“Every time I visit Portland I feel like it’s more of a caricature of itself,” Steve said as he dodged through rush hour traffic on the 205 to exit the freeway.
“Yeah, right. Portland has become its own parody,” I said. I’d been half asleep. “God, it’s a big city, huh,” I said as I surveyed the rush hour traffic. Thoroughly modern cars, whizzing around in a thoroughly modern city. Thought leaders, off to their next important meeting.
“It’s so cool to be in Portland now,” he went on with a sarcastic tone. “Organic coffee, microbreweries, nanobreweries, aquaponics,” he continued to list off quirks that the world had come to know of Portland, Oregon.
It’s true too. Portland has become an epicenter of progressive thinking and self-awareness. But, it’s not all hipsters on fixed-gears worrying about their carbon footprint. Like any great city of the Great American West, or any city for that matter, Portland harbors its dark underbelly of society. Junkies, prostitutes, paranoid schizophrenics, and so on. Too many in our modern world see these as the throw-aways, the wretched. ‘They should work harder.’ ‘They made poor decisions.’ It’s too easy to too many to consider them all like a plaque on society. But it can’t be scraped away by a few farm-to-table cafes and pay-as-you-like yoga studios. Like tooth decay, the rot ultimately comes from what you consume. If you don’t take care, it bites you in the ass when you lose all your teeth. Society has been eating souls ever since it figured out how to put a dollar amount on the human condition. The plaque comes from never scrutinizing its bad habits.
We were now navigating the city streets to our motel. I’d booked us a room in the Motel 6 on the north end of town several weeks earlier. We’d purposely chosen it for its poor reviews and crummy location. We wanted to see this side of Portland.
“It’s gonna be just off the freeway,” I said as I helped Steve navigate. “Ah, up there, just across the street from the strip joint and Taco Bell.” A light on the sign had burned out and it read “Mote 6″.
“Got it,” Steve shifted into 3rd gear as he moved over a couple lanes to turn in. “Looks like we won’t be disappointed here, buddy!”
Two cops were shaking down a junky in front of the office as we rolled in to the parking lot. A young looking fellow with shorts and tank-top. He looked like he’d been strung out for a few days and just needed a meal.
“Yelp was spot on,” I grinned as Steve pulled slowly toward the back of the parking lot. “This place is gritty.”
“Hey, looks like a hooker over there?” Steve said as he found an empty parking spot.
I looked out the window and through the windows of the car next to us. In the corner of the lot was a young woman in a short red skirt – cigarette hanging loosely from her mouth and wavy brown hair down to her shoulders. Her halter top revealed a large and botanically inspired tattoo across her right shoulder and down her bicep. She leaned into the front window of a green Chevy Blazer. I couldn’t hear, but she appeared to be in quite the conversation. The driver of the blazer looked like the typical uninspired bro. Flat brim hat pulled down over his short hair, and even the tops of his ears too. He had on a pair of Oakley sunglasses, and short stubble covered his acne scarred chin. From the body language, he seemed more of a pimp than a John.
As Steve and I got out of the truck, she gave a long hard look in our direction. Eyeing us as potential clientele.
“Hey, I’m gonna go check in and get our room keys,” I said as I stretched out my legs.
“Yah, buddy. I’m gonna do some organizing,” Steve said as he did a bit of calisthenics against the back of truck.
“Actually, you know. How about a quick pull on that rum,” I looked around for the bottle in the back seat. “You?”
“Oh, yeah. Sounds about right!” He grimaced as he stretched his hips and turned his face toward the sky.
I took a swig and handed the bottle to Steve. As I turned toward the office, a red corvette pulled in to a parking stall next to us. The nicest car in the lot by a long shot. A kid about in his twenties got out. He wasn’t ugly, but didn’t look all that exciting either. Brown hair combed conventionally across his head. A clean face, although it appeared he didn’t have much facial hair to maintain. He had on a pair of khaki shorts, a polo shirt, and converse sneakers. Likely a recent college graduate with a reasonable salary and nothing better to spend his money on.
As the kid stood by his car the prostitute walked, with deliberate stride, around from the back corner and toward his car. She gave a nod of recognition and he followed her up the stairs to the second floor and vanished behind a dull green door.
I made my way to the front office. By now, the cops had finished interrogating the junky and were just pulling out of the parking lot. The inside of the office was all tiled floor and stainless steel table tops; easily cleaned surfaces covered everything. The bright lights and sharp sounds of a television set bounced around the room.
The television, hanging lopsidedly, from one corner was playing FOX News. If it can be considered news anymore. Major broadcasting executives have had the formula dialed in some time now. Find your base and feed them fear and loathing all day, every day. Better yet, dress it with pretty people in little red dresses and before you know it, you’re selling sex just like any other major cable station. It never was about news. It was always about money and power.
Sensory stimuli continued streaming from the television. A platinum blonde in a sleeveless, red top and too much makeup ranting about the collapse of American Values. She went on and on, as the men sitting next to her got to wear suits and ties. ‘The liberal elites think they have the moral upper hand…’ ‘…Obama era…’ ‘Hillary Clinton…’ This ‘news’ continued through a flurry of buzz words and one-liners, asserted through the guise of a news anchor. The only thing sadder than the propaganda was the lie she told herself – that anyone cared about what she had to say more than how she looked. She’d probably lost her chance on a real career in journalism when her college professor promised an A for wearing a miniskirt to class. She had learned the power of her body, and before long, she forgot she actually had real talent. It wouldn’t matter. She would continue to advance her career as long as she wore the right outfit and didn’t say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Before long, she had her own internet following, a few product endorsements, and a limo with a chauffeur. And all she had to do was tell herself that lie.
Eventually it was my turn at the desk. A motherly looking Mexican woman had been discussing some issue with the desk clerk. About what, I hadn’t payed attention.
“Hey man, what can I do for you?” the kid asked from behind the counter.
“Good evening. I just need to check in and get 2 room keys, please,” I said. “I reserved a non-smoking room for two,” I added.
“Sorry about that wait, man. That lady that was just in here…” he waited for me to respond. “She came in here yesterday and stayed the night with her 2 kids,” he paused again.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied, wondering where he was going with the story. Had she stolen a pillow? Smoked in a non-smoking room? Left some illicit drug paraphernalia conspicuously in the room? These are the thoughts you have in a seedy motel office. Especially if exposed to any amount of television ‘news’.
“Yeah,” he continued his story in a mystified tone. “Well, she got home today and found out her bank never charged the payment for the room. She was worried that we never got the payment. She came in to pay the charge in cash, man,” he finished in a crescendo.
“Really, huh?” I said with a grin. “There are still authentic people in this world! If you are lucky to happen upon them, I suppose.”
“Thing is; we would have never known. I would have just forgot about it,” he added.
I finished checking in and got our room keys. Outside, Steve was rummaging through the contents of the back of his truck. I hadn’t been more than ten minutes inside, but the red corvette with its young tech geek was already gone. The prostitute back at the Chevy Blazer, deep in conversation once again.
“Hey, Danny,” Steve glanced over from the back of the truck. “Stev-o is downtown at some bar. Wants us to meet up for drinks. Wanna go?”
“Yeah, I need to shower first,” I said.
“Yeah, I could use one too.”
“Ok, let’s get clean and I’ll line up an Uber,” I said as I hauled my bag up the stairs to our room.
The overall appearance of the room was decent. Nothing great, but there were no signs of gross negligence. Although, it did smell like stale cigarette smoke, and a fist sized, poorly executed, patch job marked the middle of the bathroom door.
I was finishing getting dressed as Steve got out of the shower. Figuring we’d be ready to roll in a matter of minutes, I lined up an Uber ride.
‘Charles. In a white Toyota Prius.’ The ride would cost about 13 dollars, plus tip. From the small photo on his profile, he looked perfectly Portland. Young, smart, and idealistic. And he’d arrive in 4 minutes.