Three Hours in Portland

On the night bus to Seaside now, in the back row, face aglow from the laptop screen. I’m listening to the iPod shuffle my sister passed on to me as a gift–space to hold enough music to last the journey without getting dull plus a backup of all my MFA-related digital files. It’s a bumpy ride, and dark, but at least the bus is warm.

Powell’s Books

I spent about three hours in downtown Portland, between arriving at PDX and catching this bus at the Amtrak station. Most of that time I holed up in the café at Powell’s Books, enjoying free WiFi, good espresso, and being in a real bookstore. This seems to be the Northwest analogue to City Lights in San Francisco. Each section of the store has its own information desk and aisle upon aisle of books. Their poetry floor (!), for example, made the paltry few shelves of your local Barnes And Noble seem like the completely unsatisfying appetizer that it is. And I didn’t even have time to check out the used section yet.

Chinatown Gate

Of course, just a few hours is not nearly long enough to get the real flavor of the place, but I enjoyed a few brief impressions as I wandered around downtown, with dusk and light rain coming on. Between the bookstores, record shops and cafés, and given how grey and drizzly the evening has been, I got the sense people spend a lot of time indoors. Layers are the fashion–seemingly the more they clash the better. Funky knit hats, stripes with argyle, the ubiquitous hoodie–post-grunge is alive and well here.

Historic-Looking Train Station

The people seem more likely to be cute than glamorous, more likely to be writers than painters, more likely to be feisty than fit. In fact, they seem somewhat English to me in that way, albeit on the bohemian end of that spectrum. I imagine Berkeley would have turned out more like this if the weather were different.

My Route (with some recommendations scribbled in by the Amtrak guy)

The architecture was beautiful–lots of holdover buildings from the mid-19th century. And of course between the rain and the river, the outskirts of town–as we came in for a landing–looked incomparably green to my high-desert eyes. Trains big and small still seem to be an important part of the culture, and once I figured out that part of my light rail journey was really to be taken by bus, the metropolitan transit system seemed convenient and remarkably economical.

OK, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the Smoosh that just came on, as we bump our way through the dark, headed for the cost.