Sharks, guppies & puppies

Evening, Gresham Central Transit Station. Max is stopped, the gate is down, no way I’m going to catch it. I run with my bike because I don’t want to get a ticket for riding on the platform. I can’t believe it. I’m going to catch it . . . right up to the doors and I’m lifting my bike to take the stairs . . . the door closes in front of me.

It’s not raining. I won’t get pissy about it. I make the call home. Just missed the train. A courtesy guy gives me a strobe light for signaling buses in the dark. He talks about bus drivers who won’t stop, how the city has grown and isn’t friendly. People from other places, he says, from harder places bring their meanness. His accent is south of the border, but he’s a Portlander, looking at the strangers who are making this place hard.

Over Courtesy Guy’s shoulder Guardian Angel approaches, belly hanging over his large winged silver belt buckle. Bright yellow nunchucks dangle from his belt. He holds up his cell phone/camera and snaps the inside of the shelter. Seeing something there invisible to me. A police cruiser slips up to the curb. I can see it through the etched and frosted leaves, idling there, watching the Angel. Or watching for gangstas, or watching for kids on skateboards, for maniacs in wheelchairs who stop on the tracks and refuse to move, watching for ticket sharing scofflaws. Society’s delicate balance at risk. The cruiser moves on. The Angel flips through the pictures he took. A not-in-service train comes, stops impotently, goes, and finally, the westbound to Hillsboro train.

I call my friend whose brother can’t find his way. He’s living in his truck, smells of diesel and decay. He’s calling shelters, getting that TB test next week. She can’t let him stay, can’t lose her housing. She can’t take care of her brother. It’s so hard to live in a world about money and property, not people.

I hear cards shuffling and watch a boy in a hoodie. Young card shark, shuffles his deck. Says to the boy across the aisle, “Hey dude. Hey dude. Hey dude, pick a card.”

The boy shakes his head, but finally takes a card. Shark says, “Remember your card. Remember your card.” He places the card on the top of the deck and says, “Tell me when to stop cutting.” Cuts the deck three or four times, the boy says stop. Shark starts tossing the cards, one by one, on an empty seat. He goes fast. Only hesitates once. Then he stops, says, “I guarantee. I guarantee. The next card is yours. If it’s not yours, I pay you $5 dollars, if it is yours, you pay me $1. Are you in?”

I can see the boy’s been drawn in, but doesn’t want to be. He shrugs. The shark flips the card. “Is that your card?”

“No.”

“Damn, I lost five bucks.” The shark gathers up his cards. Some new people get on the train and he tries to pull them in to his game. Finally starts a rap about all the kinds of dope he has on himself. ”I’ve got weed, meth, you name it. I got all kinds of dope.” No takers. He changes his patter. Says, “This is Oregon it’s green up here. Not California. This ain’t California.” Then he goes on about Miss California and marriage between men and women and those democrats complaining about Miss California and at 60th, he gets off the train.

Dogs on the train start barking at each other.

It’s Portland.

My disturbing Friday commute on MAX

I commute from the Gresham TC in the evening. I always have a place to hang my bike when I get on because this stop is only the second stop on the westbound line. It is a different story going out to work in the mornings. I board at the Lloyd Center station and if I don’t catch the train that gets me to work about half an hour early then I often don’t have a place to hang my bike.

I don’t put my bike on the train for pleasure each morning and evening. I do it because i don’t have a car and I don’t have a car because I will not contribute to the pollution of our environment by driving a car. I need my bike because it makes it possible for me to perform my job without a car. I combine biking with the MAX for my commute because it would take too long to ride from my home to my job and I don’t want to arrive sweaty and worn-out. Using Trimet and my bike has been workable up to now. What happened on Friday on the train has me worried.

I commute from the Gresham TC in the evening. I always have a place to hang my bike when I get on because this stop is only the second stop on the westbound line. It is a different story going out to work in the mornings. I board at the Lloyd Center station and if I don’t catch the train that gets me to work about half an hour early then I often don’t have a place to hang my bike.

I don’t put my bike on the train for pleasure each morning and evening. I do it because i don’t have a car and I don’t have a car because I will not contribute to the pollution of our environment by driving a car. I need my bike because it makes it possible for me to perform my job without a car. I combine biking with the MAX for my commute because it would take too long to ride from my home to my job and I don’t want to arrive sweaty and worn-out. Using Trimet and my bike has been workable up to now. What happened on Friday on the train has me worried.

A young woman got on the train at about 172nd. She had a fixed gear bike with a tire too wide for the hook and instead of standing where the hook is, she stood on the other side of the door. The fare inspector on the train asked her for her fare, then her ID, called into find out if she was excluded or had citations, when she didn’t (to his surprise I am sure–did I forget to mention that she was dressed in black with face piercings?), he proceeded to lecture her about where she could be with her bike, and which doors she could use to enter the train when she has her bike. During the course of his lecture the train stopped at two stations and at each of these someone tried to board the train with a bike. Because both hooks were taken on that end of the train, the inspector would not let the bicyclists board. We all know that there is not enough time to run to the other end of the train and get on before the doors close. Since this was the front end of the first car, they were out of luck. They had to wait for the next train and hope that they could get on.

People ride Trimet for many reasons. Some out of concern for the environment, some because they don’t like driving in traffic, some because they can’t afford gas for their cars, some because they don’t have cars, some because they cannot drive, and there are probably other reasons. We want people to use mass transit. It makes our city a more livable place. Fewer cars, less congestion, less road rage, less stress, happier citizens. Less pollution, less illness, healthier citizens. Bicyclists contribute to this happier, healthier populace. We shouldn’t be punished for using both our bikes and mass transit to commute. Trimet should go to great lengths to accommodate bicyclists.

Not being allowed to get on the train because all the hooks are taken could mean that a bike commuter loses his or her job for being late to work. Especially if that someone is working a minimum wage job with no benefits because these are the jobs that desperate people have and there is always another desperate person to fill them. I know this because I work with those desperate people trying to help them find places to live after they have lost their jobs and their housing. Mr Inspector, you are not just denying someone with a bicycle the right to get on the train, you could be taking away the roof over their head.

There are no signs on the MAX stating that bicycles have to be hung from the hooks. There are no signs stating that people with bikes can enter only through the end doors. There is no reason for us to have to enter through those doors only. Here is something that happens frequently. I go to get on the train. a stroller is blocking the door, another stroller is under the bicycle hook. They move. It works out.

One morning last week I got on the airport train because i was going out to the Parkrose TC. As is to be expected there were people with lots of luggage. There were also lots of bikes. Myself and another cyclist were in the middle where the wheelchair access doors are located. I shifted back and forth depending on which door was going to open so that I did not get in anyone’s way. i did not impede any other passenger. It was perfectly workable and perfectly safe.

I suggest that Trimet take some of the seats out of some of the cars and install more hooks. I suggest that these cars run during rush hours from 6:30 am to 9:00 am and from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m..

Barring a solution such as this, I think it is reprehensible for Trimet to get heavy-handed with bicycle commuters. The MAX is not comfortable when it is full. Whether there are bicycles, strollers, wheelchairs, or just lots of people it is noisy, smelly, disease infested, dirty, costs too much and the ticket machines often don’t work, and the ticket validators often don’t work, and the fare inspectors are rigid and menacing and could use some interpersonal relationship training, and commuters all have to manage this twice a day. Cut us some slack.

Monday morning on the MAX

CheThere is a beeping as the ramp slides out, then the doors open. He rolls himself in. His legs are covered with a blanket. His dull blondish hair is in a ponytail and he’s got layers of clothing. Behind him is a younger man, no more than five feet six, no hair visible under his billed cap, with red marks on his face shaped like tiny cigars. He’s wearing a flannel shirt and pants torn at the knee.

CheThere is a beeping as the ramp slides out, then the doors open. He rolls himself in. His legs are covered with a blanket. His dull blondish hair is in a ponytail and he’s got layers of clothing. Behind him is a younger man, no more than five feet six, no hair visible under his billed cap, with red marks on his face shaped like tiny cigars. He’s wearing a flannel shirt and pants torn at the knee.

I don’t know how to measure how old these two in the train with me are because life on the streets batters the skin. They are younger than me, I am sure of that, probably 20 years younger. Less than forty would be my guess. Somewhere between thirty and forty-five, no more. And the younger one could be in his twenties.

“It’s not working right. I can’t afford a new one. Something’s wrong with the wheel.” He’s backed himself into the wheelchair space and leans back so that the front wheels come off the floor and balances himself by holding the rail with one hand and putting one foot up on the rail in front of him. “Is it wobbling?”

His friend checks it out. “It’s just the bolt needs tightening.”

The ponytail man says, “I can take care of that. Just tighten the bolt, huh?”

“Yeah, the bolt on the top. How much does a wheelchair like that cost?”

“This chair cost $1800.” The way he says it you know that is an amount of money out of his grasp. However he came by this chair, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get another if something goes wrong with this one. It isn’t one of those fancy motorized ones. He has to maneuver it himself. I’ve seen this man on the train before with a companion, not this young one. Someone older. Often, he is sitting on a max seat and the chair is in the space in front of him. Whatever makes it difficult for him to get around is not obvious, but something limits him, makes the chair necessary. Most likely it is diabetes.

“You live with that big guy, right? Where you live?” Younger man asks.

“At a motel out on 82nd.”

“How much does that cost?”

“We pay $400 a week.”

“$400. That’s a lot, man. You should move to my motel. It’s a lot less, man.”

“No, wait. Not a week. That’s every two weeks. Costs us about $200 a week. My friend, I live with, he gets $700 every two weeks. He was a logger and got injured. Now he gets $1400 a month. We been together for 7 years. He’s in pain all the time.” If he has any income himself, from Social Security or anything else, he doesn’t say.

I grew up in a mill town. I remember loggers with fingers and arms missing and deaf sawmill workers. I remember the fatherless children of timber fallers who were felled themselves, and never got up from the forest floor, and were laid to final rest in Juniper Cemetery, which was named after a tree no one logged.

The talk turns to heroin and methadone, to nodding off, and cruelty. “I never nodded off,” the young one claims.

The one in the chair says he sometimes still uses, but he gets the methadone. They talk about the clinic where they both get their doses. “That lady who runs the clinic. I knew her when she was using. How did she end up running a clinic?” Wheelchair man wants to know.

“She used to use? Oh, man. You know that bitch cuts people’s doses. Bitch. She’s a user. Bitch.” The younger man’s anger is strong.

I wonder if he will kill her some day. Or if someone else will.

The rain starts coming down in buckets and it’s 122nd Avenue and the man in the wheelchair gets off the train. He doesn’t have an umbrella or a raincoat, “Shit,” he says as he wheels himself away and reaches back to pull the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head.

The Red Book — Mass Transit Journal

Entry 2

My friend Fred says that a world with fewer men would be more peaceful and he tells me that Harper’s has an article about baboons and what happens when the aggressive baboons are suddenly gone. He says that the aggressive males had all gotten poisoned eating at a human dump. The females in the group began to groom and care for the surviving non-aggressive males who had not been eating at the dump. These became the fathers of a new generation of baboons and each succeeding generation was passive and as the passive males split off and formed new family groups in these the new generations of males were also passive so that a large area of Kenya is now populated with non-aggressive baboons.

Nature or Nurture? The question is not entirely answered. Baboons do pass on culture. But what happens to the aggressive ones if any are born? Do they conform to the group culture? If aggression is genetically encoded then is it the dominant gene and so is eliminated by the deaths of the aggressors before they can pass on their genes? Do none of the females have that aggressive gene? Or are we talking culture and baboons doing what appears expedient for not just survival of self, but survival of species and the attention of the female. Sex. In the natural world it is all about sex.

My friend Anais tells me about the damselfish changing sexes when the need arises. Anais speculates about the Y chromosome, as have many of us. Y is unlike any other chromosome. It is missing something, a leg. It is aberrant among chromosomes. Is it necessarily defective? No, it is mutant, necessarily mutant. If we, if all beings, if all plant, animal, virus, whatever needed only itself to reproduce then we would be a world of clones with no motivation to move. Stationary, planted, still. All movement within. Sexual reproduction creates variation and necessitates movement. Even plants, even asexual plants, must find some method of obtaining fertilization for seed. Usually this is accomplished through the movement of birds or bees, or other insects, sometimes it is just the wind.

Imagine being dependent on the wind for your children.

But I have to come back to the argument posited by Fred. Maybe it would be a more peaceful world with fewer men. It would depend upon the nature of the remaining men and the response of the women to them. If all the men left were peaceful and the women were favored toward them then the result might be a culture which preferred pacific men and thereby a more peaceful world comes into existence.

Anyway, it is not a world in which I will take part–it is a future world.

(What about a world without children altogether? Read P.D. James novel The Children of Men. See review.)

The Red Book — Mass Transit Journal

Entry 1

(you see his image everywhere now. Ernesto “Ché” Guevara is hip. his face is on the little red journal i bought at Powell’s. i write in this book as i commute around portland on the trimet system.)

Having purchased this empty book, this potential journal, I find it isn’t blank. There is already a stain on the pages, a dictum inherent in the cover. Judge a book, even an unwritten one, by its cover. Ché demands something. Ché is a guiding spiritual force, a string plucked in a certain way sending out a note, underscoring my thoughts. There is a tune here. I won’t be able to be frivolous. I think Ché demands a certain concentration on the injustices of the world.

Think about this: the degradation of the environment contaminated with dioxins through human action is limiting the number of male births. Sometimes drastically. In Canada near Niagra there is a small reservation completely surrounded by a plastics, chemical industrial plant and the birth rate of male babies in that dioxin intoxicated place is 35%.

Male to female births are normally 106 to 100. A small percentage more males than females to make up for the life lost in hunting, fighting, machismo.

If all the women and all the men stay on this res and none of them are gay and none of them die and all of them want mates and choose to mate only with their contemporaries on the res, then only 35% of the girls will find a mate. If 10% of the boys are gay and none of the girls are then only 31.5% of the girls will find mates.

A certain number of those girls may be undifferentiated males.

Here’s a bit of irony. Niagara Falls used to be the honeymoon mecca of Northeastern United States. Marriages were consummated, babies conceived in hotels with heart-shaped beds. The roar of the falls, the “Maid of the Mist”, cheap power for Buffalo, cheap power for the petro-chemical plants–Niagara is a symbol of what is wrong, of what has gone deadly wrong with our relationship with the environment.

Love Canal is in the town of Niagara Falls, New York. It is where Hooker Chemical buried toxic chemicals beginning in 1942 and the City of Niagara Falls had been using the site since 1920 to dispose of its chemical waste. Ultimately, it is estimated that Hooker dumped 21,800 tons of toxic waste in Love Canal. In 1952, the company backfilled the dump because it had reached capacity.

Not long afterward an elementary school was built on the site and a subdivision for low-income families. The families who bought homes there were not warned that beneath their yards was a petro-chemical waste dump.

I saw the Love Canal neighborhood in the early 1980s after families had been relocated and the houses were boarded up. It was winter, cold, desolate, brown grass, leafless trees and it didn’t take much to imagine Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring.

Love Canal is still resonating. It was a watershed moment wherein Occidental Chemical (formerly Hooker Chemical) learned that you can’t dump dioxin in potential suburban neighborhoods. If you want to contaminate you have to make sure you do it where people have no power. The poorest of neighborhoods, the least powerful of people.

But back to baby boys. Diminishing numbers of baby boys is a phenomena that occurs where PCB’s and Dioxin contaminate the environment. It occurs in animal species, as well as humans.

What would a predominately female world look like? Women are not necessarily more peaceful than men. We may appear to be so because we tend to bear the brunt of war. All the rape and torture–no glory. Such is true for those parts of the world where battles are fought. The point of rape is ownership and genocide–seed supplanting, creating children of the conqueror. Kill the men and boys, rape the women and in a generation there is no enemy. In theory, anyway.

So if most of the world were composed of women, if women made up 3/4’s of earth’s population, how would that change the world? More killing, less rape?

But women do suffer this other thing–love for their children. Not that men don’t suffer it as well, but somehow it is different in its manifestation. Men protect their children’s psyche or believe they are protecting their children’s psyche by testing them and allowing hem to be tested. Men will also physically protect their children against invasion and harm, but honor is big with men. LIfe is big with women. We’ll deal with the whole honor thing after we’ve saved our children’s lives. And for the most part we are unwilling to send those children to do battle. We want a really good reason.

Oil ain’t it for most of us. Liars ain’t it either.

But women can be very controlling. We can be harsh with each other and greedy and the evils of the world aren’t gender-based. They are greed-based. I’ve got mine, I’m getting more, and you can’t have any–greed-creed.