One Saturday a few months back I had just the worst day at work. A perfect shit storm, where the first bad thing that happened seemed to precipitate a cascade effect of awful. I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to sit down and write about it. I originally conceived of blogging as a means of releasing some of the stress of life and work, but often it feels like blogging about it is just reliving it. Who needs that? Perhaps enough time needed to pass for me to process it and be able to put it into words. Now I'm probably making it sound worse than it was. Nobody died. It wasn't even traumatic. Just really, really annoying. And kind of funny, in retrospect.
Before I get into the events of that day, I feel that a little background on some of the persons, places and things involved in the story might be in order. The actual events of this Saturday will be in Part Two. There will also be a Part Three, for this tale of madness has a sequel! This way I won't have to keep interrupting the narrative to explain certain parts. If you want to skip over the backstories contained herein, I won't blame you. You can refer back to Part One when you're reading the next parts if there are any elements you're confused about. I'll even provide links in to THIS chapter so you can open up a new tab without having to lose your place. Aren't I nice? Onward!
(Note: I use the terms "route" and "line" interchangeably)
The 75 is one of the first routes I drove after I graduated from training. It is 19 miles from end to end. Not all in a straight line, of course - it meanders from the town of Milwaukie on Portland's southern border, through the eastern side of Portland, to the North Portland neighborhood (and once a separate town) called St. John's. It is not the longest route in our system, but it does take about 90 minutes to drive in one direction. That may not sound like much, but to me - coming from driving a bus system in a predominantly rural area - it seemed quite long, especially when you consider that you are in an urban environment the whole time. We had longer routes in my old system, but if you drove more than a few miles in any direction from one of our transit centers you would be in open country. 19 miles was about the distance between our two largest towns, and it would only take you about 50 minutes to complete a one-way trip.
The 75 is also interesting because of the variety of neighborhoods and communities it serves. Most of the route could be called low-income. St. John's is a rather dreary little community, faded from its glory days as a legitimate competitor to Portland as the major port on the Willamette River. Back in the 1930s, it even built a spectacular bridge across the river in an effort to facilitate truck access to its shipping terminals, which now seems oddly out of place in this remote corner of the metropolitan area...
Milwaukie, by contrast, is a rather affluent community. In between these two ends, the route passes through neighborhoods on all points on the social-economic spectrum, from economically disadvantaged to "Oh my god, that house is a freakin' CASTLE!". Very few of the homeowners in those latter neighborhoods use the transit system, but their domestic employees and non-driving children do.
Hollywood Transit Center:
Approximately in the middle of Route 75 is the Hollywood Transit Center. Although only three bus lines serve this transit center, it also provides access to a MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) station served by three of the four light rail lines, so it's a pretty busy transit center. Here is a screen capture from Google Maps of what it looks like from above:
|Looks like the top of Bob Belcher's head.|
The big brown blob is a patch of sickly grass. The irregular whitish rectangle (which turns out to be a FedEx truck if you zoom in far enough of Google Maps) to the right of the brown blob is the location of a portable outhouse for use by drivers. The smaller whitish square next to the truck looks like an outhouse. Google claims this image was taken in 2020, but since October 2019, when I started, the outhouse has always been where the truck is sitting. What's up, Google Maps?
|Look at the date! The truth is out there!|
Our porta-potty is surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a gate secured by a normal self-locking doorknob. Each driver is issued a single key for such locks throughout the system. Other doors are controlled by electronic card readers, and our ID badges grant us access to those. Once you unlock the gate of the fence surrounding the porta-potty, you then have to use the same key to unlock a padlock on the potty door.
It's always amazed me that TriMet put all this effort into building this transit center, and they've got all that room in the big brown blob, and the best they could do for us is a damned porta-potty. Hollywood TC is not like many of the transit centers in the system. Buses never "lay over" there for more than a few minutes (with the exception of the line 66 - see below), so a more traditional break room with toilets probably seemed unnecessary. But the length of time needed to unlock two locks, use the cold, filthy, uninviting privy, then re-lock the padlock is usually longer than any "dwell" time one might have there while in service. I reserve my "comfort breaks" for the better facilities at the ends of the route, and have not yet had the misfortune of having to use the Hollywood TC "Honey Bucket" (that's the actual name of the company that rents and services the porta-potties dotted throughout our system).
Okay, diatribe aside, here is a graphic which illustrates how the Hollywood TC works:
Depending on which direction they're coming from, buses access the TC from one of the two entrances at the top of the image, then travel counter-clockwise (or "lefty-loosey" for children of the digital age) around the blob to their appropriate bays. As you can see, the lines 77 and 75 each have two bays. The line 66 is an infrequent express whose northern terminus is the Hollywood TC, so it only needs one bay. The line 75 going south to Milwaukie stops at the bay at the south end of the TC, while the northbound bus to St. John's continues through that bay to the one at the north end of the TC - at least, that's how I do it. You could pass through the other bays if they're empty and the southbound bay is occupied. The buses seem to be timed so that they just miss each other, but they are often quite close together, so having separate bays helps to avoid congestion, and also helps to sort out northbound passengers from southbound passengers. The bays are clearly marked to show which direction the bus is headed, but that doesn't mean you don't get the occasional confused (or illiterate) passenger who gets on the wrong bus, then has to deboard at the next stop when they realize their mistake. This may seem like a lot of unnecessary detail, but it will be important to understand an event in Part Two.
The Hollywood Transit Center also has a recent tragic history which I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention, although it has no direct bearing on this story. Or does it? As previously mentioned, this awful day also has a sequel - a hauntingly similar event to one that transpired on the titular day, and in the same location. I think it was the subsequent event which really prompted me to finally tell this tale. When you consider the two events I'm going to relate, and the grisly history of the Hollywood TC, you - like me - may begin to think that this particular spot on the earth's surface must have some sort of curse upon it.
There is an infamous TriMet passenger named Leon, but he calls himself "Little Leon" - frequently, because he often refers to himself in the third person. I'm not sure how he came by that diminutive sobriquet, because he's actually pretty average height, although he is very skinny. Anyone who has been with TriMet for any length of time knows about Leon, even if they haven't met him yet. I have no idea what his last name is, nor would I care to "dox" him to that degree, other than to reveal that Leon was once the fastest man in Oregon. This is a verifiable fact, because there is a trophy with his name on it in a display case at his former high school right here in Portland, which has been seen by some of our drivers. I don't know if someone has since beaten Leon's record.
Leon is infamous because he's completely bat shit insane. You almost never get an uneventful ride when Leon's on board. He'll usually start screaming at another passenger, then refuse to leave when you tell him to get out. Often a supervisor or the police need to be summoned to get Leon off your bus. Rather than delay your bus and your passengers, sometimes it's easier to just let Leon be crazy, as unpleasant and distracting as that may be. Many times he'll impulsively and suddenly want off the bus before he's gone very far, or will fall asleep (usually because he's drunk). Then, of course, it's another investment of time waking him up at the end of a line and coaxing him off your bus. Spoiler alert: this is the sort of situation I found myself in on the fateful Saturday of the title.
Because of his behavior, Leon is frequently banned from riding, at least on a temporary basis. In fact, he's sort of on "double secret probation", like Delta House. TriMet seems unwilling to permanently ban anyone. What's more, such a ban is difficult to enforce. We're constantly getting new drivers, who don't know what Leon looks like. Sometimes his looks change. Not like a shape-shifter, but for a time he was sporting a bushy beard, so one driver from my training class didn't recognize him from previous clean-shaven meetings, and then was stuck with him on board. I'm pretty sure that some drivers won't let him on board just as a matter of principal, whether management would approve of that or not. What they don't know won't hurt them. Leon's not going to call the office, and any passengers familiar with him aren't going to complain. One of my fellow drivers maintains his own blog specifically about this job - you can find a link in my sidebar. He admitted in one of his posts that he tricked Leon (he didn't name him but we all knew who he was talking about) into not getting on his bus by pointing behind Leon and saying, "Your 20 dollar bill is blowing away!". Leon took off after the phantom note and the driver shut his door and drove away.
I did not encounter Leon during my first few months of driving here. During our six-month probationary period, my class had to meet about once a month for further education and training. At one such gathering, most of my classmates were telling tales of "Little Leon". I wondered how I had not yet encountered this notorious scoundrel. Turns out he usually haunts the Route 6, which I had not yet driven. When I finally did meet Leon, of course I didn't know who he was until after he was on board. I recognized him because of certain phrases he likes to utter, which I had heard about from my classmates. I also found out much later that Leon was then currently on a long-term ban from the system. Of course, no one had bothered to inform any of us of this. Then it occurred to me that the probable reason that so many of my fellow newbies were encountering Leon was because he knew we were new, and therefore not likely to refuse him service, like more senior drivers would. He also has a way of barging his way onto the bus and scurrying to a seat without paying (TriMet also doesn't enforce their own fare policy). Then he's dug in like an Alabama tick.
A bit should be said here about the train situation in Milwaukie, Oregon. There are a couple of major freight train rights-of-way that pass through the town. The 75 crosses both of these lines on its way in and out of Milwaukie. One freight line seems to be rather infrequently used, and the trains don't usually stop in town, although they can be quite slow. That right-of-way is also shared by the MAX tracks, but those trains are short and quick. The other freight line is the real problem. The trains frequently stop, blocking traffic at several crossings for ungodly lengths of time. TriMet has pre-planned detours for such contingencies which are detailed on special sheets of instructions each driver carries. Sometimes, however, the red lights start flashing and the crossing guard arms start coming down as you are approaching the tracks, but after you've already passed whatever intersection you'd need to utilize those detours. Before the Saturday in question, I had not yet had the opportunity to use one of those detours, but I have been caught waiting for eons at the crossings. More about this in Part Two.
Well, that should take care of the pertinent details about the system, the locations, and one of the prominent players in this little drama. I hope it wasn't too boring for you. If you're still with me, I thank you. I promise that Parts Two and Three will be chock-a-block with juicy tales of pains, trains and imbeciles.