Photo by Becky Hoven
I bore myself with the stories I have about public transportation. It’s not interesting to those who aren’t immersed in bus lines and breaches of etiquette on the train. By condensing my experiences and employing some snappy editing, I’m hoping to provide a thrill ride of a blog post. I been riding TriMet max trains and buses most weekdays since this school year started. Everyday something happens. There’s a mechanical issue or some one acts out in public and it becomes an epic story of what I endure for my commute.
Maybe because I’m spending an hour each way I’m desperate for a little entertainment. I can equate my travels as a kind of living theater although it’s always improvised. The man who fought so gallantly with the transit employee checking for proof of payment and looking over the old ticket stub he’d been handed was one example. “Give me back my bus pass,” the man demanded before pulling down the red emergency flap to open the door only to be chased and caught. I felt the horror of his situation. If someone took my bus pass I wouldn’t have exact change or any money to get on a bus after work.
Real theater occurred the afternoon I was sitting across from two goth guys–a couple. One of the men was on the phone with his mother making plans to meet up with her and trying to help her confront her fears of dealing with the technology needed to navigate the online TriMet system. His frustration was humorous yet identifiable and riveting. There were hang-ups and his partner tried to soothe him. All the while I was thinking about how goth one of the guys was adorned with multiple gothic accoutrements while the guy on the phone only seemed semi-goth. Did I have a problem with the costume designer in this living theater? Maybe.
There’s dramatic intensity when people want a bus ride but have no money. Nobody rides for free and bus drivers enforce this rule. I witnessed a desperate woman trying to get into the hills of South West. It’s like a mountain up there so who would want to make that climb if you could bum a ride? The bus driver showed no sympathy as he drove off without her. Too bad I never have exact change, I could have paid her fare.
The first couple of months on the train I didn’t see any authorities checking for payment. One recent time, the first guy confronted offered up a crumpled piece of paper and some rambles. It took so long a line of people formed and they all got off at the next stop. My assumption was they took advantage of a getaway opportunity.
That’s my beef about the train. Anyone can ride free risking the possibility that they might get caught. There’s no supervision so you get the early morning electric guitar playing guy, unplugged at least and the drunk man, who pulled out a wine bottle and asked me if 2012 was a good year. I was more flipped out by seeing that the cork was floating in the bottle. Another morning there were two different people on either side of the train engaged in monologues. They were amazing from the snippets I heard. There’s a climate that borders on fear of breaking the silence, especially in the morning. People seem to clam up when others are acting badly. No one was willing to do anything about the two men, under blankets that were sleeping and taking up five seats on either side of the car. My reaction get out at the next stop and move to a different car. When I got off the train that morning I looked back through the window and saw the two guys, still asleep, taking up space. I’m not sure who is supposed to police this kind of thing. It may not be a big deal to let people sleep unless you really need a seat that morning.
Taking buses and trains means you get to have run-ins with a regular cast of characters like the guy who wears beige overalls every day. A guy wearing the MC Hammer pants shocked me. It might have been because he was normal from the waist up. I looked down and saw the puffery and the intricate and flamboyant design of the garment. The tapering around the ankles was a give away but not even Hammer would be caught wearing Hammer pants theses day. Most days I appreciate a bit of weirdness and hope for what I call “bus luck.” Bus luck is getting to a train or bus stop as the vehicle is rolling in as opposed to approaching a stop as a ride is pulling away resulting in a 13 to 16 minutes while sitting on a wet bench.
I wrote about Trimet in the past after having minimal public transportation experience. Everything seemed exotic and strange, every experience magnified. Years of being a bike commuter left me little need for buses and trains. Now I have a route all mapped out that works. Despite break downs, weather challenges and the odd behavior to witness the system is pretty good. The effort to try to get so many people where they need to be is ambitious. During rush hour there’s usually a bus or train every 15 minutes with multiple bus routes that can get me in the same general vicinity. And yeah, it probably takes three times as long but at least I’m not driving. I have time to practice karate, play an electric guitar, work on a monologue out loud if I prefer or write my next blog post on my phone with my thumb. I usually keep to myself at the risk of boring anyone.