Creepy Stairs, Not Stares

In the beginning.

On a sunny afternoon the opening to a long winding staircase peeks out onto SW Barbur Blvd. The stairs begin dark and gloomy. Surrounding trees and brush block out the sun. The steps appear in an uninviting section of this busy four lane road offering an escape from a dirt and gravel shoulder. I had no idea where they led but anywhere, even a route that required taking sinister steps had to be better than the starting location. It has the feel of a live action Candy Land game. If you land on the space you ascend the stairs.

Paint job needed.

I have read a few blogs posts in the Pittsburgh Orbit about that city’s stairs. The weekend before I checked out these mystery stairs, a friend had mentioned The Portland Stairs book. I know Portland has a network of stairs too but I’m not familiar with them. Pittsburgh stairs were constructed for workers to be able to get down the hills to the factories below. With Portland it’s a given that if you live on a hill you would also need steps.

It’s not the tree that’s crooked.

The more I drove past these stairs the more curious I was about where they led. They seemed strange to me. I wondered where someone would go if they took the stairs down the hill to Barbur Blvd. The closest location of significance is the Fulton Park and Community Center or the Portland French school up the road. The stairs have a middle of nowhere feel. It makes more sense to use the stairs to get away from that section of road. I spent the first five months of the school year commuting by bus and train but since I’ve become a regular driver I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a public transportation user or a pedestrian. The stairs provide an easier way to get up the hill. The other option would huffing it up and around a steep street. There has to be a few people who benefit from the stairs’ location.

The 201st step.

I headed up the stairs after parking the car on a steep incline on SW Parkhill Dr and walking over. There was never a more aptly named street. It’s hard to tell how much the stairs get used. Graffiti on one of the stair walls had been painted over but the railings suffered from peeling paint and lichen growth. Closer to the top, a pair of pants had been draped over a railing. The stairs proved to be winding but not unyielding. The steps did a nice of job of cutting through the forest and brush. It wasn’t a bad walk as I strode up the stairs with plenty of landings along the way. I spotted daylight and the landings stopped. I was stepping through tall bushes towards sunlight. I popped up in a sedate neighborhood between two nice homes on another section of SW Parkhill Dr. I was able to look back and see a terrific view across the Willamette River. After I headed down the stairs and got back to the car I lamented not counting the stairs. A stair count would offer a sense of how far up the hill the stairs go. A specific number would be impressive. I chose not to return to the stairs to count but my estimate would be at least 300 steps.

Outdoor pants drying rack?

I know there are plenty of stairs in the West Hills and other parts of Portland. Something tells me that they must be impressive if a 147 page book has been written about the subject. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore them. At this point I’m just trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit. If they’re writing about stairs, I write about Portland’s version. I found my transplant self emerging reflected by my ignorance of stair history, but it felt good to take a few minutes to check them out instead of continuing to drive past them everyday giving them little thought. On the stairs I didn’t run into trolls, sketchy or pantsless people and I didn’t end up reenacting a Portland version of that scene out of the Exorcist. There are more steps out there with there own stories or at the very least some better views.

Post Script: As I was posting this I discovered on the community walk website that the Barbur Blvd stairs are known as the Nebraska Stairway and have a total of 147 steps. My estimate of 300 steps was way off but a good guess considering I had walked up and then back down the steps. That math has me off by only 6 steps. I checked a copy of the Portland Stairs Book from the library which is the first step in my becoming a stairs expert.

Auto Message


It can be a nice life if you’re easily entertained as I am. If something out of the ordinary catches my eye I want to document it. This compulsion has grown since I’ve had pages of a blog to fill. I was attracted to the handwritten and homemade feel of these messages that I spotted on cars and in car windows. I appreciate people’s needs to communicate especially by way of automobiles which have the potential to be roving bulletin boards.

Honkies Stop!


If the first part is too faint to read it says:

Do not beep your horn to make me go faster. These roads are for walkers, bikers; the old and the young.

I do believe there’s a semi-colon in the message written in marker directly on the car. Or, is it a stray random dot above that comma? The poor sad semi-colon feels like a dying breed in the punctuation world. A message could get lost due to over analysis. No matter – the message is clear. Is it possible that some of the honkers are people still mad about past elections? Since the message is fading it’s harder for people to read the driver’s anti-honking proclamation.


Rage in the Machine

This statement is bolder and may be easier to see in a traffic jam. Visibility is hard to gauge since I have not had the pleasure of seeing this sign bring its message to where it’s needed the most: to the people stuck in that traffic. I use the word pleasure because I know I need a good laugh and reading material, ideally a combination of the two, when I’m stuck, ass-deep in bumpers and car exhaust and I’m not going anywhere for awhile.

I’m trying desperately not to acknowledge the typo in this message just as I would hope my audience would not throw the errors in this blog back in my face. No one has ever gotten mad enough or made any signs that I have seen about the traffic engineers who designed our roads and created this stasis induced road rage leading to nightmares about a traffic system. These folks seem never to have anticipates an influx of traffic year after year. I suppose that message is too complicated to express on a sign taped to the inside of a back window.

Driving Blind


You have to love this simple, yet effective and humorous sign. It’s a great depiction of a nervous dog. It’s hard to imagine how anyone gets a nervous dog to pose for a picture but here’s proof that it can be done. The message about a seeing eye dog insinuates that the student driver is sight impaired. Is that even safe?  To top it all off the sign is unceremoniously taped to the window with wide gaudy yellow tape. Nice touch. Who put the sign on the vehicle the dog or the blind driver?



TriMet Tales, Not the Final Chapter (But it Should Be)

15399019_10211748068883540_1477338520_oPhoto by Becky Hoven

I bore myself with the stories I have about public transportation. It’s not interesting to those who aren’t immersed in bus lines and breaches of etiquette on the train. By condensing my experiences and employing some snappy editing, I’m hoping to provide a thrill ride of a blog post. I been riding TriMet max trains and buses most weekdays since this school year started. Everyday something happens. There’s a mechanical issue or some one acts out in public and it becomes an epic story of what I endure for my commute.

Maybe because I’m spending an hour each way I’m desperate for a little entertainment. I can equate my travels as a kind of living theater although it’s always improvised. The man who fought so gallantly with the transit employee checking for proof of payment and looking over the old ticket stub he’d been handed was one example. “Give me back my bus pass,” the man demanded before pulling down the red emergency flap to open the door only to be chased and caught. I felt the horror of his situation. If someone took my bus pass I wouldn’t have exact change or any money to get on a bus after work.


Real theater occurred the afternoon I was sitting across from two goth guys–a couple. One of the men was on the phone with his mother making plans to meet up with her and trying to help her confront her fears of dealing with the technology needed to navigate the online TriMet system. His frustration was humorous yet identifiable and riveting. There were hang-ups and his partner tried to soothe him. All the while I was thinking about how goth one of the guys was adorned with multiple gothic accoutrements while the guy on the phone only seemed semi-goth. Did I have a problem with the costume designer in this living theater? Maybe.

There’s dramatic intensity when people want a bus ride but have no money. Nobody rides for free and bus drivers enforce this rule. I witnessed a desperate woman trying to get into the hills of South West. It’s like a mountain up there so who would want to make that climb if you could bum a ride? The bus driver showed no sympathy as he drove off without her. Too bad I never have exact change, I could have paid her fare.

The first couple of months on the train I didn’t see any authorities checking for payment. One recent time, the first guy confronted offered up a crumpled piece of paper and some rambles. It took so long a line of people formed and they all got off at the next stop. My assumption was they took advantage of a getaway opportunity.


That’s my beef about the train. Anyone can ride free risking the possibility that they might get caught. There’s no supervision so you get the early morning electric guitar playing guy, unplugged at least and the drunk man, who pulled out a wine bottle and asked me if 2012 was a good year. I was more flipped out by seeing that the cork was floating in the bottle. Another morning there were two different people on either side of the train engaged in monologues. They were amazing from the snippets I heard. There’s a climate that borders on fear of breaking the silence, especially in the morning. People seem to clam up when others are acting badly. No one was willing to do anything about the two men, under blankets that were sleeping and taking up five seats on either side of the car. My reaction get out at the next stop and move to a different car. When I got off the train that morning I looked back through the window and saw the two guys, still asleep, taking up space. I’m not sure who is supposed to police this kind of thing. It may not be a big deal to let people sleep unless you really need a seat that morning.


Taking buses and trains means you get to have run-ins with a regular cast of characters like the guy who wears beige overalls every day. A guy wearing the MC Hammer pants shocked me. It might have been because he was normal from the waist up. I looked down and saw the puffery and the intricate and flamboyant design of the garment. The tapering around the ankles was a give away but not even Hammer would be caught wearing Hammer pants theses day. Most days I appreciate a bit of weirdness and hope for what I call “bus luck.” Bus luck is getting to a train or bus stop as the vehicle is rolling in as opposed to approaching a stop as a ride is pulling away resulting in a 13 to 16 minutes while sitting on a wet bench.


I wrote about Trimet in the past after having minimal public transportation experience. Everything seemed exotic and strange, every experience magnified. Years of being a bike commuter left me little need for buses and trains. Now I have a route all mapped out that works. Despite break downs, weather challenges and the odd behavior to witness the system is pretty good. The effort to try to get so many people where they need to be is ambitious. During rush hour there’s usually a bus or train every 15 minutes with multiple bus routes that can get me in the same general vicinity. And yeah, it probably takes three times as long but at least I’m not driving. I have time to practice karate, play an electric guitar, work on a monologue out loud if I prefer or write my next blog post on my phone with my thumb. I usually keep to myself at the risk of boring anyone.


Trimet Tales: The Final Chapter Part 2

trimet tales photo

It was a simple Facebook post from Jovana a while back. It struck me when she said she was giving up taking public transportation due to obnoxious people. It had me wondering what it took to make that decision. At last year’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, I sat down with Jovana to find out. Nate’s comments were appreciated as well because he was familiar with the legendary lady in question.

Jovana:  So remember that big lady who was on the bus.

Nate:  Yeah, I’ve ridden on the bus with her.

Jovana:  She would be on the phone all of the time.

Nate:  The entire trip.

Jovana:  Yes, and she was really obnoxious and I would dread getting on the bus with her.

Nate:  Six years ago when I rode the bus she was on the same bus all the time and I couldn’t believe—I was like, oh no not her. I would get off the bus. I would wait twenty minutes for the next bus to avoid her. I swear to God.

Jovana:  It was awful. So my first experience with the bus was, I had not ridden the bus until this summer, this past summer.

Nate:  You hadn’t ridden anything TriMet related.

Jovana:  When was that May?

Nate:  Yeah.

Jovana:  June, something like that. So I would ride it from downtown from the big pink building, US Bank Corp. tower, there’s a bus right in front of that. I’d take it to Nate’s work in Tigard and, I don’t know, it’s maybe like ten stops. I would get on the bus and the very next stop she would get on the bus. This woman, she’s a big lady. She’s white. I know far too much about her life. She’s a temp at some place.

Nate:  She’s big. She’s disproportionately big.

Jovana:  Yeah.

Nate:  She’s just big. From the waist she’s got this, you know those things you used to bounce on as a kid.

Jovana:  The top and the bottom.

Nate:  Like two of those together. That’s the lower portion of her body. She takes up at least three seats on the bus.

Jovana:  Yeah…So you know people, generally, they’re not on the phone on the bus or other forms of transportation because it’s loud and there is a lot of attention or whatever. People read to themselves.  A lot of people are quiet. This woman, she couldn’t hear. She was screaming into the phone.

The Portland Orbit:  Oh no!

Jovana:  And personal things like how her job is really awful. She’s a temp at this place. She’s been there so long. They won’t give her a permanent position and she thinks it’s because she’s a woman. She’s yelling at her 14-year-old daughter, I don’t know, something about shoes, I remember, like screaming on the phone. This happened four or five times, every time I would get on the bus, argghhh, and if she was not on the bus—whoo wee, this is going to be a great ride. And she would always sit right across from me.

Orbit:  Oh God!

Jovana:  Right across or a little bit to the right, always within kicking distance

Nate:  Yeah, because the bus is not a lot of space then when someone who’s not normal sized, all of a sudden, they’re in your lap.

Jovana:  She was loud every single time. She was bitching about everything. Why don’t people like me? It was like because you’re so loud and rude and listen to yourself and no wonder no one wants to hear this and then she would gossip about people. She was irritated about them and other people gossiping, I was like you’re fucking gossiping about them here, right here, I can hear who you’re complaining about.

Orbit:  I guess I was wondering, like, what I had written about, I was trying to figure out why people aren’t more conscious of other people. They just feel like they need to make their phone conversation. That supersedes everything.

Nate:  Yeah!

Jovana:  I think people are just oblivious.

Nate:  Yeah!

Jovana:  They have no idea that there are other people on the bus, other people on the road…

Nate:  Or other people on the planet.  They think their problems are the universe’s problems.

Jovana:  They have limited perspectives

Nate:  There was an attack on America in 2001? When was that?

Jovana:  Yeah.

Nate:  They have no idea, no concept of anything.

Jovana:  Some people are that way. They have no idea that they are not the only person in the world.

Nate:  They tell me that everyday in traffic. I don’t know if I believe it.

Orbit:  Did that kind of color your whole TriMet experience.

Jovana:  I hate it. I don’t like…

Orbit:  Because you think that’s going to happen again?

Jovana:  It’s going to happen again and there is nothing you can really do about it. As much as I wanted to say hey lady stop talking can you just be quiet, I only have three more stops, you can’t really say that. Maybe I should have said that. The bus driver isn’t going to do anything about that and all the other people on the bus are feeling the same way. I haven’t ridden the bus since summer time. It’s obnoxious and I would much rather wait at work, spend an extra hour at work by the time Nate comes down then have to go sit on the bus. You have to listen to everyone, it’s crowded, everyone is in a hurry like we were just talking about. Nobody has any perception of what everyone else is doing. It’s just like all I can see is myself.

Nate:  Do you remember when I told you about how I was on the bus and I had my headphones visibly in and people would just talk to me and I’d look at them and go, what, okay and then just hope to God they wouldn’t talk to me again. And they’re not friends they’re complete strangers and you try to look as mean as possible.

Jovana:  My mean face doesn’t look right.

Nate:  I can do approachable really easily.

IMG_7341 (1)

Orbit:  Was there any straw that broke the camel’s back or did you have the opportunity to not have to take it?

 Jovana:  I suppose not everyone would have the same opportunity to not take it but I was able to be like you can just come and pick me up after work and I’ll just wait here. It would be nice sometimes to leave work and then get over to Nate’s, that extra half an hour that he doesn’t have to drive would be nice to not have to put him through that because traffic people are the worst.

Orbit:  Gonna see that lady again?

Jovana:  God, I hope not. I know what area she’s in, any downtown bus is probably not going to happen for me, probably not in the east side or west side because I don’t like those people too.

Nate:  The fact that I ran into her too.

Jovana:  Yeah.

Nate:  That’s was a long time ago, totally inconsiderate. I had to turn up the music as loud as I could on my phone and it was like really is this really happening?

Jovana:  And people would have to sit next to her and she’s screaming on the phone and these poor people are like trying to block it out as much as they can. She’s the worst, whoever she is?


Mean face practice off the bus!

Tip of the pin to Josh G. for a link to this site:

As always we salute the rants:

“Hey Lady, Up Yours”


On day two of what had been called Stormpocalypse (a four-day forecast of heavy rain) by some around Portland, at least on Facebook, I started my day with enough optimism to forgo using my rain pants for my bike commute. The all night rain had dissipated, the morning was clear and the rain pants are bulky and unfashionable. I didn’t think to pack them for the ride home.

I watched the afternoon rain and knew I was in for a wet ride home. There was nothing I could do but grin and bear it. So I trudged onward with heavy, soaked pants. I kept my spirits up listening to the podcast Death, Sex and Money. I come back to this one and usually binge on multiple episodes. People talk about their lives, failures, trials and tribulations with a refreshing honesty. I thought I had problems, how about a woman who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. She went on to have a 40 year career on Sesame Street. It wasn’t exactly light subject matter to have swirling in my head but it did end up involving a kid’s show. On the other hand, there wasn’t anything from my work day that had me down. I was only dealing with the miserable commute. I was focused on getting home and drying off.

In my rain-stained, fogged up glasses, podcast blaring in my head, my pants wetter than if I wore them swimming, I had to navigate the bike/walking path going through Kenton Park. A woman seemed to be walking in the middle of the path. I was moving toward her and trying to figure out how I was going to get around her. As sad and soggy as I was slowing down was not a consideration. From what I could see, she seemed to be thinking I was going to run her over. She gave me a look of disgust and indignant rage. I could only think such a minor inconvenience wouldn’t have been an issue if she followed common sense rules for traffic patterns which at the very least favor walking/driving/biking on one side of the road or even the other. She might have side-stepped me or made a decision to move out of my way but neither of us could navigate this bike/pedestrian dance. I didn’t break my stride either, but the look she gave me annoyed me to my deepest core as I swerved around her.

As I rode on, I realized something needed to be said. Returning from my day working at a school, I realized there was one more lesson to teach. I thought quick and wondered if I needed to chase her down and get in her face or yell at her from where I had stopped my bike which was now about 100 yards away. I wanted her to consider that when it’s raining and nasty outside rain-soaked bike commuters need a break. I decided on my second choice and found myself yelling, “Hey lady, up yours!”

Pathetic. I know. I’m not even sure it felt good, especially since the lady didn’t turn around or appear to hear me. My improvised insult may have been the direct result of listening to a podcast about Sonia Manzano from Sesame Street which might have inspired me to keep it clean. Besides who really needs to be cussing in the park. I felt stupid, angry, aggressive, but at least gave myself credit for trying. A day of work followed by a watery slog home and a feeling that I received a lack of compassion from a fellow citizen created a need for me to let off some steam that could not even be heard in a downpour.

Sometimes you have to try to make your point even when it’s pointless.


Uncredited image jacked from the internet.

TriMet Tales: The Final Chapter Part 1

trimet tales photo

The go-to blog post subject matter when you’re desperate, out of time, suffering from a hectic, unending work week–with my sixth straight work day spent proctoring an LSAT exam at the law school—has me turning to the subject matter of public transportation which has a never ending supply of tragicomic, people watching opportunities.

Two people having a discussion is usually fine. Two people having a one-sided heated discussion on a crowded Max train becomes exasperating. I listened to a woman trash the good name of her man for what seemed like hours in uncomfortable lecture time but was probably only ten or fifteen minutes. This was talk of a personal nature when the lady managed to list her significant other’s faults, berate him up one end and down the other all while complaining about her health and talking about a seizure condition. It made me wonder it people just don’t understand that anyone within earshot can listen to their personal conversation or diatribe, in this case, if it’s delivered in a public space. There’s also the consideration that maybe we want the option of not listening. I know it’s times like these that call for ear buds and filling my head with any other sound possible.

There was a point when the woman decided to move to the center of the train. I appreciated this break from her talking until moments later the woman began having a seizure. I have no idea if her getting riled up caused the seizure but I appreciated the people who rushed into action. Someone contacted the train operator while someone else called 911. I was equally impressed and annoyed by the commotion. The train remained at the next stop. We waited.

I kept thinking if the woman had opted for a nice quiet train ride, she might have controlled her rage. She could have taken time to outline her talking points to better take her mate to task in the privacy of their living quarters and possibly avoided her stress and maybe even the seizure. After this experience, I came across some first aid information that explained that not all seizures require medical attention. Seizures can be scary for those having them and those observing them alike, and not being a doctor or even that good at first aid, I would not be in the position to make the call or not make the call for help. Ultimately I was not delayed for long. Ambulance services were quick to respond. Soon the train was on its way and I chalked this medical melodrama up to another side note in my history of riding the TriMet rails.

2010 mid summer 017

As always we salute the rants: