A Trip to Washington Square With The Good People

Today I needed to make a trip out to pick up Lego supplies. Thus my story starts with this simple requirement I made. However simple the trip, there are so many little nuances to life, to the trip, to the day. So many things that make life most excellent and happy or dire and depressing. If you want to hear about a dire and depressing story, stop reading now, because this was one of those nice trips with all sorts of positive aspects of humanity showing through.

The trip started at 6:32pm. I headed down to board any of the buses that would get me to Washington Square Mall, where the only Lego Store in the Portland Metropolitan area is located. I checked PDXBus (probably the best transit app available for Trimet or any agency for that matter, hats off to the coder(s) that put it together and made it FREE) on my iPhone and it looked like 23 minutes until the next departure. That seemed absurd, so I figured I’d just walk down to the bus mall and be prepared.

How It Works – PDX Bus on iOS (the shortened version without technical mumbo jumbo)

The reason the PDXBus showed me 23 minutes is because it does a calculation to determine if it needs to use the scheduled time or a GPS location estimate from where the bus was last identified. Since the bus lines that I was looking for #56 & #54 both start downtown then it gets a little flaky. The buses stop, usually with a wait time of 5-15 minutes. During that time of day they may or may not identify as active, and thus show a GPS location, or inactive in which case the scheduled time would be shown. Since the bus has stopped moving, if the GPS shows up while it is waiting, such as if the driver turns the bus on and a reading goes through, the bus might get a really odd estimate. This is why the bus reading showed 23 minutes when I pulled up PDXBus.

Since I know how the system works and where the beginning of the bus line is, I knew that I should likely go by the scheduled time. As long as the previous bus made it downtown – which is 99% likely, then it would most likely be leaving at the schedule time (approximately 89% change). So with two changes that were really good, that the bus would leave at the particular scheduled time, being prepared was the best option.

It was, in the end the correct hedge too, because the bus showed up on time. I boarded the #54 toward Washington Square. The poor things I believe must have been 15-20 years old. The heater was working like a champ though, pumping out far more heat than necessary. But of course, I have a skewed position on temperature since I’ve got a good tolerance for cold and I’m in decent shape. Two things that put me at odds with the general populace, which is not in good shape and does not have a respective tolerance for cold.

Thus I sat and dealt with the heat. But I’ll admit, it was kind of nice to be in a heated bus versus standing outside, because even though I have a tolerance for the cold, I’m not really inclined to stand outside when it is indeed almost freezing.

The bus winded through the Beaverton and Hillsdale area hills. In and out and in and out. The trees encroached the view of the sky. It being a clear night the trees cut into the skyline like knives. Jutting amidst the clear blackened blue of the sky where the slight glow of lights. Since this is the Portland area, the lights used aren’t the same fluorescents that most cities use, which also gave me a grand view of the stars in the sky above. Simply, the trip was beautiful.

People Are Awesome

Amid all the horrible stories of murders, war and whatever other sicknesses we guans heft upon ourselves we often forget that we humans are actually good beings. We’re often kind to each other and thoughtful. We try and work toward doing well. If one just stops bitching for a short time they can often see this happening around them. Well, I make a point to see this as often as possible.

The first interaction that caught my eye was on the bus ride out. Several people sorted themselves out to help others actually get a seat on the bus, so that two people with leg injuries could get situated on the bus while everyone could still have a seat. When the injured went to get off the bus, several passengers jumped up to help.

Wedging Into Seats

These people did not need to do this, there was no law or regulation, there was no omniscient being manipulating their actions, there was simply a desire to help out each other, each of us and our fellow citizens and even – what might have been – non-citizens. Whatever the case it didn’t matter, because we were together in this trip and people were helping each other out.

Mall Cops

The second thing that came up was a simple conversation in the mall. A young girl was talking to two mall cops. She was a little confused about the layout of the mall. These were two older cops that were obviously on the mall payroll, so they weren’t armed, nor did they have any obligation to speak to anyone in the mall, nor did they have any monetary or other reason to do so. Again, simple friendliness among people.

This girl chatted with them getting the directions and figured out where she was trying to go. The officers then carried on patrolling while she headed off to her shopping.

Lost Things

There are many bus drivers out there that are awesome. They, at their core, are just great human beings. Forget the Union, forget all the drivers that may taint this image, these are the good drivers. They’re the drivers who greet you on boarding and actually look at you. They’re the drivers who report the weather when you’re exiting the West Hills Zoo Tunnel. They’re the drivers who go that extra bit, to make the commute or errands or whatever the trip may be, an enjoyable one.

On my way home from the mall, I boarded the last city bound #45. This is kind of a ridiculous route with really low ridership, but somehow Trimet has managed to find a way to keep it (hats off to them for that, because during the day I know it is actually a fairly frequented commuter route). The driver smiled and greeted me, albeit me being completely unfamiliar to her and unknown on this route. I am by no means a regular on the #45 (I think I might have boarded it downtown once before about 5 years ago and rode out on it once before for a Halloween party).

I sat down, the driver started to pull away, but someone waved to her to ask a question outside the bus. She stopped (mind you, she was on time still, so a short 10-30 second delay wouldn’t hurt at all) to see what the question was. Someone was asking if the other #45 had arrived to Tigard. A fellow passenger said, “yes, it had come by” while another said, “wait, that was probably the #76 to Tigard” and I chimed in with a defacto “it was indeed a #76 that went by, the outbound #45 to Tigard is about 4 minutes away according to the GPS coordinates”. She confirmed it with the inquiring person and off we went. We made it up, around and through two lights and the other outbound #45 could be seen coming down the street.

The driver of the outbound #45 flashed a signal or lights of some sort for the inbound #45 I was on to stop. The driver did and the other driver quickly got out of their bus, walked across the street and handed the driver of the inbound #45 something (if this is against Union policy or Trimet policy, just pretend this didn’t happen until you update your moral codes). I could hear the conversation, “you have a rider, should board in 2-3 stops that left this on the morning bus, they ride everyday and I didn’t want them to be cold”. She smiled at the other driver and said, “I’ll be sure to hand them over once they board and if not I’ll bring them in to lost and found with a note”. Off we went.

A few more stops down the road, about 10 minutes travelled, sure enough he regular rider boarded. The driver handed this rider this set of gloves, which they immediately responded with, “oh my god thank you, this will help so much, my hands were freezing and my arthritis would have killed me. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I’d put them!” The regular rider then sat down and enjoyed their ride into the city.

The moral of this whole story is, whenever you think humanity is just full of spit and vinegar, hatred and disgust or whatever number of despicable things just stop. Stop and think. Stop and relax. Stop and take a breath. Watch those people around you, watch regularly, breath and realize how many interactions and small good deeds are done everyday.

The vast majority of people; transit rider or bus driver, MAX driver or trash collector, lawyer (ok maybe I’m stretching it) or police officer they’re all trying and they’re all generally good people. Give them a chance and don’t get so down on humanity.

Cheers and happy new year!