A Bridge Too Scar: Whitewashing History

Kirk Reeves playing a trumpet on Hawthorn Bridge.

Kirk Reeves playing a trumpet on Hawthorne Bridge.

TriMet is the public agency that provides transportation services (commuter rail, light rail, bus and streetcar) for most of the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area.

That opening line just screams excitement, right? Stay with me, intrepid reader. We are embarking on a torrid journey of governmental lunacy and polishing turds. Remember, it’s important for us lowly idiots to know how things really work.

This organization really got on my radar recently during the naming process for a new bridge spanning the mighty piranha-filled Willamette River that’s currently under construction. Because, as we all know, the most important characteristic about a bridge is its name. This is followed closely by how many years of neglect it takes before it fails with lots of people on it. Let’s face it. Maintenance is not exactly humanity’s strong suit.

The TriMet decided to enlist the public’s help in naming the bridge. And that’s where things decidedly jumped the rails. And I’m here to tell you about it because, amazingly, their own official website has whitewashed the whole thing from history. It’s almost like it never happened…

Do You Have The Constitution For This Republic?

Some brief history. TriMet was created by the Oregon legislature in 1969. Yes, a man walked on the moon and we created TriMet. It was a glorious time.

TriMet is a “public agency” complete with the power to tax, issue bonds and enact police ordinances. And it’s very own force of sworn police officers. It is operated by a seven-member board of directors who are appointed by the Governor of Oregon.

For those counting, that’s a whopping two levels of indirect representative democracy. The people elect the governor who in turn appoints the board members. Thus the public has no direct link to representative democracy in this public agency. I guess it’s a lot like the Supreme Court of the United States in that regard. (Disclaimer: I’m just an idiot. What the hell do I know?)

Bottom line: The people who reside within the boundaries of this public agency have no direct say on their representation.

This bodes well. I see we’re starting our journey off on the right foot!

Breaking My Hyphen

True story: Originally TriMet was known as “Tri-Met.”

“What!” you say? “No difference!” Nay. Note the hyphen. First it’s there, then it’s not.

For more than 30 years the agency called itself Tri-Met, but it formally dropped the hyphen from its name in 2002, as part of a new corporate identity strategy involving a redesigned logo and new color scheme for its vehicles and other media.

Source: Wikipedia – TriMet

Ah! The first crossroads in our ambitious trek. This is TriMet’s way of saying, “Here be dragons.” Are we intrepid enough to press on?

TriMet is not an organization afraid to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort on something as important as a hyphen. Because, image.

Yes, Oregon is seemingly a land where PR and polish is more important that accomplishing anything of substance. This is now know as the Cover Oregon Effect, where over $250 million in public funds were expended and what was produced wasn’t even worthy enough to serve as a paperweight. But the logos and art and commercials were truly a thing to behold.

We can’t do anything without a logo, color scheme, and a compelling message telling you how great we are even while we fuck everything up. Let’s keep going. Hopefully my logo for this journey will be done by the time this post is ready to publish.

Process And Transparency As Clear As The Willamette Itself

We never promised you that the process would be democratic. Only that we’d allow you to vote.

Which dress do you like better?

I like the red one.

Okay, thanks. I’ll wear the blue!

Let the call go out across the land. We’ve got a bridge to name – and we need your help!

In October 2013 TriMet announced it was seeking public suggestions to name it’s new bridge. Further, it was announced the naming process would consist of two phases of public input: Submission and public comment. (Source: NWCN.com.)

As the submission phase was underway it quickly emerged that the public was favoring the name Kirk Reeves, a local Portland resident who had recently passed away from a suicide. Reeves was a local fixture known to many as “an American street musician and entertainer best known for playing a trumpet on the west bank bridgehead of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, Oregon while wearing a Mickey Mouse hat and a white suit.” (Source: Wikipedia.)

Finally, the votes were tallied and given appropriate weight by TriMet and the finalists were proudly announced.

  • Abigail Scott Duniway Transit Bridge
  • Cascadia Crossing Transit Bridge
  • Wy’east Transit Bridge
  • Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People

“Wait. What?” said the people of the Portland metropolitan area. After all of the hubbub around Kirk Reeves he didn’t even make the list?

Not exactly.

It took a request made under Oregon’s Public Records Law by The Oregonian newspaper to finally get at the truth. With over 9,500 nominations, the name “Kirk Reeves” was the public’s number one choice. “By a mile,” as the Oregonian put it.

TriMet was quick to defend the committee’s short list. The name “Kirk Reeves” wasn’t historical enough and didn’t fit well with the rest of the selection criteria and suggested, after the hubbub, that a more suitable recognition for Reeves might be a piece of public art like a statue where he used to play.

Such a beautiful website. We spared no expense.

Such a beautiful website. We spared no expense.

History Is Written By The Victors

Will you hear about any of this from TriMet? Not bloody likely. Go visit their official “Name The Bridge” website. Yes, they built a “we named a bridge” website. You’ll see that “history in the making” consisted of the winning name “Tilikum Crossing” and the other three selections from the naming committee.

Official website: TriMet – Name the Bridge

The public’s input? Which they voluntarily requested in the first place? It doesn’t even warrant an honorable mention. Kirk Reeves is nary a footnote or asterisk on TriMet’s ledger of history.

After all that TriMet unabashedly climbs to the top of the mountain and shouts for all to hear proclaims on their official website:

“Public helped name bridge for first time!”

Exactly what “help” the public offered remains completely unknown. Perhaps they kept imaginary dignitaries entertained at an imaginary tea party?

Aren’t we glorious? Aren’t we grand? Aren’t we beneficent? After all, we’re the ones who went out of our way to ask your opinion. Then shit on it.

2 responses

  1. Jeesh. I hate to ask this but…do you think TriMet is run by Republicans? Not to say Democrats don’t waste time, money, and peoples’ patience. Because they do. But I think they would have gone with Kirk Reeves.

    But I don’t know a thing about Portland politics. And that’s likely a good thing. For both of us.

    About dropping the hyphen. JayZ did it and without a website…or a focus group. The amount of money TriMet spent on new corporate image materials to drop the hyphen…criminal.

    Like

    1. The board positions are, I’m pretty sure, “non-partisan.” That means the political favors and gamesmanship have to be kept carefully hidden by at least one (and preferably more) layers of obfuscation.

      Honestly, Oregon is a blue state with a blue governor so I doubt this is a Republican thing. It’s a human and bureaucracy thing. We can organized into all sorts of groups (religion, governments, corporations, unions, non-profits, academics, scientists, etc.) but eventually all collapse under their own weight due to the true nature of humanity.

      The part I found especially jaw dropping in this story was the exuberant proclamation of public involvement after they went out of their way to lie about it and shit on it.

      The City of Portland currently has their own version of this going on right now with their attempts to add another tax for repairing city streets, but that’s another story. One where truth goes into a corner and weeps uncontrollably until shot gangster-style in the back of the head.

      Like

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