Friday, September 20, 2013

Humming helicopters through the blades of a fan

Riding the 17 home: This bus is stone-cold quiet most hours, but PSU's classes empty right into the bus every run between noon and 3 p.m. The 1:30 is jostling already with girls comparing shoes and nail polish, girls who will get off at the mall or the parents' homes in Alameda, but the bus driver has something to say, too. "It's time for class," he says. "The bus is moving."

We break into the street and he points to the courthouse. "You want to stop at Main if you're interested in the justice system or if you have business with the justice system," he said. He points out Pioneer Square, and it sounds like he's telling its history, but he has no microphone. He's no match for the churn and exhale of the engine. The next time I can make him out, we're stopped.

"Burnside is a great connector," he said. "You can go to Beaverton or Gresham, but we'll wait here with a view of Northwest Portland."

"And now the bus is moving."

A woman in hijab is face-timing, but she snakes an earphone out from her scarf to hear the man in front of her. He's looking, pointing to her head.

"It's 80 degrees. Aren't you hot?"

"No," she says, then turns back to her phone with an eye roll.

"I'm just saying it's hot," he says.

The college girls talking boys switch to singing to overcome the engine and the lurker. But no landmark goes unmentioned from the front. The grey house bus station and the I-5 overpass are as important as the place where NBA stars shoot. We're two miles from industry, he says. We are above the Willamette River. Six buses cross the intersection of MLK and Broadway, he says, and you can walk to any of them.

The bus is moving.

"We have crossed into Northeast," the driver said. "Everyone has their own preference, but if you're still on this bus, you probably like Northeast. I do, too."

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