Portland: Echoes of the familiar

“This is because I didn’t sit before leaving my sister’s flat…”

— Travel journal, 26 April 2014

Although no one I know lived in Portland when I visited, almost everyone had an opinion on it. “Go to Voodoo Doughnuts,” I was told. “Get lost in Powell’s.” Somehow I would need to navigate the apparently world-famous food trucks, something that struck me as ludicrous having spent years of my life buying $5 flautas from the taco truck that turned up at Caltech every weekday like a benevolent Mexican ghost. Portland had spent nearly my entire adult life figuring out what it could do to get noticed, and having achieved it, was very pleased about getting to show it all off. Even though I was a little clueless in my reception. 

Getting to Portland proved difficult despite requiring only a single flight that should have been merely a grace note in the trip. First the flight was delayed. Then we all had to pile off the plane. This involved a surprisingly lengthy process of checking out, where we scanned our boarding passes in order to get off the plane in the same way we did to get on the plane. This proved too much for some passengers to handle, and I got to experience the Zen-like calm that comes from watching someone else lose their shit where one could very easily imagine losing their own but managed not to on this occasion. Angry McStormyPants managed to simmer down, and was not evicted from the flight. 

This disruption, of course, was entirely due to the fact that I’d neglected to follow the Russian tradition of sitting for a moment before a journey. The reason why I did not sit is now lost to time, but the consequences of neglecting the ritual (or superstition if you prefer) will live some time yet. 

My Portland run took me in unexpected directions due to construction, and slowed me down enough that I didn’t mind taking pictures along the way.

The taste of home I enjoyed in Seattle continued in Portland with not only refreshingly damp weather but the presence of the Wanderer, who had been sent there for work. Rather than a hostel or a friend’s spare room, I was installed comfortably in the Westin hotel where we could see the fabled food trucks from our billionth-floor room. 

We did indeed go to Voodoo Doughnuts. On our way back to the hotel we were stopped by an affable homeless person (or someone who appeared to be so) who asked us if he could have a doughnut. To my mild surprise, we said yes and offered him his pick from the box. The next morning at Mother’s Bistro & Bar I had a cinnamon roll that vindicated every decision to walk steadfastly past Cinnabon in IAD. 

I realised I would be a very happy fat person in Portland. 

I found all the books I would ever need for friends and family in Powell’s, as well as quotation art that made me smile. 

By this point in the trip I’d been many places and surfed through many unfamiliarities, and I started to notice things that reminded me of home, or at least of things that were easy to blend with. The often fraught rituals of standby travel provided the strangest of threads through the multi-city labyrinth. Each airport had variations but the rhythm of the experience remained the same every time. The coffee rituals, also, in hipster neighbourhoods where I explored or holed up, were consistent and familiar. We who share a fondness for coffee seem to share many more tastes than just hot bean juice prepared expertly and expensively. 

After Portland the Wanderer and I parted. He went to San Francisco, and I went to Los Angeles. LA is not home, but I lived there for seven years and continued to nurture relationships there that last even to the time of this writing, many years after the visit. There I rediscovered the familiar. This time, it was not in the shape of hipster coffee or pleasant sogginess, but in roots that I managed to put down and that continue to grow despite the harsh desert climate.