Portland is Like Algebra
By David Glenn Cox
Portland is like Algebra, it is hard and it’s complicated and I just don’t get it. This has been a hard one for me, my luck had been changing, I’d got an ID and a cryptic letter from the state of Georgia which promised hope when out of the blue, I lost a dear friend. I lost a friend while trying to be one, by telling the truth when they didn’t want to hear it. When you leave out of Portland all is lush and green, by the time you reach The Dalles, the scenery is tan and golden brown covering over the volcanic basalt rock which pops through periodically.
It wasn’t until I reached Baker City, Oregon before I’d finally figured it out. The Cascade Range shields Portland; it is like a Shangri-La unto itself, separating its self, from the real West waiting, just on the other side of the mountains. By the time you reach Umatilla County, the land is sandy brown and dry on undulating hills frozen in time. They made it into an Indian Reservation, if that helps sharpen the image. But now, Baker City is famous from Oregon Trail fame. It conjures up images of covered wagons, pioneers and John Wayne movies.
I guess what upset me the most, was watching my friend dismantle her own life. Not through drugs or alcohol, that would be understandable, this isn’t. You can stop drinking and dry out, but this? I don’t know, maybe something snapped, maybe it was chemistry, or stress or paranoia or dark demons from the past come to call. Whatever it was, it hurt, because I don’t have much real family besides my son and I loved her like a sister.
Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, but there is a full moon out tonight over the high desert, seems I always travel on the full moon, maybe its astrology, or maybe just dumb luck. We rumble along in this rattly Greyhound bus, which is far from the pride of the fleet. That’s a funny story in its self, I stood outside gate number eleven for about a dozen hours and right on the other side of that door sat this beautiful rich blue and grey shiny new bus. It proudly advertised WiFi and electrical plugs and I got all excited, then at the very last minute, I mean the absolute, very last minute, as we stood in line waiting to board they pulled it away from the gate and pulled in this bus. Which I suppose was the pride of the fleet a dozen or so years ago. The overhead lights don’t work, the air conditioner fan rattles and outside of the window passes some of the most extraordinary panoramas the human eye can ever experience.
We’re headed for Boise, Salt Lake and Denver now, funny thing, the last time I was in Denver I snuck up on it from the other side. It gets really dark when the mountains block the full moon; through the dusty windows it appears to shine two searchlight beams. When it hides, I can’t read the road signs like, Dead Man Pass or Old Emigrant Hill, the last one made me smile, conjuring up images of old Emigrants sitting up on a hill in rocking chairs. The roads are twisty and the turns are sharp, it feels as if we’re following the Chef Boyardee route. Foothills on both sides of us, as the moon pops over a hill once in a while, just long enough to wink.
We are out in the high desert headed for Boise, a haze now covers the moon, and it’s a spatial filament letting off a warm and comforting glow, like a night light, which watches over us but doesn’t listen. Boise appears to be a city of consequence with a five lane Interstate highway, sound barriers and billboards advertising gambling casinos. It’s really too dark to tell much more or perhaps is it too light? The Interstate has homogenized our cities with the usual assortment of fast food joints and only occasionally something odd. As we pulled out of B town, there was a neon lit marquee sign for a funeral home and it just struck me as less than somber or subdued. Out of the dark, off to the left, ghostly mountains appeared, at least the way the light played on the shadows they looked like mountains to me. The lights of civilization stopped right where the shadows began, so I have named them the Phantom Mountains, at least until the sun comes up. As I look out the other side of the bus I see my other dear friend the moon, is also slipping away, I will miss her, hell, I’ll miss them both.
As the new sun rose in the morning, we were headed for the land of Mormons and murder. It appears some of them Mormons beat me to naming those mountains. You get a little loopy after hours on a bus, but you know what? You only live once, and it’s a fair trade for a full immersion in America. They’s real folks on a bus, ain’t no sissified dandies here. They’s folks going home or moving on, going to a job or leaving one or leaving someone. You start as strangers and in a couple hundred miles, your pals. We hit all the high spots in the Mormon holy land with their nice bus station with a lousy intercom. The station was filled with last nights overflow and so, I began to worry.
Two lines divide the station from front to back, with some folks who’d been waiting since I began my relationship with the moon the night before, but it all ended well. They brought us out a shiny bus with WiFi, enabling me to catch up with my E-mails. Before long, we were into the lunar landscapes of Wyoming, shining with glass shards from broken beer bottles. Kind of like sticking a wad of gum on the Mona Lisa, nothing but scrub, greasewood and sagebrush as far as the eye can see, and still, man finds a way to fuck it up.
They’ve got snow fences put up and signs which read, “Interstate 80 Closed when flashing.” Way off in the distance I can see downpours, cloudbursts maybe twenty or thirty miles away. It’s the closest I’ve been to rain in months, as even soggy Portland has dried out for the driest August on record.
Perfect silhouettes of ancient nature made pyramids arise, as the blue grey down burst shimmer off in the distance like flowing curtains. The color of the land cannot be described; it is sand and tan, brown and black, tinged in pale illusive greens. It is all so humbling and awesome and magnificent in its own special splendor that it makes you weep for the blind. Ancient palisades capped with cell phone towers as the pallet plays out in colors Crayolla never dreamed of. It’s is so beautiful, I’d ride on top of the bus just to see it. The down pour has been here, but we’ve missed the show as it appears to be going the other way.
I’ve heard too many conversations about people late on the rent and folks looking for a couch, small world, ain’t it? Fence posts, telephone poles and open land, that’s it, but I can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s ten in the morning but it feels like ten at night and it is overcast and around every turn is a new vista and a new pallet of color. Strange sights peculiar names, Green River, Rock Creek and Covered Wagon Road, Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, in the land where old cars go to kill time.
We just crossed the Continental Divide at 7000 feet, while above me, white whale clouds swim by in a deep blue sky. The railroad has on its sidings hundreds of grain cars which won’t be used this year. It is a strange dichotomy, an ocean above a desert below. The high water mark of a continent, being crossed by a bus carrying the bottom 10% of the 99%. We are all lost here, lost in a continent, lost in a government and lost as a people.
Then, just as suddenly, a cloud burst gets us, ten maybe fifteen seconds of spitting rain which appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quick, just a reminder, if you close your eyes here, you might miss something. Isn’t that just the way of things, how much we miss while looking at nothing in particular? How many roses we might pluck when not worried about the thorns.
The sun rose slowly over Minden Nebraska, a beautiful fiery orange sphere burning off the night’s gathered haze. Exposing the lush green rolling hills and the specter of dwarfed and dead corn plants, all stunted between three and five feet tall. I’ve never seen a total crop failure before so, now I have and there is something almost apocalyptic about it. Maybe I use that word too much and perhaps, I must learn a new word. Because yesterday, before this sun fell, we rolled into Denver and amidst the glass and steel towers, amidst the beer drinkers on the warm Café patios there was this rescue mission and directly across the street, a small concrete plaza.
The plaza was filled with several hundreds of people of all ages and descriptions. They were poor, so poor that they were ragged. They weren’t just down on their luck, they were down to their last, and it reminded me for all the world of a scene out Mad Max, Beyond Thunder Dome. I’ve never seen a total crop failure before so, now I have and there is something almost apocalyptic about it. Maybe I use that word too much and perhaps, I must learn a new word.
It is all the same, isn’t it? One, ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, ten million, twenty million on and on. Come spring we shall replant our corn, but what of the people, what of their lives? I travel across thousands of miles of this amazingly beautiful land with a beneficent sun by day and reassuring moon by night. I see something which cannot be described nor quantified, something like a cancer, something like a feeling in your bones, something you can’t describe, but you know it when you see it.
Mitt accepted the nomination for President of the Suicide Party last night and now he and his evil little co-conspirator must go out and convince the populace to elect him and to commit societal Hara-kiri. What Mitt doesn’t know and what his grubby little brown noser can’t see, you can see from a bus window, in America, the ponds have dried up. After the show is over, because that’s all that this is really, is a show, the comedy team of Romney and Lewis will return to their fine homes, they will eat their sumptuous food and live their sumptuous lives. Maybe they will look back and reminisce, saying, “gee whiz, where did we go wrong?”
Never, have so few, been so wrong about so much. Never has a nation’s leadership been so blind as to have not ended up with their brain trust riding on a pike. The sand flows through the hourglass and tells a tale of time, the bough breaks and the limb falls and down will come baby, cradle and all. The mobs will grow in number and intensity, legions of the hungry and dispossessed and today they call for food, but if left unmitigated, will someday call for blood.