A few weeks ago I decided to ask for a transfer back to driving buses; only days later I found myself in a bus, going around in circles at the Merlo garage in Beaverton.
It was a good thing that the training supervisor had me do some basic left and right turns safely away from official roads where I could have had unpleasant encounters with cars and larger vehicles; I had to get the “feel” for buses again – buses perform somewhat differently than MAX trains do. I am really not big on hitting things.
It was pathetic how it started out before I got to those basic turns: sitting down in the driver’s seat of the bus for the first time since September 2007, I could not for the life of me remember how to turn the stupid thing on. My brain kept telling me I needed a key. A key had been my secret to success in moving trains around the alignment for 28 months, so a KEY was still foremost on my mind.
And where was the **Motoring Drum Handle? (Should be close to my left hand – but, noooo – arrgghh…) It was just one of those basic tools I got used to at rail, and I missed it.
I next longed for rails to move the bus on. That “turning the vehicle stuff” was so easy on MAX – the rails did it for me. Buses need to switch to rails.
Many bus drivers had told me about the new 2900 series buses and how bad/good/awful/great they were. I learned one fact immediately: the brake pedals on these new buses are VERY sensitive. Good thing I was at the garage… I felt like a novice bus driver, a feeling that brought me back to the nightmare of my first day of bus training ten years ago. Not the greatest memory to boost my confidence right at that moment. More about that first day so long ago some other time. Maybe.
All too soon we headed out onto city streets, thus commencing the serious part of my four-day refresher course. The need for this training was clearly evident as soon as I turned onto 6th Avenue from Harrison Street, entering the new transit mall on the south end of it by Portland State University. It appeared to me right away that there were more traffic lights on the new mall than vehicles; I almost gave up my driver’s seat to the trainer, but he politely declined.
By now I have to admit that the transit mall is well designed and that it works beautifully. Since fewer bus routes use the new mall, there is less traffic, even with the cars in the left lane and the need for buses to do the ingeniously engineered hop scotching with the frequently running trains.
However, that first trip down the mall was – - – interesting. My eyes kept drifting up to the right, looking for the light rail pre-empts, the most common signals the trains use downtown. The darn pre-empts confused my still “in train mode” brain. A lot. My trainer said to just take it slow and easy. I did. I was slow. Very slow.
At every intersection I eventually remembered that I was in a BUS, not a train.
I struggled to find “my” signal among all the lights I saw in front of me. I expected to see a traffic signal a few feet over my lane in front of me, a signal under which I would then pass. I found no such signal anywhere. I quickly found out that I had to follow the signals that guided the auto lane, just to the left of where my bus and I were traveling.
To my horror, my trainer had me turn into a bus stop. Scary. On the old bus mall, buses in the travel lane had to yield to buses leaving a stop. The buses now do the opposite: buses in the transit travel lane have the right of way, and buses at stops have to yield, even if the light at their stop is green. A train cannot yield to a bus wanting to leave a bus stop because a train cannot stop where it will still be blocking an intersection.
Going through downtown Portland was challenging that first day; it still is. My head and eyes are constantly moving, scanning for possible problems; I try to think ahead and remind myself that, with the opening of the new transit mall, downtown has just become a bit more demanding with trains and streetcars crisscrossing my path at many more intersections than I was used to before. With so many lights, signals, vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists to keep track of, I had better keep my eyes peeled.
Forget my glasses, and I could be toast.
Since I did indeed wear my glasses on that first day through the new mall, I managed. But just barely. I begged to go through the mall several more times during my re-training, but I was still terrified the first time on my own with passengers on board.
Now not terrified any more. Now just fine. Now all well. Now happy.
Now smiling. At least part of the time.
**Motoring Drum Handle is the propulsion and brake handle of our light rail trains. At about elbow height, it is found on the front left side of the console of our trains.