Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Steve's 17 Bus -- A Portland Tale

Steve is a newbie to the 17 bus in Portland, which appears to rival the 22 with its colorful patrons, and he's quickly figuring out some experiences are worth documenting...

Let me give you a little background. My office recently moved downtown (a little over a year ago) to the Portland State campus. Since parking downtown is insanely expensive, I do my best to take the bus as often as possible. So, last year when my wife and I decided to purchase our first home, I had very few restrictions. First, price. I didn't want to make the same mistake that so many people made (economic collapse anyone?) and buy more than we could afford. The only other thing I wanted was a one bus commute, door-to-door. Now, fast-forward a few months. We bought our house and its absolutely wonderful. Everything both of us could ask for and more. This includes my precondition of a single bus commute. You may be asking, so Steve, what bus do you take? Ah, the Portland Trimet #17-Holgate. The fighting 17. Never was there a more deserving bus to be called "17." Not sure why, but it just seems "seven-teeny" to me.

Most days, or weeks for that matter, pass uneventful. However, last week proved the most interesting to date.

Day #1:
The 17 is a very busy bus. Standing room only most nights. Unlike some of the other busy lines, the 17 still uses the old buses. Things feel a little more claustrophobic in there than with the new ones. Tonight's trip was no exception. I entered the bus and was greeted by the usual mass of pissy commuters. Oh, and an incredibly funky smell. The indescribable, yet oh-to-familiar transient funk. Sure enough, sitting right up front was a homeless dude. Now I'm not too sure how other city's public transit works, but Portland has a "fareless square" downtown, where anyone can ride for free. It ends the first stop after I get on. Homeless like to ride the bus, guess its dry and their life sucks. So homeless dude was up front. After getting my bearings, I look for an opening, meandering my way toward the middle of the bus. I grabbed the nearest available hand-rail and began my nightly ritual of zoning out. The next stop came quickly, and the bus driver, in an authoritative voice, bellowed "end of fareless square." He then looked back at the homeless guy and informed him he needed to pay or get off. There was silence and instantly tension mounted. It was at this point that I first noticed the doe-eyed liberal chick sitting across from him. She reached into her pocket and pulled out some cash, pride and satisfaction on her face. She jovially paid for the homeless man's fare (full pass/transfer) and reached across to hand him some extra cash. You could just see her eyes wide, waiting for the gratuity "thank you kind lady, I will survive another day thanks to your generosity." Without hesitation the homeless guy stood up, took the cash from her hand, grabbed the transfer, and walked out the door without even looking back or saying a word. The look of satisfaction remained a little bit longer, although slightly more quizzical, then she faded back into her seat. If I were a caring man, I might have felt bad for her. Instead, I let out an inaudible chort, and thought "tool."

Day #2
It was such an exciting week last week, I don't remember which day this event fell on. It might have been Monday or Tuesday. It may have been during its own trip or on the same bus as another event. All I know is it happened.

Every once in awhile you get on the bus with a talker. Not a mumbler or a singer, a TALKER. Day 2 brought not just a talker, but a yeller. And an angry one at that. Day 2 was the only day I had to get off the bus because I was so unnerved I couldn't stick it out. The bus was crowded, my mistake of taking an earlier, rush hour bus. Once again it required that I initially stand, at least until the bus emptied a bit more once we got to the other side of the river. After I got on, I knew it was going to be interesting. Sitting in the first row was a scary looking man, scruffy, but not too stinky. He had a big black garbage bag at his side. Not sure what was in it, but right now I'm leaning toward human remains. Maybe even dead babies or puppies. I stood near him as he had a very intense conversation...with himself. Midway through the bus ride, he turned and looked through me toward the back of the bus and started screaming and swearing. He then proceeded to jump atop his seat (spider-man style) and either berate someone behind me or possibly chastise the back door for opening too often. not sure. I was a bit too nervous to take my eyes off him, lest he web sling toward me, decapitating me and keeping my skull for a trophy in his black bag of death. Luckily, the bus was pulling to the next stop. However, rather than exit or be forced to leave, another familiar gentleman entered the bus. "The sniffer." Yes the sniffer. He is a slightly autistic, older gentleman with thin lips and a porcelain complexion. Not sure what he shaves with, but I've never been that smooth. He manages to block any escape. He proceeds to stand in front of me (graciously offering himself up as buffer victim to "the yeller"). For a brief instance I was grateful. However, this quickly faded as he began to sniff and lick his fingers. It was at this point I reached my threshold. My "crazy" meter popped and I scrambled to the door and exited the next bus stop. Not sure if everyone else survived the ride, but I followed my instincts and managed to live another day.

Day #3
I love my family and friends. I do good deeds. I don't break laws and I work really hard at everything I do. However, in my mind, I'm a jerk. I'm fairly uncompassionate. So much so, I'm regularly referred to as a "heartless robot." It's with that introduction I tell my next tale. Day #3. War is hell. I respect our troops and in no way EVER want to do what they do. I understand war does things to a man. When troops return home, some never quite return. This can sometimes lead to a separation from society and a collapse into alcoholism, homelessness, and crime. With all this said, try not to judge me too harshly when I tell you the story of the drunken master, "Kung Fu Vet."

Today's bus ride was completely uneventful all the way to Milwaukie/Powell. At this point, two men entered. Both appeared wobbly and drunk. One was thin, young. He looked like he was maybe 35-45 years old. Reminded me a bit of Freddy Mercury. Not sure if he was gay or a good singer, though. The other was gray, older, maybe in his 60s. Sort of a stockier version of Frasier's dad (if you ever watched that show). They both sat up front along the seats that paralleled the isle. They kept a seat between each other. I had my headphones on, so I didn't really hear anything. But within seconds of the bus leaving their stop, the old guy starts going a bit crazy. "What did you say?!" He stood up. stumble stumble. "I'll kick your ass." jacket removed and dropped to the floor. stumble stumble. "I'm a Vietnam vet! I know Kung Fu." Then Freddy stands up (stumble stumble) looks to the back of the bus "I didn't do anything?" We made it to the next bus stop. By this time the bus driver is on the radio calling in the disturbance. He politely asks the men to exit because he is speaking to dispatch and they will send the cops. It's at this point that Frasier's dad picks up his jacket and informs Freddy Mercury that Portland is a small town and next time he will be packing "heat." Call my cynical, but I've always considered this a drunken idle threat. However, now, not so much See Day 5). Things got a little more tense, then the old man exited. He grabbed a bike off the front (I can only assume it was his) and rode off. A few moments later Freddy stumbled off, mumbling "I just wanted to go home."

Day #4
By the time Day 4 rolled around, I was fed up, yet entertained. I decided I would start documenting my trips home. I figured just like always, now that I was prepared, nothing strange would happen. Luckily I was mistaken.

Today's ride was almost a disappointment. I was almost home before I got to experience anything bus-worthy. Thankfully, Sasha, the dancing 36 year-old teenager boarded. I don't think I could do justice to Sasha with words, which is why I videotaped her with my cell phone. Since the bus was not busy, I was able to find a seat. After a routine stop I gazed up to see a smallish girl, maybe 5 feet tall enter the bus. Looked like some middle school girl who was being obnoxious and crazy on the bus because it would be funny. She had a shear green vail wrapped around her face and head. I think she had head phones in because every time the bus stopped she would stand up and start dancing. I think she may have been singing at one point too. Not sure, she stared out the window, screamed a few random things, did a head swirl motion, then stood back up and started dancing. I'm thinking to myself that this kid is drunk off her ass. A few seconds before I exit, she sits down, flips back her vail and smiles at me. It's then I noticed that she was old. I'm not sure if it was Greg Oden and Lebron James old, or if it was Fernando Venezuela old. But her face did not match her body or behavior. I left the bus thinking "that was weird."

Day #5
I'm going to try something special for bus commute Day 5. Similar to a bunch of movies, I'll start from the end and retell the story in flashback. Let's start with me walking in the front door. "A frick'n RIFLE!! Really?!?" "What?" Reacted my adoring wife. "A dude had a rifle on the bus," I respond.

On Friday there was a shooting near our house. A 92 year-old wacko gunned down his son and daughter in-law. I think they survived...not too sure. It happened at 7:30am. I'm groggy and cranky in the mornings, so I don't pay much attention. To be honest I didn't become aware of it until an individual on the bus told me about it.

I was only a few blocks from home when a white-trash looking gangbanger want-a-be entered the bus. He entered, carried a large black bag, not a garbage bag like the "yeller" but a briefcase looking bag, only slightly bigger. He walked in, ignored the bus driver and headed to the back of the bus. He placed the bag across from me. Once again, I had my head phones on so I didn't hear the bus driver/passenger dialogue. The man returned up front, sans bag, to confront the bus driver. There was a brief conversation, and I assume the fare was paid. A few moments later, the dude returns and sits across from me. He has this twitchy quality about him. Kind of like that kid that burns ants with a magnifying glass. I did my best to ignore him, but he caught me glancing down at his bag. As we drive past the scene of the shooting earlier in the day, the man informs me that someone was shot down that street. He's not worried 'cause he's protected. It's at this point he zips open his bag to reveal a frick'n rifle. My face must have flashed because he said he had a permit. He was going to go practice, and I quote, "batta batta batta" (visualize him with is fingers in the air rifling down a campus of students from a clock tower). I exit the next stop, making sure he does not exit behind me. I walk the rest of the way home. Checked the news, apparently no one was gunned down on a bus that evening.