April 21, 2006

Yesterday was one of the most marvelous and memorable days of my life. I am still processing it, but here is one small piece of it. You would not believe me if I told you all of the things I left out.

People who have not lived in the Pacific Northwest need to know that in this region of the country, there is a period of one or two days at the end of every winter when it becomes clear that the rain is slowing and the sun and warmth of Summer returning. It is a good day for the soul.

For me, that day was yesterday.

I had just finished three months of hard project work at a firm downtown and walked out the front door at 2:30pm. Twenty minutes later I was hired by phone to do a new project for another firm starting Monday. I was looking for something to do.

A few minutes later I randomly ran into my close friend J, who was riding by on bikes with a college friend who was in from out of town. They were on their way to Laurelhurst Park to meet another friend and throw the Frisbee. On the spot, I decided to join them, even though I was dressed in work clothes. It was sunny and 70 degrees.

We sat in the sun next to the lake and observed the dozens of ducks and geese that make their home in the park. A great blue heron flew right in front of us and landed on a floating log. At one point, a large hawk came flying through and shook things up. There were happy people, some with children or dogs. The four of us spent an hour tossing the Frisbee in the glen next to the lake, the first time I have done that in a few years at least. I felt a little strange running and leaping in my dress shoes, but it was all very good.

Later we went back to J’s house, where I lived for two years. We had beer and pizza and others were there. I had a very intense conversation with my friend AC about his arrest at the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004. I left to catch the 10:45 bus back home. I thought my day was over.

I soon realized that I had left my lighter at the house, so I dashed into a convenience store next to the bus stop to buy a new one. As I was walking out the door, the number 20 drove by, leaving me feeling really lame. It would be 30 minutes before another one passed.

I had too much energy to sit on the curb for half an hour so I started walking, figuring I would catch the next bus whether I was here or twenty blocks down the route. While I was walking, I passed a young man and woman who were standing at the next stop. The guy asked me for a cigarette. When I gave him one he said, “Thanks. It’s been a hard day.” We talked for a bit about when the next bus was coming and I told them it would be about 30 minutes. We said goodnight and I started walking again.

When I had gotten about a block, the guy yelled, “Here comes one!” I ran back up to them, hoping he was right. I looked up Burnside Street and thought I saw the yellow light of the route display of a TriMet bus. It turns out that it was not a bus, but an optical illusion caused by the configuration of the streetlights on that part of the street. It happens sometimes, especially when you really WANT it to be a bus.

I was planning to start walking again, but the more the guy spoke, the more interesting his story became. He told me he was 26 and she was 27. They had been thrown off the last bus because their fares had expired. Hours earlier they had been asleep at home when their roommates, who were very drunk, set their house on fire. Half the house burned before firemen arrived and put out the flames. The roommates were arrested and this guy and his wife, who is four months pregnant, barely escaped with their lives. His clothes were singed and he was wearing donated boots. They were carrying everything they owned in two very small bags. The Red Cross does not help fire victims if someone on the lease is responsible for a house fire.

They had no money and were not allowed to stay in a shelter because they have not had the required tuberculosis test. The people at the shelters told a pregnant woman to get lost. I gave them the $5 I had in my pocket, wishing it was more. I gave him some more cigarettes and loaned them my cell phone to make some calls. He has a good job at a fabricating shop in NE Portland. Today is payday so all he had to do was get to work and get his check. They arranged to spend the night with a friend. “I wish I had a car,” he said. “We’d sleep in it tonight.”

While I enjoyed a marvelous day, my new friends were experiencing one of the worst in their lives. We met by chance on a street corner.

Soon the bus came and we got on. They got off at 39th Avenue while I rode all the way downtown to catch the 58 to get home. As I got off the 58 and began the five-minute walk up the hill, a light rain began to fall.


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