Call It A Loan

It’s scary out there! At least, that’s what some people believe, especially when it comes to traveling on mass transit. A cursory glance at the headlines inspires terrifying thoughts of roving gangs of teenaged girls, threatening dudes with knives, rambling psychos at every stop. Those of us who spend hours each day on the bus and on the rails know differently – but the perception remains.

Any teenager, then, is regarded with suspicion. This being Portland, if you’re non-white AND teenaged you may as well be carrying a machete, fresh blood dripping from the gleaming blade. People are wary.

I was on the MAX the other day, rolling home from work, and the train was about half full. A small group of high school boys were in the same car, having some loud laughs as teenaged boys are known to do. Disclaimer: My house is packed to the rafters with teenaged boys. Hmm, that sounds bad. Not in a Jeffrey Dahmer way – they’re not stacked around the place like cordwood. More in a “holy shit, we’ve got a lot of teenaged kids” sort of way. Be that as it may, I’m pretty used to high school kids. The only thing I really fear about high school kids is having to buy their groceries. Trust me, that will make “Saw 3” look like the Wizard of Oz in comparison.

After a while, the high school kids dropped off, arriving at their stops until there were just a couple of them left. I was into my book, the music was cranking, and I wasn’t really paying any attention until one sidled up next to me and made the universal “could you take your headphones off?” motion, miming someone pulling out earbuds. I pulled out my earbuds. I could see that the guy across from me was very interested in what was going to happen next.

“Dude, can I borrow your phone?” asked the kid. The guy across from us leaned in. All he needed was a box of popcorn.

“Sure,” I said, and I handed over my phone. The spectator’s eyes widened. I could see that in his mind, he was preparing his 911 call, or maybe rehearsing what he’d say to the reporter. MORE VIOLENCE ON MAX. NEXT ON EYEWITNESS NEWS.

The kid took my phone, punched in some digits, and had what may have been the most charming conversation ever heard in public. “Mom, I just wanted to let you know I’ll be at Tyler’s house. I love you, mom. See you at about 8.”

The kid handed the phone back, and thanked me, and when the next stop came he disembarked with Tyler. The spectator said, “he asked me, too. I was afraid to give it to him – I know people get their phones stolen that way all the time.” I smiled, and said, “hey, you’ve got to trust people sometimes. Makes the world a nicer place.” I could feel the guy’s admiration from all the way across the train. I sat, basking in it, having my Ghandi moment, a helper of young people, a truster of humans.

I was really glad that the guy hadn’t seen my hand looped through the straps of the kid’s backpack. That would have spoiled the whole moment.

About Dr. Jeff

Dr. Jeff, in real life Dr. Jeff Guardalabene, is a Portland-area psychologist, who logs 300-plus miles on TriMet each week. He often live-tweets his commute to avoid intellectual stimulation. He lives with his wife and their five children and blogs about psychology issues at Follow @Doctor_Jeff on Twitter.
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5 Responses to Call It A Loan

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    I see a combination of factors, cheifly 1) with a city that’s 78% white, it makes London look multicultural (and let’s face it, that’s where white people are made), and 2) Portland’s never been a very safe city at all.

  2. Brock Dittus says:

    I have been that guy borrowing phones many times, almost always greeted with kindness and generosity. I speak for all on the receiving end of this generosity when I say “thank you!” it’s often the difference between my supervisor knowing I’ll be slightly late to work in bad weather or wondering where the hell I am and how I can be disciplined.

  3. Kate says:

    Haaaaaa. Best last paragraph ever.

    You’re awesome, JG.

  4. Phil says:

    Ok, let me preface this with: I got sick a LOT this winter. 3 different viruses from late November through February (culminating in the full blown FLU). I’m pretty sure that riding the bus and MAX have had something to do with it as last year I was safely working from home. Anyway, my biggest fear in lending my phone at this point is not that it’ll get stolen. My biggest fear of phone lending is… germs.

    I’ve not yet been asked to lend my phone, but my plan at this point is to say something like “sorry, but I’ve got (bubonic plague OR bird flu OR leprosy) and you definitely don’t want to borrow my phone and catch it.”

  5. Mary Mary says:


    Action is no less necessary than thought to the instinctive tendencies of the human frame.
    – Mahatma Gandhi

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