May 16th, 2012

I listen

Made Space

Buildings take up less space than they seem to.

I live a few blocks from the stretch of SE 17th Ave. where the next Max line will run: the Orange Line from downtown Portland to Milwaukie. This past month or so, TriMet reached the project phase where buildings in the way of the route and the stations and other developments needed along it get knocked down. Buildings had closed well in advance of their demolition -- like the former Advantis Credit Union branch about a block northwest of the main TriMet offices, and the Semaphore Restaurant at the corner of SE 17th and Holgate -- but it took a while to get to the demolition point. For a while, the only thing to go down along this part of the route was a billboard.

Now the Semaphore's down, as are several industrial buildings on the north end of this stretch of 17th. One of the first of these was an almost temporary-looking building next to where 17th bends to go over SE Powell Boulevard. (I like having those ramps there, by the way: they make me feel like I'm taking freeway ramps into and out of my neighborhood. Without there being an actual freeway there.)

A few weeks ago I walked past where that little building had been, all two stories of it, and thought A whole building fit in that? It had been in this narrowing lot between the road on the west side, a nub of Pershing Street on the southern side, and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the east side, and it no longer looked like a space that could've held a building. Unless that building had been impossibly narrow, as if every room in it was like Sam Lowry's office in Brazil. But of course it wasn't ridiculously narrow. There was room, but I'm not a spatial engineer type who can see that negative space and fill it with rooms. Or easily imagine turning it back into negative space by demolishing it.

More buildings have gone down since then, and I'm still getting used to the changes. (I'm also amused that one of the buildings still standing -- I don't know if it will remain standing, as I don't know the specific plans for the light rail route -- houses a company called Oregon Breakers. When I first saw that sign, my mind went to Dark Tower places. As it can. Do all things serve the Beam even here?) One entire block is empty of its building: a few half-blocks now are cleared or being cleared; and what's left behind seems...smaller.

I'll let myself think that buildings get bigger when you go inside them. I like that idea. Many houses, for instance, seem deceptively small on the outside; but then they turn out to have passages, nooks and crannies. (My parents' place even has a semi-secret crawl space it didn't have when my parents moved there. Dad made it. I think it's cool that it's there.) They can't be TARDIS-level bigger-on-the-inside -- but wouldn't it be awesome if they were? -- but maybe the buildings inflate. And thus give you more breathing room in them. Badly-designed buildings wouldn't inflate, and would leave you feeling claustrophobic. The building's not working with you; it's reacting badly or not reacting at all to you. This would explain so much.

I hope you're in good buildings, now and later. We'll still have good buildings in this neighborhood, even after a few more of them are knocked down.
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    Danny Elfman's music to "Forbidden Zone"
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How have I never done dirty Mad Libs? And in that spirit...

I wanted to shorten what I was writing so it would fit Twitter's 140-character limit. This can require creative typing, but at least one has shorter options for lots of words. In this case I wanted to shorten neighborhood; I decided 'hood was the wrong shortened version for me to use, but hey, I further decided, there's the also-short version nabe.

"Nabe" looked wrong.

In face, it looked like the name of some sexual organ, in the middle of me writing about a building in my neighborhood. The word stuck out, looked out of place, looked like it needed to expand into the bigger word "neighborhood" but the 140-character limit, well, limited it. I went with "nabe," but self-consciously. The word, it's not nasty. Or brutish. Just short.

Words just sometimes don't look right, am I right? I look at enough of them to know.