After I moved to Portland, it was a few months before I ventured outside of my neighborhood and into downtown. I mapped out an easy bus route in advance because I was worried about parking. I got on at the right spot and off at the right spot. All was well.
Then I started walking among all the buildings and began feeling so small, so lost. Even though I was just a few miles from my apartment, and it was a sunny morning, fear crept over me. On the outside I was in my 20s, on the inside I just wanted my mommy.
I kept walking around buildings, not sure where I was but I knew where I was going. I was going to find a Starbucks. After living in a few other cities (all smaller than PDX), I knew that Starbucks are all the same and if I could get inside one, I would feel better. And come on, Downtown Portland had to have multiple Starbucks.
I circled blocks, not really sure how long, until I found one tucked into the first floor of a building that seemed to touch the clouds (it was probably only like 10 stories). I ordered my chai and found a spot at the counter, with windows on one side of me and customers on the other. Hands clasped around my iced drink, my heart rate came back down. The overwhelmed feeling subsided and I could breath again, even with a bit of grin at how silly I’d been.
Back out on the sidewalk, I walked back to the area I’d gotten off the bus, and climbed back on another one to head back home. I’d be back for a longer visit another morning.
Two weeks ago I went for a run in Downtown Portland. I parked my car in the same area I have a hundred times for runs on the waterfront. There are always tents from people living outside, and usually some individuals walking around with shopping carts. I’ll now my head as I pass; a moment of humanity between to strangers. In 10 years of parking there, nothing has ever happened to my car or to me. I trust these strangers are just living their lives as well as they can. Like me.
I planned on a minimum of eight miles, and hoped for more than 10 depending on the temperature. My phone had said it would stay in the low 60s, but that did not take the bright sunshine into account. By the end, eight miles was plenty.
Whenever I got close to another person on the sidewalk, we each shifted to different edges, aiming to keep as close to the 6-feet recommendation as possible (without anyone falling into the river). Covid-19 forces walkers, runners, and bikers to isolate outside, somehow. I paused at a few water fountains, if there was enough room to step far out of the way.
At the end of eight miles, I sank back into my car. I let out a deep breath and realized I had not been breathing deeply or freely for the previous hour-plus of running. My struggle in those miles was partially due to the heat, but more about the constant vigilance in avoiding everyone.
These two visits into the city are years apart, and I am a very different visitor. Each was overwhelming. Each resolved through a safe place. I heart my city, even though all its complications.