This was a credo that was repeated ad nauseum by any driver I talked to. Training was a strange mix of route memorization, on-street maneuvers in buses, and war stories. And the war stories were plentiful. You couldn't talk shop without listening to a variation of some story that began with a belligerent passenger beaking off, and ended with an "I showed them" type resolution. Every driver had a story, and it became evident that it really was Us against Them.
This is not a concept that was unique to Ottawa. I have friends in other cities who told the same types of stories. It's strange, but the stories seem to be generic plot lines passed around transit properties throughout the industry. I'm not saying the stories are not true, but I have always questioned whether the stories told are actually being told by the author, or simply reiterated folklore that all drivers hear and then re-purpose to suit the conversations around the drivers' lounges.
This job will harden you.
That was the credo. I had come to transit from a life on the road. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta... I had spent years driving freight all over North America, in horrible neighborhoods, tarping loads in freezing temperatures, working 80 hour weeks, hauling explosives, in all kinds of weather... But transit? This will harden me?
When I look back on my days spent on the road as a trucker, I look back with a sense of wanderlust and adventure. Every day was a new zip code, time zone, and challenge. I have been places many folks will never see. I have been to 48 states and 9 provinces. I have had the stressful fatigue ridden pressure of a deadline met with the knowledge that my hard work prevented the closure of a factory's third shift, as the company needed these supplies to prevent layoffs.
I felt important back then. Needed. The distance between me and that career grows bigger, and perspective adds to the lore of the stories I tell about it.
As I look back at my transit career, now older and more experienced, I realize that the lore of driving a bus has it's own perspective, and that much of what I thought I had learned from training and other more experienced drivers was just that -lore. We tell these stories over and over, all variations of the same plot, and we laugh about them. I hear the same stories from other fields in customer service. We all tell variations of same exaggerations! Driving a transit bus is a difficult job, yes. But I think I have drawn a conclusion.
This job has not hardened me. The dire warnings and predictions did not produce fruit here. People are not terrible to us. Okay, some are, but the good outweigh the bad by a looong shot. It's not even close.
In fact, this job has taken a cynical know-it-all trucker and moulded him into a thoughtful, reflective man. This job has made my life better, and has provided for my family. This job has made me a better person.
There are likely to be hundreds of new hires over the next few years, and the vast majority of drivers currently driving have been hired over the past few years. This represents the biggest opportunity in company history to shift the culture of transit driving in Ottawa, ever.
If you're a recent hire, or thinking of joining the organization, I'd like to share the following things that I wish I had known when I started at this job.
- Your passengers do not know you, so whatever name they call you is irrelevant and made-up.
- You will meet one hundred times more clients that are nice and love the service you provide than you will meet clients who are upset with you.
- You will remember the ones who are upset with you, and that is irrational and wasteful. Don't focus on that.
- Every conflict is an opportunity to win a person over. Looking for opportunities to win people over is the most rewarding aspect of this job, and has increased my personal happiness and job satisfaction more than any other aspect of this job. You may drive five hundred people to work in a day, but the accomplishment is temporary. Tomorrow, there will be five hundred more people. A resolved issue is the only accomplishment you can take home with you.
- The people I work with are awesome. The media is bored with this concept, so ignore it. If you are looking for validation, you will never find it in the comments section of the Sun, because these are the types of people who read the Sun. Just sayin'.
- Exercise. If you are going to spend the next few decades sitting down behind a steering wheel, keeping strange hours, and microwaving most of your daily calories, then don't fall into the trap of a sedentary lifestyle away from the platform. Look around at your co workers. This is essential.
There is no real life handbook for being a transit driver. There is no hard and fast guide to dealing with the unique challenges you will face, nor is there a pat on the back for a job well done.
If you let it, this job will teach you important lessons about life. You will find your limits, you will test them. You will work hard most days and the lessons may seem unfair at times, but you have an important choice to make on how you apply these things to your life:
You can let those lessons harden you, or you can let those lessons temper you.
So choose wisely.