Just another night

I haven't written much.  I suppose I've been waiting for something good to happen or to feel like Hurricane Sandy is far enough behind me that it's not still affecting me every day.  I hate getting stuck, like a skipping record…but I am and I've been for so many months now that the ache has grown to fear.  Will I get through this?  Like seriously, will I get through this…safely?  Almost every commute to work and every commute back is a reminder, a battle, and has depressed me to the point of not wanting to talk or share beyond random kvetching on twitter.  And I'm stuck there too in 140 character bursts on twitter, reduced to pleading with the MTA for help.  So much has returned to functional, yet getting where I need to get each day and back, seems to be a process that gets worse each week.


Since October life has been a sort of spectrum of struggle.  First there was not knowing and assuming we lost everything.  We didn't.  Yay!  So there was the lull of realizing there were far worse things in life than living in an area decimated by a storm, while we still had an undamaged home.  I basked in that feeling of luck for all of a minute until the reality that our neighbors, family and many friends were not so fortunate.  There was petty complaining about LIPA and our electricity – because our house felt like a delicate husk that could burn, flood, be robbed, or disappear into a sinkhole.  And, though the structure was indeed still there – the anger was tangible, something to throw our energy toward (and re-electrifying was a test of sorts in itself).  There was helping where we could – because we had to do something – and feeling like I could never do enough. 


Eventually, and overlapping some of those initial fears, there have been the attempts at normalizing.  Trying to find little joys again, starting to recover, and trying to distract ourselves.  This often led us outside our community (because so little was open and we hadn't lived in the area long enough pre-storm to have made local friends or even routines).  Then came the resignation that the logistics of just getting to and from where we live is often more trouble than it's worth.  So there we are, back in our husk spinning the same maddening questions over and over.


Like any spectrum, it's a scale that leans positive on one side and negative on the other.  Some days have been great, some days are okay, some include normal levels of stress.  All things I can deal with.  But, most days are far off any sanity check, okay there is no normal, life is hard kind of spectrum.  Those moments at their mildest are "Our friends in Brooklyn and Manhattan lead somewhat normal normal lives, not all their conversations are about hurricanes and they have restaurants, laundromats and gyms just over the bridge". On the other extreme end – "It's cold, I'm soaking wet, I've been commuting for three hours for the third time this week and I just want to lay down on the sidewalk right here and give up."


This is some of the complaint I just filed with the MTA.  Since it was sent in haste, I made some tweaks in what I pasted below.  I'll spare you the letter I sent to the CEO of my insurance company, because that is a whole other battle that just exhausts me, and I am beyond tired…


Tonight I took the A to the Q52 at Rockaway Boulevard as I do every day.  It’s a transfer I dread, it’s rarely pleasant, but I do what I have to get to work and back.  The trip seemed uneventful until we got to Broad Channel when I noticed the bus was going very slow.  We were in the right lane and I stood up a few times over the course of a few minutes to see if there was traffic blocking the way.  There was not, cars were swerving around us.  I noticed fellow riders were also starting to stir and trying to figure out what was going on. 


After a few more minutes I started to worry that perhaps the driver was ill or in distress. I got up and asked the driver if he was okay.  I looked as his speedometer and noticed we were going 10-15 miles per hour.  He told me that he was frustrated that the stop button kept getting triggered and no one was getting off the bus.  There are not many stops through Howard Beach –  and I hadn’t noticed at all.  I was annoyed that I was being punished for what could have been accidental or even mechanical failure of one of the buttons.  That didn't stop the driver from slowing down and waiting for his protest to be noticed.  I noticed, I worried he might be dying, I checked on him and was confronted with a situation I had not considered, and so I returned to my seat.


I didn’t expect that some of the other passengers would react as they did.  What had started as a questionably dangerous situation quickly escalated to one.  Passengers were screaming at the driver, the driver was screaming back.  Cameras were shoved in his face while he continued driving the route.  Threats were made.  It was awful.  I regretted saying anything, even though my purpose was out of sincere concern for the driver.  I felt like I had triggered what followed.


I thought of the passengers, what they might still be going through, how disrupted our lives still are, and how awful our commute has been from the Rockaways without the A.  I wondered where the driver was from, what his life might be like, I mean we all have "things" and surely he had stuff that might be causing him to act out beyond what he told me was bothering him. 


The situation has been escalating seemingly every week over the past 3+ months.  Lines are longer, people are running on fading patience, fumes really.  Two weeks ago I was caught in between two men fist fighting after the man behind me shoved an older man in front of me (the man in front of me was walking with a cane, who does that?)  I've sat next to a grown woman bullying a larger man in front of us for taking up two seats.  Seats are a rarity – I've been pushed over by an elderly lady with a grocery cart jumping the line because she knows no one will offer her a seat up front reserved for the handicapped or elderly as they should.  During rush hour the trains are packed door to door, there is no visible white line to protect the passengers or the driver.  There are no lines, there is no order while waiting.  Civility has started to disintegrate on the Q52 and I believe it is only a matter of time before I witness or am caught up in something worse.


Taking the bus from the Rockaway Boulevard stop takes less time than other alternatives for those of us in my part of Rockaway, but a lot more time than anyone who lives within MTA serviceable routes plans for.  I feel confident in speaking for the passengers on the peninsula that we are tired.  I have no doubt your employees are too…and I would hope that your drivers aren’t goading passengers on when something as annoying as being asked to stop when no one gets off happens.


Before I exited, I stopped to tell the driver that I was sincerely worried about him.  That I hadn’t imagined he was trying to punish us for what one person may have done that upset him, and that may have even been because they were lost, or that maybe the bus itself was malfunctioning.  The driver then started yelling at me, about how people were shoving their phones in his face and yelling at him and how wrong it was.  I agreed, but also disagreed with how he handled it.    Then I just started sobbing and asking him to try to understand what life is like for all of us out here.   This was not how I expected my Friday evening to go, for my commute to end being yelled at by my bus driver.   But that’s the direction it went in when I boarded the Q52, bus number XXXX and found myself in the midst of a fight around Xpm on Friday, February 15th.



What I'd add if I hadn't already sent -


I’d ask that drivers on the Rockaway route (and others) get some extra support and perhaps sensitivity training for areas affected by life altering circumstances.  I ask that all drivers announce bus stops ahead of time.  When it’s raining and dark – you cannot see out the windows.  I have been that passenger who pressed the button ahead of my stop before.  In areas I am familiar with and areas I am not.  I ask that drivers understand customers may be confused by routes they are not familiar with.  This is not my first time dealing with a hostile and unapologetic bus driver.  I ask for more buses to ease rider’s frustrations, most of which I suspect are fear and actual pain from having to stand and balance, stuffed in like sardines, traveling on roads that have been deteriorating since Hurricane Sandy.  I ask for an ETA and commitment on a date for the return of the A and more communications on it’s progress.  Mta.info was great to check in for updates through December, but they have stopped updating on the situation in the Rockaways.  I ask to not have regular fear for my safety, other passengers, and for your drivers. 


This was not the first time, but it was the worst yet.  This cannot be the new "normal", there has to be a better way while the A will be closed for months to come.  Please help your customers and your employees get through this, it's escalating.  It is not working, it is broken


Because there is no option but to move in some direction, I try to move forward.  I try not to be angry, throw tantrums and otherwise sulk when services are still limping post-Sandy (this extends beyond the MTA).  I know you can't stop the world because you want to get off.  Life will deal harder hands still if I'm blessed to live a long life.  I know I can't dictate new bus lines and schedules.  I know our spectrums are skewed by any number and sorts of disasters.  And as a disaster implies, our spectrum is more likely to lean on the negative side.  I know I can't snap my fingers or click my heels together and have a lease dissolve or a painless, inexpensive move without sacrifices and risks.  But, I also think sometimes you have to stick up for yourself and file a complaint instead of carrying it and hoping things will change.  Maybe not scream "Uncle"  Uncle!-  but allow myself to cry a little.  I've lost track, I don't know if some of what I've been dealing with is normal, I don't know if my take is skewed so far in a direction that it doesn't make sense outside my day to day.  I honestly just don't know anymore.  And, I think that might honestly be the hardest part.