The secret guide to social classes in Portland

Despite Portland’s reputation as an uber-cool, tattooed and egalitarian town, I have uncovered evidence of an unacknowledged, old-world-type social caste system. Far from being a utopian classless society, anthropological data shows five distinct social classes operating in this urban culture.  Not simply relying on informants, we anthropologists observe carefully the daily life of a people, and from that we glean the evidence of the actual social structure of the culture we are studying.  Proceeding as any good anthropologist should, by carefully observing people in Portland using the complex transportation system, I have discerned the true social classes that are implicit in this culture but not openly acknowledged.

At the top of the social structure are the very small number of people who are whisked about on the light rail carriages in Portland.  I’ve never met any of them personally, but here’s how I can tell that train riders have a social status equivalent to nobility.  As they go by in their carriages, everyone stops to give the nobility the right-of-way.  Commoners aren’t required to bow (as we were in the Middle Ages), but no matter how busy the streets, and no matter how few of the nobility are in their carriages, everyone else must stop and let them rush by.  In fact, commoners are required to give right-of-way to the nobility’s carriages, even when they are empty.  Special platforms, stairs and even cute little mini-stations are built for their convenience. Pictured above is one of the most ostentatious displays of status by the upper classes in Portland.  They had a special bridge built over the Williamette River for sole use.  This multi-million dollar bridge carries train riders and bus riders but the peasant class (those who drive cars) are not allowed on the bridge.  The obvious amount of money and effort needed to build and maintain this system for the train riders establishes them as the highest status people in the Portland culture.

Evidence clearly demonstrates the penultimate class in Portland to be bicylists.  In Portland there are special lanes for the bicylists, superseding the use of cars on certain streets. Also many streets have a bicylist logo painted on them indicating that they are to be shown special deference on these streets.  Bicylists also have special stoplights in some places, so the lower classes are stopped for their ease of passage.   Bus riders also have high status in Portland but here’s how we know that the bicylists have higher social status than the bus riders.  The buses are required to carry bicycles for the bicylists whenever they wish, and the bus, even when there are many people on it, must wait for the bikes to be put up in their place of honor on the front of the bus—or removed when the bicyclist wishes to resume riding the bike.  (See an example of a bicyclist asserting his social dominance over a bus full of bus riders in the picture above.) The bicylists clearly have higher status than everyone other than the train riders.  Some bicylists also flaunt their status in traffic by forcing the peasant drivers in cars to go slowly and stay behind them.  Of course, bicylists are not taxed for the streets they control, another sign of their privileged status.

Careful analysis shows that in Portland bus riders come next in the hierarchy.  We have seen how the train riders and the bicylists assert their dominance over the bus riders.  But bus riders have clear signs of status as well.  For example, their carriages have the right to crowd out all the peasants in their cars.  Buses do so in ways that are clearly designed to demonstrate their superior social status.  For example buses are often observed purposely not pulling over parallel to the curb to pick up passengers, but instead angling the bus to as to completely block the ability of peasants to go around the bus.  As another privilege of their status, bus riders have little homes built for them to use while waiting for the bus to arrive.  (See an example of one of the nicer homes for bus riders pictured to the right.) And of course, bus riders aren’t required to pay gas taxes.  Although they usually give the driver a token of some kind this seems to be some kind of ritual homage, because it isn’t nearly enough to cover the costs.

Observations establish that in Portland pedestrians are the next lower social class.  They appear to have status only over peasant car drivers, which they assert at every opportunity. No matter how busy the street in Portland, if a pedestrian steps out into the roadway, peasant drivers immediately stop to allow the pedestrian to cross without having to wait. This happens a fair amount, especially when there are many cars to be stopped.  In fact, peasants driving their cars have been seen to stop for pedestrians who are just thinking about crossing the street, just in case.  However, pedestrians are never seen attempting to assert their social dominance over bus riders or bicylists.  Pedestrians in Portland do not step out to make buses or bicyclists stop—a crucial clue to their place in the social hierarchy here.

Finally, come the peasant drivers at the bottom of the Portland social system, who travel in the lowest form of transportation, automobiles.  Peasant drivers are despised because, as everyone knows, cars cause pollution.  This is taught in elementary schools as well as by various other government propaganda sources.  Although riders on trains and buses cause pollution too, because of their higher social status, no one ever mentions it.  Unlike riders on trains and buses, peasant drivers have to purchase their own automobiles with their own money.  Peasant drivers also have to pay for their own gasoline, and that’s how they pay the taxes which fund the transportation system for the higher social classes.  There is not enough money left over from the gasoline taxes to pay for fixing potholes or to add more lanes on the roads used by the peasants, so peasant drivers suffer through a lot of congestion.  Peasant drivers pay all the bills, but give right-of-way to all of those who don’t—the most blatant evidence I have uncovered of the hierarchical social class system of this urban culture.

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Researching the answers to today's problems I found the best answers among writers who identify as libertarian. Maximize freedom, rely on the free market to solve most of our issues, rely on personal responsibility, promote more voluntary charity.

1 comment

Skip Dascomb

As in life, the wheels of the bus go round and round! 😃

Civil comments and discussion questions welcome