#52sparks: Photographer’s Choice

My first visit to Portland was for a job interview. It was a a few hours drive from my parents’ home so I got a hotel for the night, interviewed with a few panels, and had a little bit of spare time before I needed to get back on the road. I asked some students at the college I was applying where I should go while in town. They directed me to SE Hawthorne. It was just a few minutes from campus. They said to park at Fred Meyer and then I could walk to all the shops and restaurants.

I’d be back to Hawthorne dozens more times since I moved to the city. The Starbucks in the middle of the area is one of my favorites for grading papers or doing my own homework. A bench along the front window provided space for books and easy people watching inside or outside. And it was large enough to not feel guilty for taking over a table for a couple of hours. Then I’d wander over to Presents of Mind, down to the two Powell’s bookstores, and get a late lunch at McMenamins before going home.

My long running route in the city includes a short portion of this area too. It is a great excuse to walk at the street lights, and provides easy access to a bathroom and/or bagel purchase at Fred Meyer. Since finishing school two years ago, my main experiences on this street are sweating on the sidewalk and wishing I lived in the area rather than over four miles away. At least those runs get me into a favorite part of the city every couple of weeks.

After the start of the Covid Shutdown, I didn’t get to Hawthorne for about two months. I was still running, but sticking to my neighborhood a lot more as the news highlighted every movement beyond my front door as dangerous. A virtual half marathon race meant I needed more miles than I could get without going literally loopy, so out into the city I went.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on Hawthorne. How many of the stores would still exist in the struggling economy? Would these small, local stores be boarded up and closed? Would “for lease” signs cover the windows I used to peer into? Would there be anyone there but me?

On the Monday morning, there were some people walking along the street, far less than any other time I had been there. Fred Meyer and a few coffee shops were open; the cute shops were all still closed, pending Phase 1 approval from the governor. Most of the closed stores had sleeping bags or tents inter entry ways as people who lived outside had shifted into these temporarily abandoned areas. A pod of food carts at one end had a small village growing and a group was visiting around a bench as I ran past in the bike lane. I did not bother their morning and they didn’t seem to take notice of me traveling through.

A few weeks later I was back again, sweating under a stronger sun and regretting hitting snooze so many times that morning. More shops were open and most of the sleeping bags were gone. The space was heavy with caution as people were venturing out, perhaps for the first time in months, and so unsure of how to keep safe.

When I went back this weekend, I was among those shoppers wandering through. My boyfriend was in search of a store we had been to months before and I had my eye on a stuffed monster from a toy store window. The temperature was going to be in the high 90s by the end of the day so we were there for just an hour, stepping into a half dozen shops with our masks in place and obeying social-distancing tape on the floor. There were no sleeping bags or tents this time. There were people who carried the weight of the world in their large backpacks and were probably coming from or heading to a place to sleep.

Hawthorne was my first experience of Portland and I think will forever remain how I envision the city. It has potential and brokenness alongside one another, sometimes sitting on the same brick wall.

I heart this city, and am especially fond of one little street.

“We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). – #52sparks is my year-long writing series for 2020, based on an art prompt challenge. The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch. This series is to explore what hundreds of inches and words can do.

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