I boarded the 75 bus northbound at Sandy Boulevard in front of the Hollywood Burger Bar about 6 p.m., like I have a hundred times before. The driver was a big fellow, who said “Hi” like he meant it, as always. About a third of the way to the back of the bus I stopped shuffling and stood, because my back hurt and standing felt better than sitting. It's the last leg of my trip home; I was probably daydreaming hard.
There was a shout from the back and then another shout and eventually, slowly, I turned around.
A blind man (white cane, dark glasses, uncoordinated Goodwill clothes), and therefore a TriMet Honored Citizen, stood by the back door. He held a folded wire shopping cart under an arm and was talking seriously with an agitated woman in business clothes, whom I recognized as a regular rider.
She pushed roughly by me to the front and complained quietly but emphatically to the driver about “she.” The driver pulled over, heard out the complaint and made a garbled announcement over the P.A. to the rest of us. Only the last few words came through clearly: “... will be out on the sidewalk.”
A glance at the rear of the bus was inconclusive. The half dozen teenagers were all innocent looks and faint smiles; the few adults gave off blank indifference.
At the next stop, several riders boarded, so to get out of the aisle I sat down, ending up right in front of the back door. To go easy on my back, instead of settling into the seat and then straining to get out, I sat on the edge facing about 45 degrees into the aisle. The Honored Citizen had taken a seat in the middle of the bench facing the back door, putting him at my left, across the aisle.
At the next stop came a shout and scuffle and a young woman – a girl, really, about 14 – was attacking the Honored Citizen. She was right on top of him, cursing, punching his face, and spitting. He managed to get his feet up and kick-shoved her away but she came around the legs on my side for another go at him.
She was by my left elbow, facing away. Without really thinking, I reached my left arm around her neck and grabbed her right upper arm with my right hand. She struggled for a few seconds, but I had a solid grip and to my surprise she calmed down.
A skinny middle-aged guy wearing a “CSI” cap paced up and down the aisle, yelling for someone to call the police and saying that he saw it all, that the girl started it. I held on. The girl resumed cursing at the Honored Citizen but was not fighting me at all.
It's hard to estimate time when violence and adrenaline are flowing, but I'll guess that no more than 20 seconds into all this, a couple of the girl's teenage friends made their way from the back up to the situation. The two boys were bigger than me. The girl was between me and them. One said to me, in what I took to be a neutral tone, “You can't keep holding her like that. That's not right.” Still, I felt vaguely threatened. I took my hands off the girl and she and her friends bolted out the back door.
A second later, before the door could close, she stuck her head inside and spit and screeched at the Honored Citizen one last time. I couldn't understand what she said. Then she was gone.
The driver announced that he would wait for police. The Honored Citizen stood and walked calmly to the front, cart under his arm. I looked for blood, bruises, torn fabric, but saw none. On my way to the front door I overheard the Honored Citizen talking.
He said to the driver, “I was just sitting back there and that girl next to me was making rude remarks. Saying somebody was filthy and smelled like you know what and should wipe himself before going out in public. And then I realized she was talking about me. . . . “
The whiff I caught of him was not fresh, but more like a dirty shirt than soiled underwear.
Not wanting to take time for the cops, I jumped off. The girl and her entourage were nowhere to be seen. My heart was still racing, with my breath right behind it. I checked over my shoulder for a posse all the way home.
Nick O'Connor - copyright 2011