Sunday, 18 December 2011

Alain, Part Deux

"Alexa said...
I disagree with much of what you say in regards to Alain Mercier managing his position well. He is directly responsible for the tremendous dissatisfaction of his employees. The scheduling remains abhorrent to most of the drivers and management has shown a total lack of interest or willingness to accomodate their employees. Hence the antagonism continues to increase. This is a sign of significantly bad management when so many are under undue stress because of ridiculous schedules and numerous drivers cannot meet their time expectancies without foregoing their breaks or having to speed unnecessarily. I would be interested to know how many have had to take stress leave because of the work conditions. I certainly know of a couple of drivers who felt they were on the verge of a breakdown. It appears to be that OC is under abyssmal management."


I received a few responses similar to this one from a few drivers. Folks, I get it. I drive these schedules too. We lost a very good thing in arbitration when we lost the ability to assemble split shifts. After that, our union refused to participate in assembling our work as they protested the subsequent bookings in the dispute over the arbitrators language. The run cuts all seem to have been assembled without our input because up until the clarification of the arbitrators language, they weren't. What I'm getting at here is this: There is more blame to go around for the worst of our complaints than a simple finger pointing at management. As a driver, I'm upset with our union for what appears to be complete aloofness about the run cuts and scheduling while they protested the bookings. I'm upset with management for assembling runs that start at Merivale garage and finish at Place D'Orleans 12 hours later, and pay 7h30. But, I'm mostly upset with the arbitrator for dragging his feet for two years while the main issues twisted in the wind. As a taxpayer, that last part is a double-whammy. I paid for that arbitrator to make a decision, and he consistently screwed that up allowing for two interpretations of his ruling, which IMO is the principle reason we have the disgruntled attitudes towards our current scheduling.

On that note, it's easy to think that this scheduling issue is a new thing that the Mercier regime has created. It isn't.

Our current scheduling is comparable to many similar sized transit properties. I've done the research, after receiving a complaint about a post I made before my blog was vandalized. I used to think we were getting the short end of the stick in comparison to other cities. Our pay is lower, yes. But, our scheduling complaints are similar to most of the drivers I talked to in 5 other cities. The contentious issues are all centered around running times, spread, hours worked, pay guarantees, and run cuts. It sounds familiar because it is industry wide. When something like this can be demonstrated to be an industry standard, it become apparent that management is doing what all other transit managers are doing.

Ask yourself the following question: "Do I believe that Alain Mercier wanted to cut $20M from his own department?"

To pin all of our scheduling complaints on bad management is to ignore the city council's decisions, the budget, the tax payer, Larry O'Brien's role in the strike, Andy's gaffe, the media,  the rest of our industry, and how all major transit operations are run. Driver complaints about scheduling are industry wide, and we are not in the worst position of the properties I spoke with. (Call the local in Montreal for an eye-opener) Scheduling complaints are the #1 issue not only with transit drivers, but also general freight carriers and airline pilots. Why do I bring that up? Because the comparables suggest that dissatisfaction among drivers in various jobs stems from the job itself.

Further to this, Mercier's tenure began in 2007. KPMG had identified scheduling as one of the principle factors contributing to the murder of four employees at OC Transpo in 1999. The report defined the poisoned workplace that existed prior to 1999, and scheduling was quite prominent.

Why do I bring this up? Because scheduling angst is a preexisting condition at OC Transpo and will exist long after Mercier is working elsewhere, not an evidence of a new mismanagement.

When I brought up and posted something positive about Mercier, I knew I was taking a risk with some of my readership. I attempted to demonstrate that current management has done some very positive things for drivers and passengers. I'll stand by those words, and defy anyone to disprove them.

We all know what the problems are at OC Transpo, and yes, I could write a few pages on that topic. But that's what everyone else does. Constructively, how do we fix those problems? Dwelling on a scheduling issue that has been dragging on for 30+ years simply doesn't advance our position, does it? That's why I don't write about it. I can't fix the scheduling issue because the taxpayer wont let me. Whining about it here doesn't help. Neither does the ignorance of whatever positives come out of the current management regime. We have not been working with management on our issues, we seem to be constantly working against them. That strategy has not been working well for us thus far.

We need to recognize the positives when we see them in order to diffuse this acerbic relationship we have with our employer. We need to recognize that we work in a global industry, and that our problems are not unique enough to categorize our operation as being poorly managed. This dysfunctional relationship with management simply cannot help us.

It's time for a new approach.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

In Defense of Alain

Few departments get as much flak in this city as transit does. As a driver, we take it on the front line in a very direct and personal manner. People will tell us exactly what they think of the service, sometimes in ways that get very personal. I have driven some trips at OC Transpo that were so awful to listen to that I've quickly scanned the bus to see if Nicolas Cage was starring in them. At the end of the day, if I am truly a professional, my problems don't come home with me. That passenger is out of my life, and tomorrow is another day.

Alain Mercier however, he gets a different story. I have been trying for years now to figure out how someone could possibly balance his portfolio and keep his sanity. Sure, he's paid well. He should be. Mercier is in charge of the single-most budget eating service in the city. His job description is part manager, part politician, part labour lawyer, part philanthropist, and a full-time face of whatever happens at OC Transpo whether it is personally related to him or not.

Every move Alain Mercier makes is lauded by one group, and absolutely slammed by another. That is a tough job, in my opinion.

Previous general managers have had it much easier than Alain Mercier. Prior to amalgamation, OC Transpo was a huge iceberg drifting throughout the city budget, sinking whatever projects it touched. Aimless, without any other long term plan than to simply exist, and following a whatever current it could find. It was run much like a Mom n' Pop operation, small minded and closely knit.

Since Mercier took over, OC Transpo has felt more like a large corporation.

Mercier has changed the professional culture at OC Transpo since he has taken over. It started with the managers. He restructured many departments, creating many roles that other large transit corporations utilize as standard practice such as setting up real hierarchies within departments and making them accountable for performance. Every facet of management has been restructured and reorganized, and it seems (at least from my lowly viewpoint) that each department has an entirely expanded capacity to do things that OC Transpo management has never been able to do.

Where OC Transpo management used to feel to me as an unprofessional sewn-together outfit, it feels like I'm working for a credible company with purpose and a plan.

The fleet has never been younger. While there are some glitches with new buses, I don't blame anyone but the manufacturer for breakdowns these days.

The new GPS system is marvellous. I can actually manipulate the mapping system to find a street (the way I used to do with my phone, before that became such a touchy proposition).

While I often poke fun at the Next Stop Announcement System (NSAS), quite simply put... it works. Mercier took all kinds of shrapnel in the drivers' rooms for coming down hard on drivers who were not calling out stops, but if you followed that story, it became a human rights issue. Compliance was a legal requirement.

In my direct line of sight, drivers that hadn't had any kind of training since they were hired (in some cases, that could be more than a decade) were being called into « Pro in Motion » training. In fact, if the expanded training department hadn't been turning out a thousand new drivers over the past decade, I would suggest that OC Transpo would have a full fledged customer service school ripping through the fleet.

I am looking at the forward momentum of this company, and I like what I see. I think it is time we bury the hatchet that the strike placed in our respective hands, and get on board with Mercier's current project.

« Our Employees Are Our Brand »

Now, you know I absolutely have to get behind this type of campaign. Getting drivers to be proud of what they do, and taking pride in who they serve is the central message I have been trying to push since this blog was started, hacked, destroyed, and started again.

Our union needs to jump on-board with this message. I have long said that the best place to negotiate a contract is from behind the wheels of our buses, each and every day. People are less inclined to side with the Larry O'Briens of the world if you do an honest job, work hard, and treat everyone like you would treat your kids, or your mom.

Being the « Brand » of OC Transpo means you are the face of a city to tourists. You are the leader of the commute. You are the legs of the disabled. You are the sight to the blind. You are the lifeline to the housebound. You are the link to families. You are the way to seek help. You bring the food home to the table, and the kids home from school. You are the eyes and ears for the police. You are the answer to the lost commuter. You are the trip home. You are the designated driver.

I have pointed out a few great things Alain Mercier has done as the general manager of OC Transpo, because turnabout is fair play.

Let's use this new campaign to turn a page at 1500 St. Laurent, and build a brand.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

IKEA

IKEA, Swedish for obnoxious font, dropped the largest box of furniture ever created alongside the queensway this week. Wow. What an eyesore. The corporate machine that is IKEA is claiming this opening to be the largest IKEA in Canada. I'm not sure if that was meant to mean the word IKEA written on the side of the building, which can be seen from orbiting spacecraft, or the store itself. When WalMart opened on Innes rd. in Orleans, I can remember community groups rallying to decrease the size of the giant sign planned for the new store. IKEA gets away with the largest letters ever assembled with allen keys. Wow.

What is wrong with us, seriously? IKEA? Really? Has there ever been a worse shopping experience than this Swedish labyrinth? I mean, they even serve cheese and meatbulbs at the end of this maze as a reward for entertaining the white-coated camera crew that is no doubt recording your test results from behind the  one-way glass in the giant letter "I". When compared to other cheap-junk retailers, IKEA corners the market on loyalty... and I just can't figure out why.

WalMart places its entrances and exits on one side of the store. They pile as much junk as they can fit in neat rows, place huge price tags beside them, and guard the whole place with Greeter Trolls that you're afraid to make eye contact with. WalMart will sell you ANYTHING it can. Need glasses? A haircut? A fleece sweater with a howling wolf on the front? Katy Perry CD? A giant container of cheese balls? Oil change? A cd player? Spandex? They got you covered. Easy peasy, and you know it's all cheap junk.

But IKEA? Not so fast. Walk in, and follow the arrows. You've entered our fükën store, now do what we say. Pick your junk from the display, and grab a tag. Next, just you try and get to the cash register. Follow the 2km walking arrows past everything else we sell, and you have prüven you are worthy of Swedish Inteligence Police. You may now pay. No, not for the lovely bedframe you saw on the store's showroom.

Here's a box of wood. Build it your-füking-self.

Police were called in to control traffic. Campers (Swedish for common idiots) camped out all night just to be the first in the store. Mayor Jim showed up.  It was a huge Ottawa event covered in local newspapers, and even some of the national media. Rejoice Ottawa, IKEA has built the largest store in Canada right here in Ottawa. Lucky us.

For the record though, all the stuff from the old store is the same.

Just marketed better.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Go Boom Boom Boom

Juxtaposition
Another exciting week at the bus company.  The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that 22 year old James Perry has been arrested and charged with uttering threats after he allegedly made a comment on Facebook about blowing up 1500 St. Laurent. "Prepare to have your headquarters blown the f--- up." is the quote attributed to the young man. This is no doubt more a case of juxtaposition than an actual threat, as recent events seem to have the entire company looking for a reason to stick up for one another. When placed alongside the recent YouTube embarrassments, the punch in the face, the berating bus driver, the cellphone video, the strike threat and the open letter... all this stuff seems related. I don't think it is.  If we arrested every person who made a statement like this, our jails would look like, well... our buses.

Full.

Mayor Jim Watson sprung into action with yet another press release. Nothing to see here, everything's fine, move along, move along...

In all honesty, things have been 'normal' for awhile. The Pie-Hole crisis aside, things have been running pretty much the way they always run. It seems to me that every time the economy takes a hit, bus drivers get assaulted more frequently. Detroit Bus Drivers just returned from a strike over assaults. That's right, a strike. It happens everywhere. In Detroit's case, the media explains it differently.  It just so happens that major changes to life conditions, and major changes to service such as what happened here in Ottawa (coupled with a bad relationship stemming from the strike) always seem to produce more assaults on front line workers.

Even the morale issue has been overblown at the company. There is a hard, static line between the truly unhappy drivers and the happy drivers. We have long time drivers who have lost their straight runs after years of routine, and we have a fresh new crop of drivers whose work has actually improved since the city won the right to assemble split shifts. As the demographic shifts from the old regime to the new, morale will improve.

This connecting of dots being made between morale, the city and the union, and assaults on drivers... it's an over-complicated solution looking for a problem. We're dangling that sword of Damocles in the place where Occam's razor would be better suited.

Drivers are not yelling at or being rude to managers. Managers are not punching drivers in the face. Drivers are not being arrested for threatening to blow up 1500 St. Laurent. Managers are not trying to capture drivers on cellphones, to be publicly flogged on YouTube.

Our disconnect is with passengers. Managers have hurt customers with cuts to service. Drivers have hurt customers with rude behavior and a crippling strike. Passengers are filming drivers, and in some cases assaulting drivers. A passenger threatened to blow up OC headquarters. Passengers are hurting drivers by punching them. Why are we wasting so much time on union vs city bullshit?

The meeting that needs to occur, to heal us all, is between our passengers and our transit company.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Canada Day, Rookie Style

I've been getting a pile of questions about personal experiences and strange things that have happened on the bus... so I thought I'd share a Canada Day story.

I had just been hired onto OC Transpo prior to my first Canada Day service. I had the basics down. I came from a heavy trucking background, and had plenty of experience that overqualified me to drive a lowly bus. I came into the job feeling pretty cocky. I had also spent the previous summer at a logging camp yanking giant trees down roads you wouldn't drive a car down, and getting into fights with roughnecks all over the bar scene in Northern Ontario. Needless to say, I had a thick skin. Still do.

I still wasn't prepared for Canada Day.

My day started on a local route in Orleans. I ran around on the 137 taking semi-drunk kids down to the mall, where they would no doubt get downtown to get drunker. Canada's national party. Who can resist.

I smelled smoke on the bus somewhere around Galloway street on St Georges, and I decided to investigate. I had a few concerned moms up front, and I had to take care of it. So I walked back. I found a kid, around 16, trying to blow the smoke out the window. I told him he had to put it out, then decided to get a little tricky with him. I told him I was running ahead of schedule, and thought I could use a smoke too.

"Let's go out then."

He hopped off the back door... I didn't. I climbed into the driver's seat, and took my passengers to the mall, with applause. It was a fun start to the shift.

After the local routes were done, I was told to go to Hurdman station, and wait in the layup until the fireworks were all finished. It was a pretty festive feeling, all the drivers just hanging out, watching stuffed 95's fly by on their way downtown. Every so often, one would go by with a person trying to get out on the roof, or with the emergency windows swinging open like a breadbox door.

All the drivers were cheering on the mayhem.

"Stick it to the man!!!". Errr, wait, We're the man.

As the end of the fireworks neared, I was assigned to head to Slater street. I queued up behind a row of buses, and waited my turn. I took on so many people, I honestly had someone standing in the space behind my seat. He smelled of vomit, and I was praying that was post, not pre. The cigarettes were lit almost instantly. There was singing. There was kissing. There were things flying at me. All I could see was what was out my front window, and the crush of faces against my passenger mirror. Training had not covered this. In the midst of all this, I could hear someone yelling "Help!". I honestly couldn't tell if it was a festive party "Help", as in "Help, I'm hammered!", or a "Help, I'm falling out of this window". I stopped the bus on the off ramp to Montréal road, and began to try to figure out who was yelling it. It was like pushing my way through dense bush, with wispy sapling trees that stick to you, leaning, instead of springing back to their elastic uprightedness.

I found her. She had her hair caught in the rear doors. She was sitting in the seat just beside the doors. It was like she had been leaning out of the seat with only her head outside the doors, and they had closed on her long brown hair. I apologized. She chainsawed a drunken string of laughter, then got surprisingly serious looking,  and then threw up on the back steps.

There is nothing that clears a path like a puddle of sick.

A guy with a smoke dangling from his lips slurred out:
"Sorry Mr. Busdriver. She got sick."
"Thanks Pal." I said.

I headed back to the front of the bus, and got rolling again. I couldn't kick them all off there, I had to get at least to Place D'Orleans. The puke was on the back steps, it was a high floor bus. What harm could there be?  The singing petered out as the smell of sour began to circulate. It didn't take long for the illness to become contagious. It wasn't quite "Stand By Me", but I could tell that weak stomachs were getting weaker by the second. And that's when I heard the second noise no bus driver wants to hear.

"Oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh", in chorus. And then again: "Ooooooohhhhhhhhh!", this time louder.

It looked like a war zone as I emptied at Place. Beer cans, cigarette butts, and a floor full of vomit. People scattering off the bus with hands over noses, hands over mouths, all with that look of "You'll never believe what happened" on their faces.

I drove back to the barn, stunned, tired, and sick of the smell. I felt like I had spent a rough night. Yet as I got into the garage, I saw a bus with four smashed windows. Another had a rear door ripped off the hinges.

And all the drivers I saw were walking like zombies to their cars.

We survive this national party each year. I've no idea how.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

More Tech Talk

Readers ask:


I've seen bus drivers send in Status 6's when they're too full to accept more passengers. What other statuses are there? 


The status updates are canned messages we send via our CB-style handsets. 
Status 2 - 10-15 minutes late
Status 3 - 15+ minutes late
Status 6 - overloaded, unable to pick up passengers
We also have other codes for minor and major defects on the bus, transecure issues, service issues like blocked roads or bad traffic, and a "Red Line" code for a major threat where we cannot speak on the radio. This is consistent with most bus companies.


Why do four 95's show up at the same time while I'm waiting for an 87?  


The 95 is such a frequent run. Some time periods see 95's leaving the start point at intervals of 4 minutes! What can happen is that one 95 gets bogged down, it could be traffic, or passenger volume... and all it takes is 4 minutes of delay to get two 95's running back-to-back. Now what happens is that the lead bus gets overloaded with two trips-worth of passengers, he cannot just bypass because his passengers need to get off the bus. The second bus is not allowed to run early, and it gets bogged down even more as the overloaded bus holds up the second bus. For some reason unknown to man, people want to get on that first bus at all costs rather than walk back to the emptier bus. Then guess who shows up? Bus #3! Now we're downtown, and the buses are stuck in line. It's a viscous cycle!


Why do some buses have A1 ME on the rear sign?


Purely a technical glitch with the signs and the computers that run them. Contrary to popular belief, the driver has very little control over the signs. The Clever Devices systems take full control over the destination signs. I never really noticed that until you pointed it out, Carl. 


Cheers

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Understanding and Avoiding Unnecessary Conflict and Confrontation

I've been sucked into this negativity for far too long, it's time to focus on the constructive. That's what this blog was created for, aside from entertaining my mind while other projects get blocked up in my brain.


This post is intended for bus drivers.

There are few things that hurt our job performance more than conflicts and confrontations with our passengers. Our passengers are our livelihood, and it's high time we begin to heal the tattered relationship we have had with them since we went on strike and lost their trust and respect. 

In the past few days, we have learned two ways not to deal with difficult situations on our buses. We simply cannot blow up and threaten to fill their pie-holes with fists, nor can we simply abandon a running bus leaving all others to fend for themselves. 

Yes, we deal with difficult people. The overwhelming majority of people we serve are pretty awesome, but the lingering memory always seems to be the one guy/gal who goes that extra mile to stick it to you. Here are some strategies to deal with difficult situations:

Identify your stress.

Are you feeling stressed? You need to figure out why, and use EAP to deal with it. Whether you're on edge because of family issues, or schedules at work, or a chronic situation with a passenger, you need to find a safe place to vent that pressure. EAP can help you by talking confidentially with you. EAP can help get you out of a chronic situation with a passenger. These are your peers, and they want to help.

Externalize The Conflict

It's high time you understand that the person who is standing there upset doesn't know you personally. When he or she makes a scene on your bus over service issues and takes it to that personal level, bring the conversation back to the service and the inherent problems with planning, traffic, transit, other passengers, etc. Use phrases that steer a complaint where it belongs. 
  • "I know this bus is always late. I've been asking them to help fix this crazy schedule by sending another bus, but they say we don't have the resources..." 
  • "This line keeps getting bogged down at an intersection with traffic. We should all give the company a call and see if we can fix this..."
  • "I have to ask everybody to pay. The company uses Secret Shoppers now, and I can't afford to get a days suspension if someone sees me letting you on for free..."
  • "We've got to work on a solution that will get all of the strollers and folks in wheelchairs where they need to go. Who's got an idea on how we can fit everybody in here?"
Externalizing conflict is your single-most potent weapon to diffuse a potentially explosive confrontation. Gain common ground with the passenger by siding with them in their complaint. Get on their team. Focus their anger away from the wheel, and allow them to vent without becoming the target. Give them closure by involving them in the solution to their problem. Allowing them to have the appearance of control over a situation is sometimes just as good as an actual resolution to their issue. 

Call Control...Ignore, Ignore, Ignore

We have all been in a situation where a passenger is uncontrollably belligerent. You cannot reason, deflect, externalize or resolve with these people. They are angry, and you are the target.
  1. Call control. 
  2. Park the bus.
  3. Open the doors
  4. Explain your actions to the other passengers
  5. Ignore the instigator completely, do not feed the bear!
  6. Let Transit Law and your supervisor deal with it!
You are done here. You are not on YouTube, you can call EAP to talk about it if you need it. The key point here is that if you cannot use an externalizing strategy and the anger is directed at you, you feel stressed and threatened, DO NOT engage them. Ignore, Ignore, Ignore. The only pure defense to unfounded anger is complete apathy to the threat.  You gain control of the situation by demonstrating that you will not be provoked, you will not participate, and you will not be baited. Yes, this takes a great deal of self control. At the time, it feels like you are losing. When the situation is over and your supervisor is getting yelled at, you will understand why you have won. :-)

Preventive Maintenance

Preventing conflict is all about attitude. We have a major disconnect with our passengers right now. As a matter of fact, our society has a major disconnect with each other right now. Whether you are driving your bus or your car, one small driving error is all you need to demonstrate that too many of us are walking time-bombs just looking to explode on the next "idiot" that happens to cross us. 

Take me up on this challenge. Be extra nice to everyone you meet tomorrow. Smile at everyone you can, greet them with a Hello, and thank them when they pay you. Wait for people, even the greasy teenager non-chalanting his way across the platform and holding up the bus. Offer help to one person a day, even if it is just walking back to raise or lower the chair-seat, or to give direction to someone who looks lost. 

What you will accomplish at the end of the day is a positive attitude. You cannot possibly avoid this outcome. It is contagious, and you will want to do it again tomorrow. People will treat you better, too. People tend to treat others as they are treated. When you go out of your way to project a happy persona, the folks you serve will reciprocate. You will also gain something very valuable. A reputation. I have one, and it is unbelievably satisfying to see regular passengers smiling before they board the bus. They are standing in line, smiling. They know what to expect from me. I look them in they eye, and I smile. 

If all of us try it, we can change this city.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Why Does Stuff Like This Keep Happening?

http://ottawa.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20111115/OTT-bus-driver-abandons-passengers-111115/20111115/?hub=OttawaHome

So there's the other side of the record. For those of you to young to know what a record is, Google it. The flip side is usually a collection of odd tunes that the band insisted on putting there to get songs that weren't hits on the record. That story is clearly a B side, riding on the hit single "The Wheels on the Berating Bus Driver Go #$% #$%% @#$#$!".

So here's a guy who simply walks away from a situation he feels he needs to. No berating, no yelling, no YouTube, he simply walks out the door.

What on earth could drive a man to do that? Clearly, according to the complaining passenger, he was simply "Asking" why the driver was 40 minutes late each and every day. Then, he turned to "Ask" all the passengers to call their city councilor. Nothing wrong with that, right? Just as in the Taranno case, the drivers are simply flipping out uncontrollably, no rhyme, no reason. There is no evidence to suggest that there is anything wrong here on the part of the passengers. They're simply interacting with these crazy drivers, the drivers are flipping out, and then the media shows up.  WTF, right?

I had a man flip out on me in a school parking lot because after he blocked me from turning onto the exit laneway (by driving in the middle of it) I waited for him to get on his side of the road before moving. He rolled down his window and shouted at me that I was an asshole who couldn't drive (in front of all the kids, and his own in the passenger seat).

I've had hundreds of people call me an asshole, uncool, dumbass, and I've been spit on for simply not letting them on for free. Quick, name me an industry where free service is expected upon request, and where the front line staff are verbally assaulted if they don't break the rules?

I've had all kinds of people get seriously mad when I am late, especially if it is chronic. They act as if I spend the extra time at Timmy's, despite the fact that OC Transpo has army-grade GPS tracking my every move from garage to your feet and back to garage again.

There are some pretty big issues with scheduling that prevent me from being on time. There are some very big traffic issues that prevent me from being on time as well. Has anyone actually been paying attention to the traffic patterns in this city? How much more can drivers do to keep impossible schedules such as the #5 during rush hour?

Why not just call your city councilor, and not stand up in the bus and embarrass the driver by making your announcement of his ineptness?

I mean, here's a guy, forty minutes late every night. He's likely he's got no time for any kind of a break either from his driver's seat or the maddened stares. He's stuck running from trip to trip chasing that schedule for hours, stuck in traffic and dealing with angry customers.  Your day is ending late, but you'll call your city councilor, and make sure everyone on the bus knows how late you are.

You know something? Every night that driver walks through his own door to his family after being forced to work late too, as he's done for weeks, just busting his ass to get you home late.

Yeah, I know how that feels. I only wish you could.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Some Tech Talk

Just to answer a few questions that have been sent to me:

Why don't they put winter tires on slinky buses so they don't get stuck all the time?

Winter tires wouldn't work, not even with chains, to provide the kind of traction needed to keep artic's rolling when the snow gets deep. The problem is not about tire contact. The problem is articulation on a rear drive vehicle. 

Lock the turntable, the bus will move. The turntables on these buses are all hydraulics anyway, build a brake within the turntable to lock it in place when the traction control is activated, and you will solve most of the issues with the bus running off track as the trailer pushes the center axle any direction but forward. 

It's a pretty simple manufacturer-based solution to a pretty simple problem.

With gas being so expensive, why do you guys run your buses all the time?

Here's the official policy on idling:
i. Temperatures below  -5˚C (degrees Celsius) – Do not shut the bus off. All 
buses are to be kept running to avoid start-up problems. Bus operator is to 
place the transmission in neutral, apply the Spring/Parking Brake and let the 
bus idle on “Fast Idle”
Please Note: All buses are to have the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position when idling. 
If the switch is in the on position when the bus is parked, the switch may need to be 
toggled off and back on to activate the fast idle, as the default is low idle regardless of 
switch position.
ii. Temperatures above -5˚C (degrees Celsius) – All bus engines are to be shut 
down when lay-up is expected to exceed seven minutes, as follows:
Observe a three minute high idle shut-down procedure – let the bus idle, 
in neutral, with the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position, for three minutes 
before shutting down the engine
Observe a three minute high idle start-up procedure – let the bus idle, in 
neutral, with the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position, for three minutes 
before departure.

Saving fuel isn't really built into the idling procedure. Somebody up top has been convinced that buses are better to idle for a minimum of 6 minutes each time it stops, and scheduling rarely provides for more than 6 or 7 minutes between runs.

If the company really wants to save fuel, reducing the number of stops along many routes would be a good start. the 131/27 route has an average stop spacing of 200 meters along a 2 km stretch. Some of the stops are located less than 20 meters past stop signs at intersections. Why stop a bus at a stop sign or traffic light, then have it stop 20 meters later to pick up or drop off passengers? Stopping and starting is the single most fuel thirsty activity you can do in a bus. Reduce the stops by locating flags where the bus has to stop anyway, and add up the hundreds of times the bus wont stop there in a day, you will save fuel. Now "optimize" the number of flag stops along routes. I bet you could reduce fuel use significantly through better planning.

More questions? Just ask!

Dawn Breaks

On the twenty fourth hour, go
I can hardly see the lines
I hum a bar of Even Flow
To simply pass the time

Boredom of those same old songs
My friend, that radio
Mocks me like this night is long
Or so this crisp air cold

I wander through this land of theirs
Drink it with a smile
Wonder when I'll climb the stairs
Of a home that's someday mine

Ever forward I see her break
As Dawn will show her face
With child's eye splendor she's no mistake
Just wanders to her place

Like Gemini this Dawn and I
We meet, say hello
We share a place upon the sky
But for a moment or so

We walk along a thousand miles
I let her bring me life
I breathe her air, a convincing smile
Morning, my beautiful wife

Yet evening comes and all slows down
One last glimpse she steals
And darkness sets upon a frown
We share our final meal

The day must end as does her life
And as her eyes do close
Darkness slams into the night
As I walk again alone

Our jouney may be over dear
I wish I'd made the time
To wipe away one salted tear
And kiss your hand good-bye.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Singing Bus Driver

What an odd week. We went from CFRA polls on firing yelling bus drivers to CFRA polls on singing bus drivers. The verdict is in, and Ottawa prefers bland over noise. Whattasurprise.

This is the same city that calls by-law over street hockey. The city that panders to Friends of Everything, taking the complaint over the compliment like a good squeeky wheeler should, unless of course there's an actual problem that is.

Yves Roy was the subject of some 12 complaints about his singing. I'm actually surprised that wasn't higher, given the playlist and his somewhat limited range. But, it was what it was. Did he break any company rules? I'm not sure he did. The company has all kinds of vague "suggestions" on how to provide Value Added Service to the customer experience. Why not sing to your customers? I think Yves greatest mistake was singing too much. If that stunt was an occasional bout of balladry, his legend would grow and people likely wouldn't have bothered to complain. He sang often however, which made it a nuisance to a few people.

Jim Watson sure sprang into action:

"If we allow a driver to start singing and entertaining how do we say no to a passenger who wants to start tap-dancing or doing stand-up comedy," said Watson.




That's right, your worshipply highness. We simply should not tolerate singing, because passengers might start tap-dancing, singing, or doing stand-up comedy. Well, we know it wouldn't be Sit-Down comedy. That boat sailed with optimization. I'm surprised the drivers can find a seat. Think Jim's ever ridden the 12 route? There are days where that bus feels like America's Got Talent. OC could nix the stop announcement sign and put three big red ex's on the ceiling of those slinkys for the pure entertainment! I'm honestly beginning to evaluate my personal standards of entry if that kind of behaviour isn't allowed. Maybe it would be more tolerable if Yves was drunk. And Stand-up Comedy? Have you heard Clive's son pronounce "Buckskin" in French? "Booo k. Skank. Boooo k. Skank"

What's with the swift action on twelve complaints, anyway? They did interviews, held polls, a mayor's reaction, with OC management stepping in to save the poor riders from hardship...Isn't this the same mayor that used the "We Only Got About 100 Complaints©" defense to downplay the riders' complaints about packed buses and major disruptions when he helped save transit from waste and want-not by cutting the heart out of much of the service to save a few bucks (booo k.s)? Now twelve complaints is the right combination of angst that gets the Deathstar blown up?

Ah well. The city loses another good guy bus driver. What the hell. We simply can't tolerate a little tobasco sauce amid the potato stew we're cooking here, can we? Next thing you know, all the passengers and drivers will start singing and tap-dancing. Then where will we be, right? That'd be chaos. And that's exactly
 what would happen. Singing. Tap dancing. Stand up comedy. Oh, the horror.  

Here's hoping Darth Vader doesn't set his sights on me next. The force is strong with this one.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Oh Good God, Another One.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6nwpGciZvU

Holy friggin hell, what a week. Thank Zod tomorrow's Fri, errr, whaddya mean it's only Wednesday tomorrow?

I'm not sure how much more of this negativity I can take. Yes, I know it's only a couple of videos to Joe (and Jill) Public, but I'm writing from the driver's seat. If you're reading this to find me ranting about videocams on buses, look elsewhere. I'm no Gary Quaele. I've been submerged in cyberculture for far too long to think little things like privacy issues and city bylaws are even relevant enough to mention when this city gets into its Jackson Pollock video painting of the modern bus driver. Gary, if you're reading this, please check out the video description. F.U. A.T.U. is a shorthand version of how people feel about our bylaw defense.

How does this affect the common blue collar driver?

Imprimis,  the union's official response makes me feel stupid. (Which is why I smartly used Poe's favorite word for "Firstly" in an attempt to feel smartly)
Secondly, it fills my Drives In Circles Inbox with piles of "Your overpaid", "Monkey could do that" kind of mail.
Thirdly, it makes every conversation I have for a few days a defense or condemnation of a colleague.
Lastly, it's embarrassing when another video surfaces just as I've come up with a good blog defending good bus drivers.

Now there's absolutely nothing I can do about One, Three or Four.

The second one however, I can respond to.

I am overpaid in relation to retail salespeople, and underpaid in relation to other professional drivers. I personally took a significant pay cut to work at OC Transpo because I wanted to be around to raise my kids. I realize that the fact that professional drivers are not university educated is bothersome to some people, but in all honesty, unless you are using applied science in your day-to-day job, chances are you overvalue your university degree. Go to any insurance company call center, throw an eraser, and you'll hit seven arts degrees.

Professional drivers have a very high earning potential, especially if they have an aptitude for business. There is no shortage of work even during a recession. Don't let the sideburns fool you.

Which leads me to the following question: Can a monkey drive a bus?

Technically, yes. I'm sure a monkey could drive a bus given the opposable thumbs and penchant for scratching bum. The legs are a little short, but current accommodation laws could compensate for that. But let's see a monkey talk on a cellphone while driving.

Picture your last long trip in a car somewhere. Got that in your mind? Maybe it was a five hour jaunt down to Toronto. You stopped a few times for Timmy's, hit a bit of traffic, but you made it, right? You were glad to stretch your legs at the destination. You gave a little stretch, twisted the torso, and felt a little groggy. Am I close?

Add three hours to that five hour drive. And do 500 transactions. In Traffic. And answer 100 questions. Throw in a dispute over who should pay for your gas. And a drunk guy who wants to pretend you're his buddy. And a few loud high-school students who wont move for your pregnant sister. And just for fun, make every other car on the road do something stupid to get in front of you. Make a few of those cars flip you the bird.

Now do that every day for a week.

And still show up on Monday to do it again.

I chose this job, and I'm not looking for sympathy. Driving is easy; that's why everyone in Ottawa is so good at it.

But a monkey could not do this job, even if after the actions of a few of my colleagues make me feel like one.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Video, The Rant, The Public Backlash

Well, I assume most of you have seen the video of an OC driver lashing out against what has been described as an "autistic" 20 year old passenger.

The victim's response can be found on the CBC website, here:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2011/11/07/ottawa-octranspo-driver-tirade.html

It's all pretty compelling, no? I must admit, on the first glance at the original YouTube video I thought the passenger was somebody else altogether. Most of the drivers I spoke with thought it was a tall blonde kid who frequently rides the bus and has a very aggressive demeanor when it comes to talking to the driver. The kid most of us thought was the victim is quite well-known as a guy who will quite literally talk your ear off. Turns out it's not him.

Now, I honestly cannot defend the driver's language. What he said could be a criminal offense, I will let the the story play out. I don't condone the driver's reaction whatsoever, and I simply cannot understand what tipped the driver off in that direction.

Having said that, if you have not watched the video of this young man on the CBC website, please watch it now before you read any further.

Was this a set up?

That kid who was interviewed is also the author of these:
http://www.youtube.com/user/10thDimensionMatty#p/a/u/2/DAeP4C3KZaw
http://www.youtube.com/user/10thDimensionMatty#p/a/u/1/NDocn3YgJFM
http://www.youtube.com/user/10thDimensionMatty#p/a/u/0/Cbo6lFO0sDg

Do you spot a little Borat in these little videos? Juxtaposed alongside that interview, and having watched a colleague absolutely lose his mind in reaction to something this kid said to him on his bus, I cannot help but wonder what actually happened last Thursday morning.

Was he filming this with the same crew that filmed these:
http://vimeo.com/20672274
http://vimeo.com/27518275

Is he what he seems to be in the media reports, or just an actor?
http://www.stageagent.com/MatthewTaronno
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXvMIFqZTJo

To get a reaction like he did, what could he have possibly said? After a little investigating, I'm really hoping that the media will use the same zeal to find out a little more about this "autistic" boy, and whether this could have been something that was designed to rile up a driver and get some good footage to garner a little attention.

As usual, the union has stuck its foot in its mouth by bringing up the videotaping-in-the-bus defense again. For once, I might actually agree with them, but only after the fact. The correct response to an allegation such as this is to reassure the public that this is an isolated incident, and that the investigation needs to play out before we judge the driver. I'm getting really sick of the standard union response that comes off as being defensive and arrogant enough to suggest that the guy who was yelling that he was going to "open the door" might not have been the driver.

Mercier's response was actually pretty bang-on. He reassured the public that this sort of thing shouldn't happen, but that major initiatives have been ongoing to create a more positive relationship with passengers. He didn't isolate the driver in his response, nor discuss what kind of disciplinary action might be taken. That is in fact the correct way to handle this. No public tongue lashing, no crisis mindset, no acknowledgement of the media circus. You can read his memo here:
http://www.cbc.ca/ottawa/blogs/cityhall/2011/11/merciers-memo.html

As this story develops, I think we may see another side to this. I hope the driver recovers from whatever is eating him, and I hope we can all help him do it. If you know him, please support him. You don't have to support what he did, but think about the last time someone riled you up on your bus. We've all been spit on and assaulted, verbally abused and insulted.

Until we get the facts, we should not be too harsh on him. If we ever get the facts, I won't be surprised to see a twist to this story.

*edit: The links are no longer working as the author has removed them from his YouTube account. I would imagine there was a reason that he would erase his antagonistic Borat style videos of himself trying to get people to swear in Arabic in front of their kids, but I honestly can't think of what that might be.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bus Laws Confusing For Drivers?

http://www.ottawasun.com/2011/11/05/bus-laws-confusing-for-drivers

Anthony Furey is confused about how to yield to a transit bus. Given the tone of the article, and the accompanying video, I get the feeling that Anthony gets conveniently confused about quite a few things in life, at least when he's attempting to make a berating point.

Yielding is pretty easy. The law states that you must yield to a transit bus who is attempting to reenter traffic from a bus bay.  In the video however, the bus is actually stopped in the regular lane of traffic. There is no bus bay here. In actuality, there is no requirement of Mr. Furey to yield to anything but oncoming traffic because if he was passing the bus legally, he would not be splitting the lane. That's illegal. He's required to pass in the left lane, which is also illegal because he'd have to cross a solid yellow line to do it. So what is the legal solution?

Stop behind the bus, wait, take a breath, and get to that stop sign 100M ahead a few seconds later. Sometimes traffic doles out a little bit of "Suck it up, Princess", and Anthony looks like he could use a Calgon moment.

What really irks me about the article however, is his tone towards bus drivers and transit in general.


"Imagine Ma and Pa Newfoundland drive to Ottawa to visit their grandkids. They’re not entirely clear where to turn, being confused by the many lanes on our streets, so they pull over for a second to peruse their map. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve pulled over in a transit lane!
“Get on the ground,” the police yell to the harmless old couple. Give ‘em the taser. Don’t they respect the environmental munificence of the public transit vehicle? Don’t they understand that people riding transit are on the top of a hierarchy much like India’s caste system? Transit riders are on the top, able to walk all over anyone in a motor vehicle. Motorists are the untouchables, who are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Thankfully there’s another clause to the law, demanding a little bit of responsibility from the drivers: “The driver of a bus shall not indicate his or her intention to re-enter the lane of traffic adjacent to a bus bay until the driver is ready to re-enter traffic.”
I’m glad this is tacked on. Part of what frightens me about yielding to the whims of bus drivers is this year they seem to have a lot of distractions to busy them: Texting, drinking their Timmie’s, swearing at passengers. If this clause wasn’t there they could just veer out at you while playing Angry Birds and you’d have to hop the median to clear out of the way."

Why the anger? Were those actually bus drivers getting medals at the end of Star Wars leaving only the Furey co-star without one? Is there not a bit of irony in the fact that such a well thought out article mentioning bus drivers as distracted texting-coffee drinking- angry-birds-playing- passenger-swearing-bad drivers would then be accompanied by a video documenting the complainer driving along talking into a video camera while doing a story? 


Oh, and hey... Can we give the Ottawa Police Service a little credit here too, as most police officers would not taser the stupid old newfies unless they were parked in the transit lane driving a stolen police car?
Sheesh.


It's amazing how a little inconvenience brings out the worst in drivers. We've all had that guy behind us following an inch from our bumper, who then finally finds an inch to move around us and zooms to the red light or stop sign. That's usually slow golf-clap time for me.  
Never has that been documented in such detail. Thank You Anthony. Well done.


Now in the interest of the law itself, a quick GOOGLE search finds that low-and-behold, many, many jurisdictions in North America have yield to transit laws. SOMEHOW, drivers in other jurisdictions have figured this whole "confusing" mess out. 


 http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/faq/other.shtml#ytb

There you go Anthony. Hope that clears up your confusion.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hubley

In tragedy, we find statistic. As cynical and cold as that statement may sound, Jamie Hubley's recent passing, and the media coverage puts an exclamation point on it.

I have to be absolutely blunt about this subject, and if you are easily offended by talk of being gay, please do us both a favour and click the red “X” at the top right hand corner of this page.

A.Y. Jackson school flew their flag at half mast, mourning Jamie's death. The principal was quoted in various newspapers as being saddened, mourning, and various other “right things to say” when something like this happens. Do you want to know what I would have wanted to hear? How about “I'm sorry for letting this young man down. I simply cannot believe that I let an entire school pick on the gay kid until he could not endure the torture any longer.”

That would at least be an honest quote.

All of a sudden, the student body cares about Jamie Hubley. All of a sudden, the faculty and the school board are springing into action, correcting those bullying problems. All of a sudden, Jamie Hubley becomes a martyr to the bullied, a face to the progressive changes they're all going to make, and fodder to the ever-hungry media machine looking for the next cause.

What an absolute load.

I listened as Lowell YellowandBlue took to the airwaves each day last week, turning the subject over and over until he progressed from “Bullies are bad” to “Stand up for yourself”, and inevitably to “The bullied need to punch the guy in the nose”. Yeah, that'll fix everything.

One problem. Jamie Hubley didn't have a bully. Like many young gay men, he had an entire student body dead-set against him, disgusted with him, harassing him, making fun of him, discriminating against him, treating him like all bigots treated him. This wasn't a case of Matt Dillon picking on him for lunch money, and there was no Linderman waiting in the wings to be his bodyguard. This was a case of good old fashioned bigoted oppression. If I were a parent of a kid at A.Y. Jackson, I would be tearing that school down brick by brick trying to find out why the faculty allowed such blatantly cruel bigotry to exist in my kid's school.

As I watch Jamie Hubley's death turn from what it actually was into another statistic that glosses blatant homophobia and discrimination into a much more palatable “Bullying Issue”, I can't help but think how little we have really progressed as a society in terms of discrimination against gays. We say all the right things, sure. We tolerate the parade every year, yup. But we also must be teaching kids our bigotries and personal hatreds to have them act as they did at A.Y. Jackson, no? Where else do our kids learn to hate like that? Seriously, how the hell can an entire school turn it's back on a kid, make him drink from the coloured water fountain, make him walk through the coloured entrance, make him sit at the coloured lunch table, and not understand that each and every student, teacher, and administrator participated in this young man's torture?

A.Y. Jackson, are you seriously going to suggest to me that you didn't know this was going on? Have you read this young man's public diary? You'd have noticed if he had an ounce of weed on him, that's for sure. But a huge burning S.O.S. on your front lawn, with the entire school participating in a crime? Nope. Never saw it, right?

At some point in life, can we all just admit we hate gay people enough to treat them like garbage, so we can at least work on coming to the conclusion that we're stupidly wrong about them?

What right does anybody in this world have to judge how a person loves another person?

I have no idea how to end this rant. I've been sitting on these words so long because I have trouble articulating anger. My heart goes out to the Hubley family. The pictures, the blog, Allan's words on the radio were all so hard to digest. I can see myself in Allan's shoes, mourning the loss of one of my kids. I can also see myself as that high school student, alienated, picked on, alone.

My prayers are with you, kid. And I am sorry, because when I was your age I said the things people said to you. I'm sorry because I didn't work as hard as I could to change things for you now that I am your father's age. I can see that now.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Count on Us!

OC Transpo has rolled out it's "Count on Us" campaign this week. As you have undoubtedly noticed, photos of local employees are pasted all over the place, with slogans extolling the many contributions our fine coworkers make each and every day. I work with a great bunch of people, to be honest. Yes, we have some grumps. But I think if you really get to know your driver, you'll notice that there are more of us nice-guys than grumps.

I really like this campaign. It will boost morale to be treated like real live human beings.

Now here at Drives In Circles, we pride ourselves on getting the inside scoop. You don't come here to read about things you already know, do you? You've come to expect things to seem a little different after a visit here. Well, hold the presses. I have located a stash of rejected "Count on Us" posters that never made it to the printing stage. These were ideas thrown about the boardrooms of 1500, debated upon, mulled over, scrutinized, sent to consulting companies, and ultimately rejected as pure satirical parody.












Drives In Circles would like to point out that the preceding pictures are pure parody, meant to give you a chuckle! No actual posters were harmed in the making of this blog.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

If Roses Had Noses, Would Romeo Still Smell As Sweet?

I often find myself thinking about what it would be like to see the world from a different perspective. You see, I'm privileged. I'm healthy, strong, fed, happy, able bodied... you get the idea. So each and every day, I drive this big steel contraption around, picking up people and dropping them off. It's all a big routine. I get up early, and make a thermos of coffee. Next up, the Crunchy Peanut Butter sandwich, and pack an apple. Off to work. I grab the same work docket every day, and head out to grab whatever bus I get assigned to drive. Then I drive in circles for a few hours, picking up the usual suspects, grab sips of coffee on the go, take tickets, and give transfers to the same folks day after day. I try to smile at most of them, especially the few "dumpfaces" I get every day. If I can get a person who always walks around looking like they need a good dump to SMILE!, that's a score for me. Mind games keep me sane, sort of. Day in, day out... routine. Same roads, mostly the same traffic, people, delays, repeat... repeat...repeat.

And then I meet someone who changes the way I think about everything.

"What the hell are you idiots thinking, anyway?" she asks me as I'm just getting ready to close the door.

I had just emptied my bus at the end of my line, and here's this angry looking woman pulling up to my door in her wheelchair. She wasn't on my bus, and I had nearly just closed the door in her face as she was trying to (for lack of a better term) "talk" to me.

"I'm sorry?" I replied, thinking this wasn't going to go well, regardless of what I said at that moment in time.

"No you're not. You're not bloody sorry. Pathetic." She stammered out, and hit the joystick on her chair, whizzing off.

I wheeled my bus off the platform, rolled over to a layup spot, and used my three minute break to eat the remaining half sandwich I had started earlier. Time flies when you're having lunch. Sandwich done, I rolled onto my stop to start my next trip, and guess who's waiting for my bus.

We had a short greeting, acted as if nothing happened, and rolled onward. A few minutes into the ride, I hear:
"I'm sorry, by the way."
She then goes on to explain to me that the driver of the previous bus had simply sped off on her as she was trying to open a door. She felt she had made eye contact with the driver, but he just left. The next bus on that line was in three hours, and now she had to take my bus and use her wheelchair motor to bring her the extra estimated kilometer it would take her to get home. She was running late and had real things to do.

This really got me thinking. How many times have I lamented putting out that ramp, for the extra few seconds it would take away from my sandwich?

Can you imagine being in someone else's shoes? How about their wheels?  I spent the better part of the next few days looking at the obstacles this woman must face. I mean REALLY looking. At sidewalks. At stairs. At garbage bins left in her path. At restaurant tables and booths. At the steps to my home. I tried to imagine life from the other perspective, and found my own willpower lacking. I stopped looking for the remote control once after a few seconds, heading directly for the T.V. button on the front panel. The path of least resistance does not exist for a person who relies on a chair to get around.

I'm trying to think of how my actions affect people every day by thinking of where people are coming from and where they are going. I'm deconstructing my routine, and thinking about how all these connections work for everybody. I'm trying to see things from the other perspective in every situation. I even discovered that the song "I'm in love with a man nearly twice my age" goes from sweet love story to creepy-uncle in no time flat when it is seen from the perspective of "I'm in love with a girl nearly half my age".

Drivers, try this. Passengers, you too. Try to let your mind see your driver as a human being, waking up to head off to his job, thermos in hand, things on his mind, a routine day ahead of him.

How many times do we drive around, walk around, sit around without actually connecting to each other? Do we ever really think about how we can make people's lives better through simple actions? I think the most simple of actions can change your world.

We're all human beings after all.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A Little Explanation

I had a little, ummm, "episode" that essentially destroyed all of the blog posts from previous months and replaced them with something I'd rather not reprint.

I had originally attributed this attack to a chronic complainer that emails me regularly to let me know what a self-important ass I am. There were undeniable similarities between the hacker's post on here and the emails I had received.

Upon further investigation, I am convinced the two events are unrelated.

If you happened to see this posted page a few days ago, I sincerely apologize. I should have used a stronger password.

I will rebuild the posts I have saved, and continue posting in the future. Thanks to the people who took the time to email me the words of encouragement. You know who you are.