Happy Birthday, John

18 10 2019

I write this on the eve of my 47th birthday.

Glad to be here.

It’s raining in the autumn in Oregon. We’re in the state’s interior for a few days. High desert country in the fertile Cascade Mountain range.

It’s a needed respite from city life.

Central Oregon features interesting buttes, forests, calderas and caves. There’s also powerful flowing rivers and breaktaking mountain top lakes all in a day’s journey. David found a condominium for rent on Airbnb in the Sunriver community. Sunriver — in a way — reminded me of Baypoint and the St. Joe Company developments in Northwest Florida.

The accomodations, however, would not be the highlight of this trip. No, this trip was more about to determine if David and I could travel together after such a harrowing crash in the Rogue river valley. Could we make the three-and-half hours drive from Portland and back safely and without incident or argument? This was the test.

I took the wheel leaving Portland. Going over Mt. Hood brought back memories for David as he shared stories of Timberline Lodge, Government Camp and Skibowl. We stopped at a roadside diner on the Warm Springs Reservation where respect was given and we were served an excellent breakfast. The Confederated Tribes’ fried bread was delicous.

After breakfast we crossed the Deschutes River and passed through Madras where we were surprised to find a major airport. The Central Oregon area is definitely growing in population and business. We ate dinner in Bend at a tavern along the Deschutes’ flowing waters. Temperatures were dropping. It was getting colder.

Crater Lake

The next morning we made our way to Crater Lake. The park was open but most of the offices and concessionaire operations had closed for the season. It was still an exciting visit as temperatures dropped below freezing and wind gusts picked up considerably. Just getting out of the car to snap a few pictures along the lake’s rim was a daunting task.

And fun. We were indeed lucky to traverse the east rim drive this time of year. The road provides access to those hiking Mount Scott (8,929 ft.), the park’s highest peek. Crater Lake is a beautiful example of nature’s fury. Almost eight thousand years ago Mount Mazama erupted. The volcanic mountain became the volcanic lake before us.

Coming to Crater Lake was an emotional roller coaster, the least of which being David’s driving. This was a park I had hoped to work for but the lodging concessaire went with another candidate. That stung. We got over it and moved to Portland where we find ourselves in year two. The challenges have been great and, for that, I remain grateful and cautiously optimistic.

I am learning and growing and, God willing, developing mature critical thinking skills.

On our last night in Central Oregon we went to the Pine Tavern in Bend for happy hour. We had hiked the upper Deschutes River trail eariler and visited the ski lodge at Mount Bachelor. It was quite cold that day with snow on the ground. The joy of traveling kicked in that night in the tavern.

There we were — finishing another great outdoors excursion in a cheersy bar surrounded by happy people.

Nice way to celebrate another year in the life.

 





Rogue River Crash

12 05 2019

Hanging upside down trapped in a car is not a fun place to be.

That’s where we found ourselves on April Fool’s Day but this was no joke. Driving back from San Francisco, David and I were involved in a motor vehicle accident. We are lucky to be alive.

The crash occurred on Interstate 5 in southern Oregon. This is a rigorous stretch of roadway along the Cascade Mountain range which I had not given much thought. It can be treacherous as the road turns through the Siskiyou Mountains and in-and-out of forests of Douglas firs.

I underestimated the difficulty level of this portion of our trip. My travel planning was still operating under Florida driving distances. Looking back, San Francisco to Portland in one day — for one driver — is pushing it.

And then you add the rain.

And the darkness of night.

We hit a pool of water and the car began to spin.

“Hold on,” David said as the BMW turned 90 degrees in a blink of the eye.

And then we flipped and landed upside down. It all happened so fast. The roof came crashing down and busted us in the noggin pretty good. David began to scream and yell for help. I unfastened my seat belt and tried to open the passenger door. It wouldn’t budge. Realizing we were trapped, I began to yell for help.

Thankfully, help would arrive. A young couple traveling north witnessed the accident as did a trucker. They arrived before the EMS crew. Clint got the driver’s door open and pulled David out. I crawled out right behind him. It could have been way worse.

We didn’t land in a pool of water or tumble off the side of the mountain and the car didn’t catch on fire. David suffered several fractures in his neck and torso and was hospitalized. He would need staples to close the gash in his head from where the roof hit.

If it wasn’t for Clint and his girlfriend Christina pulling bloody David and I from the car, I’m not sure what may have happened as the panic set in. Their actions could be described as good Samaritan-esque. I considered them angels.

“Not angels just did what we would have done if we were in that positioning,” Christina texted me the next day.

I escaped the carnage with a diagnosis of whiplash. Seeing David in such sad shape was traumatic. His sister Julie once again came to our rescue — traveling down from Central Oregon to fetch us from the hospital.

The BMW is totaled which doesn’t hurt my feelings. I despised that car and all of the problems that came with it. Naturally, David wants to replace it but I am in no hurry.

The important thing is for us to heal. I am back to work now and realize how lucky I am to work for a company that provides family leave time. I’m also lucky to have co-workers and managers that genuinely care.

 

 

 

 

 





Cold Calculations

1 03 2019

It’s winter in Oregon. The winds blowing through the gorge can be harsh at times. There is very little snow fall in the city. That’s ok.

Getting through my first winter in the pacific northwest has been quite interesting. I was warned about the long nights, cold, dampness and the need to stock up on vitamin D. I am also coming to understand the nihilistic, doom and punkish attitude populating parts of Portland. “Keep Portland Weird!” is a frequently used expression.

It’s annoying sometimes. I’ve been harassed on the streets here so much that I worry my demeanor may be sinking to the level of those sludge covered “homeless” campers.  The empathy I had upon arrival is shrinking. Originally instructed to recognize these gypsies’ existence, I now recognize ignoring their savage tactics is the best option.

In the face of these challenges there is still much to be learned. What I am discovering about the pacific northwest millennial species is they are complex, creative, intelligent and quite daring. Winters push most indoors. There are those who brave the mountains, skis in hand. I haven’t ventured up to the slopes yet. This old Florida dude is still adapting.

At work I have benefitted from social policies enacted by left wing bureaucrats. The goal is to continue performing well and lifting the company. David reminds me not to focus all of my energy there. Journalism remains my passion. I write now for love and peace.

Travel-wise, San Francisco and Alaska have been on my mind. San Francisco is obviously one of America’s great cities and Alaska a newer frontier that seems forrested in mystery. Bored with work, I have decided to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning and design.

Entering the university academic realm again seems odd and the threat of student debt is like a flagger on a construction site. However, there are advantages to returning to campus. For starters, the interactions and access to a diverse representation of society is important. There is a human tendency to retreat into safe spaces and minority bubbles. We all live, from time-to-time, in our own little echo chambers. This probably best describes my tenure in south Florida.

After two meetings with the graduate studies director, I decided to seek a master’s in urban and regional planning. I ordered a book from the library in Burbank, California. It was recommended by my friend Wong in San Francisco. Guide to California Planning states there are five elements to planning:

  1. Laws & Regulation
  2. Environmental Analysis
  3. Socio-economic Analysis
  4. Political Approval
  5. Design

Dreams the way we planned them — if we work in tandem.

Shall we begin.

 

 

 

 

 





Future Designs Downsized

23 12 2018

PDXStudio

Space comes at a premium in most urban American cities. I’m fortunate to be living with a master designer and am getting quite a lesson here in Portland.

It’s winter now. I have my boots and heavy parka coat ready — if Alaska calls.

Working at the grocery store is making me stronger and wiser. Major construction projects continue around our market. Cranes coming in, yellow vested workers becoming more frequent and long nights with plenty of rain.

David has worked miracles with his design on our studio. I’d love to see him get a chance in the neighborhood. Portland’s northwest has some landmark structures, no doubt.

I have been learning how to operate in tight spaces. At home, at work, in life.

There are times when you must move your body certain ways. City living is a lot like yoga class only at a faster pace. Although David says this is nothing like New York. The market floorplan can be challenging for both consumer and employee. Even more so in a full, petit warehouse. I believe I am holding my own quite well, thank you.

David has done much of his studio design with a modest budget. Portland has some real gems in thrift stores but for furniture, we have leaned heavily on Ikea, the Swedish retailer out by the airport. You can shop and munch on meatballs as the jets hum overhead. It’s fantastic.

Our studio is 500 square feet. At first we took what we could get from thrift stores but it was never a proper fit. The studio is nearly completed now, just in time for the holidays. We have a dwarf Alberta spruce decorated with lights and ornaments. The idea is to put the tree back into the ground after the new year. It’s a different concept from before when we relied on artifical trees or ones chopped down in the prime of life.

Recycling and sustainibility are central themes of our new life here in Oregon.

When space matters, trash is reduced. A limited amount of room means clearing out the things you can live without and removing toxic elements. There are times when I miss Florida’s sunshine, but I will not weep over its entrenched political culture. It’s a deeper dive on the West Coast. Liberal positions on the environment, planning and engineering, social economics and human rights are embraced and implemented. At last, I have a job that pays a fair and livable wage.

Am I satisfied? No.

Getting a foundation should have never been this hard. Perhaps, that is my southern, white male privilege showing. I know I must let go of the frustration with Florida. Bitterness will only drag me down. I am determined to be happy and cherish all that life offers. I am committed to providing for my family and grateful for the strength to earn.

May these blessings continue in 2019.

Red Dawn

 

 





Coming Back, Gracefully

7 08 2018

Recovery going well. It has been a surprisingly hot summer in Portland. I accepted a union job offer from a local grocery store. Cleaning toilets and taking out the trash. It’s a smelly job, but somebody’s gotta do it and I am damn glad to have the work while earning a decent wage.

Walking the streets has been challenging but it has made me stronger. One must stay ever vigilant in certain sections of the city (Old Town/Chinatown) where those who have fallen on hard times lurk and dwell. I was not prepared for such a stark reality. Skid row here is ugly. Real ugly. These conditions I had not seen since the summer of 2009 in New York. People had lost their minds and were living like dirty gutter rats.

Old Town’s Stag

I’ve seen that here. On more than one occasion.

At my new job it is required to interact with the public. A daily evaluation of the local market. Even in brief conversations, messages can be exchanged. Understanding the neighborhood is important. Knowing hot and cold trends keeps you in the game.

Physically, the job can be exhausting. There is a lot of time on your feet. I average seven miles a day. There is also a lot of lifting to be done. There is even a demolition component involving “bottle machines.” The bottles and cans provide a source of revenue for people living on the margins. A tiny profit for people living on the streets or neighborhood folks trying to pay down bills.

I walk to and from work most days and nights. It is a safe neighborhood with a hospital nearby, plenty of construction projects, shopping and street car lines. Portland, I’m learning, is a major rail city. David and I enjoy riding in the street car. We’ve taken it to the riverfront, library and over to the eastside. Our studio apartment is coming along, albeit slowly. The biggest fix was getting rid of the leaking air mattress.

The Jeep is gone as well. God bless that vehicle. It did its job and more from Calgary to Miami. But, when in recovery mode — rebuilding lives — one needs less worries not more. Vehicles in the city are a luxury. There are risks to street parking no matter where one calls home.

I’m still reporting on queer issues for south Florida and, locally, have picked up a restaurant beat for a Portland neighborhood newspaper. We have joined an Episcopal Cathedral and begun volunteering at community events. Friends are planning visits…. I’m happy again. That’s the most important thing. 





A New Home In The City

15 06 2018

In Portland I had to learn the city streets again. A hard place to live. I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood a few times but decided it was better to walk. Cars are not as plentiful here as in Florida urban areas. There are many options for transportational needs. There are more options for a lot of things here.

Portland is the nation’s 26th largest city and largest in Oregon. It is often advertised as a brawny lumberjack type town — which still has merit but was constructed with help from a Japanese businessman. We struck gold near the city’s core. Space in an old apartment building in the northwestern section of Portland came open. A small studio that would soon be filled with peace and love.

View of Portland, Oregon from the roof of Washington High School.

Springtime in Portland sees a mix between rainy and dry days. The sun does come out and the nights become shorter. It’s an interesting city with many parks and gardens, a well organized public transit system and a abundance of cafes, theaters and micro breweries.

David’s brother helped us move in. It’s a two story walk-up from the basement and Russell’s extra lifting helped us get all of our belongings moved in one day. I don’t want to see another Uhaul truck for a long time. The studio has tall ceilings and beautiful hardwood floors with a tiny kitchen, one closet and mandatory tub, sink and toilet. We were glad to have found it. Our building supervisor is a pretty young lady with two small children.

We both sought aide from social services agencies and non-profits while beginning the search for a new spiritual home. We visited Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian and UCC churches our first month. Trust God to lead us to the right congregation, David said. I researched the nearby Catholic Cathedral and Jewish Temple. Both had website videos proclaiming their embrace of diversity and same-sex couples.

Portland’s prevailing liberal attitudes is another reason why we settled here. In addition to equal rights for LGBT people, Portland is worker friendly and a solid pro-labor city. It has restaurants of every culture imaginable, a thriving arts and design scene and sizeable Asian population. Black lives matter in Portland. Women hold positions of authority and young people happily roam trendy neighborhoods.

People read here and the myth of print media’s demise is clearly exposed. I immediately linked up with the president of Oregon’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter. We had a nice chat at a downtown coffee shop and she referred me to a couple of newspaper publishers. I am still writing magazine pieces for South Florida’s LGBT community and working on a historical assignment for Huffington Post’s Queer section.

All and all, things are looking up.

“It will turn around, John,” I recall my friend Stephen telling me during our Valentine’s Day dinner back in Fort Lauderdale.

And it is starting to. A phone call came from the human resources department of a major company last week with a job offer. Hello, Portland. Glad to be here.





Sister Soothing House

14 05 2018

Julie was reading the book Sister Parish. We stayed with her for about month. The Oregon countryside was soothing.

We unloaded the Uhaul into a storage unit in the Portland suburb of Tualatin. The Jeep finally broke down on the way to the city so we had it towed to Corvallis for work. Julie graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in education. Corvallis, OSU’s home, reminded me of those small gritty college towns I had traversed as a sports writer early in my career. A small college town with a lot to prove.

The first week at Julie’s was tough. I had trouble breathing at night. It was cold. There were cats in the house and for some reason I began to have difficulty breathing. One night I was gasping for air so bad, David almost had to take me to a local hospital — none of which, he said, were highly rated online.

David prayed for me and the nerve attack subsided.

We prayed a lot at Julie’s. I started calling them ‘lift up’ prayers. It helped steel my resolve to our current situation. I continued to do phone interviews for writing work as we looked for apartments to rent in Portland, where the goal of landing a “real job” was the plan.

The weather was mostly wet and cold. “Welcome to Oregon, it rains a lot,” Julie said with a smile. Her house was surrounded by farms and timber. The neighbors had cows that would wander along the hills and moo loudly when feed trucks would arrive.

Seeing David connect again with his sister after all these years was special. Julie showed me family photographs from David’s youth that gave me joy and a new vision of the man I married.

Covered bridge near Scio.

The central Oregon farmlands were beautiful to these Florida strained eyes. Scio, Oregon is billed as the state’s covered bridge capital. The old wooden bridges were typically one-way quick bursts by vehicle. The farms near Julie’s sold eggs, milk and bison meat. I had never seen so many different farm animals. The children’s song, Old MacDonald Had A Farm sprung to mind.

At nights Julie would cook. David and I drove into Portland to look at apartments on most days. We said lift up prayers every morning. TBN disappeared from the cable television in our room, but David managed to find sermons on his smart phone app. One of the cats would tolerate my presence but they were still shy about touching. Maggie, the skinny calico, liked to sleep in our bed under the covers and would hiss if you got near.

We got lucky on the fourth place we looked at in Portland. The phone call message was surprising. A deal we had not previously heard — certainly not in Fort Lauderdale. We told Julie the good news and David’s brother Russ helped us load up the Uhaul again.

We spent about a month at that hilltop cottage with Julie. I learned how to breathe again. The quiet peaceful farmlands had provided time for reflection and rest. We were ready for a new challenge.