Monday, March 23, 2015

The White Dress

The White Dress from inside looking towards The Real Mother Goose

I was waiting at Stop 8333, for the Max traveling east. This is the next stop on the suburban side of Pioneer Square in front of The Real Mother Goose. It was about 9:30 on a Tuesday evening. No longer early, not yet late, the street lights seemed harsh, other waiting riders were still, barely breathing, shapeless, anonymous, like heaps of rags dipped in a mud bath. Probably just my mood.

I watched a young woman adjust a wedding dress. 

The White Dress is a bridal shop directly on the other side of the tracks from Stop 8333. In the window are two mannikins in pure white wedding gowns: lacy, layered chiffon and satin.  Behind the mannikins, the room is large. A row of dresses, all white, hangs along either side, creating a corridor, or maybe a walk-in closet fit for the cast of an opera. Every corner of the store shines white except the dark, gleaming, wood floor. Two chandeliers cast a soft, searching light from above, but much of the glow seems to emanate from unseen sources. 

The display artist wore a brown jacket over a forest green shirt, with black tights. Her hair was a popular shade of red -- burnt ochre, maybe. Serenely, she adjusted a dress. She was behind the "bride," maybe pinning together a fold to pull the gown snug. The whole magisterial work of art moved an inch. 

The woman then came around the front of the mannikin and made miniscule adjustments to the shoulders. She smoothed the front, and as her hand traveled, she looked over at me suddenly, as if she'd been watching me watch her. She looked boldly, holding my glance for about three seconds. The thought occurred to me to look away but no, I gazed back at her. 

She broke the eye contact and stepped back from the bride, assessing. She then turned directly away from the window and crouched to shape the bottom edge of the gown. Seconds later, in one move she stood and turned to face me. A different look on her face. Caught, embarrassed, I turned away. 

I suddenly remembered that my daughter has accused me of dressing "like a hobo." Though I had been imagining myself a charming bystander, silently admiring the artist at work, I now realized that she may have been thinking of me differently than I was. 

After a moment I glanced over and she was still working, partially behind the second mannikin, facing out in my direction. Fussing with the hair. I turned my head away so my attention seemed to be elsewhere, but I was cutting my eyes her way. I saw her checking on me and so turned away and walked a few steps. 

The Max pulled up between us. I took a seat on the near bench. As the train moved, she had come around the mannikin to stand looking out the window. We shared a final second of eye contact.

Ruminating on the woman in The White Dress, I thought of my wife. In a few months we'll have a 20 year anniversary. That is a chunk of a life, almost a third of mine. I feel lucky. The chunk has been more difficult at times than I would have liked, less prosperous, with less wisdom gained (on my part) than I might have liked But I declare the chunk to have been good, with many good laughs and a loving, talented daughter. All the credit goes to my wife, who actually knows a few things about marriage. 

And though a wedding day belongs, above all, to the Woman in the White Dress, the trip that follows is shared, like a Max ride at night.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Virtuous Fare Inspector

My favorite fare inspector boarded the westbound Blue Line at the Rose Garden.

He once let me go when I had boarded without a fare because I was clearly under the influence of pain medication. I boarded in front of Kaiser Interstate, arm wrapped in a bandage, and my man was right there. He escorted me off before the doors closed, ticket book and pen ready.

When I explained that I was "out of it," he said "I can give a certain number of breaks to riders each day. Today you're one of my chosen people."

So I like the guy because he was merciful.

This more recent day was a different story. The fare inspector and his partner got on, one at each door of the car. His buddy was at the other end, behind me. My friend started in my row. At the next stop, Chinatown, a bicyclist tried to drag his mechanical up the middle stairway. The inspector was there and said, "You have to board by the back door, near the bike hooks."

The bicyclist said, "Are you gonna hold the door for me?"

Not "Would you mind holding the door for me?" but "Are you gonna..."

The fare guy said "No. If the door closes, push the button."

The biker went to the back door and hoisted his supercool road bike up into the Max. The inspector was working his way back there.  "Fare please.  Thank you.  May I see your fare?  Thank you."

A shlumpy lump of anonymity swaddled in a giant hoodie had no fare. The inspector began to write him up. He was straight across the aisle from the bicyclist.

The bicyclist I could then see in all of his glory.  He looked like an advertisement for a high end bike shop. Tall, lean but with broad shoulders and a magazine smile, golden hair curling out from under his helmet. He wore all the beautiful gear -- the moisture wicking shirt in bold colors, the matching pants showing off the rippling thigh muscles, hi-tech shoes -- the works. He slid a phone out of his backpack and flicked it.

"Hey," he said, waving the phone at the inspector. The inspector glanced over, peered at the phone and said "That's no good."

"Excuse me?"

"I'll be with you in a second." He turned back to the shlumpy rider.

The attitude coming off the bicyclist as he waited wafted back to me. He was nursing a little grin that said he intended to master the situation.

The inspector handed out a ticket, said a few words to the shlumpy fellow and turned to the biker, who again showed him the phone.

"I can see you've got the app but you haven't paid the fare for this ride."

"I'm paying the fare right now." He swiped and showed the screen. "I was waiting for you."

"You're required to pay the fare before you get on."

"I was a little preoccupied.  You interrupted my attempt to board."

The inspector leafed to the next citation on his pad. "Can I see some I.D.?"

The biker whipped out an I.D. and followed up by showing the phone again.  "See, same name as on the phone."

The inspector took note of the name and called in to find out if the subject's name was already in Trimet's database.

"Look," the biker said, continuing to wave the magical phone like a Bible in front of a werewolf. "Look, I buy a bus ticket every day. There's the record."

In a clear and empathetic tone the inspector said "I believe you. But the rule is you need to pay the fare before you get on the train."

He handed the biker a ticket and explained, among other things, that the fine was $175, but if the biker went to court the judge could discount it. "Any questions?"

The litttle smile, which had gone away, appeared again on the biker's face. "How do you live with yourself?"

"It's dealing with good people like yourself that makes my job worthwhile."  And the inspector moved along.

So I also like the fare inspector because he's fair. Handing out mercy and justice, what a great guy. Made my day.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Whine and the Crash

Riding east on Barnes Road on the 20 Burnside in December just after dark, I'm nervous. Barnes is snaking down a hill and the the bus is picking up speed on the wet pavement as the driver makes it whine. The bus feels too big for the lane. Bursts of commuters zip by to the left, an arm's length away. I try put it out of my head, the crash. It's silly to think about a bad moment that will probably never come. Whether we hit a car or a tree it would be bad, yet at no more than 35 or 40 miles an hour and the driver taking some evasive action, the trauma should be survivable. And the crash will transform my life in a way that I can't spin as actually good. Pain, blood, broken bones or deep lacerations, shock, lying out on the miserable freezing asphalt in muck and gravel waiting for an ambulance. These stupid thoughts keep pushing into the foreground.

The nightly commute down Barnes is loaded with these uneasy thoughts. My heart rate climbs. To keep the old ticker in check, I read. I write. I breathe deeply. I remember the odds are with me. The heartbeat plateaus at a wakeful pace.

Not long ago, I had an accident on this very line. I boarded in front of my building across the street from Providence St. Vincent and left the emergency room behind. The 20 bus is usually pretty empty at this point, but that night it was pretty full. I saw that one of the cozy corner seats in the very back was vacant, and headed there.

As you may know, some of the newer buses have two levels, with a couple of steps leading up to the back mezzanine. This was one of those. As I stepped up, the bus surged forward, i.e., opposite the direction I was walking, executing a perfect judo throw on me. I reached ahead to catch myself and the extended thumb of my reaching right hand, bearing most of my weight, caught on a vertical support pole and bent backwards, hard. This saved my face from floor damage. But it really hurt. I yelled something and went to my knees.

Several people asked if I was all right, including the driver, who asked more than once. I got up and walked to the seat in the back corner saying, "I'm okay." several times.

I curled over in the seat, trying inch by inch to accept and deal with the pain. The driver asked again and again I lied. "It hurts but I'm okay."

I was pouring sweat. For such a short fall, the pain was shockingly bad. It was worse than the cat bite last year, worse than the knee in the groin in eighth grade, worse than the broken nose from a Tae Kwon Do kick that ended my quest for a black belt. God, I hope it doesn't hurt like this when I die.

For the next half hour, until disembarking at Cesar Chavez, I gently, gently manipulated the thumb, deciding whether to skip the hospital. The digit would move through about a quarter of its range, with an unpredictable stab, stab, stab, like a toothache. I could close the hand half way. A bruise, which had discolored the hand, stopped spreading. So did the swelling. 

The thought of home was soothing, the thought of an emergency room sad, so I went home.

I lived. The injury was slow to heal but it did. Advil at bedtime helped. Now, months later, it's just a story without a middle.