Thursday, January 18, 2007

Snow Day on the Tram


So today I got to ride our fair city's shiny new aerial tram. Seems that because of all the snow, they decided to temporarily open the thing to the city's non-medical riffraff, people such as myself. They weren't exactly encouraging the public to show up; the announcements said the tram was open to OHSU employees, VA & Shriners hospital staff, patients, and "others" who "need" to travel between Marquam Hill & South Waterfront. I figured that was my opening: I definitely fall into the "other" category, and "need" can be a very, very subjective term when you want it to be. It didn't seem very likely that they'd station a security guard at each end, screening each prospective passenger and rejecting anyone who seemed to merely want to ride it. That wouldn't really be the Portland way. But in case there was a security guard, I figured I'd try to talk my way on board. I'm really not very good at that at all. I almost never succeed at talking my way into anything, but in the worst case I'd just have had to get back on the streetcar and go home. They don't let OHSU grab people off the street for medical experimentation anymore, or at least that's what I've heard.

As I suspected, they were running the opening the Portland way: Open the thing to everyone, but word the announcement in such a way that not a lot of people show up. Imply there are vague, yet strictly enforced, rules on who can board, and let the public imagination run wild. That kind of talk is guaranteed to set off alarm bells with anyone who's ever gone through US Customs. But if quizzed about it, city officials can honestly claim they never specifically said there would be body cavity searches. It's just that they also didn't say there wouldn't be, and relied on the public's fear of confrontation to do the rest. Portlanders are experts at conflict avoidance. There are certain benefits to this, a reasonably low murder rate (by US city standards) for example. But it also means that you'll miss out on a lot of stuff in this town unless you learn how to not take the hint.

In any case, there were a few other joyriders besides myself, and the tram operators seemed happy to see us. Perhaps we were a nice break from all those doctors, endlessly prattling on about their golf scores and real estate deals and trophy wives. For a moment I was almost kind of disappointed that getting on board was so easy. In case you were wondering, no, I wasn't planning to mention anything about being an Important Local Blogger Of Note, or demand "don't you know who I am?". I doubt I'd try that even if I was, in fact, an Important Local Blogger Of Note (which I'm not). I can throw an elbow or two around if I need to, figuratively speaking of course, but I just can't do pretentious or self-important. I can't even fake it. Anyway that would seem like cheating, somehow. Journalists call themselves the "fourth estate", so those of us out here in blogospace are probably the eighth or ninth estate, at minimum, and therefore far, far below the minimum rational threshold for VIP treatment. If anyone tried to give me free stuff simply for having a blog, I'd instantly lose all respect for them.

So riding the tram was more fun than I thought it would be. Whether it's $60M worth of fun, I really couldn't say at this point. The trip only takes a few minutes, and I was taking pictures pretty much constantly both ways, so I may have to go again to ride it just for the experience. I almost got back in line and rode it again immediately, but sadly I had places to be and things to do. Maybe I'll go again tomorrow if it's still free.

The top photo is from the upper tram station at OHSU, with a tram car departing. As I've mentioned before, I've (unofficially) named the two cars "Tom" and "Lance", after a couple of mono-testicled celebrities. I haven't yet figured out which is which, though.


A genuine, real-life photo from the tram, looking north towards downtown Portland. The street on the left is SW 1st, with Naito Pkwy on the right. This angle is probably going to become a standard tourist shot as soon as they start letting real photographers on board the tram. Someday you can tell the grandkids you saw it first right here on this humble and highly obscure blog.


The other tram car, again from the upper station. These babies were pretty much made to order for a really fantastic James Bond fistfight. Yes, yes, I realize they did the fistfight-on-a-tram thing in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but that was a long time ago, and our tram looks way cooler. The governor's office has a couple of people whose 24/7 job is to bring movie productions to Oregon. If they don't already have the whole fight scene choreographed out, they aren't doing their job.

The key unresolved problem is what James Bond would be doing here in the first place, and what he'd do for the rest of the film's running time. We have a few people in town (mostly Republicans) who could be passable Bond villains in a pinch, but none of them have colorful henchmen that I'm aware of. It's a real problem.


Another photo from the tram, this time of SW Terwilliger, looking all snowy and alpine and BMW-commercial-like. You might notice that the road is oddly free of runners. Where'd they all go? DId they stay home just because the whole thing's a treacherous sheet of ice right now? Weenies. Wimps.

Ok, it's also possible they all slipped and tumbled down the hill. But hey, if anyone needs a ride to OHSU, the tram's right here.


Looking downhill (east) from the upper tram station, with the South Waterfront condo towers in the distance, and the Lair Hill & Corbett neighborhoods in front of them. It really is quite a long drop, once you get a good look at it. Neighbors have complained about the possibility of tram-based voyeurs peeping into their backyards -- like anyone in Lair Hill really has much of a backyard -- but nobody seems to have considered the impact, the literal impact, of the constant rain of colorful Bond-villain henchmen plummeting from the sky, crashing through roofs, flattening one's award-winning roses, alarming children and small animals, disrupting traffic even further, and generally lowering the tone of the place. It's always the problems people didn't anticipate that turn out to be the real killers.


The lower tram station. This is kind of boring in comparison to the other photos, but I figured I needed it for completeness. Someday the barge-building operation on the left edge of the picture will be gone, replaced by more condo towers, and then this photo will be a collector's item, sort of. Get 'em while they're hot.

Updated 1/18/06: Here are a few other rider reports I've come across:
  • A post on about yesterday's free tram rides.
  • Tales from the Tube reports on riding the tram last week. And the photo of the thing is nice, although my pics contain snow and are therefore better.
  • And Russ at Portland Metblogs rode the tram back in December. I'm starting to think that everyone else with a blog has ridden it already. Or at least everyone with a blog and more chutzpah and/or connections than I do, in other words basically everyone.

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