Saturday, March 29, 2008

Passing Time in Portland

Portland reminds me of two places I've called home. It has the richness of history and culture of San Francisco and the affordability of Las Vegas, Plus, there are bums all over the place.

I spent the first few days looking for familiar places and I immediately found things I liked about the city.

Portland to me is a city of- and for- readers. From Powell's Books, the steps of Central Library, and the engraved bricked floor of Pioneer Courthouse Square just to name a few, you can find things to read in the most unexpected places.

I was amazed by how reliable the modes of transportation were, with dedicated lanes for the streetcars, trains and bikes. While most of downtown has free public transportation, you might just find yourself traveling by foot. Everything is within walking distance and there's something to see everywhere. Food carts line the streets with the aroma of the international dishes they serve inviting you to take a taste. Parks are located practically in every block. Each building is unique and seems to have its own character and history. Plus how could you not like a place where one day you come across a scary looking clown driving a van listening to loud rap music, the next day six angels riding the trains and then an Elvis impersonator belting out his most famous hits?

I've been trying to enjoy Portland's outdoors as much as possible but, of course, that's hard to do when it's usually raining here. But when the sun does decide to shine, I've gone on many different walks. I walked alongside the Willamette River and crossed the Steel Bridge. It was a nice scenic route. I read the quotes and poetry engraved in the stones of the Japanese Memorial and passed by Mill Ends Park- boasting to be the world's smallest- and Salmon Street Springs, a fountain where people can soak themselves during the summer.

Just outside my apartment complex is the Portland State University and the beginning stretch of what is known as the Park Blocks where every Saturday (except in winter) they hold a Farmers Market. While I like salad, I'm not really into buying fresh produce but when I decided to check it out, I enjoyed myself. There was music and free samples, which I loved. I tried some Earl Grey crème tea, hazelnut and peanut butter brittles, bread, jalapeno jam, cheese, salmon but my favorite was the carrot cake samples they gave out on opening day. And yes I went for seconds on that.

I've passed the time sitting on the benches of the park and campus with my notebook in hand, trying to soak up some inspiration from the beauty of nature around me. I've also sat on the brick steps of Pioneer Courthouse Square enjoying the sun, gazing up at the surrounding buildings admiring the architecture, watching the countless other people doing the same thing, and reading a book.

And right next door to where I live is an Italian restaurant. Whether or not that's a good thing is still left to be decided. On one hand, I love Italian food and I could eat there everyday. However, being unemployed and trying to eat healthy, I'm tempted every morning as I step out my building by the delicious smells of freshly baking focaccia bread. Paccini is a cozy little joint that caters mostly to the PSU crowd. With its affordable prices and huge, filling portions, this is one restaurant I would recommend to anyone. Needless to say, I give in more than I resist temptation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Getting My Own Place

Getting my own place was not easy- at times bordering on frustration and hopelessness. I lucked out in finding a relatively inexpensive place to stay in temporarily but I knew I wouldn't be able to keep it up for long. It was scary not knowing when I was going to have a more permanent roof over my head.

To my credit, I didn't come to Portland without looking at some apartments online first. I was even keen on one in particular. I figured once I got here, I'd go there and I'll be set. But I found out the apartment was income restricted- as were the other places within my price range- and I didn't have the proper documents with me. But, if you thought about it, who was more income restricted than I was at the moment? I had no place to stay in and I had no job. I only had my backpack and my online savings.

The apartment finder magazines were useful in finding- well- apartments I might want to check out. Plus, they had their own websites that provided more information. Another thing that really helped was just walking around and that's how I stumbled upon my current residence.

I was able to talk to someone face to face- as opposed to corresponding via e-mail or telephone. I filled out an application and even got a discount on the move-in rate. I would have been more ecstatic if the leasing lady didn't act so loopy. It was like having Paula Abdul take down my information. She wasn't even writing legibly and I can tell it wasn't some sort of short-hand either because it seemed she dozed off a couple times in mid-sentence and the pen just trailed off. She would also ask me the same questions repetitively and I felt I was suffering through a serious case of deja vu. It didn't help matters when she called later that day and said the apartment she assigned to me was actually already reserved for someone else. Luckily there was another unit available- albeit at a slightly higher price and with no discount. It was still the best offer I had so I told her to proceed.

Then things kept coming up- problems with my application or she would need information I had already given her. I found myself at their office almost everyday to check what progress- if any- was being made. All the while, I had to keep extending my stay at the motel. First just for a couple of days, then it became a week. To make matters worse, I had already spent over a month's worth of rent in two weeks. I had felt like a big shot with how much money I had been able to save to move here but that amount was quickly dwindling. The only upside I could think of was the motel had HBO- not that there was anything good to watch considering all they seemed to show were "In Treatment" and "Disturbia".

I needed to know if I was going to get the studio or if I should start looking elsewhere. I'm sure the leasing specialist was doing her job but since nothing seemed to be happening I made sure to go to their office on her day off so someone else would have had to help me. That morning, I went in, answered some questions, and by that evening, I had my own place.

Monday, March 3, 2008

First Day in Portland

I had this crazy idea that it might be cool to leave everything behind and go off to somewhere new and record my experiences in a journal. I wanted an adventure. I was drawn to Portland for reasons unknown to me. I had never been here before but the more I read about the city, the more it seemed like it was where I should be.

When I got here, it was cold and raining. That was no surprise. In fact, I welcomed the predictability of it all. Didn't everyone tell me about the weather?

As adventurous as I thought I wanted to be, homelessness was always going to be the last resort. But as I wandered lost and wet in a new city, I was worried I might actually end up having to live in the streets.

I did not lose faith though. I knew there was a place I could go- where lost souls could find temporary refuge and regroup. Sacred buildings where people talked in whispers and everyone was welcome. I went to a library. And, unlike churches, they had computers I can use.

Central Library is a beautiful building. In fact, if I weren't so soaked and hell-bent on finding a place to stay, I would have taken the time to look around and admire the architecture. But once I had a list of potential temporary lodging, I dashed off to check them out.

It was actually on my way to an Econo Lodge that I stumbled upon the Downtown Value Inn. I figured it wouldn't be too bad since it was featured on a Portland website. And it turned out to be a nice enough place like what you'd see in one of those Dateline specials where they run tests and find all kinds of things on the sheets, furniture and even walls. The staff were friendly and the fact they didn't match the description of any America's Most Wanted criminals made me decide to stay there while I looked for an apartment. The price was reasonable as well. It did have a distinct smell though and the only word that comes to mind is "stale".

The important thing was this was only going to be temporary. I could overlook past the imperfections. I told myself it would be all right, an adventure. It beat sleeping in the streets.