The meth-heads and heroin addicts get on the bus and off the bus every day like I do. The city-employed men in yellow vests harass them. Not because they’re meth-heads, but because none of us can figure out how to pay to ride the MAX. To pay the ticket machines. The silent judges of whether we get to progress. They take your money and don’t print. They don’t take your money and don’t print. The button is stuck. And that button, too. It won’t scan your credit card. It rejects your cash. It rejects you. The screens don’t even light. It won’t be forced to acknowledge you. Especially in the pouring rain, the kind that flies sideways and the architectural wonder, the design student’s wet dream—those damn hipsters that ride their bikes around downtown with their coffee-cup holders and ridiculous jeans and a guilty mother’s money on every single First Thursday—of a public transportation stop that can’t help you stay dry. Try the next machine and the next. You should have gotten off at the subsequent stop and paid when the previous one didn’t work, says the yellow-vested I’m-more-employed-than-you man. He’s got health insurance that isn’t even on the exchange. Go wait in line behind all the folks who’ve already done their business at the methadone clinic and act like you don’t know that’s what’s happening, he says. He didn’t say it, but let’s not pretend. We all know. One day I went into work late and everyone on the train had armbands, had medical tape around their forearms. How strange, I thought. Then I realized they’d all donated. The plasma joint is one block up, the methadone clinic is right next to the train station. They donate, they re-up, and they ride with their new cash and their new high and I’m old news just going to work to sit at a desk, or if I’m lucky I get to stand, and earn what I earn to pay for my dinner, my rent, and my clothes, and maybe one night of over-priced vintage cocktail happy hours with day-old oyster shooters per week even thought the coast just isn’t that far away. Let’s not even talk about insurance. The other riders know I don’t belong because I don’t wear the armband. They’ve got tokens for free food and the lady next to me wears a lanyard that I know means she never pays to ride this thing, or the bus, or the streetcar, too. Maybe even the cab. The news says there’s an underground token market. You can get sixty cents cash for every dollar of tokens. Buy all the drugs you want. The meth-heads hang out near the newly remodeled yet authentically retro Voodoo Donut—the one in the Northwest, not the one in the Northeast, I know we’re riding from Gresham, but please—and you can barely tell the drugged-out zombies from the art students and viticulturists. I know the lady with the lanyard has got it worse than me but sometimes it still makes me angry when I sit at my desk and wonder what it feels like, what’s so worth riding all the way across Portland and waiting in line after line, to slug back that little plastic cup.
Becca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in concis, The Forge, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Jersey Devil Press, Five on the Fifth, Menacing Hedge, and Corium. She and her husband live in a RV they built by hand. They split their time between an off-grid mountain cabin in the Idaho Panhandle and wherever their whims and the winds take them.