After several days hanging out at Grandma Marcia’s house, sitting around on the deck telling stories of our separate adventures from Texas to Spokane late into the sunny evenings with our Texas friends, Nicol and Neil. I began to grow restless and yearn to see other places in the northwest. So, when Nicol had off from her budtending job, and Neil had off from working on the farm, we all piled in the van and drove to Portland, where we had heard the dream of the ’90s was alive.
We drove through the open, rural center of Washington and then followed the mighty Columbia River to Portland. The golden plains we had crossed in Washington mingled with dark conifer trees and rolled to the edge of sharp cliffs that fell off to the road and river below. The river water’s vibrant blue was brushed with white caps from the tremendous wind. We saw a handful of windsurfers, admiring the way they danced so freely with the wind and waves. Morgan and I fantasized about how much we would love to learn to windsurf, if we had money for renting the apparently pretty expensive equipment and time to stick around and take lessons. But we were on a quick three day excursion. Nicol and Neil had to get back to Spokane for work.
Before walking around to explore the city, we dropped our bags off at the Motel 6, which we foolishly chose instead of following Neil’s suggestion to Airbnb, simply because it was more familiar to us. Looking back, Airbnb would have been way better. We would have been able to stay with locals in their charming house and get tips on good places to go for the same price or probably cheaper than our basic, chain hotel room.
We crossed a bridge covered in some pretty fantastic graffiti. The public art and the view of the wide river made us glad we were walking so we could savor the flavor of the famous hipster city.
At Blossoming Lotus, we met up with one of Morgan’s best friends from Texas who just got a job in Portland after months of travelling and living in a national forest in Alaska. Patrick completed our Texas contingent and after a delicious vegan meal, we proceeded toward Deschutes public house to drink a few brews and share more travel stories, including Patrick’s pro tip about nearby hot springs in the national forest.
We couldn’t resist all utilizing this public restroom, just because the idea of an outdoor public restroom was so novel to a crew of Texans. Shortly afterward, we learned why this was here.
The Portland Loo helps the large number of people who live outside on the streets of Portland. Unlike a lot of cities, where you’d be arrested for setting up tents or sleeping on the sidewalk, Portland allows people to sleep wherever they want, which is pretty nice of them. But it doesn’t make up for the fact that Portland doesn’t have enough housing, jobs are difficult to find, and cost of living is high. However, the city’s progressive policies have definitely helped create a lot of programs for homeless people, as well as places to go for help and free meals. There is even a 104 page pocket-sized guide to resources created by Street Roots. Still, in old town Chinatown, people live in limbo often struggling with addiction or the lingering effects of abuse and trauma without a place to permanently call home.
Patrick led us to the edge of Chinatown, where we struck up a conversation with a tough old couple who’d been travelling together for years. He told us about how he was a veteran from Germany whose messed up leg kept him from working. They had come to Portland after hearing about Portland’s many helpful programs and relaxed laws about camping on the street. This was probably the best place for them to be for now, they figured. When we were ready to keep wandering, we started to continue into Chinatown, but they warned us not to go there; “It’s full of tweekers that way.” We thanked them for their advice and carried on.
We meandered through town and found where the sidewalk ends, but it wasn’t what you’d expect from Shel Silverstein’s poem. The grass was neither soft, nor white, though I did find “pits where asphalt flowers grow.” A little way off, we spotted a cyclist carrying a whole bouquet of red asphalt flowers!
There’s a whole lot of cool art to look at all around Portland. We saw this charming raccoon tag in multiple places around town. This city has great vibes, that reminded all of us Texans of Austin, except more expansive and at a gorgeous summer, cold winter latitude.
Portland’s art museum is worth visiting, but I really enjoyed seeing wild art decorating the whole city with spontaneous spirit. What I appreciated most here was the determined resistance to mainstream, mass consumer culture, which is evident in places like In Other Words, the feminist community center and bookstore. The comedy series, Portlandia, features a caricature of this feminist bookstore, which put it on the map for us as an essential part of our Portland experience. I certainly felt encouraged to be weird here. It was great. Keep it weird Portland!