More Than a Farmers Market

November 15, 2008

A young man played bagpipes while riding a unicycle on one end of the Portland Farmers Market. On the other, protesters decried passage of the anti-gay marriage amendment in California.

In between on the Park Blocks amid the produce and other foods was scene after scene that made my Saturday morning. Maybe the brisk bike ride to the market with wife and son heightened everything, an endorphin rush of awareness. Whatever the reason, I want more of that drug.

I heard a banjo and moved toward the music. I’m a sucker for that sound (I once took lessons). A rail-thin young man lit up the crisp air with his plaintive voice and plucking as shoppers streamed past. Two girls stopped to listen. I eavesdropped. Were their attentions why the player — Graham is his name, he told me later — couldn’t remember the second verse of the “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” No matter. He warbled his way into another tune.

I stopped at a wood-burning oven on wheels for pear and cream cheese bagels and eavesdropped some more. A woman with two little boys in tow asked them, “What would you think if you saw this oven going down the road, and the cook riding on the trailer and handing out bagels to passing cars and trucks?” The boys said nothing.

Waiting for coffee, I overheard a guy selling oatmeal greet a young woman customer. “You owe me a beer,” he said. She said, “You never called me back.” Many people were listening, but the two were oblivious to their audience. “I texted you,” the guy said, dumping raisins into a steaming kettle. Later he muttered something to her about wanting to be a bad boy. The coffee guy in the adjacent booth announced loudly: “OK, we can feel the sexual tension over here.”

The rest of the conversation was drowned out by chants and cheers of the protesters a few hundred feet away.

Coffee in hand, I spotted a man strolling from booth to booth, his Chihauhua’s head poking out of his jacket. People cooed at the dog and stroked its head. The man never stopped smiling.

We finally headed for our bikes. As we packed away our haul of apples and other bounty, protesters late for the rally hustled toward the swelling crowd. When a young woman carrying a sign saw me looking at her handiwork, she smiled. In reds and pinks she had scrawled in big letters three words stacked atop each other:

Love is Love is Love.

Nearby, the bagpipe player sent “Amazing Grace” drifting through the throngs.