled It while we traveled through the City.

She spoke of growing up South of Market where warehouses laden with ship-borne goods proliferated the area. Wistfully, she spoke of how she looked forward to each Thursday when her mother brought her down to the shipyards so she could eat lunch with her father.

Lydia proudly proclaimed her attachment to San Francisco. Born in the City in 1936, the year before the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge, the massive project of which her father played a part.

Lydia's parents moved to Southern California from Hawaii in 1918, lured by storied dreams of "streets paved with gold." Even though they didn’t find gold upon their arrival in L.A., their new life on the mainland seemed promising.

The irresistible lure of a more exciting life in San Francisco with its’ teeming economy, opportunities galore and all of it set in a cosmopolitan center rising in the middle of the Western frontier prompted Lydia’s parents to take another gamble. Lydia's father ventured ahead of his wife, to find a home and a job good enough to support their relocation to this new field of dreams.

In time, he did find work as well as a nice home and in the fall of 1927, Lydia's father sent for his wife by way of a Western Union telegram.

Lydia recounts how her mother told the story, time and time again of her northward journey to San Francisco aboard a Greyhound bus. Her strongest memory of the trip had nothing to do with the beautiful scenery, but rather of the six guns, one on each hip, worn by the driver. Her mother described the pistols as the "most beautiful pair of pearl-handled pistols” ever.

"What?" I exclaimed, "Pearl-handled pistols?"

"Of course. During that era, no bus driver would think of undertaking a cross country journey without being armed to protect himself and his passengers."

"What are you talking about?"

"In those days, whenever anyone traveled any distance on Greyhound, passengers were arranged Conestoga Wagon style. The early buses had a door in the back and two in the front of the bus, so the men would shield the women and children by sitting in the back and in the front of the bus with the women and children sandwiched between them."

"Why would they do that?"

"To protect them from bandits of course."

"Bandits?" I asked. "What bandits?"

Nonchalantly she replied, "During the Roaring '20's, it was not uncommon for robbers to flag a Greyhound bus in the middle of nowhere as if to board and then rob the driver and passengers when the driver stopped."

All of a sudden it hit me -- I previously never thought through the perils of early transit, not at all unlike the Wells Fargo & Co. stagecoach robbers of yore!

Continuing our journey, Lydia noted the current Trans-Bay Terminal where trains that traversed the bay bridges began or ended their journey.

Adjacent to the Trans-Bay Terminal, Servicemen could while away time in a huge penny-arcade.

"With each new deployment of troops, mother dressed up in her Sunday best and made her way to the docks to bid them all a tearful farewell. That really affected me. I guess this is why I remember this like it was yesterday.”

Turning onto Sansome St. from California, Lydia smiled. “According to my father, this is where the ‘ladies of the evening’ would gather. How my father knew, I don’t know and I didn’t dare ask.”

Each morning, a small army of horse drawn carts descended upon the ice houses located on upper Sansome for their daily ration. After receiving their allotment, the carts would leave with their frigid cargo, navigating the streets, delivering ice to businesses and households.

A Potter's Field formerly occupied the area now known as Aquatic Park. During the construction of Crissy Field, dredging caused flooding in the area, requiring an unearthing of the bodies and subsequent relocation to a mass grave in Colma. The grave markers, many of them still visible in the depths on a calm day, remained to fortify the newly designed beachfront.

Crissy Field’s name sounds like a name given to a parade ground or athletic field, but in reality, an airstrip with a small fleet of attack planes that made their home there stood ready to protect the west coast from Japanese air attacks.

“Several Japanese torpedos apparently made their way into Drake’s Bay. My father worked on the Golden Gate Bridge but also worked with the crew in charge of raising and lowering the anti-submarine barrier stretched across the entire mouth of the golden gate.”

As we passed the Presidio, she pointed out the white head stones, lined sentinel-like upon the hill, "All of those are our boys from Viet Nam."

While crossing the bridge, Lydia said her father witnessed the horrible fate of the fourteen bridge workers who died during the construction of the bridge. He happened to be pouring cement in the area near where the scaffolding supporting the workers broke loose, tossing them to their deaths into the ocean below. All bridge workers received a full-day's pay and furloughed for the remainder of the day.

Upon our approach to Alexander Drive, Lydia said, "In the late 30's, my father passed up an opportunity to purchase acreage in Sausalito. He said, 'Why in the world would I want to buy property there?'"

I asked, "I don't want to feel sick to my stomach, but do you know the cost per acre back then?"

"Five dollars," she replied.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Longest Three Months of my Life!

The longest three months of my bus driving career came to an end on Friday. With a shift change on the horizon, I'm looking forward to a lower stress shake-up. Although I'll be driving high volume passenger routes, for the most part, they will be adults with whom I can reason.

In addition, I'll be finished with my shift by 4 pm each day, in Santa Rosa, so I avoid the grueling commute home from San Rafael. And, as an added plus, I get weekends and holidays off!

Here's to a good three months!

Friday, September 25, 2009

107 of them!

I counted each one as they entered the bus. I tried to make it a game in my head like singing "ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall," but it wasn't the same. One hundred seven school kids on a bus is enough to make anyone voluntarily commit themself to a psychiatric ward for a seventy-two hour (or longer) evaluation!

The high school kids, by and large, are a good group. They board the bus, sit in a seat, sometimes they talk a bit too loudly, but they understand social constraints. I even saw one high schooler give up his seat for an elderly woman this afternoon -- without being asked to do so. (There is hope for the nation!)

Middle school kids are another story all-together.

I understand the age of hormonal-raging, but why does every noun, verb, adjective or preposition have to use the "F" word as the foundation? And why is everyone in a position of authority an "ass hole?" I don't get it.

And why can't they remain seated while the bus is in motion? Come on now ... it's like they all have mouse traps in their pants that go off every twenty seconds, spurring them to lunge from their seats and land two rows forward or aft.

Why do they have to have to raise their voices to decible levels that would break the ear drums of normal humanoids?

Why is the concept about ringing the "StopRequest" chime so hard to grasp? You simply ring the chime in advance of your stop -- the next stop. I have music majors in the making who ring the chime to the beat of their favorite rap tune and think it's acceptable to do so! It's almost enough to make me start using the "F" word!

I can only imagine if any extra-terrestrial being ever visited this planet, and were unfortunate enough to land in a middle school setting (specifically San Jose Middle School in Novato) that their report to the Mother Ship would be liberally peppered with the "F" word. Upon further study, they would conclude that we, as humans, are "F"-ing worthless!

Meanwhile I was interested to read about law enforcement tactics employed against protestors at the recent G-20 conference in Pittsburgh. Police fired sound cannons, emmitting shrill beeps which caused demonstrators to cover their ears. (The developer of this device was obviously a former middle school teacher.}

The police followed the auditory barrage with tear gas canisters and stun grenades, exploding with pyrotechnical flashes of light. (The patent holder on this device is again, obviously a former chemistry teacher from the East Bay.)

God Bless America, God Bless School Bus Drivers, and God Bless our Teachers and Keep Them SAFE!

Friday, September 18, 2009

From Raucous Reality to Sudden Serenity

I'd rather have my mouth duct-taped to the tail pipe of a transit bus and drug naked through a prickly pear cactus patch while being chased by a pack of wild javelina than drive a bus load of school kids to/from school.

When I choose a run, I make a priority listing of what I want and what I don't want in a run. School runs and East Bay runs are always a deal-breaker. I don't do school runs and I don't do East Bay runs. Sundays off are a priority with me and I endure whatever I have to in order to have Sunday off. When I signed on to this new shake-up, I had to take a San Rafael run in order to get Saturdays/Sundays off. This means I eat up nearly two hours of my day in commuting. But, that's what I do to get Sundays off.

You can imagine my vexation and absolute chagrin when I discovered that despite my diligent and studious perusing of the available runs prior to my bid day, I completely missed the leviathon in disguise: Run 66, lurking in the brakish waters, waiting to devour the unsuspecting initiate!

On Monday morning I came to work, charged and ready to work. The morning commute into the City was a piece of cake. Nice looking and nice smelling, polite business people headed into the Financial District.

After my morning commute, I have a two-hour break. And it is what followed this two-hour break that made me want to walk barefoot across smoldering embers in an attempt to make it go away.

Routes 49 and 51 lazily wend through the backroads of northern Marin County. It's a beautiful route, taking two hours to complete. On my northbound schedule, I picked up only fifteen passengers. Compared with the slammin' jammin' 80's, this was the R&R to which I was looking forward.

At 2:01 pm, I started my southbound Route 51 ... and the "fun" began. I arrived at Marin High School where 25 students anxiously awaited my arrival. These kids, for the most part, are civil, have their fares ready and even though they talk loudly, they're not rude.

I arrived at the Redwood and Grant stop and another 15 students boarded my bus. I began to wonder, "What's going on here?" I drove to Vintage Oak Shopping Center, down South Novato Boulevard and then ... the leviathon raised its nefarious head.

As I rounded the corner of Sunset Parkway and Ignacio Blvd., I saw a mob of junior high kids from the San Jose Middle School at the bus stop. Pushing and shoving each other into the street, throwing backpacks around, punching each other and shouting to the top of their voices ... my heart sank! Oh my god! Is this my destiny?

As I approached the stop, three kids were pushed onto the road directly into my path. I thought, "What if I run over one of these kids? Who is going to understand what is going on here?"

There were forty-one of these hormonal-raging imps in all. There are only 45 seats in the bus. This means that twenty school kids were now standing in the aisle. "Great!" I thought. "This is just friggin' great."

I then drove into the Indian Valley Campus (IVC) of Marin Community College. At the stop, five students were waiting. All but one brave soul came on board, observed the chaos and decided to wait for the next bus. Now mind you, the next bus doesn't come for one hour. So loud and obnoxious were these kids that my potential IVC passengers would rather wait another hour than to endure thirty minutes with these hoodlums!

As we drove along Ignacio Boulevard, the stop request chime rang. "Hallelujah!" I thought. "Perhaps by some divine act, all of these @#&&*^%#'s will get off at this stop.

Not so! I pulled to the curb and NO ONE GOT OFF THE FREAKIN' BUS! By now I was pissed beyond belief. I couldn't wrap my head around what was happening: I had bid for a School Run. I didn't deserve this!

I gathered the necessary composure, put the bus in Park, unbuckled my seat belt and walked to the center of the bus. I delivered my "you ring the bell, you get off the bus" speech. I told them that every time the stop request bell rang, I would pull over. And ... if no one got off, I would get off the bus with my phone and place a call to my friend, or smoke a cigarette, or take pictures of the flora and fauna for 5 minutes before proceeding with the route.

Several howls of protest arose among the students as I informed them that there was a new sheriff in town and this was the way things were going to be. They lamented, whined, travailed, whimpered, scowled and groaned, but I told them to police their own.

The last of these hooligans finally got off my bus at Hamilton Field.

I thought, "Well, I only have 30 minutes of chaos." I then rounded the corner at Terra Linda where fifty-six kids boarded my bus ...

Between my morning commute and afternoon nightmare, I have a two-hour break in San Rafael -- only 13 miles away from the Marin Headlands. While driving home, sweat-sticky from the grueling day of driving 130, testosterone-driven, unruly and disrespectful stinky school kids around in my bus, it hit me: Why not go to the beach?

So today, I went to the beach.

As I laid down on my towel and listened to the sounds of an occasional gull crying out while the waves relentlessly pounded the beach, I heeded Robin Williams' charge to disregard the cacophony of the present, all the while "... sucking the marrow out of life." I opened myself to the soothing sounds of nature, all in preparation for what was to follow.

This afternoon I boarded the same youngsters as I had all week. But I heard in my head, the sounds of the waves crashing against the beach and all of a sudden, the leviathon diminished and whimpered as it dove beneath the surf, searching for a new initiate.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When Two Worlds Collide or Just Another Day at the Office

All of a sudden I simultaneously heard the crash and felt the lurch as I clipped the tail of another bus while pulling into the transit hub.

Shit! Psychologists say that if you curse, you actually do feel better. Shit! I can't believe I did this! I'm such a good driver, yet one instant of inattention brought two worlds into a collision course.

There are a lot of fortunate aspects to this singular event. Both vehicles belong to our fleet, no one was hurt, both vehicles were able to be driven from the scene, our excellent auto body department will have these two coaches up and in service quicker than you can drive the 80 route and service was disrupted only for thirty minutes on these two lines.

So now, the mandatory DOT (Department of Transportation) drug and alcohol testing, the paperwork to document my lapse of judgement, the mandatory suspension while the accident is reviewed. The humiliation and snickering of fellow drivers who aren't really glad that it happened, they're just glad it didn't happen to them.

I guess I needed a day off anyway. That's part of focusing on the bright side. So I'm sitting here at home, enjoying my second cup of coffee, writing on my blog, thankful that the accident was as minor as it was.

The City of OZ

Anyone who has ever traveled to San Francisco knows that the weather patterns here are as fickle as a grade school crush. On one moment and off the next -- yes I'm talking about clothes! Come now, how do you think the layered-look in apparel catapulted to the top of the fashion charts? Yep, it was heavily influenced by the San Franciscan lifestyle.

Each morning as I drive my commuter bus southward, I anticipate the view at the end of the Waldo Tunnel like a child anticipates Christmas morning. Every day, the City takes on a different look and on many days, more than one. Like a fashionista, changing outfits for a runway performance, the City effortlessly slides in and out of the fog and sun.

This morning as I exited the tunnel, the view was unlike any I had ever before seen. The entire city looked as if it was nestled on top of a huge feathered pillow of fog. The light, intensified by the fog, distorted the landscape into a light gray skyline, having neither depth nor definition.

In some ways, it can be compared to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. In the movie, I remember the far-away city, glowing in the distance at the end of the yellow brick road. And that's the feeling I experienced this morning. I always have my camera with me, but taking photos while driving a commuter bus is not something that is recommended. I thought I'd missed the shot.

After finishing my commute, I drove my bus northward and as I crossed the bridge, the City was still riding the pillowed fog and so I pulled into the Vista Point parking area at the north end of the bridge. As I drove through the lot, I could see that I was not the only one to be hypnotized by this sight. The lot was packed (unusual for this time of morning) and a crowd of nearly two hundred people, most with cameras or using their camera phone option, were clicking away, documenting this glorious sight.

I parked my bus and joined the throng, hoping to catch a meaningful shot or two to share with my blog readers. So here you have it.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Wild turkeys abound in the NorthBay area of California. During one of my breaks, I took a series of photos of this particular Tom who was rooting around the Gerstle Park area in San Rafael, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was in a suburban neighborhood, rather than the forested area nearby.

Turkeys are an intelligent bird, but can be quite destructive in backyard gardens and flower beds. Their constant scruffing and searching for food bits, keeps their bodies lithe and fit. Ever since a domesticated genetic line was introduced to a wild flock, the turkey population in the NorthBay (and in much of the U.S.A.) has never been the same.

And that's kind of like life. We're a homogeneous society, derived from many cultures, ethnic backgrounds and creeds. We're intelligent, tough and resilient, and yet when it all boils down to the minutiae, we're all just turkeys.

But that's okay. Here are some facts about turkeys:

... Did you know that Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey (not the bald eagle) to be our nation's bird. Perhaps he had some insight into the wily hardiness of turkeys. While bald eagles nearly faced extinction and are now on a protected species endangered list, turkeys thrive despite the fact that 75 million of them are devoured each Thanksgiving. That's okay; I don't think Bald Eagle for Thanksgiving dinner would fit the bill.

... the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621.

... the first turkeys were domesticated in Mexico and Central America.

... only the male turkey (the tom) gobbles -- the female (the hen) clucks.

... the average turkey has 3,500 feathers.

... of all states, Minnesota produces the most turkeys annually (is that a surprise?) and Israel consumes the most turkeys per capita.

... turkeys can fly up to 55 mph. I wonder if that's how the 55 mph national speed limit was decided back in the 70's?