All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim. – Christopher Morley
I am back in eastern Washington for part of my winter break. Coming directly from Corvallis, it’s not as big of a shock as it was when I would come home from Bellingham or Seattle–or when I came home from the Caribbean.
I took the train out of Oregon, a precaution I normally take to avoid driving in winter weather in my Toyota sedan. (Note to self: You really have to get those two back tires replaced.) My first train ran from Albany, OR to Seattle, and it left at 6:13AM. I slept for the first part of the ride, and when I woke up, I was outside of Portland.
It was a clear day, the sun was coming up, and the train crossed right above the river. From my window, I could see the sunrise, silhouetting ducks on the water and early morning joggers. A group of bicyclists, apparently stopped to enjoy a snack, waved at the passing train; I waved back.
It was–for a lack of better words–beautiful.
From Portland, I traveled north to Seattle where I had a four-hour layover. I took the opportunity to stow my bags (thanks, J.Bro, for the tip) and grab lunch in Pioneer Square. I settled on an old bar and cafe for lunch, sitting myself down at the bar. Comfort food was plentiful on the menu, and I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a heaping side of fries. A person I’d seen briefly at the train station sat down next to me, and we had possibly one of the best strangers-at-a-bar conversations I’ve ever had. He was handsome, which helped, and we chatted about our jobs and where we came from and where we were going. (Thanks, ex-Marine and current engineer Matt; you really made my day.)
After lunch, I walked around Pioneer Square for a bit in the cool air. It’s an area where I haven’t spent much time, considering I used to live in Seattle. I found a used book store, browsed for a bit, then bought a book of Albert Einstein’s essays from his later years. I wandered into Zeitgeist Coffee, a new-to-me coffee shop, and plunked down in the corner to read.
I felt more at home in that coffee shop than I have anywhere in Corvallis, even at my favorite hipster coffee shop.
In Portland the other weekend, I felt like I was a missing puzzle piece to that city. It didn’t bother me that only a few people could join me in PDX for my birthday; it just felt right to be in the city, having endless opportunities for exploration.
On my last leg of the train trip, I talked with a man from Montana. I gathered from our conversation that he’s a small-town kind of guy, as he’s given L.A. and Seattle a few tries without much fondness. He talked about the dirt and the grime, and brought up the dangers of living in the city. I mentioned that I grew up in a small-ish town (granted, it’s pretty big here now, but it’s got a sticking small-town mentality). It was a good place to grow up, I said, and I explained that my move to Bellingham (which is where he’s currently living) was a shock–yet one that opened my eyes to a whole new level of thinking. I told him I’d lived in Seattle for while, but I neglected to tell him about how after that, I’d moved to Madrid for a month, and how I came to realize I no longer belonged in rural spaces.
Yes, the city can be scary. The cities in which I hope to live, however, are full of wonderful communities and fantastic friends. Those cities are also full of opportunity–both in work and play. I never thought that I would fall in love with city life, but here I am.
I will be there to embrace your imperfections, Portland/Seattle/L.A.; I will be there to grow through mine.