PORTLAND - It's a rolling laboratory of low-risk love. It's the closest you'll sit to a stranger today. It's the $2.25 buffet table at the urban-singles banquet.
It's the bus. And believe it or not, lonely hearts, sometimes it does the trick.
Ask Arryal Joy. The 23-year-old Portlander said she's scored "several girlfriends" on the bus by passing them notes that say, for example, "Want to be friends? (YES) (no)."
"Girls never get notes any more," explained Joy, who said she likes to scope out the lines past Reed College for "smart lesbians."
Ask George and Cheryl Hysmith of Trout Lake, who can't remember anything about their first conversation except where they were sitting: he behind the wheel, she in the first seat on the right.
The "bus driver groupie seat," says Cheryl Hysmith, now 62, who was dating a different bus driver when she met George, her husband of 23 years, in the winter of 1983.
However long the love affairs last, it's clear the country's trains and buses have lit a thousand sparks, from Seattle, where a young rider of the #11 bus last October composed a mildly profane but brilliant paean to her platonic "bus boyfriend," to Boston, where the T is the No. 1 location for Craigslist missed connections.
Here in Portland, transit-oriented romance seems nearly mainstream. The regional agency itself has embraced it, holding a Valentine's Day contest to track down couples whose treacliest tales could be presented at a media junket this morning. Spend some off-peak time on the light rail and you'll get a public transportation love story from about one in 20 riders.
Many of them, of course, are telling the sort of stories you'll hear at official events:
- Edward Gromysh, who said he met one girlfriend when she grabbed him by the sleeve and wordlessly pulled him off the train after her. (They stayed together for a month, and remain friendly, said Gromysh, 20.)
- A young woman who loaned her cell phone to a stranger for a moment, only to learn the next day that he'd secretly called his own phone to score her number. (At last report, they're still together.)
- John King, who left his then-fiancee because he couldn't resist the smell of the woman he kept running into on the train. Despite their "crazy chemistry," the new relationship fell apart quickly. "It was one of the worst things that ever happened to me," said King, 47.
- Eyvonne Abraham, whose most cherished memories of her late husband, a big, bald bus driver 18 years her senior when they met, include talking to him all the way to the end of the line, then enjoying his downtime together. ("I can work wonders in half an hour, honey," said Abraham, 60.)
"It ain't no different from a bar or a club or something," said Maurice Holmes, 23, who said he regularly works his game on light rail cars, which are big enough to let him walk away from failure. "You gotta have some type of originality when you approach."
Robert Lambert, 44, said he could testify to the effects of singing — in a foreign language, if possible. The Tigard, Ore., graphic designer said he and a friend had received unexpected blessings after singing a Sioux folk song together in a rail car.
Then there was the advice of almost everyone with experience in bus romance: Take it easy, baby. There are some real weirdos out there.
Even former bus operator George Hysmith, 64, declined to comment on his two attempts to date passengers before getting together with his future wife Cheryl.
"You meet a lot of people when you're driving the bus," Hysmith said. "I guess I can be selective."