I was just days short of arriving in Portland five years after setting foot there when my family and I moved from Detroit. Five years doesn’t seem like such a long time in the context of a lifespan, but so much has happened in that five years. I find it difficult to even arrange all the chapters in the correct order.

It is rare to not experience life-changing events. Everyone has them in some fashion. September of 2005 proved to be one of those times for me and my family. A sound I never wanted to hear hammered a hole through my self-security. In a matter of weeks, we’d packed our things and found ourselves on the road to Cedar Rapids, IA. The story unravels from there down a twisted and unsettled road to our current home, Carlsbad, CA. It was a very harsh way to make us open our eyes to our situation as it was in Portland at that particular time and that meant it wasn’t good. Something needed to be done.

Several weeks ago I had a melt-down one night. I was just about to obligingly say that I’m not sure what happened to cause it, but, truthfully, I do. It’s simple: my life, our lives, are not in some sort of positive and progressive direction. Suffice it to say that our financials are endlessly stressful and with no real prospect of changing this significantly, a breakdown of some sort was probably inevitable.

I needed a break to think and to mine out the caverns of my blocked mind.

It was Kim’s suggestion to take leave, visit Portland, and visit my mom. Finally, I felt ready for it.

Five years after arriving in Portland with my family and almost three years after being exiled, I was returning. I wasn’t sure what I’d get out of it, but one thing was for sure: I was going to be car-free for a week and I was going to eat my heart out. Walking and eating! The greatest stress relievers in the known world!

I kept a diary as I walked or rode to and from. What follows is a recreation of my diary more suitable for average readers and more readable – my chicken scratch is pain for the eyes.

Readers and Footballers

July 24th, 2008 – my first full day in Portland.

As I rode the MAX blue line (Portland’s light rail system), I came to remember something that had found its escape from my memory: people read here! They read a lot! You can find people reading anything from standard pulp offerings of sci-fi or fantasy to liberally bent books on the doom of America’s democracy and just about anything in between. They read while they walk. They read while they sit in public areas. They read while they wait in line at the banks. There are books everywhere! I even saw an older lady reading a Spanish translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. In fact, I joined the legion of readers reading The Concord Quartet through my entire visit. A fine read, I might add. All the reading (of pulp and non-pulp) might be why Portland has one of the most impressive library systems in the country.

On the downside, the further I was eastward from the Portland downtown area (which I often was, as my mom lives at the very end of the line, east-bound) the more I saw really trashy people and tweakers. Yeah, they make living anywhere east of, say, SE 39th Ave. pretty undesirable. Also, what is it with trashy kids swearing in public? When did this become ok? If I ever heard that my kid was doing this, there’d be soap and a mouth becoming really friendly. Kids, don’t be ghetto. Please.

After a brief visit to Western Culinary Institute, I wandered my way over to NW 23rd Ave. Anyone who knows Portland knows that this area is known more as “Snob Hill” as opposed to Nob Hill. I don’t care what they call it either way. For me, they’ve got some nice shops, great atmosphere, and, of course, some great food. One of my favorite places to eat when I am monstrously hungry is Rose’s Deli. I can recall distinct cravings for big deli sandwiches or chicken soup on chilly, rainy Sundays after attending mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. We’d remedy these cravings by paying a visit to Rose’s.

Although some of the prices can be steep here, Rose’s attempt at decent, delicious deli foods almost always hits the mark. After being promptly seated after walking in from the sunny, bright outside, I was promptly served water and placed my order for, of course, their signature Reuben. I’ve missed this Reuben for so long, you don’t even know. Even with Milton’s here in Del Mar, Rose’s seemed like a better choice for quality. And, indeed, it was. My sandwich was hot, the sauerkraut was succulent and sharp, and my potato salad was perfectly chilled and creamy. Now, THIS is the Portland I remember: good food and good prices. The service here was top notch, as well.

After grabbing a yummy scoop of hazel nut gelato next door at Mio Gelato (although good, I still remember Staccato Gelato being better, as they proved to be later in my week…), I again wandered around and found myself at PGE Park, where I purchased my ticket to watch the Portland Timbers play against the Carolina Railhawks. I got a midfield ticket, pretty close to the pitch for under $20. Yeah, a hell of a deal. Although the match ended up a 0-0 tie, the entire time was fun thanks to all the nuts in the Timbers Army. Because Portlanders want to do everything right, of course there are a bunch of football nuts who gather at matches to sing songs, swear, light smoke bombs, and, in general, piss off the visiting team while emboldening the home. While the park wasn’t full, the energy emanating from the multiple sections the army digs in creates an excitement unmatched in Portland.

Timbers Army