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Thursday, February 08, 2007
So I finally took a trip on the Portland Aerial Tram.
Like a lot of locals, I was never keen on the idea. I too figured that the millions the city contributed to the project could have been better spent on schools, cops or even a free microbrew for everyone living in Multnomah County. Regardless of the controversy, the tram is here to stay and I was too weak-willed to ignore its siren's call. I mustered up a colleague and we headed down there on Monday, making us probably the last two people in Portland to ride the bloody thing.
The wind was picking up as we walked up to the empty station down in the South Waterfront. We paid our $4 and within a few minutes one of the cabins pulled up. Was it "Jean" or "Walt"? I forgot to ask. A doctor and the two of us climbed aboard, where an operator was nursing a sore throat after a day spent answering newbie rider's lame questions. He was happy to tackle a few more. One I threw out there: "Did any of the owners of the houses down there actually paint F-U-C-K O-H-S-U on their roofs?" His answer: "Woah, they were gonna do that? I had no idea! If they did, I haven't seen it." That got a laugh out of the doctor. For what's it's worth, it's actually possible to peer through any number of frustrated homeowners' windows from the tram.
The doors slid shut and we were off, quickly ascending to the tram's first tower. As expected, the cabin hit a small bump, making it surge forward slightly as we headed towards Pill Hill. The view through the cart's large, bubble windows is astounding but pretty much the same thing you could see if you're willing to sneak onto the roof of OHSU's north hospital (not that I did that while I worked up there one summer or anything). With no heating system and on a winter night, it was noticeably cold in there but the wind did little to sway the cabin.
Three minutes later, we were high atop the West Hills. In the upper station, an HDTV ran an endless loop of tram propaganda. The passageway into the hospital wasn't quite finished but there was already art up on the walls. I'm still trying to figure the significance of this self-portrait near the entrance to the south hospital:
Kevin Holtzman, the tram operator interviewed in last week's issue of Willamette Week, was running the second cabin that night. On the way back down he offered up a few tram-related factoids:
I don't know if the tram will ever become a tourist attraction worthy of OMSI or the Rose Garden or if it will ever pop up on postcards around town. At least it's more practical than the Oregon City Municipal Elevator.
Finally, here's a You Tube video I shot of the tram heading back to the South Waterfront: