The Bus Ride

This blog is a departure from my usual style, but I felt compelled to write it.  I hope you enjoy it, or at least see the metaphors in your own ‘bus ride’.

When you’re young and just starting out, you begin a long journey that will last the better part of your lifetime.  Everything you learned up to now was designed to prepare you for a long bus trip, and almost all of us will take that ride.

You stand, excited and scared at the same time, with thousands of other people, young and old alike, waiting to get on a bus.  Buses of all sizes, shapes, and colours, numbering in the hundreds, rev their engines and vie for a spot on the road, or are parked to let people on or off.  You wonder which bus you should try to board, or perhaps more importantly, which bus will let you on.

You stand at the doorway to a bus you seem to like, and the driver may talk to you.  If they like you, they may ask you to board, and travel with them, hopefully to your destination, although that destination hasn’t been determined yet – at least not for you.

You may have to talk to a lot of bus drivers.  Some will close the door without acknowledging you were even standing there.  Others say they have to make a stop first, but will come back for you, but never show up again.

In time, you will find a seat on a bus that will take you.  The bus is crowded, but you locate a seat at the back that you will share with a total stranger for some time.  The air is thick and hot back there.  No windows – at least not clean enough or near enough to see out of – and no air conditioning.  It’s not pleasant, but the promise of a journey into the future keeps you smiling, or at least tolerating it.

The bus begins to move, and you watch as the busy streets blur around you.  Any sense of direction is lost to you, but you put your trust in the driver, and know that wherever you’re going, it’s better than where you were.

There are buses everywhere, big and small – some slow and broken, others shiny and fast.  Most are just like any other bus, though, and that’s the kind you’re on – conservative and consistent.  Just like you.

The bus makes frequent stops, and some people are escorted off, crying or yelling.  Others jump off as soon as it slows down, and run to another bus.  No explanation is given, and you likely will never see them again.  An empty seat becomes a semi-civilized battle with the other passengers, especially those at the back with little air and no space.

If they’re fortunate enough, someone will move up to the vacant seat, leaving a bit more room for you to stretch out and maybe become known as a good passenger to the few around you.  Often, though, the seat is stolen by someone picked up along the way that the bus stopped for.

Not fair!

On the bus, you get to know the other passengers around you.  Everyone has a different reason to be on the bus, but in the end, they are all  looking for their own destination somewhere down that long road.

Some might become friends, although most will remain ‘that guy’ who says hello to you every morning but you still don’t know his name. Such is life when you are traveling on a great journey, and you begin to realize that the expedition itself is as relevant as the destination you were looking for.

If you’re lucky, seats will become empty further to the front on this very, very long trip, and as you move forward on the bus, you become more well-known and liked.  You try to keep in touch with those at the back, but its tough. The air is cleaner up here, and you can actually see out the side windows, although the path ahead is still not fully in view.

You feel glad you got on a bus that could go so long without any breakdowns or getting lost.  You praise the drivers’ skills and work with the other passengers to make sure the bus keeps on the road, straight and true.  Life is good.

Eventually, after a long time, you realize that your destination, although still an extremely long way off, is actually closer to you now than your starting point, and everything you dreamed of for yourself is coming to fruition.  You have moved a long way forward on the bus, and can even talk to the driver occasionally.

The bus still stops, and people get on and off – either voluntarily or by force.  You don’t make contact with most of them, but a few promise to keep in touch.  Most don’t, though.

The bus has become home.  In fact, you realize you’ve spent more time on the bus than anywhere else as long as you’ve lived.

Some people have changed buses many times, but you, with the exception of a few quick transfers early on, have remained on this bus the whole time.  Even the driver has changed over the years, but the bus has stayed, more or less, on the same path the whole time.

At some point, you notice, however, that the bus has begun to move more slowly.  Other newer, faster buses are better equipped for the road ahead, and pass you quickly.  The destination is not approaching at the rate it once was, and more and more seats are now empty.  Fewer passengers are picked up to fill them. The driver isn’t talking as much as they used to, either.

The bus slows even more, despite the lighter load, and people start to whisper about what the driver is going to do about it.  You all trust him – you have to!  He’ll figure things out and you’ll continue on our route like you always have.  You got on the right bus.

Then one day it happens.  The bus stops, and as you look out the window to see why, you find that you are the next one to be escorted off, along with a few others.  No explanation, or forewarning.  Just a somber handshake and some tips on how to find another bus somewhere else.

So there you are.  Standing on the side of the road, watching the bus amble along without you, shakily heading to the destination that you were sure it would take you to. Shock, sadness, and yes, even anger fill you, and for a while, you can’t even think about getting on another bus.  Even if you did, where would you sit?  Where would the bus be going?  Can you trust the driver and the other passengers?  No – just sit a while and think.

You decide to stay and play for a time – stretch your legs and smell the flowers around you that you sped past all those years.  If feels good to do this, but in the back of your mind, you recall just how much further you still need to travel to reach your destination.  That thought is always there, lurking in the recesses of your brain, like a sinister shadow, threatening to step into full view.

The thought of the long path ahead becomes overwhelming, so you make up a little sign “Great Passenger. Hard Working. Respectful. Loyal. Will take any seat”, and you stand on the side of the road, forcing a smile, waiting for a bus to see you and stop.

Buses pass by so fast that you’re sure they can’t even read the sign.  A few slow down and give you a quick glance, but speed off without stopping.  You stand on the side of the road for a long time, wondering how some people get buses to stop and pick them up, but you can’t.  Is the the sign wrong?  Do you look intimidating? Are you too old……?

A few buses stop, and even let you look inside.  They have an empty seat, and need someone to fill it.  You’re dressed well, and are groomed to give a great impression, but the seat they have is pretty far back, and it might not be a good thing for someone so well groomed to sit back there.

The bus leaves without picking you up.  This happens a lot.

Down the side of the road, you see one of the old passengers from your bus, pushing a motorcycle along the soft shoulder of the road towards you.

They stop when they reach you, and show you the motorcycle they have.  It’s not working, but maybe, with the two of you together, you can get it running and zoom right past all those stinky, noisy buses to your destination in record time.  No more bus drivers deciding who gets on or off, and when.  You’re the drivers now!

You have nothing to lose, but as you both push the old machine along in the soft sand, you tape the sign to your back – just in case.

The hope of getting that motorcycle running keeps your energy up for a while, but the tires don’t roll in the sand very well, and for some reason the engine just won’t start.  You keep watching over your shoulder, hoping another bus might just stop and pick you up.  It’s a tactic that’s mixed with wishful thinking and guilt, but one that you hope will pay off.

Others on motorcycles pass along the way.  You are conflicted with desire for yourself, and jealousy that they got theirs working while you still push yours along in the hot sun.  Still, the thought of being in the drivers seat brings new hope, and you push on, despite the odds.

At times, when you’re alone on the road, those dark shadows flow into the light like a river breaking its protective banks.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  The bus was supposed to carry you all the way to your destination.  How will you get there now?  It’s way to far to walk, the motorcycle idea doesn’t seem to be working, and despite a few stops, no bus has made a seat available to you.  How did this happen to a good person? It’s not fair.  But, as they say, life isn’t fair.  No one was out to get you.  No malicious intent was a part of anyone’s agenda. S**t happens sometimes.

In the end, there’s no guarantees.  You may never get on a bus to begin with, and even if you do, it might be a short trip.  You were luckier than most.  You had a good ride – and a long one.  Time to stop the pity party, and do what you’ve done before.  You’re smarter now than you were back then.  You know which buses to stay away from and which ones can get you all the way to your destination.

This is nothing more than another new adventure.  A bump in the road, and you should be excited like you were when you stepped foot on that first bus so long ago.

Except this time, the stakes are a lot higher.  You have more skin in the game, and more people are expecting big things out of you. Failure is not an option, and the bus drivers have a lot more questions now than they did back then.

Where will you end up?  Will you ever get that motorcycle running, or will you have to take a few buses to get there?  You’ll never know.  The only thing to do is to know that everyone you’ve ever met is rooting for you, and wants to see you get there, and that somehow, it will happen.

Leap and the net will appear.  Keep those dark shadows behind the banks as much as possible, and when you feel like they’re seeping in, run for the high ground of friends and family.  They’ll always carry you.

Have faith in God.  He has big plans for you.  This change is a chance to reassess your path and to listen to what he’s calling you to.  There’s a purpose for everything, even, if like that first part of your bus trip, you can’t see it yet.

I wish for your bus ride to be full of adventure, great friends, deep faith, and an awesome destination.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

Safe travels, my friend.

 

 

 

 

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Fetch, old Rover!

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I don’t necessarily prescribe to that belief.  We’ve somehow taught our 13 year old dog to not climb stairs any more.

She just stands at the top or bottom, depending on the intended direction, and whines.  We will then grab her like a football, and give her a free ride.  Luckily, she only weighs about 15 pounds, so its easy enough to do.  Maybe it’s a trick that she taught us…

Even if you haven’t had any luck with getting a senior pooch to roll over or walk around on it’s hind legs, it doesn’t mean that they can’t learn how. They probably just can’t be bothered.  They’ve wised up to the stupid pet tricks we try to put them through, just to get a treat we’d give them anyway.

At some point, we, like old dogs, figure out what we just won’t put up with any more.

When you’re young, pliable, and more eager than wise, you’re willing to do just about anything asked of you.  This is particularly true in the workplace.

Case in point;  In my earlier working days, I was employed at a printing factory.  The tenured ‘pressmen’, who had been on the job for decades would perform innocent hazing routines on any newbie that wandered into their lair.

They would hand the fresh new meat a plastic pail and tell them to go and get it filled with ‘blue smoke’ for the next press run.  The eager youngster would grab the bucket and scamper away, like it was a quest for the holy grail.

Of course, there is no such thing as ‘blue smoke’, and most of the other workers in the plant knew it, but they’d send the poor kid on a fruitless scavenger hunt for hours.

The bully pressmen would sometimes alternate this trick and ask the rookie to go and get the ‘paper stretcher’ from another pressman.  Again, no such thing as a paper stretcher, and the other workers would play along.

Try that with a 50 year old.  They’d never fall for it, because they’re wise enough to probe before ever lifting a finger:

  • “Sounds unhealthy. It might aggravate my hypertension”
  • “Don’t you have someone else who can do it?”
  • “How heavy is it?  I have a hernia.”
  • “Why don’t you get it, and show me for next time?”

It’s like the old dog.  You hold up a treat and they might sit, but anything more than that, and they’ll probably just go and lay down, with a look that says ‘If this stupid snack is so great, why don’t you eat it?‘.

Well, this old dog is learning a new trick.

I started a new job on Monday, after a 6 month ‘vacation’, and there are a lot of new tricks that I’m expected to execute in short order.

I know that I need that treat, so I’m willing to do what has to be done.  Don’t get me wrong – they’re not asking me to do anything like search for blue smoke or paper stretchers.

During my orientation, there was a sign-up sheet to join the company volley ball team.  20 years ago, I would have run out at lunch and bought knee pads and court shoes.  Now? I’ll just sit in the shade and watch.

On the upside, having seen around a few corners during my life, I’m more likely to offer candid feedback to my new employer.

“Do you mind sitting down?  When you walk around behind me, you make me nervous.”,or “I pretty much know everything in this section.  Can we just do the assessment and move on to the next chapter?  It’ll save the company time and money.”

No freshman would ever say stuff like that!

I have to say that the training has been going well.  My trainer commented on how refreshing it is to work with someone who already knows a few things.  I’ll do the ‘come here’ thing, but I won’t roll over or jump through hoops.  I think he respects that.

I can’t wait for the next training session, though:  Overcoming Objections.  Not a problem for this old dog.  Picture it:

“Hello, this is Troy from XYZ Company.  I’ll be in your area next week and wanted to drop by to show you our new winter catalogue”.

“Oh, we really don’t need anything at this time”.

“I understand – that’s because you haven’t seen the catalogue yet.  How’s 10:00 on Tuesday?”

“No thanks.  That won’t work for me.  Thanks, anyway”.

“Of course.  How about I get there at 9:00? That way you can get on with your busy day once we’re done.  How do you like your coffee?  Regular? Black?”

“I like regular, but…”

“Great!  Regular it is. See you at 9”.

You see, the old dog knows how to get the treat without doing a bunch of humiliating stunts.  They’ll just wander over and help themselves.  No ‘shake a paw’ or ‘lay down’ nonsense.

The trick, I think, is to balance things by providing a solid reason for your existence, otherwise it’s off to that farm in the country that your parents told you about when you were a kid.

If you’re not cute, you better be handy!

You’ll have to show loyalty, intelligence, hard work, great intuition and leadership, or they’ll decide they find the naive young ones more entertaining and valuable, playing dead or chasing their tails for a bland snack.

So, for this aging pooch, it’s off the fuzzy blanket, and out corralling the herd for a few more years.  Maybe I’ll get a scratch behind the ear if I do a good job.

The Long Goodbye

I’ve been told that I’m not very good at saying goodbye.  It’s true.

In my younger High School and College years, when I was ready to leave a party, I would tell people that I was going to the bathroom or something, then slip away for the night.  I found this easier than having to deal with the awkwardness of justifying why I was leaving so early, being pressured into staying a bit longer, or feeling like I had to set up the next get together before I left.

Even now, I don’t have the leaving thing figured out.  I tend to linger too long at the door, or talk  too long with people with my jacket in hand.  I can’t just shake hands, say thank-you and goodnight, then leave.

It seems there’s a sense of urgency to cover all the ground you didn’t get to during your visit, and let’s face it, it’s a point in the get together when you have the hosts undivided attention.

I wish I could do it like they do in the movies.  Grab my coat and hat, open the door with a wide wave, and announce to the entire party, “Goodnight everyone!  Until we meet again”.  Then I’d take a deep bow, turn and leave.  That would be a classy thing to do, but it’s not very realistic, and my hosts would probably take away the car keys and call me a cab.

I feel like I have to tie up all the loose ends before I go – to reconcile my relationship, ensuring our next encounter starts on a good footing.

There’s a direct correlation between the length of the exit and the closeness of the people I’m with.  When meeting strangers, a simple ‘nice to meet you’ and a handshake is just fine.

For most other farewells, I stumble over the words, and linger too long.

Saying goodbye to our son when he went off to school last year was excruciating for all of us.  We all went with him and got his new dorm room set up, picked up some last minute things at a store, took him out for lunch, then headed back to ‘tuck him in’.

Standing in the lobby of his residence building, we hugged, and choked down our goodbyes, barely able to speak.  Finally, standing with tears in our eyes, I looked at him one last time and weakly squeaked out ‘Go’, then gestured for him to head back to his room.

It was a very quiet and somber drive home.  I can’t imagine what it will be like next year as we send our daughter away to school – our baby.

I know I’ll be seeing them again, but it still breaks my heart.  How do you say ‘goodbye’ when it will be the last one?

As my father’s health is stolen away from him, we visit him in the hospital, sitting next to his bed.  We talk to him, hopeful that he can hear us and knows we’re there for him.   We hold his hand, and feel the strength in his grip, even though he can’t really open his eyes or talk to us.

Dad is not a huge man, but was every bit a ‘man’s man’ when we were growing up.  He ruled our household as most fathers did back in the ’60’s, with authority and control.

With four sons and no daughters, our home was testosterone soaked, and Mom would do her best to balance things emotionally.  Family hugs were not part of the landscape, but we didn’t lack in connectedness.

Dad was tough on us, but he was also the first one to do almost anything for us.  Any sport we wanted to try, he would do his best to scrape together enough money to buy us the equipment, then stand, often in the freezing cold to watch us play.

Our house was loud and busy.  I was in our old neighbourhood a couple of weeks ago, and drove by the house we grew up in.  It’s still standing proudly, and has weathered the storm of 50 years of life and of us – a testament to the builder.

So many memories, both good and bad, came flooding back to me.  Playing in the yard, or on the street with our friends or getting into trouble with them.  I wonder what became of all of them? We’ve long lost touch.

One of the things that stands out for me, was how Dad was able to instill in us a sense of loyalty, pride and duty to our family.  We tried our best to stand up for each other, and were the first to call each other out when one of us went off the rails.  Nothing was more important than taking care of each other and keeping our good name.  One bad deed reflected on all of us.

We still have that instinct, many years later.

We come together, the ‘Pulchinski Boys’, to check in on him when we can, hoping that Dad will be awake and talking.  Those hopes are fading, and we know it.  I think the reality is that we are now gathering at Dad’s bedside, not so much to visit him, but to be together for him.  To show him that what he instilled in us so many years ago, about the importance of family, has not been lost or forgotten.

When words often fail us, actions speak.  We all probably wish we had that elegant speech or comforting word that you see in the movies, but the reality is, our most admirable, loving thing is to simply be there for him.

The word ‘goodbye’ will have to come soon enough.  For now, simply being present, either in person or keeping in touch with each other is about as noble an act as can be expected.

Until that time comes, I will linger at the door, trying to cover all that ground that I could not say during the party, making it a very long goodbye, indeed.