Monday, November 12, 2007

Bus Drivers

I eavesdropped on the most fascinating conversation on the 54C today. The driver was chatting with a grumpy passenger about life. The driver was encouraging the passenger to join a company that was unionized, talking extensively about how unions can take care of him while he worked and after he retired. It seemed to be news to the passenger that unions could help set a fair wage, ensure health benefits, and eliminate (or attempt to eliminate) unfair hiring/promoting practices.

Then the passenger started bitching about doctors making too much money. The driver said he was using his union benefits go to night school and was about to graduate with his nursing degree. He felt that doctors earned a lot of money because they work really hard and the real enemy is hospitals and insurance agencies and pharmaceutical companies, who are profit monsters. The passenger grumbled. He tried to change the subject.

The passenger was outraged that EMTs were being fired and firefighters were expected to fill these roles. But then, he felt, firefighters were overpaid and mostly sat around all day.

The driver has a brother who is a firefighter. The driver feels they deserve lots of money because they put their lives on the line on the occasion they do get called to work. He, the driver, wouldn't want to enter a burning building and was glad his tax dollars were supporting people who were braver. The passenger grumbled.

He felt, then, that women should have no place in a firehouse. Well, the driver pointed out, he met a woman who was physically stronger than many men he knew. She and another Pittsburgh woman had passed the fire test years ago, when women and men had the same standards. The passenger thought he finally found an in, something to officially declare unfair. "Aha! See?? Women have all these loose standards! I don't want them coming to rescue me if they aren't as strong as the other firefighters!"

"Well," said the driver, in the same level and patient tone he had been using for an hour, "To be fair, activists are saying it would be pretty simple to design lighter air tanks, axes, and equipment that would enable more women and even more smaller men to work better as firefighters. I think things could be changing pretty soon."

It was just so remarkable for me to hear this amazing man, with his amazing world view and fantastic intellectual curiosity, educating the entire bus. Each one of us left realizing that context is everything and the only thing bitterness will get us is tight shoulders. I can't wait for this driver to be my nurse someday.

2 comments:

Karen said...

Man, with these observational skills, you are never going to run out of things to write about :) Thanks for this.

Frank said...

Bus drivers really rock my world sometimes. They have to deal with so much crap, both from drivers, from their managers, and from passengers, and the vast majority of them do it with a smile on their face. Next time you're on a bus, ask the driver about the schedule they have to keep. They have things planned down to the minute...it's insane.