The Robertson Tunnel

The Robertson Tunnel

Since it has been a few years without any further unexplainable events, I have decided that it is safe to relate a tale of one particularly unusual day I had that continues to make me question our place in reality, or perhaps question my own sanity.

At the time, I lived south of Portland and commuted back and forth to work during the week via Trimet which included passing through The Robertson Tunnel.

If you, the esteemed reader, live in the Portland area and have ever taken the Trimet MAX Light Rail then you are likely familiar with The Robertson Tunnel. If you don’t live here, then you can check out that Wikipedia entry on it.

On a Monday morning I was coming back to work after a week off for vacation. I am on the MAX heading through Portland towards my place of work in Beaverton. It’s a nice, sunny morning as the train enters the Goose Hollow Transit Center, the last stop before the tunnel.

Perception of Time is a funny thing when you’re occupied in mundane tasks, like a mostly boring commute that you take daily, and I remember this morning’s trip through the tunnel seemed to feel like it took longer than it usually did. I disregarded the feeling as the imagination of my idle mind.

The MAX pulled into the Washington Park MAX Station without incident and headed out through the rest of the Tunnel. As the MAX exits the tunnel I was surprised to see that the sky on the other side of the tunnel was overcast, rainy, and kind of an unusual color.
Oregon is a state of fairly schizophrenic weather that can regularly go from good to bad so, although a bit weird, I pretty much just wrote this latest incident off as normal.

As the MAX headed down the tracks towards Beaverton, I looked out at the highway and noticed quite a few sleek and futuristic looking cars driving by. “That’s cool”, I remember thinking.

As a tech geek I like to keep up on the changes in technology and I do know that many new hybrid, electric, and even ‘self driving’  vehicles have been coming out. As such, my mind attempted to justify this latest peculiar incident but I was still slowly getting an uneasy feeling that something just wasn’t right.

As the MAX pulls into my stop, the Millikan Way MAX Station, I get off and start walking to my work which is only a few hundred yards from the stop. Between the MAX stop and my work is one of the many Nike owned properties and buildings in the Beaverton area that I walk through daily. On this morning I noticed some new construction that I didn’t recall seeing before I had gone on my vacation.

“Wow, they really work quickly”  I was thinking.

I headed into work and went to my desk. I’m generally always the first one in my department, the IT Department, to get in every morning so it was nice and quiet. I started my morning with the usual, routine activities like making coffee and logging into my PC.

When I attempted to log into my PC I was surprised to find that my password didn’t work. I had been on vacation, sure, but I know that I hadn’t forgotten my password.

Yet another unusual incident for this day but there was far more to come.

I tried to justify this latest incident as maybe something happened in the week while I was off that caused a need for my boss to change my password. I logged in using our department Administrator account and changed my account password and went on with my work day.

There were some unusual things that had caught my attention and contributed to my ever growing feeling of unexplained uncertainty. Things like some of our manufacturing machines in different locations than they were before my vacation and names on our company phone list that I didn’t recognize.

My ever logical mind struggled to justify this strange day I was having.

Well, we have been doing a lot of hiring lately, and our manufacturing floor does rearrange stations a lot.”

My attempts to justify this truly bizarre morning were starting to not be enough and my feelings of unease were get worse.

My boss arriving for the morning had been the final strange incident of the morning that pushed me to start to question whether or not I was losing my mind.

“Oh, hey. Good morning Mike. Glad to see you survived your vacation. You decided to shave your goatee off, huh?”


My boss is a great guy and we like to joke with each other but this statement wasn’t made in a humorous manner and was just one more strange occurrence that made me start to feel like my mind was shattering.

Thankfully, the rest of my work day was uneventful and I was starting to think that I was just imagining all these incidents as anything but normal.


Until I was back on the MAX and heading back home for the day.


The MAX headed back through The Robertson Tunnel and pulled into The Washing Park stop. While at the stop, some of Trimet’s Transit Police came onto my train.
This is a fairly normal occurrence on the train because they often check for riders who were trying to ride without paying proper fares but these guys looked different than I was used to seeing.

Trimet Cops were often dressed in nearly as SWAT Team uniforms but these guys were downright scary looking. They were in full combat gear and, while they were sort of half heartedly checking other riders’ fares, they seemed to be specifically heading straight for ME.

I had my wallet out and was showing off my annual Trimet pass as one of the cops approached. He glanced down at my pass and then looked at me.

“This isn’t your train. You need to come with us!” He said.

Um, ok, this is weird because my annual pass is definitely not expired but I sure as hell wasn’t going to argue with these guys, especially not with the way this bizarre day had been going.

As I exited my MAX car with these heavily armed cops, the train pulled away and continued off into the tunnel. The cops guided me towards the tunnel elevator that leads up to the Portland Zoo that’s 600+ ft. above the Washington Park stop.

They shoved me into the elevator with a cryptic statement “Stay on the elevator. You can exit when you come back down. Your train will be the next one.” With that they pressed the button and sent my elevator up.

Ok, what the fuck! This entire day is just creeping me out!

When I came back down into the tunnel I looked around. Those cops were nowhere to be found, which was strange in itself since the Washington Park stop was underground with limited ways to get out.

In fact, the entire station looked somehow different than it looked earlier that morning but I wasn’t really able to ‘put my finger’ on just what exactly was different.

With great relief, the remainder of my commute was totally uneventful. As I exited The Robertson Tunnel on the next MAX train, the sky was back to being bright and sunny and the rest of my commute home went as it had always gone.

What a truly strange day that had been!

The next day, Tuesday, I uneasily headed out on my morning ritual commute but was quickly relieved to see that nothing unusual was occurring.

That is, except for what was missing from my previous day’s trip. There was no unusual cars on the highway and even the construction at the Nike campus wasn’t there.

I was beginning to think I had totally imagined the entire previous day, until my boss came in.

Oh, hey. Good morning Mike. Glad to see you survived your vacation. You decided to take one additional day to recover, huh? Next time just call and let me know you’re not coming in, ok?”




Those unexplainable events haunt me to this day, years later.

Is there more to The Robertson Tunnel than just a normal transit tunnel through a hill? Is there something almost supernatural to the precise, geometric designs of the tunnel.



Are there stories to the cryptic artwork that covers the walls of The Washington Park MAX Station that our rational reality isn’t realizing?




I have no rational explanation for that day and you can judge my story for yourself but all I can tell you is that for months after that fateful Monday commute, I chose to take the bus all the way to work and avoided that godforsaken tunnel that still creeps me out today.





Headphones, Magic Listening Devices & Anti-Stupid Shields

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If you know me in person or follow me on Twitter you will already know that I commute to and from work via Trimet, which is the Portland, Oregon greater metro area’s public transit system as well as a smaller rural system called SCTD.

I commute a lot.

With wait time between buses I am commuting to and from work almost 5 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, I live by my smartphone and the accompanying headphones. I listen to podcasts, to music, etc. but sometimes I just listen.

I will let you in on a little public transit secret.

Headphones are magical.

They give people the impression that you are busy and shouldn’t be disturbed but they also cast a spell on everyone who sees you wearing them that makes them think that you, somehow, cannot hear a word they say. I like to wear them because of their power to make people decide that they shouldn’t bother you with mindless chatter.

Needless to say this leads to some interesting observations about the other people who share my daily commute with me.

Take today, for instance. Today, I was simply wearing my headphones and wasn’t listening to anything and this allowed me to overhear an interesting conversation between two other commuters that took place right next to me while we all waited at the bus stop for my first bus of the morning. Both fellow commuters were within 10 – 15 feet of me just talking away.

About me.

Here’s a rough transcript of the conversation:

Fellow Commuter #1: “I wonder what that guy (meaning me) does for work. I see him here every morning waiting for the bus.”

Fellow Commuter #2: “Yeah me too, I’ve caught this bus with him for about a year but he’s never said a word to me.”

Fellow Commuter #1: “Me either. He must be a real asshole because he never talks to anyone.”

This type of discussion went on for another 15 minutes or so. Both people theorizing about what I did for a living, about whether I even spoke English, if I had an accent, whether I was anti-social, etc., etc.

All within 10 to 15 feet from me as I was standing there. Talking away like they were discussing a piece of furniture or a character on a TV show.

All because I was wearing headphones.

I find human psychology interesting so this conversation was fascinating.

Mind you, some of it is true. I’m not a very social person ‘in the real world’ with people I don’t already know. Online is an entirely different story but in person I am uncomfortable talking to ‘strangers’.

I’ll let you in on why I’m like this with a theoretical example of how conversations with other commuters has gone for me in the past when I have had them:

Fellow Commuter: (generic introductions and usual opening small talk) “So, what do you do for a living?”

Me: “I’m a Network Administrator for a contract circuit board manufacturer.”

Fellow Commuter: (confused expression) “Oh, so uh, what’s that mean?”

Me: “I take care of all the computers, printers, user accounts, software installations, troubleshooting, PC repairs, system builds, etc., etc. for the company.”

Fellow Commuter: (eyes light up with realization) “Oh! You’re a Computer Geek!”

Fellow Commuter: “So, uh, hey……… Since we’re on that subject. My home computer is having problems with (insert any number of hundreds of possibilities). Do you know what’s wrong with it?”

Me: (sigh)

That is the general way nearly every conversation I’ve ever had with my fellow Trimet commuters has gone. Then, the worst part is once that conversation has been initiated I’ve now, somehow, automatically become the life long tech support for this random stranger on the bus.

THAT is why I don’t talk to fellow commuters if I have a choice.

Breakfast, The Sexiest Meal of the Day!

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Ok, this happened to me on a Trimet bus a couple years ago but it’s a good example of the ‘interesting’ people who ride buses.

Here I am, sitting on a 3-seat bench seat on the bus, listening to my mp3 player.

There’s one empty seat between me and another guy who’s listening to his music too.

Suddenly, totally ‘out of the blue’ the guy scoots over and taps me on the shoulder. I pull out a earphone and say ‘Yes?’.

He leans in real close and whispers in my ear:

“I’ve never told anyone this before, but Maple Syrup gives me an erection.”

Needless to say, I got up and moved to a different seat.

To this day I think I think I should’ve told him “There’s a sale on Mrs. Butterworths at Safeway”.

Mike Rigsby