Saturday, September 20, 2008

One Year of Riding the Bus

Just about 1 year ago, Nancy and I moved to Portland and I started taking the bus to work. This seems like a good time to reflect on a year of the 9 Broadway and the 8 NE 15--the two buses that haul me to and from downtown Portland. All Aboard!

September--I rode sporadically through the summer and September while we were making the move to Portland. The stop is 5 blocks from the Little House in the Big City, just down Highland to Concordia University. In the early morning--I catch the 9 at 6:51--no other commuters frequent this stop. The occasional exerciser or dog walker passes, and cars are starting to roll into Concordia. But mostly it's a quiet time.

October--I become a real commuter, taking the bus every day that I'm not traveling. I haven't been paying attention to the schedule so I often arrive at the stop 15 minutes early, or just a minute late. Not a problem to start, but by late in the month, it's dark in the morning, the rains are starting. I've got to start planning my departure.

November--My least favorite month in Oregon. Darkness is upon the land. Rains and wind mock me as I try to stay dry, huddled under my umbrella. The reward is my choice of seats since I board early in the route. In the afternoon, still paying no attention to the schedule, and maintaining my brand loyalty--I watch 8 NE 15th to Jubitz, a frequent service bus, roll by, bus after bus, while I wait in the rain for my 9 Broadway to NE 27th and Saratoga--I crowd on and stand through the Fareless Square until the crowd thins out. Thanksgiving is approaching and the holiday season brings a change in the humor of the riders--a change for the happier.

December--It's raining and blowing. It's dark. I see the 9 Broadway to Portland coming down NE 27th. It zooms by me--WHAT?! It leaves me there, standing in the dark, wind, rain, and cold, unseen by the driver. Abandoned. Harumph. I retaliate in the afternoon by stepping on to the 8 NE 15th to Jubitz--what is Jubitz, anyway?--leave me once and you lose my loyalty. New faces, new stops, new...smell? This bus, or someone on it, smells of urine. I'm on the Pee Bus! Oh 9 Broadway, will you take me back? I promise to be more visible on the corner.

Christmas is coming, and while I don't see any fattened geese, I do see lots and lots of people hauling their holiday shopping prizes. I also learn that buses that leave Portland after 5 PM are much more crowded, and traffic is worse. I begin to plan my schedule.

January--It's getting lighter--almost inperceptible, but wait, I can see more as 9 Broadway to Portland crosses the Broadway bridge. It helps to see small changes in daylength--we've left the winter solstice behind and are sailing towards the vernal equinox--when you go by the same place at the same time every day. Every morning I look out the windows to watch ships from faraway places taking on loads of grain at docks below the bridge. In the afternoon, the Empire Builder is just easing out of the station, headed for White Salmon, Pasco, Whitefish, Cut Bank, Havre, Minot, Detroit Lakes, and on into Chicago.

February--We bought a house and I say farewell to my old bus stop and move 2 stops closer to work. About 45 seconds less commute, but oh what a difference! I've got a shelter. And an Oregonian box. And other riders at my stop. But the other riders don't say much--it's pretty quiet. I start saying good morning to everyone. One by one, they start to acknowledge...One afternoon, a new operator got confused. He didn't know the 9 Broadway to NE 27th and Saratoga via Union Station route. People were calling out instructions. He made a wrong turn, then made a K-turn on Broadway by the Post Office (where the 9 Broadway to Portland changes to the 9 Powell to Gresham TC). By the time we got across the bridge, he was being told, by radio, to pull over. Another 9 Broadway to NE 27th and Saratoga passed us and pulled over. We all had to leave the first bus and get on the second one. Our operator was grounded, then and there.

March--The anthropology of bus travel is fascinating. In the morning, people have their preferred seats--mine is the first forward facing seat on the left side of the bus. One of my stop-mates prefers the first seat behind the back door on the right. Lacrosse Stick Girl takes the first forward facing on the right. I call her that because she carries a lacrosse stick. There are a group of girls who ride 9 Broadway to Portland. They attend a private school in the city. There's Tillamook Girl, Brazee Girl, Thompson Girls, and Broadway Girl. The Street Girls (but not in that way). It takes me a while to begin to understand the relationships. Lacrosse and Thompson #1 are friends, but not as close as Thompson #1 and #2. If #2 isn't there, #1 will sit with Lacrosse, but only if Brazee isn't aboard because Lacrosse saves a seat for Brazee. Broadway Girl sits in a front seat facing the center of the bus, where "Honored Citizens" (old people and the disabled) have priority. Last Street Girl (but not in that way) on, she looks to see if there is some unpaired Street Girl (but not in that way) she might sit with. Usually not, but one day when Brazee and Thompson #1 aren't there, Lacrosse gives her a subtle nod, her face lights up, and instead of being crammed between people in the "Honored Citizen" seats, she slides into the now-vacant space next to Lacrosse.

April--In February, Andy started a shift as the operator on the 9 Broadway to Portland. He's a friendly guy and welcomes everyone as he opens the door. "There you are!" "Come on aboard" "Welcome--great day, eh?" He and I chat in the morning. He seems to be some sort of senior operator as he often is training a new driver--"Don't get to close to them" "Watch the tree branches at this stop" "You're on the pedal too much" I never learned his last name--too bad as I should nominate him for Operator of the Year. Nancy and I leave for Venezia where I now find myself captivated by the vaporetti and watch the people and the operators there. I guess I'm an amateur mass transit anthropologist!

May--After 3 weeks in Venezia, I return to the 9 Broadway. Andy wants the run down on the trip as he is about to leave for two weeks of vacation. The ebb and flow of the Street Girls (but not in that way) continues and everyone is happy to see the spring. One of my stop-mates, Bearded Garden Man, and I begin to talk gardening. Never in too much detail, and never more than a few sentences each morning. He seems a man of few words.

June--Andy never comes back after vacation. I assume he was just rotated off to some other assignment--there are a lot of bus routes--but maybe he gave up 9 Broadway to Portland and stayed in Mexico, still basking on the beach, having had it with starting a route at 4:30 every morning...School ends and the Street Girls (but not in that way) are gone. Gas prices are through the roof and ridership has about doubled since March. Some mornings someone else is in my seat! Harumph.

July--The weather turns nice, finally, and more and more bikes show up to be carried on 9 Broadway to NE 27th and Saratoga and 8 NE 15th to Jubitz. What is Jubitz? The buses are air conditioned so it's usually a pleasant ride. There's a lot of construction for the MAX, so the 8 NE 15th to Jubitz is rerouted over the Broadway Bridge and round and about to Lloyd Center. I avoid it unless I'm really anxious to get home as it takes longer and in the heat, it really smells of pee!

August--One day on the way home, the operator yells "Close the window--the air conditioning is on." "Close it or I'll turn the air conditioning off". She turns it off. punishing us all for the actions of one. It was the pee bus. It was really hot. And pee-ey. I got off at Alberta and walked in the heat.

Back to September--School starts and the Street Girls (but not in that way) are back. There seems to be a sliding time scale of when they return with Broadway Girl first and Lacrosse Stick last. In the interim, both Thompson #1 and Broadway choose, some days, to sit next to me. I tell Nancy that they feel safe next to their grandfather. Bearded Garden Man and I talk about tomatoes and whether they will ripen. The Pink Woman, a strange relatively young woman who wears outlandish get-ups and boards each morning at 3rd and Alder carrying a cup of some sort of coffee drink (I'm guessing mocha latte) and will demand a seat in the "Honored Citizen" area even though she seems normally-abled, is a constant. There's a guy, I'm guessing my age or a bit older, dressed in a kilt, a tam with a pheasant feather, and orange safety vest who salutes our bus every morning on Everett as he leans against the corner building, drinks his coffee, and passes the time with passers-by. Andy is still basking in Mexico (at least in my mind).

Jubitz is a truckstop.

I wonder what people call me in their minds...

There you have it, one year of riding the bus. I like it. It's a good way to commute. I read and listen to podcasts and watch people. It's saved me at least $2,500 in parking and gas. It's saved Portland something like 1000 pounds of CO2 equivalent. And I've learned how to watch people.


Ronna said...

Loved being aboard for your year of bussing it.

griffiskc said...

Loved the story, thanks.