You can’t sleep here

The old woman is sleeping. Her eyes are closed and her chin sits on the top of her bundle of possessions. Her hands dangle in her lap, arms rest on her thighs. She sits heavily on the blue metal bench. Her gray hair is neatly fashioned in a tight bun on the top of her head. The woman wears no makeup on her pale, slightly ruddy face. Her clothes have that washed-out no particular color look and fit loosely over her large body.

The green plastic chair is the first thing I see as I approach the transit station. It is overturned and tied to the top of her cart. Everything and nothing gives her away as someone who has nowhere to go. But mostly it is the cart or rather the possessions in the cart, which I can’t actually see. I can see several full plastic bags and something large and dark blue. It could be a blanket or a sleeping bag folded up. Everything in the cart is as tidy as her hair. The cart is not a grocery store cart. It is the kind of two-wheeled cart one can buy to tote groceries from the store.

This is what I see as I pass. I think how hard it is to just get enough sleep when you are homeless. You sleep in small frames of time never having enough to really recharge, to really give your body and your mind, particularly your mind, what it so needs to survive. Thriving is a wistful dream. Sleep deprivation kills. Even this kind of sleep deprivation shortens your life even if you have a place to live and plenty of nutritional food and exercise and love. If you don’t have these things, there is no reserve and sleep deprivation is more lethal.

While housed people are thinking about how to have healthier longer lives, the old woman just wants to sleep. And Christ, is that too much to ask? Apparantly so. As I board the train, I see two police, one on each side of her. I see her outstretched hand holds something. An identification? The train begins to move slowly out of the station and the woman stands up, begins pushing her cart, moves away from the bench, from sleep. Weariness in her every lumbering step.

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.