Thursday, November 24, 2011

Falling for Portland

These are the event of November 3, 2011.

Terminal-B at Sacramento’s International Airport is open?! This is hardly news for most Sacramentans but as one who survives sans TV, I miss those nationally inconsequential details overlooked by I received the Terminal-B tidbit via signage aboard the bus from Economy Parking... and flustered travelers racing to re-board, anxious about their departing flight. The two airlines I most frequent, Hawaiian and Southwest, are newly relocated to Terminal-B.
Terminal-B is three floors of open-beamed glass and girders with an arched, wooden ceiling paragliding seventy-feet overhead. Baggage Claim is on ground, natch. Ticketing on two. “All Gates” on three. I could find no ascending escalator – only descending (not kidding) - so reluctantly resorted to the glass tube: elevator and chute.

A long loop of cabling drops, gracefully preceding the elevator. It bears a startling resemblance to Alien dropping silently from above and I recognize this view as a new view of an elevator.
The third floor to “All Gates” is nothing more than a way station, a light-rail terminus and overlook for the ginormous red rabbit diving through a central hole toward baggage on ground. A red rabbit, not white, which in my humble opinion, is historically more apropos for chasing toward adventure. One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small. White however, would disappear in the natural light pouring through all that glass.
I am interested to experience Terminal-B when Sacramento is in its infamous throes of triple-digit temperatures. All that solar heat trapped beneath glass – like a solarium. No doubt brighter minds than mine have pondered this scenario – haven’t they?

The distal half of Terminal-B is out next to the runways. The Link, a three-car monorail, delivered me to the security checkpoint complete with two full-body scanners. Security screening was remarkably quick and light-years more efficient than the previous, notorious, and terminally constipated check-point B.
Between security and runway lies a long line of gates, shops, and restaurants - and I do mean restaurants – establishments serving real and healthy food like Dos Coyotes and Jack’s Urban Eats. Notably, distal Terminal-B is sans the ubiquitous stench of Cinnabons. ‘Tis a breath of fresh air.

I queued for boarding. The passengers behind me began discussing the American Bubble as we pressed tightly, five to a Southwest-Air-seating-section.
“What’s our in-flight movie?” I asked crossing the jet’s threshold. Our flight attendant smiled, “It’s an old re-run; me.” We chuckled.
I stowed my roller-bag overhead and chose a seat just ahead of the mid-plane exit row. The young, svelte couple behind me read aloud from the placard outlining occupant requirements for exit row seating. “Passengers requiring a seatbelt extender may not occupy the exit row.” My attention jerked, ears perked and rotated posteriorly, a trick I learned from my wayward cat.
“Wow! I heard that,” I said, poking my head round the edge of my seat. “I wonder if that’s new? It points to fitness.” They nodded.
Our flight attendant addressed exit row occupants. “The door weighs fifty-pounds. In case of evacuation, push that lever in the direction of the arrow, slide your hands into those slots, and grab onto the handles inside. Pull the door into the plane, rotate it, and throw it out. Then you are responsible for staying here to guide passengers out. Is everyone able to perform those duties?” She paused. “Does anyone want to relocate?” No one moved so she thanked them for accepting the mantle of duty and moved on.

My mind wandered. The obese desire exit row seating because excess butt and back fat moves them forward in the seats and on airplanes, jams their knees into the seatback ahead. The extra legroom of Emergency Exit Seating (EES) mitigates the knees-into-forward-seatback problem. And now; now they are excluded from exit row seating.

I reached for the placard of information. Here’s the short of it. A passenger seated in an exit seat must have sufficient mobility, strength, and to:
• push, shove, pull or otherwise open Emergency Exit
• lift, hold, deposit on nearby seats, maneuver - over the seatbacks to the next row or out the opening - objects/obstructions the size and weight of over-wing window exits… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. [Said only in my best Yul Brynner. I command you, as the king would, to re-read it as Yul Brynner would. Precise, crisp enunciation: Et-ceterra (roll the R’s), et-ceterra (flick your hand dismissively), et-ceterra! (stamp your foot)] Excellent! Mahalo for your indulgence.
And a passenger seated in an exit seat must NOT:
• require a seatbelt extension to fasten his seatbelt.

Bottom line: ya gotta hoist a 50-pound door and fit within the seatbelt. I consider myself very fit and in the past, routinely hoisted 40-pound sacks of dog food over my shoulder. But a fifty-pound door? Out in front? Hoisted over the seatbacks into the next row? I seriously doubt I could lift that door, pull it in, rotate it, and throw it out. It’s a shocking and disappointing realization for me… about myself and my physical abilities – or lack thereof.  …No more exit row seating for me. Waaah!

I expanded my seatbelt out fully. Just how big is this really? I guesstimated I could sit atop myself and just fasten the belt.
“How big is this?” I asked our passing flight attendant.
“Jackie Gleason but not John Candy?”
Talk about old re-runs. "That’s big,” I laughed.

Southwest Air made short work of an eighty-minute flight to Portland and we were on the ground in sixty. I peered out the window as we descended through thick cloud cover. Rain was forecast for my entire trip and clouds that had stippled our flight path coalesced densely over Portland.
The day was gray with low cloud cover – so typical of the Pacific Northwest. We followed the Columbia River past hillsides colored a deep forest green, punctuated in gold. An occasional flare of bright orange drew my eye to a single tree in spectacular fall flame.
I remember flying into Seattle to a similar scene. Two years ago? Descending over water, thickly thatched hillsides displaying the best the west can muster in fall foliage. This reminds me of Seattle.

My mind back-flipped. This reminds me of Seattle. In that moment, I saw my affinity for hanging current, present-moment experiences on the memory of something similar. The cabling of the elevator reminded me of Alien. The scene from the airplane over Portland reminded me of descending into Seattle.
Familiarity brings a certain sense of safety and at our most elemental, we seek safety for survival. I wonder how often my reminiscing to create relationships present to past, distract me from real, present-moment experiences.

On the ground, I rode MAX, Portland’s light-rail into the city. The ticket cost a whopping $2.40. MAX is interesting in that there is a “free-zone” within the city proper.  One can jump on and off the train, moving about the city without paying a toll. It’s good for business, making the downtown veeery user friendly.
A group of Goth(ic) teenagers hustled by and jumped off the train. Their hair dyed jet-black, their clothing, footwear, caps - black, all black. Chains hung from their belts, exposed skin sported gruesome tattoos.
“Is it still Halloween?” an old man asked through a thick Spanish accent.
“Only in Portland.”

 The stop labeled Old Town / Chinatown propelled me unexpectedly from the train. I meandered through Old Town still under redevelopment. Not much to it.
Chinatown is comprised of a very few, dingy streets. I passed many dark, shabby doorways: so & so’s Restaurant & Lounge. Small groups of men loitered. Why are Chinatowns universally seedy, sleazy, and squalid?

It was 1pm; I was hungry. Hong Kong style dim-sum; the sign invited me in. The large, well-lit restaurant was nearly vacant. I was directed to a table against the wall.
Nearby, a daughter chastised her mother for failing to calendar her doctor appointments accurately. The missed appointment had been rescheduled and duly entered into her appointment book stuffed with annotated paper scraps and corralled by a large, thick rubber band. They collected her walker and shuffled out.
“Dim sum and hot tea,” I answered her query.
Two men seemed to conduct business two tables away. Their voices echoed off the lifting, green, linoleum floor tiles and Formica tabletops.

My waitress returned, teapot in hand, pushing the dim sum cart with its collection of steaming bamboo bowls. I chose a dish of fahn noodles with shrimp and my favorite – deep-fried mochi balls rolled in sesame seeds, containing azuki (sweet, red) bean paste. Actually, my favorite mochi balls contain shredded coconut but azuki beans will suffice.
Cheung fahn is a Hong Kong street-vendor snack. Rice noodle dough is rolled into flat, thin sheets served with sweetened shoyu (soy sauce). Shrimp fahn has shrimp rolled up inside like a crepe. I gasped when she poured shoyu, overfilling and overflowing the dish before I could utter a word of protest. OMG! She left without sopping up the soy that inched its way across my table.
I looked about. Garish, red tasseled, Chinese kitsch hung from the ceiling and banister climbing to the second floor. The walls were papered in Ting Tsao beer posters. Shoyu inched its way across my table. Lovely.

It is my opinion that as a culture, we Chinese appreciate functionality, efficiency, and value, often to the exclusion of aesthetics. Meals are seldom presented with attention to color, proportion, and placement on the platter. The measure of a good Chinese restaurant is good food - lots of it.
I looked at my plate of fahn drenched in shoyu and the puddle on the table. I don’t like salt, don’t want the salt, and sampled with caution. It was a delicious mix of shoyu, oil, and sugar water. Not too salty and oh-so hou-hou! (Cantonese for very good.) The mochi-balls were delicious; I stowed two in my pack.
A section of the hallway was missing linoleum floor tiles altogether; the exposed concrete was worn smooth. Paint peeled from the stall door. A bucket caught dripping water beneath the sink. Corner floor tiles were blackened from repeated sloshing by a filthy mop, left to dry. Function over aesthetics.
A scampering cockroach or mouse was all that was needed to complete the picture, and were I a Portland resident, I would patronize this restaurant for its hou-hou sung (literally: good, good food).

I stepped outside and located myself in GoogleMaps on my iPhone. I pointed myself in the right direction and started walking, dragging my roller-bag behind me. It wasn’t long before I happened upon the financial district and “Occupy” encampment. All was quiet at Occupy, no chanting, no picketing. People were hunkered beneath tarps and in tents, sharing quiet conversations. Starbuck’s paper cups and plastic lids overflowed the garbage though the sidewalk was clean, the campground tidy.

I arrived at the Hilton with an hour to spare before meeting high-school beau Fred and Tina, his lovely wife of thirty-years.