April 10, 2012 by David Gillaspie
Follow The Beat
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.
In the group was a UofO student from Virginia taking their first trip to downtown Portland. Like everyone else on their first visit, I laid it out: Burnside separates north and south, the Willamette defines east and west. You can’t get lost.
Directions didn’t help much when the van emptied at a Burnside restaurant. I planned on dropping everyone off, but my son and the Virginian stayed to keep me company. Southern hospitality worked a long way from home.
I explained how driving downtown means finding a parking place instead of a parking garage. The challenge evolves to hitting the space in two moves without playing bumper-car with vehicles 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, it was impossible to ignore the scene outside the open door.
If the breadline in front of VooDoo Donuts seemed unusual to an out-of-towner, two young men leaning their packs against a pole near the Portland Outdoor Store wasn’t. Every city has people living on the street in some form. We’d already passed the campsite near the Chinatown gate that got attention when Occupy Portland first pitched their tents.
The two guys wore clean clothes, had current haircuts, and one wore glasses, not the profile of the usual transient. But that wasn’t 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 man barked at the two younger guys.
His comments accused them of everything from the economic crash to foreign wars. Each breath raised the volume. We walked by, my son, the Virginian, and I. Since showing off pretty lights, I decided to show the boys some Portland manners and walked back to the sidewalk scene.
After a few words to the guys on the ground, the loud man went quiet. After a few more, he walked away in spitting disgust that I didn’t join his rant.
When I caught up with my party, they asked what I said.
“I asked the guys if they were okay, if they needed anything, the same thing you might ask anyone who look like they’re headed for trouble.”
The Virginian said, “Are you the Heart of Portland?”
“There are lots of them,” I said. “You might be one, too. It’s still early.”
Take a chance when you see some trash flying around downtown. Put it in the garbage can, but try not to wrinkle the suit.
La, la, lala, la, la….HEY!