After a smooth drive down the Columbia River Gorge, we hit the Interstate’s tangled flyovers and arrive in Portland. Our first impression’s it’s a city with a small downtown, through which we cruise looking for somewhere to park, blagging a space in St. Mary’s Cathedral parking lot. And it turns out that we are only a few minutes’ walk from Powell’s – a massive new and used bookstore that the guidebook states is Portland’s ‘biggest draw’. Well, yeah, it’s a pretty cool bookstore – with coffee shop ,I Love Powell’s t-shirts, buskers outside, etc – but what does this say about the rest of the city? We spend a couple of hours looking at the books which are all new and second-hand on the same shelves. I mean some are like a few bucks when it always seems like the one you’re really into is 20 dollars. How do they know that?
Later on, strolling around the neighbourhood, we find the inaugural event of PDX’s First Thursday – DJ, artwork, free booze and people chilling out in the large underground parking space used by PDX pedi-cab company. I meet some push-bike couriers who tell me Portland has half a dozen company of a few riders each – they all get like an hourly wage which is pretty low but Portland is a chilled, easy city to work, I’m advised, where couriers come to retire. I also meet a Deafie. My third so far in the USA after 12 days and more than I met in Europe in years… I had met a couple of people at the Rainbow who had cochlear implants. One of them had to show me his before I noticed – the other seemed to have a way to go deciphering sounds and modulating his speech. But this third guy has no gadgets or implants and is 100% hearing impaired. He’s pissed; pissed on alcohol and pissed that I’m only 50% and can’t do sign-language. Have to learn Sign. But ASL or BSL?
The next day, we hook up with some friends of friends in another part of town close to Alberta Street which is the trendy area, 200% Shoreditch. In amongst the crystal shops and stores selling home-raised, dolphin-friendly tacos with free Wi-Fi, we manage to find hamburger and fries for $3 at a Mexican place. The amount of Spanish-speaking people is unreal – always the guy at the gas station or the custodians of the cheaper stores – our Spanish software has started to boot up, turning over and firing into life… And, proving the smallness of the planet around which we orbit, I get to meet a good friend of an old, good friend from back in London. We are beginning to like this city quite a lot but we’re impatient to see the ocean. We drive southwest out of town that evening.