I scuffle through a sea of sleep-deprived legs, Samsonite rollers, and Barbie doll day packs. The sound is aquifer, awkward, disillusioned and drugged. “Yes, ma’m, excuse me please, leave the blue carpeted walkway for our Elite and Gold Medallion passengers.”
On the airport tram in Houston, small talk of the Atlanta Braves “from worst to first,” and “Oh! The Olympic City!” and “Are you a hockey fan? Oh well, safe travels anyway,” and “Buenos dios.” I shut down mentally, having slept only ten hours in two days, grow cynical and impatient with CNN and Bush blasted on the big screen at Gate 12E, and plug into my iPod.
In Portland, the Chevy Impala (a rental) moves easily, like a watersnake across the rain-soaked interstate. I am driving from memory, the pulse of my late teen years pressing down on the gas pedal, knowing when to signal, remembering how quick to get over on the 405 to exit for 4th Avenue – downtown.
I breathe, sniff, curl my fingers out the window and into the air, longing for Oregon rain to soak in and fill the well of my upbringing. But my sensory experience is severely limited by a sudden and overwhelming sore throat, stuffed nose, and headache that hatched somewhere above Texas at approximately 32,000 feet. By the time we flew over states of brown velour mountains with hunter green dotted ridgelines and powdered suger white pinnacles (Utah, Colorado, and finally that blessed Mt. Hood) I was fully laid out with some horribly-timed viral mutiny and foraged through my bag clumsily for the forsythia and Chinese cold care herbs I packed.
I long to taste pine needle mist and dark cocao espresso with glowing creme; sensual abundance. Memory drives me straightaway to Coffee People on the west side where I order a Black Tiger Slammer (a straight shot of the city’s finest espresso) and sip it slowly in a window seat overlooking Sunday traffic on SW 10th and Salmon.
Next stop, Powell’s City of Books to buy (and quickly read) Craig Lesley’s Burning Fence. His books fill an entire shelf in the L section of Powells’ Blue Room (Literature). Since he, along with Judy Blunt, will be one of my workshop leaders next week I ought to familiarize myself, at the very least, with his latest publishing success.
Already it feels like home but that would not be the complete truth. I am of two homes now: Portland Oregon, twenty-three years and proud; and the Black Mountains of Appalachia, four years and counting. One the backbone of my childhood and a handful of wreckless urban experiences with forays into the backcountry every summer. The other, the current holder of my future: simple living and the peace, solitude, and freedom to engage in the writing life.
(At the public library downtown now, then out to dinner, then fall over dead in Erin’s new house.)