I had quite a scare yesterday, but it turned into something beautiful.
I had set out from my wonderful friend Sandi’s house in north Portland, where she had kindly hosted me for a couple of nights between cat sits, to my new Host a Sister wonderful friend’s house, Cindy, in the beautiful neighborhood of Ladds Addition. (It was cool to be back in that area; for ten years I had lived on the edge of Ladds, in the Mulberry Apartments on SE 12th just south of Hawthorne, from 1996 to 2006.)
To make the trip, I loaded my rig onto the MAX light rail. (Sometimes I bike between houses, but if the weather is cold or rainy I prefer the MAX. Buses aren’t an option; the rig is too clunky to carry on board.)
I boarded near the New Seasons on Rosa Parks and Interstate, and disembarked at the station closest to Ladds Addition: Clinton St/SE 12th Ave.
I carefully rolled the rig off the train, making sure as always not to catch the hub of the trailer wheel on the closing door.
I cycled off the platform and into the neighborhood—probably about a 5-10 minute, quite pleasant, ride to Cindy’s house.
I arrived at the house, and was about to go up and ring the bell, when I discovered with shock that the trailer was not behind me. I was just on the bike by itself. (My Radical Design Chubby trailer—a product of Dutch ingenuity and engineering—is so well designed that I often can’t even feel it behind me as I ride, so I hadn’t noticed.)
I was stunned.
This had never happened.
What should I do??
I texted Cindy that I needed to go searching for the lost trailer, and would be back later. I hopped back on the bike, and retraced my route exactly, even riding the sidewalks the wrong way on one-way streets to make sure I could see everywhere I had been. I looked to the left and the right, everywhere.
How could this have happened?? Without my noticing it? It was so surreal.
I got back to the train platform, hoping to see it sitting there.
OK. Stay calm. Breathe.
First, I called the TriMet lost & found number, and left a voicemail there with all the information. Their outbound message said that they would call back if, and only if, they did find the lost item.
I then reasoned that the train I had taken was close to the end of its line in the southern suburb of Milwaukie. I estimated that it should be less than a one-hour turnaround for it to get to the end, and come back through on its inbound run.
I figured I would wait for the next inbound train, and look for the trailer onboard.
After all, if it wasn’t on the platform, and wasn’t anywhere along my short route, I must have been mistaken about having rolled it off the train? Maybe in my haste, the hitch had given way (I knew this was possible, though it hadn’t happened often, and again, I couldn’t imagine it happening without my noticing) and I had somehow rolled off only the bike, leaving the trailer on the train…?
The next train arrived. I hurriedly scanned the front car.
But realistically, that train would have been too early. This almost certainly wasn’t the same one. Maybe the next one…
My time constraint was that I had an appointment at my OsteoStrong bone gym, in Clackamas, at 2:30. I had disembarked the train about 12:43. By now it was after 1:30, and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the gym on time.
I stayed as calm as I could, and called the gym to see if I could push back my appointment. Yes, they could push it back until 3:15.
Great! Maybe I could resolve this by then.
Then I noticed a TriMet maintenance employee, in a lime-green vest, on the edge of the platform. I walked up and asked if he had seen my trailer.
No, he hadn’t. But when I explained the situation, he suggested when the next inbound train arrived, I should flag down the operator, and ask if he had seen it.
Great! Thank you for the tip, sir.
He also told me that the TriMet lost & found office was just another stop or two south on the line, at the company’s headquarters, so if need be, if the trailer was found and turned in, I could go pick it up there.
Soon, the next train did arrive, and I flagged down the operator. He opened his window and talked to me as I stood on the platform. He said he wasn’t aware of any unaccompanied trailer on board, but he would pause a moment for me to check.
But no. No trailer on board. Then I asked if he had been the train to depart this platform southbound at 12:43. He checked his schedule said no, he was already in Milwaukie by then. So it should be the next train.
He pulled away, and I did my best to relax and have faith in the best-case scenario: I would find the trailer, full and unharmed. (As many of you know, this trailer contained all my clothes, except for what I was wearing; all my toiletries; my bike spare parts; my laptop; and important documents, including my passport. I could have worked myself up into a good freakout. I chose not to. I visualized that I would somehow find it, whole and unharmed.)
I posted about my situation on Facebook, and asked everyone to help me hold this vision. I was heartened and buoyed by dozens of friends, from around the globe, putting care-reacts and other supportive reactions on my post, and offering words of empathy and encouragement. It really helped to feel this outpouring of concern and support.
The next train arrived. I tried to flag down the operator, but instead of opening the window, he just looked at me and gave me the thumbs-up. Hmmm… kinda weird, but did this mean he saw me with my bike, guessed what I was asking, and was letting me know the trailer was indeed on board?? I chose to assume yes, and jumped into the first car. (Portland’s light-rail runs almost entirely above ground, so given the short block lengths of the city, all MAX trains are only two cars long. I can only imagine how much more overwhelming my task might have been in a city like Boston or New York or San Francisco, with six- or eight-car subway trains.)
But alas, no trailer.
At this point, I needed to board that train anyway to be able to make it to my OsteoStrong appointment. Maybe I would just have to concede that the trailer was lost… maybe it would be found later, and I could pick it up at the TriMet HQ.
I sat down, somewhat dejectedly.
But then I noticed another lime-vested TriMet employee across the aisle from me on the train. I asked if he had seen the trailer. He said no, but helped me to realize that it would be on the rear car of whatever train I had boarded. I remembered boarding the front car in north Portland, so it was only the front cars I had been checking. But he reminded me that the trains don’t turn around in Milwaukie, at the end of the line; they just reverse direction. So if the trailer was still on a train, it would be in the rear car!
At the next stop, I jumped off the front car & looked at the rear… but that was not a low-floor car.
Weird! I knew I had initially boarded a low-floor car; it’s the only kind I can board with the rig.
I had been pretty certain that this was the right train. Apparently it wasn’t.
Could it be the next one…?
I knew if I waited for the next one, I couldn’t get to my OsteoStrong appointment in time. The time slots are only 15 minutes, and if you miss your slot, you probably miss the whole appointment. After all the hassle to get out there, I didn’t want to risk that.
But I also didn’t want to miss what might be my best chance to possibly recover the trailer.
I jumped off the train at Pioneer Square, and called OsteoStrong again: What was the last appointment of the day?
OK, I’ll take it!
I texted Cindy to update her on the situation. She was flexible and supportive; whew!
I looked on the next yellow line train that approached. No, no trailer.
OK. I thought maybe my best bet would be to get back to TriMet’s lost & found. They hadn’t called me, but if they later did, it would be best for my timing if I were already there.
I now had time for this. OK.
So I jumped on the next #17 bus, and headed right back to where I had come from, this time going a bit farther, to the TriMet offices and lost & found.
I burst in—bike in hand, not folded, not locked outside—and blurted out to the man behind the desk my situation.
He said, “Are you looking for the lost & found?”
It was the next window over, around the corner.
It took me a minute to get that woman’s attention, but when she looked over, I blurted it all out to her.
She seemed mildly annoyed, and said they hadn’t seen it: “I just called dispatch eight minutes ago, to check on this, and no one had seen it.”
I was disappointed by the news, but glad to hear they had at least received my voice mail and started working on it.
But… now what? Where was my trailer? I still chose to envision that I would get it back, intact… but how? And my mind couldn’t help starting to wonder about how catastrophic it would be if I really didn’t.
I trudged out of the TriMet building.
Right outside the doors, I heard my phone ringing.
The Caller ID showed my storage-unit company.
Weird. Why would they be calling me? I hoped this wasn’t some bad news about something happening to my belongings there; I knew they had periodic break-ins there.
When I answered, the woman said, “This is a really weird phone call, but did you lose, like… a bike cart?”
Wow. Was this really happening? But how would the storage unit be involved? They were not particularly close to that train line.
Apparently, she said, a woman had found the trailer, and opened it up, noticing various valuable items and realizing how scary it must have been for me to have lost it. She wanted to get it back to me. She had looked in my checkbook register (Who still uses those? Me! And now I’m extra glad I do!) and saw that I had made a recent payment to the storage company. In an amazing coincidence, she herself had also rented a storage unit at that location in the recent past.
She realized the company wouldn’t give her my number, but she thought she could leave her number for them to forward to me.
So the employee texted me this Good Samaritan’s number, and I was ecstatically hopeful.
Her name was Michelle, and I immediately called her. She said that she and her boyfriend, Cody, had found it on the train platform. OK, so that solved one mystery: the trailer must have come unhitched as soon as I disembarked. She said that they had gone through my belongings—seeing my laptop, passport, checkbook, etc—and had taken it upon themselves to get the trailer to the address on my checkbook, near 50th & Division.
Wow. What a kindness! Of course I don’t live there anymore, but they had thought/hoped I did, and proactively took the trailer there.
This trailer is bulky and hard to move, even with the hitch attached. It weighs about 72 pounds (33 kg) with everything in it.
They didn’t have a car.
They must have rolled it at least five blocks to Division, and somehow carried it onto the FX2 bus, then carried it off at the bus stop at 51st.
Above and beyond.
“Ohmygod, thank you, thank you so much!”
I was overcome.
“Should I meet you there right now? I could be there in like 20 minutes on my bike.”
We agreed to do so.
She also mentioned that they had found my alternate address—my mailing address, about a mile away from there on Hawthorne—and, thinking that might be my residence, they had been planning to schlep the trailer onto the 14 bus to take it over there and try to find me.
The kindness, and time and effort, were so humbling. These guardian angels were looking out for me!
I hung up the phone and hopped on my bike, riding as fast as I could up to my old neighborhood. (But not before dashing back inside to jubilantly let the TriMet folks know it was found! They both celebrated with me, as I ran back out the door.) When I arrived, I found Michelle and Cody at the intersection of 50th & Division, eating burritos at an outside table.
I rushed up and thanked them profusely.
Michelle said, “You know, right there by that train platform is a homeless camp. Someone could have found it and taken everything.”
Wow. I hadn’t known that, although given the ubiquity of homeless encampments throughout the city, it was a good bet. And so many people right now—housed or not—are struggling, and might have seen my belongings as a potential bonanza for themselves.
She went on to explain that she and Cody themselves were homeless, and had been living in the Urban Alchemy tiny-house village near that MAX platform*.
New layers of meaning.
She said they had just been approved for an actual apartment, with a year lease, and were planning to move in the next day. She added that they are both about 30 days sober, and looking forward to starting their new life.
I wanted to offer some money to them, as a show of gratitude and especially when I learned of their own circumstances. At the very least, I wanted to cover the food they had bought while they waited. But I had only about $7 in cash on me, and I knew that was not enough to even pay for the food. And my own finances are in a rather precarious state these days.
I did offer to Venmo her some money, though I also added, somewhat sheepishly, “If you saw my checkbook, you saw that I don’t have much right now either…”
She nodded, having indeed seen my bank balance, and said they would appreciate some funds, given their situation, though she also wished they were in a position to refuse any financial offering.
She had recently had a problem with Venmo, losing money to the app that she could not recover, so she no longer had it installed, nor PayPal. She did have CashApp.
Darn! I didn’t have CashApp. Maybe I could install it… regardless, I would find a way to get them at least a small amount of money.
I needed to rush off to get to my OsteoStrong appointment (which was prepaid, and not cheap, but which I pay for by selling plasma, since I want prioritize anything I can do to preserve my early-onset osteoporotic bones) but I thanked them again, and said I’d be in contact soon.
I rushed off to the gym, making it to the appointment three minutes late. It was OK; the folks there are cool, and they understood and accommodated me.
While on the train to the gym, I made a brief Facebook update with my almost-dead phone battery, letting everyone know I had indeed recovered the trailer intact, and briefly sharing the story of this amazing couple.
By the time I left the gym, I saw that many of my friends had taken it upon themselves to send me money, via Venmo or PayPal, to pass along to the couple.
By the next morning, thanks to the generosity of my friends all around the country, the “housewarming gift” had reached $300. I wrote a note of gratitude to go along with it—on a card that my host Cindy contributed—including the impact that Michelle’s and Cody’s act of kindness had had on so many of my Facebook friends who had read about it.**
I was so overwhelmed by every aspect of this situation.
I’m about to go out now to meet them and give them the card and cash. I will also retrieve my water bottle; Michelle had texted to say she noticed after the fact that it had fallen out before they brought the trailer to me.
I’m not religious, but this all feels kind of like a Christmas miracle.
I’ll resist the urge to wrap this up with any sort of platitudes or “lessons”; I trust they are all apparent, and that everyone who reads this will take your own gleanings from the story.
I will just say, I am filled to the brim with gratitude.
*Michelle’s words about Urban Alchemy, from a later text: “They are the ones who changed our lives. They are also currently in the process of trying to raise more money to change more lives. They are a full circle nonprofit, who employs felons and other hard to employ minorities at a living wage. To monitor, and serve the houseless community. These people are literally saving lives every day. I can’t tell you how many houseless people I met that had previously refused other ‘shelter or housing options’ because they were horrible. At Urban Alchemy we had heat, air conditioning, shelter, laundry facility, showers, as well as snacks and coffee provided daily. We felt like they truly cared from day one.”
**Michelle’s words on the card and cash, from a later text: “Regarding the gift you collected for us. Cody and I have both prided ourselves on remaining good people. Not falling into the dirtbag culture others seem to turn to when desperate for money and/or drugs. So more than the gift, those words of encouragement meant the world to us. It felt like through you hundreds of people could see who we are finally without having to look past the addict or homeless lenses we have been viewed from for so long.”
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