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.