November 18, 2008

Vol. 16 — Portland, OR (leaving)

Clouds of Grass

Portland has turned out to be a town I would like to have spent more time in. I walked the length and breadth of the downtown area a few times over in the day and a half I had available, and found quite a lot to like.

For one, there’s a very respectable amount of park land, including one long strip down the middle in a sort of echo of Central Park. In fact, Portland feels in many ways bigger than it is… not just in quantifiable metrics like the number and types of businesses, or the gridded street layout, but also in the character and feeling of the place. It’s a very pedestrian oriented town, with lots of people walking about, even until 10:30 pm (which, much as I regret to admit it, was as late as I could keep my eyes open last night). There is also a series of electric street cars that will shuttle you around the main thoroughfares. All in all I felt really comfortable and while covered, superficially, at least 90% of the downtown streets, I feel confident that there’s a lot of cool stuff going on that I didn’t (couldn’t) catch. Whether or not that stuff is all safely accessible via public transportation is another story, of course, but one I hope I’ll get to answer someday.

I had breakfast (bagel and cream cheese, of course) at a little café while listening to an old gentleman giving a physics lecture to another old gentleman in the back corner. Even in proximity to a college, it was a pretty unusual scene, as it didn’t seem formalized or “official” in any way, except that the lecturer had a large book open and a notebook and a pen in hand with which he would gesticulate as he explained the nature of light and gravity.

From there I poked around some of the little shops nearby, visited the art museum which held a decent collection of mostly American Indian inspired work that’s quite nice if that’s your scene, and then located a Safeway to replenish my stock of traveling food. Having deposited that back at the hotel, I enjoyed an afternoon coffee, walked through a more businessy / financial district and down to the waterfront. I was off in search of a stationers to replace my dwindling supply of postcards and note cards, which a map had indicated nearby, but walked past and around the spot many times without luck. I rested briefly on a bench overlooking the river and the three or four visible bridges, all of which were of the raising and lowering sort, and each with a distinct mechanism for doing so.

Today I was to have tea overlooking the beautiful Portland Chinese garden but ran out of time in the morning, and was somewhat too footsore to try and make it up there and back to the hotel in time to check out, and definitely didn’t want to haul my luggage around the garden. Instead I found a nice little internet café and coffee house called Backspace and passed a couple of hours there, reading and catching up on some administriva.

Now, of course, my train is about an hour and a half late, so in truth, I had a lot more time this morning than I thought, but, c’est la vie. I’ve been in worse places than this train station, which doesn’t have much going on, but is pretty enough, with the high ceilings and chandeliers and big brass lettering on the walls and entryways that mark it as an old building, unlike anything people are building from scratch these days.

Next stop, Paso Robles, CA, after another couple days on the train, where I shall hope to find a hot spring to rejuvenate my increasingly travel weary body.