Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hailng the Hillsdale Hop-Along

Anyone with experience in journalism knows that government bureaucracies are up to mischief when they release stories on Fridays.

TV audiences are smaller on Friday nights, and newspaper readership drops on Saturdays.

So it was that this Friday, TriMet announced that it is considering dropping 12 bus routes and making service generally less frequent.

Too bad, TriMet. In the era of new media, this story isn’t going away.

As I read the headline in The Oregonian, I could almost feel Portland gasp and bloggers turning to their keyboards.

This move by TriMet is wacko.

What happened to the "truth" part of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth"? TriMet is causing inconvenience and ignoring the truth.

Just as we should be using transit more — and in fact have been — TriMet is forcing us to use it less.

I followed The Oregonian story into the folds of the Metro section to see the impact on Hillsdale.

Most damaging is the proposal to drop the #55 "Hamilton" line that passes two blocks from my house. It’s a commuter route that runs only on weekday mornings and evenings. I don’t work downtown so I have used it rarely. But plenty of other people hop on board the little buses. The times I’ve boarded the Hamilton, the atmosphere has been downright familiar and friendly.

I confess I’ve felt more and more rebellious about urban governmental bureaucracies of late. City Hall, the schools, Metro, the county, TriMet. They really care little about neighborhoods per se. What we get amounts to lip-service. Okay, there are a few exceptions. I wish they were more notable and frequent.

I’ve been speaking out for "township" autonomy more frequently. It would at first be limited, experimental autonomy, to see how it goes. If it goes well, complete autonomy. We have a Hillsdale Town Center; what we lack is a town.

The potential demise of the #55 reminded me of thoughts I’ve had of a local township shuttle. It would consist of a small 24-seat bus that would transport folks whose homes are perched on hills and tucked away in dales. The shuttle's destination would be to the nearest TriMet bus lines, like the #55. Without TriMet feeders, the destination would be the Hillsdale Town Center (a Hillsdale Transit Center?).

It so happens we have people in Hillsdale who know a whole lot about buses. Buzz and Carolyn Raz ran the largest private bus company in the state until they retired a couple of years ago.

By chance, not an hour after I read The Oregonian story, I ran into Carolyn at Food Front.

We talked. And we will talk some more.

Believe me, there’s a lot to talk about, starting with liability and licensing. I'm inclined to avoid such topics.

I see a volunteer-voluntary shuttle, which might even have a Red Electric Line.

It’s 8 a.m. and the bright red Hillsdale shuttle pulls up to a doomed #55 stop. The volunteer driver greets the waiting passengers with “I just happen to be driving this way with a 20-person bus. Would you like a lift? Money? Naw, but if you'd like to make a modest donation for gas that's fine. Oh and if you would just sign this statement relieving me of liability etc. Sure, I’ll drop you off in Hillsdale where you can catch a TriMet bus.

"By the way, I’ll park up by the Library at 5:20 p.m. and 6 p.m. this evening. Just in case you and your old #55 friends need a lift.”

Wink, wink.

“Oh you like the name on the bus? I do too. It has a nice ring, ‘The Hillsdale Hop-Along.’”

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Committing Time

I’m recruiting new members to a non-profit board I’m on.

The process is a slow dance.

I invite my fellow board members to offer names of prospective candidates. Often this involves sending out “feelers” to see who’s interested.

Think, “dance card.”

Once the board agrees to the list (oh so easy!), I volunteer to make the invitation to the chosen. (Don’t ask why I volunteer, that comes later.)

The dance continues; the music changes.

I approach one person we’ve agreed on. Call him “Fred.”

I know Fred fairly well so I call to offer the invitation over the phone. I am met with: “Let’s sit down and talk about the time commitment.”

Fair enough. I can talk about time commitment easily enough, but why the “sitting down to talk” part?

Now THAT’S time commitment.

I don’t say it to Fred, but if he wants to hear about time commitment, I can do that on the phone and in one sentence. The commitment is two or three hours a month…unless you take on the task of recruiting board members and sitting down to talk about time commitment.

Anyway, I will have coffee with Fred to talk. It’s a pleasant task. I like coffee. I like Fred.

Still, it is an ironic time commitment.

And here a little inner voice says: LIFE is a time commitment.

OK, I say to the voice: To whom?

“Well,” says the voice, “if you were of a theistic mind, I’d pop in the all-purpose ‘God’ and be done with it.

“But because I am actually your own inner voice and, hence, presumably know you well (a BIG presumption), I’ll offer a tidy circular answer:

“You’ve made a ‘time commitment’ to life.

“Look around. At its most primitive, life — survival — demands a ‘time commitment’ to food, clothing, shelter. When you ‘free’ time (an odd, but valid concept), you commit it to other living organisms around us. Plants, animals, blog readers and Fred.

Reviewing this little exchange, the key term seems to be “freeing time,” which translates into “freeing life.”

In a word: Freedom.

Time commitments aren’t the question. Those are given. The question is what do we freely commit our time to.

It’s no small question. Come to think of it, it’s why Fred wanted to have coffee.

Wise man, that Fred. I hope I can get him on the board.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two Quaker Questions regarding Peace

This month in our Quaker Meeting House on Stark Street, we have posted the "Query for the Second Month." It is prominently displayed in our meeting room where we worship in silence.

February's query invites us to consider the Quaker Peace Testimony.

I pondered on it for most of the hour of silent meditation last Sunday.

It reads:

"Do we live in the virtue of that life and power which takes away the occasion of all war? As we work for peace in the world, are we nourished by peace within ourselves?"

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Monday, February 09, 2009

And now ... the O'Neill Effect

All politics is local, as Thomas "Tip" O'Neill once so famously put it. Get ready, because the "locals" are speaking out, and the Senate version of the stimulus package is about to wither under the local blistering blast over Senate cuts in state and local spending.

The heavy hand of Republicans — "moderate" and few though they be — is on this Senate bill. More than a third of the $838 billion comes in the form of tax cuts.

And just how might you be planning to spend your tax cut? Stimulating the economy? Planning to build any needed schools? Providing the poor with health care are you?


Don't assume that state and local government officials are the only ones turning out in force to make sure billions for non-federal projects are restored to the final package.

Here in little Hillsdale parents are lobbying for money for new and upgraded schools. The money isn't in the Senate version. Constituencies for alternative energy and state infrastructure construction are making similar noises.

In this community, we voted by a 5 to 1 ratio for Obama. More than a few of us are perplexed by the president's new moderate Republican alliances — and their consequences. What price window-dressing?

I say if the Senate Republicans want to filibuster, let them. And let them pay the political price.

It's called the "O'Neill effect."

It's also called "hardball."

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