Suddenly 30 or so kids filed into the city bus, laughing and talking, their teacher urging them to be quiet. I watched them, trying to follow their teacher’s orders but still unable to stop acting silly, with a smile. They were obviously glad to be out of the rain. Their hair was wet; some who had forgotten their rain jacket were fairly soaked. It had been raining all morning, a steady shower that would continue for the rest of the day.
I knew it was going to be wet in Portland. My spring break wasn’t going to be filled with sunshine (ironically Boston, where I was coming from, was sunnier and warmer at that moment), but I had always wanted to visit Portland, the northwest sister city to my hometown of Austin, TX. Rain wasn’t going to let me down. It was part of what made Portland, Portland, right?
After having a filling breakfast in the hostel, I began my first day by heading straight to Powell’s City of Books, a local book emporium that is basically the west coast version of the Strand Bookstore in New York City. Powell’s is such an icon that it’s marked on all the tourist maps. One step inside and it’s easy to see why. The place is three floors of ceiling-high bookshelves, sloping mountains of new and used paper bound worlds. The selection was nothing like I’ve seen before. For instance, four selves were filled with all of Vonnegut’s novels in various additions and a dozen or so isles were devoted to science-fiction. They had books by my favorite authors that I’ve never seen before. Those finds felt like previously undiscovered literary treasures or presents from the literary gods. And in truth that’s what this place is to the book lover/book shopper: A temple, a west coast literary mecca.
After I left that bastion of books, I walked around Downtown and the Pearl District for a bit. It was still raining (forcing my photographing cravings to be left unsatisfied), so I decided to walk to the Portland Art Museum. My path down 10th street took me past vintage stores, craft stores, Starbucks, local coffee shops, and even a City Target. I stopped at some and only barely glanced at others. I ate lunch at a food truck “pod” that circled a parking lot and boasted everything from Vietnamese noodles to Mexican tacos to German sausage to Hawaiian sushi.
When I finally reached the museum, the damp grey and misty greens of the buildings across the street were accented by a line of yellow school buses. I could hear the cheerful chatter of children drifting through the soft and steady patter of the rain. The kids on the city bus this morning had said that they were going to see the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and there, on the marquee above the entrance to the theater, was the orchestra. I smiled at the coincidence and walked into the art museum.
After seeing so many world famous museums, such as the British National Gallery and the Louvre, my standards are fairly high. I can’t help it. It’s one side effect of traveling. But instead of trying to imitate and/or live up to those world-class institutions, the Portland Art Museum focuses on what it can do best: local and/or contemporary art. Their galleries held beautiful exhibits by local artists or about local topics, exploring concepts that were both relatable and up to interpretation, experimental yet understandable. I was especially partial towards the photography exhibit dealing with past and contemporary photographs of Native Americans and how visual interpretations of these peoples related to Americans’ different perceptions of them. I was enthralled.
The rain had actually picked up when I finally walked out of the museum. The school buses were gone and the only bright color left were the few twinkling lights of the theater’s marquee, turned on in to fight against the darkening sky. I wondered if the kids enjoyed the show. I walked back to the bus stop, the rain beating loudly against my umbrella.
It was supposed to meet with family friends who live a few blocks away from the hostel. They were kind enough to let me crash on their couch for a couple nights, saving me about $60. But I had a little time before I should meet with them so I visited a vintage store in the area (the Hawthorne District). Called House of Vintage, the store spanned two whole buildings each full of vintage clothing mostly from the ‘80s but also touching on other eras such as the ‘60s and ‘70s. I spent hours in there.
After I finally met with my family friends and dropped off my stuff, I went to the nearby food truck pod for dinner. I remember the kids on the bus pointing it out as we passed it, and I thought I’d check it out. One truck specialized in grilled PB&J sandwiches with local, fair-trade, and/or organic nut butters, fruit spreads, and cheeses. Another truck (the kids’ favorite) sold only French fry dishes like chili cheese fries and poutine. As much as I wanted to follow the kids’ recommendation, I decided to be less adventurous and stick with simple Egyptian food. Maybe next time…