The Lone Chairs of SW Portland


I used to be able to grab a bus every ten minutes when I needed one. I was spoiled. I would get anxious, hustling to the bus stop, imagining the horror of seeing a bus pull away because I didn’t want to wait ten minutes for the next one. Bus service has changed. Worker shortages and assorted financial woes have made waiting times longer. Less used routes have always had long wait times, sometimes a half hour to forty-five minutes between pick ups. TriMet’s bus stop phone system announces, to the exact minute, when the next bus will arrive. If you’re not in the mood for a 45 minute hike that probably won’t get you to your destination, you’re forced to wait. 

So, chairs, simple, useful objects appeared making the life of the weary commuter better. This is not TriMet issued gear. The occasional bus stop has a bench nearby and a couple of bus stops, in the whole system, have built-in, angular, uncomfortable looking metal seats attached. The chairs are random, sporadic, beat up seating arrangements, donated by kind neighbors, an offering of temporary comfort. I’m remembering a line from a Joan Osborne song, “What if God were one of us, just a stranger on a bus?” Would you want God waiting, shivering and standing for a bus?

Driving by, I noticed these chairs and I felt better. I took the bus for almost half a year and I never had a chair. My wait times were minimal. Had they not been, I would have had to bring my own chair. Taking the bus is exhausting. Navigating the system, getting to the bus stop, waiting, fighting the elements, finding another bus to get back. Technological advances help but chairs soften the blow. It’s nothing fancy but it’s a seat. There’s also that spirit of generosity. People donate cast off chairs so others may sit, sometimes for what feels like hours, waiting for the crappy bus.

Plastic, Fantastic

What could be more disposable than a crappy plastic chair? It seems destined to crack after a sitting or two. These are the chairs you instantly regret buying. If they were better than nothing they still might not be good enough for bus stop seating. There was a theme on Garden Home Road. Give them plastic. It’s almost better than sitting on the ground. Breakable, disposable, these chairs are a temporary alternative to standing. Too bad no one makes a disposable cot. Most chairs are solo, but the white chair with the two small blue ones seems especially thoughtful for any parent traveling with a couple of kids.

The Folding Chairs of Terwilliger

Brown, drab folding chairs populate a section of Terwilliger heading towards the Tigard border. It’s a couple of matching chairs at different bus stops but they have to be someone’s discards. A couple of these seats were offered to the nearby stops. I pondered why it’s always a sad, lone chair. Bleachers, benches, rows of chairs would be overkill because two feels like a crowd at a bus stop.

The scene below seemed precarious. A chair leans against the bus stop pole while a traffic cone marks the spot of some fallen electrical apparatus.

The Multnomah Village Upgrade

The stone wall makes this bus stop feel a bit cozier. I caught the slatted lawn chair above only to discover it had been replaced by a softer office chair—one that needed the weight of a person to keep from turning towards the bus stop pole. Possibly a case of a frequent sitting upgrade. It almost makes me want to start taking the bus along that route so I could use that chair. 

The Miscellaneous Extraneous Conclusion

It occurred to me, I’m taking pictures of chairs. This is my life. Portrait is a more highfalutin word, but really, I’m trying to document this act of support for bus commuters. Bus stops and chairs are not an exciting combinations even when someone drops off fancy wicker chairs. The makeshift trash can is a nice addition as TriMet never springs for trash receptacles. It is a strange phenomenon. Most chairs are empty but they remain ready to assist anyone waiting for a bus. I’m sure they garner gratitude from the occasional bus riders who use them to park their posteriors.

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