In Portland, it takes longer to get from Point A to Point B. This is not because Portland is a particularly big city or one that is especially difficult to navigate—on the contrary, we’ve a reputation for being fairly compact, and the grid numbering system generally lends itself to your knowing where you at a given moment—but because I don’t have that most ubiquitous, American of things: a car. Not only do I not have a car, but we don’t have a car, my house, my community, the people who make up most of my daily life. We do not have a car. If I want to get somewhere in this city, I essentially have three options: 1) walk, 2) bike, or 3) public transportation. All can take time—all do take time—because removing automated wheels (or in the case of buses, total personal autonomy of said wheels) simply adds minutes. Biking is faster than walking, obviously, but is still a commitment of time that wouldn’t exist with a car. Public transportation is fairly efficient, but often late and connections turnovers add minutes. Delayed buses can add even more minutes. This is annoying. Sometimes, I just wish I had a damn car that would transport me anywhere I desire at a speed I find generally acceptable (though, of course traffic is always the kicker with that one). Yet, in a way, I’ve already begun to reject our modern obsession with getting somewhere in the fastest way possible. Is it sunny outside? I’ll walk longer and not change buses. I’ll bike an extra 5 minutes if it means a safer route or one that is more tree-lined and sun-dappled. Though it can be horrible and infuriating, transportation time can also be oddly beautiful and full of grace.
I see things more in the time it takes to get there. I’m not sure if I’m travelling down the same streets with the same commuters every morning, but I like to think that I am, that I’m joined in a solidarity of cold, wet people on bikes when it’s rainy, of sweaty, happy people on bikes when the sun is shining. I like the idea that I’ll start to notice people—a raincoat or a specific backpack as said person smokes me on the Hawthorne Bridge—like I’ve started to notice cars and landmarks. Either there are many “Iowa Native” bumper sticker owners in Portland, or I’m getting to know my neighborhood. There’s the Swedish café I pass on the way home, normally after they’ve closed up for the day, but sometimes also in the morning where I get a quick glimpse of people sipping on mugs of coffee and digging into plates of thin pancakes. I know that there are three glorious Volkswagen buses parked along Clinton on any given afternoon and that one is a sunny orange that I hope I keep seeing through the gray Portland winter. I notice which streets are really bumpy and annoying and why is there STILL construction on this street? After a long, inhuman climb up Belmont on my to the library from my placement, I pass the sign tacked to a phone pole that reads “You’re almost at the top! You can do it!” and smile every damn time.
Biking is good for me. Walking is good for me. I clear my head on my bike. I get good at being alone on my bike. Taking time is good for me, being slower and West Coast-er is good for me. There’s something simple and satisfying about building time to get there into your day that feels different and better than driving—more intentional, more deliberate, less hurried and auxiliary. More central to the day. More necessary.
I think the time it takes to get there is keeping me sane, is making the days somehow feel longer but in a really, really good way. It’s making me feel somehow tied into the fabric of this city in an environment where it’s so easy to feel lost and lonely (though of course there’s a little of that, too). I still can’t tell if Portland wants me here or not, if I have something to contribute here. God, I’m just not sure. I’ll think about it some more on my bike tomorrow morning. Or maybe I’ll think about the leaves I’m passing. Or maybe I’ll think about none of it at all.