Balancing act.

As I have previously mentioned, earlier this year I started the process of becoming a truck driver. Big rigs, eighteen wheels, the whole nine yards.

It’s taken me somewhat longer than I expected it to take. But I’m doing it.

There are several stages of training for getting a commercial driver’s license; there’s also many in-depth posts about it on trucking oriented sites if you’re so curious. This is not one of those in-depth posts. There’s studying the handbook to take the tests to get the permit in the first place, followed by three or so weeks of training at school to learn the driving portion, the test to get the license, and several weeks out on the road with a trainer to learn all the things that you don’t learn at school so that you’re ready to go solo. I’m in the last stage of that training right now.

What this is about is different worlds, and somewhat less directly, about culture shock and culture clash. Over the summer I worked in a liberal and progressive campaign office in pretty much the heart of Los Angeles doing fundraising. It was great. I was surrounded by people that I got along with (at least ninety percent of the time, which is about as much as you can ask for in a work environment, to be fair), people whom I shared views and background with, people whom I felt comfortable around. Similarly those are the people I have surrounded myself with for most of my life. I’ll even go so far as to put it out there that I come from the liberal bubble that so many accuse the coasts of being.

And trucking is a whole different world. Trucking, by and large, is middle America; and for the most part it’s not as different as I thought it would be, but at the same time if I had to pinpoint what’s different out here, I’d be hard-pressed not to answer, everything.

I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks with how to write about this all. On the one hand it’s a tremendous experience and I am enjoying myself. And this is my intended career at least for the foreseeable future. Along the way to this we (the definition of which is a subject for an entirely different post) bought a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and life is moving right along.

On the other hand there have been many times where I have felt like I should put part of myself in a closet; where I have outright been told that something about who I am that I have held important for all of my adult life is something that nobody is going to understand anyway; where instead of being able to critique behaviours that in most places would be socially unacceptable I have been told that this is a chance to practise “growing a thicker skin”. It’s a balancing act, and one that I’m still figuring out as I go. One that the next several posts will most likely be about as I get there.

How do I be a trucker and still be non-binary and genderqueer? Every time that I have mentioned it to anyone within trucking, even in passing, I’ve been told that my gender identity isn’t a big deal because “there are both men and women out there”. And when I overhear conversations between other truckers, it turns out that offensive slurs to refer to people outside the heteronormative ideal are far from uncommon. I’ve heard drivers from the company that I’m working for remark upon it being “ridiculous” that people who are born one gender could ever think to change it. Or, or… I could by now think of a thousand examples.

Moreover, how do I be a trucker and still hold my disability as a part of my identity when this is an industry with so many preconceived notions of who should and shouldn’t drive a truck? I couldn’t tell you whether I do or don’t get looks from other drivers when I pull through the fuel island and get out of the driver’s side of the rig. I’d like to be able to tell you that those looks, if they exist, didn’t matter. And they don’t, but at the same time even with an automatic transmission now available I’ve had to work twice as much and twice as hard to get where I am, to be able to convince person after person of my ability to do this job and the physical aspects thereof.

What I do know is that for now if it’s a choice between climbing a flight of stairs and taking a shower, taking a shower can wait. It often seems like the accessibility of facilities on the road is an afterthought. But not always. For every truck stop where the shower is on the upper floor and they don’t have an elevator, or every truck stop where there’s two flights of stairs just to get down the hill from where they have the trucks park in the first place there are ones like the one we stopped at tonight, where they saw that I use a crutch to walk and they made sure I had the accessible shower without my even having to ask for it. And at the same time there was no big deal or big fuss.

And those are the truck stops I’ll be making a point of returning to.

Balancing act.

Reality sets in.

Today is my last day as a bus operator with my current employer. I put in my resignation notice earlier this month when it was becoming increasingly clear to me that it was time to move on. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I should stick it out, or make it a year or two years. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I’m being overly hasty in my decision making process.

None of those accusations are true.

At the very least, the point remains that I am an adult and it’s well and beyond time that I can make my own choices as to my career path. I put a lot of thought into it, into whether or not I could stick it out, before deciding that it was in my best interest not to try to. I learned a lot while I’ve been with Metro, about driving buses, about interacting with the public, but most importantly about myself. The things in this post are just a few of the reasons I’m leaving.

I learned I absolutely hate the uniform pants. They’re made of an itchy polyester fabric that I have had nothing but problems wearing. Polyester doesn’t breathe, which is a particular problem here in California where the weather tends to be on the warmer side. The uniform requirements are probably one of the things that contributed to my choice to not stay at Metro any longer. I thought that I was going to be able to cope with the polyester pants, but I was wrong.

I’m looking forward with my next job (which is mostly lined up and a subject for another post) to a more relaxed dress and appearance requirements than what I’ve had to deal with in the past. I’m looking forward to being able to wear clothing that I already have instead of finding out that there’s an expectation to sink hundreds of dollars into uniform clothing. One of the first things I’m going to do this week is go and get my hair cut and coloured— I am planning on purple and possibly teal. The rule that Metro has against supposedly “unnatural” hair colour and style has been stifling. (Some time in another post I should probably write about the general culture of “if you look like that you’ll never get a job” and the impact that it has had on my generation, but again, I’m getting side-tracked here.)

I learned that I really can learn the script for interacting with people. It’s a good thing to be able to do, but just because I can learn the script doesn’t mean that using it doesn’t absolutely exhaust me. I’ve always been an introvert. The constant repetition of interacting with people while driving the bus was wearing in all of the worst ways. Moreover, it took a toll on my interactions in the rest of my life.

Work was taking all of the energy and leaving nothing for anything creative. Work was also taking all of the energy and ability to have a conversation and interact with people. At the end of the day (and only working part time, my days weren’t actually that long) there was nothing left. I would get home and it would be at a point where I couldn’t easily have a conversation with my parents; I couldn’t stand the sound of voices and I couldn’t figure out how to make words come out of my mouth.

One of the most frequent interactions that I had with people on the bus was the constant question, “Are you a boy or a girl?” It was followed shortly thereafter by, “Are you even old enough to drive this bus?” or “You don’t look old enough to be driving a bus.”

Although I am aware that I’m not going to escape those sort of microaggressions entirely by leaving this job, there will be less of them. That’s important to me, too.

So now it is time to move on to the next adventure. After I post this, I’m getting dressed, going to work, and going to drive the route for the last time. This evening I will turn in the items that are issued by work, and leave the property for the last time. Tomorrow I’ll call the recruiter I’ve been working with from the trucking company, and get the ball rolling.

Here’s to the road ahead.

Reality sets in.

Basic bus etiquette.

While these things seem like common sense, one of the things that I’ve learned while driving the bus is that common sense is anything but common, unfortunately. So I wanted to suggest a few things that will make everyone’s day run smoother.

Most of these are drawn from my experience as a bus operator, but they’re widely applicable no matter where you take the bus. They’re applicable whether you take the bus every day during your commute or only once in a blue moon going out somewhere.

Posts out there that discuss etiquette on public transportation come mostly from the point of view of being courteous to your fellow riders, but it’s important to be courteous to the bus operator, too. Wherever you are, they are just trying to do their job; that includes collecting fare and dealing with passengers all while driving safely and watching out for hazards on the road. It can be a lot to deal with all at once, and discourteous passengers just make it more challenging and a lot less pleasant.

Have your fare ready.

Riding the bus, have your fare ready when you step on. Have your card out already so that you can tap it, or have the exact change for your fare. Pay your fare quickly, and then step further into the bus so that the rest of the passengers can continue boarding. If there is a line of people out the door of the bus while one person fumbles through their purse to look for change, it holds up the bus.

If you don’t have your fare ready, let the operator know, step inside, and let everyone who does have their fare ready pay. Doing this allows the bus to keep moving. Which brings me to the next point of public transportation etiquette…

Don’t use speakerphone.

Especially, especially at the farebox. Speakerphone is useful for a lot of instances, but when you’re getting on the bus and having a conversation on speakerphone, it broadcasts your business to everyone else on the bus. Moreover, continuing to have a conversation on speakerphone while paying at the farebox is just downright rude. Additionally, it means you are likely to be focused on your conversation and miss any instruction given to you by the bus operator. In fact…

Don’t play your music on speaker.

At all. Just don’t do it.

Wear headphones! Always wear headphones. By wearing headphones and keeping your music at a low, reasonable volume, you can both block out the noise of the bus— after all, buses are big vehicles full of people and that can be really noisy— and you can be considerate of those around you.

On most public transportation systems, loud or disruptive music is not only rude, but it’s additionally against the rules. It’s posted, and that means that you’re really better off obeying it. If your music is too loud, other passengers and the bus operator are all within their rights to ask you to turn it down. And if someone does ask you to turn it down, it’s to your absolute advantage to listen.

Don’t smoke at the bus stops.

Putting your cigarette out right before you get on the bus or right as the bus rolls up to the stop means that I’m holding my breath trying not to cough and simultaneously trying not to breathe in the smell of cigarettes. Not only that, but in some cities smoking in public places is illegal and carries a hefty violation fine. Lastly…

Let passengers exit first, before boarding.

I’ve entirely lost count of the number of times I’ve pulled up to a bus stop, opened the doors, and people just barge straight in. Meanwhile, there’s someone trying to exit the bus who now has to wait for people who just got on, and it’s the equivalent of a traffic jam in a narrow road.

When the bus arrives, wait a minute and let people exit before boarding the bus. By waiting, you actually save time and help the bus continue on schedule. Although the common rule should be that you board through the front doors and exit through the rear doors, there are instances in which this doesn’t work out, especially when the rear doors of the bus are a little farther from the curb, or open into bushes or uneven ground. Potentially, the person trying to exit through the front door could be elderly or have small children with them. Whatever the reason, it all basically comes down to this…

A little bit of courtesy goes a long way.

And if you’re uncertain of something while you’re riding the bus? Ask the bus operator a question. I might not know the answer, but if I don’t, someone else on the bus might.

 

Basic bus etiquette.

A note on mortality.

Content note: this post talks about car accidents, and about death.

Every so often, something happens during my day job that is important enough that I want to talk about it.

Today, nearing the end of my second bus run, at what was supposed to be my next stop, there was a car accident. I was running a little bit late, as often happens by the end of the route, and there was traffic backed up a few blocks. Then we heard sirens, and as I got over the bridge I was able to see why. The street was blocked off with police cars, emergency vehicles everywhere, and to describe it as initial chaos would not have been inaccurate.

One brief detour later as I was starting my last bus run of the day, I found out from passengers who were getting on the bus that a minivan had sideswiped another car, and run up onto the curb, ending up between the bus benches and the building. I found out that he had hit a person, although I didn’t find out the specific details until the end of the day when I was able to search for it and find the news article linked to above.

The bus benches he ended up at were the benches of the stop I mentioned, where most people get off of the bus. Quite likely, the only reason that I was not there when it happened was because I was running late. If I had been running on time. Well, it’s the sort of speculation that you can get lost in, the sort that is not good for a person.

Most of the passengers I picked up at my first stop had seen the accident. They were shaken. Many of them got off their previous buses at that stop, or walked by it minutes before the accident happened. Hell, I was shaken.

But part of the job driving the bus is to be able to project the air of calm and reassurance that is necessary in times like this. It took me a bit to manage. It’s the first time where I’ve had to be the adult in the room, so to speak, and in and of itself that is a difficult thing to do. To reassure people that they were going to get home safely. To reassure them that it was going to be alright— whether or not I necessarily believed it at the moment. And something that one of my passengers said stuck with me.

He reminded everyone on the bus to hug their loved ones when they got home.

It’s a message that seems only appropriate and more than just appropriate but necessary to pass along. Hug your loved ones (and that can mean your family members, or your friends, or anyone you care about) tonight, or in the morning. If hugs aren’t your thing, tell someone you care about them, and reach out; anything at all to make that connection. Don’t put it off because you never know what might happen tomorrow. It sounds trite most of the time, but then an accident like this happens and it suddenly becomes real.

Los Angeles is a big city, with a lot of traffic accidents and a lot of fatalities every year*. It’s easy to continually view it in the abstract of statistics and numbers on a page, things that you hear about on the news. It is entirely different when these things happen right in front of you and become part of the fabric of daily life.

For me, writing this is my way of coping with what happened. Plus, I have tomorrow (I guess at this point, tomorrow is now today) off of work in order to relax. Then on Sunday, it will be back to driving the bus.

*I looked up some statistics while I was writing this post in order to try and get a better grip on how much ‘a lot’ is, most of which you can find here (for California) if you are so interested.

A note on mortality.