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From the Wind to the Rain – Part 1

August 27, 2013

My first year in Portlandia has been, weird and confusing, and awesome, and terrible, and fun, and stressful, and exciting. It’s been an adventure to say the least. I’m finally starting to process it all and to do so, I’m writing about it. Here’s part one – my first four days in this strange and magical place.

 

For some crazy reason I still don’t know, I wasn’t ever nervous about moving to Portland, Oregon the summer after my senior year in college. I chose not to think about it, draw an expectations, or any of that. Then, I arrived.

I remember knocking on the door of my couchsurfing host. It was a large white house on the corner of the street with a green door, and when it opened, a girl with dreadlocks answered. She looked completely stoned and like she hadn’t showered in weeks.

“Hi, is Renee here?” I asked, still unsure how to say my hosts name. It’s Raine, pronounced Rainy, but I didn’t know that cause I spent all my life in Wyoming, where people all had normal names like Sarah, or Katherine. The girl looked at me and then turned around to look behind her, then back at me.
“I think she’s in the kitchen,” she said, then sat down with the three other people with dreads. There were two rottweiler mixes at their feet, one was chewing on the old rug underfoot. The house looked like an old abandoned structure left behind by its completely incompetent owners years prior. The walls were mostly bear beams of wood and appeared to be there more to keep the house from collapsing than to separate the rooms. Behind where the dread locks and dogs sat were two rooms, one with an empty door, the other with a sliding door like one my find to an old garage.

“Hi,” I said when I stepped in the kitchen.
“Hey. Brendon, right?” Raine Fox said with a warm, friendly smile. Then, she gave me a hug and introduced me to her friend Ryan. It took me until late that night to realize Ryan didn’t live there even though I kept asking him things like, “What’s the wireless password?” and he never knew the answers. Raine gave me a tour of the rest of the house, and led me up to the top floor which consisted of a large spacious room filled with mattresses.
My first week, I would always ask people, “Are you from Portland originally?” and never once did I get a yes.
“You hardly ever meet a Portland native,” people would say. “We’re all transplants.” I can probably still count on one hand the number of Portland natives I’ve met all year.
“We host a lot of couchsurfers,” Raine said I looked around the room. “We’ve had like twenty at a time some nights this summer. They all just have a little slumber party up here.” Ohhhh, right.  The dreads and their dogs were couchsurfers, that’s why they didn’t know any answers to my questions either. And so was the girl from Chicago the next night, and the random group I never really talked to the night after that. I never really knew who lived there and who didn’t.
There was a bathroom in the corner of the room that was bare bones, like the rest of the house – a door that barely locked and a toilet that looked like it was going to collapse when you sat on it. But, I loved all those quirks about my stay there, and although I would probably go insane living there, just being in that house was an adventure in itself, which was exactly why I was in this place.
There were also two bedrooms on that floor with walls constructed of cardboard. I fell asleep many of my nights there to the sound of Futurama or the mutterings of phone conversation on the other side of the cardboard. And some nights, to yelling from downstairs, or a movie from across the house on the middle floor. Sound carries when most the walls are made of cardboard boxes.
There were around eight people who lived in the house, all sharing the same kitchen, many the same food, the same yard, the same garden, etc. As Raine described, every night unintentionally led to a party. When there are that many people in one house, hosting numerous random strangers every single night, they just happen.
That night, we grilled some vegan kabobs, drank some beer, and sat with our feet in the bathtub, or yardtub as I think we called it. That’s how most evenings were in my stay at The Green Door. Always vegan kabobs. Then, they took me inside and brought me into a room behind the living room where twenty or so bikes hung. They gave me one to ride and handed me a light to go with it.
“Don’t cross shift,” one of the roommates said. “Or you pay to fix it.” Then he walked away to connect his bike trailer for his blaring speakers. I had no idea what cross shift was, but I said something along the lines of, “Oh sure, not a problem,” so I just didn’t shift at all.
We all rode together to a park and met with at least forty or so other riders, some with tall bikes, some with top of the line road bikes, some with old junkers, and a couple riding a tandem bike. We rode down the street, taking both lanes, and stopped at specific checkpoints to drink at, or smoke, or mingle, or whatever else people were doing. At one point, we reached a large roundabout and the police stopped traffic for us to get through.
I don’t remember ever questioning anything the whole time. I just went along with things – amazed, curious, sometimes overwhelmed, and always intrigued.
The last stop of the night was at a large, completely dark cemetery. By this time, I was fairly tipsy and  wandered off to water a tree. I finished my beer and left it on the ground, remembering Raine’s words of advice, “Make sure you get rid of your empty beer bottles just in case.” Of course, get rid of, in my somewhat drunken mind was set somewhere, anywhere that’s not on you and it’ll just go away cause that’s how the world works, right? If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
A few minutes later, after I had returned, Ryan went off to water a tree and came back with my bottle.
“Did you leave this by a tree back there?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah,” I said.
He told me that the cops only allowed us to go on these rides if we cleaned up after ourselves. He was nice about it, but rather stern at the same time, which I got, cause he didn’t want outsiders like myself coming on these rides and ruining a good thing for everyone else.
“Yeah,” I told him, embarrassed. “That’s my bad. I’m from Wyoming.” I thought to myself, I don’t know why I did that. It’s not even something I would normally do, but I refrained from saying it out loud, which was the beginning of a terrible and self-deprecating habit.
The next night, they introduced me to Kratom, or Uncle Tom as I like to call it – a mild opiate they described as a mild weed high and caffeine buzz. It’s an herb you scoop with a spoon and toss down your throat. But, make sure you quickly wash it down with some water, and definitely don’t get it in your mouth. You have to bypass your mouth unless you enjoy the gritty taste of what I imagine a mouthful of lawn clippings would taste like. The first time I took it, I got a good taste and nearly puked all over one of the upstairs bedrooms, but thankfully I held it in. It didn’t really do anything for me until later that night. We had planned on going to a party, but Raine and Ryan took too much Tom couldn’t make it. I felt fine and was planning on still going after the same roommate who warned me against cross shifting let me ride a tall bike around the block as he tested out the adjustments to his trailer – my first and only experience on a tall bike. Then, I sat down inside and overcome with exhaustion, I went up to my mattress and passed out.
That roommate, I will call him Andromacus, was pretty much the picture of Portland I had in mind. He loved wearing daisy duke sized shorts and bro tanks, he was abrasive, and always trying to get a stir out of people, and of course, he often said things like, “I don’t listen to that band. They’re too mainstream.”
If there was one thing I learned about myself after that four day stint in The Green Door, it was that I am not a night owl. I can be, but only on occasion. Many of my nights there ended similarly, everyone going for a ride, or to a party, and me staying behind and passing out on my mattress in the corner of the upstairs, or me trying to power through my tiredness and puffing along behind everyone else like a lost child.
A few nights later, Charlie arrived. It was a Sunday, and I spent the day at a dive bar on Hawthorne to check my fantasy teams. He texted me the address of the place we were going to stay until we found our own place – a friend’s of a friend of his. It just so happened to be two blocks away from The Green Door. So, I threw my bag in my car and drove the two blocks, and our first year in Portland was officially on.
To be continued…
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