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.

 

 

 

 

 





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.

 

 





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.”