Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chapter 30: Chapter the Last

Chapter 30: Chapter the Last

Job #85: Bus Driver

2010 to The Present

It has taken me awhile to get around to writing this, what should be the final chapter in this on-going saga I call life. Part of the delay was simply time constraints. There has been a lot going on around the homestead the last few weeks. The real problem, though, is it just felt weird to try and write a final chapter for a life that is still going on. I’ll admit to a bit of superstitious thinking that writing the last chapter about my life might have the same effect upon my life.

I’ve read a few biographies and autobiographies or memoirs in my time. From my perspective, the biographers have the easier time of it: “So-and-so was born at such-and-such a time, did some stuff, then died, the end”.  I can’t remember how the autobiographers and memoirists ended their tales – probably at some point in their recent past or then-present. What if something amazing happened to them after they published their life’s story? It reminds me of how Trivial Pursuit put out their first 1980’s Edition just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, thus missing one of the biggest events of the decade. Why didn’t they wait until 1990? I guess I’m going to have to go back and re-read some of those autobiographies for some hints as how to wrap this up. But let’s plunge ahead, shall we? After all, this whole blog is really just a rough draft for the book I plan to write.

I’ve already written about some of the differences in bus driving between the mid ‘80s and today in Chapter 16, so there is no need to rehash those.  I’ve certainly had some crazy experiences in the past five years. I could go on at some length about the many weird people I’ve encountered on the bus, but I think I’ll save those stories for my moribund other blog, The Idiots Aboard. The point of this chapter – and indeed, the whole project – isn’t really about the jobs themselves. It’s supposed to be about why I’ve had so very many jobs over a lifetime.

Before we get into that rotten stuff, however, let me catch you up on some of the significant events which have occurred since I’ve been working at job #85. When I first started, I saw it as an easy stop-gap position while I continued to look for that elusive GIS job I so coveted. Unfortunately, I was working long hours and split shifts, so time for job-searching was limited. Also, the nature of the job itself was quite draining. Remember what I said in Chapter 16 about people seeming to be dumber today than 30-odd years ago? I still hold to that, and, if anything, it only seems to have gotten worse in the half-decade I’ve been doing this job. Also, the number of mentally ill people roaming the streets seems to have increased, at least in our formerly-quiet part of the world, and the severity of their illnesses also seems to have worsened.

By the end of a day of driving bat-shit crazy and bag of hammers-dumb people around, I had no energy whatsoever left for job searching, so that quickly fell by the wayside. Before that happened, however, I did try to keep up on my GIS skills. I often had long breaks between my split shifts. It was not economically feasible or practical from a safety viewpoint to try to commute home and back again during those splits. If the weather was amenable, I might nap in my car or in an empty bus at the yard. Otherwise, I was stuck in College Town with nothing to do for several hours.

I approached the good folks at the City of College Town GIS department and volunteered my services, much as I had done with Jesse in O-Town. Just like Jesse, they were happy to have the free help. I did that for a little while, but then my schedule changed. We have new “bids” every three or four months, mainly because whether or not the university is in session has a big impact on the number of riders. Mainly, there are two “student shuttle” routes, which do not operate when the college is “out”, such as the spring, summer and winter breaks. This being a union job, seniority is very important. The drivers of those student shuttles (usually the same two guys year after year) are entitled to bid for a schedule with sufficient hours during the college’s down times, and that is why we all bid four times a year. As a new guy, I didn’t have a lot of options about what I got to bid on, so I had to take what I could get, and that is why my schedule changed so dramatically. I could never be sure what I would be doing from one quarter to the next, so I had to give up on the idea of volunteering at the city GIS department.

We also relocated from O-Town to College Town about a year after I started driving bus. We had contemplated moving to reduce the amount of time and money I spent on commuting, but it didn’t seem worth the effort and expense of finding a new place and packing. Then our landlord and lady made up our minds for us. It wasn’t an eviction, per se. I admit, we had been pushing the limits of their patience for a while. Our current house was only three bedrooms, and it was just supposed to be Mrs. Rimpington and I and our two biological children living there.

However, Step-Rimpyette hadn’t had much luck in the relationship department. She had broken up with Grandrimpy’s father, and she and her son came to stay with us. It was just supposed to be temporary. She slept in the living room, and we put Grandrimpy in a reluctant Rimpy Jr.’s room, which had a bunk bed.

SR soon met another guy (whom I shall call DSB – for “Devil’s Stinky Ballsack”) and…well…ended up pregnant by him. She had been careful about birth control, but this unscrupulous fellow later admitted that he so badly wanted to start a family that he had poked holes in her diaphragm with a needle. So DSB got the kid he wanted (which wasn’t his first, by the way), but it turned out he was no good at providing support for a family. He was just a total loser. Unfortunately SR didn’t realize this in time to avoid marrying the guy. All she wanted was a legitimate spouse and legal father for her second child.

SR’s pregnancy with Grandrimpyette 1 was rough on her, and GR1 ended up being delivered by Caesarean two months early, at the same hospital in Sacramento where Rimpyette had been born.
SR and DSB tried to make a go of living together, but it ultimately failed miserably. So SR and her now two children were back in our home. Some ugly custody battles ensued between SR and GR1’s father, which SR barely won with her sanity intact.

One month lead to another, than a few years went by. SR went through some rough times while trying to recover from her traumatic relationship with DSB. She met a Hmong man with a vast past. He was good to SR, but it was obvious he was never going to be a financially viable partner. At least we didn’t have to worry that he would impregnate the imminently pregnable SR. He had previously been in a long-term relationship with a Hmong woman, and much to his mother’s dismay, they never produced a child. Finally she had him tested, and he was diagnosed as sterile. Still, after her past experiences, SR was taking no chances, and continued to use birth control. Then, one fateful, drunken night, she let her guard down, and a miracle happened. Apparently “sterile” doesn’t necessarily mean “totally sperm-free”, and now a third grandchild was on the way.

SR’s health had not been great since her second pregnancy. You may recall that she was already having problems when she was working for me at Osmosis. This last pregnancy really did her in. SR’s doctor decided to deliver GR2 by Caesarean two weeks before her due date, but SR’s water broke about a week and a half before then.

Meanwhile, our now grown biological children were having grown-up relationships of their own, and their significant others moved in with us. Fortunately, no progeny ensued from any of those relationships. I would like to have “blood” grandchildren someday, but I can wait a bit longer.
So at the height, we had 10 people living in a three bedroom house (with only one bathroom). I can’t even remember where everybody slept, but the living room was definitely doing double-duty as a makeshift fourth bedroom. All this might not have been so bad if our house had been on a sewer system rather than a septic tank. The tank just wasn’t built for that many people, and that was the straw that broke the landlord-camel’s back. They got fed up with having to pump out the septic tank and our seeming inability to get SR and her kids into a place of their own. It’s not that we were unwilling, it’s just that circumstances prevented it. SR had had a bit of trouble while trying to recover from DSB, and was not eligible for public housing. She was sick and couldn’t work. There was no way she could afford full rent on assistance, especially with no support coming from any of her babies’ daddies.

Finally, our landlord, Rich, who was basically a kindly person at heart, came by while I was at work and gave Mrs. R the news that we had 60 days to find a new place. They had rather a long conversation about our situation, by the end of which Rich said we could have 90 days.  Then Rich apparently went home and told his wife (who was not basically a kindly person) what he had done, because he called Mrs. R and said that it was going to have to be 60 days after all.

Okay. 60 days. After 17 years with the same landlords, we had eight weeks to find a new place and move into it. I try not to bear them too much ill will over that. After all, they had owned their house for probably decades, and couldn’t have any idea what it was like for renters in this modern world.

90 days would have been better (and kinder), but I figured we could it in 60. We barely accomplished it, and it nearly killed us. Part of the problem was that potential landlords had gotten a lot more finicky about renters since we had last had to find a place. Now credit checks are much more common, and our credit has never been great. We thought that the fact that we had been with the same landlords for 17 years would impress potential new landlords, but it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. It reminded me of when Hank Hill finds out how long an underling at Strickland’s has been renting, and asks incredulously, “Who rents a house for 20 years?”

Mrs. R finally found an apartment belonging to an agreeable fellow. It’s in a somewhat dodgy part of town, and hard by the railroad tracks, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t also near a crossing, so the frequent trains have to blow their horns as they pass our building. It was going to be different, adjusting to apartment living after almost two decades of living in stand-alone houses with yards. Actually, I was looking forward to the idea of no longer being responsible for yard care. The backyard at our last house was quite large, but only about a quarter of that was livable lawn. The rest was wild grasses and weeds. When the wild part finally dried out during the summer, it wasn’t much trouble right through the winter, but I dreaded the spring when the new growth came in with a vengeance.

Another complicating factor in our move was that poor Mrs. R got pneumonia and was in the hospital for several days just as were switching homes, so I was on my own trying to wrangle all the other inhabitants into some semblance of order. Mrs. R got released from the hospital just in time to walk through our now empty former home to say goodbye to it. We had been there for 11 years. Our children had grown from actual children to adults there. Just before she went into the hospital, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in the midst of all packing. It was a bittersweet time full of conflicting emotions and stresses.

Man, we had accumulated a lot of junk in those 11 years (plus the six years at the previous house, where we’d had almost nothing when we moved in, after a few years of gypsy-like living). We rented a 4 cubic yard dumpster and filled it to overflowing with discarded items. Even then, we weren’t able to fit what was left into our new place, and had to rent a storage unit. There has always been something reprehensible to me about our culture’s accumulative nature, and what a huge industry self-storage has become. It kills me to have to shell out money to someone else to protect our excess stuff, but I can’t seem to whittle it all down to a less profligate amount.

At last we settled into our new apartment, and now we’ve been here almost four years. Rimpy Jr. broke up with his significant other here, and that was rough. He has since relocated to Portland, Oregon, where we plan on moving in a couple of years. Grandrimpy got old enough to get his own significant other, who moved in with us, so there are now nine people under this roof, only one less than the previous domicile, but at least we are spread out over four rooms instead of three (and two bathrooms), so the living room only sometimes functions as a guest bedroom.

That catches us up on current events. So what have I learned from all this living and working and writing about it? In the introduction to this project, I told the story of an addle-pated woman who had a hard time remembering how to pay her fare on the bus as she commuted to beautician school, and my impatience with her and her slowness. I don’t know what became of that lady. I like to think that she graduated from beauty college and went on to a better life, but I’ll probably never know.
When I wrote that introduction nearly a year ago, I wondered why I was such an impatient butt, and who I was I to talk, anyway - a guy who got hired for 85 different jobs over the course of 35 years? Were the two things somehow related? I think they are.

My parents were both critical in their own ways, but my father was by far the worse. He managed to make me feel like I’d be worthless if I didn’t match his idea of how a man should conduct himself in this life. He did some things right in his life. He was a responsible worker and a homeowner and paid his bills. There is nothing wrong with that. But nobody liked him. He’s been gone a long time now, and all anyone remembers about him is how he made them feel about themselves - which was never “good”. The world he’s no longer a part of doesn’t care about his good credit or what he owned.
For my part, I took a convoluted path in dealing with how he made me feel. Like many children, instead of saying, “I’m never going to make MY children feel bad about themselves”, I repeated the behaviors I’d seen modeled. I’ve had to work hard to change that behavior in my personal relationships, but I’m still prone to dickishness when dealing with co-workers and passengers. After my disastrous turn as a foreman with Osmosis (you know, when I fired my own step-daughter?), I have had no interest in any kind of supervisorial position. Being a bus driver is no picnic, but I don’t think I could handle even the little bit of power that would come with a higher position - like dispatcher, trainer or safety supervisor.

In general, I rebelled against my hyper-critical father’s ideas of what makes a successful man by being about as irresponsible when it came to work and personal finance as I could get. Paradoxically, however, when I did work, I usually tried to do the best job I could at whatever it was. That may have been a combination of nature and nurture (if you can call my father’s approach to parenting “nurturing”). I think I have a naturally strong work ethic, plus I had seen it modeled by both my parents. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to come to grips with my feelings about my father and buckle down to being a grown-up. Ah well. Better late than never, I suppose.

It hasn’t been easy accepting my current position in life. I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I could have done better than being a bus driver this late in life. Sometimes I have despaired when I felt like this is all I have to look forward to until I retire. But I’ve managed to hang in there. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s been five years. When I hit that anniversary, my wages suddenly jumped from less than I was making at my previous job at Intersection to more. Finally I’m making a decent living, but it’s sort of a double-edged sword. Even if I found a job that was more amenable in working conditions, it probably wouldn’t pay as much as I’m making now. This is the risk I’m taking with our planned relocation to Portland. If I get the job I want up there, it will pay less than I’m currently making, at least for a little while, so that could be rough. I’ve gotten gun-shy about making risky moves with employment, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So now I’m a stable worker, but I still struggle with being critical of others. I try to remember that poor beauty college student and her struggles with tickets. We all have struggles. It’s how we deal with ours and how it affects our interactions with others that defines us, and I’m trying to make a better definition for myself.
The end.

P.S.: It’s mostly been fun writing this, but it has been hard, too. Now comes the really hard work of going back over this and trying to work it into a book someone would want to read (and pay for the privilege of doing so). Wish me luck.

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