public transit

From a Bad Day to a Great One

I never thought I’d hate public transportation so much. It definitely has its high points, but one of them was not Tuesday. We had our shooting planned to a T. We’d be at Citizen by 12:30 p.m. sharp to take the bus up to PDX. Our plan was to film some simple b-roll of Dignity Village and hopefully interact with some of the residents.

I blazed down Michigan Ave that morning on my bike. I was determined to be on time to take the bus. My sixteen minute Google Maps predicted bike ride took ten minutes. I arrived at Citizen only to find out that we had a small hiccup. Well, more like a rather large vomit. There was no equipment, none. Zilch. Nothing. Nada.

Instead of filming some lovely footage, Coral and I spent the better part of four hours on a wild goose chase for a camera and its dressings. Apparently, three other groups had equipment, even groups that didn’t need it. So, upon the news that Emily had our equipment in her car that was about to be repaired, we booked it to the next bus to SE Portland to her apartment.

Of course, SE Portland isn’t close in the slightest to Mississippi Ave by public transportation. So, I languished for over an hour on two separate buses to arrive at Emily’s apartment. I sat trapped in the back of the bus next to two late-twenty-something guys. They just happened to be reliving their high school years as loudly as humanly possible, while hurling spittle into my ear all the while.

We arrived at Emily’s apartment in just enough time to snag the camera before she spirited away to get her car fixed. Everything seemed right in the world for all of two seconds. I could have sworn that I smiled for two seconds. So, our trial by TriMet fire was over, yeah? Nope. After the angels had sang and the clouds opened up overhead to grant us time to shoot the rest of the day we realized, rather fortuitously, that our little quest had been doomed by design.

The camera had no battery. Let me repeat that. We had a one-thousand dollar camera, complete with carrying kit, but we were thwarted by a lithium devil the size of a block of cheese. I’m talking two cheesesticks at most. We ventured back to Citizen and arrived there an hour and a half later (the bus was delayed and an hour ride) utterly exhausted.

Yes, Tuesday was a disaster, but Wednesday was one of our greatest triumphs. For one, we began the day with an interview with Berk Nelson, one of Mayor Ted Wheeler’s chief advisors. Our luck began with him simply agreeing to interview and continued with the stellar interview that followed. We discovered that the shotgun mic on the camera worked wonders and that Berk even knew his way around a lav mic. He gave us all of the governmental input that we so craved.

After the interview, successful yet yearning for more, we called our mentor Michael for a pep-talk. We had yet to choose a main character for our documentary. We debated everything from just sitting and waiting for someone interesting to show up at Right To Dream Too, to just going nuclear and only having our documentary contain interviews.

Thankfully, after a flurry of texting with none other than Catholic charity wunderkind Vahid Brown we learned that Vahid had an exclusive tour of the Kenton Women’s Village. Access to the women’s village was, and remains to be, some of the most guarded journalistic access relating to houselessness. We, two upstarts from China and Richmond, Virginia had that access. The tour itself was scintillating, but our big break came when we met Desiree, our new documentary main character.

Desiree was a part of the tour to represent her houseless tiny house village of Hazelnut Grove to Vahid and some other bigwigs, and represent she did. She wasn’t camera shy in the slightest and agreed to interview with us tomorrow (Thursday) and grant us access to Hazelnut Grove. She could best be described as a spunky grandma, with grey pigtails and a nose for activism, who always wears purple.

Tomorrow we go to the mattresses. We’ll be going to Hazelnut Grove and trying to hammer out the bulk of our narrative around Desiree. Wish us luck! Even though when you read this our filming will have already happened. Who says a bad day has to mean a bad week?

–Jordan Joseph

Two Brief Moments in Portland


The first day back in Portland, I'm almost late for class.

I'm on the eastbound MAX refreshing Google Maps every other minute. The bus schedule says 1:40.

The MAX arrives on time; I rush to the bus station 300 feet away. The bus is supposed to be there in two minutes, but as my 2pm class approaches, I see no sign of the bus.

I'm getting worried. On Google maps, “delayed 2 mins” “delayed 4 mins” “delayed 8 mins”—the number keeps going up. I finally get on the bus at 1:53, and when I rush into to Citizen, class is just getting started.

I have a lot to say about the Portland public transportation system. The same thing happens again over the next couple of days—either late or early, the bus almost never arrives on time.

A couple days later, when I am on my way home, the bus takes a long stop next to Citizen. The ramp comes down, and two people sitting across from me move from their seats. Our driver steps down, lifts the handicapped seats, and helps a woman in a wheelchair move into the bus. The whole process takes about 4 minutes. That’s why buses are never on time—because people's needs must be taken care of. 

My best friend from high school who studied in France told me that while he was there, he always complained how French people have a habit of procrastination and inefficiency. Yet before he had to leave, he thought back and suddenly realized France might have been one of the countries that respond best to its citizens’ needs.

I started to appreciate Portland a little bit more.


On the 4th of July I don't go out to one of the big parties nor to see the fireworks—I go to Madi’s host home, where they are having a low-key potluck BBQ in their backyard.

It's a beautiful backyard, with the fragrance of lavender, shade from tall trees, and wind chimes tinkling overhead. Madi tells me her host, Birgit, is a photographer from Germany. She’s a tall woman, both arms tattooed, and I noticed a newly tattooed German verse on her right arm.

“Were you there when the Berlin Wall came down?” I ask her.

“Oh, I was doing it!” she says with pride. “I just flew back to Germany, dropped my bags at my parents house and I was like, ‘Bye! Off to Berlin!’”

Fireworks start to boom throughout the neighborhood. I imagine Birgit's figure within the monochromic footage I've seen on TV—I have a hard time registering that a real person, having gone through a major moment in world history, is sitting right in front of me. She witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, but she is also one of us, lives in Portland, and likes biking and art. She is one of the many interesting people Portland has brought to me so far.

-Coral Yang