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Lost in transportation


BaumgardnerThere’s something about big cities that fascinates me. There is a certain romance in the heartbeat of downtown Portland, where you can lose yourself between the towering buildings.

You can find something you never knew you loved until the moment you start loving it — an exotic variety of tea, a new type of music or a great new book from the bestseller shelf at Powell’s City of Books (one of my favorite downtown destinations).

But ours is a long-distance relationship, and more and more often I feel the desire to be independent, transportation-wise. To my friend and me, public transit seemed to be the remedy for our wanderlust.

We aren’t strangers to the cramped, bustling labyrinth of the Pearl District, particularly the blocks surrounding Powell’s, but public transit was a Pandora’s box of sorts. Armed with a map and naive expectations, we thought we could go anywhere. For a couple of Portland-loving teenagers who have yet to get their licenses, this freedom was exhilarating.

We researched routes, printed maps and convinced our parents to let us out of the nest. That’s how we found ourselves bouncing on our heels at the bus stop outside the West Linn Public Library on a bright June morning, counting out exact change for our first bus fare.

The trip downtown passed without incident. With the advice of some friendly Portlanders, we found Powell’s and spent the afternoon browsing and people-watching without giving much thought to how we’d get back. A few pleasant hours passed before we realized we needed to plan our route home.

Luckily, we found ourselves in a cupcake boutique with a Lake Oswegan employee who gave us the number and stop of the bus that could take us home. We followed her instructions to the letter and gave a sigh of relief as we boarded the air-conditioned No. 36 bus. I even opened up one of my newly purchased books as we bumped along through unfamiliar urban neighborhoods.

It was at the half-hour mark that I began to sense something was wrong. I looked outside at the unrecognizable streets and felt a familiar twist in my gut. I might have just shrugged and gone back to my book, but something made me get up and ask the driver when, exactly, we would be going through Lake Oswego.

He gave me a look, and I knew. We had gotten on the wrong bus. The river I had caught a glimpse of a minute ago wasn’t the Willamette, but the Columbia; we were closer to Washington than we were to West Linn. After a moment of abject panic, we happened to pass the bus that we should’ve been on, No. 35, and the drivers simply stopped in the middle of an empty street to let us switch.

Even though we were nearly an hour late, we made it back to West Linn in one piece, with a story for our parents to shake their heads at.

We’ve taken the bus a few more times since then, and each time we feel more confident. We go further, walk faster. We’re starting to feel a little more like Portlanders. Or at least like capable suburban teens who know public transit well enough to end up going in the right direction.

Claire Baumgardner is a junior at West Linn High School. She is contributing a regular column to the Tidings this school year.