Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Providence 9 3 Bridge Pedal

Rather than battling to get through the horde of 18,000 other participating cyclists and meet Ben and Leah and Jake at the start of the Providence Bridge Pedal course across the Hawthorne Bridge, I met them at the east end of the new Tilikum Crossing, which you can see in the background behind me. According to TriMet, the local transit system, it's the only bridge of its kind in the United States, being solely dedicated to non-car methods of transportation: pedestrians and cyclists will use the outer lanes, and the bus and rail and streetcar network will span the two sides of the Willamette River down the middle of the bridge. Over to the west bank we went, then turned around and headed back across to the east side. After that, we went south to the Ross Island bridge and up and over again, then curved up to the PSU campus area at the edge of downtown and did what bicyclists normally cannot do, which is to take the on ramp to I-405/I-5 - normally three lanes of wall-to-wall commuters - and go across the Marquam Bridge. There's a great view of Portland from up on top.

There was also a local marimba band serenading the cyclists, many of whom pulled out of the river of bicycles to take photos off either side of the bridge. "Hi, we're Boka Marimba," announced one of the musicians at the end of the tune I'd stopped to listen to, "and we play here every Sunday." Most people were taking pictures with their phones, though I did see someone with a "real" camera and a tripod, and one man had hauled his paints and easel along to capture the moment.

Ben and Jake and Leah had stopped to wait for me, as they had done several times already. I was okay on the flat sections, but the slopes were starting to get to my legs, unused to such exercise. Since I didn't want to overdo it and suffer the aftereffects (as I did last year on that petite randonnée très facile dans les Pyrénées qu'un enfant de six ans avait accompli en quatre heures) I told them to head out without me for the rest of the trip, as I was going home.

I'm glad I did the shorter route, because I could tell that my thigh muscles were going to have some pointed things to say to me about the wisdom of trying to even attempt a 25-mile bike ride after not having gotten on a bike in over three years. The two hours it took me to ride down to the river, go back and forth over the three bridges, and ride back again were enough for now. I'll have to get a new bike though, once I start working full time again. There are some really lovely biking paths around here, and it's a nice way to get downtown when the weather is good - though I won't be getting there via the Marquam Bridge.
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It makes her feel as if she were independent. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can't get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.
         - Susan B. Anthony (1896)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hi, Portland. I'm home.

Back in Portland, the city of bicycle commuters and bridges. The expanding vibrant city, where the young man who got on the train in the tiny fading town of Malta, Montana with very few possessions hoped to find new opportunities. The city of green space and roses, of rich socialites and impecunious socialists, of clean water and fertile land and jumpy residents anticipating the end of all of that due to newly-popularized earthquake reports.

The city of a hundred farmer's markets, or at least it seems so, not that I'm complaining. One of the first things I did when I arrived was to go downtown to Pioneer Square to buy a bus pass (twice as expensive as it was in 2012) and the next was to buy lunch from the Verde Cocina stand, incredibly tender pulled pork with just-picked healthy vegetables on handmade corn tortillas with a dousing of tangy mole sauce, enough for my breakfast and lunch together. People from Amsterdam and Florida were sitting at the table with me, planning where they'd go next by tracing paths between landmarks on the free TriMet map. The bus fares may have doubled, but the transit system has gotten larger as well, and for the most part I have not missed a car yet.

Powell's City of Books is the highlight of many a tourist's time in Portland. On my way up to the Northwest 23rd area via streetcar the other day, the line just to get in the door wrapped around the block and was continuing to grow, as more and more people showed up holding their copy of "A Full Life" to be signed by the autobiography's author, President Jimmy Carter. It looks like an interesting book, and I'll have to reserve a copy from the Multnomah County Library - currently number 1 in annual circulation for cities of 1 million or fewer - whose e-library collection has provided me with reading material for the last three years. It'll be odd actually walking into a building to pick up a book.

There are lots of free things to do in the summer in Portland: movies in the park and in Pioneer Square, music in parks and public spaces in every corner of the city, and street fairs nearly every week. I met two sets of friends at Grant Park the other evening for music by Klezmocracy, and a very charming Czech children's film titled "Kuky se vraci" that I didn't see the end of, as it was nearing 11pm and I really had to pee. However, I did get to indulge in a little fangirl moment before the pre-movie music started, and snagged a photo op with Courtney Drehle, who also plays for the great band 3 Leg Torso - they played last Wednesday evening downtown for the Music On Main Street series, but I couldn't make it to that event.

And of course there's Shakespeare in the Parks, done by both the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival and the Portland Actor's Ensemble.

"And given to fornications, and to taverns and sack and wine and metheglins, and to drinkings and swearings and starings, pribbles and prabbles?"
- William Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor

Portland, where people are carving out their lives in whimsical and unpredictable ways, though sometimes the materials they choose don't last long, and they drift away again on the next breeze, hoping to find another stable place to settle down and pile up possessions.

Portland, where poetry lurks in the underbrush along with the homeless people. Where young people go to retire, according to a 2014 article (the median age is about 35, or about 20 years younger than I am). Last year a British magazine mentioned Portland, but no other US city, when ranking good places to live around the world. Forbes currently ranks Portland as the third best place in the US for business and careers, which gives me hope, but also notes that the cost of living is nearly 7% above the US average. Most of that is probably from the soaring rental and housing market.

Portland, where I'm doing my best to fill the shoes I left empty three years ago, as I wake from my European dream to find myself standing on the curb with my suitcases, without a job or a savings account, but with the support of my friends and family.

Portland, where I'm home, again.