I think yesterday was the kind of day I’d come to Portland for. A day spent going with the flow and enjoying where it took me.
In a weird coincidence, The Smiths played at least once in every establishment I set foot into yesterday. Which is even weirder because last night I dreamed that somebody loved me.
The last day or two had me feeling a little lonely and isolated. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of social interaction and the connections I hoped I’d find didn’t eventuate. When travelling, connecting with strangers and interacting with people outside of my usual experience keeps me going. What you see when going from place to place makes for a great backdrop, but the characters you meet provide the flavour. Tinder has proven to be a dead end. Without any matches it’s more a time sink where I get to judge a portfolio of people and marvel at what a terrible human being I am. What did work out though, was Couchsurfing. I was terrified of ending up in another meet up where people said “schwag” on repeat for 20 minutes, but I downloaded the app to try the “hangout” function. Simple but effective, it lists people who are actively seeking others to hang out with. It’ll say what they’re looking for (coffee/tea, drinks, lunch), have a link to their bio and show approximately how far they are from you. I saw that some dude within a 3km radius was looking to grab coffee. He was an aspiring audiophile and well travelled guy. I figured I lost nothing by opting in for a hangout. I sent a message and within minutes he accepted. He said it’d take him about half an hour to get ready and suggested a cafe about half an hour from where I was. What could go wrong?
Nothing, apparently. He was a nice bloke in his late 30s. He’d been constantly on the move for the past nine years or so, periodically coming back to Portland between journeys. He’d taught English in Korea, Japan, backpacked around South America and Columbia. Used to work in PR for tech companies, but got wanderlust and had to sate his thirst. We talked about cultural differences in the places he’d visited and how his language acquisition had gradually increased. I mentioned how I’d had trouble pushing myself to meet people. How I’d felt that I’d be interrupting or forcing myself on others who were just looking for their own space. He said not to worry, that if you’re not being a dick the worst they’re gonna say is “no thanks”. He said that oftentimes he’ll just chat with the bartender if they’re not that busy, which creates the opportunity for others to join in on the dialogue if they’re feeling it. He mentioned the difference smartphones have made over the years. How on one hand they’d made it harder to spontaneously connect with the people around you, as everyone was plugged in. At the same time, they were infinitely useful when travelling alone in order to find your way around a new city, figure out events to check out or make online connections for meet ups. I asked him, with all his travelling, what was the first thing he’d do when arriving in a new place? He said that he wasn’t much of an insta-traveller, that he often stayed somewhere for a few weeks to a few months. He said that establishing a routine made him feel more comfortable, he’d check out coffee shops and local bars. Once he felt settled, he’d engage more with connecting to others. We chatted about music, how we sourced new artists and how our relationship with music had formed and changed over time. We talked podcasts, TV and films. He suggested a few places for me to check out around town, some particularly choice food cart pods. After our coffee he took me around the corner to a pod (that’s what they call clusters of food carts, if that wasn’t immediately obvious) and introduced me to a delicious korean pork belly lettuce wrap. It was the size of a burrito, with a delicious spicy sauce. Food carts are so good here. The quality and prices are both unbelievable. Social batteries recharge, I ventured out to Happy Hour with a renewed vigour.
I stopped back into The Hungry Tiger and sat at the bar. Sipping on a whiskey & coke, I noticed someone looking at her phone and picking at a macaroni & cheese. I thought ‘here goes nothing’ and thought of what the Couchsurfing guy said. If the worst was gonna be “no thanks” I could always just go back to playing on my phone. “How’s the mac here?” I asked. She looked up. “It’s vegan and I’m vegan so it’s pretty good. They use better “cheese” than some other places.” That wasn’t so bad. We talked for a while. She’d been looking to move to this part of the country to do her masters in photography. She’d checked out San Fran and was leaving Portland in a few hours. The cost of living here was lower and she was strongly considering it. She asked me if I watched Game of Thrones and lit up once I said yes, so we talked the ins and outs of Westeros for an hour or so. She was 25 and not the sort that I’d usually hang out with, but that didn’t make her a bad person by any means. Frankly, it was just nice to talk about a mutual interest with someone and kill an hour. I guess the Couchsurfing dude was right.
The only thing I’d actually planned on doing yesterday was checking out Tonic Lounge. A bar on the North East side, it hosted a weekly Monday night Magic event. Given my lack of success with events over the past week, I expected to walk in and find the place empty. Instead there were around 20 or so players by the time I arrived. Everyone was playing, sipping on pints and eating bar snacks. The music was great and they had old episodes of Robotech playing on the projector. Since most of the staff were Magic players themselves, the bar extended the Happy Hour specials all night for anyone who was there to game. I had a great chocolatey stout and ordered a $6 plate of pulled pork nachos. I couldn’t believe how good they were. The pulled pork was sweet and tangy. Super cheesy, there was a dollop of sour cream in the middle, fresh bruschetta on the left and picked carrots/jalapenos on the right. Everyone was really friendly and, while experience levels varied, nobody seemed to be outright cutthroat. It was an amazing space to enjoy the game, see some great plays and have fun hanging out. I had such a fantastic time and only regretted not being able to become a regular.
With one and a half days left here, I haven’t got a lot left to cross off my list. How much debauchery can I get up to before I leave?