Sunday, August 25, 2013


I took a different bus last Tuesday and had an evening I never had before. It was around 6:00 p.m. I was headed for a meeting at a place directly under the OHSU Tram in an area called Lair Hill.

Trimet's Trip Planner had recommended picking up the 9 Powell downtown and getting off at the Ross Island Bridge.  But a 17 Holgate showed up first. I had an idea it stopped at the bridge, and the driver confirmed my suspicion.

I sat in front, on the bench.  At the next stop, a man sat next to me and, in whipping out earbuds, whacked me on the nose with one. The force was something less than a nerf bullet.

"Oh, I'm sorry.  Are you okay?"

"I think I'll make it."

"No harm, no foul."

"You're one of those nice Portland people."

We discussed the very niceness of Portland people and agreed that being nice didn't mean becoming friends. And we didn't. But the encounter set me up for the rest of the evening.

Around 9:30 p.m., after my meeting, I made it back to the bridge stop. A woman was waiting there.  She let me know the bus was due in 10 minutes. She watched me go into a paper bag, where I had a bagel sandwich.  As I unwrapped it  I saw her staring.


"Starving.  I'm homeless."

"Take half."  I held the sandwich out. She grabbed the whole thing. As it came apart into halves she took one, saying, "Oh, sorry, I thought you wanted me to break it in  half," and giggled.

We started eating, which made the bus come immediately.  I was able to shove my half sandwich into the bag, but my new friend had no bag.

She said, "I'm just gonna eat it."

The bus was fairly crowded and I had to stand. But she found a seat on the front bench and ate.

After each bite she muttered how delicious the sandwich was.  She asked me where I got it and all I could tell her was "some place on Corbett."

A crowd of ten or so young adults boarded together.  My new acquaintance - not friend -- said hello to one of them and they bantered. Another woman, already seated,  eagerly greeted one of the new male riders.

Suddenly everyone was talking to everyone.  Turned out a lot of them had been at an evening meeting that had to do with recovery.  I heard conversation about sober houses, roommates, jobs. The volume level increased by the block, but I had to leave before the party reached the next level.

I caught the 75 at Powell and Cesar Chavez.  In a text exchange with my wife I planned to pick up a few things at Whole Foods, which was going to close at 10:00.  At 9:52, the bus stopped at the Hollywood Transit Center. Whole Foods is two stops past the transit center, about a three or four minute walk.

A man boarded, He was skeletal, with sickly yellow skin and buggy eyes. He was dragging a large garbage bag filled with clanking cans.

The man and the driver talked. As they talked, the driver took out a small pad and took notes. I thought of walking to Whole Foods, but figured even a longish conversation would get me to the store a couple minutes before closing.

After a minute, the driver switched to a clipboard so he could write more extensive notes. Then the driver handed the man some of the notes. The man made some notes on the notes while they continued to talk. If I had known the lovely couple were on an actual date, I definitely would have walked.

At 9:56, the man clanked to a seat. There was still time to get to the store, if the driver would now go.

A woman and two teenage girls boarded. The girls sat and shared a cell phone while Mom searched for the fare.  She found some money, but not enough. She pulled stuff from her purse, found a wallet, went through that without luck. Then she negotiated. Again, the back and forth between a passenger and the driver delayed my plan. At 9:58, I walked  up and held out an All-Day ticket between the two of them.

"Will this take care of it?"

The driver, showing obvious embarrassment, said "Yes, it will."

A few seconds later we were moving.

At the next stop, I jumped out and trotted across Sandy Boulevard, only to confirm that Whole Foods had, indeed, closed. I turned from the locked automatic doors and -- luck was with me.  The next 75 pulled up.

The End

Friday, May 31, 2013


There was no coffee in the house.  A bus was due in nine minutes, probably time enough to walk a block and a half to Delphina's for an Americano and then squeeze into that particular sardine can at the stop nearest the store.  And in case of a near-miss, the next bus was only four minutes behind.

The plan went smoothly.  I reached the bus stop with my drink as the bus hove into sight three stops away.

A car slowed on the far side of the street.  The driver rolled down the window and waved at me.

"I have to talk to you."

I almost trotted over.  But the bus was only two stops back, and I was stretched physically, carrying two bags and a full cup of coffee.  Plus I had never seen this guy before.  I tried to put all of these thoughts into a wave back at him.

A car came up behind the waver, honking.  He drove ahead, pulling to the curb about 100 feet away and continuing to wave his arm emphatically out the window.  

I glanced around in case something dangerous was closing in -- no.

The man kept waving.  I got bus ticket in hand as the bus roared up and, without slowing, roared past.  Funny, there were empty seats in it.  Sometimes, of course, a driver skips a stop because she's behind schedule or is returning to the garage for repairs.  Usually, I believe, the reason for passing up riders is that the vehicle is full, and this drive-by was definitely less than full.  Go figure, I thought.

As I said, the next bus was due in four minutes.

The waver drove to the corner, turned around in the intersection and headed back towards me.  He pulled up, leaned hard to put his face near the window.  The moment of truth.

"This is not a bus stop anymore."

I glanced up.  In fact, the bus stop signpost was gone.  Oh.  That’s right -- the last time I waited at the stop a couple weeks ago, there had been an announcement posted on the bus stop sign that may have said something about a change to the stop.

I looked back at my interloper.

"This is what I've been trying to tell you."

"Oh.  Thank you."

"My wife did use this stop every day.  That's how I know." 

Wow.  What a good neighbor.  His generosity suddenly sank in.  He had detoured from his trip, probably losing a few minutes from his commute to work, to save me a few minutes' trouble.  And I had tried to ignore him.

I thanked him again and ran for the next bus. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013


It was Anything Can Happen Day.  I was on the 12 Sandy bus instead of the 75 Lombard-St. John's, in the afternoon instead of 7 a.m.  I had just passed a state insurance license exam, which had been on my to-do list for many months, so I was riding the crest of an accomplishment wave on my beast of metal, glass and rubber.

Also riding my beast:  across from my mid-bus aisle seat, a woman in big headphones played a movie on a tablet. The sound track suddenly poured into the bus -- music, dialogue, effects: the works.  Heads turned, muttering comments.

She was absorbed, blithely innocent of the aural trespass.

The driver jumped in through the intercom.  "Please turn down the volume!  You are playing your device too loud!"

She didn't respond.  That was my cue.  I reached over and tapped the woman's arm.

Her face said, "What?" and I pointed at my ear and her device and mouthed "Too loud."

Her face said, "You are a lone oversensitive nuisance and I'm going to ignore you," but I gestured sweepingly, to indicate "everyone" and mouthed "We're all listening."

She took off the headphones.  The sound still filled the bus.  Glances came at her.  Her face said, "This is not what I expected."

I said, "We can all hear your movie."

She turned it off with some exasperated lip English.

Then, saying her first words, which I couldn't understand, the woman held out the headphones, inviting me to partake.

I may have laughed at her.  I know I shook my head "No" several times. 

A few minutes later on the Max train, I caught a whiff of something troublesome. I was guessing, but I'm very familiar with a revulsion that sometimes hit like a heavyweight when I was jobless for a year. It went bone deep.  And now it was nearby again.

Of ten people in my line of sight, all were male, one a boy of 11 or 12, two men of 45 or older and the rest between 18 and 40.  Six of the seven young men were wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts and jeans, shorts, or baggy pants.  Six wore running or gym shoes.  One or two of these were neat and clean enough that it's conceivable, barely, that they were on the way to work.

In other words, at least half of the adult males riding with me on a Monday afternoon in April were not working.  Nor were they looking for work, I guarantee you.  I have to guess that they were hanging out.  They were enjoying life.  As riders boarded and left, there was one constant:  half of the men of working age were doing as little as possible.  Most of them had a mobile device but not a single one was reading.

Does this seem about right?  Five of ten men who are out of the house and not at work are slacking?  If they were working, they wouldn't be riding the train, would they? (Answer:  No, they'd be working.)  Any one of them could be on vacation, having a day off, taking it easy.

Oh, hell.  Why not?  Why am I judging? Mid-day is a good time to be out doing as little as possible, especially in this fine, fine weather. I try not to judge, but sometimes I'll glance around the library thinking "At least all these homeless folks are trying to learn something."  The thought just happens.

Never mind.  I passed my insurance exam.  I helped a lady on the bus.  The world and the day are big enough to hold a worker like me and -- whatever those guys are doing, too.  Bless them.

The End

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I think I’m a little autistic.  This might explain why, at the Hollywood Transit Center platform, I was watching the highway traffic - and enjoying it.  In that spot, nothing but the Max tracks and a short wall separates you from the river of cars.  The river was flowing freely this morning, and the air was cool, and payday is getting close.  The blur of racing metal was soothing. 

When a Max train pulled in, I looked into it and saw a row of somber faces.  All but two or three riders were interacting with their devices.  I think I look like they do when I’m ill, or after a bad argument – not too often, I think.  Not every day. Do I?

Why, in a time when you can immediately get and hear and see anything in the world on your mobile device, is the result a peanut gallery of blahs and blues?  Laurel and Hardy movies, symphonies, brilliant lectures, a conversation with a friend on the other side of the world – all of these are at our fingertips.  The ride to work can be a vacation, an escape from the crushing blankness, if that’s what’s bothering you, Bunky.

Instead, my esteemed fellow riders appear to endure a circle of hell reserved for bad party guests, doomed to listen to white noise on their earbuds forever.  But I’m interpreting the facial expressions and body language of strangers.  They’re in a setting where they’re inclined to express as little as possible.  No doubt my insight is mostly fantasy. 

Inside the train, looking around again, I don’t believe this.  A couple is laughing.  Joking with each other.  Breaking all the morning Max rules.  How bizarre!  But they’re not really a couple – an old white guy in mud spattered overalls and a middle aged Latina in office clothes.

Hold on.  What in the name of Holy St. Michael?  Now what?  The world’s been turned upside down, there’s another odd couple, laughing it up.  Where am I?  Two couples laughing.  The hair on my neck is bristling.  Now the couples are taking turns.  This couple laughs.  That couple laughs.  

I’m sweating.  Are we in a nightclub?  We’re in a nightclub, that’s it, a floating nightclub, way, way after hours.

Breathe.  Slow down.  The truth will come through.  There it is now.  Between bouts of hilarity the masks appear.  The protection. The farmer is Grim Acceptance, his girlfriend is Resignation, and the other couple is Exhaustion and Discomfort.  So, all is well. 

Soon they all calmed down and I calmed down and we rejoined the rest of us, saving ourselves for the important day ahead. 

A big fella snored, loudly and too quickly.  That's more like it. An emergency nap, for sure, and  a tough log he was sawing.  His head fell back and his chest heaved with a sharp jerk on each breath as if he were climbing at 10,000 feet.  It’s a good thing he was lying down.  Every minute or so his eyes would open, he'd snort and instantly drop back into the nod. 

The rest of us kindly let him have his restless rest. 

The train plunged into the Sunset Tunnel.  The small lights on the tunnel wall were blipping by, lulling me.   

I’m drawn to it, the reliable, steady stream of lights.  Yeah, maybe I’m a little autistic. 

Friday, March 29, 2013


I was riding the 75 northbound, north of Sandy Boulevard around 8:30 on a weekday evening. Three or four other riders were scattered around the bus. A group of high school kids got on. Some of them sat in front, on the Honored Citizen benches. The rest, standing up, had a quiet discussion. They were looking my way, but not at me. I heard one of the boys say to one of the girls, “Is that him?” The girl nodded her head.

The boy who had asked the question walked very seriously back towards me, two other boys following him. He ignored me, stopping in the aisle to face a man sitting directly behind me, on the bench opposite the door. The other two boys took their places on either side of this great leader.

These young men were dressed as if coming from a special event, or from a private school: business casual shirts and pants with a belt, dark shoes and plain jackets. I was half expecting a pitch for Jehova's Witnesses. and half expecting trouble. I turned to watch.

The leader spoke. “Are you a stalker?”

The man glanced up, held the kid's stare for a second and went back to his newspaper. He was maybe 55 years old, thin and tall. His clothes could have come from the same Sears where the boys got theirs, but from the blue collar aisle instead of the white collar aisle.

“I'm talking to you. Were you stalking that girl?”

The man looked up, an inoffensive smile pasted on his face. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

The boy looked down the aisle at his other friends. “Is this the guy?” I counted two girls and two boys, all watching intently. One of the girls nodded.

“My friend says you were stalking her.”

The man continued to smile and hold the boy's glare. He shook his head and went back to the paper.

“Look at me. I'm talking to you.”

No response.

“Are you afraid?”

I was beginning to feel nervous. The boys were not quite full grown, but big enough together to hurt this guy – or me, for that matter. I thought that if they suddenly got physical, then I would jump in to break it up. I didn't speak up, obviously, because I was not the one in their sights and didn't want to get in line for a beating, if that was where this was headed. The kids up front were glancing around nervously, too. And what was up with the driver, who was silent?

The leader sat down. “I'm just gonna wait here until you get off. And then we'll settle this outside.”

He sat, smiling, while his henchboys continued to stand.

A few seconds later, one of the boys in front called back. “They want to get off.” He meant the girls. The leader immediately stood up and jabbed a finger at the man, “I'll see you again,” and as the bus stopped, he spit on him. He and the lieutenants got off the back, but before the door could close he turned and yelled (what else?) “Fuck you.”

Now the driver's voice came over the intercom. “Sir, are you all right? We are here to ensure that you have a safe and comfortable ride. Intimidation and threats and physical confrontation are not allowed on TriMet. Have you felt threatened at any time, sir?"

I turned around to the man. He still wore the bland smile, which was turned on me. He got up and talked with the driver. The driver asked him some questions. The man was saying, “No. . . I don't know. . . . I have no idea.” He came back to his seat, still smiling, strangely unaffected.

I said to him, “Those kids had you in their sights.”

He shrugged. “I didn't do anything,” as if that were a guarantee that everything would be okay.

I said, “Did you really have no idea what they were talking about?”


The driver made another short speech on behalf of TriMet about safety and comfort. He said none of us should ever hesitate to report a problem to the driver.

As I was getting off, I asked the driver if he was aware of the encounter while it was taking place. He said he was, but he couldn't do anything unless someone touched someone else or made an overt threat. I thought the body language was about as overt as could be and told him so. He said yes, he saw that.

He then said, “Some drivers are cowards and will do nothing in a situation like this. I was ready to stop the bus, and I have made a call to TriMet security.”

So, yeah, the driver probably did his job well enough, and the victim's neutral behavior may have kept things from escalating. But nothing has been resolved. If the man and the kids meet again, the threat will still be there.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Many posts here recount moments on TriMet that were dark, or at least twilit.  A few, however, glimmer happiness, or at least amusement.  The following is a repost of an entry from 2011.  It did not take place on TriMet or at a bus stop, but on a detour during the commute home -- close enough!

I hit the Hollywood Trader Joe’s at least once a week. T.J.’s has deals, like $2.99 for a bottle of drinkable wine or a can of organic beans for $.69. (My family is as organic as a benzene ring.) And the store is on the way home.

One dark, wet, cold evening, I was in my T.J.’s, loading up. Into the shopping cart went deals on two pounds of organic, fair trade coffee for about $12, a couple of chocolate bars for under $2 each, a bunch of (organic) bananas, and a few jars of (organic) tomato sauce.

The store, which is always either busy, or some level of busier than busy, was busier than usual. Carts were jammed in every aisle. Despite the usual friendly efficiency of the employees, eternity gained ground. Lines got snaky long.

At last, my turn came. The cashier rang up $22 and change. I slid my debit card. Tick tick tick -- the moment got snaky long.

“No, it’s not working. Please slide it again.”

I slid it. Tick tick tick.

“I’m sorry, it’s disapproved. Showing insufficient funds. You can try it again, as credit.”

Only midly surprised, I slid it again.

“No, sir. It’s not approving.”

All right. I probably sighed loudly. I asked the cashier if she would keep the bag of groceries at the checkout for a moment. She nodded and turned to the next customer.

I sat down on a kid-size bench kept near the front door. I pulled out my phone and tried to reach my wife to have her move some money over, which would take no time, problem solved. But she didn’t answer.

After a couple of tries, I looked up. A woman I didn’t know was standing there, smiling warmly and fanning some currency at me.

She said, “Here, let me take care of your groceries.”

“No,” I replied politely but with some force. “No thanks. You’re very kind, but I’ve got it handled. Thanks.”

She went away. I tried again to reach my wife, while entertaining resentful thoughts, like “I’ve got a job,” “I’m not at the end of my resources,” and “Do I look like I need a handout?” Again the electronic connection failed to materialize.

There was nothing to do but leave. I zipped up my jacket tooth by tooth, pulled my hat down and adjusted it, over the left ear, over the right ear, took my gloves from my jacket pockets one at a time. But the call did not come.

Then the cashier was coming at me. She had a bag of groceries, which she set down at my feet. I could see my tomato sauce and bananas.

I said, “Did that woman pay for these?”

“Yep. She said to pay it forward.'”

The angel was still at the checkout; I caught her at the door and thanked her.

“Enjoy,” she said pleasantly, without slowing down.

“Do you want to exchange names?” 

“No," she said over her shoulder, "just pay it forward.”


Thursday, March 14, 2013


Some days, much like walking down Dr. Seuss's Mulberry Street, there's nothing new under the TriMet fluorescents.  Today was like that.  On the morning commute, it was one "yet another" after another.

I took note of yet another:
  • foreign-born individual watching a news show on a phone in a language I didn't recognize.
  • woman dressed like she's going to a folk festival (electric blue and white sneakers, turquoise knee socks, a multi-colored peasant dress, pure white jacket and straw fedora.
  • teenager sucking down a 20 oz. Starbuck's -- maybe a mocha, judging from the whipped cream on his chin.
  • music fan bopping so hard to the sounds in his earbuds he takes up a seat-and-a-half.
  • woman well over six feet tall.
  • woman tweezing her eyebrows.*
  • rider looking at me as if I were an alien, ghost, zombie or long-lost twin.
  • rider I've seen whose blank demeanor never changes.  Today, for the first time, he seems to notice his surroundings. 

  And yet another picturesque crossing of the Steel Bridge -
  overcast, lights twinkling, shadows drifting in the river.
  • unfortunate smoker standing outside a building, looking every bit as cool as he hoped he'd look back when he tried his first cigarette.
  • week-old beard.
  • black jacket.
  • rider wearing a picture I.D.proudly hung around her neck like an Olympic medal.
  • old man holding a hand-carved staff topped by a (carved) owl, and wearing a bowling shirt.
  • 400-lb. individual overflowing from a wheelchair.
  • bike rider who could have bought a car for the amount of money that went into the bike, accessories and clothing.
  • guy from Intel (I.D. hung around his neck) playing on a laptop, apparently able to connect to the Internet in the middle of the Sunset tunnel (?)
  • woman doing her best to look like a teenage boy.
And finally, yet another blog post posted. 

* Rouge, eye shadow and lips followed.  She finished with a lip smack, a cosmetic kit clack and a mask of satisfaction.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Passing the Day Away

I ran into a friend on the morning 75 and we caught up for 10 minutes.  She’s working intermittently, as a project manager through a consulting company.  In both of her necks of the woods – software projects at large organizations and social justice work – money is tight.  But she's working today, and seemed optimistic.

She got off at Lloyd Center.  Miles went by and I suddenly noticed that we were on 5th Avenue – dang it, I got on the Green Line – and I had to get off to catch a Blue or Red Max at Pioneer Square.

Often, there’s an event going on at the Square; that morning it was quiet.  I was looking around at the big buildings and imagining the waves of human intelligence and labor that created a city:  those who were stunned, flung and crushed by Progress, those who swam confidently into the warm waters of the middle class or better, and the few stars who had surfed the American Dream, doing tricks and gaining glory as they went. 

Two men stood in front of the ticket machine, talking.  One was tall, bony and worn.  The other, small, plastered in Army camouflage, held a $5 bill in one hand.  He looked up at the tall man, and the way he extended his neck up and out to make eye contact reminded me of a pet turtle. 

Tall One was showing a TriMet day pass and saying “Five dollars.”  I could hear the rural accent immediately. 

He continued, “Help a homeless feller out.  Look, it’s the genuine article.” 

The Turtle took the day pass, looked it over and gave it back, saying, “I’m sorry, I just don’t know.  I’ve got to get to work and I can’t take any chances.” 

I tried to intervene.  It so happened I had a book of day passes with me.  I showed the Turtle.  
 “See.  Same thing.”  But he turned away and used the machine. 

Tall Guy looked around.  What could I do?  I had a five, which I exchanged for his day ticket. 

The Tall Guy was gone and ankling down the street so quick I had to check the gray market day pass against my genuine article for signs of counterfeit. 

But it was good.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Sometimes riders show up whose suffering is beyond what one should have to bear. For instance:

A garbled human exclamation pierces the train behind me, loud enough to make me jump.  A moment later, it happens again.  It is unhappy.  The sound repeats and repeats. It is like coughing and talking at the same time, and doing both badly.  I turn to see.  The vocalizations are coming from a person in a wheelchair.  I can only see the back of his balding head.  No one is acknowledging him.

Tourette's maybe?  Choking?

As the man continues in this way, I get up and walk to a seat past him from where I can see if he actually needs help.  He is wearing only light clothes, though the temperature is close to freezing.  The clothes are old and dirty.  He is shivering violently and coughing.  He is a portrait of misery.

There is a big sleeping bag on the seat behind him, which slips to the floor and alarms him.  He yells what sounds like "Please help me."

I jump up to put the bag back on the seat but a woman who is sitting closer to the man beats me to it.

At least, I think, he's not being ignored.  I sit and resume my role of secret gawker.

A minute later he's calling out.  "Otter!  Otter!"

Sitting between the man and me are a woman and two men who've been talking with one another and are also carrying sleeping bags. The woman turns to the man in the wheelchair and says "You need water?"

He shakes his head "Yes."  I have none.  There's some head shaking from a few other passengers. But the woman offers him her paper cup of coffee, which he takes.  "Thank you," he says distinctly, and he visibly relaxes.

His shivering lessens.  After a moment he says, pretty clearly, "Green Line?"

The woman says, "No, this is the Blue Line.  You'll have to get out and go back to the Rose Garden to catch the Green Line."

When he doesn't get out at the next stop, she reminds him that he's got to get off the train and go back the other way.

He nods and says, "Too cold." 

She says, "That's all right, baby, you'll get there."

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It was just before dawn on the Hollywood Transit Center Max platform. The daily commuter population had not yet exploded.  As usual, I walked to the far end, hopeful of easier seating at the front of the train.  I paced slowly a few steps back and forth like a caged cat, trying to feel a little more alive.  

Nearby, another human cat was marking territory.  He was more tiger than kitty.  His path completely encircled mine.  He was punching the air.  He was angry.  It was in the low forties, but he was dressed for playing tennis, in shorts, sneakers and a light hooded sweatshirt. He wore a gray ball cap. As we passed, he growled and spat out a flaming F-bomb:  "F***!"   Maybe he had lost a tough match.

I gave him room.  He was talking to himself, not to me, but I gave him room, because he was scaring me.  I watched him, without making eye contact, because eye contact with an angry predator is asking for a fight.  When I was a kid and got into fights, I was sometimes the angry predator reacting to eye contact.  But that was a lot of testosterone ago. 

He got on the train with me.  I curled up peacefully on a seat.  The other cat paced on, spitting an F-bomb every five to ten seconds.  He paced nearby, back and forth between car doors, muttering and punctuating the mutters with "F***."  Every person within earshot was watching him; no one was making eye contact.

After a few minutes he walked from between the doors down the car to where I could neither hear nor see him behind the gathering crowd.  A few minutes later he came back past me and took a spot between the next set of doors.

Something was pushing the man's buttons over and over and over.  I could not relax and read.  There was nothing to do but just wait for one of us to disembark.  Oh, I thought of asking him if he needed to talk to someone, offer to buy a cup of coffee, but I couldn't muster the courage. At my stop, the Sunset Transit Center, Tiger got off a few steps ahead of me. 

I put some space between us by waiting at the foot of the first set of stairs while he climbed them  I pulled my beanie over my ears and gloves onto my hands as he marched upwards, bare legs flexing.  They were lightly tanned, and I thought maybe he was angry with himself for not packing warm clothes for the trip from Paradise.

He went out of sight.  When I reached the top platform, Tiger was taking his first steps on the second stairway, the one that leads up to the bridge over Highway 26.  That's where I was going.

I followed him across the bridge, wary in case he smelled my fear.  At the intersection on the other side, he turned and marched in the direction I was going.  Was he headed for my office?  It was possible.  the business where I work has plenty of walk-in customers.

When he reached the short street that led to my work, to my relief he walked past.  I thought he was headed for the Sunset Strip, a strip club located in a former Denny's.  Then he turned, as if he might be coming around the block.  I walked slowly towards work, and could see that no, Tiger's destination was not the Sunset Strip, but the Rodeway Inn motel. And he disappeared into it.

A couple hours later I was taking a break outside the back of the building where I work. The area is surrounded by a six-foot wooden fence.   I was stretching and bouncing around.  Somebody said, "Getting some exercise?"

I looked up and a guy had come through the gate to stand nearby.  He looked a lot like Tiger, except he was dressed in warm clothes and a blue ball cap.  He walked over to the cigarette butt holder and went through it looking for good ones while we chatted. He was friendly.  Could it be Tiger? 

He asked me what I did in there, and when I said I was a business writer he said he wished he'd taken his father's advice and learned computers.

That's all I recall from our five minute conversation, because the whole time I was trying to figure out if he was Tiger.  Coming to get me because I'd seen too much.

Eventually he said, "Have a good day, I gotta go."

"Okay," I said, "Have a good day."

He mounted a bicycle he had left leaning against a dumpster and rolled away.

A co-worker told me, "Oh, yeah, that guy comes around all the time and scavenges cigarette butts."

Good set up for a scary movie, eh?

If this turns out to be my last blog post, you know which motel to check for clues.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


I swear, the nearly silent battleweariness that fills a Max train in the morning sometimes makes me wish Bob Hope would come back from the grave and do a set for the troops.

But there I was, and there we all were, not a spark of life in the whole car, except for one guy.  The situation was hopeless, the phenomenal sameness, the extraordinary absence of contact among riders.  Except for this one loose deuce.

It started as a loud conversation, which came as a welcome change from the status quo.

"Yeah, I love all those old rockers.  Jimi, the Doors, Ted Nugent, Metallica, Pearl Jam.  They're all good."  The voice was classic, an arresting blend of phlegm, gravel and testosterone.

"I got to rock, man.  I got to feel it.  All the time.  You know if I'm not shakin' I'm dead meat on the highway."

He had to be at least 50.  That was a lot of rockin' under the highway overpass. The guy wore a hard hat and orange flagger vest over blue-collar work clothes. The gleaming black patent leather shoes with the thin soles, however, were cut for show, not rockin' - or standing on rocks.  The metal cane in his hand, sampled from the same estate sale where he got the shoes, maybe, completed the impression he was testing some sartorial limits.

His acquaintance, a young man whom I took to be humoring the old guy, muttered something and handed over an earbud, which the old rocker placed expertly into the side of his head.  The party began.

Rocker cut loose, shouting lyrics and comments at a volume appropriate for a dive bar on Saturday night.

"Walk back, bitch!"

That turned some heads.

"Semper fi, do or die."

"What do you see in me?"

And then in James Brown style:  "Huh.  Huh.  Huh."  Moving like Brown, but sitting down.  The stuff he was spouting was all over the place, like a crazy mixtape.

He bopped in his seat for another minute, then handed the earbud back to his companion.

"That's badass."

The acquaintance muttered politely and disembarked. A middle aged woman dressed for work took the empty seat.  Rocker was still stoked.

"I'm stoked," he said.  "I can't help it.  I'm wired on tunes."

On her look, he said "I know I look like 100 miles of bad road, but my heart is pure."

The woman was making space between them.

"Yeah, I got leprosy.  I'm totally disgusting.  I can't help it.  I can't do no more.  Just thought I'd change up the station here in Pot-Land."

She left.

He tried to bum marijuana from a kid who totally looked like he never left home without it.  No luck.  This may have discouraged Rocker, because his bravado trailed off and within a couple stops his head was hanging on his chest, sound asleep.

Yeah, I liked the change of pace.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Sweet Life

He's young, with wild hair that starts out dark at the roots and has been bleached almost blonde -- by the sun, I'm pretty sure; the look is very much “California surfer.” He's sitting in a crowded bus next to an attentive young woman with a pretty face who is enjoying his company. A second young woman is with them, in the bench seat next to their knees. The women are hanging on the man's words.

He's talking about music – his own, I think. The woman sharing the seat says “What do you mean?”

He says, “That's your responsibility. I just use the words.” She beams as if complimented.

Suddenly I remember this type of jock from high school: the animal good looks, the attitude of humorous condescension, the desirous babes.

My mind drifts as their conversation continues. A moment later he says, again to the one next to him, “You know what you're really good at? Excuses.”

She says something I can't hear.

He says,“Excuse.”

She says something.


The women have a giggle about this.

This is my stop, ending the eavesdropping. But the high school feelings continue. I'm resenting this guy for having it so easy with the ladies, in spite of his being a jerk and them being dumb.

The best remedy for being outshone by a stud muffin back then was the knowledge that in a few years he'd be working in a gas station while I was having a career. This guy was maybe 25 – very young by my current standards but well out of high school. The women might have been a little younger. He's still playing high school games, wrapping them around his finger. And as for my career – oh, yeah, that didn't really happen, did it?