dissecting urban space, architecture, cultural meaning and myth through the act of walking (in used shoes) and narration in chinatown/oldtown - portland, oregon


the desolate path

The cold snap from the weekend turned into a cold karate chop to the throat this morning. I decided to take a stroll down the waterfront to get my mind tuned into the idea of working on or near the water. My wellies have become accustom to the legs and vice-versa.
I started along Tom McCall Park, where the sunshine could warm my back as I took long strides down the boardwalk - long strides not only because it was cold, but also to get to the docks while there was still work available. I formed a rhythm of 3 steps per second - I know this because one of the timed crosswalks at Naito Parkway showed me the tempo. The boardwalk was all but empty, only a few joggers, four skateboarders, and one lonely guy who was making friends with the sea gulls through bribery with a bag of stale bread. I passed the many monuments that are dedicated to the facets of war and subsequent friendship.
This could have been a peaceful walk if not for the cold. The waterfront is so much more inviting than the urban blocks just to the west. As I reached the Steel Bridge, I became aware that the boardwalk didn't connect past the bridge. It forces a long detour back towards Naito Parkway and then around the intertwining ramps that connect Old Town to the Central East Side. As I made my way around them and back on track, I saw Rusty.
He was looking rather haggard, but still managed a smile as big as Texas when he saw me. I threw my arms around him and asked him what he was up to. His reply informed me that he had a rough night under the bridge because he didn't make it inside the door of the Blanchet House in time.
He was just beginning to feel his feet again and he was in a lot of pain. He needed a drink... and come to think of it, so did I.
We wandered in the direction of the hills, over to the Dirty Duck and saw that Jan was working; and she was always good for a couple of free beers in exchange for sweeping and taking the trash out... I begin to tell Dusty how I’m prone to sea sickness.


a trip underground

Continuing to chase my shadow, through the snappy chill of the afternoon, I noticed a trap door in the sidewalk - the doors wide open, like the wings of a butterfly. I couldn't resist such a bold invitation. I peered down into a dark hole with a dim, red light way down in the mouth of the abyss.
I took a cautious first step and the old, wooden step creaked loudly as I slowly added all of my weight onto it and then again as I made my way down. At the bottom of the stairs, I could make out a long, dusty corridor with stone and brick walls. The red light was coming from a hanging light bulb about 30 feet away. There were many pipes and hoses hanging from the low ceiling that made a good target out of my head.
As I reached the end of the corridor, there was a stone wall surrounding a set of thinly spaced iron bars. I began to observe an opening in the wall to my right. It was crowned with a low arch and there was more light coming from inside it. Before I entered, I turned around to look back towards the entrance I originally came from - I had the creepy feeling that I was not alone - but no one was there. I knelt into the opening and noticed a that this was not a corridor, but a room - complete with furniture and a wood burning stove. I began to hear the faint cries of a woman.

in the room and recognizing that I was alone, I opened a door to what appeared to be a closet. There was a three-tiered bed in the corner of a surprisingly larger room than I thought. The bed was really old and decrepit and there was a ladder leading up in the other corner. I backed up and opened another door, this room actually was the size of a small closet, but it had only a chair and a lantern inside it. I backed up and explored the room more, I observed several corridors leading into other rooms and some leading to dead ends of stone walls. Some of the rooms had couches and some were full of smaller wooden rooms with bars on the back walls and rusty hinges on the doors. I looked into another room that had a solitary baby carriage in it.
At this point I turned around and headed back towards the entrance I originally came in at. As I weaved my way back towards the red light, it turned off. "Crap!" I began to move faster and then I heard the crackle of broken glass coming from behind me. I turned to look back and didn't see anyone and then moved on, but faster now. I could see the light from the entrance at the street at this point and I felt relieved but not relaxed.
I looked back as I began to go up the steps and saw a woman in a white dress that appeared to be from the late 1800s. She asked me if I had seen her baby. "Sorry," I said as I ran up the steps in exactly three strides.
Once out in the street, I noticed that the sun had gone down and I walked towards the familiar neon light of Old Town Pizza - it was time to wash the dusty taste out of my mouth with some cheap beer.

the slowest scattering I've been to in awhile

Every crawling creature in Portland was out today - due in respect of the fine weather we had, the first of the year. I decided to break in my new rain boots that I had bought at the Goodwill with my disability check. I came to the conclusion that I would wear the boots for a whole day before starting a new job - to break them in.

I started off my morning - well early afternoon - at the Bijou Café. The café sits pine trees south of Burnside - almost as far south as you can go in Old Town. I wandered in the door and squeezed my thin framed body through a small army of silver-haired old ladies waiting to get called to sit down. I found the list; there were about 7 groups ahead of me... a waiter came up to me and asked me if I was on the list yet. "Yes," I said - as I pointed to the bottom of the list. His reply confused me a bit... "Follow me."
The restaurant is quite packed with tables that are packed in turn with people. The place is nice and loud - like a Sunday morning brunch should be, unless your head has a pounding hang over of course.
The restaurant sits on the northwest corner of the intersection and thus gets great natural light in the early afternoon. The walls are bright white, making the space feel even more open. But just as many Portland restaurants have the curse of becoming the storage space for many a local artist's left overs, this one is no exception. There is a large bright orange painting above me that is called "Solar Buddha".
The brioche French toast (leave the maple syrup off, it doesn't need it) and some tea give me the boost I need to needlessly wander around.
After brunch, I returned to 3rd and followed my shadow in the direction of the train station. This area of Old Town is dead on Sunday afternoons, as it is recouping from the night of loud music, drinking and dancing. Me...I’m just recouping from the drinking.

As I am passing up Berbati's on the sidewalk, I began to smell the fresh donuts being cooked at Voodoo Donuts. I stick my head in the door to get a better smell and to wave to the punk rockers working there. The lobby of the donut shop is a small room covered in punk rock show fliers and pictures of local celebrities; and a rotating glass display cabinet that has a spread of donuts that resemble a scene out of a Tim Burton movie. Some donuts have a variety of colorful kids cereal on top of them, while others are shaped like large phalluses. The redhead girl who is behind the counter tells me that she made a bunch of "experimental" donuts and asked if I wanted to try one. "Wow! I’m really full, but I'd love to take one for later!" She smiled and handed me a small paper sack with a donut in it. I returned the smile and walked out the door.

The "gum boots" were entirely out of place today - because the weather was sunny - but they fit right in at Voodoo Donuts.


nimiety of mere niceties in conversation.

Nimiety of mere niceties in conversation - as taken directly from the source. It just seems appropriate for the state of mind and for the affairs of the evening...
After the usual standards at the pizzeria, I wandered down a cobblestone path, towards the sunset. I stepped into a mystical establishment, one that requires the windows to be spray painted black from the inside - a place where people exploit each other's proclivities.
A basket of French fries begins to coalesce into a sanctity of flesh and desire - except that the niceties are mere intrepid banalities for the sake of etiquette and my check is almost gone.
The over-abundance of black lights making my beer glow with a greenish hue and the overstated amount of red lights making everyone look ten years older made me begin to feel a bit dizzy all too soon...

As I open my eyes, I am a bit dazed. The sunlight is blinding me and I am unaware of my surroundings. I roll off a floral printed couch and walk across an old stained rug towards the smell of fresh coffee.
As I enter the kitchen, I recognize the wise, old face of the bartender from last night - Pam. She smiles and asks me how I’m feeling. “A bit hungover,” I reply. She offers me some coffee and I offer her half of the donut in my backpack. Over breakfast, she tells me how I fell off the bar stool the night before and how the door guy brought me upstairs to her couch.
Pat was an exceptional woman, probably in her 60’s or 70’s. She’s been serving me liquor for fifteen years and has always been a great listener. I tell her that I am going to go find some work today in the dock yards of northwest Portland and thank her for her hospitality as I walk out the door and head towards the glaring light of the sun.


on line...

the chance sight of my reflection makes a smile unpeel from my lips. it may take me awhile to get used to wearing such a loud piece of clothing... although, they are finally starting to physiologically feel right, which is a nice change.