I had just moved to Portland, OR by myself, leaving my husband and children in Ohio. I stayed with friends while job-seeking, house-hunting, and getting to know the new city I hoped to call home. I had 6 weeks to put it all together and get things ready for my family to be able to move out west. It was do-or-die! Failure was not an option. I had more than a few butterflies in my gut!
Here is a blog post that I wrote at the end of my second day in Portland... it says it all!
Portland - Day 2
I find myself in the suburbs of this metropolis without a car... I'm so used to having my own personal mode of transportation I'm spoiled by it. Luckily Portland has a magnificent public transit system that is touted as one of the best in the country. To me it looks rather European, but what do I know having never been abroad. I challenge myself to get on-board and ride the Trimet all over the city, to first figure out how to use it and also get to know my surroundings.
Bus ride #1
The bus driver was as friendly and helpful as a person can be, and he simply loved that I was a captive audience. He began every tidbit of advice with "Now you don't have to do this, but if it were me...". I tried my best to tuck away all of the little helpful bits of information for later use, but we talked so much in our 20 minutes together that I may have lost some of it. About half of the way through this first leg I met Kyle, a young man with Down syndrome. He sat across from me and overheard our conversation about how new to the city I was. At the end of this ride Kyle and I were both exiting the bus to hop on the Max, which I had never done, so Kyle politely offered to help me.
Kyle, myself, and another young man, whose name I didn't get, all sat together in the very back of the train. Unfortunately for me they chose the seats that were actually facing backward to our direction... ugh, train sickness. I had to turn around in my seat to fight the woozy feeling I get when the outside world is whooshing past in the opposite direction.
The three of us had a lively conversation about Portland, the Max, food carts, and local schools. Kyle pulled out the script for the musical Grease and informed me that he attends the Fame Academy. "Fame spelled P-H-A-M-E, not Fame" Phame academy is a theatre, music, and dance school for people with down syndrome or autism. This sparked my interest! I told Kyle that I was a theatre and dance teacher and that his school sounded very interesting. We continued our ride and the two young men ( I think of them as boys, but they were in their late teens and early 20's) named all of the stations that I could stop off at and explore different parts of the city. Then I asked Kyle if he was on his way to a rehearsal and he informed me that Thursdays is music class, but yes, he was on his way to Phame Academy. I asked him how far it was and whether or not he would show me where it is... he smiled from ear to ear and loved the idea of "bringing a friend" to school with him. Little did I know that it meant crossing the river and taking another bus line into the north-east side of the city... we began in the south-west.
Kyle and I switched from the max to bus #77 and rode on together. A small part of me was thinking what the hell am I doing? I have no idea where this kid is taking me. Another bigger and louder part of me said go with the flow, enjoy the adventure! Eventually we exited the bus, my first thought was how to get back home since we were on a one way street. Kyle not only showed me he walked me over to the returning buses stop just to make sure I knew where it was. Such a sweetie! We then proceeded to enter the church where his classes are held and Kyle introduced me to Ben the music teacher.
Ben had about 7 students, all adults of various ages, and apparently all with Down Syndrome. They were a happy group eager to start class. I spoke with Ben for a couple of minutes, asked if he knew if the school was looking for more instructors, and he invited me to stay and watch. As soon as everyone had their instruments Kyle breaks out an impromptu Blues song on the harmonica...
I made a new friend
She's here with me now
I brought her to school
We met on the bus
Awesome!!!! The man next to him joined in and sang a little blues diddy as well. Then Ben asked the class if they would like to perform the song Heart of Gold for me. They've been working on it for a while. Everyone picked up their instruments and the song began. The man sitting next to Kyle started singing, and I kid you not, he sounded just like Neil Young! His voice was beautiful! The entire class gave a perfect performance and it was all I could do to hold back tears. This was one of those moments I will remember forever!!! I applauded loudly and praised them all before I said my goodbyes and thanked Kyle for being so helpful. He said "Goodbye new friend". <3
The return bus was running late, but the man next to me at the stop said that this bus, #9, would also take me back to downtown. I met several more people and talked to them during this leg of my journey. I was realizing that not only have I been starved for conversation with new people, I've also come completely out of my shell and was totally and undeniably unafraid to strike up a conversation with anyone I came across. The last time I regularly rode the city bus I was a teenager and spoke to no one.
I strolled through the downtown area of Portland and observed the dichotomy of the young homeless people everywhere and the expensive stores such as Tiffany's and Nordstrom's. Downtown is like a spread out mall interspersed with government buildings, businesses and restaurants. So many restaurants, so little time! But I digress. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining, the people were out, and everywhere I looked there was a site to see. Street performers, people playing chess in the square, bicyclists, runners, dog-walkers, everyone was outside enjoying the day. I made my way over to the Waterfront park and sat in the sun. The Willamette river, which runs through the downtown area, is a large river with many city bridges criss-crossing over it. Having spent 9 years in Ohio it was this, having a waterfront like this, that I would dream of. I loved just sitting there in the Waterfront Park, looking at the beautiful scenery and people watching. Off in the distance the mountains and forests were simply calling my name.
Yes, this feels like home!
Although the events in the book are personal, this isn't my story; it's our story. We've all been there: shamefully sucking-in our tummies to impress others, or using our sexuality to advance our careers because our intelligence or talent come second. Chapters from the book will be released in no chronological order, organically pouring out of me as emotions and memories resurface. Thank you for being here. —Kristen