Portland Travel Blog: Alameda

Last Thursday, I walked directly north to Alameda, seeking to complete the quest I’d undertaken at the beginning of the year: to visit every area of Portland mentioned in an Elliott Smith song. I had abandoned it for a time, giving in to the cold rain that hardened the sidewalks against my thin soles, but now the rain is warm. Here, then, with my deep apologies, is TRAVEL BLOG PORTLAND.


You begin the journey to Alameda as you begin most journeys to northern Portland: on 28th, past the apartments; past the place where the sidewalk fades and the campsite sits, a reminder of the shame of your institutional protection; past the last places the 10 could rescue you from plodding forever through the permeating drizzle. You are acquainted, by now, with the holes in your coat, but you would not call yourselves friends. You pass Powell, which has, save for in moments, marked the edge of your territory, the farthest you go unassisted, the farthest you go alone. Soon you pass Division, which has, save for in moments, marked the farthest you go at all, in your groups or on buses, always turning birdlike back south when the cold trickles in.

Yet you continue on, trying your mediocre best to appreciate the flowers that have already begun to droop in the unending rain, trying to find joy in the squirrels each time they dart across your path. You weave your way through dead presidents and road-work signs until they give way to a small shopping district that stretches on from Burnside through Hollywood. Soon you drip your way across a bridge and find again homes and gardens.

A few blocks later you cross Broadway, though, and what you recognize disappears behind the map’s thin line. Those leafy pieces of southeast Portland that dapple its ill-gotten wealth with concealing shadow are destroyed, here in the north, by glyphosate and blade, leaving behind only lawns and their houses, each rising the same, each carefully kissed to beige by a home-owners association.

This is the worst (though fortunately last) part of the journey. Mowers rend the quiet of the disappeared wildlife; fresh-cut grass stains your nostrils green. As the blocks fade to sameness you encounter an open wooden box on a stake, like a birdhouse for somebody who has never met a bird, that displays a single cursive-fonted word: laugh.

So you laugh. What else is there to do? This place is what Portland is so desperate not to be, this lifeless, loveless suburban dream neighborhood, these tire swing ropes that only by lack of squirrels survive their disuse. It is your future, whether you fight for it or against it, whether you plant the sod or become bones beneath it, build the houses or live in them or squat in them until the doors are kicked down.

So you laugh, and then you keep walking, just a little bit faster this time, until the lawns recede.

Crossing the final street to Alameda is something of a return to form, flowers blooming gently next to the sidewalk, and deeper through the neighborhood the lawns may soften. You don’t linger long enough to find out. It isn’t worth the story anymore. You are desperate to escape, to retrace your steps across the flatlands and back into the weeds.

They are fragile; they are as fragile as you.


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