November 4th, 2021

Walking

A day on the town, starring a friend and me

I got to show a bit of Portland yesterday. My friend/former girlfriend Alicia — who (long story short) was willing after we broke up to see if we’d work as friends, and it turned out we did and we do — rode the train to town in the morning. I got up early (knowing, of course, that she’d gotten up earlier), bussed to Union Station, met her, and started to be a tour guide.

We had breakfast at Fuller’s Coffee Shop, a diner I like that’s been at NW 9th and Davis since 1947. Due to my brain lapse (“brain fart”?), we went next to Powell’s Books because I’d forgotten it doesn’t open until 10 a.m., so we got on the Streetcar and went to our other main planned stop, OMSI.

I’m leaving any signs of joking and flippancy out of this paragraph. Currently OMSI is hosting the traveling show Mandela: the Official Exhibition, about Nelson Mandela and his work to end South Africa’s Apartheid and other inhuman practices that too many people were fine with being practiced. The show is an affecting, profound experience. I examined artifacts and learned the past’s details — calling them “historic” seems too much like treating this as ancient history, when it very much isn’t — and noticed that I kept thinking of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” One part of the show is an abstract recreation of Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell: no details, just a framework. You stand in there and think that for years Mandela, when not working in a literal quarry breaking rocks, stayed mainly in this tiny space. The show explains that there was a very real possibility that he could have been sentenced to death instead of decades of imprisonment, and who knows what the late 20th century may have been like had his country killed him? That Mandela survived, persevered, kept his sense of joy (as well as his sense of humor), and as President helped his country repair even just some of the damage it had caused its people is an astounding achievement.

After that (we also visited OMSI’s neat current exhibit of sets and props from the films of local stop-motion animation company Laika), Alicia and I visited the Eastbank Esplanade, appreciating views of downtown and the Willamette River, then walked up the Hawthorne Bridge Viaduct to get to Grand Ave. and the Streetcar again. Back to Powell’s, completing a Streetcar loop, and we browsed. Also we sat down in the Gold Room and exchanged books for each other to borrow.

Late lunch was a creamy chicken salad sandwich at Kenny & Zuke’s Deli (we split it; it was big), and because we both like libraries we walked over to the Central Branch of Multnomah County Library. We saw an exhibit on Oregon history that’s partly but not completely set up, and learned info from context clues. We then sat for a bit in Pioneer Courthouse Square, headed to MAX, and rode back to Union Station.

And we talked, a lot. About a lot. Conversations went to odd places, as conversation with someone you’ve known for decades can.

Once she was on her train home, I headed home as well. We later confirmed through texts that we’d both made it.