“Frank” nodded hello at me as I sat down. “I sure hope,” he said anxiously, “that the train doesn’t get hung up today too. I’m already late.”

frank4Usually the strangers on glassland’s MAX train smile politely or nod without saying much when I sit down; it takes a couple of verbal sallies and a stop or two before they’re comfortable chatting. But Frank dove in without hesitation, before I’d so much as set my purse down.

“Last night, oh boy, last night, you should have seen it on this train,” he shook his head, “It was bad. Real bad. I got an emergency call at work, hadda go down to a customer around 10 o’clock last night, and I barely make it to the train on time.”

“The trains don’t run much, past rush hour, so I’m patting myself on the back that I didn’t miss it…and boom! The train stops. Just stops dead. Guy on the loudspeaker says ‘everybody off, there’s a biohazard on this train.'”

A what?

frank2“A biohazard, I’m not kidding. So I look out and there’s four mountie cars, all these cops, and paramedics and ambulances, and they throw us off the train,” Frank gestures wide and rolls his eyes, “Turns out this guy, this really little guy–tiny, tiny guy–he’s in the next car and starts coughing up blood all over the place. And that,” he nods solemnly, “THAT was the biohazard.”

Eeew. So was the guy OK?

“I dunno. They wouldn’t tell us what’s going on. The way he looked, maybe he died, I dunno. Well, so there’s blood all over everywhere and we can’t get back on the train and the next one doesn’t come for an hour so I’m late.”

“I mean, I feel for the little guy and you can’t worry about a dumb train when the poor guy’s bleeding to death or something, but why couldn’t they bring out another train? I’m late, the customer’s pissed, you know?”

frankhijabTwo girls in Muslim dress get on. One wears hijab, a headscarf, with her regulation glassland sweatshirt and jeans; she settles in quickly to read the paper. The other nervously wraps her coat around her head, burqua-style, until only her eyes are exposed, one hand clutching the fabric over her nose and mouth.

The toddler beside us is overjoyed. “PEEKABOO!!!” he shrieks, pointing gleefully at the curtained girl. She laughs, lets the fabric slide down to reveal a wide smile. “Peekaboo!” she responds, and the little boy claps.

Frank laughs too, but the girl, startled, quickly draws the fabric back over her face and buries herself in a book. And Frank’s attention returns to me.

frank1“You know cops,” he says, grimacing, “All these cops last night, once the paramedics get there, they don’t have anything better to do so they start checking train tickets and all these students get written up for not buying a ticket. Me, I’m OK because I’ve got my monthly pass, but it’s like a war zone.”

Makes me wonder–Portland Transit says 90 percent of riders pay fares, but…

Frank snorts. “They must not ride the same trains I ride, then. They say they’re losing money but pay a guy $45,000 to ride up and down taking tickets, they’d make that and more.”

“I’d do it,” he grinned, “but I just don’t have good luck with trains. Last month, I’m waiting for the train and there’s this guy, he’s making balloon animals…”

Balloon animals?

“Yeah, you know–poodles and fish and hats and stuff. The kids are laughing, it’s a nice day, this lady next to me is laughing…and all of a sudden she just collapses right on my foot and starts foaming at the mouth. Turns out she’s deathly allergic to balloons, it’s the whatchamacallit, rubber stuff.”


“Yeah, latex. She’s allergic to latex in the balloons and she nearly dies. And it delays everything a whole hour and I’m late again. Something like that ALWAYS happens when I get on a train.”frank3

Privately, I’m now thinking I might want to get off and let Frank have the train to himself. Safer that way. “Gee, maybe you should think about driving instead of public transportation?”

“Can’t. Don’t have a license,” he shrugs. He pulls his toolbag from under the seat and starts to get up as the train pulls into a station. “This is me.”

Well, see? It can’t be all that bad. You made it here OK, right?

“Yeah,” he says darkly, “THIS time,” and slips out the doors.