Travel Series: Portland, Day One

The famous "Keep Portland Weird" sign downtown.

The famous “Keep Portland Weird” sign downtown.

I am still on my vacation as of today, and am flying home tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been writing about this amazing adventure, and while it’s all too much for one post, I like the idea of posting a series about what I’ve been doing out here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been an experience and I am so glad I came here. I hope you’ll take the time to read why, as I continue to post installments of this series this week.

For now, here is an account of my first full day in Portland, after arriving in town around midnight the night before.

Thursday, Oct. 2:

I woke up my first morning in Portland early, still stuck on Central time. I showered and got ready to grab the #71 bus to transfer to the #4 to go to Southeast Portland. A woman in Ladd’s Addition had agreed, via a female cyclist message board, to let me borrow one of her bikes for the week. In my initial post, I had offered cash or barter, and she picked the latter. I brought her some toffees and chocolates from Amy’s Candy Bar and had these in my backpack.

A restaurant in SE Portland -- I didn't eat here, I just thought it looked cool.

A restaurant in SE Portland — I didn’t eat here, I just thought it looked cool.

I waited for the bus and used its texting tool to see when it was due — at 8:29, in just seven minutes. I looked up and saw a young boy with a musical instrument case coming to the same stop.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Can you tell me when the bus is coming? My mom won’t let me bring my phone to school.”

I remembered then that it was a Thursday, and thought 8:30 seemed awfully late to be leaving for school. I told him what the text had said, and he thanked me. I asked him a couple of questions about the bus system, and he was surprisingly knowledgeable for a 7th grader. I told him I was visiting from Chicago and jokingly asked where I should go. He actually had a lot of good suggestions.

The bus came and we got on together. He told me about his school and how he was glad he was getting the earlier bus than normal so he’d have time to stop and get donuts at the store before class started. Another boy he knew got on the bus shortly before this first kid got off, and they talked to each other while still including me. The second boy was getting on the #4 bus too, to a different school, so I followed him to where I needed to transfer. I thanked him for helping me and he said “Welcome to Portland!”

A Plaid Pantry in SE. These convenience stores were everywhere.

A Plaid Pantry in SE. These convenience stores were everywhere.

I got to Ladd’s Addition a little early, so I went to a coffee shop nearby. A woman greeted me right away, and I saw the shop was empty aside from the two of us. She asked what I wanted, and recommended a pumpkin latte, which I accepted. I dug into my backpack for my wallet, but couldn’t find it. I thought I must have left it on my bed at the airbnb.

“Never mind that latte actually,” I said apologetically, and explained I must have left my wallet behind. She offered me a cup of regular coffee on the house instead, which I gratefully accepted. I talked to her a for a bit too, taking down suggestions and names of places to see. I thanked her for the coffee and moved on to April’s.

April and Phillip live in a gorgeous, huge home in Ladd’s Addition and have a sweet older dog named Foxy. They gave me a series of bike maps and April helped me select which of their many bikes might fit me best. She and I carried it downstairs from their attic and Phil showed me on the map the best way to get back to my airbnb. The best way, it turned out, had at least eight steps, and once I was out on the road riding, I realized I’d only been able to remember the first four or five. I got a little turned around but managed to get back to the airbnb. By now I was starting to feel worried about my wallet, because I really had thought I’d grabbed it before leaving.

The view overlooking one of Portland's bridges near downtown.

The view overlooking one of Portland’s bridges near downtown.

I parked the bike and walked into my airbnb, a sense of dread forming in the pit of my stomach. I looked at the bed — the wallet wasn’t there. I froze, then immediately began tearing the bed apart, then the rest of the room, then the bathroom, in a fruitless attempt to do something, anything. It was gone, and I knew it. I checked my bank’s website and saw that no charges had been made to my Chase debit card, or to my Chase credit card I’d packed as an emergency back-up. I looked up the nearest Chase branch and found one about a mile away. I have to admit, I am so glad I use Chase, since it’s everywhere.

I walked into the Chase with only my checkbook as some small form of proof. I explained I was from out of town and had lost my wallet. I sat down with a banker, a man around my age, and he was unbelievably helpful. He explained he couldn’t just issue me a new debit card on the spot because I’m from out of state, but he rush-ordered a new card to my airbnb, which he thought should get there Saturday. He also let me withdraw cash so I wouldn’t be completely screwed. I got out $250 since that’s about what I’d budgeted for the first few days in Portland anyway — the things on my Portland to-do list were mostly cheap eats, coffee shops, and breweries. It hadn’t occurred to me yet when sitting at that bank that my hopes for trying a wealth of craft beer were now pretty much dashed, sans ID.

While I was at the bank, I got a text from Sarah, my Chicago friend who happened to be traveling to Portland at the same time with her fiance Andy. I had written earlier that I’d felt oddly possessive of my time in the city of Portland and hadn’t wanted to share it or my experience with anyone I already knew, but let me tell you, when I got her text and remembered they were there, I was flooded with relief. Right then I wanted nothing more than a friendly, familiar face or two. Everyone in Portland had been incredibly helpful and polite, but I really needed a friend. I needed someone who knew me and could sympathize and confirm that this was absolutely a horrific thing to have happen while traveling and just let me complain.

A mural near the food truck pod, around 9th Ave and Washington.

A mural near the food truck pod, around 9th Ave and Washington.

That’s exactly what happened. I got on the bike and met them downtown at a food truck pod — a solid block of food trucks — and gave them big hugs. They commiserated with me over a picnic lunch of sushi, Transylvanian food, and grilled cheese (my contribution, I’m a little ashamed to admit — I needed comfort food). It was all delicious, but we agreed the sushi was the best of the three.

I admitted to them, and in a way to myself, that I was kind of in Portland on a scouting mission. They seemed to understand, because they loved Portland, too. I told myself a long time ago that I would never move to a new city/state again because, while I’m so glad I moved to Chicago, it was much harder than I thought it would be. I’m not saying that I’m moving to Portland, and there a lot of reasons not to. But I have to admit, I like the idea of it. If I were to do it all again despite my past experience and my better judgement, it would be to Portland.

Sarah and Andy were staying in the Pearl District, but they were leaving the next morning for a friend’s wedding in Ashland, Oregon. Sarah recently became the owner of Women & Children First, Chicago’s famous feminist bookstore in Andersonville, so she was interested in speaking with the owners of In Other Words, the store Portlandia’s Women & Women First is based on (and filmed at). The store may be based on Portland’s, but the name was definitely pulled from the Chicago store, after all. Sarah wanted to talk to them about their organization since she’s a new small business and bookstore owner, but it was at least three miles north. We walked to a bike rental place to get bikes for her and Andy.

Me, downtown.

Me, downtown.

At the bike store, I asked someone to take a look at the front of the bike April had lent me: A bracket holding up the front light had snapped an hour or so earlier, on top of everything else, and the light now just danged by a thin cable. I’d tied my earbud cord around the light to try to hold it down, but it was not ideal. They couldn’t replace the bracket without ordering one, but they zip-tied the light to the rack on the front of the bike to at least keep it secure.

We all rode up Williams Avenue most of the way to get to In Other Words and parked right outside. We went in and it was clear that the show shoots the interior scenes there as well, and not just the exterior, like I’d assumed. A signed Portlandia poster hung on the wall by the register.

Sarah found lots of things to buy, while I just picked up three small ‘zines I thought looked funny. I also grabbed an In Other Words bookmark and a couple small buttons. We talked to the volunteers there and learned (well, I learned — Sarah already knew) that they were holding an open meeting Sunday to decide whether or not to close. I was sad to hear it. On top of being a feminist bookstore, they are also a community center, offering services and classes to the area. They said the show had brought them a lot of business and publicity, but that it is still a tough business to be in. They’re a nonprofit but it’s hard to retain devoted volunteers and the ones who are involved now are putting in almost as many hours as they would at a full-time job.

Inside of In Other Words.

Inside of In Other Words.

We made our purchases, got lots and lots of photos, and left.

On the way out, Sarah asked if I have a passport. I told her I did, but that it was in Chicago. Then we realized I could ask Adele to look for it and mail it. I texted Adele immediately and thanked Sarah for the great idea.

On my bike ride home I stopped at a Trader Joe’s to get a cheap dinner and some snacks for the room. Without thinking, I grabbed a cheap bottle of wine too. The woman at the register asked for my ID, and I said I didn’t have it. She was so apologetic, but said she couldn’t let me purchase it anyway since she’d asked. I told her I completely understood, but thought to myself that if there was ever a time that called for wine, the day I lost my wallet on vacation was that time.

I went back to my airbnb and reported my lost wallet to Trimet, Portland’s version of the CTA. I looked into whether or not it’s possible to get on an airplane without an ID (it is, but it’s unpleasant), and I also looked at prices for later flights home from Seattle for a day or two later. They were a minimum of $500 and I had no way to place an order online, even if I had an extra $500 set aside.

I texted Stef and Jaimi and told them what happened. They immediately offered assistance and moral support, but I told them it could have been much worse. I know it sounds naive, but I honestly don’t think my wallet was stolen. Whoever had taken it would have had at least two hours between that bus ride and when I went to Chase to cancel my cards, but no charges charges were made. It was clear to me that the very worst part of this was losing my ID. I had to hope a car didn’t hit me on my bike because no one knew me or could identify me. I couldn’t fly home from Seattle, or anywhere. I couldn’t buy wine at Trader Joe’s or tour a brewery.

That said, I tried my luck that night at a dive bar two blocks north of my airbnb. No one carded me at the door or looked twice when I ordered. I talked to some locals there who patiently answered my Portland questions. One even gave me his email for later, in case I think of anything else.

Portland, Day Two will be posted later this week.

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4 thoughts on “Travel Series: Portland, Day One

  1. I kept waiting for you to say, “…but then I found my wallet at the bottom of my bag.” I would have panicked more than you did. Can’t wait to hear what else you did!

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