A Valley Courier letter to the editor dated September 26, 2018, submitted by Marianna Young from Monte Vista caught my eye. It took courage for her to write it and it encouraged me to share my situation.
In February 2016 I lost my apartment in an arson fire. By May I suffered a Baker’s Cyst behind my right knee. I am disabled; I have no vehicle; I have asthma; and I suffer body pain daily. In September I became a member of a senior center and relied on the bus rides offered by the center for doctor visits, errands and grocery shopping. I had no budget to take a cab anywhere because I was on a fixed income.
It was during this year that I was sexually harassed and verbally abused by the bus driver. In October 2017, on a very sick day on my way to a doctor’s appointment that he continued his verbal abuse of me, I blew up and cursed at him, and he had the audacity to keep shouting at me. It was a regrettable, uncomfortable and unexpected situation and I signed a complaint saying so, as per the director. Why did I take it for so long? I needed the ride.
It first began when the bus driver cornered me against the passenger door with his face six inches from mine and he leaned against me. I told him that I could not get to the front door with him standing there and he tried to convince me that he was just trying to help me, as he stepped to his right. I told him that if I needed his help that I would ask him for it, and that he needed to remember that he was a married man. My knees were both very bad and I was in a lot of pain then, but I had to remind him again and again and again.
He would put his right hand above my left knee and squeeze it, showing his dominance and power over me. He would “bump” into me many times as I boarded the van, and again as I got down from the van he was always standing close enough to “rub up” against me. I could not walk well or fast and he did not keep his hands or other body parts from making contact with my person. I had a fear of falling and felt threatened daily for my physical safety, so much so that I became super vigilant. After each isolated incident, I told him that he was being inappropriate with me.
He was a no-show for several of the scheduled doctor’s appointments and physical therapy; was always late to any meetings, classes or activities at the center; would rush me at the grocery store, even standing there watching me at the check-out lane; would sing songs to me appropriate for his wife or girlfriend, neither of which was me; would drive me around several times, as though lost, always bypassing my stops; and, he came out to my residence mid afternoon, after his work schedule ended, about four different times, once with another man, and I NEVER let him (them) in or even answered the door. Why did I even put up with it? I needed the ride.
In between his advances, he would verbally abuse me in an effort to provoke me and intimidate me, and he was offensive, accusing and discriminatory. Initially there were other passengers in the van. Then he kept me isolated so he could yell or blame me for something — anything. He behaved like he was busing 20-30 people around every day and was just “too busy” to get me to one or two stops. He worked a part-time schedule with an hour off for lunch so he was usually rushing around and then blamed me that he was “not a cab driver!” And, he was not a cab driver. The cab drivers are gentlemen who know what they are doing and how to get you where you are going in the least amount of time, even with shared rides.
I know that each incident seems harmless but collectively they portray the bus driver’s retaliation and subsequent efforts at humiliation towards me for his rebuffed advances. I did call the director during these kinds of frustrating, obnoxious and stressful rides. She did not offer much support and then stopped taking my calls altogether. I was not trying to get the bus driver fired, believe it or not. I needed her to keep him from being so unprofessional, so disrespectful, and so inappropriate. Instead, he continued to be erratic, overbearing and argumentative. Why did I take it? I needed the ride.
I may not look my age or look like I have any illnesses to monitor but that is no reason for the bus driver to attach the importance of them for me. He was inconsistent, arbitrary, and somewhat capricious, and though every day I experience some level of pain, he had no compassion for me.
I have been long suffering. I knew enough to be still and to keep quiet, looking out the right side of the window as he ranted. I knew I had done nothing to fan the flame, and I knew that every day has its own grace. Even so, it served to exacerbate his situation and to infuriate him more with each ride. I know that I am not the only one, given the many unsigned complaints submitted to the chairman of the board, to no avail, according to the director.
When I spoke to the chairman early November after the submission of my complaint in late October 2017, he stated the board “did not want to deal with it.” He clearly covered the bus driver’s backside with a Code of Conduct and a no-morals clause, and named me the culprit. I was denied an opportunity to be heard at the board meetings and was denied further transportation, without warning or even prior notification in the monthly newsletter that there was a Code of Conduct recently adopted.
The bus driver has no right to treat people this way; has no respect for the seniors as individuals; and, has no responsibility for his own arrogance or retribution of the seniors he serves. I may not have respect for this person, but I did have respect for the position he held. How could I do otherwise? He behaved like a 13-year-old with raging hormones! However, it is not enough that he knows how to drive.
Why should seniors be subjected to lascivious, lecherous old men robbing them of their ability to care for themselves without the assistance of programs designed to help them? No one should go through what I did.
I did reach out to Legal Aid; the Number One lawyer; the public library; the city; the South Central Colorado Seniors; to the Social Services; and to the mayor.
Many times I felt like I was circling the drain by this shoddy and vulgar treatment by the chairman, who “favored” the bus driver, thus vilifying me. I am disabled, have no vehicle, and have no budget on a fixed income to afford a cab as often as the necessity has been in my situation since then.
I have had numerous doctor’s appointments and tests taken, even surgery, since the week before that fateful day, and because of this gross injustice, the center should have the rides service reinstated because it is the right thing to do and because the vulnerable need their dignity more than exploitation under the guise of respect.
Patricia C. Chavez