Tuesday, October 25, 2016


I was coming from a job interview that had gone well, I thought. The job title is “eCom Content Researcher.” If hired, I'll be turning database gibberish into nice bullet points for a product catalog. Pay is not much, but after a lengthy purgatory of unemployment, any job that doesn't include a free meal of saturated fat and salt with each shift sounds like heaven to me.

So I had a carefree bounce in my step as I strolled to the bus stop.

The interview had happened in an office in the Eastbank Commerce Center on Water Street. This big old industrial building was originally the Auto Freight Transport Building, and the central east side hub for freight shipping. Now it's full of “creative” businesses – ad agencies, fashion designers and tech startups. The celebrated clarklewis restaurant fronts the building.

Even while the area, inner Southeast Portland, booms, it remains home to many who do not share the wealth. On my walk I passed a dozen or more tents housing the unhoused, as well as doorway sleepers, shopping cart pushers and ghastly pedestrians sheathed in rags and filth.

Next to the streetcar/ bus stop at Grand Street and Stark, an emaciated pair of street ghouls stood guard. Based on their  predatory glances, I guessed them to be in the employ of Master Meth.

An old man sat alone in the shelter, a cluster of stuffed bags at his feet. He looked at me, with too much interest, I thought, but who knows. I turned away to see that the streetcar was in sight. When I glanced back at the shelter, the old man was lying on the ground.

His eyes were open and he seemed calm.

I asked, “Are you okay?”

“No,” he said. “I need help.”

“What kind of help?”


I did not have my phone. There was one other rider waiting at the stop, a woman whose phone had transfixed her.
I said, “Can you call 911 for an ambulance? This man is asking for help.”

She took a moment to come out of it. She looked at me, then looked the old man over and then, as the streetcar pulled up she said, “Why don't you ask the driver?”

The old man yelled. “Help! Help!”

I pointed the guy out to the TriMet driver. She took over like an expert. She got out of the cab, locking it behind her. She tried to talk with the old man, who repeated himself.

“Help! Help!”

I watched from a window seat as the driver handled the situation. She called in, then communicated to the old man that help was coming, and announced to the riders that she was required to stay until the paramedics showed up. She stood outside keeping an eye on the old guy.

He called out, “I can't see. I can't see.” The driver squatted, trying to talk with him.

Within five minutes a fire engine drove into the nearby side street, colored lights playing.

Then the man sat up.

He leaned back against the bench and said, “Sorry. I'm sorry.”

What the? Was he okay? Was he playing a game with us?

Suspicious twit that I am, I had to scrutinize him again. I saw that his eyes, which I thought had peered closely at me, now seemed unfocused and roaming. He was not so much sitting up as propped, like one of his bags, against the bench. No, he was not well.


Four sturdy responders walked up and took charge. One had a word with our driver, who then climbed back into the cab and drove us out of there.

Thank god for Trimet.

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