Archive for the 'Community service' Category

Taking the Bus

Tuesday is when I drive the Help of Ojai bus.

It’s usually a little nippy at 8 in the morning and Help has hardly enough time to warm the place before my arrival. I stand in my hall closet at home checking the temperature on my iPhone and debating my alternative garb. Shall I wear the sleeveless Patagonia vest, or the one with arms? Is the Cal baseball hat that I stole from my son enough, or should I wear my Carhartt wool beanie that covers my ears and holds the warmth streaming from my bald head, but wreaks havoc with my hearing aids?

I decide to go light this morning and slip on my vest, plop the Cal hat on my head, kiss Jackie good-bye and make the five-minute drive to Help. I could have walked there in 20 minutes, but I had already done three miles on the treadmill. Still recovering from my kettlebell induced back strain, I decide not to be macho and I drive.

Help moved a few months ago from their old location next to City Hall to a building that housed the Ojai Café Emporium for many years. A vacant restaurant seemed like an odd choice, and I sometimes mindlessly drive to Help’s old location, a habit formed over eighteen years of driving the bus.

The Emporium had a separate coffee shop that offered delicious pastries. They had four kinds of coffee but no Splenda sweetener; an odd omission that perpetually annoyed me. But I was particularly fond of their cinnamon rolls and the occasional pumpkin muffin. I wistfully remember the sugary sweets as I turn left off Montgomery and into the parking lot now festooned with a temporary looking Help of Ojai sign, but no muffins. Too bad.

The pandemic has slowed Help’s offerings at the new site. The communal gatherings are limited to avoid mass exposure to Covid. The interior of the building needs some glitz and glamor along with the now silent sounds of people being helped. The staff is getting used to the new digs and doing the good work that makes them a community gem.

My aging eyes take longer to acclimate to dark spaces after being in the sunny outdoors and I carefully make my way to the men’s room. It’s dimly lit and needs more concentrated light over the urinal; wearing a face mask contributes to the obfuscation of doing my business and leaves me wondering if I’ve hit the target. I make multiple prophylactic trips to the men’s room during my shift since I don’t want to be caught without a potty while driving the bus. Other than that, I think the new digs are coming along quite nicely.

I retrieve my rider list from Tina and make my way to Bus 8, a nine-passenger sheet metal behemoth that’s been sitting in the lot since yesterday afternoon. Hoisting myself into the sub-zero driver’s seat produces a shiver. My glasses immediately fog up because of the Covid mask and I find myself blindly searching for the heater controls. Removing the mask results in the loss of one over-priced hearing aid that had twisted itself around the elastic straps that held the facemask in place. I decide to forego the pleasure of the hearing aids until summer.

Settled in, I drive to my first pickup. Ralph is recovering from a stroke and needs a little help boarding. He’s exceptionally happy today, which he attributes to the half-jigger of bourbon that enhanced his morning coffee.

Dottie is my next client. With a tendency toward procrastination, she shuffles to the bus seemingly unaware that she is ten minutes overdue. Her delightful, “Good morning” makes me forget about her being late.

Steve has balance issues that he tries to mitigate with two walking sticks. He needs help loading his groceries from the Vons shopping cart onto the bus. Usually silent, his “thank you so much” brightens my morning.

Stephanie has been physically challenged for many years. Today’s trip to the doctor requires a wheelchair. It takes me awhile to hoist the chair on the lift and fasten it to the floor of the bus. I drop her off at the doctor and when her visit ends, I reverse the process going home. I don’t mind the effort, and I think about what it would be like if it were me in that chair.

Last pickup is Jan.  Her husband died a few weeks ago. It was only a month earlier when I regularly took them both to Swanner for physical therapy. They were like a duet. Now she is alone.

I bring the bus back to Help, hand the manifest and keys to Tina along with the five dollars of donations that hardly cover the gas I used driving forty miles.

I’ve been at it four hours. In and out of the bus, hauling groceries and doing other things that make it possible for people to do what needs to be done.

I should be tired. But I feel refreshed.

Man’s best friend

Is it really man’s best friend?

I’ve been driving the Help of Ojai bus ever since we moved to Ojai twenty years ago, except for a couple of years when Ila was ill. My usual shift starts at eight on Friday mornings and ends a little after noon.

My clients are generally older and have given up driving. Being homebound is all too often a sad result. I pick them up at home and deliver them to physician offices, the grocery, hairdressers and other destinations which might otherwise be unreachable. For some folks, the bus is the only way they can get out of the house.

During my rewarding career as a bus driver, I’ve had my share of mishaps including varying degrees of bodily injury; to me, not to my clients. One that stands out vividly occurred several years ago.

Many of my riders are mildly incapacitated; some use a walker. Walkers come in various shapes, colors and sturdiness. Some are festooned with saddlebags and other accouterments. Some are simple in design while others require a degree from MIT to fold them flat in order to load them onto the bus. All of the beasts sadistically defy me as I try to lift them up the steps of the bus and through the narrow entry door.  I put them in a place that varies with my mood, so long as they can be safely stowed without the risk of them hurtling through the confines of the nine-passenger metal behemoth with which I deftly negotiate the streets of Ojai.

The walker folding process requires a certain degree of dexterity. The two sets of legs are folded using a scissors like movement that involves paying close attention to the location of one’s fingers, lest they become painfully pinched in the process. And that’s what happened to me.

My client that morning required the use of a walker as well as the lift. Being relatively non-communicative added to the challenge. Seating her went without a hitch, and I then began to flatten the walker. The scissor-like motion reached its high point when the tip of my little finger lodged securely between the two legs. Ignoring the searing pain for the moment, I attempted to open the scissors and free my finger. Alas, two hands are required to open the legs.

My client, comfortably seated and ignorant of the drama unfolding behind her, was of no use. Being the proud owner of two feet, I stood unsteadily on one of them and used the other as a wedge shoved between the walker’s legs. After what seemed like a fortnight of acrobatics, I was able to extract my pinky from the jaws of the monster. Profuse bleeding was the next cause for alarm. It was staunched with a box of Kleenex and the on-board first aid kit stocked for such mindless mishaps. Driving with one hand became de rigueur for the rest of the morning.  I can show you my scar if something like that excites you.

This Friday started out normally. Go to the gym at 6am. Treadmill for an hour while watching season two of the Kominsky Method on Netflix, shower and then head over to Help of Ojai. Have a quarter section, or two, of a yummy turkey sandwich made by Glenda, some surprisingly good coffee prepared by Meagan and then check out the bus for unwelcome critters, discover a nearly empty gas tank and a windshield that could only be cleaned with a Brillo pad.

Check out the manifest. The usuals…Melvia, Karen, Rosie, George, Betty…and one new name, Joyce. Going to the doctor, Joyce was to be picked up at 9:30 for her ten o’clock appointment. The early morning crowd delivered safely to their chosen locations, I headed over to Joyce’s mobile home park.

I arrived two minutes early, opened her gate and rapped on the door. A small, furry dog exited through the doggy door and took up a position close to my left leg. A cute little guy with a reassuringly mild disposition, he just begged to be stroked. And so I did, while waiting for Joyce to emerge.

I could hear Joyce calling for Charlie to come back in the house. Having none of that, Charlie sprinted away from me, ran through the gate that I had obligingly left open, and disappeared down the driveway. Joyce arrived and I pointed in Charlie’s general direction. Joyce called out. And, after what seemed like an eternity, he reappeared at the foot of the driveway. We beseeched him to come closer. He did but stopped short of the gate as though pondering his alternatives.

He moved slightly forward. I detected some misgivings in his tiny brown eyes. Seizing the fleeting opportunity, I reached down and gently cradled his ten-pound body in my two hands. What had once been a small, cuddly friend of man, became an enraged bull mastiff. He opened his jaws and clamped them on the root end of my thumb which had, prior to this event, been minding its own business. The pain took me back to my years’ ago adventure with the iron walker.

Charlie was intent on becoming a permanent part of my right hand. Perhaps he had second thoughts. Perhaps he felt that he had inflicted enough punishment commensurate with my indiscretion. He loosened his vice-like grip and bounded happily over to Joyce who said one or two “bad dogs” and without any further ado, deposited a newly cherubic Charlie in the place from whence he came.

Bleeding was becoming a habit of mine deserving of a Purple Heart. Charlie’s teeth had produced two punctures that appeared quite similar to those that might have been inflicted by a king cobra. My customary use of Kleenex seemed to only aggravate the flow. Thankfully, Joyce produced a large band-aid from her purse, and wrapped securely, I was able to deliver her to her appointment, drive one-handed back to Help and apply a vat of antiseptic ointment to calm my distress.

I had forgotten to ask Joyce if Charlie was up to date with his shots. Scary thoughts about rabies proliferated in my frontal cortex. Magnifying the possible implications of a frothing-at-the-mouth dog, followed by equally terrifying rabies shots, occupied my time until we were able to confirm that neither I nor Charlie would be appearing in a re-run of The Wolfman.

Walkers and dogs are often thought of as man’s best friends. But sometimes it might be better to remain more platonic.


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