Rubbing Elbows

Here’s the alt-transit story du jour:

My son Theo and I had to go downtown this morning, and I asked him how he wanted to go: car or train.

Theo: “Train.”

(For all you Hummer owners and other unevolved lovers of iron, gas-burning behemoths, please note the wisdom of a three-year-old when choosing a mode of transport. And in case you’re disinclined to believe me, let’s talk about our first automotive encounter of the day. Three blocks from home, We’re tooling down the otherwise empty street, when a car pulls up from a side street and wants to turn left in front of me. I’m fairly close to it, close enough that most considerate and sane drivers would wait another 3-4 seconds and turn in behind me. Of course this guy turns right in front of me, so that I either have to brake for him or rear-end him. Then, when I don’t slow down in a way that was satisfactory, he braked. Just in case I didn’t already know he was a jackass.)

So we drove to the park & ride and took the train, which is actually light rail (for here in Portland, Trimet runs the MAX, which goes through tunnels but isn’t a subway … look at that! We’ve taken care of the backstory and the tag cloud!) And it worked perfectly: We got to the station, the train came a minute later, and we found a seat. And yes, I know what an uncommon occurrence this is.

It was about 8:30 am, a time for commuters and students. But just our luck, we happened to sit across from the girl wearing pink: pink sweatshirt, pink skirt (hemmed with a 6-inch fringe of black), pink leggings, and black plastic gaiters and black boots … and pink and white rabbit ears. Yes, rabbit ears. Space-alien couture aside, she was healthy, lucid and well taken care of by someone, since she had functional glasses, braces, and chatted aimably with a woman passenger.

But wait, there’s more. Next to Mademoiselle Rabbit Ears was a guy with a black eye, traveling with a bag, a small suitcase, and … his vacuum cleaner.

(Shall we have a WTF moment here? Yes, let’s.)

As we rode I was musing about this, about taking Theo on the MAX, and exposing him to the city’s cross-section of humanity. I think it’s good, in a way, to see the Asian girl blinged out with her Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and plugged into her iPod, the woman tapping away on her laptop, the impressive number of people reading, and the nice people (invariably 50+ years old) who find him delightful … even Bunny Ears and Vacuum Cleaner.

Later in the morning, on the Portland Streetcar on the way to work, there was the guy wearing two pairs of blue jeans, and another guy with his plastic bag of recycling, with greasy, stringy, disappearing hair, with a tattered scrap of newspaper and empty coffee cup, who got off the streetcar and began chewing. On his cup. And, as much as I try to be Mr. Egalitarian Transit Guy, I’m sort of glad Theo didn’t have to see or smell him.

I also try to be me Mr. Pithy End-with-a-Dazzling-Last-Line, but tonight nothing comes to mind. Got one? Add it to the comments.

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One thought on “Rubbing Elbows

  1. When I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9, I used to go to Tijuana with my grandfather. He lived in San Diego and I would spend a few weeks down there every summer with my grandparents. “Pop”, as we called him, would go to the off-track and bet the ponies and I would be allowed to wander alone around Tijuana haggling with vendors over cheap leather wallets with “Tecate” embossed on them, buying Mexican cokes, eating pan dulce (or whatever you call those Mexican pastries) all by myself… alone…. nobody watching me… And to get to San Diego from Los Angeles, I used to take the train by myself. Alone. Unsupervised. Can you imagine allowing your kids to do that now? I certainly can’t. Kind of sad.

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