Friday, August 22, 2014

Nice little essay on riding Trimet bus 96

bus.JPGView full size 
It's 6:34 p.m. on the No. 96, southbound on the I-5. The TriMet bus is maybe two thirds full. Of the midweek commuters, many of whom I recognize from the ride into downtown Portland the same morning, more than three in five are looking down, reading email, surfing the web or otherwise all thumbs on a hand-held device that connects them to ... where?

Our immediate destination is the park and ride at Tualatin, near Bridgeport Village. Along the way and out the window, however, are green and red rooftops, mowed and unmowed lawns, a dusty gray Mount Hood, a charcoal Willamette River, a riot of lavender in an overgrown median. Below, in the next lane, are drivers of cars who balance coffee mugs and, in a few instances, their own hand-held devices. Some bus passengers, meanwhile, talk to the air in front of them, gesticulating with their hands, apparently in earbud-assisted phone calls to ... whom?
Nobody takes the bus, of course, to make friends or even take in the views. In the morning a few folks nod hello, usually without saying the word hello. But for the most part riders mount the steps, exchange sunny courtesies with the driver and then slide into molded plastic chairs for a mute 18-minute conveyance to a predetermined destination. It's a growling ride through an attention tunnel called Elsewhere.
Riders of public transportation have long applied energy to finding Elsewhere, making commuting time absorbing, even productive: eyes scanning newspapers, heads buried in books, the occasional student wrestling a spiral-bound notepad. But Elsewhere has become farther away in the electronic day: in emails and texts, perhaps, from here and afar; on websites, perhaps, boasting the latest sales at Macy's or up-to-date streaming of news, as urgent as Iraq and as frivolous as the Kardashians.
The ride from Elsewhere has gotten longer. It's enough to make a rider ask: We're headed ... where?
Recently, while taking the No. 19 along Northeast Glisan to fetch my car from an auto repair shop, the bus stopped to let folks out, and a tree branch jammed the rear exit door, preventing the door's closure and halting everything. It was a dyssynchronous sight, lovely bright green leaves in afternoon light coming onboard, turning the heads of riders, leaving many agape. The driver, thankfully, let out a good laugh, and then a few folks joined in, and then a few more managed to yank the wayward branch clear of the bus, allowing the door to close and the bus to resume its course. It was a very not-Elsewhere moment triggering an immediate community reaction. A brief parry even ensued in which a rider up front agreed with the driver that such trees should be cut back.
Last week, the No. 96 in-bound pulled up to a Tigard stop, and a young man mounted the steps with a tall two-piece, lime green fishing pole. His unwieldy gear was apparently set up for deep sea fishing, or perhaps surf casting, and it clattered and scraped the ceiling as the man flashed his fare pass to the driver. But once paid, the man then strode down the aisle, fishing pole before him as if he were carrying a flag, and heads turned. People looked up and smiled. At the back of the bus, where the man found room for himself and his gear, a rider engaged him about ... what?
If it takes a wayward tree branch or the weirdness of a fishing pole, so be it. The ride from Elsewhere has gotten longer. For the unplugged, it might even push the destination down the road some. It's enough to make a rider ask: We're headed ... where?
 Elsewhere while riding the bus: Editorial sketchbook |

No comments: