The Detour

If he had asked the passengers to vote, I’m sure we would have urged him to ignore the flashing blue lights and simply drive up on the curb to get around the police car, then do the same with the second police car visible two blocks further down N Greeley. But he didn’t ask, probably because he predicted the same voting results, and instead took a right onto Rosa Parks Boulevard. I expected he would immediately turn again at the next block and circumvent the police activity, but we passed the first road and continued further off course.

It seemed I wasn’t the only person who anticipated the simplest detour, because when we didn’t make the turn, the grumbling began. Every rider called this part of Portland home, and each knew the roads better than this driver, who probably lived in Milwaukee or Gateway and thought of North Portland as little more than a few red lines on a transit map. Why wasn’t he asking for advice? When he passed a second road without even glancing down to see if the bus would fit, the crowd’s concern became palpable.

Amid a few comments of “Where the hell is he going?” and “Does this guy think this is the #44?” several practiced Trimet detour stories became audible, spoken in tones that seemed appropriate for recalling a harrowing weekend lost in a third-world country, not a quick reroute of the #4 to MLK Jr. Blvd. As another perfectly suitable street passed, ear buds were removed and novels were bookmarked with fingers as the transit zombies who never acknowledge their fellow riders realized something was amiss and suddenly became social. In retrospect, it was logical that we would turn on N Denver, the first road wide enough to travel with no concern for the hulking bus, but as another block passed without consideration, logic didn’t apply. The seal had been broken, and the frustration with Trimet flowed.

Like long-time spouses who were civil by obligation but venomous in the heat of an argument, the latent frustrations that had built up on so many silent commutes home were given voice. The bus was filled with tales of gross injustices riders had endured for the price of $2.10, or more likely less because these horrors had been stored in memory, held pristine through the hundreds of uneventful rides that had followed. I could hear seatmates trying to best each other with stories of delays, others chronicled general annoyances that went unmentioned on ordinary days, enthusiastic condemnations of the #35, then Trimet, then public transportation, and finally people in general. About one-third of the passengers had jumped into the verbal stoning, with more sympathizers nodding and rolling their eyes.

As expected, we turned on N Denver, but these storytellers didn’t acknowledge it. One woman loudly complained that she would miss her connection to the #75, and that she was meeting people at The Foggy Notion and they weren’t people she wanted to keep waiting. Another insisted this never happened when the #35 used to be the #1, as if the police activity on N Greeley was enabled by the line change, which happened three or four years prior. The bus turned left again onto N Lombard as the goateed man in the seat in front of me began listing the advantages of bike riding over mass transit, unaware or unconcerned about the irony of making this speech from the dry comfort of a Trimet seat.

And then we were at the Walgreen’s, back on course and barely eight minutes behind schedule. A few sighs and shrugs as earbuds were reinserted and eyes searched for abandoned sentences in reopened books. The stories wound down because it seemed odd to be telling detour stories as we made all the normal turns and usual stops. A quiet came over the bus, like the quiet that comes over the arguing couple who had lost their enthusiasm for the fight, followed by some awkward silence, a bit of forced small talk, and the return of the status quo.

Yet something had changed. It seemed there had been a small catharsis, and a necessary one. People who don’t ride public transit because they dislike this or that are often unaware that people who DO ride public transit dislike the very same things. No one likes encountering creepy or/and unwashed individuals, and no one enjoys having their personal itinerary ruined by circumstances beyond their control – but the regulars endure it because the challenges are infrequent while the advantages are daily: connection with your neighbors, the financial freedom from car and insurance expenses, and the joy of making use of one’s commuting time. But for all the perks, the annoying crap still annoys, and now and then it’s good to release the valve and let the pressure subside. If it can be done in eight minutes, that’s time well spent.

Though something tells me the folks at The Foggy Notion heard about it for more than eight minutes.


(Originally posted on the marvelous 

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