She was sprinting through the house, wearing grey sweatpants and a towel on her head. It was our last day together.
“I always think that the bus is waiting for me,” she said, grabbing her makeup bag and cell phone in one swift movement, “but it’s actually me who’s waiting for the bus.”
“That’s really insightful,” I called out from the couch, my right foot propped up on a three-tiered cake of pillow. “On so many levels…”
She laughed, and then I heard the bathroom door slam shut.
I spent last weekend in Portland, Oregon. It was a solo trip taken for the sheer hell of it; I wanted to try the coffee, and the vegan food, and take in all of the views — from tall trees, soul-soothing waterfalls, and soft old clothes to some of the most notoriously peculiar human beings on the planet.
But I had to tweak my plans early on in the trip.
On day two, I was riding the #20 in the direction of Mt. Tabor Park. As we neared the next stop, I readjusted my backpack, tugged on the yellow rope running along the interior of the bus, and went to stand up. Nothing weird — just, you know; rising up onto my feet, like usual.
But when I did so, I felt something like a ball explode inside of my foot — it was insanely jarring, took me completely by surprise, and every single step I took afterwards was more excruciating than I can properly describe.
Sidebar History Lesson: The previous week, I was training new hires up in northern Alabama and spent my evenings walking several miles in unsupportive sandals, which I could tell – afterwards – stressed my feet out… and I suspect that THIS is what primed me for the explosion.
And regardless of what was supposed to happen next, what I did was grit my teeth, hobble through the park, and then limp up and down the city’s bustling streets for the next two and a half days, chasing food and coffee and books and scarves.
Hover over pics above for deets.
My favorite memories of Portland:
One afternoon, a young man (20s) and his dad boarded the bus together and seated themselves near the front. I’d been engrossed in scenes beyond the window, so I heard the young man before I actually saw him.
Why? He was making the most interesting noises: deep grunts, sharp exhalations, gleeful laughs and high-pitched siren sounds. His dad, I noticed, communicated with him by clicking his thumb and pointer finger together, slapping him on the knee, and making intricate movements with his wrists. It didn’t look like formal sign language, but I definitely understood that this was their language.
The young man made one noise, in particular, that I found so beautiful it almost moved me to tears… it was a lovely trill, sort of like a bird’s. He did it once, twice, maybe four times; every now and then, it would magically reappear, and I wanted to hear it nonstop forever.
After about ten minutes, I noticed the father gathering their things together. I wish he’d trill one more time before leaving, I thought to myself; I’d appreciated hearing it before, but I wanted to really record the sound in my mind before he disappeared from me forever.
And then as the door opened and he began descending the stairs, there it was — that sweet, rolling trill, tumbling backwards through the air. I closed my eyes then. I can still hear it now.
Early one morning, it was finally on the cusp of being overcast (it didn’t rain AT ALL while I was there — what the heck!) and I was on the bus again. We were passing through the city, bumping over downtown Portland’s uneven roads.
To my right, I suddenly saw a narrow and dark patch between two buildings — and there in that shadowy space was a man, sitting between this wall and that one; he was wearing a blanket and quietly staring down at the flame on a lighter. It was strikingly beautiful.
At the bus stop (YES, I practically lived on or near the bus!) on Monday, I sat waiting beside a man who looked like a rock star — wearing a leather vest, leather pants, a jet-black faux hawk and silver hoops in his ears. A girl approached us, and then there were three of us waiting for the bus — possibly four, but the other lady was standing pretty far off in the distance, staring down at the asphalt and cursing at it, so she might have just been hanging out.
I heard the rock star fidgeting to my left, but didn’t look over at him.
“Need a lighter?” the girl asked suddenly.
He laughed. “Yeah.”
“Hey, I’ve been there before — it’s hard to light a joint from a cigarette.” I heard the click of it, and then a sizzle.
I was staring after a plastic bag blowing down the street, feeling puzzled; if he was able to light the cigarette, why can’t he light the joint? I wondered. Maybe he lost the lighter, or it stopped working, I reasoned afterwards.
Seconds later, I could smell it. Delicious.
“You know… I appreciate you not judging me, you know?” the guy said to the girl.
“Hey — I’d smoke it if I could,” she said.
Me too, I thought. But it isn’t legal back in bama… YET.
“It’s just… a lot of people judge me for it, you know?” he continued, and I heard him make a snorting sound. I couldn’t stop my head from turning a little and saw him batting at his nose.
“And it’s just like… some people need to be sober, and some people need to NOT be sober,” he concluded.
The girl murmured her assent.
The bus came and she and I got on it… I sat in the back, by the window again, and watched Rock Star fade away. Turned out he wasn’t waiting for the bus.
On Sunday, I purchased a scarf from a secondhand shop and then hobbled to the park across the street. Plopping down and leaning my back against a tree, I watched as — on a great, big court — several games of basketball occurred simultaneously.
There were four groups of older men — predominantly black, with one goofy-looking group of white boys — and two batches of young kids. Didn’t spot a single girl on the court, which was disappointing. I suddenly remembered getting hit in the face with a football during 7th grade PE. That dickhead — I couldn’t remember his name, but knew he was Ryan’s twin brother, and though he’d claimed it was an accident, I’d been standing just seven feet in front of him, counting as fast as I could: one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four…
I noticed that one of the kid groups (composed of four members: a skinny kid, another skinny kid who was dressed really well, a toddler, and a chubby kid) had an all-star on their team: the chubby kid! He kept landing shot after shot, from all sorts of distances, and I loved watching him dribble, because you could tell that he felt good about it (and himself).
This one time, though, the skinny-and-not-dressed-well kid went to steal the ball and fell in the process; chubby kid kept on going with the ball, landed the shot, and then reared back around, approaching the kid who was still on the ground.
My heart to started to ache a little as it anticipated hurt feelings, but then, it soared; I watched as chubby kid walked over to skinny kid, held his hand out, and helped him back up onto his feet. Then, he slapped him on the back encouragingly, like nice try. It was freaking awesome, because the kid was like seven.
A strung-out, emaciated guy walked onto the bus late one afternoon and started chatting with the girl across from him; she was middle-aged, dressed well, and seemed kind. He rattled on about having just lost $3000 in poker (apparently trying to be impressive), and she told him that she’d stopped playing ten years ago… that it had nearly ruined her life. He bristled a little at the unsolicited advice and got off at the next stop, and then the guy beside her chimed in, saying that poker was like a drug.
“It really is,” she agreed. “I was a stripper for a while and used to blow the money on the game.”
“Oh… that makes sense; so that’s why you’re into such alternative stuff,” the guy said, nodding after the already-gone emaciated guy (who – seemingly affecting a feminine accent and wearing a women’s shirt – had appeared to be in the process of possibly transforming).
“Excuse me?” she said, narrowing her eyes as she considered the guy.
Good for you, lady, I thought at her, happy she’d stuck up for herself and the other guy. You fuckin’ jackass, I thought at the jackass.
A few things I learned in Portland:
How to use public transit. We’re sorta, kinda getting there in bham, but spots like Denver and Portland have got it goin’ ON in the public transit department.
It took me a few days (and several missed stops slash incorrect bus boardings) to get the hang of it, but MAN did I feel proud of myself once I figured out how to route myself from this spot to that one via buses, streetcars, and even trains.
I didn’t have to Uber — not even ONCE (although, at times, the public transit system was really freaking confusing and I was TEMPTED to Uber — persistence is key!), and with a 2.5 hour pass costing $2.50 and a full day public transit pass costing just $5, I spent a total of $17.50 on transportation the whole time I was there.
You can bring your own coffee mug to coffee shops! I watched hipster after hipster do it, and realizing that doing this was possible resolved a true dilemma of mine:
Coffee shop mugs are so homey, and I just love sipping coffee from them, but it takes me FOREVER to finish a latte, so I usually opt for paper to-go cups (which come with lids). However…
At the thrift store last month, I found this neato porcelain coffee mug and swore I’d start making coffee at home with it (because I liked it so much). I tried doing so, and my coffee didn’t compare to Red Cat’s, but GUESS WHAT? I can now bring this reusable coffee mug (which comes WITH a lid) to the coffee shop WITH me and vwahla: My latte will preserve its favorable temperature for a bit longer AND I’ll be helping the environment out. Double win.
Happily back home in bham, I brought my coffee mug w/me to Red Cat this AM, and look at how splendidly things went! (And there was a surprising third benefit, too: The barista gave me a $1 discount for bringing my own mug!)
Socializing doesn’t have to be difficult (or weird). My AirBnB host (the girl with the towel on her head) was a super sociable person who invited me out for drinks twice — the first time, I politely declined, but the second time, I agreed… and it was fun! Easy, even!
She and I met up with two of her friends (a guy and his bro, who was visiting from Turkey) and we went to two different bars (I ordered a drink at one of them). At the first place, we watched a local emo band perform on an outdoor stage — the 2015 Oregonian Pinot Noir had me swaying in the audience beside three new friends — and when we made it over to the second joint (a smoky jazz bar), I could feel it — understand it, and I’m talking about jazz — for the first time in my life:
I was the piano solo, and he was the saxophone solo… the notes were our words. The bass was the feelings we felt inside of ourselves — grief, passion, fury; the heart skipping a beat, or beating too fast… the drums were the movements between and against us — embracing and repelling — and the singer’s sometimes smooth, sometimes shouting vocals were the eyes that we gave each other.
Duh! NOW I get it, I thought to myself.
My AirBnB host broke up with a guy three years ago but finds herself still obsessed with him — always catching herself looking for him in the bar, on the bus, and at the grocery store…
“And you can’t really do anything about it,” she said, elbowing me with a sweaty and hoppy IPA in her hand. She’d just commented on how sexy the guy with the saxophone was; his name was Taylor. He was hanging back in a dim corner of the room now, waiting for his next solo. “You just have to focus on something else.”
I nodded. I get that more than you’d possibly believe, I wanted to tell her… thinking about Spanish and caramel lattes and college and gigs and travel and novels and work and bike rides.
She held the IPA out for me to taste it. I took a single sip, wrinkled my nose, and gave it back to her, smiling anyways.
But like AirBnB said: If you’re helplessly obsessed, focus on other things. So I’ll keep on doing that.
PS: Oh yeah — the whole broke myself in Portland drama bit: Turns out that the bus mishap was me spraining my ankle! I paid a rare visit to the doctor when I returned to bham and am now wearing a fashionable medical boot for the next 13 days. Woohoooooooooooooo!
I know this is a little extra for a PS, but I had to ask FOUR different medical personnel if I could please view images of my foot x-ray before it finally happened. And FYI, my foot looks REALLY cool in b&w.
“Guess I’ve got bones down there after all!” I laughed to the nurse (who’d begrudgingly escorted me to the viewing room).
“Do people ask to see their x-rays often?” I asked as she led me toward the exit, curious.
Well — I felt very fortunate to have been able to see mine, and I would have asked for a 4×6 print to-go, but… #vibes #sociallyperceptive #igetit #butitsMYfootxray.
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