Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Nice try, larvae." Granny Clampett Wanna-be Foils Teen Bike Robbery

Since the rains began, I’ve been taking my bike on the train with me. Before, I was leaving it at the Hollywood Transit Station, but there’s no covered bike parking there and no way am I leaving it out in the rain for nine hours at a time. So I take it to work where I can put it indoors. I much prefer not taking it on the train, because instead of becoming engrossed in my book, I’m worried about someone snatching my bike. I usually don’t hang it on the hook, but even if I did, it would still be easy to steal from the bike area right inside the doors. I don’t feel like standing next to it the whole way, so I sit as close to it as possible. It always wobbles, but never comes close to falling over.

This one recent Friday night I’m sitting on the raised tier of seats, about three steps up from where the bike is parked. My helmet’s off, I ‘m wearing normal clothes, and I’m not readily identifiable as the owner of the bike. It’s about six in the evening and the train’s kind of crowded. For no particular reason, I’ve been watching these two kids with skateboards, about fifteen years old. One’s got wild black curls trying to escape from the circumference of a black baseball cap. He’s light skinned with possibly African American features. The other’s a thin pimply Caucasian with a short brown haircut on a head the shape of a jar of pickles. They both look like trouble waiting to happen.

They keep nudging each other and laughing. I start wondering if they’ve got their eye on my bike. The curly one hands his skateboard to the pickle-headed one. Curly shifts his pack from one shoulder to his back, and now both his hands are free. He positions himself to the left of the bike, standing exactly where you would if you were about to get on it. All he needs to do is reach out his arms and they’d be on the handlebars. Next time the doors open he could be out like a jackrabbit on fire.

I get up and climb down the steps. After a few excuse me’s to get by other people, I sidestep in front of him and plant my feet there, usurping his spot.“What are you doin?” he shouts with mock indignity meant to cover up guilt.
“I’m standing in front of my bike,” I answer. “What are you doing?”
“I’m tryna get out the door!”
“Well you’ll have to go around my bike. Unless you want to hop over.”
Just then, the doors open, and he bursts out with his friend, shouting, “You’re ghetto!” and disappears into the night.

I’m not sure what the term means as it’s used here, or whether it’s a compliment or an insult. But anyway I still have my bike.

As an anti-climactic after-note, a couple of days ago I was sitting in the exact same spot in relation to my bike, the bike area empty of people. As the train paused in station, a row of three kids walked by the open doors. I distinctly heard the words “…steal a bike?” coming from the middle one, a pudgy teen, as they walked by jostling each other and laughing. His gaze caught my eyes drilling through the window at him. “Just you try it, you little twerp!” I glared.

They were probably just kidding around. I wasn’t, though. Anyone who’s ever had a bike stolen (i.e. me, 1985; Lindi, 2004) has a reserve of adrenalin stored up just for that, and anyone who messes with us is in serious danger of losing limbs.

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!”

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ice Queen for a Day

Saturday morning as I left my house a heavy mist began to fall. The temperature felt at least ten degrees warmer than the previous few days. Cold snap must be over, I thought. Hence my utter shock when my bike slipped out from under me like a bar of soap as I turned a gradual curve out of the Gresham Transit Center.

I must’ve been going all of two miles an hour, but smacked the pavement as if I’d fallen from the sky. I grabbed my poor head, hoping my brain had not come detached from its shell, and just lay there for two or three minutes. I could swear it bounced a couple of times. Like before, I doubt I’d be sitting here writing this had I not been wearing a helmet. And it would’ve been so easy to leave it in my bike basket where it sits during the train ride and think, “Never mind, I’m just going a little way.” It’s only a few blocks to where I work, and I take a route with very little car traffic. But I’m in the habit of installing it on my head and so that’s what I did. It’s like when you put your seat belt on for the simple task of backing your car out of the driveway – you just do it automatically.

Most of my head-bangers have happened in such benign circumstances that it makes me wonder if I should wear a helmet for walking down the street. Do other people wipe out this much? This is about my fourth time in two and half years of daily riding. How are those odds? Does that make me accident prone, or average?

I soon realized I was lying on a sheet of ice and getting cold. So I began to collect myself -- picking up various body parts and snapping them back on. Two or three cars rolled by slowly as I strategized the extraction of my bruised up legs from the bike frame. Did they see me? How could they not? A friendly “Are you ok?” hollered out a car window would’ve been a nice gesture. They probably saw that I was getting up and assumed I was fine. Which I was, really.

When I finally stood up, I discovered that the world was my skating rink. Walking was not easier than riding. Finally I opted to get back on my bike and ride on the asphalt streets where the car tires had been. It seems that concrete ices up worse than blacktop.

Aches roamed around in my head for the next ten hours or so, but nothing a few little red pills couldn’t frighten away. But Sunday morning I woke up with a whiplashed neck, and a map of the South Pacific along the left side of my body. A trip to the neck repair shop might be in order.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lake Superior in my Path

Tonight as I got off the train at Hollywood Transit Center, no less than SIX cops marched onto the train and began trooping down it as the doors closed and it rolled away. Last Saturday night while the train was stopped at Gateway, two cops got on, tromped up and down a few times and got off. In both cases, fare inspectors were also present and the cops were not concerned with that. They must have been looking for someone, and had decided the MAX was a likely place to find them.

So I’d like to know where all these cops were last Sunday night when I got off at Hollywood at about 6:15. It was dark and not another soul was anywhere to be seen on the platform. At least that’s what I thought till I moved closer to the stairway and saw someone hosing down the pavement. At first I thought, Well this is a weird time for the maintenance workers to be out -- it’s Sunday night, it’s freezing, and it’s pitch dark. Then I thought, Well what good is that, to shoot the water up into a lame arc like that? Shouldn’t they be pressure washing it?

Then I realized this was a man standing with his back against the stair wall, spewing a geyser of pee onto the strip of concrete leading to the elevator. When I figured this out, of course I stopped walking. He kept right on peeing forever, looking over at me apologetically and calling out, “Soorrrryyy!” He had to walk toward me to leave the area. I waited till he walked past me and called out, “That was disgusting!” He turned and came back toward me with his arm extended benevolently, saying, “What can I do to make it better?” or some such drivel. I said, “You can Go Away.”

I knew it had been a mistake to engage with him at all, and I returned my attention to finding a route around the lake without stepping in it or rolling my tires through it or falling off the platform onto the tracks.

It’s quite evident the world over that men pee in public all the time. Look at any vertical surface in a transit center or parking garage – what do you think all those drippie-marks are from? Not to mention the smell, which our tax dollars are always trying to wash away with other, equally pungent odors. The floors get washed, but for some reason the walls are usually forgotten.

You can say all you want about the scarcity of public toilet facilities, but somehow, I manage to get through each day without urinating on public pavements. Had this guy been homeless or mentally ill, I might have been more forgiving, but he seemed clearly none of those things. He was well dressed in clean sporty clothes, carried a crisp satchel and wore a neatly trimmed mustache. Even if he'd been having some kind of medical emergency (which he wasn't), there were plenty of dark corners where he could have disappeared from view and aimed out onto the tracks, and we both could have gracefully pretended it wasn’t happening.

I would like to think that only the lower echelon of male specimens engage in this practice, but I’m not so sure. In any case, here was an example of someone with no excuse whatsoever committing one of my most unfavorite acts, and as soon as I’d maneuvered the lake, I went right for the cellphone in my pocket and I called the cops. 911, no less. OK, it wasn’t exactly an emergency, but darnit, why should these slobs get to do that wherever they feel like it? Besides I figured that Sunday night is probably a slow night for cops and they wouldn't have much to do. And there'd be no use reporting it at all unless they were going to act on it right away, so it was either 911 or nothing.

I watched him get on the train and noted the exact time. I thought, There’s always cops at Gateway (a few stops down) -- maybe they could nab him there.

I know if this were any huge city, the dispatcher would probably hang up on me, but instead they asked tons of questios and took down all the details as if they’d be hot on his trail in seconds. Obviously the cops are trying to rack up points on the transit system to show the public they're cracking down on Crimet, so why not add this to their scores?

I suppose I'll never know how it turned out. No three inch letters splayed across the paper the next day revealed the results.

Go ahead and mock, but I'd love to bust one guy for that as payback for all the pee I've had to see and smell and walk in during my lifetime. I can't help it if I'm civilized.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

No, I have not been murdered on the public transportation

Lindi and I joined a new gym. One of the staffers there, seeing my bike attire, asked me about my biking. She said she wished she could bike but she lived in Gresham. I of course immediately became enthusiastic and said No problem, hey, I commute to Gresham for my job, you and I are doing the exact same commute in opposite directions, and I can show you how to do it! I just ride to the MAX, it’s easy! She withdrew her neck down into her shoulders and said, “I’m scared of the MAX.”

OK, public announcement:
I’ve been doing it for six months now and I haven’t been murdered yet. Would everybody PLEASE remember that “the news” only reports on bad things?

I feel partly responsible for contributing to that public attitude. Me and my stories. I know I’ve mentioned a few unsavory characters. But I’ve forgotten to include all the perfectly normal people who ride it – such as myself. OK, so no more bad news stories. From now on I’m only going to report on the well-behaved people who sit reading a book till it’s time to get off.

That’s goina be my new angle – tra-la-la, look at all the happy people! – as soon as I finish telling you about the three arrests I’ve seen in the last week, the robbery I foiled, and the lovely man who urinated Lake Superior in my path to the bike elevator.