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Growing out the beard…

February 25, 2015, 2:44 AM

This past Sunday, I really came to realize that I have, as TV Tropes would say, started “growing the beard” when it comes to driving a bus.  It’s about getting past all of the newness and figuring out how it all really works, and starting to, you know, become proficient at what you’re doing.  When it comes to jobs, if a person is a good fit with the organization, they grow out their beard within the first few months after whatever training period ends.  If the beard doesn’t grow, then it’s possible that they’re not a good fit, and that often ends with a parting of ways.

Me, I’ve grown my (figurative) beard out quite nicely.  I have a run of my own, meaning that my assignment does not change much from week to week.  I do the same thing every weekday, and I do the same Saturday and Sunday schedules every week.  When the transit agency that I work for cut me loose to work my own assignment for the first time, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I was at a different bus garage than the one that I had trained at after having been unexpectedly reassigned at the end of training (about half the class was also moved from where they had trained), and I had never done a street relief in the middle of a route before.

For those not familiar, a street relief is how some bus routes work.  The buses are out on the street all day, and the operators just cycle on and off of them.  One guy takes a bus out of the garage, and then at a designated location, he hands the bus off to another operator.  That next guy takes the bus for however long, and then gives the bus to someone else.  That keeps going until the last guy gets the bus, and he brings it back to the garage.

Prior to going out on my own, the only street reliefs that I had done in training were at the end of the line, and those were relatively few.  Thus for those reliefs, I was starting a fresh trip with passengers that I had boarded since, even though I was meeting the bus while it was already in service, the trip belonged to me.  Doing a relief mid-route means that I’m taking over a bus that already has passengers on it that someone else boarded.  And my first block on my first day started with a street relief.  But somehow, I managed, though truth be told, I was terrified.  Street reliefs certainly took a bit of getting used to, since it felt as though I was tossed in and had to be running on all eight cylinders immediately, vs. having a moment alone with the bus to get to know it and get settled before showtime started.  Realize that there’s a certain mental state that one needs to achieve in order to handle a transit bus.  Doing the pre-trip inspection, setting all of the mirrors and such, and then taking the bus out of the garage are part of how one gets in that zone with that bus.  Then whatever positioning trip is necessary to get to the terminal stand is helpful, too, as it allows me to find out and understand the individual bus’s little eccentricities before boarding passengers.  I’d rather find out about touchy brakes when the bus is empty so that I’m not jostling passengers around unnecessarily.  When I do a street relief, especially when I start the day with one, I know that I have not yet gotten into my zone with that bus, but I’ve got a complement of passengers that have somewhere that they want to go.  I usually end up taking it slowly at first and then build up to full speed as I get into my zone.

When I was in training, and when I first went out on my own, I was late.  On my first day alone, I did three blocks, and I don’t think I ended a single trip on time.  I did, however, pick up all of my street reliefs on time, even though I had to run to make the last one.  And for the most part, I was late because of unfamiliarity.  I didn’t know the streets that well, and was still figuring out the moves.  I didn’t know where all of the bus stops were, and had to listen to the stop annunciator voice quite a bit for help on where the stops were.  And all of that made me a bit of a slow driver.  At least one person in training described my driving as being akin to Driving Miss Daisy, which I didn’t exactly appreciate.

Now, even if a trip runs late, it usually doesn’t run so late that I end up starting the next trip late.  And I run most of my trips on time now.  And I also know my routes.  I’m not listening to the stop annunciator for help on where the bus stops are anymore.  I now know where they all are.  I also know the traffic patterns on the roads that I drive on, and know where I need to be in order to make all of the moves that I need to make, including shading across two lanes at times, to get where I’m going.  I also know the light cycles.  I know, for instance, that on one somewhat complicated intersection that I go through at least twice every day, when a particular pedestrian signal countdown timer hits 18, I get the green to proceed.  When the countdown timer reaches 4, it turns yellow.  Thus I can use those two points to time it and know if I can make it through.  I also have developed a rapport with my regulars.  They know me, and I know them, and we are a part of each other’s daily routine, to the point where I asked the other passengers where one of my regulars was when they weren’t there one day.  And I know what buses I need to do the job.  I do a rush hour bus, and for that, I can take nothing less than an artic, because even with an artic, I will fill the bus completely up.  For another route, I try to get a regular bus that’s somewhat on the heavier side, because of how it handles on the pavement on certain streets that particular route follows.  I also know what kind of bus I need when I’m doing my “marathon session” on Saturdays, i.e. one that’s light on the pedals so that I don’t start to feel it in my legs by my fifth or sixth trip up the same road (my marathon session can be fun or tiring, depending on how things go).

However, I really knew that I had grown my beard out when I realized afterwards how well I had handled a planned route detour on one of my regular routes.  The detour was due to a street closure for a special event that was occurring on the regular route.  So the buses were going a few blocks over and down before regaining the regular route.  First I announced to the passengers that we would be detouring, and how we were going, and dealt with any resulting questions and alightings.  Then I busted a few moves, turning right onto a street that I had never been on before with a bus, turned left onto another street that I had never driven on in a bus before, and then did another left onto yet another unfamiliar street.  Then it was time to make a right turn to resume the regular route, which is on a relatively narrow road, as well as a busy road.  I needed all of the space that I could get to make that turn.  First thing I did was to swing the bus a little bit to the left in order to start the turn from further back in the intersection.  Even with that preparation, I knew that I still needed one of the travel lanes used by oncoming traffic in order to make the turn.  I quickly recalled a memorable event from training when we were learning how to drive artics.  The person driving didn’t have enough space to make the turn because of where a cabbie was, so the instructor said to “dictate”, telling him, “Put the bus in his face!”  On Sunday, I dictated.  I got the nose of the bus out in the intersection when the light changed, and then put the bus in a car’s face.  Stop.  Car moved.  So I took some more space, and put the bus in someone else’s face.  They moved.  I ended up putting the bus in one more person’s face before I got through that turn.  And it all came naturally.  The attitude that you sometimes have to take is, “Look here: I’m the bus, and I’m coming!”  I’m not fooling around, because I have places to go.

Afterwards, talking to a coworker that was right behind me doing the same detour, and who had been in the same training class as me, she was impressed watching how I handled that turn.  That was not the way I would have handled things two months ago.  I would have managed, but it would have been a bit slower, and not nearly so neat.  But now, I know what I’m doing, and I like feeling like I know what I’m doing.  That confidence shows, and I like it.