Baby Boomer Feels The Chilly Beat From Iceland
Urban life grows more imposing the closer you get to Burnside.
The pretty lights you see from I-5, the beautiful reflection off the Willamette, disappear once you park your car.
Trade wheels on the road for shoes on the sidewalk and the pace slows enough for a good look around. You still see the lights if you look up, but there’s a different view looking down.
Saturday was a big night out with a group of twenty-somethings and two sets of parents.
I was one of the dads.
The group included a UofO student on his first trip to downtown Portland. Like a map, I laid it out the way I do for visitors: Burnside separates north and south, the Willamette defines east and west.
You can’t get lost. It’s NW, SW, NE, SE. If it’s easy enough for a Baby Boomer to remember, college kids can get it too.
Moral compass navigation is another question. Lucky for them, it’s a class I teach.
I explained how driving downtown means finding a parking place instead of a parking garage. The challenge evolves to parallel park in two moves without playing bumper-car in front and back.
It only happens when no one is around, but one still tries. Getting it right feels like the answer to a Zen koan.
After jockeying the van six times and calling it two, the sidewalk scene came into focus.
If the breadline outside VooDoo Donuts seemed unusual to an out-of-towner, two guys leaning their packs against a pole near the Portland Outdoor Store wasn’t. Every city has people living on the street in some form.
The two guys wore clean clothes, had current haircuts, and one wore glasses. Not the profile of the usual transient, but still not good enough for a man standing over them and yelling.
Trim, middle aged, and wearing a coordinated outfit that showed class and professional grooming, the angry Portland baby boomer barked at the two younger guys.
He accused them of everything from causing the economic crash to foreign wars. Each boozed up breath raised the volume. We walked by, then I decided to show the boys some Portland heart and walked back.
After a few words said to the guys on the ground, the loud man went quiet. After a few more words he walked away spitting that I didn’t join his rant.
I caught up with my party half a block away. They asked what I said.
“I asked the guys on the ground if they were okay, if they needed anything. The same thing you’d ask anyone who looks like they’re headed for trouble.”
“They didn’t look like trouble.”
“Except one was about to call the police on the old guy. Who knows what happens after that. This is downtown.”
“Are you the Heart of Portland?” the new guy said.
“Maybe tonight,” I said. “You might be, too. It’s still early.”
“La, la, lala, la, la….HEY!”