I work downtown. I work in a buzzy, populated area with lots of things and stuff going on. I work near food carts, Powell’s books, the explosively hip “West End,” and the edge of the Pearl District.
It’s summer time and the sidewalks are thick with people. Tourists, people trying to get lunch on the street, and office workers like me, trying to hack their way through from point A to point B.
It’s been bizarre spending time in a place where tourists outnumber locals. The sights I see every day are “interesting” to the half dozen blond German dudes on the street car. The bland, brick-lined city park where I eat my lunch on weekdays, and where homeless guys pee in the bushes on weekends, is a “destination” for a gaggle of kids with matching shirts and backpacks. People stop on the sidewalk to take pictures of their food cart cuisine. But of course, you couldn’t be a hipper-than-thou Portlander if you haven’t taken photos of your Korean tacos and candy-coated donuts.
I remember when we visited Vancouver BC a few months ago, someone saw us peering at our phones and looking clueless. She stopped and asked if she could help us find our way. She lived right around the corner, and she recommended all kinds of sights to see. She was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and perhaps a bit eccentric, but we walked away thinking “Wow, Canadians are so nice. What a nice city. People here are so nice.”
So I live in Portland, and when I first moved here, I thought people were really nice. I still believe that. I still think people are nicer in Portland than other places I’ve lived.
And now on a fairly regular basis, I see people with maps, looking clueless, and I ask them if I can help them get someplace. I’m that person. The enthusiastic eccentric nice lady.
I did this the other day for a couple of older ladies who had a map splayed out against a wall. They were bickering a little.
I asked, “Can I help you get somewhere?”
One woman, exasperated, sighed and said, “Nob Hill.” Her friend pointed to the nearby streetcar stop and said, “We can get on there, can’t we, and that will take us to Nob Hill?”
I confirmed, yes, you can catch the streetcar there, and it will take you to NW.
“We need to get on the NS line, right?” said the second lady.
“Oh, well, we KNOW that,” huffed the first woman. I got the vibe they were from New York.
I realized, these two women were fighting. The second lady was already marching over to the streetcar stop. The first woman muttered “thank you,” but she glared at me. She folded the map and followed her friend.
She wasn’t really thankful, she was pissed. She was pissed that her friend was right, and I confirmed it. I had to conceal a smirk.
I hope they enjoyed the rest of their stay in Portland.