Illustaration by Joseph Harmon

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS FANTASTIC. It's good for the environment, it's good for Portland's infrastructure, and, in these economically catastrophic times, it saves us money on gas, parking, and insurance. There are countless other benefits—fewer shitfaced drivers speeding home from bars! The chance to read a book instead of gripping a steering wheel with inchoate rage! The fact that sometimes cute girls ride the bus! Like that one on the #14! Hi, girl on the #14!—so the last thing the Mercury would ever encourage is people riding TriMet any less. No. We should ride it more.

HOWEVER.

Sometimes public transportation can be—how shall we put this?—less than pleasant. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes it's awkward. Sometimes it smells bad. Sometimes there are crazy people! Sometimes this one girl on the #14 is all, "Take a picture, freak, it'll last longer," and then your whole day is ruined.

When we asked for entries in our first-ever "True Tales of TriMet Terror" contest, we were flooded with submissions from Portland's brave commuters (and some commuters who aren't very brave at all, and some commuters who are just whiny little crybabies). Here are the finalists—including the very best one, which scored its writer $300. Hey, that's enough to take a cab!

NO TICKET!
It's January 31, and I want to go to the zoo. The bus pulls up to the stop and I flash the February monthly pass I just bought. The bus driver explains to me that it's January. I go home and get 40 cents and return to the bus stop. The bus is 20 minutes late.

I take an empty seat in the back. Two stops later, a filthy, boisterous man boards. He chooses the seat next to me. He smells like cigarettes, booze, and urine. He's in the mood for conversation. He begins to tell me a story about his old landlord, the government, maybe the CIA. It's not very cohesive. Spittle is raining down on me, and the other people on the bus think that we are friends. The MAX station is a few stops away so I bid my new acquaintance adieu and get on the train.

The MAX stops on the middle of the Steel Bridge and I realize I need to take a shit. Badly. Fifteen minutes, and nothing. People are becoming restless. My bowels are becoming restless. I am a grown man. I believe I can hold it until the zoo. Another 20 minutes pass and I am not so sure.

I begin to pray. The train starts moving, thank god. I clench until the Washington Park station. As I'm about to disembark, a plainclothes TriMet officer stops me and asks for my ticket. I show him my February pass. "It's January," he explains as he writes me a ticket. There are no functioning bathrooms in sight.

I get to the zoo and realize I left my debit card at home. I have no money on me. Defeated and humiliated, I walk to Washington Park and take a shame shit in the bushes. On the ride home I smell like poop and no one sits by me.

Please run this story anonymously.

—Anonymous

CLIP. CLIP.
Last week when I was riding home on the #19 from downtown to the Eastside, through the music playing on my headphones I heard the unmistakable noise of NAIL CLIPPERS. I turned in the direction of the noise, and to my horror I saw the lady right behind me CLIPPING HER NAILS. ON THE BUS. Usually, I have no problem asking people to cease and desist activities that are horribly inappropriate to do on the bus, but the culprit this time was an elderly Asian woman and I couldn't muster up the courage to throw her anything more than a stink-eye. Her manicure lasted at least five minutes, and I probably still have bits of her nails in my hair.

—Camille

THE ONES I WAS TELLING YOU ABOUT
A few years ago, on the #8, I rode with the usual crowd of high school smartasses, older working stiffs, and the elderly, plus a cognitively disabled couple I see regularly. Today, though, they were masturbating one another. The office lady sitting by me was beside herself at the sight of come on the girlfriend's hand, post-handjob. Then the guy started rubbing his big old butt into his girlfriend's crotch in a most rhythmic and dirty way, and the office lady said to her friend, "I must be mistaken. I did not go to the theater and pay $7, and yet I am still witnessing these things."

I should have upbraided this fellow, or at least advised him that the bus is not the proper venue in which to spill one's sweet jizzum all over the hand of one's girlfriend, what with the inevitable collateral spillage on seat and floor.

A few weeks later, the couple was once more sitting in the back of the bus. Again, the guy was sitting on the girl's lap; at one point, she squirted some lotion from a bottle onto her fingers, then slid her hand down the back of his pants. It looked as though she was lubricating his ass crack and possibly his holy-O with her cooling ointment. Then he started rhythmically jiggling his ass back against her crotch. A woman with a little girl next to her said something to the couple, scooted away a bit, made eye contact with me, and we both laughed nervously. When the bus reached the Lloyd Center, the usual array of high school girls got on. One who sat across from me started laughing hysterically at the couple, declaring repeatedly to her friends, "That's the ones I was telling you about! She puts her fingers up his ass! She puts her fingers up his ass, oh my god, oh my god," falling off her seat from the sheer force of her laughter.

—Swag

END OF THE LINE
As a non-driving baby boomer, I've been riding buses since '62. There have been many memorable incidents: the 30-minute layover with the fat thug driver who told me women couldn't be bus drivers since the bus would shake up their insides so they couldn't have babies; being spit on, sworn at, and endlessly propositioned (I seem to be a "hot babe" to 75-year-old toothless transients); the suspected murderer molesting my rubber rain poncho.

The most awful thing, though, was getting on the #1 Greeley bus while commuting to work in the early '90s. It was quiet in the mornings and there weren't a lot of riders. When I got on, there was a largish, nice-looking man sitting in the very back—just an average guy, maybe on his way to an office job. I nodded hello and sat down a few rows in front of him. Within about five minutes, I saw the driver looking to the back of the bus. He pulled over, turned the bus off, and came back. When I turned around, the man was slumped over to the side. The driver tried to rouse him but couldn't. The driver got us all off the bus and called for help.

It was my understanding that the man had, very quietly, died, all alone.

When I got to work, I was shaking, and tried to explain to a coworker how badly I felt. He said, "Oh, well, you know. Life, death, the circle of the universe." I've thought about this many times. I've told my friends and family that whatever happens I don't want to die on the bus—drag me off and throw my body in front of the MAX, please! In a just world, someone will read this and write in that this man really didn't die. But in a really just world, I would have taken a sledgehammer and pummeled the crap out of my former coworker for being such a condescending, cold-blooded non-human.

—Casey

NOT SO TOUGH
I like to think of myself as a seasoned mass transit rider. I learned to ride the bus as a timid middle schooler on the mean streets of Tucson. I've ridden buses and trains on two continents. I've taken the trolley to Tijuana. I've encountered the sights, the smells, the invasions of personal space, the occasional death threat, and deaf people signing crude things about me. I've seen an entire bus co-opted by a pre-school field trip. I've had people on the streetcar want to talk to me about Moby-Dick.

Basically, I'm pretty inured to whatever TriMet can throw at me. Except for this one thing a couple weeks ago.

I had just hung my bike up on the hook on the MAX and was getting myself settled in. As the train pulled out of the station, I put my hand up to grab the bar overhead. My fingers immediately recoiled at an unexpected sensation.

Someone had placed a fresh booger up there.

Horror. True horror. And me without my hand sanitizer.

—Andrew Coltrin

BABY ON BOARD
Riding the bus home one evening, I feel nauseated from someone's overpowering cologne that smells like industrial cleaning compounds. I try to hold my breath and make it to my stop without vomiting. I slide over to crack the window—only now, someone very large has plopped down next to me in the aisle seat. Something of theirs is poking me painfully. I slide over as far as I can, but they do too, and I'm wedged between the window and my fellow passenger.

I decide it's time to move elsewhere. With some effort, I turn to announce my intentions. Next to me is a huge woman holding a baby in blankets—this is what has been poking me, as if it's carved from stone. I'm concerned the baby's head is being crushed, or its neck broken, and I'm still certain I'm going to vomit any moment. I quickly struggle to my feet the best I can, hoping she'll open a route for me to exit. Instead, she shoves the baby onto the seat as I rise, blocking me in even worse. I turn to look at the baby and am horrified to see it's a terrible shade of blue-gray and has been deceased at least a month. Panicked, I dive through a gap that has opened momentarily, race to the back door, and fall in a heap on the pavement to finally vomit. The bus pulls away into the night.

—Anonymous

HUNGRY
A gentleman with dramatic face tattoos and A Clockwork Orange-type outfit was sitting near me. I thought nothing of it. We're all weirdos, and I'm not one to judge by appearances. But I did notice that he had a lot of open sores on his forearms. Open, sort-of-oozing kinds of sores. Then he started picking at the scabs on his arms. And he seemed to like picking at them, and got very involved. But picking at them with his fingernails didn't do the trick, so he began using his teeth, biting and gnawing hungrily. Then he flung the scab detritus on the floor of the bus. And began eagerly, noisily sucking at the newly reopened wounds.

I biked to work the next day.

—Ero

EAST COUNTY
On one particular trip from outer Southeast Portland into downtown, I was awoken at 82nd Avenue by a commotion involving the bus driver and a rider who had taken a seat near me at the back of the bus.

Coming out of my daze, I noticed the man was cradling something in his arms. On closer inspection, I realized that the tiny head coming out of the wrapping in this man's arms belonged to a raccoon. As this is not an everyday occurrence on the bus—even in East County—I took a greater interest in the scene.

The bus driver was yelling at the man to get off the bus, as apparently traveling with a raccoon is against TriMet's policies. The rider was anxious to remain on the bus, so his initial line of argument for staying onboard was that this particular raccoon was dead, which was meant to reassure the driver and his fellow passengers that there was no problem. The driver dug in his heels, though, and stated that the bus would not be continuing until this gentleman and his (dead) companion got off the bus. In a huff, the man with the raccoon made a goodwill gesture by stuffing the (dead) raccoon into his large suitcase and then throwing up his hands as if to say, "There! Happy now?"

This did not have the desired effect, as the driver continued to insist the rider take himself and the (dead) raccoon off the bus. Finally, the rider exited, grabbing his suitcase, now containing the (dead) raccoon, as well as the large stockpot that he was carrying. I can only speculate on what relationship this item had to the (dead) raccoon.

—Eric Stoffregen

NOT THIS AGAIN
Even the most stoic of transit riders can have their foundations shaken during basketball or soccer season. The cool, clean TriMet trains become claustrophobic death tubes full of pre-game beer farts and hot Frito breath. One such night, I caught a modestly crowded 6:15 pm Blue Line MAX at the Beaverton Central station. By the time we got to the tunnel, the train seemed too full to accept any more passengers. Did that stop people from bullying their way in? Hell no! It was game night, y'all! As bodies shifted to accommodate more bodies, I found myself stuck between a Plexiglas divider and a woman with a seriously substantial, spandex-clad ass. I thought this was merely uncomfortable until, after three stops, the train hiccupped and the momentum pushed me into this woman's butt.

I was literally, in between her ass cheeks. All the way in. Her butt just opened up, accepted me into it, and then closed around me. It was everywhere. I wasn't aware that this was physically possible—and yet, here I was, inside of a fat lady's ass.

When I "entered" her, I felt her gently sigh, as if to say, "Not this again." I was jammed up there from Goose Hollow to the Rose Quarter, where she finally wiggled me out and pinched me off like a turd. I imagine she was as humiliated by this as I was, much like an uncomfortable sexual experience. We avoided eye contact as she flowed out of the train in a blur of Blazer red. As I regained composure, I raised my eyes to a young man who had been near me for the entire ride. He was red-faced from stifling his laughter having just seeing a grown human being squeezed out of a woman's ass like big poop.

—Brianna Wheeler

And the $300 prize goes to Brianna Wheeler for her true tale of TriMet terror in which she was "squeezed out of a woman's ass like a big poop." Congrats and/or condolences, Brianna. Thanks to all of our other contestants, and all of our finalists will go home with some transit-friendly bottles of Purell.