New Seasons in the PAC-Northwest

27 09 2018

The leaves are changing and some are falling. Autumn is here. I am content with my life in New America. The financial difficulties and poverty struggles are in the past, although the memory still fresh in my mind and it serves me well in my daily interactions with the less fortunate.

The streets of Portland and Seattle this summer were riddled with the lost — San Francisco, I heard, is way worse. In Seattle last week, I had a delightful time with a local son — a true west coaster. Kyle showed me the sights around Capitol Hill, a neighborhood I had previously visited five years prior with my good friend, Ryan.

Ryan is on the slow boat to China, but that’s another story.

Kyle is a visual merchandiser for a major American department stores chain headquartered in Seattle. He is a handsome man who likes to read and is interested in things that nourish your soul. He also enjoys a good laugh. We got a long famously.

Seattle, like Portland only to a larger extent, appears to be a growing city with cranes of construction abounding. It is picturesque with its hills and harbor — protected from the ocean storms that often batter the east coast around this time of year. From my perspective, Seattle is a politically left-leaning city that gets business right and welcomes tourists from around the globe.

SeattleKylesView

Before skipping around Capitol Hill with Kyle, I had to participate in yet another episode of David’s car breaks down. He drove the BMW up from Portland and took it down into the masses at Pike Place Market where the vehicle promptly overheated upon entering the parking garage. Smoke fumed from under the hood as we descended into the underground garage.

It would take 18 hours to get the car out of the garage. Two tow trucks couldn’t fit and AARP offered little assistance. Frankly, I did not handle the situation well. I have long since lost my patience with David’s desire to rehab this particular car. Fans, radiators, tires, you name it — I’m over it.

I wonder how many marriages have become divorces because of cars?

But I digress.

I remain grateful for our life here on the West Coast. The challenge of learning a new city, state and regional culture is exciting. Working your way up a ladder is fun and seeing David’s design spirit come to life is true joy. Revisiting Portland is a glimpse into where he was born and raised. The hospital is still here. We drove past his boyhood home in Mount Tabor. David was a junior in high school when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

“My passion is still with architecture and design,” David said recently. “But I have yet to find my vision here in Portland,” he added.

DavidPortland2018

We still have our tiny flat in one of America’s queen cities. I now work for a B corporation and we are starting to make friends. I would like to see Kyle again. I’m not sure what that agreement would be. Maybe a trip to San Francisco or Japan?? You know, to save the lost…..

 

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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.





Complete Collapse

21 01 2018

Writing is therapy they say. Purge the bad.

I really despise hitting bottom. Particulary when you are trying to avoid it at all times. David developed a bad case of the flu. Off to the hospital we went. Not a fun place to spend the new year’s eve. But we did, watching Anderson Cooper from the fourth floor of Holy Cross Fort Lauderdale.

On David’s first night in the hospital, a letter came in the mail informing us we had to be out of our apartment at the end of the month. Insult to injury. The owner was selling and wanted us to vacate. The owner — an 87-year-old gay man from Massachuetts — was easily agitated and on advice from his cardiologist had decided to sell the apartment.

David, working two jobs, was doing everything he could to pay the bills. South Florida is not cheap. The BMW was constantly in the shop and my contributions had been too little. I wasn’t earning as much as I had the year before and by the holidays we had fallen into the gaps.

In mid-December we departed to the Pacific Northwest to see David’s friends and family. It was a stressful trip with a sudden climate change and long flights. I refused the flu shot just before we left. In Port Townsend, Washington, the sneezing started and stayed with us for the reminder of the trip. I was happy to finally meet David’s close friends, Paul and Carrie and his brother Russ and his wife, Shirley. Meeting the in-laws is an important part of marriage, I reminded David.

Paul picked us up at the airport in SEATAC and we drove north into the Pugent Sound region. It was cold, no fresh snowfall, but still plenty cold. The skies were gray and there was a chill in the air. Port Townsend is cute and charming, hilly with old brick buildings and a harbor where boaters take tourists on whale watching tours. We attended Sunday morning’s service at the Presbyterian church Paul pastors and it was comforting to discover a friendly congregation.

Pugent Sound

The sneezing made my visit miserable. It was only the beginning. Paul’s daughter Lidya drove us to Portland, Oregon the next day to meet David’s brother. That was the sickest point for me and it just so happened to be my first time in Oregon. Thankfully, Russ & Shirley took us in. We toured the city the next day and had dinner at Jake’s Famous Crayfish downtown. I enjoyed seeing David interact with his sibling as I imagined what life growing up in Oregon during the 1960s was like.

Meanwhile, I was unaware of problems mounting back in Florida. Perhaps I was consciously choosing to ignore them. Issues in Panama City refusing to go away and traps laid in Fort Lauderdale. Soon it would be too much for David. Feelings of helplessness, anger and self doubt filled me

Port Townsend, WA

as I sat bedside new year’s eve in the hospital. Another round of trial and error and learning who real friends are.

And then that phone call delivering words that cut like a dagger.

“You’ve made bad decisions in life, John.”