Rural south Salem is just sixty miles or so away from Portland’s Pearl District, but we felt as if we had journeyed to a foreign exotic land, so marvelous were the sights seen there.
Not so marvelous, though, was the unfamiliar manner in which we learned Portlanders drive, on Friday afternoons at least. Rather than use their cars to move from one place to another, as is done in Salem, drawing near to Portland we observed thousands of them lined up neatly on the southbound freeway, seemingly motionless. We could not understand why so many Portlanders would choose to assemble in such a fashion on a nice sunny day. This was but the first of many enigmas we encountered on our visit.
When we found our way to the 1200 block of NW Couch, following directions supplied by some friendly natives who had invited us to experience their land, we were pleased to see an empty parking place. This made us feel at home, as such are common in our usual city habitat, downtown Salem. However, looking around we observed that parkers were making a pilgrimage to some shrine in the middle of the block, rather than simply getting out of their cars and walking on their way.
Not wanting to break some tribal taboo, we did the same, which led us to a truly mysterious piece of technology that took us some minutes to comprehend. This was not a parking meter, but it sucked up coins. It also apparently accepted credit cards, marvel of marvels. By following the 1-2-3 icons embedded on the face of the machine a piece of paper eventually extruded itself. Trying to decipher its meaning, we read that it was to be applied to the inside of our car window. Somehow.
Yet sticking it by its sticky side on the inside of the window would leave it facing the wrong way. And sticking it by its unsticky side would leave it falling off the window. Truly, we now were strangers in a strange land. It was only by following the adage, “When in Portland, do as Portlanders do,” that we were able to study other parked cars and find a way to affix the paper with another piece of sticky paper spit out by the machine. Our disorientation was now complete. Dazedly we made our way to the next block.
And there, wonder upon wonders, we entered a restaurant, P F Changs, that was utterly unlike any eating place to be found in our homeland. It was beautifully decorated, a blend of Chinese tradition and American modernism. Natives had thronged to it at 5:00 pm, and for good reason. Service was efficient, competent, polite, unobtrusive. The offerings were unique, and most reasonably priced. A tofu appetizer came with shells of lettuce leaves, within which we spooned the tasty Pearl District fare.
In all of Salem there is not such a restaurant as this. We did not want to leave. We tarried as long as possible, enjoying the company of our friends, absorbing the exotic atmosphere. Even the restrooms were a marvel.
After doing my duty I stood before the sink, perplexed by a the sight of a fixture from which water seemingly emerged (for such was made to happen by the man next to me), but…how? In Salem we have faucets, which we turn. I waved my hands in front of the fixture, remembering that in an airport one time this made water emerge. Dryness still. The native took pity on me, undoubtedly recognizing me for the tourist that I was, and pointed to a subtle black square on the fixture. Pushing it, water! I danced with joy. I had mastered a local custom!
Eventually returning to Couch Street, Laurel and I could not take our eyes off of the beautiful, finely-attired youth who thronged the sidewalks. So different from our native land, where downtown Salem is a wasteland on Friday evening. Also Thursday evening. And every other evening. We had seen fashion like this in magazines, but never had we dreamed to see real people wearing such. A lithe girl strutted past wearing a brown micro skirt over designer blue jeans. I started to pull out my camera to capture such a never-seen sight. Laurel grabbed my arm. “We must respect the privacy of the natives,” she said. “We are their guests here.”
I do not have time to describe all the other wonders that we experienced in the Pearl District. Salem brothers and sisters, you must see for yourself, for otherwise you would never believe us. Can you imagine a bookstore so large that our entire Jackson’s Books would fit into the science fiction section of it? Can you imagine a natural food store so similarly immense that our entire LifeSource Natural Foods would fit into its Deli department? No, such is to be experienced if it is to be believed.
Journey to the Pearl District as we did. Your eyes will gaze upon sights that never have and, sadly, never will be seen in Salem.