Shortly after I arrived in Portland and a month before the incident I wrote about yesterday, I was rescued from loneliness by a friend from NJ visiting the city for the weekend, before traveling to Seattle. Like me, she was thinking of moving to the Northwest, even though she had a good job in NJ, just for a change. We met at the PDX Pop Now! festival and split up after Pierced Arrows played. She rode a rented bike back to her hostel and left me at a stop just east of the Hawthorne Bridge. A few other twenty-somethings waited for buses, too, so even though it was after 1AM, I didn't feel unsafe. Coming from the NYC metro area, it just didn't occur to me that public transportation in a major city wouldn't run all night. When the #14 bus came and all of the other twenty-somethings boarded it, I realized I'd be alone. But that's okay, because surely the #4 would come to get me soon. The sign on the bus stop said it was coming at 1:20!
I thought I observed the driver of the #14 bus give me a long, deliberate look, and open his mouth as if to speak, but say nothing before driving off. I decided I was imagining things; as a new person who felt out of place in the area, I just assumed I was doing things that attracted other people's attention, and it was all in my head.
Time passed. I stood alone at the bus stop, listening to Swan Lake (the indie rock band, nothing related to ballet) on my iPod. Just a block away, a police car sat idling, so I felt neither alone nor unsafe. 1:20 came and went, but I knew that buses tend to run late.
Without warning, the police car drove away. I turned to look at the sign on the bus stop, an alarming suspicion forming in my head. Did it say 1:20 AM or 1:20 PM? Furthermore, the sign told me that not all buses ran east of 122nd. Well, I didn't live too far past 122nd. I'd have to walk by myself in the middle of the night, but the road was well lit, and this is Portland! Portland is way safer, has a much lower crime rate than the state I come from. And I survived twenty-five years there!
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man appear on the street corner to my left. He stood under a street light, tall, thin, entirely clad in black. He looked a little odd, but to me he just seemed to look intentionally odd, like he spent a lot of time shopping at Hot Topic. He had long, stringy black hair, and reminded me of a cross between Professor Snape and Marilyn Manson. I thought nothing of him standing, for quite some time, at a street corner where there was nothing but a street light, no bus stop or anything that would give someone a reason to stand on a corner just before 2AM. Maybe he was contemplating the night sky, composing a poem in his head about the moon. Maybe he was waiting for a friend or for a cab. On that note, why weren't there cab phone numbers posted on the bus stop!?
I tried to read what was posted on the bus stop nonchalantly, to not make it too obvious that I wasn't sure if I had missed the last bus or not. After five or ten minutes had passed, I noticed something in the corner of my eye. Snape Manson was still there, and he had turned his face from the moon toward me. I glanced in his direction and saw he was looking straight at me, striving for eye contact I gave him for just a moment. In that moment I took in plenty - his wide eyes, smug expression, wildly waving tongue, and hand in his pants, which were unzipped; he kept his eyes locked on my face as he jerked off with gusto.
Before it occurred to me to be concerned for my own safety, I rolled my eyes. "Ugggghhh!" I said in my head. "No one cares about your junk, and now I have to take a cab! That is going to be so expensive! What an inconvenience!"
Something in the back of my mind did consider safety, and just as I dealt with the man who cornered me in Tuba City, I vowed to remain calm. I didn't give him a second glance. I turned on my platform heel and walked briskly, but not too quickly, and calmly toward the busy street where I'd seen cabs whizzing by for the last half an hour. (I now know that the street is called "Grand Ave.") I walked not so quickly that it would seem I was running away, and I made sure not to turn my head to look back. I listened carefully for footsteps behind me. When I reached Grand Ave, however, it was empty.
Many people, when I have told this story, have asked why I did not call the police. I will tell you why. My cell phone was dead. Yup, I went out by myself, late at night, without charging my phone. Let this be a lesson to you: that is a really stupid thing to do.
Across the street was a Burger King. The glowing of the lights inside seemed as bright as Heaven. It was open twenty-four hours! There was also a pay phone outside. I stopped by the pay phone to see if cab numbers were listed somewhere, or if there was a phone book or something. There was not. I didn't want to call the police, in case the man was nearby; I was dimly aware that he might react violently if he heard me call the police.
I walked up to the door of the 24-hour Burger King, thinking perhaps they'd give me refuge and a phone book with which to call a cab. Maybe I'd even buy some fries. But the door was locked. It was a 24-hour drive-thru. The drive-thru was behind the building, outside of the domain of street lights. It didn't seem wise to go behind the building, out of sight from the street, to such a dark place. There were no cars in the drive-thru.
I could see one employee inside of the Burger King, but his back was to me. I knocked on the door as loudly as I could; he didn't hear me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something yellow. A taxi!
I waved frantically to the driver, who was stopped at a red light just a few feet away. I started to run toward the car, and he rolled down his window and said, "I'll be right there when the light changes!" I stopped running and waited patiently.
Inside the cab, I gave my address but said no more. The cab went past the bus stop where I'd spent nearly an hour and also the street corner where The Flasher had stood. He was gone.
"You were...you were in kind of a dangerous place to be at this hour," the cab driver said in a voice that wasn't scolding or unfriendly, but a bit puzzled.
As if to emphasize his point, he quickly hit the power locks button just in time; a drunk man threw himself onto the windshield and passenger door of the car, slurring that he wanted a ride.
"The car is full!" shouted the driver, who had stopped at a red light. "Please go away! This car is full!"
I started to realize that here in the Northwest, it was okay to converse with cab drivers; it was not creepy as some people in the Northeast perceive it to be.
"Yeah, I didn't know that. I'm not from around here," I told him. I added quickly, "And right before you found me, some guy flashed me at the bus stop!"
He asked where I was from; I told him. He'd lived in New York City at one point, and we talked about the differences between the Northeast and the Northwest. He informed me that yes, the #4 bus and most buses stop running before 2AM; many stop running past 122nd Ave before then.
He dropped me off at my door and the total was over $20. Yikes! That is like 10 bus tickets.
After I thanked him, I found myself running to my front door. The reality of what had happened sunk in; that man could have been dangerous! Something really terrible could have happened to me! I stayed awake for hours, e-mailing friends about what I'd just escaped and lying in bed, imagining that Snape Manson faces were peeking in my window.
The following Monday, after some debate, I decided to tell this story in the lab at work. I decided that, for the high school interns, it would be a cautionary tale as much as it was an entertaining tale for the grown-up scientists.
The lesson that the interns took from it was not, as I hoped, not to leave the house late at night without a friend, a bus schedule, and a charged cell phone. It was, "When some creep bothers you, you should say, 'Get a life! No one cares about that thing!' You should handle it...LIKE A JERSEY GIRL."