Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Flats

I've stated before that I like to write blog posts about events only after I've put some space between me and them. If there's space between the other characters and me, even better. Last week marked the anniversary of the staff meeting that changed everything; in short, I went home from it and immediately applied for new jobs, including the job that brought me to Portland, the city I live in and love.

Let that be a lesson. When things seem to be at their shittiest, lowest point, they can turn around and bring you a new, better life. But that great opportunity won't find you; you'll only find it if you make the effort to turn that shitty low point into something else.

It may seem appropriate, therefore, to write about those moments when misery became determination to change my life and leave New Jersey for Oregon...or anywhere. However, instead of going all the way back in time to winter 2009, I'll just go to that summer, when I first arrived in Portland and my new life began.

Happy as I was to be in Portland, I was in the wrong part of town. I lived in an area known as Felony Flats. I didn't know this before my arrival. I knew I was moving about 100 blocks east of the "cool" neighborhoods and I knew I was closer to Gresham, a suburb, than I was to downtown Portland. In my mind, this just meant I was moving to suburbia. I figured it would be boring and full of old people, but I could just hop on a bus and get to the fun, inner Southeast neighborhoods. Also, I figured there would be at least one bar and one coffeehouse within walking distance; after all, this is Portland! To be brief, I was wrong. The nearest coffeehouse was a Dutch Brothers drive-through. The nearest bars were strip clubs. The buses that ran to that neighborhood (or after certain hours did not run) are a story for another time.

There is some debate, even among native Oregonians, over the exact boundaries of Felony Flats. Most agree that this region encompasses SE 82nd Ave. One Oregonian told me that I was actually east of Felony Flats; perhaps she was telling a reassuring lie. I stayed for a few months, thinking that it was okay if I wasn't in a "cool" neighborhood, and that it was really just a working-class, not necessarily dangerous part of town. My neighbors were Russian immigrants and East African refugees, not felons. Then there was a shooting. I moved. I was writing this post during the shooting; in my living room, I heard the shots. Until I saw the paper the next morning, I blamed an imagination merely overactive from the subject matter of that post.

I drove through "Felony Flats" today on my way to a meeting. Although I'm familiar with that part of town, I nearly turned off the main road too early several times. If I lost sight of the numbered avenue signs and saw a gas station on the northwest corner of the intersection, I'd start to make my turn. This happened as early as forty blocks before my turn. You can imagine how many gas stations there are on northwest corners of intersections on a main road, but this is my only landmark.

This summer, I gave someone the following directions to visit me: Once you pass the Safeway at 122nd, get in the left lane. You will turn left off of Powell at a traffic light. You've reached that traffic light when you see a billboard for Burger King's 2 double cheeseburgers for $2 special. That's the only landmark. I am not kidding.

And I wasn't. The day that the Burger King billboard became an advertisement for something else, three months after I moved to Portland, I blew through the intersection and past my neighborhood. When I realized I was in Gresham, I turned around.

No comments: