Tension at a Portland Bus Stop

October 21, 2008

As a child, I was bullied by my father, as was my mother. I don’t think he was aware of bullying his family, and after he got done with my brother and me, he stopped with the three younger siblings who are puzzled why the two of us resented him so much.

As a school child, I was not especially bullied, but I was aware of bullying and aware of being the kid next in line to be bullied. Children who are bullied send out signals of being good targets. This is not fair, and not really their fault, but the phenomenon clearly exists. When I was a public school teacher I could often tell within a day or two which students were likely to be bullied.

I did get beat up a couple of times as a child. I never learned boxing or karate or similar martial arts skills, so I’ve avoided physical combat situations all of my life. However, anyone can be thrown into such a situation unexpectedly. My first instinct would be to call the  police, but if I had to I would strive to hurt a threatening person, no matter how feebly.

I have been in a couple of scary situations in my life. This is sort of a “Seinfeld story” in that it is about nothing and nothing happened. I tell it in honor of the pledge drive, so if the story fascinates you for a second or two, send a buck to David.

About 15 years ago, I was working in downtown Portland. I rode the bus to and from work. One day after work I was standing on the sidewalk among many other people waiting for busses. I noticed a man and woman engaged in quiet but intense conversation.

He was white and fairly large. She was small and Asian—for no particular reason I imagined she was Vietnamese. I could not tell if they were in a relationship—husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend. They looked as if they were in their thirties or forties.

Although I could not hear the conversation-they were about half a block away and speaking quietly—it was clear to me that he was berating or threatening her and that she was frightened. Angry and threatening was how I would describe his demeanor. Cowering and terrified would be how I would describe hers. There was no physical contact between them, but there was a feeling of threat in the air.

There was no visible reason to intervene or to call the police, but my sense of the tone of their conversation and their body language told me that there might be a need to do so. This was before the time when cell phones were so popular and I had none. There was a phone booth about a block away. There were quite a few people standing around waiting for busses, but I seemed to be the only one noticing the situation.

I decided to stay and quietly observe the tense couple from a distance until the situation resolved peacefully on its own or called for action. I made up my mind to miss my bus and catch a later one if need be.

A few minutes later a bus arrived, apparently the one the woman was waiting for. She scurried over and boarded it with a look of relief on her face. He looked angry but made no attempt to follow. I inferred there was no relationship between them.

Men threaten women all the time, both women they know and women they don’t know, for various reasons, mostly unsavory. Why a man would threaten a woman he evidently didn’t know in the midst of a crowd of people in a very public place remains perplexing to me.

As the bus left I turned my attention away. My bus arrived a few minutes later, and relieved that I had not had to engage in senseless heroics, I boarded and headed home. As I say, it’s a story about nothing. If it held your attention for a moment or two, set aside a dollar for David’s pledge drive.

6 Responses to “Tension at a Portland Bus Stop”

  1. That is really an odd little anecdote. Maybe he resented her for being seemingly foreign?

  2. modestypress Says:

    I hadn’t thought of that, David, but it seems as if it might be a very good guess.

  3. Considering when it was, it’s very possible. Foreign and/or Asian.

  4. Corina Says:

    At least you had resolved to stay and monitor the situation. A lot of people would ignore it completely.

  5. Pete Says:

    Random – You put Jerry Lewis to shame with your fund raising tactics!

  6. modestypress Says:


    I do, don’t I. Unfortunately, I also have a face for radio (well, for that matter, so does Jerry Lewis), but maybe I will go on the Internet Radio Network I listen to while I’m on the treadmill and do a radio marathon fund-raiser.

    True memoir trivia. I once in my 20s volunteered at the Pacifica listener-supported radio station in Los Angeles, KPFK.

    First I wrote news stories. The head of the news department asked me if I wanted to broadcast the news on weekends.

    The first day I went on the air, someone called the station and asked why the person reading the news sounded so amateurish on weekends.

    Gradually, I got better–at least people stopped calling and complaining, anyway.

    Then one day, the Pope was ill unto death. In the newscast, I said, “We will let you know if the Pope dies during the newscast.” (Something like that anyway.) When I got home, my father pointed out to me that was not a felicitous way of stating the situation. Oh, yeah, he’s right, I thought with some chagrin.

    The engineer during my newscasts was named Dave Ossman. He was married (at the time) to a black woman (which impressed me a bit) and he was one of the founding members of the comedy group “Firesign Theatre,” which went on to achieve some fame and success with its surrealistic comedy records. Dave now lives on the same island as I do, with a new (white) wife. I haven’t looked him up. He wouldn’t remember me and I would have nothing intelligent to say to him, and I have nothing intelligent to say here as well.

    Pete, I am loath, however, to ask you to donate to my pledge drive. What is your recommendation? Should I try to put the touch on you or should I let you be in peace?

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