Here was the first sign I was really in Portland: Squatted on the floor of the airport terminal, back against a store front, was this man. Long white hair, long gray beard, comfortably cordoned off in a makeshift stage of his own, he contentedly sat playing a previously unknown instrument.
Everyone is at home here-- I saw geeks, freaks, business men, hippies, punks, musicians, cyclists, families, you name it, they claim this place at home-- and it works. Somehow, they just all fit into this mysterious, slipshod puzzle that is mesmerizing in its beauty.
My bags came out fairly fast (major improvement over Philly airport), and I waited to be picked up by my new landlady/roommate, Susan. The weather was 96 degrees at 6:30pm, but when I stepped outside, it was lovely. None of your stifling humidity or wet blanket air. It was this clean, warm arm-around-your-shoulder type of evening. So, I didn't mind waiting for the green Saturn to come pulling up a half hour later. (by the way-- Oregonian license plates are fantastic. White background, Marine blue lettering, and this tall, tall evergreen rising up between the digits.)
Susan is extremely nice, and very easy to get along with, but she was about to give me my most surreal introduction to this city as of yet. She originally was going to pick me up after her class, but since I arrived early, she decided to take me to her class instead of having me be at the airport for a few hours. What I was expecting was an academic setting with me lurking in the alcoved background. What I got was a belly dancing class...in a barn filled with mirrors... with chickens strutting around outside.
Yes, apparently Portland is a mecca for belly dancing. (The Tango and the hula hoop are also very prominent features.) So here I go, into this room with this woman I've never met before, about to watch her (and about a dozen more women) shake their body parts until the rooster crows. Awkward. I bring my book as my safety net, but find myself sitting on a bench next to a man/ lady/ person. It was a girl, but she was hidden in several facial piercings, a long army jacket and carpenter pants. What? There is someone else that has been forced to sit and watch this extravaganza? I feel an immediate affinity to this poor soul next to me, and we strike up a friendly conversation.
It isn't long afterward that I learn her name is Star and that she is here watching Belinda. "Oh, that's your friend? I came in with Susan, who I just met, but I am staying at her house for the next month or so."
"My girlfriend," I was quietly and kindly corrected. Oh. Another welcome into Portland. I am now sitting next to Star, a lesbian, watching about a dozen women shake their body parts. Up the awkwardness to Level 2. Thankfully, Star was painfully nice and funny, and so the hour and a half we were there went by fairly quickly. Through her I learned a bit more about Portland, and how friendly Portlanders were. That's completely true. I had already had short, but warm, conversations with at least six different people in the brief hour or so I had been in this city. When I mentioned vegans and vegetarians, Star rolled her eyes and started a mocking diatribe. I was fascinated to listen to her rant against those "earth lovers", especially since Belinda, her "friend" had this long, dark hippie hair, and when she raised her hands towards the ceiling, you discovered a razor had not visited her armps in quite some time. Naturally I had assumed they were both vegetarians of some sort. I was wrong. I soon discovered that this would not be the only time I was off in my suppositions. People here seem like they belong in stereotypes, but they are actually just the complete opposite. A lot of defining quirks and distinguishing marks separate them from that easy stamp we so quickly label with. I began to thank God that He was showing me people and not identifiable groups.
When the class ended, Susan took me to one more Portland-ish thing before we went home. It was a fast food joint, but not your Wendy's or Mickey D's (although they exist here), this is Portland's very own: Burgerville. Here is where you can get things like the Yukon White Bean & Basil Burger on a wheat kaiser roll, or perhaps you'd like to opt for the Wild Alaskan halibut-- because they have that too.
Look, I included the menu here if you don't believe me. I barely believed it myself.
The last thing I saw before we made it to the house was the stunning view of Portland at night. Portland spans the Willamette River (pronounced wil-LAMB-et, not WILL-um-it) with TEN bridges. These bridges are connected to highways that weave in and out of them like something from an amusement park. At least 2 of the bridges are double deckers. It is a sight to behold when they are all lit up at night and reflecting off the river below. (For those of you who thought it was the Columbia River, you are not far off-- the Columbia divides Oregon from Washington, whereas the Willamette divides Portland). It was the most dramatic skyline/city scene I have witnessed so far.
Sorry I don't have any pictures of the city proper lit up at night, but I do have another special treat. Here is a link to a song played by Belinda (the girl from the belly dancing class). Turns out she is this amazing singer/bass player, and I thought you should also appreciate her great talent. (No one here is immune from hidden genius apparently).