Monday, April 28, 2008

Riding the Portland Rails

Portland: Day One

We didn't do any research on Portland prior to our journey there. Which is actually not a bad way to travel, especially in a city like Portland with its amazing transit system of 100 bus lines, 3 light rail lines, street cars and even a cable car – for it was while using this system that we often ended up having lively conversations with various persons ranging from the intellectual young woman who directed us to Powell’s bookstore and the skateboarder who waxed eloquent about Columbia River Gorge. “Man, you gotta see those waterfalls.”

The TriMet blows your mind. Ride it within the “Fareless Square,” which covers a great portion of Portland’s City Center and the nearby Lloyd district where we were staying, and you travel free! Perhaps it is the free fare that accounts for the crowds in downtown Portland at night. (Minneapolis/St. Paul take note. It's not arena's that bring crowds to your downtowns, it's free rapid transit!)

Bill and I rode Portland's transit system by day and by night, getting along very well without our rented car as we could ride to and fro within the city and way out into the suburbs. The only time we needed a car was the final day when we took our friendly skateboarder's advice and headed out to the Columbia River Gorge to see "those waterfalls" and the scenic drive toward Mount Hood’s snow-covered peak that dominates the Portland landscape.

But, let’s get back to our first day in Portland (or rather evening which is when we arrived and headed off on our first rapid transit leap into the city). That night we dedicated to riding the transit system for the first time, met our intellectual sister traveler and made our way, as per her suggestion, to Powell’s Bookstore – the largest independent bookseller of new and used books in the world. I usually stop into bookstores to sign copies of my book, The Scent of God. Normally these bookstores have several copies on hand save for the airport bookstores where the mention of my book brings a blank stare. When I introduced myself and made my inquiry about signing copies, I was told to head to the “red section” where I would find four copies -- two used and two new paperbacks) to sign.

Juniper, the young woman at the red section’s help desk, was mightily perplexed to discover that there was only one copy of The Scent of God on her shelves -- a galley (an advanced readers’ copy) wearing the "busy" jacket (see photo below) that was rejected in favor of the final stunning book cover. She suggested I browse the store while she looked for more. "I'll page you if I find the other copies." She didn't sound too hopeful.

Browsing Powell's is like a dream of finding oneself in a home where one room opens to another and floor leads to floor and you keep exclaiming "Imagine, this is my house and I never knew it had all these rooms." From religion to travel to memoir to poetry I wandered, finally settling down in the fiction section to scan a book of Flannery O'Connor's short stories when I heard my name announced clearly over the loud speaker. "Beryl Singleton Bissell. Please come to the information desk in the red section, second floor."

Juniper had managed to locate only one more book. Having seen me screw up my face when she'd produced the first galley, she pushed a second galley apologetically toward me. "I'm so sorry, I couldn't find the two new paperbacks. They might be on hold, or their sale has not yet been logged into the system.”

My husband Bill and I had gotten separated almost immediately upon entering the store (we have different reading tastes). Thinking I'd better track him down before we both passed out from hunger, I began cruising the various floors and sections. Meanwhile, Bill, having heard me paged, headed for the "red section," arriving just after I left. So for the second time that evening my name was announced over the loud speaker at Powell's, this time so that Bill and I could reconnect at the "red section." Locating one another was a much happier finding than my book signing experience had been, especially when we both agreed it was time to eat, which launched our next adventure.

Eating in Portland . . . to be posted tomorrow.


tinker said...

I have heard so many good things about Powell's in Portland, from so many people, some day I hope to see it for myself. It sounds like the ultimate bookstore. What fun!

David Rochester said...

This reminds me of how much I take Powell's for granted, having grown up with it. :-)

I completely forgot, somehow, that you have this Blogspot site. I'll link to it over at my Wordpress site ASAP. Glad you had a good time while you were here ... like most people who are native to a city/area, I never know what to tell people to see. But next time you're here, you must drive to the coast ... it's a pretty short jaunt, and the scenery is amazing.