Baritone Robert Orth, in town to play Don Alfonso in Portland Opera's production of Cosi Fan Tutte, is often away from home, appearing on stage. This week in Portland, someone asked him if he ever felt lonely being away from home so much. "When I started to travel," he replied, "yes, I did feel lonely. But now that I've spent thirty years on the road," he said with a whimsical tone that the dry words don't reflect, "I find myself endlessly fascinating."
When I entered the business world many years ago, my co-workers and I would go out to lunch, and most of us would order a glass of wine with lunch. Many of the others I saw in the local restaurants were also drinking wine or a cocktail with their meals.
Times changed. Ten years later, I saw hardly anyone at lunch having a drink.
I went to a brown-bag lunch meeting not long ago. I brought my lunch. As I looked around the room, only one other person had brought any food -- a bag of grapes. Two others had brought smoothies. Most of the people at the lunch meeting hadn't brought any lunch.
It's an odd sign of how our society has changed. Not only do we not drink at lunch any more, but we don't eat either.
The Oregon legislature is holding a special session this year, as a sort of pre-test of what annual sessions might look like. The legislators won't face the flood of bills that they have to consider in the regular (odd-year) sessions, but they have enough to keep them busy. One of the quirkier bills in this year's hopper is Senate Bill 1045, which would prohibit employers from using credit reports to make employment decisions. The bill has a few exceptions: federally-insured banks and credit unions could still run credit checks on their prospective employees, as could other companies that are required by law to do so (I don't know of any offhand), and public safety agencies. It's an odd concept: if the bill passes, an Oregon county could run a credit check on a prospective police officer who drives a county car and carries a county gun, but not on the financial manager who handles the cash that pays for the car and the gun.
TriMet issued a statement crowing about the success of the Westside Express rail line (the one that runs between Wilsonville and Beaverton, nicknamed "WES"). It opened one year ago, and according to TriMet 42% of the people who ride WES are making trips for which they used to drive their cars. That's an outstanding statistic, if you don't know that WES averages only 1200 riders a day. WES runs 16 trips each way on weekdays, or 32 trips total, so each trip averages about 40 riders.
WES cost $160 million to build. To put that number into perspective, the numbers being bandied about for the cost to replace the Interstate Bridges, build lots of ramps, bring light rail to Vancouver, and save civilization are in the range of $5 billion, or about 30 times the cost to build WES. About 126,000 vehicles use the Interstate Bridges each weekday, which at 1.2 occupants per vehicle means about 150,000 people. That's 125 times the ridership of WES, at 30 times the cost.
Comparisons are invidious, of course; the cost of the Interstate Bridges doesn't include the cost of the road network that gets cars to and from the bridges. Similarly, the cost of WES doesn't include the cost of the road and transit network that gets riders to and from the WES stations. These numbers do suggest, however, that instead of crowing about WES, TriMet should be working hard to bring its capital cost per rider down to the efficient level of the highway system.