Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back again. With a vengeance.

I've decided to revive this blog. It always was a good idea, having the time to write it is the thing. with all the writing I do these days, for eHow and Hubpages and Xomba. (Those are all shameless plugs by the way.) It seems I just can't get around to writing about what I do every day to keep bread on the table. Still, this blog is worth doing.

So many things are going on here in Los Angeles. it's an amazing city and I'm privileged not just to live here but to get a view that many don't. This worms eye view of L A that a bus driver has doesn't see the soft underbelly, it's more like the ass of L A. Like most asses it's always disgusting, frequently humorous and you better get out of the way before the shit starts to fall.

One of the more unpleasant aspects of Los Angeles is the way news is reported. There is a need for emphasising the sensational that ignores the good in people. The trite affairs and peccadilloes of the rich and famous far outweigh the tragedies of the working class individual. here's two examples;

The first comes from nearly 19 years ago when I first came to L.A. and had just started on the buses. I arrived at the terminal at Washington and Fairfax about two minutes after a drive by. The police had just arrived and hadn't had time to shut down the street. Apparently an 18 year old young man was at the bus stop when members of a rival gang drove by and shot him dead. That night I avidly watched the news. I had told my wife about it and I waited to see it being talked about. Not a peep. Nothing was said about it at all, it didn't make the television. The next day I read the newspaper, again nothing. It took me a little while to realise that this shooting was not newsworthy because it happened in a part of L.A. where such occurrences as a regular happening but, more importantly, a part of L.A. that isn't considered important.
The other incident happened a couple of years ago in my neighborhood. I live in a decent, quiet little suburb north east of Los Angeles. Rarely any serious problems. On this occasion we were all shocked. Two young Mexican girls, 13 years old, were walking home from a convenience store when a van pulled up alongside and some black youths got out and shot them, wounding one and killing the other. In our neighborhood that made the news. On the north end of town, about a week later, a young 19 year old black youth was walking home when a car pulled up and some Mexican youths got out and shot him dead. A revenge killing that also made the news.
Now here is what did NOT make the news.
There was some fund raising in our neighborhood and with one thing and another the father of the Mexican girl had $3,500 more than he needed to bury his daughter so he arranged a meeting with the father of the black youth and gave him the money to help him bury his son.
Priorities in news reporting are seriously messed up in this place.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bombs n' buses

I got a call from the radio room that one of the driver's had a suspicious package on her bus. I went around to take a look, she had parked up on Sunset Boulevard, one of the busiest parts of Los Angeles. Not her fault, there was nowhere to take the bus. She had got all the passengers off and onto another bus so when I got there the bus was empty and she was standing a respectable distance away.
I went on to take a look. There were two large toolboxes lying near the back seat. There were no wires protruding and no unusual odor coming from it. That's cool but I got out and told the driver "I'm not opening it." I called the radio room and requested police support.
In a few minutes a Deputy Sheriff came on the scene. I described the boxes and he went in the bus to take a look. He came out and said "I'm not opening it." He called his dispatcher and asked for a sniffer dog.
After a bit of a wait, during which the deputy arrested a guy walking past for drinking beer in the street and I'd better not talk about that because I may have to testify, along came the K-9 unit. A deputy got out and I described the boxes and their location. He decided to take a look himself before getting his dog out and he proceeded to dress in protective gear. While he was putting it on I mentioned that if it is a bomb then at least the dog could have him in bite-sized pieces. He paused from adjusting the strap on his helmet to tell me "We don't joke about that shit." Then he went in the bus. He came out and said "I'm not opening it." He went and got his dog.
The dog's name is Amor. He's an Alsatian, or a German Shepherd as they say in America. They went into the bus and I was half expecting Amor to come out and say "I'm not opening it." but everything turned out OK. The boxes were completely empty.
Before they left the Deputy gave me his business card and Amor had a business card too. It describes his interests as "Looking for the suicide bomber."
I might laugh and joke about these things but the truth is I appreciate these guys and I let them know.
The money hasn't been printed that could pay them for what they do.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On her back with her legs in the air

Many years ago I was hobbling (That's moonlighting if your not from my 'hood) for a private bus company. I had a bus full of old folk, mostly women, on a Welsh countryside tour. We stopped at a pub for a little drink and then headed home. Not too long after leaving the pub I got approached by one of them telling me that about a dozen of the old dears needed to pee.

It was going to be about 20 minutes before I could get to the next Town, Carmarthen if I remember correctly, and find some place for them to go. That was going to be too long. I was on a country road with no lights so I pulled over. There was a small bank at the side of the road, so I suggested that if they were that desperate they could slip out of sight and do whatever they needed to do. About a dozen of them took the offer. Desperation is a great motivator.

Before long a couple of them came to me for help. One of the old dears had slipped on the bank and they were too nervous to try and go down there to help her. I went over and there, on the bottom of a not very steep or deep bank, was the unfortunate lady. She was wearing those leg irons, the kind that Forest Gump wore in the movie when he was a kid. She was lying on her back, with her legs in the air, her draws around her knees and she couldn't move. I had to help her up because the other old biddies were afraid to go down in case they slipped and joined her.

I was more embarrassed than she was. I helped her to her feet and said something like "I'll help you up the bank missus, but you'll have to handle your knickers yourself." She just stepped out of them and I got her back to the bus. To the cheers of the old folk and the amusement of everyone because I was the only one blushing.

Ever noticed how public transport frquently makes an ass of itself. Falls down and just lies there with it's butt to the world and says;
"I only need a little help and I'll be back on my feet."
Back on it's feet yes but still with the leg irons strapped on. What I'm referring to in this little analogy is that no mass transit agency anywhere can truly be run like a business. The leg irons are the political pressures that management has to deal with before making any real decision. The result is that very few decisions, certainly no major decisions, are ever business decisions. They are political decisions and the only solution to difficulty is to cut spending and look for a hand-out from the government. It's like working for a boss who himself is on welfare.
Many of the decisions are themselves counter -intuitive. If we are short of money we have to look for extra work to make up the shortfall. The bus company answer is to cut service, reducing it's ability to earn. If a bus route has few passengers the common wisdom is to remove the service. What is wrong in making an attempt to attract passengers to the line. If any of us had a product to sell and were truly committed to that product, we would do all we can to promote it. If feedback showed flaws we may tweak it to improve customer desire. Finding alternatives to generate revenue makes much more sense than constantly reducing an ability to earn.

The constant search for more and more government funds is also a weak strategy. In times of fiscal shortfall the monies that have been so relied upon become scarce and the old lady starts down that slippery slope that ends up with her legs in the air asking for more help.
It's worth pointing out that if she didn't have the leg-irons on she probably wouldn't have fallen and even if she had she would have been able to get up with minimum assistance.
These are not the failings of one bus company but a general failing in mass transit concepts all over the world. A point I've made for more years than I care to remember is; Financial crises and corporate challenges present the opportunity to change a system, not the excuse for perpetuating it.

I don't believe I'm the only one who sees this so why doesn't meaningful change take place?
It's those damn leg-irons again. If we accept government cash then we are at the mercy of politicians. The people elected to scrutinize and regulate now dictate. True business decisions are over-ridden by political constraints. The ambition and agendas of individuals, the notion that to accept an idea that isn't mine will hamper my advancement, the fear that change will put me in the back of the room instead of up front where I am now. Someone who has friends in high places and can negotiate extra funds wouldn't want the company to stand on it's own feet.

So innovation and creativity are squashed. The only suggestions considered are those that tinker with the system. "Turn off your computer." "Recycle paper" etc. may be worthy reccommendations of themselves but they are treating symptoms not the disease. If someone has smallpox an ointment to relieve the irritating sores, while giving some relief, does not fight the sickness.

So lets strengthen the legs, get rid of the irons and show the old girl how she can get back to the road on her own. Then no one needs to be embarrassed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Now for the beginning

The Holidays are over so now I can get down to writing this blog. Seems I've got a lot to say, stories to tell and some strongly held views on what the future of buses and mass transit in general is all about.
Christmas was a very good time this year. My son and his family came over to visit from Wales and every day was an event. I was able to get Xmas day off and we did the Disneyland thing and a lot of other touristy stuff. Great for them especially since he hadn't been here in 19 years and his family had never been to America. I believe a good time was had by all.
Now I'm a fully fledged Supervisor I'm supposed to be professional but that word is so abused here. It means being some kind of stick in the mud whose only job is to criticize. Real waste of resources and it's not what the upper echelons of management really have in mind but it's how it gets translated at the grass roots. There's too many people afraid of their jobs so they all take the scared shitless route and do what is safe. That is;
Be sweet and nice to the immediate boss.
Be an enforcer to the bus driver.
Do not under any circumstances take risks.
That last like all the other things gets taken to ridiculous extremes. If you see someone of another gender and especially if that person has different color skin, do not hug her/him. Because that is "Sexual harassment" Doesn't matter if you've known that person all your life. If someone sees it and thinks its "Sexual" then there's a big fuss.
Talk about politically correct, this place has gone overboard to the detriment of the company and all the employees.
I've got a lot to say about this stuff and my resolution this year is to take things one at a time and write them. Things like;
The Outlaw Bus Driver, my hero.
Let's have more sex in the workplace.
Working without the rule book.
Stop meeting the challenge and start solving the problem.
and many more.
Happy New Year, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What nationality are you?

I took them for a ride on the 105 line for almost two tears. I didn't mind it, it's not as bad as a lot of drivers make it out to be. Still, it has it's moments. This incident happened not long after I came to America so perhaps that's why I didn't understand the question.

One evening I pulled up at the traffic lights at Vernon and Central. A gang of kids just appeared out of nowhere. I had to admire it really, the whole thing was done with almost military precision. The lights were red, out jumped the kids armed with spray paint, before the lights could turn green the windshield was covered in red paint. Then they were gone.

I called up the control room and told the dispatcher that I couldn't drive the bus any more on account of how I couldn't see a thing. I described what happened and then he asked me the strangest damn question. He asked;
"What nationality were the kids?"
I replied that as far as I knew they were all bloody Americans. It turned out that what he was really asking was, what was the color of their skin. I didn't understand that at the time and to tell the truth I still don't. When I've mentioned this to any one who is American they understand what he was asking but it gives me a question;
If this is supposed to be "One nation" and if we are supposed to take a pledge of allegiance to this "One Nation under God" How can you ask anyone here "What nationality are you?"
I still don't understand after nearly 19 years so could someone please explain.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Homeless and the Hooker Poet

I was working the 10 line out of the West Hollywood Division. It starts on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and goes down Melrose Avenue. During the day it usually changes to the 48 line in downtown Los Angeles and continues into Watts. Today, though, I was working the owl. During the night it only works as far as Maple and 7th. There's a terminal there right in the middle of skid row.

A lot of the homeless catch the bus. Actually they catch a lot of buses. For most of the homeless and toothless it's cheaper to get a bus pass than a room. On the bus they can get an hour or so sleep in a dry and sometimes safe place. Most drivers chuck them off at the end of the line but I have other ideas. I bring a thermos of coffee and some plastic cups. I usually have some cookies as well. So me and the smelly ones sit and have a chat and very enlightening it is. They tell me a lot of lies and I tell them a few of my own. The night passes pleasantly enough. I've met Kings and Dukes, Aliens from other countries and other planets, fighters, boozers and really nice guys who have finished last.

Early on in my shift Ray got on my bus. Every time he gets on it's his 65th birthday so he wants to go for free. Ray is homeless with no teeth and one leg. He hops up on his crutches and my feeling is that if he's got a bit of cash he'd be better off buying a cup of coffee than spending it on busfare so I never charge him. Hey, WTF so shoot me. Today he asked me if I knew of MacDavis. Of course I do, he was a big country singer in the 70's. So me and Ray sang a few choruses of "Lord it's hard to be humble" Me with my Welsh accent and him with no teeth. Still the passengers seemed to enjoy it. Later he told me that he's moving to Arizona. He said his first wife wants him back. I said "But Ray, you've only got one leg, how you gonna kick her ass?" He promised me he'd find a way.

Last night I was at the terminal on my own when Beverly paid me a visit. At least that's what she told me her name was. She wandered over from the felony flats across the street to offer me a blow job for $15. Quite a reasonable price, I felt very special that I was getting such a deal. So I asked if she gave any freebies, a sort of "Try before you buy" Unfortunately she turned that down. I pointed out to her that I don't purchase anything without some kind of warranty, so I asked if she promised "Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back." That's when she said something so cool that I committed it to memory. She said;

"It's all about the money,

And it's not funny.

You gotta have cash

In this land of milk and honey."

Now that's poetry for you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Orange Line

These are some pic's of the articulated buses that Metro uses in the San Fernando Valley. made by NABI (The North American Bus Industry) powered by natural gas, they carry more people than any driver should legally be allowed to deal with.

This is the terminal at the Warner Centre. The buses run on a specially built designated street. They operate like trains with stations along the way constructed in a similar way to train stations.

They get a lot of madia attention when they hit a car at intersections. not the driver's fault. Usually it's motorists who don't realize that there's a special little street here and they go belting across without even seeing the red light. The driver's have been told to go no more than 10 miles an hour at intersections but the L.A. car driver, with not a minute to spare still ends up in the side seat of the bus.

Here's the inside. Looking from the back seat down to the front. It looks longer inside than it does outside.

Thoughts of the Tardis.

I had to show this. I'm Welsh,remember. All over Wales the signs are bi-lingual and here in L.A. it's no different. Except that here the language is Spanish instead of Welsh.
On the subject of bi-lingual. There's a Welsh phrase that I always used. My parents said it to me and I say it to my children. It's "Nos Da" Just means good night. However, It sounds a lot like the Spanish phrase "No Esta" My wife, who's from a Spanish speaking family, found it very disturbing to have her husband come to bed each night and tell her "It's not here."

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Los Angeles, California, United States