Monday, September 16, 2019

Perspicacious

When a rider called me "perspicacious" I had no idea what the word meant.  I was a little worried it conveyed an insult.   A moment before he made sport of me by saying: "You're the captain of this ship." He was ribbing me about when I was supposed to depart from the time point in front of his low-slung cheap rent apartment complex. 

The apartment complex is in East Winston, or said another way "on the wrong side of the tracks." I was nervous about my first route in this part of town. Something caused me to pause and evaluate the nature of this interaction, to be present and interpret his tone rather than assume his words were malicious. As the exchanged played out it dawned on me that he was being playful.   I summoned the courage to ask him what perspicacious meant.  To his delight, he had stumped me. 

It is fun to tell this story because it is an example of a stereotype debunked.  I was thinking, "Here is a smart-aleck passenger coming out of an apartment complex in which I had conducted food security research a few years prior."  I thought I knew all about the inhabitants there and certainly that my vocabulary was superior.  But instead of acting superior, I asked him what it meant. 

To prove it's meaning he brought up the definition on his smartphone. Perspicacious means having a ready insight into and understanding of things.  What I could have mistaken as an insult turned into a precious compliment and a rich interaction with a passenger.  This sixty-something African American man was telling me that I had read the situation correctly.  Instead of getting defensive about his jabs regarding departure times, I had kept my head and realized he was playing with me. 

Who doesn't want to have a ready insight?  Who doesn't want to be praised as being shrewd? But I know it doesn't always apply to me.  I make mistakes.  I miss turns.   I get turned down for work that  I perceive I am well suited.  So what am I learning from these interactions with passengers?   

I am learning about what Paul Farmer describes as “a hermeneutic of generosity.”  I just finished reading Mountains Beyond Mountains because I wanted to learn about this luminary of Medicine, Public Health, and Anthropology who has spent his career partnering with the poor.  Here is the excerpt where Tracy Kidder defines the term:
“Depends on whether or not you have an H of G for the endeavor,” he [Farmer] said, without looking up.  
“An H of G” was short for “a hermeneutic of generosity,” which he had defined once for me [Kidder] in an e-mail: “I have a hermeneutic of generosity for you because I know you’re a good guy. Therefore I will interpret what you say and do in a favorable light..."
The danger of stereotypes is they often keep us from seeing the other person in a favorable light. This wily passenger ended up giving me a gift. If I assumed it was an insult I would have missed the precious present. His quick appraisal of me continues to give me reassurance as a neophyte bus driver. 

I am trying to interpret new experiences in a favorable light.  I want to be generous with my words and encourage passengers in the hopes of lifting their spirits. I hope you are given a compliment from an unexpected quarter.   It could change your outlook.
 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Telling Stories

Steve Beck works to help us understand how stories shape our worldview.  One avenue he uses is his website https://cstevebeck.com

Writing stories and doing interviews about my experience as a bus driver helps me process my feelings. It helps me make sense of what I am seeing on my routes.

I am grateful for people like Steve Beck and Rachael Duane who compose stories of real hope.  Doing the interview below was an enriching experience. It also has been a source of encouragement because of its positive reception.

Please check it out at https://cstevebeck.com/new-blog/peacemaker-on-the-bus.

Steve Beck

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Afraid

I am scared of the dark.  I didn't realize it until I started driving the night shift.   Working in the dark has brought out all my anxieties, fears, and worries.   I am unaccustomed to feeling afraid, and the stress of not getting good rest adds to the vicious cycle of feeling anxious. 

Being afraid was not part of my vocabulary, or maybe I was too fool-hardy to ever stop and recognize my fears. Doing adventurous things always seemed glamorous to me, not frightening.   I thought driving a bus would be an adventure, not such a lesson in hard knocks.   Driving at night this last month is kicking my butt and breaking my heart.   I am doubting whether or not I maintain it.

Driving a large vehicle in traffic with passengers is stressful enough, but when you add darkness it feels even more daunting.  While there is less traffic late at night, you do have the added burden of fatigue.  The weariness of both driver and passenger make the bus quiet at night.

Bus drivers are providing a service to people in service industries. Our hours of operation need to accommodate their schedules.   Many of our late-night passengers toil in kitchens, scrub buildings clean, and keep watch over a property.  They are either tired from a long shift or headed to work until morning.   The bus at night has a somber mood compared to morning or lunchtime as riders are tired.

At night you also have passengers seeking shelter and I worry about what they will find. I cannot forget the 60 ish-year-old woman, she could have been my aunt, anxiously asking me directions just as the last buses were departing from the transit center downtown.  It was 11:30 and she would have to make a decision about which bus to take because our service was about to end for the night. It became clear she was trying to decide where to go to be away from others, so she could camp out.  She boarded my bus no longer able to contain her fear about the long night ahead.   She continued to press me with questions about which areas in town she might find to be safe. I am heartbroken to think of what befalls the homeless during the night. 

I am a morning person, so driving from 4 pm until just after midnight is stretching me.  The worst fear I face is the self-doubt about whether my desire to improve public transportation will have any impact.  I think about all the reasons, large and small, that make it so easy for people to be overlooked.  Driving a bus at night makes me feel very small compared to the harsh realities I see.  I didn't mention the regular scary stuff like buses being shot at, passengers cussing at drivers and fellow passengers, fights, and passengers with health emergencies. To feel afraid is part of the stretch of growing pains and I hope my experiences help shine a light on the importance of improving public transportation for our community. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Stakeholder Health Podcast


What an honor to be a guest on the Stakeholder Health Podcast, hosted by Dr. Gary Gunderson. 

In 2005, I read Dr. Gunderson's book, Boundary Leaders: Leadership Skills for People of Faith in graduate school and I have been a fan ever since.  When he came to Winston-Salem in 2012 I stalked him like a fanboy.  So you can imagine how special I felt to be on his podcast.

A college friend of mine said this was her favorite part of the interview.
Gunderson: I want to interrupt, because I suspect, at this point in the interview, some of the stakeholder health folks listening to the interview are saying, “Wait a minute. You’re actually driving a bus, not writing a paper about people who are driving buses, and you’re actually on the bus, watching human beings for eight hours a day, not reading about people writing about people riding a bus?” So walk us through this process. How did you become a bus driver? So you decided, “Okay, it’s not enough to be a researcher. I actually do love the community, and, as we all know, sometimes love makes you crazy.
Summers: Yes.
Gunderson: Well, so your love is you’re driving a bus. How did that happen, and what’s it mean? How do you become one?
You can listen or read the interview at https://stakeholderhealth.org/phillip-summers/ or from iTunes.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Step Up

"Yesterday they said it was a second bus, so I tried it this morning.  Sure enough, I slept in a little and even had time to bring a lunch," said the man catching the 6am bus to work for the first time.  The early morning light of Spring illuminated our mutual joy.   He normally caught the bus at 5:30am but because of increased frequency on his route, he was afforded 30 minutes in his day.  He used that extra time for two health-promoting activities: rest and preparing lunch for work.

Increased frequency in bus service reduces travel times and frees up time in the schedule of riders to do other productive things.  The study I helped design for the Winston Salem State University Center for the Study of Economic Mobility found that "Employed bus riders spend 8.7 hours more a week in commuting time than equivalent workers taking vehicles. That averages to lost wages of $4,350 per year."  A bus rider complained to me the other day that all the time lost in transit was like having a part-time job that didn't pay.

The WSSU study was conducted before increased frequency was started on 6 routes because of an NCDOT grant to mitigate the impact of Business 40 closing. During the week, I drive 4 of the 6 routes that have 30-minute frequency and I hear riders express their appreciation for the improved service.  The story above came from a modification that was made to service paid for by the NCDOT.   That morning as I pondered how increased frequency had helped his health status I was also struck by how word of mouth was the best way to communicate with passengers.

As I thought about how he had said, "They told me yesterday, so I tried it today," it made me wonder who I had told about our improved service.  Because it was the first week of route modifications and having the fresh idea that word of mouth was the best way to disseminate information to bus riders, I made an announced later that day on a different route that also got improved frequency.  I let the riders on my bus know that there was now a second bus on their route and they would have 30-minute frequency. The overwhelmingly positive response from the riders blew me away.   One rider said, "Now that is a step up!"  

The banner below is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it highlights how increased public transportation improves social determinants of health.   I witness those health improvements from behind the wheel and I pray that our community will continue the expanded service even after Business 40 opens.  


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Communication

When two people come at an idea with differing perspectives it can cause conflict.  Obviously, marriages have conflict, co-workers have conflict, siblings face conflict, even friends endure it sometimes.  The key to working through these, of course, is communication.  It is a complicated topic: we communicate with our words but also our tones of voice, facial expressions and eye rolls, types of laughter, shoulder hunches, arms crossing, busy hands, etc.

In the South, it is common to greet just about everyone you come in contact with, strangers, friends and enemies alike.  If not with words, most people will communicate with a tip of their head, or a small smile.  It still surprises my kids when someone doesn't say, "Good morning" right back to us, as it is the norm here in NC.

When Phillip sits in the bus driver's seat he can use his role to greet every person with a polite hello and give a kind goodbye when they exit. I think this is one of his favorite parts of the job. There have been a few days when people who are consistent riders do a double take to see if they are getting on the right bus since friendly Phillip is not their normal bus driver.  Cordial, face-to-face greetings seem to be sadly less common in these fast-paced, smart-phone driven days.

Conflict can sometimes arise if a rider feels lost and frustrated, needing quick answers, and as a new driver, Phillip has been humbled at not being able to answer the questions about scheduling very effectively or as efficiently as he would like.  This provides a chance to communicate quickly, "I am sorry. I don't know."

"I am sorry," are such simple, powerful words.  We don't have to have it all together all the time, but to be gracious in an instant where we would like to be given grace goes a long way.

I wish this was my default way.  In conflict, when I do take time to pause and gentle my voice in order to address an issue with a family member, or a student, it makes the conversation so much sweeter, and so much more effective.  It takes a lifetime to learn how to regularly, "speak the truth, in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Honesty, kindness, and graciousness in communication are the quickest way to change conflict to calm.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Advocacy

I was nervous on the cold January night in 2017, when I first stood up to advocate for public transportation at City Hall.  The video shows the public outcry from the newly redesigned bus routes.  Riders were grateful that service was restored to the Columbia Heights Extension Neighborhood that night and other simple route modifications were garnered.  Through coalition building and policy advocacy, we were successful in expanding night and weekend service on more routes, getting routes into Google Maps to improve wayfinding and trip planning, creating a short film to educate the public, and conducting a rider survey.

A new regional study found that nearly 40 percent of households have access to one or less vehicle, which can lead to many relying on alternative transportation modes. What was analysis, reading articles, and research has for me turned into daily witnessing the power of public transportation from the driver's seat of a bus. I see how it moves people to community gardens, grocery stores, work, school, and healthcare.

Today I have even more questions about how systems and structures such as class privilege, privatization of government services, economic globalization, and racism affect how we deliver public transportation services locally. Why do we allow the lifeline service of transportation to flourish for the car owner and languish for others?

To improve public transportation please:
  1. Clean the Clark Campbell Transportation Center. It is located in the heart of our city and plays a prominent role in how riding the bus is viewed.  The city is responsible for this task and too often the Center resembles a toxic ashtray of discarded cigarette butts covered in spilled oil from leaking buses.   

  2. Improve the bus fleet.  Buses often break down.  This makes service unreliable. Buses show their age with broken handicap lifts and oil leaks. Disabled riders and the natural environment suffer from our apparent reluctance to update our bus fleet.  

  3. Expedite the installation of bus shelters.   With our current shelter inventory representing a paltry 5 percent of all stops, expanding this amenity would be a demonstration to riders that their experience in riding the bus matters.   

  4. Add 30-minute frequency to more routes. More frequency of bus service means less time waiting for transit, freeing up time in a rider’s day to work, rest,  recreate, and cook and share meals with family. 

  5. Ensure that bus drivers are full-time employees.   The current business practice of keeping drivers on part-time status for an indefinite amount of time means many drivers wait over a year to access full-time benefits if they even stay long enough.  As a city, we need to ensure fair working conditions, particularly when we outsource public service jobs to private businesses.  
As society faces the pressures of bank mergers, global acquisitions, and healthcare consolidation, enacting evidence-based policies that support a growing number of citizens gaining access to the benefits of public transportation is a good local investment.

7/7/19 Editor's Note: point five was changed to say full-time employees instead of limiting it to health insurance. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Run!

"When I seen you (gasp) I took off running. (gasp) I am too old to run like that but I didn't wanna miss you." After he catches his breath he says "I used to run-an-run as a youngster."  The passenger appeared to be in his late sixties, a tall thin African American.  He was happy to have caught the bus to town and glad I waited on him.

When people reach the bus after exerting themselves they are often smiling, reminiscing of days gone by when running was more a part of their life.   It catches me by surprise that they are actually more talkative than most passengers, so relieved to not have missed the bus.   

We have a policy that if someone is making an effort to get to the bus stop then we wait.  What this means is if you see someone running to catch the bus, be courteous and wait.   Having folks run up to the bus or to a stop is a daily occurrence.   What is fascinating is that people of all ages, genders, sizes, and builds will run to catch the bus. I get to witness passengers run, jog, shuffle, hustle and hurry to catch the bus.

Bus riders get to move more.   Studies show that compared to commuters who drive to work, bus riders get more steps.  They get to walk to the bus stop and walk to their destination.  They step up to board the bus and hop off to continue on their journey.   Daily, I revel in the movement that I get to witness.






 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Role Model

Clark Campbell was faithful.  
Clark Campbell drove a city bus for 45 years.  His contribution and legacy are so profound that though he retired in 1972 riders still remember him.   The transportation center downtown is named after him and he drove more than 3 million miles on our city's streets.

He is a role model because he built rapport with passengers and enjoyed a fruitful tenure in public service. One older gentleman loves to reminisce about his in-law Clark Campbell and the history of Winston-Salem. One morning I got up and stretched at the end of the bus route and he made an off-handed comment, "Clark Campbell always did that too. He would really stress getting up and stretching." 

For the rest of the trip, he regaled me with stories about his legendary relative.  He told me that he had a side lawn business and loved to stay busy. I plied him with questions about Campbell but was most intrigued by the tidbits he dropped about Campbell's faith.   He said that Campbell loved to sing hymns and Gospel music. 

I enjoy the conversations I get to have with passengers because I learn so much from them.  Seeing regular riders gives you a chance to have ongoing dialogue and gain insight into their life. I have been surprised by how close-knit passengers and drivers become.  I have met mothers, children, significant others, in-laws and, of course, cousins of fellow drivers. You meet all manner of households and kin riding together. Come Ride!



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Springtime


Springtime is a balm
for snarling traffic
and surly passengers. 

It soothes the frustration
of broken equipment
and missed turns. 

Springtime is a promise
of a day when
creation is made new.