Shut Up And Sit Down

August 11, 2019 at 11:10 am (Cosmic Encounters, On the road again...)

I wrote this as a guest post on a fellow-blogger’s site. It was an honor to guest-pilot From The Driver’s Side. Thank you, Deke! Keep on rollin’…

Back when I was a teenager, pondering my future options, I’d contemplated becoming a bus driver.

I loved to drive, and was good with people. One little catch: I also loved the devil’s lettuce, my “girlfriend Maryjane.” Since government agencies frown on their drivers firing up before a shift, my career as a twenty-ton land-yacht captain would have to wait for more ‘normal’ times. We’re still waiting for that clear patch on the ol’ drug test.

In the meantime, I’ve been known to drive a cash register at a convenience store in the heart of beautiful downtown Portland. It’s a lot like driving a bus, people-wise. Babysitting, massaging bosses’ egos, etc. You have your nice ones, your sweet ones, your strange ones. And your scary ones. At least at my job I don’t have to drive them home.

But I do have to get to work, a 100-block journey I have not yet been forced to walk. Thanks to TriMet, I get delivered within a mile or so of my targets every day.

They used to call the bus-pass the Passport to Adventure. For me, it still is.

I’ve been taking TriMet since the mid-1970s, riding the #74 from Sandy, Oregon to Gresham, switching to the #44 Sherwood/Banfield Express, passing Lloyd Center and transferring to the #6 Union Avenue bus for a ride up the future MLK Blvd to Jantzen Beach, where a $1.25 double-feature awaited. I’d commute home in the evening, last bus out of Gresham left at 6:35; be there or be stranded. My parents trusted me. I’m surprised they trusted the outside world as much, but they let me venture forth. I learned a lot about the real world on those bus rides, and am grateful for the education.

One day, as I was being pressured to choose a career at the Youth Program where I was enrolled, my supervisor needed cigarettes, and pulled up to a Plaid Pantry in West Linn. NOW HIRING! I looked inside. The clerk was sitting on the counter, smoking a cigarette and talking to a girl in a bikini. “I can do that!” I’ve pretty much never looked back.

These days, my commute starts before school gets out, and finishes after midnight. I watch the Transit Tracker. Even though my house is three blocks from the bus stop, I must leave with six minutes on the tracker, or the bus will pass me. Even though I can walk the half-mile to the MAX stop in eight minutes, getting around the corner takes most of that time in TriMet’s universe.

I have three options for getting downtown and back, two bus lines and the MAX. Weekdays before 7 PM I can catch the bus three blocks from my house, otherwise it’s a walk under the freeway and over to the transit center where all the buses leave. They all arrive downtown within 35-38 minutes, dependent upon route and time of day. Do I want the pretty scenic view (MAX), the residential Portlandia-looking route, or good old Hawthorne, where everything is wacky?

We’ll do wacky on the way home. To the MAX!

I sit on the fire plug across the street from the bus stop, watching for the bus. On Transit Tracker, six minutes meant six minutes, and I see the headlights off in the distance. I cross the street, and wave my pass at the driver. I am always polite, give a nod. I understand if you don’t want to talk. Sometimes there aren’t enough words in the day. I still acknowledge. Usually I ride all the way to town, but this day he drops me at the stop by the freeway, down the hill from MAX. Past the homeless camps, making sure to walk against traffic, (flying bicycles) I reach the top, tap the Hop card and choose the end of the platform that matches the old-fashioned MAX tall-car. I have to climb stairs, but the view!

The MAX has an eclectic mixture. A woman applies makeup. A couple high-schoolers hit on a vape pen, pretending no one will notice. (No one but me does.) A special-needs kid calls a homeless woman a monster, leading to loud crying and awkward learning moments for all involved.

I stare out the window, opting out of music. I once heard a bus driver say, “Silence is the one music we can all agree on.” There was a time when I needed a soundtrack to my life, but I have come to appreciate the sound of nothing. I decompress, and we are all the better for it.

But when the silence lacks, and I feel like I’m on a date with elderly Juggalos, I will tune out the world. I have an MP3 player the size of a Zippo lighter that holds 120 CDs with everything from Slayer for the rough nights, to Isaac Hayes for when I want to fall in love. The complete collections of Tool, Slipknot and Steely Dan. (I have nodded out to Aja more than once, and woke near home to Deacon Blues.)

Most of the time, though, I enjoy the live theater-on-wheels, groovin’ to the music in my head.

* * *

Past midnight, after twelve hours on my feet, I just want the day to be over. I work in the center of downtown, the buses to my neighborhood run on the south end. I have a minimum of eight blocks to the bus stop, with three options. None of the buses turn down the mall, so I have to hustle up the hill. I used to relish the exercise, but now I resent it. The older I get, the farther they make me walk! I remember when buses stopped every other block, by cracky!

The Tigard bus driver has shown pity on me. He’s seen me busting ass up the mall, and will sit for a second and wait to give me a lift. It’s one stop. (Eight blocks in seven minute walk for me.) The man is a God. The Hawthorne driver also is a buddy. He’s sat until the last possible second to keep me from being stuck downtown for another half-hour with the lovely folks I’ve been babysitting all day. I serve those drivers steaming heaps of praise.

Instead of collapsing at the finish, I meander up to the bus stop, after a couple puffs of attitude adjustment. (The Hawthorne bus doesn’t really always smell like weed; only when me and Hassan are riding.) The usuals are milling about, and the wait is rarely long. Using my honored citizen card like a club, (ladies first, tho) I snag a seat in the far back, where the windows open and the scary people sit. (You know, those guys that smell like weed…)

I love my fellow commuters, but I’ve just spent ten hours being nice to strangers, and I am tired of talking about the weather. I’m coming down from the rush of work, and tell people, “It’s the half-hour commute that keeps me from going home and kicking the dog.” I know how annoyed I get when there’s one loud couple on the bus; I don’t want some drunk eliciting my life story for every passenger to force-memorize.

If we must talk, we do so quietly. Sit over here, and keep your goddamn voice down.

There’s Buttcrack Bentley, a quirky fellow who looks like the Jefferson’s neighbor. His trousers are worn hip-hop style, though unintentional. And the gal from the burger joint, whose schedule is a carbon copy of mine. (Almost every commute, both ways. Portland weird.) There’s Bluto, the old closeted redneck who hates rap. He once threatened a black kid’s radio, and got shouted off the bus. Welcome to Portland.

There are some I would like to get to know. The Latina who appears to be between 25-40 but is probably 50, and got stuck sitting in the back with us. She smells nice, and even waved at me when she got off the bus. I’m officially twitterpated! But because we all have to ride this bus, I will always be a gentleman. My commute is traditionally a quiet, safe one. It should be like that for everyone. I’m not going to creep the nice ladies out by bothering them.

I used to know, I mean really know, the drivers. Currently there are several I know by sight, but not by name. That will change if they last. Every three months there’s a new batch, as the driver’s schedules change. The long-timers treat me well, and the newbies learn to. (Although I swear there’s a conspiracy where on the last two weeks of every sign-up the drivers get even by being one minute early, leaving just as you hit the back bumper, etc. By the time your complaint is filed, they’re on a different run. Is that why drivers take vacation days during the first part of sign-ups?) Snopes please…

Half my Facebook friends are former bus drivers. A small sampling:

The Rampant Lion, who drove the “Loove Buus” from Northwest Portland. He’s still around, complete with sultry-voiced announcements.

I could text Biggdaddy or Blythers and say, “I’m late, go!” or “I’m one block away.” Although I’d never stop to text if I was one block away. Time is of the essence when there are only two more buses at that point of the night.

Cici was like everyone’s mom, yelling to “get on the floor!” when gunfire erupted at the door-line of Copper Penny.

There was David Crosby, who smelled slightly of patchouli and took his time, yet ended up on schedule anyway.

And Dan Booker, who would tell jailbirds looking for a free ride, “Telling me you just got out of jail lets me know one thing. You are an unsuccessful criminal. Come back when you can pay like a respectable citizen.”

They’ve all retired. I guess I’d be as well, had I gone the bus driver route.

Nah, they’d have fired me for smoking weed…

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