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Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Dr. Strangecivicimprovement or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Millions That Went Into Building It and Learned to Love the OHSU Tram, Part 1

The amount of words devoted to the OHSU tram that are floating around the Portland blogosphere probably match the amount of dollars that went into making it a reality. Should the city have dumped millions into constructing an absolutely ridiculous method of moving people back and forth between Pill Hill and the South Waterfront? Probably not but the tram is here now and there's nothing you, I or thousands of naysayers can do about it.

And it sure looks pretty. Have you driven down Barbur as its cars soar overhead? It's a sight sure to muster a "wow, look at 'em go" out of the most hardhearted local that would have sooner seen those millions spent on public safety, sanitizing the Benson Bubblers or any number of more practical civic concerns. I was passing under the tram's lines on a recent Saturday afternoon, had some time to kill and decided right then and there to try to sneak on for a round trip.

Now this was going to be a challenge because the tram still hadn't opened to the public and I long ago tossed out my ID card from a summer spent working at the hospital. Still, I assumed the rules for engagement on this mini-mission would be the same used for sneaking into a movie theater. Provided I acted as bored as possible, avoided eye contact and pretended that I belonged on the tram, there was no way I was going to blow this.

The station down on the South Waterfront was vacant after I wandered over after making use of "the facilities" in the lobby of the shiny, new OHSU building. Ignoring the many signs telling me I had to be an employee to ride, I had the station to myself as one of the tram's gray cars descended, looking like something out of the 1939 New York World's Fair. I don't know if the designers were shooting for a retro-future look but this thing belongs in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Once the car pulled up to the station, the doors slid open. The interior was smaller than I was expecting and the operator sits at a round console. Right as I was about to make my move, a family wandered up. Without skipping a beat, the driver hopped out and held up her hands like a crossing guard to block our path. "I'm sorry, the tram isn't open to the public yet." As she ran down a spiel she had probably gone over a thousand times that day alone, a guy in a tattered OSU hoodie walked right past her and into the cabin. Did he really work at OHSU? Did she know him? Had he spent the last few years building this thing? Who knows.

I should have done the same but she was looking right at me. The driver had immediately sniffed me out as a member of "the public" and there was no way I was going to make it past her. If I had stuck by my plan, hung back and darted in like the guy in the sweatshirt, I'd probably be telling you how smooth the tram rides. Instead, the family threw off my mojo. I blame them for my failure. It's all their fault.

I didn't get a ticket for the tram's grand opening this weekend and it will probably be a while before I roll down to the South Waterfront for a second attempt. Until you see a post titled "Dr. Strangecivicimprovement or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Millions That Went Into Building It and Learned to Love the OHSU Tram – Part II," here's a blurry cell phone picture of the tram descending into the station.

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