To Portland by train; August 2016

I made an overnight jaunt to Portland, Oregon to see some friends. Pat loyally got up early to feed me an egg and take me to the train station.

Seattle’s King Street Station is quite nice, now that the ill-advised 1950s “modernization” has been reversed.  What hasn’t been modernized is the seating procedure.  I got my seat-assignment, as a sticker on my “boarding pass,” from an attendant at the gate.  But this way I could ask him for a window seat on the west side of the train, which gets all the views across Puget sound and the Columbia River.

IMG_2171I usually enjoy the 3.5 hour train ride. This time, the train going down had small “Talgo” cars made in Spain. The seating was much like an airplane; cramped. The man sitting next to me looked at his phone or slept for the entire trip; so I was hemmed in.  The seat ahead of me was occupied by a woman with a baby who was practicing shrieking; I was grateful when he fell asleep after 40 minutes.  The view I’d arranged was mostly pleasant.  When it wasn’t, I read The Dawn of Innovation, by Charles Morris.  It begins with a wonderful account of the War of 1812’s Battle of Lake Ontario.

In Portland I was dismayed to learn that the branch of the wonderful light-rail system that I needed to get to my hotel was out of order; the Rose Quarter Transit Center was being remodeled. Instead I got thru the visit on buses and streetcars. I installed the PDX Transit app on my phone; but it was so bad that I could only use it in conjunction with Google Maps, and finally concluded I didn’t need it.

Lunch with Lexi and friends (minus her partner Adam, who was sick) was at McMenamin’s Broadway Pub.  I passed two cannabis stores on my walk there.  They were quiet and empty; it’s the 21st century, and nobody cares.  The restaurant has a beautiful atrium with lush plants and skylights.  I had an aztec salad with grilled chicken; it was excellent.  Lexi ordered a beer with her lunch and got carded.

“Nobody wants to see my ID,” I grumbled.

“If I’m ever a bartender, I’ll card you!” she assured me.  Lexi works at Marriott Hotels;  she drove me back to my hotel and made sure I got a discount.

No light-rail service meant that getting across the Willamette River to west Portland’s huge Washington Park was going to be an ordeal.  And the Portland Art Museum was closing in half an hour.  So I picked out the biggest patch of green on the map in reasonable range, picked up a turkey sandwich at a Subway near my hotel, and had Google Maps take me there.  It was Laurelhurst Park.

While waiting for a bus connection on Burnside Street, I talked to a woman who was sitting in the bus shelter with a walker.  She was excited about the Portland Timbers football team; she called out to passers-by about the game, and many of them answered or waved.  I remarked that she seemed young to be using a walker.  She told me she had Crone’s Disease.  She received $700 a month from the government and lived in a homeless shelter.  This story made her sad, but just for a moment.  We chatted about Portland, Seattle, the weather, and Alabama where she’d come from while several busses passed.  My bus came.  I got on, but she stayed; she wasn’t going anywhere.  She just liked watching the traffic and talking to people.

Providence Hospital Stage BandWhen I stepped off the bus, I could hear nice ’30s jazz.  I followed it to a natural ampitheater where the Providence Hospital Stage Band was giving a free performance.   One performer said he’d just had his 90th birthday and that the day was his 46th wedding anniversary.  The band was great.  And my supper sandwich went down well with an apple Pat gave me and a bottle of Seattle tap water.

At the bus stop afterward I met a tall, thin man with a goatee.  He was wearing a tan suit and broad-brimmed hat; he had a rolling suitcase with a cane sticking out of it, and an old guitar.  He said he was a preacher, and he proved it by delivering a long diatribe about global warming. He asserted that the world would end in ten years.

“And in six billion years, the earth will fall into the sun,” I contributed.

He was annoyed.  “In ten years, everything you see here — plants, children, blue sky — will be gone!”  He carried on for a while, while I peered up the street for the bus.

“I’m sorry, I talk too much,” he said.  “What’s on your mind?”

“Did you hear the jazz concert in the park over there?  It was the Providence Hospital …”

“Don’t tell me about Providence Hospital!  They’re just a giant money-sucking corporation!”  It was like I’d wound him up again.  Eventually this rant also ran down.

“It’s a pleasant evening,” I offered.

“You’re talking like a dumbshit.  See all these cars? They’re the ancient dinosaurs, come back to kill us!”  He raged on about evil fossil fuels, while I peered up the street again.  The bus stops seemed pretty far apart, so I thought I’d stick it out as long as he didn’t offer to get violent.  He ran down after a few minutes.  I decided not to wind him up again.  There was a long silence.

“Why don’t you say something?  I’m not mad at you,” the preacher said.

“You called me a dumbshit,” I reminded him.

“That doesn’t mean I’m mad at you,” he reasoned.  At this point, a bus rolled up.  It wasn’t the one I wanted; But I got on anyway, sat down and checked my phone to see where it was going.  Its course was due west, and it would cross King Street a mile or two south of my hotel.  I got off at King, figuring there was a good chance I could find a bus going north.  Wandering in the twilight, I came upon a brightly-painted shop window:


I peered into the window.  Old-fashioned hoses, tanks and nozzles glistened in the streetlight.  I walked on to Grand Avenue and hopped on a northbound streetcar.  (In Portland these run in loops; you can get anywhere on the route if you’re patient.)

On Monday morning I peered into the Marriott’s breakfast room.  It looked like a swanky restaurant.  A pedestal at the door displayed a scant, pricey menu.  I was dressed pretty casually and I wasn’t in the mood; so I walked up Wiedler Street to the Village Inn for two eggs, four pancakes, fresh fruit and hot tea.

The Portland Art Museum is closed on Mondays.  So I waddled back to King Street and caught a southbound bus to Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum.  It was a side room of a big old-fashioned vacuum-cleaner store.  A clerk conducted me to it and left me to my own devices (there’s a pun in this sentence somewhere?).  Here was a  shelf-lined alcove crowded with several hundred retired vacuums, along with some carpet-sweepers, a lint-remover and a canister vacuum converted into a table-lamp.  It was wonderful. I set up my tripod and spent a happy morning amidst the frayed hoses and shiny tubes.

(More pictures.)  On my way out, I asked if I could make a donation.  A clerk directed me to Mike, an older man who was working at a desk behind a partition.  He looked up and said I could make a donation; so I offered him $5.  He laughed and shook his head.  “I thought you had a vacuum cleaner for me!”

Having learned about the streetcar last night, I rode it back to the hotel.  I collected my things and bussed across the river to the Greyhound station, which has lockers.  Remember coin-lockers?  Okay, you’re old.  Here, each bank of lockers is controlled by a computer.  I fed it $5; a light by the handle of one of the lockers lit up.  I opened it, put my things inside and shut it.  The light went out.  The computer printed out a code for me to type in when I returned, and a phone number in case I had a problem with that.

Next I went to a bus line that ran to the Pittock Mansion, near Washington Park.  But after a long wait I gave up on it, guessing that the lack of light-rail service had caused a backup of the whole public transit system.  Instead I walked to Powell’s Books, a huge labyrinthine store that’s a logical final stop in Portland due to the weight of the books I usually emerge with.  On my way, the bus I was waiting for came along.  But I only had three hours before my train would leave, so I let it go.

Powell’s has a fine history section. I was constrained by what I could easily carry to the train station.  Bringing a book to Portland was like carrying coal to Newcastle.  I decided I only had room for one more book.  So I bought:

  • The Mantle of Command, by Nigel Hamilton; an account of Franklin Roosevelt’s World War II strategy.
  • Gilgamesh, by Stephen Mitchell; a poetic translation of the ancient epic.

I hauled my loot to the Greyhound station, redeemed the rest of my things and crossed the street to the train station.  It’s a good thing I didn’t count on Amtrak being late.  Seattle-bound passengers were soon summoned to the gate, and given pieces of cardboard with “SEA 1” written on them.  We went out onto the platform, peering at the badly-illunimated car-number signs mounted next to the doors of the cars.  I found mine; a man with a clipboard who was standing on the platform wrote a seat number on my “boarding pass.”  I climbed into the car and located my seat.  A man was curled up in it, fast asleep.  A piece of red cardboard with the same seat number as mine was stuck in the overhead above him.  I went back outside and reported this, and was issued a different seat number.

The train ride home was on the older, spacious type of car, and it was mostly empty.  I’d drawn the west side of the train again, and enjoyed the view.  Also I read Gilgamesh with pleasure.

Pat picked me up at the King Street Station.  We went to Seattle Fish Company for an informal salmon dinner.Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 6.50.29 PM



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