In Tanasbourne: Swan Song of the 89 Community

I got on line 89 at 11:00 with my trusty partner in crime Adri. It was destined for the Bronson corridor, which was going to be hitched to the remarkably infrequent service of line 47, a far cry from what it had. The more and more I see those glorifying “Go Anywhere” ads that make the same tickets as before sound even better now that they’re forty cents more, I can’t help but feel that giving worse service and calling it better is The TriMet Way.

To our surprise (or mine at least, Adri adopted her usual “eh, that’s what TriMet does,” an attitude cultivated from exhaustion of countless protests) there were already ten people lining the sparse seats of the twenty-year-old thirty-foot bus that will hopefully retire before I do. The bright side about older buses is that there’s less space between the front seat and the window with the tire out of the way. I always leap for the front right seat and gaze out the window, especially in places I haven’t been.

I didn’t expect for the bus driver, an older-but-not-ancient driver with an exhausted but bright aura, to politely motion me out of that seat. I’m usually territorial with this seat but I wanted to be on my best behavior today, so I moved. I didn’t understand why until a rider, a middle-aged, larger man if I recall correctly, came up the stairs and took the seat I was in (right next to a pile of reusable Safeway bags- my powers of observation are still as spotty as ever), already warmly chatting the driver up. Almost immediately I learn that the driver’s name is Ken. It’s not the last time I hear it used.

By the time the bus takes off there are already eighteen people on it. I immediately go into typical aspie-style investigation mode – how many riders are on currently? How many will stick around until Bronson? How many will get off before on Cornell or after the loop turns around at Evergreen? As I count the riders that get off and the ones that get on along the route, putting them into different mental calculations, I pay some attention to the conversations going on but not enough to remember any of it. It’s clear to see that these two know each other as well as any friends would. As I’ve found many times, driver/rider relationships like that are one of the best things you can get out of riding the bus.

Other conversation continues as we uneventfully run along Barnes, up Cedar Hills and down Cornell. I’m keeping track of the people, Adri quietly yet intently observes the riders and her surroundings. She was the one who insisted we ride the 89 (and made sure I wouldn’t ride it without her) so I’m not surprised. We got to know each other by being the only people we knew that could gather hours of fascination just by riding the bus and observing the patrons (this was hour four in an eleven hour bus ride marathon I’d rack up in my personal record-books).

The man with the Safeway bags gets off, unsurprisingly, at Safeway at Cornell and Murray. He promises to meet the driver on the way back to Sunset. Almost immediately I leap into the sacred seat, perhaps too eagerly. Adri stays across from me where she was, and from time to time my attention drifts to her, trying to read her thoughts from her expressions. It’s not easy to do, but I try.

We drive off into the Oak Hills loop, a segment that will soon enough belong to line 47 and its spotty, unreliable service that TriMet guarantees will be better than the reliable ol’ (if not confusing ol’) 89. Immediately my activist righteous indignation kicks in and I begin to Twitter my observations (in between debating the Youth Bus Pass with a few Twitter colleagues, which include but are not limited to insatiable 94x riders, bronies from the PSU area, and a certain famous driver going through his I’m-retired-so-I-get-to-say-fuck-TriMet-all-I-want phase which is long overdue.) I notice Adri looking in vain for stops with the old 89 number on them, but alas, all the stops in the area are already reserved for the 47.

Oak Hills Drive is unnervingly narrow, as it is a common suburban street. These streets always grab my attention with the increased offchance of hitting parked cars or roving pedestrians. Soon enough, we make it through as boringly as ever; not that I was hoping for a crash or anything.

It’s not until we hit Bronson and 167th that things get interesting. Four finely dressed young adults board the bus, and the ringleader politely tries to figure out what to pay. Ken animatedly explains that today is the last day of the old fare model, and no he doesn’t have to pay two fifty today. That stops the man just before he slips in a few more dimes to chase the one he already put in there. They chat for a little while longer about how the new fare will works, and soon enough the crew makes its way to the back of the bus. When they’re gone, a conversation between a lady whom I never quite fully see and the driver about the rising fare costs commences. I mentally begin to take notes, and of course lose them all later because I’m horrible at taking notes.

Along Park View Drive, the bus driver stops in the middle of the road and begins to honk. I’m confused, but the good kind, the one that suggests a good story. Suddenly, a younger woman with short hair runs across the street from the eastbound 89 stop as the driver calls out helpfully (and obviously) “Wrong side!” She boards the bus that’s stationary in the dead middle of the street and says her hellos to the driver immediately, and the bus becomes alive with community conversation. By now we’ve recycled a large portion of our riders along the northside section for new riders heading for Tanasbourne, Cornell Road and Sunset.

While we get stuck in the 185th/Evergreen intersection for awhile, the newest passenger gets involved in the conversation which many riders pitch into, except myself of course. When she’s asked about what she’ll do on the weekends when line 47 doesn’t run, she shrugs and confusedly mumbles “I dunno, I guess I’ll just walk…”. She also mentions how she’ll have to get to work an hour early due to the reroutes. On top of this, there’s the wonderful go-anywhere fares to contend with, which means she’ll have to pay eighty cents more a day for fares that to her are the same as before. A conversation goes on about jobs, which leads to more frustration. I hear mentions of having hardly any hours to work with, and being shafted despite being a loyal employee and liberal use of the word bullshit. I’m not sure who’s saying what as I’m too busy being unusually shy and quiet, while Adri’s too busy being her usual quiet.

The conversation turns sentimental as Ken gets involved and it turns to how it’s Ken’s last day on their line. He’s moving off of the condemned 89 and onto “the 46 or something else I’m not gonna ride.” A bittersweet smile crosses my face as I remember all the times fall signup has brought me apart from the drivers I knew, especially when I said goodbye to the driver of my 27 the day before it was discontinued (which certainly couldn’t have been very pleasant for the two wheelchairs and their brilliant mavericks on that line.)

The woman with the short hair has sage advice for Ken: “Don’t go dying on me, okay?” The other lady who I still haven’t glanced at yet rebuffs her, telling her casually not to be so drastic. Ken laughs along with them and they talk a little while longer, that sort of usual conversation made more poignant by yet-to-be-said goodbyes. Eventually they get off along Cornell somewhere, and as they promised earlier, both ladies give Ken a hug right around his neck and they say their goodbyes. Somehow I still don’t notice the appearance of the lady who disembarked with the short-haired girl, who I realize the whole time reminded me of my friend Tabitha; probably the only reason I remember her appearance. By now numbers and charts and keeping track of them has slipped my mind in favor of tales to tell and stories to relay.

True to his word, the Safeway man gets back on the bus across the street, and I reluctantly release my precious seat to him, which he acknowledges with a smile and nod. I just smile back and sit next to perpetually quiet Adri. They begin to talk again, just as naturally as before. I wonder how long they’ve known each other; I’m sure that half of the people on this bus are loyal riders that made the 89-Tanasbourne their community.

At the Saltzman and Cornell intersection, Ken spontaneously opens the door for a lady at the street corner. She boards happily, standing quietly until they reach the other side of the street, where he lets her off. The act strikes me as quite unnecessary and yet incredibly kind and genuine. Those are my favorite kinds.

The ride back to Sunset from thereon is quiet and somber; either that or it’s just me and I’m not paying attention again. I have a million thoughts buzzing around in my head, but I know this much: the 89, much like my 27 and Adri’s 51 is/was one of those rare buses that turned into a community all of its own. Even if you strip away the fare increases and the service cuts, the loss of that alone is a very sad thing.

We finally make it back to Sunset, and everyone disembarks. I nearly sleepwalk back to the MAX station, barely remembering to say a polite thank you to Ken on my way out as I follow Adri, who has considerably brightened since she boarded, to the platform. I can see why she talked me into this line, despite the fact that neither of us have ever ridden it. We’re both riders with a sense of community within the system, whether on the buses themselves or with a bunch of fiery bloggers and Tweets along the web.

We get to the station and hash it out just a bit, throwing in the usual passive-aggressive jabs to TriMet throughout. Thankfully, Adri snagged a picture of the 89 on her way out, which she relays to me so I can take the train number and use it to praise the bus driver, because that’s really all I can do now. I eventually snap out of my haze and we get back to our usual spirited banter, which brightens the world a considerable bit.

On our way back, though, we’re pensive again (usually a by-product of the Robertson Tunnel) and I wonder what would happen if the board members of TriMet ever rode a bus line like the 89, if that would make any difference to them.

Probably not. But a guy can dream, right?

Story by Cameron Johnson, @CamOfPortland on Twitter, and blogger at That One Portland Transit Activist Kid.

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3 Responses to In Tanasbourne: Swan Song of the 89 Community

  1. Cameron Johnson says:

    Thanks for putting this up!
    (I wrote this if anyone is confused)

  2. jeanine claar says:

    That is my neighborhood and one of the bus lines I rode very frequently. I know Ken. Nice guy.

  3. al m says:

    The 89 was my all time favorite line.
    I drove it many times and had dozens of friends on it.
    These riders have had their heart broken many times over the years.

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