Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The sponsored exit

I rode the Portland Streetcar today to get to and from an all-day eye appointment (Don’t ask).

The trolley ride seemed as interminable as the appointment (six ocular pressure tests spaced 90 minutes apart).

Trolley operators, unlike exposed Tri-Met bus drivers, are hermetically sealed in their forward cockpits, kind of like terrorist-plagued airplane pilots. A sign near the door (is it locked?) invites you to talk to them, but not while the trolley is moving. What are you supposed to do, knock on the door? Bring a crowbar?

“Hello? Hell-OOO?”

It’s all so uninviting, I’ve never thought to ask a question.

On the other hand, I’ve listened to Tri-Met bus drivers conduct entire therapy sessions for mildly deranged passengers. How they do this and merge with traffic is beyond me.

So I was surprised today when the trolley driver actually flicked on the intercom and spoke to us. The trolley was stuck in traffic on Lovejoy, and the driver recommended getting out and walking.

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

He informed us that earlier in the rush hour he had been stuck in Lovejoy congestion for 15 minutes.

He also warned that this would be our last opportunity to leave the stuffy car while it was in gridlock.

About 20 of us got out and walked. It felt good.

But it wasn’t the traffic or stale air that made me want to get off; it was the syrupy recorded voice telling me that the trolley stops were sponsored by … what? A Realtor, a brewery, a condominium, a hospital, the PSU Viking football team.

Yes, I know, I’ve ranted about all this before.

Captive transit riders assaulted by piped-in advertising!

Portland Street car turns public intersections into verbal billboards!

Only the deaf could love Portland's trolley!

And, yes, I have complained to the Portland Streetcar “citizens advisory committee.” They treated me as though I had dropped in from Mars, or Halfway or Hebo.

I was told that no one — NO ONE! — had EVER, EVER! complained about the announced sponsorships. Besides, selling these “opportunities” brought in something like 60 grand a year (presumably off-setting fares passengers never pay).

Here, if you scroll down the link, is the price list. Listen up! It costs $500 per month to sponsor a stop and earn access to your captive ears.

My untoward appearance was four years ago. Afterwards, I crawled back in my curmudgeonly hole, muttering, “What will they sponsor next?”

Today I found out, from the Streetcar voice, which belongs to Cheryl Hanson, a local TV news celebrity-turned-trolley-shill. We are supposed to “feel comfortable with” Cheryl, but I don’t— at least not in this context.

What next? At some point in the tranquility between announced stop sponsorships, a computer-cued Cheryl informed us that our VERY CAR was sponsored by Portland General Electric. You know, the local private utility monopoly that bought the naming rights to, and expunged forever the proud name of, Civic Stadium (Yes, that’s another one of my curmudgeonly peeves).

So here I am back in my hole, muttering again: “What will they sponsor next?”

Here’s a clue.

The “voice” didn’t do much else besides announce sponsorships of up-coming stops and the trolley itself, but at one point Cheryl matter-of-factly piped in: “To request a stop, press yellow strip or door button.”

Now there’s a missed opportunity if I ever heard one. It should be worth a grand or two.
“To request this stop, sponsored by Powell’s Bookstore, press yellow strip, sponsored by Nike Sportswear, or door button, brought to you by Starbucks Coffee.”

Who knows, someday Cheryl may send me on my way with “Have a nice day … sponsored by Riverview Mortuary and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.”

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