Tales From Public Transportation  

I've become hyper-aware of the stark contrast between riding public transportation here in Seattle and from when I lived in Portland. Portland and its neighboring cities to the East and West are essentially contained by the Tualatin Valley, through which runs the backbone of their transportation system, the MAX light rail. Seattle, on the other hand, is a sprawling patchwork of lakes, bays, islands, freeways, and bridges that rival the human circulatory system in complexity. To navigate this, the city has established approximately seven billion bus routes run by no less than ten different transit authorities.

For the most part I'm able to bypass this logistical craziness, since I live close enough to work that it only takes me one bus to get there. And because my neighborhood is only about a 3 on the scale of sideshow-like inhabitants (imagine a 10 as Danny DeVito's ugly twin with Tourette's on crack), I stay fairly shielded from the psychosis that likely occurs on buses originating from the less-than-desirable places. In Portland you were vulnerable to the freaks no matter where you went, as the MAX opened up the entire metro area for them to make their playground (and toilet).

I've been mostly content with my experiences on the Seattle buses, although this morning I had a particularly unsettling one. And... scene:


Cut to Jay, weary early morning traveler, embarking on another heroic journey into the world of extreme administrative work. He sits quietly on the bus, reading a book.

Enter Old Guy, who boards the bus and takes a seat right next to Jay.

Jay pops up from his book, a look of confusion playing across his face, and then turns to observe his surroundings. Pan out to wide shot of bus interior; it's large, with at least 20 rows of double seats. Jay's confusion becomes understood as we now see that he and Old Guy are the only two people on the bus.

Jay: Uh, good morning.

Old Guy: It is, isn't it?

Jay: So...

OG flashes smile at Jay, exposing olive green teeth crookedly set in deep purple gums.

Jay: Ergh! So, is this your usual seat? I don't mind moving.

OG: What? Oh, no-no.

Jay: It's not a big deal, really.

Jay clutches his messenger bag in preparation to flee like a timid woman. OG reacts quickly, resting his hand on top of Jay's.

OG: Please stay! Riding the trolley is always so much better with company.

Jay looks down at OG's hand, which is covered by a large square bandage with a quarter-sized crimson bleed-through stain on top of it. Jay knows crazy when he sees it, and immediately classifies this as a case of "old senile crazy."

OG: What's your name?

Jay: Mike.


Our conversation hobbled along for the next 30 minutes, which by no coincidence felt like the longest of my life. I came to learn that Old Guy was a freak in more than just the obvious ways. He told me how he had spent his fifties in Vietnam, and that his retirement checks went to supporting local business, i.e., prostitutes. The most memorable quote of the bus ride by far was "I use to have two of 'em at once. By the time it was over, I was the one with the slanted eyes!" Holy shit. Crazy he may be -- I'm not sure if I'll hear anything funnier than that for a while. As I gleefully pulled the rope to signal that my stop was next, I prayed to the Tom Cruise - God of fruitcakes - that it wasn't his stop as well. Two minutes and several ounces of Purell later, I was free of him.

I realized today that I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the elderly, but that I must do whatever it takes to ensure that it never, EVER again comes at odds with my repugnance towards crazy smelly people. That and I may need to start riding my bike to work.

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8 Reasons to Live

  • Marcia  
    September 8, 2008 at 2:40 PM

    DUDE. You made Mistake #1, the most common mistake that those not used to seeing The Crazy on a daily basis make: Saying hello. NEVER never NEVER do this!

    Props to lying re: your name, though.

  • Chris  
    September 8, 2008 at 2:58 PM

    You could have been sitting next to a mad genius.


    However, of the 4 or 5 communicable diseases you were likely exposed to, I'm not sure Purell was the antidote to any of them.

  • The Grunt  
    September 8, 2008 at 8:08 PM

    That sounds like a scene right out of a jail cell.

    Too bad bleach burns.

    Oh, and I've been on the light rail in Portland. It was a hoot and a holler, I tells ya!

  • Em  
    September 9, 2008 at 11:17 AM

    Hmm... I rarely talk to people when I'm on public transportation. This is an example of why not.

  • Jay  
    September 9, 2008 at 11:30 AM

    I think what some of you maybe failed to take note of was the fact that oldslice sat next to me on an otherwise empty bus. An exchange of words was inevitable, regardless who initiated it.

  • Christie  
    September 9, 2008 at 10:10 PM

    Pretend to be deaf. Works every time. Amateur.

  • Ryan  
    September 15, 2008 at 6:54 AM

    Oh gosh that was funny.

    As someone who has had tons of lunatics talk to him on public transportation, I have to echo what Jay said.

    You can't avoid talkng to these weirdos. They are completely mental and can't figure out how to bathe themselves, but they know how to weasel their way into your life for 7 or 8 stops. You're better off befriending them quickly to avoid any unecessary physical contact or unsettling amounts of shouting.

  • Crystal  
    September 24, 2008 at 7:16 AM


    it is much less likely that you will see people masturbating if you are riding your bike.

    since houston has a laughable (at best) public transportation system, i never get to see people masturbating in public.
    cept my dog.

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