I arrived in Portland, Oregon, on a warm Thursday morning in June 2012. In the wake of what I thought was a tacit breakup, I was remarkably lighthearted that day. The move felt right. My most trusted adviser—my gut—was giving me nothing but green lights. Cradling a red pet carrier housing my mildly obese, and majorly unconscious orange tabby, I left the plane with a large smile on my face.
My beloved sister, having snuck out of work on an extended lunch break, was waiting for me at baggage claim. One of my two bags appeared quickly. Twenty minutes later, we were still standing at the carousel. The same three bags slowly mocked us as they passed by for the fifteenth time, their owners nowhere to be seen. I was keenly aware that my bag was not among them.
I could have gotten frustrated. But, I wouldn’t let a missing bag get me down. Not today, I thought. Instead, my sister and I went to the airline’s baggage services kiosk to file a lost bag form. As I set pen to paper, a ground crew member sped down the baggage claim area in a small cart. He screeched to a halt in front of us and lifted up a charred red mess.
“It sort of fell of the cart on the way to the carousel,” he said. “It got dragged most of the way. The only reason we stopped was the sparks in the rear view mirror.”Despite having the unfortunate job of showing me my destroyed luggage, he looked as though seeing the damage done had been the highlight of his day.
“Holy shit!” I said with a big, involuntary grin and chuckle.
“Yeah,” he continued, “it almost got on fire!”
For some, including my sister by the shocked look on her face, the bag’s partially melted exterior would constitute a bad omen. I am not some people. Losing my cool didn’t even occur to me. I laughed. I laughed a lot.
And in turn, the relief on everyone’s’ faces was clear. The ground crew guy carefully handed me my bag and I laughed more loudly. My little red luggage looked like it had barely survived a bear attack—a mutant fire-breathing bear attack. I laid the bag down gently and unzipped it, an action I was surprised to see I could still perform given the mangled exterior.
But lo! It turned out that most of the ravaged material was the bag. Layers of its insulation and batting had been torn and burnt, but my precious clothing inside was mainly intact.
“Well,” the attendant behind the counter said, “you’re going to need something to put your stuff in. Come on back here and we’ll find something for you.”
I followed her into a room lined with shelves of suitcases in different sizes and colors.
“Your bag was about this size, right?” she asked, pointing at a shelf of large roller suitcases.
“It was a little smaller, I th—” I replied, instinctively not wanting to ask for more than I lost.
“That’s not a problem,” she interjected, cutting my humility off entirely. “What color would you like?”
I picked a navy blue bag from the group and took it back to my belongings and waiting sister. While I put my clothing in it, the attendant asked me to figure the approximate value of the two bras, two shirts and a pair of shorts that no longer resembled clothing. As I closed up my new bag, she handed me a check for $128 dollars.
Like I said, some people might have considered a scorched bag a bad omen, but I am not some people. For moving to Portland, the world gave me money and a new bag.
After the airport, my sister and I dropped the cat off to be boarded for a week until my lease started. With the bag replacement and getting lost on the way to the boarding house, Gen was late for afternoon classes and needed to get back to school. I didn’t have any real plans, so I left my bags in her car parked at her school and went a’wandering until she was done for the day.
Actually, I had a list of two things to do.
- Deposit my present from the airlines.
- Eat something.
I found a bank branch and knocked the first order of business out of the park. With that out of the way, it was time to eat, and I was in the perfect place to do so.
Portland is home to the 7 B’s: Board, Beans, Bikes, Blooms, Bridges, Brews, and Boobs.
We like food. We like coffee. We like bikes. We live in the Rose City. Or Bridgetown. Or Beervana. And we have the most strip clubs per capital in the US (well, out of the 50 largest US cities at least).
I was about to meet the first B head on.
I was unknowingly blocks away from the Alder food carts, one of Portland’s larger food pods. As I turned a corner, I found myself standing in front of two square blocks of food vendors. It was a true melting pot.
I took my time, walking slowly to read each cart’s menu carefully. Mexican, Korean, Thai, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Soul Food. There were many choices.
Passing a Vietnamese cart, I spotted salad rolls and screeched to a halt, having found a comfort food. Another good omen. Bounty in hand, I found a brick courtyard and sat down. As I ate, I watched people on their lunch breaks, chatting with their friends over burritos or kefta before heading back to the office.
I tried to eat slowly, but the rolls were gone all too quickly. I cleaned up after myself—trying to wipe traces of spilled peanut sauce from my shirt—and resumed my wandering. I chose streets at random, letting my gut guide me through the city, and to the second B.
I passed a Stumptown Coffee. I had heard it mentioned by a coffee roaster friend in Chicago months before my move. Without even thinking, I was inside and ordering a cappuccino. With drink in hand, I sat in a dilapidated but comfy orange chair and tried in vain to sip and not gulp. I checked my email and read a little. A song I’d heard over and over again in my grad school coffee shop began playing. Hours later, the song would find me again in a small Mexican restaurant in my sister’s neighborhood. Another omen.
It was soon time to make my way back to Gen’s school. I left the coffee shop, and turning a corner, I found my own name shouting out to me on the sign for a grocery store. Hello! it said, Welcome home!
I spent the next week sleeping on my sister’s couch. My friend and I had managed to find an apartment ten blocks from Gen’s house. It was a petite loft apartment across the street from a sports bar, with not the best clientele, but a pretty solid macaroni and cheese. The turnover of the apartment after the old tenants vacated should have been a day or two, but word on the street was that a group of five or six guys had been living in the apartment quasi-illegally and “had had some birds,” whatever that should suggest. Turnover took six days, and they didn’t finish until late the night before they gave us the keys.
Nesting took less than a week. I crowded my small room with books sitting on hanging bookshelves, wall art, and a very large bed I covered in crisp white sheets. I wanted the room to look as much like a Crate and Barrel display as I could afford.
I ignored everything else while I organized and decorated the room and the rest of the apartment. I was, to some degree, procrastinating on a much more significant task.
I needed to find a job…