In high school, I road Tri-Met buses twice a day, every week day for like three years. Mostly I road the 9 or the 8 (once or twice the 41 and walked home from Fremont, or the 33 and walked home from Grant High School), although when being too lazy to walk from the bus mall to school, I took the 57. And sometimes I took the 20 up over the hill to where Mom worked at the time, or the 15 to look at clothes I would never be able to afford (much less fit into) on 23rd. And once, as a Freshman, I road the 12 all the way to the airport and back just to see how long it took.
The 9 ran Powell in SE, to the bus mall, and then into NE (Weidler to 24th to 27th). I caught it on 24th and Brazee and it was mostly filled with adults heading downtown to their white collar jobs. They read, listened to music, or stared out the windows quietly, occationally two would chat softly about their kids or someone they knew from work. It was very laid back, the other riders were just trying to get from one place to another without having to pay $100+/month for parking.
The 8, on the other hand, ran from deep inner NE to the bus mall, and then up the hill to the VA hospital, next to OHSU. From NE to the bus mall it was usually filled with gang bangers at the back and crazies at the front. I never saw truly lunitic people on the 9, but the 8 was like a magnet for them. From the bus mall up the hill, it was filled with sick veterans. From the VA to the bus mall and back out to NE it was also filled with sick veterans. And gang bangers. My brother, who is pretty much as white and non-threatening as you get (being above average height, but not over 6'; fit and slender, but not very "Fight Club," as it were; and a natural dirty blonde, which just fails to threaten the way, say, Goth Black would), Aren always chooses to sit at the back of the bus with the gang bangers when he rides the 8 rather than at the front with the creepy pedophiles and crazy cat ladies. He said that the bangers don't really know what to make of him. He's not a threat to them, he doesn't want to chat with them for some kind of passing, insane person's "street cred," and they probably feel the same way about the people at the front of the bus, so they leave him alone.
Anyway, this is all to say that I road the bus a lot and had a lot of contact with people from varied, um, "walks of life." But when I look back on those three years of riding the bus, I always think, "Man, TriMet is really a good system. It's clean, it's friendly, it's on time, and there really is a pretty decent social contract in place: I leave you alone, you leave me alone. Sure, I once saw an abusive drunk (or drug addict) get denied access to the bus, but as abusive and dangerous as he seemed, the bus driver held her own and he backed the fuck down. And if anyone was a chatty nutter, they made a bee-line for Aren anyway, so everyone else's social contract was still intact.
After my allergist appointment last Monday, I decided to take the bus to work. It was kind of a neat route: take the 20 down Burnside to E Burnside & Grand Blvd and then get on the 19 at the same stop. The 19 drops me off literally across the street from my office, and not the busy street (Glisan) either: the little numbered avenue that no one ever uses but the people who live on it. It's not often that you can transfer from one bus to another that usually run parallel to one another at the same stop when you're not on the bus mall.
The 20 was late and a little smelly. The other people on the bus were just people, I didn't mind them and they didn't mind me. Admittedly, the guy who sat down in front of me may have been the King of Hobo BO, but he took his odor with him when he got off just before the bridge. But when I got off at Burnside and Grand, there were these, well, assholes waiting at the stop for another bus. I got off the back of the 20 to the sounds of this dickwad yelling at the bus driver at the front. What was he pissed about? That it wasn't the 12. Like this was the driver's fault. "Oh, I'm so sorry sir, let me just dump these other passengers and change my reader board and we'll be on our way! Fuck the other people waiting for this bus!" The bus pulls away and he yells after it, "Fucking BUSES!!!" He had two or three buddies with him. And here is where I expose myself for the classest jackhole you always knew I was: they had that look of uneducated, alcoholic, NASCAR ghetto, white trash losers who can't hold down a menial job and think that the world owes them something for being loud mouth, anti-intellectual bastards all the time. The three or four of them stood there and the first guy shouted about how TriMet employees are all assholes and it's all a conspiracy against him and the other guys nodded and laughed and smoked and jeered whenever the first guy said, "Fucking buses!" or "Fucking TriMet!" Then the 12 came and they got on and were probably assholes all the way to wherever they were going. I went and checked the bus schedule. The 19 was probably about five minutes away. So I waited. And after five minutes or so had gone by, I checked the schedule again. And then I saw a bus coming over the bridge. It was another 12. I was like, "Seriously? Two in a row??" So I checked the 12's schedule: identical to the 19 at that time of day. Another couple minutes, and another bus on the bridge. The 20. Finally the 19 showed up, but it was like it had just flat out skipped a scheduled bus.
Then 19 reeked. Like full-on Bum Stink all throughout the bus. And no bums, to speak of. But the 19 did aquire a couple of moms and their kids at Providence Portland (47th & Glisan, or thereabouts). They were sweet, the mom and daughter who sat at the front were smiling and talking together. The mom removed lint from the knees of her daughter's tights (the girl was maybe 8 or so), and ran her hand over the girls head and down her braids, hugging her to pull her back up into her seat, which she was falling out of as she squirmed around to tell her Mom something else about someone at her school. It was just so sweet and intimate and thoughtless (as in, "natural," not as in, "uncaring").
I don't think I'll be signing up to take the bus to work any time soon. My memory of TriMet was that it was clean and safe and friendly. But in reality, it has always been like this: cleanish, kind of smelly at times, safe enough (if you're aware of your surroundings) and friendly in small doses. And that's how all mass transit is, everywhere I've ever lived or even just visited: Portland, Moscow, Paris, Lyon, DC... I never road the train or bus in NY or LA, but I'm sure it's the same. It's really a question of necessity. When I had to ride the bus because I didn't have a license or a car, it was great. But now that it's a choice, it's just so much less enjoyable. And I feel bad for complaining, because I know that I should ride the bus more to be a better citizen. But that is a concern for another post on another day because this one is already ridiculously long.