In late February I left our quiet, wooded suburb to set off for a walk around Portland’s riverfront area. My spouse was not thrilled with the idea–there were many months of protests and even riots in 2020 decrying racial injustices around the country and other sociopolitical issues. Things have settled down a lot, but it has all changed our home city–perhaps, hopefully, making way for needed, better changes. Yet all is not well in some ways. Additionally, COVID-19 has emptied city streets to a startling degree.
I have always loved downtown Portland. I lived a few blocks away for two decades and was very much an urban person. I didn’t want to lose that connection but the pandemic took over. I still miss “close-in” Portland and do drive over to visit the streets, the parks, other family.
It has been a long habit to go the huge outdoor Farmer’s Market, for example, on the campus green of Portland State University. And to roam the city for local shops–for clothing and jewelry and gifts for people. And to purchase too many books at used bookstores. And dine at excellent restaurants 2-3 times a month. My friends and I would meet for lunch and a movie on weekends. I would meet other family to attend the famed Saturday Market where dozens of arts and crafts were represented, and afterwards we’d eat Himalayan or Japanese or Bolivian meals from the line of food carts (we’ve had dozens of tasty menus from which to choose). The swirls of activity and throngs of people were part of the pleasure. I felt safe downton, with or without my husband, or with a friend as dusk arrived and things got even livelier.
Now–where are the people? At home, yes. Some became too ill and did not make it through… And too many are huddling under a bridge, an overpass, in a lean-to made of a grocery cart and plastic bags and cardboard. Likely others are working in some of the sky-swiping buildings, as some necessary businesses stay afloat. Others, like myself, come and go, wondering what’s next for Portland, aka Rose City. It was all a stark contrast to the southwest hills area I live in now, where there tends to be activity going on despite people social distancing, wearing their masks–parks are fairly busy, stores are partly re-opened, people are active.
The walk had a strong effect on me. The unprecedented stillness other than cars honking and roaring here and there along less congested streets. This has always been a vibrant and fascinating city in which to live in or near to, and walking down the riverwalk was almost eerie despite the beautiful day. It was as if there remained an undercurrent of anxiety. At times, an energy of forlornness. There are many, many more homeless encampments, and people who, perhaps recently became suddenly jobless, now wandering around, seeming unsure where to land, what to do next. But there were a handful of joggers, a few cyclists, too, and walkers. I still felt glad to view the Willamette River and fondly revisited spots along the way we’ve long enjoyed. The sky was so radiantly blue, buildings gleaned. I kept snapping away but was aware of people’s need of privacy in these times–after surveillance by the FBI due to demonstrations/riots, and arrests made by police.
I am hoping against hope we get our city back–with changes that include far more justice for all and help for businesses that have been shuttered or nearly so. But I surely don’t know if it will truly come back in “full dress”–as the buoyant, open minded, easy-going, entertaining place it has been for decades before such troubles. COVID-19 impacts us all, and likely will have more trickle down effects. But I offer one view from a person who loves Portland, who at 19 decided I one day would make a home in the Pacific Northwest-I have been here 30 years now.
I plan on visiting city center returning more as warm weather returns and greater numbers are vaccinated and…well, maybe our great city center will brighten up, lively once more. I’ll then share pictures of all I did not or could not see that February day.
The marina, shops and restaurants above are usually teeming with people.