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By Scott MacDonald

The best way to get to know a city is to wander its streets and take in everything that’s offered. It’s with that in mind that I began my analysis of Portland, Oregon.

After two cups of coffee, I prepared myself for the journey – destination unknown. I armed myself with only the necessities – my MP3 player, a couple of pencils and a little notebook with a gray kitten on the front. I took a deep breath, opened the door, and started walking.
The sun, shrouded by a dense layer of cloud cover, swallowed the city in a faint darkness. Hills abounded the landscape, but after Moscow, Idaho, I’ve no problem scaling the tallest of hills with these scrawny legs of mine.

“Our love, our love is all we have…”  

The words danced through my ears as I strolled slowly through a small park. Thick, giant trees reached skyward in a never ending contest to be taller than the surrounding skyscrapers. Ultimately, they lose. People from all walks of life passed through here. A young man in blue Hawaiian flower print shorts and a bright red Santa hat; a stuffy man in a heavy business suit with a gray tie. A young woman in silver high heels, a skin tight short gray dress and giant black sunglasses walked a black pit bull. These people walked with purpose, but they didn’t rush. For as busy as this city always seems to be, no one ever seems to be in a hurry. A man with long brown dreadlocks and a beard walked by with his bike. His sandals clacked across the pavement as he readjusted his bulky backpack. He acknowledged me with a simple nod of his head. Across the way, a homeless man rested on a wooden bench. A shopping cart waited patiently by his side, perhaps the only thing that waits for him anymore. Inside rested different colored soda cans, a large white bucket and several empty water bottles. A young couple with three rowdy children – at most the age of 5 – walked by. No one seemed to notice the man or his lonely cart.
The wind never dies. Even with buildings, and cars – innumerable obstacles – a gentle breeze meanders through the city. It occasionally whips around a corner, just to make sure you’re still paying attention.

“All the people in the street, walk as fast as their feet can take them, I just roam through town…”  

I stopped at a quiet crosswalk with a few other people. Ahead, the sign blinked, an orange hand forbade us from crossing. The others defied the will of the sign and crossed without a single glance in either direction. Shocked, I hesitantly followed them. At the next street, people crossed even if traffic was coming. It’s like an unspoken rule – cross the street when you feel like it, regardless of what’s coming. And everyone does it – children, the elderly, people who use wheelchairs – They all defiantly cross, and with an air of confidence that seems to me to be absolutely necessary. I’ve learned from all my years in Idaho that just walking out into the street is a surefire way to get run down. This, however, is not Idaho.
At the corner of SW 5th street and Market St. stands the 25-story Portland Plaza. I stopped to count the stories. Even as I stood there in all my tourist-y glory, gawking at the building with my mouth agape, no one stared at me. Passersby regarded me with friendly smiles. It’s the first time in a long time I haven’t been stared at. You’d be surprised how often long black hair gets you a stare, if not a contemptible glare. I’ve only been here five days and already I feel like I’ve been accepted. The plaza stands proudly with others of its kind in downtown, but the Wells Fargo Center puts them all to shame. Visible from anywhere in Portland, it stands so high that it’s a surprise Heaven itself isn’t offended by the tower’s reach.
As I walked down fifth street, it hit me – I’ve no idea where I’m at. I’ve just been swallowed by the city. I don’t panic.
“How are you today, sir?” A young woman asked as I continued my aimless trek down the street. She wore a short brown skirt and matching vest. Her brown raspy dreads were tied back. She was, in a nutshell, a hippy. In her hand she tightly grasped a clipboard. I already knew what this was about. “I’m doing OK, how are you?” I cordially replied. “Good, do you have a moment for the environment?” I said no and walked on, even though I was lost and had all the time in the world. I learned from my single experience in Seattle that I would have been stuck arguing politics, quite possibly forever, if I had said yes.
A block away, a young man dressed in a black shirt had the words, “Ask me about my 10 inch wiener,” printed across the back. I missed the fine print, the name of the restaurant, and snorted and chuckled audibly at the innuendo as I walked by. The man smiled and laughed. I walked away, increasing my pace the more red I grew.

“Do you realize, that you have the most beautiful face…”  

Water cascaded out the Carwash Fountain on Ankeny and fifth. The fountain is composed of five steel pipes that arch and curve into the air. Each has nine nozzles. Water rushes out and crashes into a pool below with a thunderous crash. With so much noise and force, it could almost be the roar of the Columbia River.
On the concrete steps nearby, a young man with a wiry black beard laid with his head in his girlfriend’s lap. She wrapped an arm around his chest and the other around his head. She gripped him tightly, as though protecting him from the world itself. She gave him a single kiss that lasted for at least a minute. His arched legs swayed back and forth. After, she pulled his shirt up and gently kissed his stomach. He smiled, a big wide grin that encompassed his entire face. In that moment, he may have been the happiest man alive. The two walked off hand in hand as she gently rested her head on his shoulder.
“Cabaret” is sprayed in yellow on the side of a two story building with pitch black windows. A yellow metal gate secures the front door. Signs warn minors – this place is not for them. While closed now, I can only imagine what goes on in there. I’m not sure I have the guts to find out for sure.

“Wait in line, till your time…”  

I remember The Roseland, on Sixth and Burnside, from the Apocalyptica concert last year. Not that it helps me find where I am, but it’s a nostalgic moment nonetheless. Numerous posters adorn the inside of the windows; advertisements for upcoming artists. The only artist I recognize, Johnny Lang, will play the 14th. The posters make it almost impossible to see the inside.
“Hey do you know how to get to Park Center?” A woman stood before me. She wore a long denim skirt with long black boots. A silver ring adorned the exact center of her lip and tattoos of all colors twisted and looped up her arms. Startled by her words, I replied, “Um…no, sorry.” I tried to avoid telling her I was lost. I try not to look like a tourist if I can help it. “I’ve only been here five days, so I don’t really know where anything is.” Real smooth Scott. “Oh!” The woman said, “Me, too!” I told her I’m from Idaho and I felt overwhelmed by the size of the city. She laughed, a loud and full body laugh. She doubled over from the hilarity and slapped her knee, like I just told the funniest joke ever. “I drove through that place. I’m from Oklahoma…well, Phoenix actually. This is kind of small for me. Well, anyway, have a nice day.” I wished her luck in her search and watched for a moment as she sauntered down the street.
Several people with shopping carts full of various possessions lined the streets of every business on the street. I always thought the shopping cart stereotype was just that – a stereotype – but that doesn’t seem to be the case. As much as I’d like to stop and talk, I can’t bring myself to do it. At least, not yet. The other passersby don’t seem to notice them. I guess they’ve adjusted to their presence, but I struggle with it.
A nearby street sign reads, “Pearl District.” I recalled that Amy told me about how it used to be a red light district of sorts back in the day. Since the park was full of energetic children, I hoped it wasn’t anymore.

“Given a chance, I’m gonna be somebody…”  

Crossing the park, away from the joyful cries of children, I wandered by a block of ritzy clothing stores with names I’d never heard. For a moment, the sun breached its cloud imprisonment, and threw rays of light off the windows and the street signs. Everything glowed with a soft golden light. As I walked by, I caught myself in the mirror – my tall, lanky body, my long black hair thrown side to side by the wind, my wide honest smile. It’s an inexplicable grin, like I alone am privy to the world’s best secret.  After a moment, I realized this is a city where anyone can be whoever they want to be – I could be anyone I want to be. Maybe I already am.


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