Wednesday, February 27, 2008

So, back to the Brompton experiment.

It would definitely take some getting used to. My first impression was that it felt like a toy. Not to imply that it felt cheap -- a high quality, expensive toy, I mean. But toy-ish in size. The wheels are so small that they accommodate only a thin tire, and every driveway lip gives you a noticeable BUMP. I'd have to start being more careful, more choosey -- the big wheels I use now have sturdy tires on them that can bomb over anything. Plus the sales guy I was working with, Dean at Clever Cycles, says that with a small tire like that you have to pump it up about once a week. Once a week? Call me lazy, but that would be kind of a pain. A week goes by in ten minutes these days -- which means I would feel like I was pumping up my tires every ten minutes. I hardly ever need to pump up the tires I have now.

I do respect a salesperson who tells you ALL about the bike, not just the superlative features. It's a smart way to sell, because later as you begin to find out all the annoying things on your own, you won't be mad at the store. Instead you'll say, Oh there's that little blip they warned me about that I decided I could live with.

Another point is that despite its enormously attractive COMPACTNESS -- the main bait that reeled me in -- it isn't exactly like toting around your school lunch pail, as I had imagined. I sure wouldn't want to shlep it across an airport. But maybe I wouldn't have to -- presumably I could halfway uncollapse it and wheel it in front of me -- like a stroller, perhaps? I'll have to check.

It's not so much the weight of it, though, but the ergonomics of my body that makes it awkward to carry. If my shoulders were considerably wider than my hips, it could just hang down at my side, no problem. But they're not. My hips are about the same width as my shoulders. (Ever heard of it? It's a girl thing.) Which means that in addition to supporting the downward weight of it, I'm struggling to hold it OUT from my body to keep it from bouncing along my outer thigh.

You know what I mean? So anyway I'm broadening my horizons and looking at other brands. Of course I will give Brompton another look or two. Maybe I will adjust.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nerds of bikeland?

I may not have time to write about this (see last post) till Monday, so for now I'll at least provide you with a link to a site where you can see the bike.

If you scroll way down, this site has a little picture you can click on to see a video of it collapsing and uncollapsing. Yes, friends, it's a foldable I'm after. I didn't want to tell you. I'm wondering if riding a foldable goes in the same category as wearing an umbrella hat. Am I one of those people? And what's wrong with an umbrella hat anyway? I've never owned one, but secretly they seem like a good idea.

More about my test ride experience later.

A Glorious Day for Bike Shopping

For 10 years I've been lusting after this certain bike and I finally went and took it for a spin yesterday. And now, I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm filled with doubts.

This reminds me of the dating life, of when you finally manage to go out with someone you've been swooning over for months and then over one cup of coffee you realize it'll never work. I thought those days were over.

I'll have to get back to you with the details later. I'm just slipping this in over a ham sandwich. Gotta go.

PS: i might even be able to link you to a video clip of the bike in action.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Writing in my other life

As you know, I write other stuff. My blog is the funnest. In case you're interested, however, my latest article came out in the Portland Tribune last Tuesday: "Hunger’s attacked at the ground level -- Oregon Food Bank garden program helps people feed themselves."
And no, I'm afraid I didn't try to throw any hilarity onto the world hunger problem, so don't go there looking for entertainment. Some things are just not funny. Solutions are good, though, and can be uplifting for us all.

Monday, February 18, 2008

new improved

Just so you know, I've heavily edited that last post, and it's way better now. (I want to give you only my very best writing.)

I want to say something, but what?

A small group of loud girls, three or four of them, board the MAX and tromp through the car up to the front raised section, where I’m sitting. It’s the coldest day of winter and one of them’s wearing ultra mini-shorts, her brown legs bare all the way down to the sockless feet in her equally weather-wrong pumps. She shouts to the others “Dude tole me to get some pants on!”

“What dude?” asks another.

She gestures to the back with her head, her face angry. “That blonde nigger.”
The others twist their heads back to see.

“He better know who he talking to before he try talking to ME like that! He got NO IDEA who he talking to, and he better watch his ass! Because I got ME some BIIIIIIG PEOPLE! And if he don’t want to be one o’the people that gets SMASHED IIIIIN, he better shut his big ass mouth and he better not talk to ME like THAT!"

Her friends emit random sounds of agreement throughout the tirade. Two of them, fully clothed, sit across the aisle from Miss Nudie-legs, each occupying a pair of seats in the sparsely populated section. They sit their behinds on the window seat and pull up their knees to rest their heels on the aisle seat, displaying colorful canvas sneakers of identical make, the kind with inch-high white-walls bordering the soles. The shoes look brand new, except for some dirt that has gotten onto the white parts. The girls begin to rip off pieces from a wad of paper they share, which they then lick and use to rub the white parts of the shoes. After a few rubs they lick the paper again, then more rubbing. When a piece of paper becomes too soiled, they throw it onto the floor, rip off another one, lick it, and start again.

The white walls are getting cleaner, but the seat upholstery underneath the girls' feet is accumulating layers of dirt. Soon both of the seats are covered with the dirt from the shoes, to the point where no one would intentionally sit there.

I suspect it does not occur to them that in their endeavor to be clean in one area (their shoes), they are being piggies in several other areas. I consider pointing it out to them. But I've just gotten off a long day of work, I'm tired, and I can't think of a way of phrasing this that will not result in my being pelted by industrial-strength verbal abuse from all of them simultaneously. Call me silly, but I just have a feeling that's how it would play out. And call me a hopeless invertebrate, but I realize I am in way no mood to deal.

This is exactly why I'm not the president of the United Nations. You're required to take a basic concept like "We don't think you should be stoning women for adultery," and say it just so, all tippy-toe and eggshells, or else everybody gets all bent out of shape, which invariably results in an escalation of hostilities instead of the opposite. On the other hand, if you turn a blind eye so as not to make waves, you're condoning it.

Out of deep gratitude that I'm not in charge of world affairs, I try to at least be the kind of citizen who will speak out when I see something that's not right.

Had the girls not at this point gotten up to leave, I might have come up with something. Might. As it was, they migrated over to the doors, where they stood throwing candy and gum wrappers onto the floor as their obscenity-rich banter bounced around the inside of the train car as if they each held an invisible bullhorn.

I re-enacted the scenario in my mind for days afterwards, trying to come up with different ways I coulda-shoulda-woulda handled it. Even in hindsight, the perfect retort does not present itself. I loathe the idea that someone can calmly go about dirtying, damaging or defacing public property, worry-free that any of the dozens of people directly around them will react.

And yet. I said nothing.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Like a bump on a log…. or not?

Don’t think for a minute I’ve forgotten about my blog. No. That last story, about Naples, is getting a zillion hits, so I want to leave it up near the top a little longer. Besides, no time to post right now. Too much going on. But just so you know, my next question will be: When do you speak up and when do you not?

What if someone’s wrecking the city furniture? You see evidence of it everywhere, of course – littering, carving of initials into every surface, etc.-- creating a general atmosphere of shabbiness and squalor. So what about the rare occasion when you actually see this in progress? Do you sit there and say nothing? And if so, what are you waiting for? A policeman to come and put a stop to it? Ha. Like that'll happen.

I’ll give you an example I witnessed on the MAX recently. I probably won’t be able to post it till Monday, though. Sorry. But I always follow through, don't I?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Transit Trash and the Women who Hate Them

[We will return to mental illness after this brief message:]

During my high school years in Naples Italy, that city was listed as the third most densely populated in the world, right up there with Tokyo and Calcutta. You’ve heard about the Tokyo “people pushers” or whatever they’re called – people whose job it is to push on the backs of the people boarding the subways to stuff as many in as possible? The Neapolitans didn’t need that because they have no qualms about shoving each other, whether it’s a bus or a concert they’re trying to get into. I’ve had moments in Neapolitan crowds where neither of my two feet was touching the floor and I thought my ribs were going to break.

Fast forward to Portland Oregon, where only once every couple of years do weather conditions force mass dependence on mass transit. I’ve stood on a Portland bus that bypasses three dozen people waiting to board because the passengers inside WILL NOT pack together any closer than about six or eight inches of space around their bodies. I can’t imagine what it would take to make west coast Americans press the flesh like that. Maybe if we take direction from the rest of the world and overpopulate like rabbits, it’ll happen.

For the time being though, I’m loving that Portlanders won’t pack in to that ridiculous extreme. As a young woman, I suffered frequent disrespect in the middle of those kinds of crowds. I didn’t realize at the time that every other girl had the same problem. (Instead I felt embarrassed and didn’t talk about it.) Men took full advantage in such crowds to molest any young female they could reach --preying of course on the unsuspecting and silent young ones, knowing that any older woman would amputate their hand, or other offending body part, on the spot. Of course the filthy lowlife didn’t stop at wandering hands – they would press their whole body up against you, acting as if they couldn’t help it, pushed unwittingly by the swelling crowd. I could say more, but It’s really too gross to describe any further. I can’t bear it. Just imagine the most disgusting, and know that’s what I’m talking about.

That’s why I am beyond euphorically elated to read the following article about Mexico City’s answer to the problem – women-only busses. Here’s a link to it. I’ve read it several times. The women on those busses are ecstatic, and I am there with them. (I feel their gain!)

Getting back to my own experiences of lecherous transit trash, I had a final moment of delicious justice. In the summer of my nineteenth year shortly before I left Naples, squashed in the middle of a downtown tram, hanging onto the ceiling bars like everyone else, I felt a man’s fingers below. I managed to trace the arm they were attached to as it snaked through several bodies to an old man about three people away from me. Suddenly the tram stopped at Mergellina, the main train station, and when the doors opened, everybody between him and me popped out like jack-in-the-boxes. He was left standing there gaping at me fatuously, accused by the expression on my face.

He was just the right distance away for me to take out one of his knees with the most fabulous, Bruce Lee type kick – substituting the customary martial arts yell with an appropriate Neapolitan obscenity. I tell you that kick was sent by God herself. I certainly hadn’t had any kind of self-defense training. He disembarked as fast as he could, his face contorted in pain, limping horridly. I would be surprised if he ever walked normally again.

That was the last time I had to deal with it. Was that because I left Naples? I think not. I’ve been back, and I’ve been to plenty of other super crowded cities, Mexico City among them. No, it’s because after that, like the grownup girls, I was ready to amputate. I suppose it showed. No doubt I conveyed it with my whole body, wore it on my face. It’s a handy face to have in your wardrobe. I recommend it for the girl on the go.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Attempt at Civility Foiled

Since the train was almost completely empty, I could sit guilt-free in the Handicapped area. As usual I wanted to stay as close as possible to my bike. I hadn’t gotten out my reading materials yet, which are my defense against socializing with people I’d rather not. Sometimes when I’m all bundled into my dripping raingear, it seems too much trouble to extract it from my backpack.

The train doors open at a stop and a tall man in a floppy-brim leather hat lopes on, points to my bike, and twists his body in an over-mimed expression of awe. “Waaaaaau! You riding thaaaaaat?”

“Yup.” I said, thinking, Here we go. Oh well. What’s the harm?
“How far you ride?”
“Oh just a few miles a day.”
“Well, good for YOU, Ma’m. That’s admirable!”

Oh stop, I answer mentally.
I dislike being called Ma’m, plus I find it annoying to be praised by strangers. It always sounds false and condescending, especially when the praise is for something I could do in my sleep. Not to mention that it implies a level of familiarity that is so not happening.

He hurls his worn and withered body into the seat across from me. Long wavy gray hair billows out from the hat. His cheeks are sunk in, partly because he’s gaunt all over and partly because he has no teeth, making him very hard to understand. I’m wondering if he’s a meth case. He starts rattling on about his diabetes and his ordeal of losing his leg. The doctors kept trying to save the leg, but he was in so much pain all the time that he urged them to take it off. He pulls up his pants leg and shows me his prosthetic leg.

“Looks like quite a piece of machinery,” I say.

“Oh, yeh, this thing can do anything. And I still got my knee. See? Lucky me. Because when they amputate above the knee, that’s a whole different ball game.”

“I bet it would be,” I say empathetically.

“You goin to work?”
“Where do you work?”
I could’ve said “Gresham,” but instead I actually named the place where I work, which is never a good idea. See? This is why I try to avoid these conversations. You have to be on your toes every minute about what you’re saying. It’s way too much work.

“Wow, really? That's fantastic. Good for you, Ma’m!”

Oh. Shut. Up. I think, flashing a token grimace in his general direction.

By now I’d wisely gotten out my reading materials and buried my nose in them, so that when he asked me the next question -- “Are you married?” -- I had something to do.

When I didn’t answer, he said, “I know....It’s none of my business.”

Yeh, so why’d you ask me, you old fart? I wonder inwardly.

“It’s none of my business, but I KNOW!” he proclaims, raising his index finger, as if trying to impersonate some kind of wise old seer.

No, you DON'T know, you old schmuck. You haven’t the palest idea. Go. Away.

As I exit the train he promises to come see me at my place of work. I’m not worried that he will, but Ick!

So there you go. I started out with the best intentions of being civil to a fellow human being, and this was as far as I got.

Friday, February 08, 2008

no can do now

Looks like I'm probably not going to be able to post till Sunday or Monday. Hm. Maybe I can squeeze it in on my lunchbreak tomorrow, I'll have to see.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Conversations with Madness

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t I just say I wasn’t going to use any of the crazy-words? Well, not really. I said I wasn’t going to use the derogatory slurs, the nicknames for people with mental illness. Madness is not a word that names a person, it’s a word that names an illness. I don’t think of it as an insulting word. Do you? Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t it fairly neutral? Feel free to comment if you disagree.

People list all kinds of reasons for not accessing the public transportation. Besides fear of crime (and I think we've covered that, haven't we?), another common reason is that normal, stable people would rather avoid encounters with the overtly mentally ill. And you know what I mean by overtly – the kind you can see coming from a mile off. For obvious reasons, you see a higher percentage of that on the trains and buses than you might in your private world. When I see them, I try to temper my initial negative reaction by being really grateful they’re not driving.

Second, my experience has been that even among these extreme cases, 99% of them respond appropriately to body language that clearly says “No, I do not want to chat. Don’t bug me.”

About once a year, though, I have this great idea (completely forgetting the last time I had this great idea) that goes: “Hey. What’s the big deal, Kate? Be nice. Go ahead and talk to the poor guy. What’s it to you? Don’t be such a snob.”

This is followed by a conversation during which I immediately remember why this is actually not a great idea. I would like to be kind, but I’m going to have to find some other way to express kindness, because conversation with such an individual doesn’t work – for either me or them.

I can give an example of my latest attempt at this, but I’ll have to write it later. I don't mean to be annoying, but I’m trying to limit my blogging time. I don’t want to burn out and have to break for a whole month again.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stop the name calling

Ok I told you I was going to start talking about the mental illness I see on the public transportation. It’ll be interesting to see how I write about it, given than I’ve decided to remove certain words from my spoken and written vocabulary. The words are:
nutcase, loonytunes, bonkers, wacko, lunatic… and the many others in that category.

I’ve decided that we have to stop constantly mocking mental illness if we want anyone who has mental illness to seek treatment. Have you ever known anyone with a mental illness issue? Few are willing to admit it and get help. And if the afflicted person won’t look at it, there’s not a darn thing anyone can do about it. Nothing moves forward. Everyone else has to just live with it in their midst, and I can tell you from experience it’s a bear to live with. Of course it’s a bear for the afflicted person too. Or not. Depends what kind of illness or disorder they have. After a point maybe they’re oblivious. Things get worse when left untreated.

It’s all of ours problem. No one escapes it, it’s absolutely everywhere. If you don’t have it in your family, just hop onto the public transportation. Or you might find it in your own self one day. Some people have had problems from day one, but other people are afflicted suddenly, out of the blue. Any one of us could wake up one day hearing voices, or find ourselves being attacked by spaceships.

No doubt you were all looking forward to funny stories about the crazies, since you know I like to be funny. Now I don’t know what the stories will be like. Guess we’ll find out.

This might be really hard. I’ve always loved those words. For my entire life, I’ve relied on them heavily for comic relief from all the mayhem around us. I’m going to omit them for the next forty days and then re-assess. I can’t help wondering if omitting those words is going to seriously cut in to my ability to be hilarious. On the other hand, I would hope that my entire sense of humor doesn’t depend on a certain percentage of the population being ill.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Purple People Eater escapes from zoo and pursues cyclist

When I get off the train in Gresham, I ride on small streets and encounter maybe five cars along the seven minute ride to my place of work. If I got off at a closer station, it would be a four minute ride to work, but I like this way better. I always seek the least traveled streets, even if it’s a longer route.

As I approach my first stop sign I notice a truck sitting there. I wonder why it isn’t proceeding through the stop. I pull up alongside since there’s plenty of room there. I brake and slow way down for a last swivel of my head before proceeding through, even though I could see since half a block ago that the coast was clear. And of course I make sure this truck isn't about to turn right.

As I cross the intersection I hear a squeal of tires as the truck peels out after me and pulls alongside me with the passenger window on its way down. The driver, an old guy in a baseball cap, begins yelling out the window at full volume. I won’t sully my blog with the words he used, but the main one starts with and A, ends with and E, and has an s-s-h-o-l in the middle. Over and over he used this word, screaming “YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, YOU ………!!!” and other phrases laced with other obscenities. He rides along at my speed, continuing to scream, turning absolutely purple.

His vehicle veers closer and closer to the curb. I’m running out of space. I sort of freeze, not knowing what to do. Of course now I see plenty of options. Why didn’t I stop and hop my bike up onto the sidewalk where I wouldn’t be squished? Why didn’t I get off my bike, turn it around, and ride in the opposite direction? Instead I just stopped, because the space was getting too skinny, and did nothing. He stopped too, and kept on yelling, and now it felt worse because now I was just sitting there.

So I started riding again, changing my initial strategy of riding slow till he went by, to riding faster to get away from him. It seems illogical now, since obviously a bike isn’t going to outrun a truck. But I was just acting on a general “get away from this person” impulse. Now he sped up and zoomed past me, still screaming. A block further he turned, to my surprise, into the parking lot of my place of work, right where I usually turn in. So I rode past that entry point and turned into the driveway further down. We weren’t open yet and I rode up to the back door as usual. Meanwhile, he had gotten out of his truck and was striding toward me, still yelling. I felt that fishing for my card-key would take too long and began banging on the door. A co-worker opened it and I slipped in with my bike. The man was still approaching, waving his fist in the air and pointing angrily, now yelling at her, about me, until she closed the door.

I don’t want to identify my place of work on my blog. However, it turns out that that’s exactly where he was headed. My co-workers recognized him as a regular customer who comes to use our public facility almost every day. Turns out this ain’t the first time he’s misbehaved. On another occasion, he was so hot to be the first in the door when we opened, that he knocked over a baby stroller.

He waited till we opened and then came in! Aaaaaaak! My co-workers changed my schedule so that I wouldn’t be in his area till he left. My co-workers suggested strongly that I report the incident, so I did, and the police showed up in two minutes – which surprised me since I’d called the non-emergency line. They came and talked to me, then they went and found Mr.Purple and took him outside and talked to him. Then they came back and talked to me again. They told me there was nothing they could do about the situation since he hadn’t actually threatened me. Apparently this kind of behavior doesn’t constitute a threat. If he had said words like “I’m going to kill you,” that would be a threat, but since he only acted like he might kill me, he’s covered under free speech.

My place of work was more supportive. He’ll be getting a letter from the Big Cheese, outlining his undesirable behavior so far and warning him that he’s on the verge of being excluded from our facility. I think that more could have been done if he’d actually stepped onto the property while screaming at me, but as it happens the parking lot is owned by the City of Gresham. My co-worker holding the door said he was careful not step from the parking lot onto our sidewalk.

So you see, free speech as we define it is good but bad. Bad, but good. Why is blatant unmitigated verbal abuse just A-OK? It would be interesting to hear from some readers in other countries how this behavior would have been handled where you live.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Coming attractions

Now that I’ve told you about the urination, the arrests, and the foiled robbery as promised, I will veer slightly from the MAX back to the road and tell you about the psychotic ravings of an individual clearly suffering from acute bike envy. Full-on road rage from car to bike is considerably more alarming than car to car. To preview: Part 1, perpetrator lies in wait; Part 2, perpetrator becomes completely unglued; Part 3, cyclist escapes; Part 4: identity of perp revealed.

Then we’ll get back on the train where I’ll tell you about my latest endeavor to be kind to the mentally ill – an ongoing project of mine, for which there are plenty of practice opportunities on the public transportation.

But not today, as I’m working on a story that’s due tonight.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Slob sighting results in slob citing

Last night on my way out of Hollywood Transit Center I stopped to chat with the fare inspectors who are always at the bottom of the stairs there. “Wish you’d been around last Sunday evening,” I said, and told them about the peeing man standing almost exactly where they were standing now. "Oh, we heard that broadcast over our radios,” she answered. “One of the drivers reported seeing him, and they caught up with him at another stop and cited him.”

“YAAAAAAAAYYY! GOT ONE!” I cheered inwardly as I wheeled off toward the elevator.

When I got home I called the non-emergency police number for confirmation – you can do that, call in and get the results of something you reported – but according to them, the guy slipped off the train by the time they caught up with it. Darnit. I liked the inspector’s version much better. She must’ve been talking about a different guy. (I don't think t
hey even work on Sunday nights, so how could they have heard it?) Oh well. At least someone got busted for peeing.

I asked the person at the non-emergency number if she thought that peeing was a dumb reason to call the police. She assured me it was a perfectly good reason, since this one kind of aberrant behavior is often accompanied by others, such as drunkenness or having one’s privates exposed.

So there. Yeah.