Last night hubby and I went out on a “date” to Portland for the first time since the whole lockdown event. We got news one of our fave comedians, Brian Regan, was in town. Last time we saw Brian was at the “Schnitz”, a lovely venue of striking architecture, bright lights, abuzz with laughter, smiles, and tons of people. Last night’s event and mood was like being in some weird dream.
I see a bit of Portland everyday day for work but rarely travel through the other sectors. As witness I can say that all the bombastic images that flood the internet making Portland out to be a warzone are nothing but hype for ratings. The several blocks around the city’s courthouse are where most of the action occurs for a bit after midnight. The rest of the city moves on, life as usual… sort of. But last night’s drive gave an expanded view of the somber poverty and silence. While driving down the 405 we saw a giant parking lot full of camping tents. We both commented how outrageously hot it had to be with them sitting on asphalt, in direct sunlight, on a day that, by sunset, registered 104 degrees on my car dash.
Pulling into the SE neighborhood, near where I first landed back in the 80’s and had many fond memories of, we found it strewn with garbage, graffiti, tents, camps, people meandering in the heat, crows quietly watching from rooftops, and an air of abandonment. We were in shock.
His first words as we drove into the region was “this looks dystopian”. And indeed it did.
On arrival the door guy checked our ID and wished me an early birthday. I didn’t hear him. I was feeling light-headed, ready to cry, overheated, and checked out. Just the walk from the car, seeing all the homeless, wishing I had the money or means to help change the situation, wondering who they were before they landed on the street, it was all so overwhelming to mind and heart.
We walked upstairs and entered the stark, quiet, dark bar which normally would be filled with music, drinks, cozy tables of people. Tonight it was filled with nice AC, tape on the floor designated where to walk on entry, where not to walk for exiting, and instructions from the door greeter on when to wear a mask, when we can take it off to drink, and when to put it back on. All the staff was dressed in black, and we entered spacious seating area with couples sitting quietly, properly distanced, masks on. It felt like all eyes were on us as we walked to our table. Or maybe I was just paranoid at that point. For a little moment my gut said I’d walked into the “Hotel California” (an Eagles tune for readers who may not know).
The comedians were great. Honestly. We really felt for them as this was their first public performance in about four and half months of isolation. I couldn’t fathom the stress they went through just getting to Portland from L.A., only to arrive in our city’s filth and disarray. They commented on it too. All I could think was “They should’ve seen it back in the day, when it was beautiful”.
Through their moments of awkwardness they did an outstanding job of connecting with the little, masked tribe who showed up for them. At the end of the show the MC was left on stage to entertain us for at least an extra 20 minutes when the venue’s credit card machine stopped working and all the card transactions of the evening had to be redone. He was not prepared for that, his jokes were running out, and he’d occasionally go quiet then start singing a little note to fill the space. Oh my god! We soooo felt for him.
Even after our receipt for the two Perrier waters was given to us we waited with him till all the tables had their receipts. Finally the overhead lights were turned up signaling the end of the show. I met him out front, gave him a $20 and our gracious support. He was such a hero in our book. As a performer I remember a gig (long ago) when our band was boo’d by a bunch of drunk bikers. We too were stuck in a bind, playing the wrong kind of music for that venue. Weird things happen beyond one’s control. We gotta support one another.
We were quiet on the ride home, nothing fun to reminisce. Neither of us slept well afterwards. Weird dreams and restlessness. Hubby dreamt he moved to Maine to start a new career. He recently saw photos of that state from a couple who moved there. He said after seeing the condition of Portland last night the photos probably inspired his dreamtime.
I don’t know what the future holds but I do know if we give up, lose heart, and lose our vision it will not get better. A sneaky feeling tells me that’s what “they” want. Those invisible forces at work who funnel money, resources and control away from the people where it’s needed most, letting this country completely fall to shambles under the guise of safety and security. Portland is a microcosm of the greater breakdown occurring. It gives us a tangible, material world view of the deconstruction happening within our culture and maybe even our souls.
Sometimes there is breakdown before breakthrough. Sometimes there is breakdown before death. The choice to care for our country’s people, our environment, and hold steadfast to a creative manifestation of our future together, especially through times of hardship, is always on offer.