This weekend, I embarked on what has become an annual pilgrimage to hipster Mecca – Portland, Oregon. But this time felt so starkly different from previous visits. If you’ve read this blog, you may be aware that I have a love for the city of Portland. It has served as a place for me to find my sense of independence when I was unsure of whether my future would include a partner, it has been a place for me and that partner to celebrate that we had made it through very rough waters, and it has been a place to reunite with a friend I had not seen in a long time. And of course, Powell’s is in Portland.
(If I’m granted access to a heaven that may or may not exist, I hope it’s just a giant bookstore. Powell’s basically.)
Portland is the one place outside of Denver I’ve visited and felt like I could live.
This time, I was supposed to meet Harrison in the middle of his own adventure. He went on the road with another comic for a week, and Portland was a scheduled stop. The plan was that I would arrive on Saturday, have a day to do some of my favorite things, and then he would get there on Sunday and perform in two comedy shows in the city.
If you’ve seen the news at all, you may have seen that the Pacific Northwest got some snow. Seattle and other parts of Washington mostly. Portland didn’t really, at least not by the standards of a Colorado native or any person who has seen actual snow accumulation.
Before the trip, I was religiously checking the forecast, like the nervous traveler I am, and it was changing about as often as I was checking it. While the forecast for Portland seemed to be improving, Washington’s was not, and Harrison was scheduled to be in Yakima Saturday night.
While he was traveling through the snowy mountain passes between Bozeman, Montana and Yakima, Washington, I was going through my own sort of rollercoaster of a day.
I made it to Portland without even a delay, and the air travel gods apparently were satisfied with the number of middle seats I’ve occupied over the years and granted me a flight with 70 empty seats. I had an entire row to myself. When I arrived, I decided to go to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) because I had never been there. I don’t know that anything will ever counter the awkwardness of seeing bunch of a children aged about 7 to 10 running around multitudes of displays of male and female genitalia, models of fetuses at different stages of pregnancy, AND what childbirth looks like including the weird way babies’ heads get all misshapen as they’re squeezed through a hole far too small for it to remain a normal shape. Portland does not mess around with science-based sex education, which I can get behind.
Then Cascade. Whoever decided to make a Kriek to be served hot is a damn genius, and I need a Denver brewery to make this happen. By next winter, please. Thanks.
I walked over the Burnside Bridge, which I love doing for some reason, even though I have a bit of a fear of heights and looking down makes my stomach leap. Not far over the bridge is Powell’s. I. HAD. ARRIVED. This would be a great weekend, I thought. Maybe Harrison would want to come back the next day.
While I was at Powell’s, I realized I hadn’t heard from Harrison in quite a while. I called him, and his phone was going straight to voicemail. I tried not to panic because I know that cell service in the mountains can sometimes be spotty. I made my way to where I planned to get dinner. I walked up on a street that is typically full of people eating and drinking, and I found it empty. Many businesses had closed in anticipation of snow. There was no snow accumulation on the ground, and the most I had seen was about an inch when I landed at the airport. Coupled with my worry about where Harrison might be because at that point, I had seen a post on Facebook from the venue saying their Yakima show was cancelled because the comics were stuck in a snow bank “somewhere in bumfuck Egypt,” the city started to feel very cold and lonely.
I finally heard from him. He was safe. He and the comic he was traveling with had slid off the road into a ditch and had to dig out. The road to their destination was closed, so they were stuck in some small town. They found a gas station and a motel and would figure out their next move and if they would even be able to make it to Portland. One of their Portland shows had already been cancelled because of “snow.”
He didn’t make it to Portland. I know that he feels bad, and that he did what was best for his safety. But the disappointment in this change of plans changed everything I felt about the weekend heading into it.
For the first time in all the times I’ve visited, I suddenly couldn’t wait to go home. For the first time, the city felt cold and empty and lonely and nothing that I needed it to be. Sure, it was quite literally cold, but it seemed like everything started to shift when plans changed. Everything that I love about the city became tiresome and cold, even the people. I heard a man yell at a streetcar operator and call him an asshole. I had never encountered a rude person in the Pacific Northwest. Ever. While the city’s transit system is truly the best I’ve ever seen, even that started to exhaust me. I sunk into a weird funk that I had a hard time fully pulling myself out of, and I was suddenly just kind of killing time before my flight home.
I tried to make the best of it. I ate at some of my favorite restaurants and drank some of my favorite beer. I tried to do something new and learned that Portland has an excellent art museum. But still, I ended up changing my flight to leave earlier on Monday morning rather than trying to enjoy one last Portland breakfast. I even splurged on a Lyft to the airport instead of using the city’s great public transit options, because the thought of dragging my belongings to the train and then switching to another train was utterly exhausting to me.
As all of this took shape this weekend, I was struck at how this very different set of circumstances and frame of mind so drastically changed my experience with the same city I’ve visited and only ever loved. I don’t really know what conclusion to draw from this experience except that I definitely don’t respond to change as well as I had hoped. I like a plan, even a loose plan, and no location in the world is likely to change the person I’ve been for 32 years of life. Sure, I’ve become better at responding to a change in plans with practice and copious amounts of yoga and breathing exercises. But deep down, I live with a set of expectations of how things will happen, and there will always be an uneasiness when things don’t happen that way. It influences my perception of my overall sense of well-being. Also, I can do alone like a champ, but lonely is another story. With Harrison being away as much as he has been lately between work and this excursion, I was really excited to be able to be with him for even a few hours. Missing Harrison and encountering a city that became so empty in places because of LIKE AN INCH OF SNOW was lonely and frustrating, and it made me sad.
I still love Portland, and I’m sure I’ll be back. However, maybe not when there’s a chance of snow.