A Precious View of Public Transit in Portland

From our the museum of condescending, cliched NY Times stories about the West comes another gem, this one about an aerial tramway in Portland.

Let’s imagine that you just arrived in the United States from some other country for the first time, and somebody handed you this story about the Oregonians and their crazy sky-subway to you as you stepped off the plane. The story would not even make sense to you unless you understood the following unspoken cliches:

  • The "those people in Oregon sure are liberal" cliche, exemplified by the fact that they went out of their way to name the tram cars after a woman and a black guy when they could have just, you know, named it after some dead governor or a war hero or something
  • People from Oregon are basically rubes who generally ride horses and buggies and flip out and act like bonobos whenever they find themselves in a motorized conveyance
  • The free-spending lefties in government out in Oregon have no idea how to build public transit in a fiscally responsible manner, paying nearly $60 million for this monstrosity (even though this is just a fraction of the $300+ million per mile that subways cost)

It’s particularly weird that this story treats the strange, expensive exotic yet completely provincial Portland tramway in such a precious way, since New York has its own tramway (which wasn’t mentioned in the story). I guess if you’re writing an otherwise boring story like this, you have to choose your angle to make it interesting, but if you’re going for something spicy, you could just as well have gone for the horrific angle instead.