Many people report a fantastic experience in San Francisco, but my two stays have been hurried and
unprepared. What is needed for the best possible experience is to have a companion to share the wonders of the city who can act as a guide. To enter San Francisco on a lower budget level as I did, coming by Greyhound bus trying to get an inexpensive place to stay is to see her grimy side.
The sheer numbers of the homeless people make the city scene one from Marat Sade. Shoppers in $500 Manalo Blahniks rush past rows of shuttling, babbling societal castoffs.
At one point I saw a parade of fashionistas emerging from an underground rail in a dash to buy, buy, buy on Market Street and above them on the railing stood an emaciated woman in tight jeans. She had one leg on each side of the cement bannister, her jeans pulled down to reveal a thong which was askew. Her crop top was a bespoke creation sliding off of one shoulder and in her hand she held a toy plastic sci fi ray gun. She was scoping out people as they ran up the stairs and muttering curses as she blew them into oblivion in her imagination. Call me overly sensitive, but it was an image which took away some of the joy of excessive shopping which I indulged in that day.
I headed down the street to go to a gallery that I had been told about but at the period of time between 5:30 and 6 the entire street scape changed as dramatically as a change from one scene to another in a play. The coiffed and cared for, lean-bodied natives gave way to students on their bikes, with the ubiquitous backpack, carefully disheveled hair and leisurely paced rhythms. They were not so much headed to there, wherever the future was, as exploring here and now. The flow of the crowd was against me. No one else seemed to be headed in my direction. At first I wondered why, then as the students trickled by the homeless came out. Many conversations were angry, hostile or full of sadness that each held with him or herself and the imaginary person with them. After begging, one ran into a store I was in to buy a lottery ticket. I bought a juice in order to get some change because I had begun to see that it was unwise to proceed alone against this wave of societal despair.
If a person was renting a car and staying with a relative on one of the “hills” of affluence, I think the city would be a different experience entirely. Once I saw a map of the areas of construction in San Francisco and outlying area that indicated how home prices reflected levels of security. Cheaper places were built on “fill” or looser soil which would simply sink in an earthquake. The more expensive neighbourhoods were on rock which offered greater security. The homeless, of course, would just disappear entirely. It gives one pause for contemplation. An Armageddon-proof dwelling can be pricey.
I flew into Portland and my experience at that airport has always been very positive. People who work in the airport will actually come up to a passenger and ask if they can give assistance. When I was in Denver, later in the trip, there was a sense of hardy old West survivalism. The attendant would scribble something on your boarding pass and mumble it without looking up. So gate whatever was somewhere and you should damn well know it or what were doing out without your mother.
The Portland airport has a booth I call the stupid booth. It is outside on the drop-off, pick up area and the people who work there give you a big smile as you walk toward them. You can tell them you want to go to a hotel, find a gate, buy a book, find some food, anything and they will get out maps, bring up things on the computer screen. One even ran off prints of two possible approaches for my adventure finding my hotel. After three trips into the airport I felt totally secure because I would just go to the stupid booth if I had managed to puzzle myself.
The first time I went to Portland on the return from San Francisco, I stayed at the Red Lion Inn. The clerk behind the desk found me an annoyance with all of my checking in and questions and such. She informed me in a warning tone that there was no elevator so I could be in a noisy area, or haul my bags up the stairs. I decided on quiet. It was difficult pulling the “light” baggage up each step. My body was tired from the backpack jammed full of computer, medications and survival supplies. My suitcase now held amazing sale items from Freedom XXI, Old Navy and books, heavy books.
I was so tired that I lay down on the bed and fell asleep immediately without noticing my suitcase was still out in the hallway.
Once roused and with all of my nomadic supplies in one pile, I set out to get to the city I so love.
First I had to wait for a shuttle, then take the shuttle to the airport where I got out and walked to light rail. That took me to the downtown core which is a great pleasure to walk. It is easy to move from one area of the city to another through parks, old trees, public art installations, coporate and public gardens. There is a gentleness to the city that just suits me. While I waited for the shuttle, I talked to a couple of retired people sitting in the lobby. Both had received a degree from the University of Oregon, met and married and then decided to go live in the British Virgin Islands in the 70’s.
He became a radio announcer and she, without any credentials, began a career as a school teacher. They explained to me that it was considered an insane venture by their families. However, they loved their lives. The only recommendation that they gave was that if you moved there, you should rent. The dwellings are frequently flattened by “the winds” and you can just move to another rental when your place is destroyed without undo stress.
One of the great joys of my journey was to become a voyeur in other’s lives. Meeting and talking with people who present a common, ordinary exterior taught me so much about choices. Some who seemed normal, predicatble people have experienced adventure and risk taking. Just because the people are wearing the inner city beige jungle wear does not mean they have lead beige lives.
When I got off of the red line I was lucky enough to walk through the farmer’s market at Pioneer Square.
All of the many years that my husband and I went to Portland to check in on my parents we never once hit the farmer’s market. It was delightful. I was hungry, rested and had no adenda. The great open space in my stomach, my brain and in my possibilities for the day was exhilarating. First I had a local pop (fill in name), grabbed a nectarine which was organically grown and gorgeous in the morning sunlight. Walking past flower arrangements, mushrooms that looked like they were harvested from a deep space laboratory, brilliantly colored green beans, and piles of locally grown produce, I stopped to chat with the berry lady.
She explained that times were indeed economically challenging. Her business has fallen off enough so that her husband now works two jobs aside from the farming and that she has to “woman” the booth by herself these days. I commiserated with her about the amount of work it takes to set up and break down from a fair day. As an artist, I have done this for years. She pointed out the two stands that were selling gluten free goods and I moved along to Black Sheep to purchase a cookie and to another place to get carrot cake. What I liked about the baked goods was that they had a saturated flavour without tasting like they were layered with sugar. The bite was good and not grainy or gritty as some gluten free items can be.
I headed down to China town and walked through the area. It was a great disappointment. Years ago the area had excellent restaurants, shops whose lineage stretched back into historical Portland’s story. But many of the places were closed, others were barely surviving with the store fronts having the leprosy of urban decay. Paint peeling off, signs hanging broke or unlit, weeds crawling up the cement facades. One resaturant sported a sign that said, “100 Best Chinese Restaurants” in some national pole and it was Vegan. Out on the sidewalk, it was a 85 degree day with the brilliant, blue sky unobstructed by any clouds. Inside, another climate met me like a blow to the body. Repairs were taking place and the kitchen was in the same room as the eating area. As I sat reading the menu, globs of sweat fell onto the menu. My hands were so clammy that the plastic menu was difficult to grasp. Out of the five pages, I could only eat one item on the menu. The difficulty with being gluten intolerant and a quasi-vegetarian is that the protein substitutes are always wheat based.Next blog I will take you with me through some of the must see sights in the city. Stay tuned. Go in Joy.