Osborne/Pang Residence, Bertha Boulevard SW, Portland, Oregon
Date: Thursday, 5 October 2000 23:58:21 PST
(For the record, I am typing on a "table" which is built out of four chroline buckets and a large yellow merge highway sign. Who needs Ikea?)
Nate is presently explaining to me the last few months of the soap-opera plot of the comic strip Luann. His synopsis is almost as entertaining as the "Best of Who's Line Is It Anyway?" we caught tonight on ABC -- I haven't laughed that hard for ages.
The house came alive at 7:30 a.m. today, which isn't unreasonable, except of course for the fact that my body believed it to be 4:30 a.m. The order of business for my wonderful hosts was to go about their regular routine, which was to go to school. Portland Community College, Sylvania Campus. As wonderful company as their two cats have turned out to be, I opted to follow them.
So, as Nate took off on his mountain bike, Jaimee and I headed down the hill on foot, through the Fred Mayer's market, to catch the Tri-Met.
The Tri-Met is Portland's bus system, and although I never thought I'd say this coming from Honolulu (home of one of the more widely acclaimed bus systems in America), it's pretty damn cool. You have zones and different fares, and it all sounds complicated, but basically you can go anywhere for $1.20, or $1.50. And once you're in the heart of downtown, you can ride any bus within for free.
As we made our way to campus, I grilled Jaimee on the silly particulars of life in Portland, adjusting to life outside of Hawaii, and even broached the subject of diversity. (Portland has speckles of different cultures, but it is most definitely a... well, haole city). Although going to a college campus boosted minority representation considerably, up until then I had seen two black people and one woman of Asian descent who had bleached herself halfway to blonde.
The campus was on a beautiful grassy hill (what is it with colleges and hills?), very modern, very concrete. Every building, I soon learned, was known by a two letter acronym. ST (Science and Technology), HT (Health and Technology), CT (Communications Technology -- lots of technology), and of course CC (Campus Center). There were scattered people of many ethnicities, but even so a high concentration of the students were blonde, and many of them differentiated themselves by adding neon colors, like orange, purple, green and blue.
Jaimee gave me a quick tour, we met up with Nate, and when the two of them had to head off to different math classes, I went to the library to work. (It was jarring, as it has been with every building I've entered here, to walk in from outside and find things heated rather than cooled.) It was a very nice glass-and-steel building, with lots of natural light and lots of nice desks. I set up my computer, and spent the next several hours fighting with PageMaker, EPS graphics, and half-finished copy.
When noon rolled around, I went to the HT building where Nate worked, and met up with him, Jaimee, and coworker Andy. The lot of us then headed to CC for lunch. I ended up with the chicken salad sandwich, which wasn't bad, considering it was school food. Like many a dorky tourist, I made quite a fuss about the lack of sales tax here, and the fact that when a sandwich is $3.95, it's $3.95, not a few pennies over $4.
Nate had to go to work (his new second job as a writing tutor), so Jaimee and I just sat outside and ate and talked. Two hours passed like nothing, and when Nate came out and announced he was skipping his UNIX class, we all headed back to their place. After relaxing a bit, we headed out again, this time for the official Portland tour.
We got back on the Tri-Max, and got off downtown where we caught the MAX, Portland's light-rail transit system. Very, very nice, and an example of what Honolulu could have done decades ago if voters didn't insist on keeping their heads where the sun don't shine.
In town the MAX runs on roads and stops for traffic lights, but once out in the open it picks up considerably. We took it several miles west to Washington Park, basically Portland's Central Park. The train goes underground there, and as Nate pointed out like a true local, the station is the deepest such structure in the country, the elevators whooshing us 200 some odd feet up in a handful of seconds. We strolled around, admired the moutains and big trees, and learned about the geology of the area, which for the mainland is pretty darn interesting.
Eventually we headed back downtown. First stop was the waterfront, the long green park and prominade along the Willamette River ("the only river in the U.S. that runs south to north," chirped Nate). We saw the so-called Portland "Drum Circle," a small section of the waterfront traditionally and almost constantly populated by hippies, hackeysack players and skaters. Then we headed into the city to see Powell's, "city of books."
Of the things I saw today, Powell's was among the most impressive. It's a bookstore that's about twice the size of Sears at Ala Moana. We're talking endless aisles and five stories of books, with whole restaurant-sized rooms dedicated to a single genre. You literally need a map to get around. We were there nearly and hour, and I saw maybe a tenth of the place. If I could find a city with both a Powell's-sized book store and music store, I'd be set.
We wandered some more, saw fountains and bridges and architecture ranging from ancient red brick to Batman-esque modern gothic to garish glass and marble. I was dragged some distance to see Portlandia, apparently their equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, but she -- a woman emerging from a stone with a dramatic trident -- was getting a facelift and was covered with tarps.
For dinner we ducked into Pioneer Place, basically the Kahala Mall (or center concourse of Ala Moana) of Portland. We spent way too much time in the Victoria's Secret store. We then went to the food court, which was like any food court anywhere in America. We laughed a while at their poor attempts at Chinese and Japanese food, begrudgingly picking the former for our meal. At least it was sticky rice and not Uncle Ben's.
As night fell, we bused back to their place, and relaxed the rest of the night. The surprise of the evening was when Brant Harvey, an old old friend from BBS days, called. He's in fact been living in Portland for two years (although both he and Nate confessed early on that they rarely got out to see each other).
He and I talked for almost an hour about anything and everything, from the characters we'd known in the days of 1200 baud modems to the job market in Portland. (He works for a high-tech headhunting firm which counts Intel as one of its larger clients -- good to know, good to know...)
A quiet end to an enlightening day. We watched TV, Jaimee and I both tinkered on our laptops, and Nate read two days' worth of The Oregonian and his prized bicycling magazine. And now it's 2:30 a.m., so it's time for me to sleep.