Thursday, January 31, 2008

neighborhood panoramic

Panoramic view of the neighborhood and east side of the river from the new aerial tram

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Paths

I was late. I was always late. Saturday, the day of freedom – and I am determined to make the most of it. My friend Eric lived just a few blocks away, on the other side of the highway. Front Avenue, that barren no man’s land of windy concrete ribbon. Menacing me with its surge of traffic disappearing into the blackness of the tunnel.

I pass by the school and see the old green Range Rover, eternally parked on the street in front of the Wall of Ivy. Above, the weave of blackened steel cables twist together, bolted to the splintering poles with their loops and protrusions. Like me, they always lead somewhere, and tonight I am following them. Rounding a corner, the lights flicker on, great yellow globes suspended in the air, a harsh contrast to the fading light of the dull winter sky.

Following them along the curved concrete wall, I approach the underpass. A soft rumble crescendos to a thunderous roar, punctuated by the shriek of worn brakes or the groan of a downshifting truck. Paying no heed, I hesitantly step forward.

Dim lighting struggles to push back the growing darkness, black streaks of dirt and decay seem to fight back. Taking a deep breath, I stretch my arms out, almost able to touch both of the walls.

Hastily stepping forward, my foot falls echo in the claustrophobic space. Not able to see the end, what happens should I encounter another soul here? What if scenarios fill my head as I nervously look back over my shoulder. It grows quieter, the tunnel muffling the traffic to a low murmur, as if I am miles underground. The dripping of water fills the void as I continue this journey, and the exit grows nearer and nearer. The gentle murmur grows in intensity in tune, lending an intensity like the sound of the surf crashing on the beach as it draws ever closer.

I step out into pure blackness, the sun having set behind the hills. Suddenly, I hear a scraping sound to my right, and I turn in surprise. An old tired man edges his way down the ancient stairs, dragging a bag behind him. Looking down at me, his craggy features compliment his wizened face. Petrified, I stare at him in a mixture of fear and surprise – until I realize he is just as surprised as I to find ourselves not alone.

Muttering under his breath, he reaches the bottom of the stairs, heading into the tunnel from which I just came – the brilliance of the crystalline lights shining above in the towers on the hill, high out of reach.

I continue on.

solace

The door banged shut behind me, but did nothing to muffle the acrid words my mother directed my way. Things had only been getting worse lately, ever since Dad was called up on active duty. She said she had stopped, that she could control it, but then she started drinking. It was ‘just one glass’ of wine, then two and three… I lost count. She lost count.

I got home late tonight, after going to the theater with a friend. It’s a long walk back home, down First Avenue and over the barren overpass. Cars whizzed by as I dodged traffic to try to get home on time, but no matter – as I swung open the door I could already smell the cheap white wine, the half-empty bottle perched precariously on the kitchen counter. I noticed my mother’s flushed face, as if she was ready to pick a fight.

Tonight, however, I couldn’t take her distraught, drunken rants. I knew she was frantic, desperate for me to stay with her, but it was just too much for tonight. Dropping off my backpack, I skipped back out. Just up the street, a couple blocks to the north, was my favorite place, where the scraggly limbs of the trees arched overhead and the traffic drowned out my thoughts. I could get lost here, and I did. Frequently.

Sometimes I stayed until the sun set, and watched the moon rise over the hills, while the lights would come on, a million tiny flashes of brilliant light, without a sound. The cars hummed by, and I closed my eyes to rest.

juxtaposition

The tram. That’s something that wasn’t always there. The wet leaves squish underfoot as I gingerly step down the sidewalk, the sharp stones from the cracked and pitted surface digging into my feet. The sky is neatly cut in two, the swaying cables a hundred feet.

Years have passed here, the green bounty of the trees and bushes thriving in the crispness of the damp air. Away, down towards the river, this rich organic softness gives way to the hard lines of the glass towers. Hard edged. Towering below me. As if through their own conceit they must mask the forest, river and hills beyond.

Looking down at the crumbling cement, I laugh.

17 years. It’s been awhile.

I ease my car onto the 299 exit from I-5, my window rolled down as I feel the constant blast of the cold spring air against my face. Turning right off of Hood ave, I see the old tree lined streets of my childhood. Old Victorians, recently spruced up – I recall the old blackberries that filled the vacant lots and backyards of the old homes, their faded paint curling off the weathered siding.

I follow the power lines - Right. Left. Through the underpass, then by the old Cedarwood school. Children are playing in the school yard, their parents will soon be by to pick them up. I ease the car a few houses down and park. There it is. An old 1908 Foursquare, just as I had remembered it.

the Mountain

I remember those last few years in Portland, waking up to the grey morning light filtering through the east-facing windows. Watching as the sun slowly burned away the bitter heaviness of the clouds to reveal the glistening whiteness of The Mountain. I would stretch out my arm to it; as if it was a jewel just out of reach… it felt special, like the world was revealing some of its beauty to me. I remember feeling elation, awe and mystery at the site... a mystery that would drive me to seek out my own path away from here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Biography

My name is John. I guess you’d say that I live a transient style of existence – always moving, from one place to another. My dad was in the Army, and I spent most of my childhood growing up in places like Georgia, Texas, and Alabama… until I was 15. That was when he was sent to Iraq during the war, and I came to live in Portland with my mother, to be closer to her relatives. Not that I really cared – I had only briefly met them once or twice for some holiday or other.

I spent most of my time avoiding my mother as much as possible. She worked downtown as a receptionist; she had to to be able to feed my sister and I. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep her away from the bottle, and she drank. A lot. She got angry a lot, and sometimes hit my sister and me. So I just stayed away… the streets of Portland, the hills, the parks, the trees… gave me solace, an escape for me. Looking back, it wasn’t that I didn’t care about finishing school, or what my sister or mother did – I just needed to get out, get away from it all.

After my father came back from the war, things were pretty strained. My parents fought a lot… and they eventually separated. That’s when I knew – I just had to get out, to escape from this town. I sometimes took the Greyhound up to visit my father in Fort Lewis, skipping classes on a Friday – against my mother’s wishes, of course.

After my sister got pregnant and moved to California, I didn’t feel that there was much point in sticking around anymore. I dropped out of school when I was 17 and finished up my GRE before most of my peers even graduated high school – it just seemed like one more obstacle to my getting out on my own. Like they wanted to hold you back.

I remember those last few years in Portland, waking up to the grey morning light filtering through the east-facing windows. Watching as the sun slowly burned away the bitter heaviness of the clouds to reveal the glistening whiteness of The Mountain. I would stretch out my arm to it; as if it was a jewel just out of reach… it felt special, like the world was revealing some of its beauty to me. I remember feeling elation, awe and mystery at the site... a mystery that would drive me to seek out my own path away from here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

google maps

here's a google map for you guys:




View Larger Map

maps and resources

some maps of the hood.

The South Portland Neighborhood Association website has an introductory walkthrough for those of you unwilling to wait for all of my journal entries.






The Oregon Historical Society is another excellent source of information, for those sleuths who are willing to part with the requisite eight clams' entrance fee. I'll see what kind of information I can drag out from yesteryear one of these days...

Hi.

My name is John Woburn. I grew up in the Lair Hill neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. After many years of traveling across the country, I've decided to come back home to recall my memories from my past. This is my story and photo journey of growing up here.