Breakfast in the Park, A Walk up Tenth Ave, Powell's, Hoagies and a Thirsty Birds
10/13/2012 60 °F
I think I’d be a good companion to explore an unknown city. I don’t think enough people take advantage of my accessibility. I am available, and carry a keen interest in wandering around large cities. Now, this may ring of conceit, but hear me out. I’m not a lecture circuit. If we walk around Paris for instance, I’m not going to chatter on endlessly about the history, the food, wine or art. I will offer friendly companionship, an open mind, and good-natured conversation. Our focus is simply what we find from moment to moment.
I prefer to explore my cities on foot. After all, the life of a city is in its pedestrians. Walking a city offers a more intimate view of urban life. I tend to notice the details, and it is in these smallest tendrils that a city keeps its charm.
Late Morning Breakfast in the Park
I’m in Portland, Oregon. Have you been? Portland is The City of Roses. Random fact: In Portland, you are free to walk around naked so long as you claim your nudity is for artistic purposes.
It‘s sunny, yet cool in the shade. It’s just after eleven a.m. and I’m sipping a mug of steamy Stumptown medium roast coffee. Its companion is a delicious pecan bar. It’s a condensed version of pecan pie. It’s a good start to my day.
My breakfast takes place near a flower garden on the western banks of the Willamette River (pronounced Will-LAMB-et) near Portland’s downtown. I’m relaxed, and moving slow. Since my brother isn’t answering his phone, I decide to set up my slack line in some out of the way trees near the boulevard.
It’s a great session. My balance is good, and I’m able to walk the line with ease. I practice a few tricks that I continue to try and perfect. It’s great fun. A man walks up to me with a camera. He asks politely if he can take my photo, and I give him full consent. He’s a foreigner, his accent slightly British. He’s intrigued by this weirdo in front of him. I give him a good show, and he seems satisfied. Who knows where that will go?
I’m surprised at the comments I overhear as I play. “Now that’s different.” “What is that?” “I could never do that.” They never ask me questions directly. Instead, they ask their buddy who‘s as clueless as they are. I would think that in Portland, slack lining would be more popular. Apparently, I’m wrong. No matter. I watch the joggers, bicyclists, and power walkers zoom by. I’m confident I’m having more fun.
A Walk Up Salmon St.
As I walk, I hear snippets of conversation. “Hi, I’m calling to see if I can have a prescription transferred…” says a forty something woman in smart casual clothes. “No, I just got out, I haven’t done anything yet…” answers an elderly woman talking on the phone to her ride. To some, eavesdropping is rude. I don’t feel that way, because I’m only interested in a sentence or two of their lives. Overhearing two mundane sentences of a stranger’s life isn’t a crime or rude; It’s interesting. It helps me understand the life of a city dweller.
I have invaded the personal space of a man walking in the same direction I am. I’m about five feet behind him, and keeping pace with him. I know I’m crowding him, but our strides are nearly identical. Eventually, he crosses to the other side of the street to ease his discomfort. I am slightly relieved; walking shouldn’t be this stressful. You can tell I don’t spend much time in cities.
On the next corner stands an elderly gentleman in a vintage suit. The suit is a rich caramel color with a pale yellow tie. His face holds character; his lower lip protrudes a fraction more than it should. He reminds me of a fish, perhaps an Atlantic codfish. He has disheveled silver hair that he has combed back on his head. I decide he’s either a writer, or a barrister. His theme is a man who has spent too much time in quiet studies presiding over a stack of leather bound books. He reeks of unstated opinions.
I pause for a light at Broadway. A woman drives by in her car. Her face is expressionless. It’s so blank that she could pass for a fashion mannequin standing in a shop window. Across the street, the opposing pedestrians won’t accept my eye contact. This is the way of the city. To acknowledge a passing stranger is rare. Eye contact could invite trouble. I wonder why this is.
At 6th Ave, a rabble of down and outs congregate along side of a brick building. There is strength and camaraderie in numbers, and these folks spend their day comparing notes, smoking endless cigarettes - passing the time. A wooly bearded man asks for some change. I’m no better than anyone else is, and I pretend I don’t hear him. I move along, wondering if I could have made a difference.
At Park Ave, I stop to write this in my journal. Portland always seems to stimulate my writing. I’m sitting on a stained park bench next to three smokers. The light is incredible, deflected from the building across the street. A leaf falls and taps into my hand. “Hi there.” One of the men notices my bike tires that I have been carrying.
“New tires, huh?” He asks. “Yep, ‘cept they are the wrong size. I should have measured first.” He offers no reply. It’s human nature to point out the completely obvious.
Exchanging Money for Tangible Wealth
At a bike shop, I exchanged my bike tires for fifty dollars. I walked along Tenth Avenue until I hit Burntside. At Powell’s City of Books, I exchanged those fifty dollars for six books. I would happily make this trade any day of the week. “What books did you purchase?” Well, I’ll tell you. I picked up three books on philosophy. Alan Watts wrote two of the books. Lin Yutang wrote the other. I opened up “Zen and the Beat Way” (Watts) to the preface. There I read the following:
Robert Wilson: What is Zen?
Alan Watts: [Soft Chuckling]
Robert Wilson: Would you care to enlarge on that?
Alan Watts: [Loud Laughing.]
In the aisle of the store, I started laughing aloud. I knew I didn’t have to read another page in the book to understand the point. It was clear to me in these four short lines. I bought it anyway.
Beyond philosophy, I bought a collection of short fiction by H.P. Lovecraft, A biography of Bruce Chatwin (one of my favorite travel writers of all time). Finally, “On Writing Well”, by William Zinsser perhaps the best book on writing I’ve ever read. I left one of the world’s great bookstores, satisfied with my efforts.
Humanity in Hoagies
The chief mate of my ship is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the week, he began to tell me of his cravings for a good hoagie. A “hoagie” is a sandwich of sliced meats, veggies, cheese, and sauces. They come in a variety of styles and carry a variety of names. In Philly, they are hoagies, and John was jonesing for one. I decided to remedy the situation.
The night before, I researched the likeliest sandwich shop online. I made a mental note of its location, and this brought me to the “People’s Sandwich of Portland” on the corner of 1st Ave Northwest and Couch Street. The theme of the shop was Communist based, and the sandwiches for sale carried clever names. I bought a “Hammer and Pickle”, a “TKP“, and a “No Frills.”
I walked a mile back to the boat. I shared my bounty with John and the Chief Engineer. We decided the “No Frills” was the clear winner. It had girth. There was a pile of turkey, roast beef and a slice of bacon on a fresh hoagie bun. It was delicious. After our meal, John asked me how much he owed me. I told him, “Not a thing.” I explained to him that I felt it was more of a human gesture to share my food with him than to accept payment for it. It would make me feel like I was fetching him some food, instead of a friendly gesture. He accepted this, and we both felt better about our humanity.
Thirsty Crows and Paddy’s Pub
On my way back to the boat, I happened to encounter two crows perched on the rim of a brass drinking fountain. One flew away, but one held its ground. I stopped, and slowly pulled out my camera from the front pocket of my shirt. I kept talking to the crow, “Stay. Stay. Wait a minute.” My camera in hand, I took its picture.
The crow had a good idea. After eating lunch, I headed back up to 1st Ave SW. I walked north a couple of blocks until I found my destination: Paddy’s Pub. I stepped in and walked up to the bar. It was quiet in the place. There were only a few people seated in the booths quietly watching the start of a baseball game. I ordered an IPA and went off to sit at a quiet table near the entrance.
The light was very interesting at my table. The sunshine filtered through Venetian blinds casting zebra striped shadows all over my table. I took several photos, and finished off my day by sipping delicious ale and writing my last thoughts in my trusty journal.
Portland is perfect for pedestrians. What a great day.