I was in Portland this weekend. Oregon. I was there just long enough to know which way to turn when I stepped out of the elevator without having to squint at the hall sign, trying to determine if 415 came before or after 428. I traveled down on the train. I had a stack of New Yorkers and NYT Book Reviews to page through. And Ulysses. A friend and I are reading Ulysses together, one episode a week.
“I’m taking Ulysses on the train,” I said.
“Ulysses is the book to have on that train,” her husband told me, “It’s notoriously two hours late.”
My train was not two hours late though secretly I would have loved to spend six hours on the train to Portland. Not because of Ulysses which I actually did not get to, but because I love being en route. I needed a long en route to unwind me from what has been an exceptionally stimulating few months. En route is being not here, but not there. There are no decisions to be made, just the opportunity to be. When I think of it, en route is pretty much the human condition, and life is what we do to avoid knowing that. We may think we are in control but something we don’t fully understand is carrying us along. It can be a rough ride but I prefer to think that inexorable something has to do with Love.
It was cold in Portland but the sun was as bright as summer. I took a taxi to the Mark Spencer on the corner of Stark and 11th. Waiting in my room was vase of yellow roses, a box of Moonstruck truffles and a Welcome to Portland card.
Wow, I thought, Very nice hotel.
But as I circled around the display, unpacking my bits and pieces, the welcome card dislodged and push around lumps and bundles in my memory.
Wait, I thought, I know that lettering and the panache of the gesture.
I read the small print on the card. It said “Love, Anna.”
Anna. My former singing and piano student, also formerly president of the student body of Western Washington State University. Now she is living in Portland with her BF and working at Rubicon International. Bright, beautiful, and funny, her mind is far ranging and I love talking with her. I always feel better about the future of civilization after I’ve been around Anna.
We had dinner at Fish Grotto, a block from the Mark Spencer. Anna has sampled every restaurant, bar, and coffee bar in the entire city and has a review for them all. Fish Grotto was excellent. We walked around the Pearl district, I got myself vaguely oriented, and absorbed the correct pronunciation of Couch St. (cooch). I fell into bed and to sleep early while Anna went on to do what people in their twenties do with that extra ten hour a day they have.
We met again first thing in morning and got coffee at Stumptown, a block east from the hotel on Stark. Stumptown is attached to the Ace Hotel whose lobby looks like a Perry Mason set. There’s even an old photo booth, but with a sign that says it can’t guarantee it will actually take a picture. In a room full of 25 people with Smart phones, I had a longing for a strip of photos from that old photo booth.
We walked through The Pearl and crossed into Nob Hill where Anna and BF live in an old apartment building with ice box cupboards, a honeycomb bathroom floor, and claw-footed bathtub. Taking one to these amenitites is a cage elevator, the kind Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore in Thoroughly Modern Millie had to dance in to get it started. I say things like this to Anna and she says “Oh.”
We parted ways mid-morning because I had an appointment at the Espresso Book Machine at Powells City of Books. News Flash: Espresso Book Machines are sharing their files. Since 99 Girdles on the Wall was originally created for and printed on the book machine at Third Place Press, my book is now available on all of the 500 book machines all over the world. I made arrangements for a copy of my book to be rotated into the display of EBM books at Powells. For us self-pubbed writers the self-promotion never ends.
I checked out of the Mark Spencer and took a cab to the Heathman, a secondary port of call on the itinerary. Up the street, past the Saturday Farmer’s Market and down half a block was an Oregon style liquor store i.e. lower prices and no sales tax. I bought two bottles of Scotch and had a nice natter with the guy behind the counter about how Washington state residents screwed themselves by not reading the small print when we voted to hand liquor sales to Costco. Back at the Heathman, the concierge cheerfully dug my suitcase out of storage so I could wrap the Scotch in my red flannel Scotty pajamas.
Anna took me to afternoon tea at the Heathman. Holiday logistics made Anna, her sister Julia, and me miss our annual holiday tea for the first time in eleven years. This one was brilliant: The calm, the white cloths, the chandelier, the scones, (handmade) marshmallows and lemon squares. I added my vase of yellow roses, which I had been babying since I left the Mark Spencer. I was determined to get them home with me.
After a leisurely tea we opted to walk to the train station. Anna was my sherpa. She disdained—perhaps didn’t even notice—the little ramps off the sidewalks. She just yanked the suitcase up and down as energetically as she dances in the world. We got to Union Station a little after 4:00, thinking I had a half hour to spare. But train elves had changed the time. I vaguely recalled how patiently the ticket guy in Seattle had both told me about the change and had high-lighted it on my ticket, I was mentally already en route and it hadn’t registered.
“You maximized your time here!” Anna said cheerfully as we hugged goodbye, and I made it onto the train with two minutes to spare.
I had a little season of anxiety around the notion of missing the train. Then I remembered my idea of being carried along by something inexorable that has to do with Love. What happens is what happens. If it happens to me in Portland, I have a sherpa.