The Yellow Line is a light-rail train in Portland, Oregon. It travels from the Expo Center, in North Portland, to Portland State University, crossing the Willamette River via the Steel Bridge.
In late 2010, stumped at the time on my novel-in-progress, I began a new writing project called “The Yellow Line.” Inspired by an interview with Gay Talese where he described some of his thoughts about the methodology of the “New Journalism” of the 1960’s, specifically not carrying a tape recorder or a notebook, I found myself enjoying a kind of journo-literary game I could play on the Yellow Line where I would listen to a conversation, think about it on my way home, and transcribe it when I got there. My two rules in recording this world of the Yellow Line (for it is indeed a world) were 1.) I would not carry a notebook or a tape recorder, 2.) I would not verbally intervene/introduce myself/ask questions and 3. I would not switch seats and/or get closer, so that only what I could hear where I was at the time of the conversation would be what I heard. I suppose what I was attempting here was to make the gap between the writer and the reader that much closer, by saying look, I have no special advantage here, no tools with which to record this except my own memory, nor do I possess any special kind of courage or ambitiousness that lets me get closer to these stories other than that which the average person would possess. I am merely the average citizen, riding public transportation, admitted into this other world by means of only my ears, only by listening. The “stories” begin when I notice them — my ears wading through the sea of sound suddenly pick up one thread that seems interesting, and my mind begins recording it — and end when my stop arrives.
I recorded twenty-six Yellow Line conversations/incidents during the winter of 2010/2011, which I plan to share here on the Daily Miltonian. Here’s the first:
Two guys get on at Albina/Mississippi.
– You know what the kids do now? Ecstasy. They do ecstasy.
-Back in my day we did that blotter acid. Late sixties, early seventies. That blotter acid. You had to have a STRONG MIND to take that blotter acid. A STRONG MIND. Some guy comes into it with problems and his problems are only going to get worse. They just fall apart. I was always fine. Always fine. I have a strong mind. I miss those days. Late sixties. Early seventies.
We arrive at my stop, I get off.