Street Scenes

October 28, 2008

My periscope breaches the surface in Northeast Portland and takes in the outside world:

Larry the trash hauler introduces himself when he sees me photographing the Halloween decorations on his truck, which blocks my car on NE 11th Avenue. Until now we’ve been on a wave only basis. Larry poses for the camera and without prompting bemoans how his truck isn’t as gussied up for the holiday as it usually is. “Wait til Christmas,” he says. “You’ll see a big Santa instead of this little witch.

* * * *

Heading home from a story interview, I glance at a boarded-up building so old I imagine it wheezing a final breath. I’ve stopped here before to marvel at wood weathered so dark it glimmers. Atop the roof is a big bird. No, a fake big bird. A mannequin owl. A lifeless sentry with one of Portland’s best views of the Fremont Bridge and Willamette River. Pigeons must have been a problem until the owl took its round-the-clock perch, judging from wire mesh encasing corner ledges beneath the eaves. Not a pigeon in sight, not even droppings on the NE Russell Street sidewalk. You’d think the pigeons would figure out the ruse, but they’re not able to see what’s really right in front of them. What am I missing?

* * * *

A can collector pushes a shopping cart half full of bounty west on NE Broadway. I recognize him from the neighborhood. Always grim. Who wouldn’t be in his straits? A big book sticks out from amid the cans. “What’s the title?” I ask. He beams. “Found it in dumpster. Wouldn’t believe the good stuff people throw away.” He pulls out the book, World History of Health, and flips through the pages to show off its mint condition. “Not too long ago I found a 19-inch Sony on the curb. Works great.” As we part, his glum visage returns.

* * * *

Two blocks away outside an armed forces recruiting office, I hear horns honking. One at a time with no discernible rhythm. As I walk closer, I see a bald man holding a sign protesting the Iraq war. Then a woman with a sign that reads “Honk for Peace.” It’s 5:30 p.m. and westbound traffic is brisk. A horn honks every few seconds, including that of a TriMet bus. A bicyclist flashes a peace sign and sounds his bell. The chime hangs in the air as he rides into the glare of the setting sun.