Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An evening fit for reflection of incidents past

The only time King County Metro Transit has someone operating the customer service line at 3 AM is on Daylight Savings Time shifts. Why? Because someone has to explain to confused or irate people who have to work at places that are open 24/7—like the airport—why the redeye buses haven’t showed-up. Last year at this time on Sunday, I woke-up at my usual time (2 AM) so that just in the case the bus driver didn’t change his or her watch, I would be at least an hour ahead of schedule. When I reached my bus stop, I waited an hour, then 90 minutes, then two hours. No bus. At DST-adjusted time of 4:30 AM, I called Metro customer service to find out what the problem was; there was, in fact, a human available to answer my questions. I was informed that the red-eye buses were running on Saturday’s schedule, and I was asked what exactly that meant, I was told that instead of arriving at 3:30, 4 and 4:30, the buses would arrive an hour earlier without taking into account the time change. The conversation continued in the following manner.

“I have been standing here since 2:15, and I haven’t seen a single bus pass here.”

“As I said before, the drivers make their usual stops in Kent at 3:24 and 3:54. That’s all they are required to do.”

"It's 4:30 now, and I haven't seen a single bus pass by here."

"Well, do you think it's fair that the drivers should wait an extra hour?"

“What? You just told me the buses are running on the Saturday schedule. That means there should have been buses here at 2:24 and 2:54 if they did not turn their clocks back. Anyways, why would buses run on that schedule if there is no one to pick-up”

“You’d be surprised how many people are out waiting for buses at that time of night.”

“You mean like I was?”

Of course, the conversation might also have gone something like this:

“I figured your drivers wouldn’t adjust their times, so I arrived at my stop an hour early, and I haven’t seen any bus.”

“Did you look at the schedule? There are no buses at 2:24 or 2:54.”

What the “customer service” rep didn’t want to tell me was that there were no buses running at all; the red-eye buses are just regular routes diverted to do early morning service. Instead of being “inconvenienced” by the time change, they are allowed to just turn in. Metro is tax-payer subsidized, and tax-payers and fare-payers have a right to expect proper service—or maybe not all of them. I have complained many times to King County Metro about real and perceived rude and discriminatory behavior and comments from bus drivers—both black and white—toward patrons who are (or appear to be) “Mexican.” I’ve already talked about some of my own experiences, including an episode where the driver drove right past me at the bus stop, let off a passenger at the street corner, slammed the door shut and drove off—dragging me a few feet because my arm was stuck in the door; you should have seen how frighten witless this bigoted bastard was when I told him I was filing a complaint to Metro. On a few of the buses on this particularly route I now see a posting claiming that “King County Metro Transit does not discriminate in the provision of service,” but if it does occur, there is an explanation of the policy, a phone number and mailing address to contact the General Manager, provided in four different languages. Except that the languages are all Asian languages—the minority demographic least likely to suffer from discrimination around here; there is no policy explanation in Spanish, for the demographic most likely to suffer from discriminatory behavior from Metro drivers. How to interpret this? Given the apparent culture of discrimination at Metro (I have never seen a Latino bus driver in almost twenty years), this must means that it is still “OK” to discriminate against “Mexicans,” because they have no rights a Metro bus driver is bound to respect.

Anyways, because I knew the red-eye buses were not going to be running, and I had no car, I had to make other arrangements, meaning that since the last bus to the airport from Kent leaves at 6:10 PM and the Port of Seattle police would kick me out of the terminal if I tried to spend the night there, I got a couple of hours of sleep before catching a late bus to Seattle, and then a link rail to the airport. It was around midnight, and I had to find some way to waste some time until it was safe for me catch a brief nap in baggage claim. There was a Denny’s down the street, so I decided to get something to eat while I waited. As I was entering the establishment, I noticed a King County Sheriff’s sedan drive into the parking lot. I ordered a burger and sat down on a sofa; at that moment a sheriff’s deputy burst into the place looking quite excited, looking this way and that way for the “Mexican” until he saw me sitting calmly in my yellow work uniform, and he managed to get control of himself. The reason for all this “excitement” was because a local “celebrity” was about to make her grand entrance—King County Sheriff Sue Rahr. Of course, nobody gave a damn who she was and I may have been the only person in the place who knew anyways. Frankly, I was surprised at how slight of build she was, at least compared to the two deputies who stood “guard" while she sat back against the wall in a corner booth.

I wondered if she had read my e-mail about the behavior of one her deputies (the one who looked and acted like Heinrich Himmler) on a bus that I wrote about last month, but I doubted it. I have filed many, many complaints about police harassment, and naturally I didn’t receive satisfaction from any one these that were adjudicated within police departments. The closest I came to scoring a victory over police harassment involved an incident that occurred when I actually had a car that police could arbitrarily pull over—an ancient 1978 Chevette that I removed from someone’s thankful hands for $700. Driving that thing was an adventure; when I was forced to take to the highways, it would shake, rattle and roll so bad that once I hit 55 mph I was certain it left pieces of itself on the road, the nature of which I pretended not to care. At the time I had a job in some “town” called Preston somewhere east of Seattle; it was one of those backwater places where white folks go to “get away” from “the elements.” One evening I was surfing the web too long and all of a sudden it was 1:30 AM when I had to be at be at work at 5:30 AM. I was so tired that I knew if I tried to get some sleep, I’d probably wake-up at 5:30 PM, so I decided to drive to the workplace and nap in the car. I arrived at around 3 AM. At about 3:30 I was awakened by a flashlight blazing in my eyes: it was in the hands of a state trooper standing outside. What the hell did he want? I tried to explain to him that I worked there and why I was early. But my explanation was of little interest to him. He told me he didn’t want to see me in his neighborhood again. That afternoon after work, I was driving down I-90 when suddenly lights were flashing behind me—a state trooper. What was this about?” I was driving steady with the traffic. I found out as soon as I pulled over: It was the same trooper I encountered that morning. With a shit-eating grin he informed me that he had clocked me driving 79 mph; I told him he was crazy, that this car shakes like jack hammer if I go over 55, and the car was not shaking. But it didn’t matter; he took my auto insurance card and went back to his car—laughing as he called the insurance company. When he came back, I told him I was surely going to contest the $180 ticket, which he found amusing.

A month later I found myself in traffic court. I had already written a lengthy letter to the judge describing events as I interpreted them: I was a victim of racial profiling and discrimination; the trooper had targeted me because of my “appearance,” and having spotted me on the highway (not very hard in that Chevette), sought to harass me out of the neighborhood by lying about the speed I was going and giving me an exorbitant fine. I also believed that it was unethical or even illegal to call my insurance company when I had valid insurance. The judge, who was black, told me he had read my statement, and I was allowed to repeat my experience in front of the other alleged traffic offenders, some of whom nodded their heads knowingly. The judge then asked me if I would acknowledge that I had indeed driven over the speed limit; I had observed that this judge was more willing to reduce fines if there was at least a little acknowledgment of guilt, and so I played along. The judge seemed to like me and my story, because it gave him an excuse to launch into a grand speech about how some people are profiled because of their hair color, their hair length, or the color of their cars. He didn’t mention skin color, but I’m sure the people in attendance were not oblivious of the implication. Here was an opportunity to exercise judicial authority to correct an injustice, and so my fine was reduced to $50. It wasn’t quite the victory over injustice that I hoped, but the point was made, and strangely I was never troubled by that trooper again.

Police beat update: The legal three-inch knife that Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was carrying, and prompted a crazed Seattle police officer to shoot him dead with four bullets in his side, was found on the ground—closed. The officer, Ian Birk, has been on a "routine" paid leave since August; he should have been fired immediately after his gun and badge were taken away in October, since he clearly has no business carrying either now or ever. But then again since when has morality and ethics--let alone accountability--been a part of the police rule book?

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