The Max is a lite rail public transportation system in Portland, OR. and like any type of mass transportation a very interesting cross section of people ride it for various reasons. Some are commuters going to and from work, others are visiting the downtown area to see a show or go to dinner, others use it to meet up with their buds and run around, while others use it as a way to get out of the cold of night or heat of day.
I however, am a tourist using it to visit my daughter who attends college in downtown Portland. And as I do whenever I go anywhere, I observe the people around me and wonder what they are thinking, wonder what makes them do what they do. This post is one of those observations I made during a trip back from downtown Portland to my hotel.
Soon after I boarded the Max I encountered a 60 something older gentleman sitting across from me, who looked like he had seen better days, those he had seen lately must have been through the bottom of a bottle. He was drunk, unshaven, his clothes dirty and worn and around him at his feet were several bags filled with what looked to be his only belongings.
At first I thought he might have been blind because he stared out through the window across from him without blinking or moving. His eyes seemed unresponsive and kind of hazy and he was mumbling some type of gibberish softly under his breath. I looked away hoping not to upset him. I’ve had bad encounters with drunks on public transit before and its makes me more embarrassed for them than it embarrasses me when they get upset and make a scene.
After a couple of stops a family returning from a ball game boarded the Max and sat down around him.
“These people are gonna want to take my stuff!”
“I’ll have to scare them off, make them want to get up and move. Can’t have anyone take my stuff! Its All I got.”
Just then the little girl setting in her daddy’s lap next to the old man innocently kicked one of his bags and the bottles inside rustled making a jingling sound.
“I knew they wanted my stuff!”
“See, she’s trying to get at my bottles.”
“She wants them for the nickels.”
“I knew it, she wants to use them nickels to buy her some candy.”
“Well she can’t have them, they’re mine!”
“I spent all day going through the dumpsters finding them, they’re mine!”
Just then the older gentlemen grabbed the bag and with the rustle of paper and jingle of bottles, picked it up and sat it down away from the girl.
“I need them to leave! I need them to go away! Why’d they have to set next to me anyways!”
Just then the old man’s mumbling started to grow louder.
“You don’t see me going around kicking people’s stuff or trying to take it!”
“They need to leave, Now!”
“I’ve got to make them leave so my stuff will be safe!”
The old man’s mumbling grew louder and irate.
“Its not working! They ain’t moving! What am I going to do now!”
Just then the older gentleman bent over and drug a dirty cloth tote bag close to him. He unzipped the pocket on the side and reached in and started to pull out a pink ladies razor and shake it at the family with rage.
“You try to take my stuff again and I’ll cut you! Yes, I’ll cut you!”
“I don’t care how young you are, you try to steal my stuff and I’ll cut you!”
With that the family got up and moved down to the the far end of the car and sat down. All the time wondering why the older gentleman was so upset.
The older gentleman smiled with content as the family moved away and then he bent over and stuffed the razor back into the side pocket and zipped it back close.
“I knew it. I just had to show them that I wasn’t going to let them take my stuff and they’d leave.”
“Nothing to worry about now, I’m all by myself, nobody is going to take my stuff, nobody.”
Meanwhile, the father of the young girl was on his cell phone frantically speaking to someone about the old man. He was gesturing with one hand as he talked. After awhile he closed the phone and spoke to his wife, trying to calm her down.
The next stop came nothing happened. The family got up and left the car and waited for it to leave. As we pulled away a policeman walked up to the family and I could see the father waving his hands as he explained to the officer and pointing at the older gentleman as we moved away.
The next stop came, it was my place to change trains and catch the Yellow Line out to Expo Park, I got up and left the car and waited for this train to leave.
But this time the doors didn’t close as quickly as they did before. Two policemen arrived and boarded the car, they quickly located the older gentleman and started to question him about the incident. The doors closed and the train began to pull away. I could see the old man shaking his head and clutching his cloth tote as the police demanded he show them the contents. A look of panic was on his face, his eyes were clear as could be and all he could think of was, “They’ve come back for my stuff! Those mean people! They’re going to take it away from me after all! Those mean people!”