“Hellloooo, people. We’re stopped indefinitely. There are signal problems at Gateway and trains are backed up all the way to Orenco.”
Great. We’re stuck at the Sunset Transit Center with seven miles of Max cars stopped ahead of us. As the driver suggests over the P.A., “You may want to take the 20 bus into downtown,” I’m already trotting down the platform.
About half the trainload is right with me. The 20 Burnside to Gresham arrives like a prompt ambulance and we cram into it.
I’ve got an aisle seat and I’m bobbing and weaving as the backpacks and shoulder bags and elbows push past. As we pull away from the stop, the driver announces,“If you’re going to Beaverton, you’re on the wrong bus.” Comedian.
Once we’re well underway, he comes on with “Welcome to the real public transportation. Those of you who are riding a bus for the first time will notice that we sometimes make right and left turns. This is a skill Max drivers are not required to have.”
This gets some laughs and cuts the tension.
The driver notes the heavy traffic and estimates that downtown is at least a half hour away. Soon, we’re crawling at about 10 MPH.
A young woman standing next to me says, “This is bullshit.”
She’s talking to a young man who points to the woods lining the highway and says, “We should get off and find a place.”
She lets her body continue the conversation, pressing herself against him until he takes her face in both hands and kisses her for a long time. Geez, why don’t they just slide the key pieces of clothing a few inches off home base and do it?
Eventually, they unclench and gaze out the window, not touching, silent as strangers. Stud Muffin wears a modified basketball uniform: long black and white silk shorts, gray cotton singlet, chrome shades, a dragon tattoo on his upper arm. He discreetly adjusts the pants, which have somehow become too tight.
If he’s on the varsity, then she’s a cheerleader with a full arm tattoo and extra thick blue eye makeup.
Again, he points at a shady grove. “There’s a place we could smoke and fornicate.” He and his girlfriend trade little secret smiles, as if he had gently whispered into her ear instead of loudly and clearly enough to elicit a physical reaction from half the bus.
A ringtone: it’s hip-hop, all ego and beats. I, of course, have no idea who the artist is, but he really puts it out there.
The kid answers. On the short call, he’s mainly listening. He clicks off and the girl says, “Well?”
“My mom. I got a warrant or some shit.”
“What did you do now?”
“It’s old. I owe $135 for court fees.”
As we near downtown, passengers get off and on. A woman in bicycle togs, glittering with sweat, takes the seat in front of me. A faint sweet and sour odor wafts from her.
The girl says, in a fake whisper, “Ew. Smell that B.O.?”
Her partner says, “Glad that’s not me. Then everybody’d know I’d been having sex for three hours.”
Outside, the traffic remains heavy, though moving faster now. A car slowly passes; a pair of bare feet sticking out the passenger window, nails painted silver.
The kid says,“Hide them shits. Them’s claws.” The homecoming couple bust out laughing about this.
They get off at the next stop.
© Nick O’Connor: If you had been commuting an hour each way every weekday between Northeast Portland and the Sunset Transit Center at the border of Portland and Beaverton for two years and occasionally woke up, dislodged an earbud, or spoke to a fellow rider, you would have a few stories to tell, too. Nick blogs at Sardines Are Only Packed Once (where this story originally appeared).