Let’s talk about this. [NOTE: this post predates the new, and fabulous, sleeper security removal teams, which obviate many of the challenges below at night. Know where and when these teams are operating. Tell 'em thanks after they've solved your issues!]
1. The Big Picture
First off: remember to think about the systemic view. Yes, it’s annoying that you have to use part of your break waking this person up. You’re thinking, Gosh, why are they so lazy?
Appearances can be deceiving.
Everyone looks lazy when trying to get valuable sleep, which all humans share in enjoying. Often, you know they aren’t lazy precisely because they’re trying to get rest– which they’re likely doing because they have things to do during the day, like going to the day labor facility in the morning. They want to be properly rested. Folks without such pursuits will be out partying, not obsessing over finding the longest bus routes to sleep on.
And, let’s be honest: shelters suck. They involve bedbugs, theft, restrictions and noise. Buses, incredibly, are a safer and cleaner option.
Some of the sleepers I’ve known have gone on to rehabilitate their lives and later come up to me with the good news; a number of those stories are on this blog. Others have setbacks the city just won’t set aside the resources to address, and so they remain on the streets for years. Others have developed coping mechanisms and addictions as temporarily solutions to their problems, but which have put them in more severe straits. Still others simply have a standard of living different than my own, and I try not to judge them for that.
My worst self thinks they’re unfairly getting a free ride through life, unlike the rest of us, but that opinion is woefully lacking in perspective: remember to note the difference in quality of life between you and them. You’ve got it good. They don’t. They really don't.
For whatever reason, the City of Seattle has decided not to fix the problem of housing its own citizens (despite paying enormous lip service to the idea), so for now, until they do, a slew of civil servants have to pick up the slack– we operators, the detox crew, fire department, social workers, shelter crews, volunteers and more. For tonight, let’s just take it a trip at a time.
2. Option One: Wakey Wakey
Look, you only have one non-destination rider tonight. Maybe you let them sleep. Maybe you don’t. Personally, I give so much of myself while I’m driving that I like having some time alone to recharge at the terminal. I do ask everyone to leave. I never demand them to, and I don’t yell (make loud sounds with anything except your voice– raised voices sound too much like anger. Try a crescent wrench or Perrier bottle against a stanchion, perhaps; your flashlight is also an option). I also try to refrain from explicitly telling them to leave at the outset, starting instead with the softer, “it’s the last stop.” When that doesn’t work I do say, “it’s time to step out,” or “we gotta step outside here. Thanks for understanding.” “I’m just asking you outta respect.”
They will react slowly, but don’t you when you wake up in the morning? Be ready to back away quickly; they may react in self-defense, assuming you’re an attacker. Have the doors open. Be closer to a door. Is your leader at a terminal having trouble waking a sleeper? Go up and help them out. This is dramatically easier and safer with two people. I'll try to preempt things by announcing as we approach the terminal, "Alright my friends in the back, we're almost at our last stop, it's time to start waking up. Just givin' you a heads up."
If there is another bus at the terminal in front of me, then I attempt to wake sleepers and put them on that coach. I’m operating on the thinking that that driver will then do the same at his/her next terminal, thus sharing around the sleeper load for the evening. If there’s no other coach, I don’t bother, because where are they going to go? Either way, this is your call. You are entitled to a break if you want one, and if you can take a break with strange men lurking nearby, I look up to you. Maybe one day I’ll rise to your level. You're at an advantage because you get a longer break, rather than wasting minutes waking people.
3. Option Two: Why Bother
But that’s just me. You’ve got three guys in here tonight. Maybe you just let them rest, because why bother with all this. It’s too much hassle, and they need the rest. You’re a better (wo)man than I, friend. I want to be like you. But I have a thirst for alone time at the terminal that I haven’t been able to eradicate. This goes against my own philosophy: If you can’t change something about the job, rewire your brain so you’re okay with whatever it is.
I’m trying to get there with sleepers, and I’m not there yet. I know that if I let them stay on my bus habitually, my bus will become overloaded with non-destination riders to the point that I won’t have room for riders who actually need to get someplace, and I also know there will be a negative impact on the sanitary condition of my bus.
I also like maintaining a sort of consistency: when they see it’s Nathan driving, they’ll think, Oh, he’s nice… but he doesn’t let people stay on. It's predictable in a way I hope minimizes conflict. They know what’s up. “I just need some alone time, you guys, no hard feelings. You’re welcome to join me again in ten minutes, or if you don’t want to wait, there’s that bus in front of me.”
If I didn’t have to worry about sleeper overloading, I don’t think I would much care about whether they’re on or not, but I’m easy to find, and I do the same route nightly, and I really like decompressing at the terminals. I think I have anxiety over waking them because it’s a moment of potential conflict, though I have to admit I’ve never once had a physical altercation issue with a sleeper.
Hopefully you’re better than me and none of this irks you, and you’re able to achieve a level of compassion I hope to one day get to. Maybe you’re awesome, like Paul Margolis is, and you can take a nap with six sleepers on board. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
4. Option Three: Work With Me Here
You can meet them halfway. Tell them they can stay once it’s after midnight, when there’s less buses. Or let them stay on at one terminal, but let them know you’ll ask them to step out when we get to the other end. I would do this on the 5, and it got me a lot of goodwill.
Or just check in on them, if you feel it’s safe to do so, but let ‘em stay. I feel better when I do this third option. You can also let them ride throughout the evening until the terminal before your last trip, at which point you check in on them to see if they’re awake, asking them to leave not then but at your next and last terminal (5th and Jackson, in the case of trolley work).
5. Minimizing stress
When a sleeper gets on, try not to spend the entire trip stressing about the fact that you’ll have to wake them up later. Don’t think about it. Just don’t. You’ll figure out that guy in the back later. For now, just think about driving. Because one of three things will happen:
6. For the Good of the People– and Yourself
Don’t pass a zone just because it has intending sleepers. There may be someone there who actually needs you. Some sleepers suddenly have destinations at a certain point in the night. Marcus rides buses at night, but he has a job he has to get to in the morning. Will likes cruising around, but he has a secret spot of his own he eventually heads to for better rest.
Also, you want the passengers to like you, in case something happens.
Also, if something happens on your bus– you want your bus to be crowded. Because that means more people between you and the incident, and more people who can help you.
Go out there and gather people. It’s counterintuitive, but it will help you.
See you at the terminals!