Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The effect of uniforms on the atmosphere

OK, so now that you’ve heard all about MAX station as urinal, I can move onto our next topic -- MAX train as paddy wagon.

Have you ever heard of going for a “ride-along” in a police car? Apparently this is something a member of the public can do. I’m not sure what the criteria are. Maybe you’re working toward your scout badge, or exploring career options…? I don’t know. I’ve never wanted to do it. I would feel like such a voyeur sitting there gawking while someone was undergoing the trauma of a police intervention. Does someone getting arrested want an audience? I doubt it.

But if you want to do that, you can call the police non-emergency number and ask how to sign up. Or you can just ride the MAX often enough and sooner or later you’ll find yourself on a police ride-along whether you want to or not -- at least if they keep up this increased police presence on the MAX. Which frankly, I hope they do. I know I complained last summer about the police dog’s head in my lunch bag, but that was more of a dog issue. If they leave the dogs out, I’m fine with the police being there.

I’ve seen three people get arrested in the last couple of weeks. As far as I could discern without my ears flapping too noisily or my neck craning too rubberly, all three were repeat offenders of not buying a ticket.

It's got to be a much worse bummer to be arrested on the MAX than say, on the street, because rather than be withdrawn into a patrol car, the person is detained on the train in handcuffs for several stops until they arrive at wherever the cops left their car. I for one would die a thousand deaths.

I don’t think the fare inspectors themselves can arrest people. I think the fare inspectors call for the police when they find a repeat offender. Anyway, I’ve been noticing the multiplication of both police and fare inspectors on the trains and platforms. In addition to them, there’s that whole other strata of uniformed individuals from an agency called “Wackenhut” that have "Transit Security" written across the back of their fluorescent yellow-green jackets. I once asked a fare inspector what their role was exactly, and he said, “Eye candy.”

"But what do they do?" I pressed, and he answered "Nothing."

I must say that they provide the most unintimidating uniformed presence I have experienced with the possible exception of a high school drill team. I’m not sure why, but I can’t imagine them exerting authority in a sand box full of toddlers.

Am I horrible for saying that? But what are they for, really? Can anyone tell me? Looks like they have a bit of an image problem – with me, anyway -- and I’m curious as to how that got created in my mind. True, they’re usually very young, but I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. They come in pairs and chat with each other endlessly about their security guard adventures elsewhere, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that either.

One thing that happened kind of annoyed me, though – or I should say one thing that didn’t happen.

There are always at least two MAX cars joined together. There’s one car that’s level with the platform which is great for rolling onto with wheels. The other car has three steps inside the door, with a banister in the middle. The two cars are not always in the same order so you never know which car is going to stop in front of you. Once, when I got the steps car, I decided to run down the platform with my bike and roll onto one of the low cars. It wasn’t far, and took about three seconds. But when I got to the doors, they closed in my face and I missed the train. It’s not as if it was the last helicopter out of Saigon and scores of people were trying to claw their way on. No -- I was the only one on the platform after just a handful of people had gotten on before me. So you’d think the driver could’ve given me a break. Do they not at least glance out at their side mirrors before taking off?

Anyway, the next time the steps car stopped in front of me, I didn’t want to take a chance so instead of trying to make it to the roll-on car, I picked up my bike and began to heave it up the steps. It’s kind of a trick because there’s this banister in the middle, making it too narrow on either side for someone carrying a bike. So I was on one side of the banister reaching over it holding my bike on the other side while trying to heave it on board. It was awkward, and I got sort of stuck at one point. I had to stop, rearrange my grip, and try again. Meanwhile the doors keep trying to close, and since my bike’s sticking out there they can’t close, but they keep trying, which is not making it any easier to hold onto the bike. Finally, I oofed it on, at which point the train starts immediately and my new goal is to remain standing while the train lurches forward. When I finally get my feet into a steady position and look up, I see this Wackenhut dude has been standing right there watching the whole thing. And he’s still watching me, his face completely expressionless like I’m a power-point presentation.

OK, now forget about WWJD. What would YOU do? What would any human being with a pulse do? Would you not automatically, without even thinking about it, gender or no gender, reach down and lend a quick hand? Especially if you were twice my size and had both your hands free? But no, this guy stands there like a freaking mannequin.

I already had an impression of lameness before this happened, but this incident didn’t help. Oh, and speaking of lack of backbone, another time I snapped a picture of one of these stalwart guards. It was a Sunday morning, and this guy was so zoned out I wanted to go tip him over. Like cow tipping, only funner.

Can you make out the picture? (I snapped it from afar, not wanting to wake the guy and risk sending him into paroxysms of paranoia.) He's slouched over, his hooded head hanging down, bobbing along with the movement of the train.
Too bad I didn’t have my retractable pointer with me that I used to carry around in my teacher days. “Posture, boys and girls! Posture is important!” I could have rapped him on the point of his head. “You, young man! You sit like the letter C -- and you are becoming the letter O!”


At 6:09 PM, Blogger fool said...

funny...i ride the max 5 days a week from downtown to west beav' and haven't seen a fare inspector in almost 2 months. not many security guards either. i think they do eastside duty more often than westside..

thank goodness none of the do-nothings (or do-somethings, but like you say, i never see any of them) have ever harassed folks for being too-many-bikes on the trains--the one i come home on almost always has excessive bikes for the space available.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

You're right -- all this stepped up patrolling is concentrating on the east side (the route to Gresham), because that's where most of the crime happens.

I too have been relieved not to see cyclists being kicked off for lack of space. I've heard that if it's real crowded, you're not supposed to roll on with your bike. But to me that is just unacceptable. How can you possibly plan your commute around that possibility? I think they need to add one whole car per train for bikes only. Is that not the perfect solution? Trimet should be sending me monetary rewards for all my fabulous ideas.


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