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.