The Tranquility of a Portland Morning Bus Ride

I have been curious for some time about the sprawling layout of Lake Oswego, with the Interstate encouraging a push further and further south out of Portland.  This is an area of town more akin to other parts of the country than what Portland is known for.  The density is low, the transit ridership is almost zero, the cultural importance is zero, and the list of other uncharacteristic Portland traits continues.  Lake Oswego, by any definition, except for the very small central core, is a dirge of bad design, poor zoning, and only is maintained by sprawling subsidies and other fun stuff.  Of course, the area is also very Republican and denies any association to subsidies or socialist funding policies.  The irony does not escape me.

But I digress, my rant could continue but instead I’ll get to the tale of the trip.  I started at Kruse Way & Kruse Oaks.  About 4 or 5 stops from the Tualitan Park & Ride, so thus an almost empty bus.

I boarded and the first thing I get is a partial grunt mixed with a hello from the driver.  He’s a portly guy, as many of the drivers are.  He’s somewhat disheveled, with a TriMet hat of some sort on his frizzled long hair.  As I go to sit down he pulls the bus away from the stop.  Two other people boarded with me, which I found statistically odd considering the outlying area and low transit ridership.

As we moved along the road I stood to throw my empty coffee cup in the trash.  I saw his glance in the rear view mirror, and I knew I wasn’t part of the regular bus riders he has.  He hit the brakes just slightly enough with a grin on his face as I approached the trash can.  He of course doesn’t realize I know the bus surfing routine.  I think to myself, “driver, I’m your ally, don’t be an ass”.  But I know he’s just having fun with me.

You may wonder, on a bus, how would a driver know his regulars?  Well, when a driver drives the same bus, same frequency, every day they tend to learn the faces and sometimes the names.  Especially on a commuter bus like this.  The #38 doesn’t provide any real service beyond the early morning and evening rush hours.  With a mere dozen frequencies, split between the two, the riders are very specific.  Each morning the same riders join the trip at the same stops, at the same times, and often greet each other in the same way.  For many of the riders this is a comfort of their daily lives.  Many of these people enjoy this part of the day as they sit and read newspapers, talk about the latest Sunday Football Scores, or carry on about some of the latest gossip.  The one thing about a rush hour bus though, is that everyone is polite, and somewhat discreet about their interactions.  One can overhear the conversations, but they aren’t loud or boisterous.

Simply, these are the bus routes to ride for commutes, unlike the #4, #9, #14, etc, which get crammed full with commuters and crazies alike.  I think the later are more fun, but for most all they want is a comfortable, silent, somewhat safe conversational ride into downtown.  On the #38 that is exactly what they get.

As the bus rolls through the hills of southern Portland, we pass strip malls and other suburban sundry.  The bus finally reaches the average suburbanites comfort zone of one person per 2 seats.  I think to myself, it will only get interesting at this point.  Will further riders just stand awkwardly with all the available seats around or will they sit with others?

The first person that needs to either sit or stand gets on board.  He is a nice looking older gentleman with a hat, overcoat, and professional cloths.  All somewhat plain colors, nothing to sharp, nothing to jump out at a person.  I’ve scanned the bus.  My assumption is he’ll sit with pretty young professional looking lady behind me.  He steps forward from the entrance of the bus.  Eyes to his left, then over to me.  I’m sitting here against the window, with nothing in the seat next to me.  The young lady behind me has her purse in the seat.  He scans from me quickly looking over to his left again.  There sits a portly gentleman with some contraption in his seat.  He then looks to his right and see her, with the purse in the seat.  He immediately gains a smile upon his face and makes eye contact with her.  She moves her purse and he sits down, politely leaving a bit of space between them even though he’s a bit out of his seat now.  My assumption was correct, go figure.

This continues, with people making assumed paths.  I myself finally gain a seat partner and the ride continues.

The #38 Bus route at this time of the morning, 7:04 am to be exact, is amazing.  The sun is creeping through the crevices of the sky, a blue tonality cast upon everything.  The route takes us through a winding, twisting roadway.  Each bus stop is generally just a simple street corner with nothing more than a sign.  The driver, I can tell, knows which ones will have passengers and which will not.  He slows though, professionally, at ones that don’t just in case a rider surprises him.  As we twist through all of this the bus slowly fills up and the passengers’ faces start lighting up as they look upon the beauty outside of the bus.

Some riders keep reading their newspapers.  I thought nobody read dead tree medium anymore, but this bus load has surprised me with 3 newspapers out being read.  There are very few electronic devices being used for news or otherwise.  I then realize that the age average is probably 45+, so I guess the electronic medium isn’t the favorite for this group of riders.

The cultural makeup on this bus, as we move closer into Portland, seems to almost be a representative mix.  I always enjoy rides like this that are polite and everyone is cordial.  Watching the sky, seeing things awaken.  The eyes of the riders, regardless of culture, start to brighten and I can see others starting to conjure up in their minds what they’re heading for at work, or wherever they’re headed.

We’re 5 minutes out now, the sun has thoroughly broken the darkness, and I bid this entry adieu.  Enjoy your ride, whoever and wherever you are, may it be a good start to your day.

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213 Comments

  1. Hmm.. I think I may have to take a field trip on an express bus to the outlying areas here in Phoenix! 🙂 Funny you should write this today, because I was just thinking about the differences between transit riders in east coast cities compared to the ones here. Phoenix just started lightrail service about a year ago – it’s interesting to watch people ‘share the ride’ here in the southwest. Many people seem so uncomfortable sitting next to others and will sometimes go out of their way in order of have some space. I think this will all change when people here in Phoenix learn to embrace alternative transportation and see how it’s helping to build a community.

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  2. One thing I personally hope you continue, is writing stories about your experiences on Portland’s transit system. This is what is of interest to me.

    Don’t stop doing that!

    PLEASE!

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  4. helo guys do ya’ll remember that time the TTC collector was filmed sleeping? Surprise surprise, yesterday a second TTC bus driver, who was already 15 minutes late decided to take his ‘normal’ unscheduled 7 minuet ‘donut break’. He left the passengers stuck in the bus. He even threatened the passenger that confronted him! Check it out, (and digg it to make it viral) –

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