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September 16th 2018
Published: October 1st 2018
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I headed back to the States about a week before my sister's wedding. Jack, L, and I had been back in touch for a while and things were good between us all so I tentatively planned to stay at the Tiny Farm and feel things out. After a long series of flights I landed in Portland around midnight. My bus south wouldn't arrive for another eight hours so I tried to nap a bit in the airport. A cop woke me up after about an hour and asked if I was alright, and to see my plane ticket stub. His tone was nice enough, seemed genuinely caring which is my experience with most police, but it still kind of irked me to be bothered sleeping in an airport. When I'm in travel mode I look distinctly bummy, and I know Portland has a large number of homeless people, so I get more or less why he interrupted me, even if I disagree with it. After bouncing around Vietnam though where there are hammocks everywhere and people routinely sleeping on pads under mosquito nets on the streets of Saigon it seemed a bit ridiculous to be concerned about me sleeping in a mostly empty airport. There were a number of small instances like this in my first few days back that really highlighted the almost symbiotic fear and control that permeates our society. After he woke me up and saw my plane ticket and accepted my story about some made up ride that was late - feeling obligated to lie about why I was napping there, or at least the reflexive response to avoid further confrontation or questioning, added an extra layer of gross to the whole thing - I struggled to fall asleep again, and now felt less than welcome in this spot. The bus station was about a three hour walk so I gathered my shit together and started hoofing it.

I love walking through cities at night, ever since my cousins, sister, and I would stay up late on family vacations to NYC, Boston, San Francisco, etc and sneak out of the hotel late at night to adventure together through new territories. All of the adults were gone and we were free to explore and indulge our strange and inquisitive sides without the scornful looks or reprimands from a general public that has non-consensually been conditioned out of the fundamental wonder of life into a bland and hellish world of stifled self expression, repressed instincts, and consequentially a bitter resentment or at least numbness that's either poorly understood, completely unrecognized or unacknowledged, or worst of all normalized.

The walk took longer than google suggested it would, likely because I was carrying a 25 lb bag and running on almost no sleep. I stopped under a bridge about halfway and took a little nap behind some trees until a couple of characters nearby got into a shouting match while searching for something one of them had hidden in the area, presumably drugs. I had my headlamp and part of me wanted to offer to help, mostly out of curiosity, boredom, and neighborly instinct, but also on the off chance that they were fun drugs that might be shared. Their animosity turned me off a bit and suggested the drugs were less mind expansive and more likely something with a heavily addictive component that has the potential to suck the rest of your life dry. So instead I just moved on.

I hadn't had any food yet in the States. I've been rather spoiled with delicious food over the course of my life and while the novelty of foreign cuisine carried my taste buds far, my cravings for certain hard-to-find items had been growing wider and louder, and I was excited for some fat days. The first hour or so of my walk was through the barren industrial outskirts of Portland. Slowly but surely the city and it's food culture crept up on me. Diners, hipster organic coffee bars, kitschy sandwich joints - all closed for at least a couple more hours. The only places open that I passed were fast food, and even they only had the drive through option this late. I briefly considered walking through and seeing if they'd serve me, but I wasn't quite ready to settle. As I walked my hunger and anticipation battled my patience and desire for my first meal to be a proper one. Travel wariness was gaining a real foothold by now as well, and sun rise was fast approaching. I finally gave in after passing a few 24 hours gas stations along the way and stumbled in, bleary eyed, to forage for sustenance. After wandering around a few times indecisively while the only other human around, the clerk, patiently went about his shelf stocking business (neither of us too interested in the other's activity) I finally settled on two of the cheapest dollar to calorie ratio breakfast burritos and a cup of coffee. Grabbed a handful of creamers and another of shitty sauce packets, paid up, and headed outside to a bench. After all my cravings and dreams and the build up along the walk I don't think any meal I could have had would have lived up to my imagination. Settling on gas station burritos sort of broke up that whole momentum though, and they were indeed quite terrible. I finished my last chipotle mayonnaise drenched stale tortilla and mystery meat bite on a bench outside, got up to leave, pulled an unwrapped partially used lollipop off my leg that had been sitting stick down inside the mesh of the bench, and continued on.

I got to the bus stop about two hours before it arrived. The bus stops near a park in downtown Portland where a large population of homeless congregate. While waiting I watched what looked like a late teens girl walking with her boyfriend get her purse snatched off her arm. The surprise jerked them out of their flow and she sort of squawked alternatively at the purse snatcher and her companion while he first hesitated, then halfheartedly chased until the perp rounded a corner and the boy returned to her with a look of defeat, she a look of helpless anguish.

A bit after that an ambulance rolled up to the park where a man was lying in the grass. At first glance it seemed like he was just sleeping, as homeless people often seem to do, in the clothes and spot he found himself at the moment he decided he was tired. I guess it was something a bit more though, because the EMT's or paramedics or whatever they are came and scooped him on to a gurney and loaded him in the back.

Maybe it was the fact that I understand the language and culture here more but I don't think I saw as much pain, fear, anger, uncertainty, disconnect, etc. in eight months of travel as I did in the twelve or so hours of being back in the States, and I didn't even touch on customs here. I can only remember one instance of personal conflict with the foreign locals, when I put my foot up on the edge of a short outdoor wicker table to tie my shoe and a waiter angrily yelled in disgust at my faux pas. Otherwise I saw a few older Vietnamese that looked like they had been victims of agent orange or some kind of heinous shit from the war, but even they seemed unperturbed by their disfigurements, contentedly steering their wheeled platform through crowds of people with one hand while proffering a rattling tin cup with their other. The crowds appeared relatively unaffected by their plights as well. Not in that "I'll pretend I don't see this homeless man asking for change because {unpleasant awareness of reality}" way that Americans often do. Everyone seemed to be wholeheartedly present in their experience of these so called dregs of society. Nobody was overly cordial to signal their social justice warrior status. They all just existed together.


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