I recently saw a TriMet bus zooming up Southeast Powell Boulevard with the word “Police” where the route name and number usually are. Was the driver trying to signal that I should call the cops? Or had the bus been commandeered by the cops to chase crooks? —Nan Brakhage
I’ve never seen the phenomenon you describe, Nan, and my first impulse was to dismiss it as just another piece of unsubstantiated hearsay, like UFOs or the female orgasm. Still, just to make sure, I contacted TriMet PIO Bekki Witt. While I didn’t get to know her quite well enough to ask about everything on my list, she confirmed the part about the buses—cops do requisition one occasionally.
Not for crook-chasing, of course. The public purse may be pretty depleted these days, but we haven’t quite reached the point where an officer in hot pursuit has to hop on the No. 9 to run down a perp. (At least, not here; I understand Wisconsin is looking into it.)
“The ‘Police’ message may be programmed on a bus when police or fire officials have requested TriMet buses for certain activities,” says Witt. Such activities might include busing evacuees from an unsafe area, transporting a boatload of witnesses, or parking for use as a warming shelter during dangerously cold weather. She didn’t mention anything about “spur-of-the-moment Vegas trips,” but I’d like to think it’s happened at least once.
Witt also notes that “the ‘Police’ message can be programmed into the overhead display manually by an operator or other personnel with access to the system,” which suggests to me that you could put pretty much anything you wanted up there. Typically, it’s humdrum messages like “Not in Service” or “Blazer Shuttle.” Still, it’ll be hard not to admire the first hacker who can make one say “Bonerland.”