On quite a few Sunday mornings over the past year, curious inquirers could have found me sitting at a table at Hot Lips Pizza on Hawthorne Street, pen in hand and blank journal page in front of me. Every last Sunday and third Thursday mornings of the month, Hot Lips Pizza hosts writing workshops held by Portland nonprofit Write Around Portland. With free pastries provided by Grand Central Bakery, it has proven to be quite the wonderful writing community. I have written about Portland’s literary scene before, but every time I attend one of these workshops, I am always inspired by the fellow writers who show up to share the written word with each other. I have yet to share any of my writing from a workshop on my blog, but no day but today!
When I went to Hot Lips in June, I wrote a short fiction vignette inspired by my love of urban exploration. At this morning’s workshop, I continued the vignette via a different prompt. Said prompts are listed first, to give some reference on what I started with.
“The gift shop was closed…”
“A cracked sidewalk…”
This Sunday morning was quiet, downtown seeming like a ghost town, the usual early morning strollers still deep in their beds, asleep, dreaming of the rainstorm of the night before. The pellets of water that pelted our window last night and into the wee hours of the morning still echoed in my head. But when my eyes finally opened at first light, squinting at the weak stream of sun that hit the curtain and then bent around into our bedroom, I shook him awake, jumped out of bed, and raised the blinds, letting some light spill out onto the comforter. After some quick coffee and toast, we slipped down the stairs of our apartment building and with the metallic “thump” of the door closing behind us, we were out, into the city.
Snaking through the dead streets, still wet from the night’s storm, we stepped over soggy leaves and wilted white petals that had made their precarious journey to the ground with the first drops of rain. The buildings were tall, tall trees. Their reflected counterparts, mostly naked, reached their crowns to the clouds, seeking to rest their spindly branches in the softness of heavenly cushions. As the sky’s grey bleariness gave way to a soft pink, we breathed in deep whiffs of freshly ground coffee and steamed milk, its deep foamy surface surely giving way to a gold mine of brown liquid below.
As our sneakers plodded along the cracked sidewalk, we carefully stepped over unevenness formed by tree roots, reminding us of life’s broken, but still unbroken line. I couldn’t help but think of the fact that before this sidewalk, its resident shading maple had free reign of the earth, but now it battles with concrete. And I think it will win.
As we got closer to the river, the sky was twinged with pale blue, interspersed by whirling white gulls feasting on fish in the Willamette, that grey flowing river crossed by ten bridges. We crossed one, stopping midway to gaze downstream at a slow tugboat hauling a shipment of iron bars to a construction site we had watched in earnest for weeks. One or two cars passed behind our backs, and with their passing we felt an eddy of air whirl around our bodies, the wind whipping our hair backward forced sideways with the passing vehicle. The river beside us gleamed far below, stretching wide out to either bank, as we straddled worlds between East and West. He said he was tempted to jump, to give in to vertigo, but I grabbed him around the middle in a vice-like hug, keeping him by my side. We laughed as we continued our crossing, the city just ahead.
When we finally reached the Big Pink, we looked furtively over our shoulders and down the block before opening the small, nondescript door and slipped inside. Luckily it was still early enough that the sky was about the same color as our building’s windows, so we began our ascent undetected. Up and up, around countless corners, more and more stairs, endless, each stairwell the same as the next, grey walls, brown railings, concrete below our feet. And finally, hearts pounding, legs tingling, we reached the top, a grey metal door with a smooth metal handle just ahead. And we pushed it open.
A blast of cool morning air almost toppled us back on our heels, threatening to send us somersaulting down the way we came, down the dozens of flights of stairs we had climbed. But we forged ahead, an inch at a time, until we burst through the doorway and let the metal door shut with a “clang” behind us. The observatory gift shop appeared to be closed, but a lone security guard stood, surveying the city below. He looked at us in alarm and surprise, as we were obviously intruding before hours, but merely chose to raise his eyebrows at us instead of lecturing. Our hair whipped about our faces violently, mine dancing over to curl amongst his. I can imagine that as our hairs twirled together, they looked the same, brown and brown. And then there was the city laid out before us, Burnside cutting the city in half and Broadway heading South in earnest. The first buses of the day wound like clown millipedes through their hollows of tall buildings, and the morning’s first coffee-goers walked arm-in-arm like ants scouring a cracked sidewalk for food. The sun, a golden ball, rose over Mt. Tabor, sending rays of light over the many blocks, illuminating skeleton trees and their first fuzz of green and white. We joined hands, in awe of a city just waking up, its sleepy slowness, its weekend saunter. We closed our eyes, trying to keep from falling, and wordlessly squeezed each other’s fingers, feeling the steady whip of the wind as it made its way across the city.