Sunday, February 19, 2012
The weirdness that is Portland
When friends come to visit me in Chicago, it never fails that I have to literally hold them back from being mowed down by cars, as they blithely and foolishly step into crosswalks, as if pedestrians somehow have the right of way there.
(pause for incredulous silence)
Not in Chicago, that is. Where even the cops blow through the crosswalks. Gee, great example you’re all setting. But I digress. But basically, we're a bunch of pissed off, angry drivers, and given the crappy roads, the highest parking meter prices and garage rates, and the stupidly high parking fines for the smallest infraction, who can blame us?
So you can imagine my trepidation at the thought of driving in Portland, me, who had cut my teeth on the mean streets of Chicago, where if you actually want to get anywhere you need to just barrel your way on through. Portland, where I had noticed the last couple of times I visited Kim, that people don’t just stop at crosswalks, they stop all the time for pedestrians. And they let other cars through. And they don’t dash across streets as said pedestrians when there are clearly no cars coming.
Clearly, this was going to be ugly.
(I will note, however, that in my driving adventures I did learn that it is just Kim who stops 20 feet from any crosswalk if it looks like there might be someone there who could possibly perhaps someday think about the idea of maybe theoretically wanting to cross the street. Yep, that’s all Kim. Bless her heart.)
But not only did I not start plowing over people willy-nilly once my Escalade and I were making our way through the streets of Portland, something strange happened. I lollygagged. Meandered. Went the speed limit. Who me, hurry?
I know, I could hardly believe it either.
I also found myself stopping eagerly at 4-way stop signs, hoping against hope that there would be another car there. Okay, I admit this was because I wanted to take advantage of that Portland niceness and be waved ahead, as opposed to what usually happens at 4-way stop signs in Chicago: I get there first, the assclown on the cross street decides to go first when it’s NOT his turn (or just drives on through, which happens all too often), and I wind up cursing, using the salty language I never resort to, making rude gestures, the works. I’ve come to expect this. So I was truly looking forward to this:
Alas, even though Kim did tell me that her sister Pam actually did stop when she did not have a stop sign, I never got to experience this wonder. Sigh.
However, that disappointment went crashing by the wayside, when another miracle occurred before my very eyes. It’s true. There I was, driving back to Kim’s after getting my daily coffee at Papaccino’s, when I stopped at a red light. And coming from the other direction were 2 cyclists on road bikes, all kitted up, taking advantage of the beautiful bike lanes that are all over Portland.
(a moment while I seethe with jealousy)
As I idly look at them, I noticed that one of them had clipped out and stopped, while the other was doing a track stand.
“Oh,” I thought, “the 2nd cyclist will blow through the light and then his friend will catch up with him. Friend must have had a mechanical, to actually clip out like that.”
Then, shocker of shockers, the 2nd cyclist clipped out. Nay! How could this be!
By now, I was staring in fascination. What could be wrong? Were they ill? Simultaneous flat tires? There didn’t seem to be anything wrong. As I continued to gape in wonder, I waited for them to go through the light, as there were no cars coming from the cross street. Nada. They had ample time to cross this not-busy-street and be on their merry way, chugging their Infinit, worrying their seats were too high, blaming the headwind for slow speeds. Like all cyclists do.
The light stayed red. They didn’t move. They actually laughed and chatted with each other.
I know, you’re thinking as I did: what fresh hell is this?
Finally the light turned green and they clipped in and rode on, and I stared at them as they went by, wishing I had my camera so that I could have capture this moment on film, this rarity that brings to mind the Yeti and other marvels heard of but never seen before.
To this day, I still don’t know what to make of it….