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Location: PDX, United States

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Full Circle

Three and a half years ago, I took the train from Seattle to Portland to interview for a youth librarian job.

I was nervous and stressed about the interview, getting over a cold, and feeling really badly about leaving my mother, who had broken her arm right at the shoulder the night before and wasn't able to take care of herself.

It was pouring when I got into Portland and I waited in the rain for a long time to catch a 14 to a friend's house. I had an enormous backpack with me I tried desperately to keep dry so that I wouldn't ruin my interview clothes and storytime supplies. I jumped on a bus, noticed a lot people weren’t paying, and thought maybe you paid when you got off the bus. That's the way it is in Seattle; if you are heading downtown, you pay as you enter and if you get on downtown, you pay as you leave.

The bus was packed. I was confused when a bunch of people in yellow jackets got on and asked to look at people's transfers. I asked the guy I was sitting next to what was going on, and he explained they were fare inspectors. Since I hadn't paid a fare, I felt a little panicked. When I explained my situation to my neighbor he apologized to me on behalf of the city of Portland.

I thought the inspector might understand when I explained I was from Seattle and showed them my I.D.. She told me to get off the bus. I was mortified.

Outside, I explained there hadn't been signage as I boarded the bus explaining the system, reiterated I was from out of town and also explained the whole paying as you leave system in Seattle. The fare inspector was aggressive, told me I should have asked the bus driver and also told me that I'd lied. She said she'd ridden the bus in Seattle, and that you paid as you entered. She wrote out a pink warning slip to me, told me to never do it again, and that the next bus would be arriving in 25 minutes.

I cried while I waited in the rain for the next bus and as soon as I got to my friends house, I called Tri Met to complain about the lack of signage, rudeness of fare inspectors, and encouraged her to call Metro Transit in Seattle verify the whole pay as you leave dispute.

I had a bunch of librarian friends do a mock interview for me that night, and told them about my bus ride. None of them had ever encountered fare inspectors, and I wondered why I did the only time I'd ridden the bus in Portland in years.

I was shocked when I got a call nine months later to offer me a job. Since then, signage had been created to explain fareless square, and I'd like to think my call to Tri Met might have played a role in that decision.

I have taken the bus many times since I've moved here. Portland is getting smaller and smaller to me. The other day I ran into a friend on the bus, and she mentioned a mutual acquaintance. The women sitting next to me interrupted us to tell us that was her daughter in law. I was glad we had only said positive things.

Today marks the first day I've ridden a bus invaded by fare inspectors. I felt grateful to have a bus pass, and even more glad that I've been here long enough to not be new anymore.


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