Saturday, January 26, 2008

Meditations on a Streetcar

I took one of those bittersweet Portland Streetcar rides yesterday. The ride was comfortable and on-time, but all along the way, a pre-recorded woman’s voice informed us that the next stop was sponsored by a brewery, a spa, a bank, a real estate broker or a condominium developer.

I’ve complained about this commercial intrusion before, and not just on The Red Electric. I’ve actually testified before the Portland Streetcar Citizens’ advisory board. They nodded politely when I put it to them that public spaces shouldn’t be sold off in exchange for vocal or visual commercial appeals. They made some noises about needing the sponsorship money. I suggested that it might help their cash flow if they simply collected fares etc.

My complaint went nowhere. I think they considered me, at best, a benevolent crank, or, at worst, and misguided fool.

Yesterday, as I trolleyed through the Pearl District bound for NW 23rd, it occurred to me that in this world of global warming, we should be urged to use mass transit. Anything that discourages its use, like THE VOICE, is death to the planet.

Saving the planet shouldn’t come at the price of our being, in effect, turned into a captive audience, fish in a barrel — a “targeted audience” — for marketing/advertising types.

While the disembodied voice went about its paid pronouncements, I rode along trying to stay focused on reading Marcus Aurelius. I’ve kept “Meditations” near at hand recently. It has become my “pocket book” of choice. The Roman emperor’s no-nonsense, stoic perspective is bracing.

As the trolley glided west on NW Northrup and the voice chirped out the next sponsored stop. I just happened to be reading the following:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

If the cause of the trouble lies in your own character, set about reforming your principles; who is there to hinder you? If it is the failure to take some apparently sound course of action that is vexing you, then why not take it, instead of fretting?

‘Because there is an insuperable obstacle in the way.’ In that case, do not worry; the responsibility for inaction is not yours.

‘But life is not worth living with the thing undone.” Why then, bid life a good-humored farewell; accepting the frustration gracefully, and dying like any other man whose actions have not been inhibited.”

The words obviously spoke to my condition. I had already follow much of the advice, stopping short of “bidding life farewell.”

Not to worry. I’m not planning on throwing myself under the wheels of a streetcar in protest.

No, I have a life-affirming Plan B for ending the “distress” caused by this “external” annoyance: namely, avoiding the trolley and walking, riding a bike or taking a bus.

I wish everyone else would too. Just make sure to tell the advisory committee why.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is another way to look at this situation. While, the advertising may irritate you, it doesn't irritate everybody. Nor does it discourage everyone from taking transit. I'm young, poor, and have grown up with advertising in my face. I can tune it out, especially if it costs me less to do so. The biggest deterrents for me to taking public transit is the cost per trip, trip length, and the weather. I can drive my car (which is paid off) with about $110 a month for gas and insurance, but with the flexibility of my car and the demands of life (being on time, number of hours in a day, budget constraints, being presentable, etc...) are what prevent me from riding the bus as often as I like. I would rather have a transit system that was free, frequent, fast, and clean and if all it cost me was exposure to garish and loud advertisments that is much better than a ad-free, expensive, little used system.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Jackson Howa said...

I agree with billyocracy on this one. The adverts really are a small price to pay for a cheap, efficient, effective mass transit system.

Besides, I don't even notice them anymore.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Global Warming ??? Are you kidding me. Don't ride transit to save global warming. Transit is at best a self savings of your own money. You global warming people have bought into a complete scam. If you don't like transit ads, buy a Suburban, or a Hummer and enjoy your trip to work with the confidence of knowing, when you hit a Prius, you will survive the crash.

9:50 PM  
Blogger pdxGIANT said...

Assuming you realize that these "sponsorships" are not free, what is your proposal to recoup the moneys lost if they cancel them? Or did you perhaps just subject the board to a non solution oriented whining criticism? Until Oregon stops overturning each governmental revenue increase and we can begin to fully fund some of these projects, be happy with what we have and wear an ipod like the rest of us.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Portland is a creative place, right?

Certainly we can creatively replace the "lost revenue," which, when I looked at it, was remarkably small.

Bake sales come to mind. Just kidding.

What about an increase in parking fees?

What about actually collecting fares? You could lower them to 50 cents, if collections at the current fare is too onerous. Just collect them.

What about an annual, massive sidewalk sale along the trolley line with a percentage of the revenue going to the trolley?

How about the "sponsors" buying trolley tickets in bulk to give to customers?

Look, there are mass transit systems all over the world that manage to make the trains run without this kind of advertising.

Let's see what they do.

Your turn.

1:34 PM  

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