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Joel Silverstein

May 7: I overheard two women talking on the bus yesterday. They seemed to get along really well. Both were going home to their children. Both were well traveled. And they both had the same notion of “progress.”

“I remember Lloyd Center was only two stories high when I first came here. Now they have a nice opened food court and a movie theater.”

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to go there.” Typical, I suppose. Not their fault. But I was disturbed by that bit of their conversation. I remembered an author talking with Ray Suarez on the News Hour on OPB. He spoke of East L.A., and the way some people there are so engulfed in their community, they never get to see the beach, or even the west hills. The same goes for every town. Trips to the mall take precedence over camping trips. But it’s hard for a traveler like me to relate to that. Now anyway. I’m a good five years removed from my mall shopping days, from my “Abercrombie” days, from my pre-knowledge-of-sweatshop GAP days. Back when I’d conceive of uttering the phrase “this is a nice mall.”

I can’t blame those women. The mall is convenient. The mall is what they know. And if the kiosks and corporations in the mall can help it, their kids will be the same. Development, convenience, consumption, profit: progress. Ain’t it Grand?

May 1, 2002: I got on the bus earlier than usual, at Fifth and Burnside. A few blocks later, two acquaintances boarded and sat in the front. They started talking. Their conversation went something like this:

“Alzheimer’s is a little different,” the woman said.

“Yeah, she can’t even remember my name half the time,” the man said.

“See, I have trouble remembering things, but that’s different,” the woman said. “I’ve been through so much abuse, that my brain just doesn’t click. But my condition isn’t congenital.”

And the man smiled and laughed, and said, “I can imagine.” The woman went on to discuss her childhood. It came out as a poem.

The people that I call

Aunt and uncle

What aunt Kate has

Dirt floors and warmed water

For pouring


Galvanized tubs

My abuse

Is not congenital

My abuse is

What aunt Kate’s Dirt floors

And an electric ringer-washer

That my little four-year-old

Fingers got swallowed


Things don’t match

In my head

And seared hands

White hot from

The electric ringer-washer

From when my little four

Year-old fingers

Got swallowed into


And that was that. She got off somewhere around 28th, leaving her friend to smile at someone else.

You can watch an afterschool special on mental illness. You might be a frequent mall shopper. Or you might read Street Roots, and start to relate to our city’s homeless. But I’ve never gained as much perspective on things as I have riding the 17. Poems, and stories, and even a song have come from my trips over the Ross Island Bridge, through the intersection of Milwaukie and Powell. Then a sharp turn, and soon we’re on Holgate. I’ll never forget how inviting the sign for the “U-Wash-Dog-Wash” is. Or the sign at the Tucker Maxon Oral school. Or the army vet from Massachusetts that recognized my shirt, and became a friend. But that’s another story.