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Portland couples share their love stories

Photo Credit: PORTLAND TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ - This is where the whole thing started for TriMet contest winners Anna and Tommy Rigsby.In these days of online dating, is it still possible for love to grow under an umbrella at a bus stop, as the Hollies sang in 1966?

Silly but it’s true, say Steve and Roberta McHatton, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary last December after first meeting on a TriMet bus. Not only that, but the couple also took TriMet to meet Steve’s mother for the first time in Vancouver.

“Neither of us had a car when we met,” says Roberta. “Riding the bus together became a romantic and vital part of our relationship. We had quality time together on those bus rides, free to focus on each other and let the bus driver do the driving.”

Steve and Roberta are just one of many couples who first met on TriMet. Fifteen others shared their stories in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day as part of the agency’s Ultimate Date Night Package contest. The maximum 250-word TriMet-related love stories were posted on the transit agency’s Facebook page.

True love probably isn’t what most people think about when they hear the name TriMet. But the stories are sweet and touching, slices of life that we usually don’t notice happening around us. Chance encounters, exchanged glances, short conversations leading to longer ones, sometimes leading to a vow.

Readers voted for their favorites through 5 p.m. on Feb. 9. The winning couple received a romantic in-town get-away that included a one-night stay at Hotel deLuxe, a $100 gift card to Gracie’s Restaurant, a $50 gift certificate to Living Room Theaters, and a $20 gift card to Cacao.

That’s the way the whole thing started for the winners, Anna Brandstaetter and Tommy Rigby.

Anna was a German exchange student attending Portland State University in January 2010 when she noticed the handsome man sitting across from her on the bus. They looked at each other, but didn’t exchange a word. One stop before she had to get off, another guy walked past the stranger and said, “Good night, Tommy.”

When it was her time to get off, Anna thought it was too late to meet him, but said “Good night, Tommy” as she walked past. Anna was already off the bus when she heard him yell “Back door” at the driver and turned to find him standing there, looking shocked. Today, they are married and she is a Portlander.

“People ask what brought me to Portland and I say TriMet,” says Anna, who still has a slight German accent. “One single bus ride and a ton of courage is all that it took.”

Andrea says she noticed the cute guy on the bus every morning in Northwest Portland for a year. Their eyes would meet from time to time, but she couldn’t figure out how to start a conversation. She began talking about the “bus guy” to her coworkers. Finally one day he sat down next to her, saying he was changing routes and wanted to ask her out before it was too late. When she arrived to work that morning, Andrea said, “Bus guy finally talked to me. I just met the man I am going to marry.” That was 16 years ago. Andrea and Joel McCarroll have been married for the past 13 years, live in Bend, and have two boys, ages 8 and 11.

Or consider Andrew Williamson, who met his girlfriend when they both got off the bus together at the Japanese Gardens. He was seeing the sights after moving to Portland and Esther Brock hopped on the bus because it was passing by. As they were getting off, Andrew said hi, she said howdy-doo, they walked and talked through the gardens for hours, and they’re still together a year and a half later. “We were complete strangers and just happened to take the bus to the same place at the same time,” says Andrew.

Sylvia Malan-Gonzalez was pumped up and looking good with her Bettie Page hairdo while coming home with friends from seeing a Denzel Washington movie on the Number 9 bus in 2007. She spotted a studious looking guy on a PlayStation a few rows down and, just to impress her friends, walked over to him and said, “You have really nice hands, may I have your number?”

To Sylvia’s amazement, he said the number but she was too flustered to memorize it. After she disembarked in front of a Shari’s restaurant and took her bike off the front rack, Sylvia noticed he was walking up a hill. She pedaled after him and they ended up having orange juice at the Shari’s. Christopher Atkins said he loved her a month later and they were married seven years ago last July.

Robert Young and his wife met by taking the bus from work at Washington Square on Christmas Eve in 1975. Neither had a car so they took TriMet everywhere. He even bought her a bus pass for Valentine’s Day. They married the next year, and she still has it.

This is the third time TriMet has done a Valentine’s related contest for riders. The prior contests were in 2007 and 2011.

“Riding transit brings many benefits, such as saving money, reducing the stress of driving, and increasing physical activity, but it also brings social benefits like connecting with people in your community and, for some, making a love connection. To engage our riders who follow TriMet on Facebook we decided to bring back the contest,” says TriMet public information officer Roberta Altstadt.

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