Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Adventures in Mass Transit

I couldn't find a way to make yesterday morning's first adventure sound funny or at least non-annoying, and it was getting longwinded. Basically, some lady went on a rant on the bus, which took a turn toward religion, after accusing a guy listening to his iPod of taking pictures of people on the bus with his "phone." She kept saying that she was a Catholic--and I think she might have enunciated, "Cath-o-lic"--and how Cath-o-lics don't do things without asking people's permission (right, every last one of them. All the same!) and how young people today are all terrible, with no manners (right! every last one of us! all! the! same!) unlike the old folks. The rude people from her generation are dead, because Jesus won't give you a long life if you're bad. She kept telling him, "God bless your day," as though it were an insult. It was like she was spitting the words at him. It frustrates me when people use religion, something that is supposed to be about peace and forgiveness and other nice things, to be nasty to people, or to go on religious rants which other people can just dismiss as, "religious" more than "rant." The main lesson from Jesus was, "Turn the other cheek," and not, "What the hell do you think you're doing with that iPod?" Oh well.

So I'll tell you more about the second incident. Because there is some local knowledge I do not have, and I'm hoping my Portland readers can help me out. I realized yesterday that this story might be a way to get that information.

My bus picks me up on the East side of the Willamette, and I ride it to the West side, all the way through downtown, disembarking at the very last stop just before the bus crosses a bridge back to the East side. Some drivers blow past the stop, even if I pull the yellow cord, and the trip back across the river and to the office takes about twenty minutes. So whenever we have an unfamiliar driver, I jump up from my seat as soon as the driver begins wildly careening around the curve, signalling that he or she will, in just a moment, pick up speed as though hoping to take flight over the Willamette. I jump from my seat and, holding onto the handrail overhead, speed-wobble toward the front where I stand next to the driver, a reminder that the red "STOP REQUESTED" sign is on!

So I never get to see what the sign says.

The sign is held, and sometimes waved, by a very enthusiastic, tall, skinny elderly man with a long, skinny gray-white beard. He stands on the median between some lanes of traffic merging to get on the bridge and merging to get to some major road off the bridge. He holds a big sign and he waves it at cars. He also waves his arms. He does not appear to have any containers in which to collect donations, so I don't think he's a panhandler.

He seems too cheery to be declaring the end of the world.

So what can the sign say?

Portlanders, do you know? What does the man who stands on the West side of the Ross Island Bridge want?

I was more determined than ever to learn yesterday morning. Usually, when I step off the bus, too many cars are between the man and me for me to read his sign. Plus, the more cars are on the road, the more enthusiastically he waves his sign. But yesterday morning, there was a strange lull in traffic, so I lingered at the bus stop and stared, hoping to catch a good sight of the sign.

The man saw me looking, and he waved, a tall, lengthy, friendly wave. I waved back and smiled a wide, friendly smile.

Before I could call out to him, "What does your SIGN SAY?", he called out to me, "Good morning, Gorgeous!"

I later realized that this man was quite possibly in the same category as, "Wacky Street Person Who Hits On You," and that his tone of voice was potentially a little slimy. But instead, I acted flattered--albeit flustered, too much so to ask about his sign. So, I did not ask my intended question, but rather responded, "Good morning!", cheerily waved some more, and then marched up the hill and toward the office.

This morning, the man was gone.

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