Proximity

Everyone sees the world differently, I get that. Even you, sitting in the very next bus seat, so close that we couldn’t slip a bus ticket between our shoulders, you seem to have a completely different vantage point than I do. I sense this different perspective because the whole right side of this bus is now empty, yet you haven’t budged.

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Observations on the Behavior of Homo Sapiens when Trains Come in Pairs

Story contributed by Roland Couture.

Occasionally MAX trains in rush hour arrive in pairs about 2-3 minutes apart. The first train in any such pair will always carry most of the passengers — it’ll be a miserably full train with standing room only, where you’ll jostle about for the duration of the ride, jam-packed between members of “the public,” who may be variously fragrant.

Meanwhile the second train will be almost empty, with plenty of seats and room to stretch out. Waitresses come around with drinks and snacks, and there are big plush couches and shelves full of interesting reading material.

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Is This Normal?

I saw the woman scanning the seats on the #75 as she boarded. It was 6:35pm on a weekday, the bus crowded with commuters and high schoolers, so if she was seeking an empty row, all she found was disappointment. As she settled into the seat next to mine, I said, “Good afternoon.”

This seemed to amuse her. She looked around at the darkness surrounding the bus and said, “I think it might be evening.”

It seemed an unnecessary clarification among strangers on the bus, so I shrugged. “I guess I’m trying to draw out the day.”

As she sorted through a few items in her purse, she said, “I’m glad to be sitting next to someone normal.” She paused, then added, “at least you look normal.”

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The 5% Nation of Bus Talkers

When someone sits next to me on TriMet, I prefer to greet them. It seems like a reasonable overture considering we’re about to spend 20 to 30 minutes with our shoulders or thighs in continual contact. 95% of the time, the interaction stops at hello, but the other 5% have led to many enjoyable and unexpected conversations. Only a handful of times in 20 years of riding have I regretted my greeting.

Of course, my motives for saying hello are the very same reason some people don’t: bus-seat proximity imposes an intimacy that they don’t want to deepen with words. They look at that 5% chance of an interesting conversation and refuse to gamble on the odds. I understand that attitude, but it’s just not how I ride.

Last night on the #4, when the burly, slightly scraggly man carrying a half-pint of liquor in a paper bag settled into the seat beside me, I had the distinct impression that the no-hello crowd was about to have an “I told you so” moment. Half-pints seem like a subsistence-level alcohol purchase, and I braced for an inquiry into my spare-change status. None the less, I said, “Good day.”

“What did you say? Good day?” His tone indicated surprise, not confrontation. “Where you from?”

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Happy Birthday MAX – 30 Years Young!

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