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I wear glasses . . . except I don’t actually wear my glasses. They fine tune my vision, but things within 10 feet are mostly clear without them, so I don’t wear them. What this means on the bus is that if I’m scanning to see if anyone I know is aboard, I have to focus for a second or two on each face, and that means I make a lot of eye contact. Being a friendly sort, this is fine with me, and usually, people I don’t know just glance back then we both look away.
When I hopped onto the #75 to get home last week, one woman who I didn’t recognize didn’t look away. Her stare was a little too strong, so I did. I passed by her, took the last seat before the back door, and when I looked toward the front again, she was still looking. I gave a half smile to acknowledge that I was aware of her stare. She did the same and looked away, and I avoided looking at her again. Something about the encounter was a little weird, and while weird isn’t a rarity on TriMet, I still prefer avoiding it whenever possible.
A few stops later, she dinged the bell and went to the back door to exit. A moment before stepping off the bus, she reached over my shoulder and dropped a business card onto my jacket and said, “This is for you.” I couldn’t see her, and she was gone in a moment, so I expected she had given me directions on how to save my soul from the sins she imagined I was committing. I flipped the card over to see what looked like a standard-issue pre-printed business card with this text:
Hello my name is Ellen*.
If you are not in a relationship, call me. We could go to a Starbucks for coffee.
I was bewildered by the approach for a couple of reasons:
- The boldness. As the adage says, “If you don’t step up to the plate, you’re never going to get a hit.” This woman was stepping to the plate. I imagined how she developed this approach: disillusioned by online dating, eager to have more control over her social life, she decided to be proactive with the men who caught her attention. Frankly, it seems like a bold and courageous method of meeting people. I confess, I have sometimes wanted to write a compliment on a piece of paper and give it to another rider as I exited, to praise their style or smile without the awkwardness of them wondering how soon I would ask about getting together. I would be gone, and in my imaginary version of these events, only the pure sentiment would remain with them on the bus. But I don’t do that, because I worry the awkwardness will remain with them, too.
The difference between my idea and hers is this . . .
- The industry. It was a printed business card, an item generally printed in boxes of 250. (With price breaks for larger quantities.) The card would have made a very different impression if it had been hand written, as if I had so captured her attention that she was compelled to make an overture, to scribble something on a card to ensure that she didn’t miss this unexpected opportunity. With a preprinted card, it felt akin to a woman stepping up to the plate and swinging the bat wildly, over and over, paying no attention to the velocity or location of the pitches. Enough swings and eventually, the bat and the ball will connect.
Of course, I don’t know what Ellen’s real motives are. Maybe she only has this impulse once or twice a year, but her arthritis prevents her from writing a legible note; maybe she’s self-conscious about a stutter and has a variety of cards printed for a variety of occasions when she’d like to speak up; or maybe she really does think I need to be saved from my life of sin but she recognized that literature would be insufficient and a personal intervention was necessary.
I suppose I never will know, because at risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t drink Starbucks.
* Not her real name
“The technology just wasn’t ready,” said Harry Saporta, TriMet’s safety and security executive. “There have been a lot of advances since then.”
When I initially saw this quote highlighted in one of the 137 TriMet stories Joe Rose is assigned by the Oregonian (new motto: “Enjoy your lighter recycling bin!”) I was severely disappointed to find out that it wasn’t about Magic Flying Sex Buses, something that you all know I’ve been anticipating for years. Nor was it about another transit necessity, industrial-grade odor neutralization.
That quote, it turns out, is about talking buses.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t crossed many streets downtown since TriMet started their Population Reduction Pilot Program. I’m even more frightened now that they’ve begun eliminating bikers and wildlife with what seems like a pretty damn capricious attitude. So, in that regard, anything that would enhance pedestrian safety is welcome. I shouldn’t complain, because I’m getting tired of eating in the company cafeteria and sleeping at work. But, geez. Taking a few years and giving us a bus that kind of apologizes sheepishly for making turn? Not good enough.
And, more importantly, do you think that someone whose name sounds like “Hairy Supporter” took any crap in 7th grade P.E. class? Yeah, me too.
TriMet has a few types of talking bus systems they’re going to test. They’re all BORING AS HELL. Audio only, audio-visual, audio-visual-tactile (quickly rejected as it involved touching a moving bus). I’ve done some thinking about all of this, so you don’t have to. Just sit there and behold the possibilities!
Vuvuzela Bus Alert System: With the World Cup still a year away, there is at this time a world surplus of those irritating fucking plastic horns that sound like a herd of sheep is being castrated en masse. Give one to each passenger, and have them blow them the entire time the bus is downtown. In 2010 I actually turned the sound down on my TV and could hear vuvuzela noise coming from South Africa. This will work, but there will be a sharp uptick in mental health-related insurance claims.
Cowcatcher Alert System: Screw the audio. A couple hundred bucks for Fred Hanson’s cousin to weld some locomotive-style cowcatchers onto the front grille, and you’re golden.
Neighborhood-related Alerts: Match the alert to the area. Duct-tape a giant, juicy steak onto buses traveling through inner southeast and most pedestrians will jump out of the way in horror. Pearl District buses get a makeover so they look like they’re wearing loose mom-jeans, causing pace-increasing consternation for both posh shoppers and predatory night-spot frat bros. You get the idea.
The list could go on forever. 400,000 bucks buys a lot of creativity in these parts. One thing remains clear, though – a Magic Flying Sex Bus will never, ever hit a pedestrian. Please keep that in mind, TriMet planners. Don’t let me down again.
The man waiting on the corner had no way of knowing that the young woman’s bus ride had been thoroughly exasperating. He would have understood her exuberant leap from the bus if he had known how she spent the entire ride from downtown wondering if the next stop was hers, or the next, unsure if she was even close, wishing someone on the #35 spoke Japanese. But he didn’t know, and that’s why he got the wrong idea.
Imagine seeing someone 600 times and not saying hello. 600 times, often sitting close enough to hand them a pen without either of you having to stand up, that close for 20 minutes as a time, and still never saying hello. Does that seem weird? It does to me. I have good friends in my life who I haven’t seen 600 times, and yet perm lady, headphones guy, the woman with the boots – we have never said hello.