Thursday, January 21, 2010

You Know You're a Bus Driver When...

This is what I drive, except newer....

So as I've mentioned previously, I'm working as a bus driver for Fairfax City CUE Bus. It's just a small public transportation company run by the City of Fairfax. So far it's been a pretty good place to work. The supervisors are all nice. My co-workers are all really nice to work with. Some of the drivers have been working there for 20+ years!! I'm easily the youngest person by probably 20 years. I guess I'm officially done with training now, the last few days have consisted of me driving with an experienced driver riding with me for support. My next day in the driver seat is Monday in which I guess I'll be driving alone for the first time! I'm a little nervous they're cutting the apron strings! I guess I need to get myself to REI and buy a knife to carry with never know what can happen with those crazy passengers, right? It's never been a dull moment at the CUE bus!

This past week by far, has been the most eventful. I worked Monday through Thursday. Monday was pretty quiet considering it was a holiday, but after that it got all crazy! Tuesday I saw someone rear-end someone else. It wasn't bad, but the guy who was the rear-ended got his car hood all folded up. Then later on in the day, one of the drivers gets on the radio to ask for an ambulance at her location. We come to hear, that she hit someone with the bus!! Apparently, they think this lady who got hit, was trying to catch a bus on the other side of the street. She thought she could cross the street before the bus departed and dashed out in front of this driver. I didn't see it happen and I'm not sure of all the details, but it's definitely sad and scary!! It would be bad enough hitting someone with a car, but can you imagine hitting someone with a bus?! I'm not sure how the woman is doing who got hit. I think they said she's in the hospital (obviously) but I don't know much else. Then on Wednesday, I drove most of the day. During the morning, we got stuck in pretty bad traffic, and so we were running 15 minutes behind schedule. So the lady driver who was with me, took the wheel for a loop around the route to catch up time. Well she's a maniac driver as it is, plus add the fact that she was trying to catch up time, and it was kinda a scary ride. I didn't feel the need to sit and watch her since I knew the route, so since I was really tired I kinda just started snoozing. Awhile later, I open my eyes to see where we were, and she was just about to pull next to a bus stop sign. She swung in way too deep and ended up smacking the side mirror on the bus stop sign!! Glass shattered everywhere, including on the man who was waiting at the stop! He wasn't hurt, but obviously shaken. That definitely woke me up! After that happened, they brought us a new bus and she made me take the wheel again.

That experience with her driving all crazy though made me think...It would be advisable for commercial drivers to go through better training when they get CDLs. I'm not saying that all CDL holders are nuts. But I've experienced some pretty crappy bus driving. There are some drivers who accelerate really quick and then slam on their brakes to stop. There's drivers who just pull into bus stops too deep, and eventually shatter mirrors. It makes me grateful, and I think gives me an advantage, that Holland America gives their Driver Guides such good training. Or maybe it's the fact that one of the most important aspects of being a tour driver is always having the comfort of the passenger in mind. It's stressed to us that you should always Feather Brake, and to take turns slow and to not jar the people on the coach. Plus, you have to keep in mind that even though time is an issue, passenger safety is an even bigger concern. You shouldn't let your rush to keep time, endanger the passengers you're carrying. Even if you're running late, it's better to be late than dead.

Apparently, I'm also famous. I hate to say it but I'm kind of a big deal. People KNOW me. Haha. Seriously though, I guess being a cute, young, girl bus driver from Alaska gets people talking. I had a passenger the other day get off at the Metro (Washington DC's train system, not unlike the subway), turn around and say to me "Oh! You're the one from Alaska!". It was funny because I wondered who she heard it from, but I guess one of the other drivers mentioned something. Similar experience have happened to me before. People are always so impressed or intrigued that such a young girl drives buses. The more I have thought about it, the more appealing it is in some ways, to just drive a bus the rest of my life. The pay is really good (I'm starting at $16/hr, while the veteran drivers I'm sure make way more) and it's a good skill to have incase I need a fallback. The only thing though, is that I don't want to turn into those leathery, old bus drivers. I've seen the women who drive the buses and they all LOOK like bus drivers. Sun damaged skin, wrinkles everywhere, scraggly hair, frumpy oversized clothing, bus driver butt (you know what I'm talking about ;). If I do end up driving buses a lot, I REFUSE to turn into one of those creepy drivers. I will stay as fashionable as I can (for a bus driver) and will make sure I don't get fat or ruin my skin with sun damage and wrinkles.

So I came up with a short list of "You know you're a bus driver when...." things and I thought I would share. So without further ado... (this comes from both my experience in Alaska and here in Fairfax)

You Know You're a Bus Driver/Driver Guide When...

1) While it may not be the most direct way to go, you find yourself driving to places following your bus route when you're off duty.

2) You pass a historical site, and suddenly feel the urge to narrate and tell people about it.

3) As you drive through intersections (while off-duty), the booming "announcer man voice" plays in your head "Now approaching Fairfax Circle" or wherever you happen to be at the time (this happens to me, and makes me sad, lol)

4) After driving in the bus and getting into your car, you watch your mirrors extensively and make sure you don't hit anything with your "tail-swing" (tail swing is virtually non-existant in a car/compact SUV/mini-van)

5) You wish you had or actually have convex mirrors on your personal car

6) You give your car a mini-pre trip before you leave in the morning

So anyway, that's all for now. This bus job is kicking my butt as far as sleep goes and being tired. In Alaska, I never really had a problem getting up in the morning for work. Probably because it never felt like work. I was surviving on an average of 6 hours a night and it didn't bother me. But now, I'm getting up sometimes at 4:15 am! Luckily, next week I'll be working afternoon routes so it won't be as hard. I am NOT a morning person.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Last 9 Months Can't Be Contained In One Post...

Look at me! I'm on a roll! Two posts in two days!! I guess I must be bored. Abby and Trent left to go back to Texas, and I have yet another day off. Well, actually it's more like half a day off since I'll be working at 6pm. It was really sad for me to see them go. They've been keeping me company for the last month and it's a hard adjustment. It was fun to have them around. We got to do all sorts of fun things. We actually went shopping a lot, mostly because of Christmas. I almost dread the holiday season here in Fairfax. The traffic is TERRIBLE. After living in Alaska with barely any traffic and Skagway not even having stop lights, it's a huge change. It takes forever to get anywhere around here! One day, Abby, Trent and I went to Tyson's Corner Mall which is about a 20 minute drive under normal circumstances. Driving there wasn't bad, a little traffic but not much delay. Well on our return trip home, it was 'rush hour' and a 20 minute drive took 3 hours!! I had to break out my GPS to find a back road way to get home in order to avoid taking the highway. As a general rule though, here in Fairfax, traffic is generally just bad. Some days are better than other days, but it usually just takes longer to get places. A lot of times it's just because the traffic lights take forever. You can wait at some of them for as long as 5 minutes! Not to mention the crazy drivers too! Some people just shouldn't be allowed to drive. I'm a firm believer that when someone renews their license they should have to retake the written exam too. It would force people to refresh their memories on how to drive properly. For example, just yesterday I almost had an accident with another car as I was turning out of a shopping center. I was at a red light and looking to turn right. It was a double-lane road and my turning lane was clear, so I began to make my turn. Out of the blue, a car in the left lane, decided to change lanes in the intersection and almost side-swiped me. The driver then proceeded to honk at me! Now I will admit, that if the result had been an accident, it probably would've been my fault. BUT people are always in such a hurry, trying to weave in and out of traffic that it poses unnecessary danger to others. Had the other driver waited until he'd gotten out of the intersection BEFORE changing lanes, a possible accident could've been averted. One other thing I've noticed about the drivers here in VA that I haven't noticed anywhere else is their turning methods. So say you're turning left onto a road with two lanes going in each direction. Are you not supposed to turn into the innermost (i.e. left) lane? Then if you need to, you may merge into the outer (right) lane? Well apparently, people here in VA do it backwards. It's nothing horribly dangerous I suppose, but it's a little thing that irks me. I'm a professional driver, so I guess driving flaws are more noticeable to me than to other people. Moving on...

As an early Christmas present, Trent gifted me WoW and bought my first months subscription. He had tried getting Abby into it, but she didn't really like it. I was his next recruit. So I started playing, and I must admit, I still don't really see the point of it BUT it is a pretty fun game. I haven't decided whether or not I will pay the $15/month to keep playing, but I'm tempted. I guess it depends on how much time I'll have to play. Once both jobs kick in, I'll potentially be working 7 days a week. I won't be able to play in Alaska at all since the game runs on Internet and Skagway Internet would not be able to run the game fast enough. I guess we'll see, but I suggest everyone should at least try it.

After Christmas was over, came the New Year! I can't believe it's 2010! I remember when 2000 rolled around! All the silly hype about Y2K! How people thought all the computers would crash with the Y2K virus. Or that they wouldn't be able to calculate the year 2000. I remember my Dad had to stay at work that night to monitor the computer systems and so me, my sister and my Mom all went to his office. We brought our traditional New Years party snacks and celebrated 2000 in the conference room. How things have changed! I was 12 years old then, barely even knew how to navigate the internet and now here I am about to turn 23!! Gosh I'm getting old! I wonder if I would have admired myself back then, if I knew how I would turn out in 10 years? I wonder how my life will be when the year turns 2020? As for my projects these next few months, I need to get back on my diet. I've kept off the 20 pounds I lost last winter, but I think I need to drop another 20 pounds or so. I also need to start saving money in order to buy a car to take to Alaska. In the Fall, I plan on returning to school somewhere. I'm considering Western Washington University if I can get in. If not then I'll either try a community college or do Independent Study through BYU. I doubt I'll be returning to Virginia or the East Coast for awhile. I love the East, but I need a change of scenery to decide where I really want to be. I'd obviously like to graduate college, but I really want to move up with REI and eventually become a store manager. We'll see where the wind takes me!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Harassment Pays Off

So yet again, I've been harassed to write a new blog entry. I'm terrible at writing frequent entries, unless I have something interesting to write about. I guess this time I'll just make some updates as to what I've been doing for the last 9 months....

First off I went back to Alaska for 5 months. It was a total blast as usual! I was so happy to be back. Skagway has almost become my real home. The second the plane landed, I felt immense relief and happiness to be back where I belong. It was cool going back as a second year driver too. I started out doing local tours again, but then I got roped into doing highway tours since they were short on drivers and I knew how to run them. In the '08 season, I tried doing highway and hated it. I didn't like leaving all the time and living out of a suitcase. This year however, since most of my good buddies (i.e. Helen and Donnie) didn't come back to AK, I didn't mind leaving. Not to mention, the local Skagway drivers weren't getting as many hours this season as we had been getting in '08 so I made more money there, plus WAY more money in tips! I've realized that local tours are too inconsistent as far as tips go. One week you could do really well, the next week you could get totally stiffed. Highway is much better since you're spending multiple days with your passengers, resulting in a better relationship, resulting with them giving you more money.

After highway was over, I was stuck in Skagway for a month doing local tours which kinda sucked money wise, but was fun to enjoy the town. I got to hang out more with some friends I hadn't seen much all summer, plus go hiking up to the glaciers too!!

Glaciers are gorgeous! Especially when they're sporting an OM NOM NOM cave!

In August, my parents came to visit also!! They were there for about a week. I only got to see them for like 3 days since I still had to run my highway tours. But they did a bunch of tours, and got to see where we all hang out. Plus, they were able to ride on one of my highway tours partway up to Whitehorse. It was fun having them onboard!

Mom, Dad and I on a bike tour down the White Pass!!

Once the season was over, Bethany and I decided to take the ferry from Skagway to Bellingham, WA. The managers shut down employee housing early, so we had to take an early ferry out of Skagway to Juneau. We were in Juneau for 3 days! It ended up being a LONG time in Juneau since we didn't have a car and were restricted to the downtown area. Now you may think that there would be plenty of things to do in Juneau, but the tourist season was practically over so most of the attractions were closed, had limited hours or were only open on the weekend. Plus downtown Juneau, while historical, was basically like Skagway on steroids with a McDonald's thrown in. None of the shops we came across were unique (most stores had a location in Skagway too) and it was all the same touristy merchandise I'd seen a billion times in Skagway. Below is a picture of Juneau from the mountain top:

So after an eternally long time in Juneau, it was time for the eternally long ferry ride to Bellingham!! Luckily, a couple other friends joined me and Bethany for the ride. The ride was basically 3 days and 3 nights!! We had plenty of en
tertainment though. We had both bought a couple TV seasons to watch, and I loaded my iPhone up with games to play. During the ride, the ferry stops at lots of towns as it makes its way to Bellingham, so we had plenty of opportunity to get off. Plus we got to see more of Southeast Alaska. We stopped in Sitka, Petersburg, and Ketchikan. All of them just like Skagway! Haha. But the ride was gorgeous and I got to take a lot of pictures!!

The wake from the ferry:

Sunrise on the Ferry!


After the ferry ride, Bethany and I arrived in Bellingham and got picked up by our friend Chelsea, who was also in Alaska with us. She gave us the tour around town. Showed us the hotspots, and we met up with Rose, another co-worker from Alaska. It was fun to be back in civilization! We went to a movie, got to eat real food and enjoy real shops!! We went out to this place called Larabee Park. It looked a lot like The Point in Skagway with similar landscape and views. I didn't want to leave Skagway at all, so it kinda made me homesick. But we found some starfish in the water which was so cool!!

So after 3 days in B-ham, Bethany and I rode the bus to Seattle and went our separate ways. Well actually, we both went to the same place (Baltimore) but my flight was later in the day. I decided this winter that I would live at home to save money, so here I am in Fairfax, VA. I'd thought about the idea of possibly just collecting unemployment for the winter, but then I'd really have nothing to do to occupy my time. So I ended up getting a job at REI, which if you don't know, is an outdoor sporting goods store. It's kinda like the Nordstrom of sporting goods. It's a really awesome place to work!! The company is on the "Fortune 500 Top 100 Companies to Work For" list and it's easy to see why. Not only do they help provide health insurance (even for part-time employees), but they give you great discounts on gear. I get 30% off gear I buy from REI, except for the actual REI brand gear which I get 50% off. I can also buy directly from the manufacturer's for an even better discount (more commonly known as ProDeal). ProDealing is addicting because it's usually 60-75% off the retail price. Since REI is just part-time, I also got a job driving buses for a public transportation company. I'm still in training for that job though, since it took awhile for all the logistics to be completed. But it pays $16 an hour and it's a good filler job for extra money.

Now that's its after the holidays, it'll be good to settle down for a few months. Abby and Trent were here for almost a month. They leave tomorrow :(. And in 3.5 months, I'll be going back to Alaska!! I'm planning on driving up this year. My world was shattered a few months ago when I found out that HAPA has decided to only run highway out of Fairbanks this year! It's a terrible decision if you ask me, and now I will be reduced to only doing local tours in Skagway. But I'm hoping with a car, that I'll be able to enjoy Alaska more and be able to travel more too.