Something I have never dones but have 100 times.
A perfect day, a light wind blows through the trees. The temperature is cool and light. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to describe how content I feel on days like today. The dance of shadows and light play across the myriad of surfaces powered by the graceful breeze. The rustling of the leaves gives voice to the passage of time. The perfect temperature is unnoticeable, the bite of cold and the slow burn of direct sunlight offset one another in perfect harmony. I regret not being able to stop and just let this day unfold around me. I understand that it is one of many as I break myself from its alluring song. This moment lasting but a few seconds teasing me with its embrace as the dull sound of the car door opening pierces my thoughts.
Our plan is simple, drive to the nearest Max station and take it downtown. We have done this in the past for events like the Rose Festival. Even though this is my first Waterfront Blues Festival I have been here before. County fairs and carnivals are pretty much the same. The food never tastes as good as it smells, being a major disappointment as its interrupted by the odor of overused port-a-potty. The throngs of people shuffling aimlessly about, their conversations flutter in and out of your ears like a bad radio station. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I wonder as I write this if I actually went into this experience with a closed mind of preconceived expectations. Was I ever going to be able to fully enjoy this day?
The ride down was uneventful, the train bumped against the rails like a tired amusement park rollercoaster. I always enjoy listening to the conversations that go on. The stoned kid says “Remember that time with the beer truck and my elbow” a chorus of laughter erupts from his friends. I can only imagine. I look across at the overweight but very pretty girl, none of them sat next to her. I know she is definitely with them. She looks longingly at one of them smiling, he doesn’t return the glance. Later he looks over to her “Hey, do you have any money” She nods with a shy smile. Do you want me to hold it for you? No, is her only answer as he looks away. She goes back to her phone the same sad smile on her face.
We departed the train at the 1st and Oak Station and notice the festival isn’t as big as the Rose Festival and we have quite a hike ahead of us. About five blocks or so. I don’t mind the weather is nice, a warm 70 degrees, a light wind flutters about taunting me with a brush of coolness. We make our way across waterfront park to the river walk and peer into the murky depths of the Willamette river. I always fear I’m going to drop something in despite the stone grip I have on my phone and the focused attention on my glasses in anticipation of the slightest movement that my downward glance may cause them.
Light conversation as we stand in line waiting for our bags to be checked, a symbol of one of the many freedoms we have lost in our day and age. I miss that time of innocence when I was a kid when the only thing hidden in somebody’s bag was a bottle of booze. Glancing about and seeing the gathering of people this checkpoint causes, wondering if somebody really wanted to do some harm, this unintended backup would give them a much better opportunity. Being in crowds these days brings more dangers than they used to be, unthinkable dangers thought of and aware of. Would I even have time to react?
Making it through the checkpoint with ease we enter into the festival the Hawthorne bridge looms above us and then the smell smacks me in the face like a dead fish. I glance down looking for its origin, I wonder how they fit so many port-a-potties in such a cramped space, the inevitable “OH!, I have to pee” ushers forth from my lips. The smell is deplorable though muted, by a recent cleaning of the area. Dark and gloomy, a sick twisted maze of port-a- potty snakes under the bridge, a Halloween fun house gone horribly wrong. I will have to say, of the many things I dislike about going to fairs the port-a-potty is probably the top of my list. I think of all the horrors that could occur while in one, thank the almighty heavens and any other deity in charge of the “#2” and the fact I have never had the displeasure of having the place my posterior upon this throne of shit. Yes, I actually feel sorry for all of you ladies. As my eyes adjust, I check my phone and anything else that could possibly fall into the black morass of filth that stagnates with festering horror at the far end of my vision. Then I see something that breaks my heart. Hanging at the back of the hole of doom itself, Small, soiled almost beyond recognition is a miniature American flag. Still dripping with the previous person’s urine. As I relieve myself trying to avoid the small sorrowful flag I try to figure out how I can rescue it. I cannot possibly touch it getting the filth on my hands with no reasonable certainty that I can wash them in the near future. I quickly come to the realization, that I can only hope many others before me have come to. This flag though small in stature soiled with the filth and excrement was still the shining example of freedom I could almost see the red white and blue fighting to shine through the dinge of disrespect. I left the flag there, shaking my head in disbelief as I walked to join my wife and tell her the story.
As we start to look for food we meander about noticing that the layout of the festival is like the music at first, it seems random and disjointed. Then the order starts to show up in the unique placement of the stages and booths resemble the chords and melodies of the blues that floats around us. Perusing various shops and kiosks the predictable fair of assorted goods shout for our attention to which we are not swayed. Our quest takes us for food. The myriad of smells attacks my nose in a battle for my attention. Roast chicken mixed with the smell propane infused flames. I laugh heartedly at my wife saying “Eww there’s a skunk nearby.” “At least it’s legal now, ” I say. Stale beer, smoked burnt meat. The pungent smell of non-hygienically inclined individuals. It all mingles into the aroma of humanity on a summer day.
You would think that you can tell the good places to eat by the lines. You are always confronted with a choice to make that is tainted by how hungry you are. If you’re really hungry you go to the short lines and are treated with “ok” food. But if you’re willing to wait on a long thirty-minute line you’re still rewarded with “ok” food, knowing this we head to the shortest line. The Quesadilla is as expected, the extra dollar I paid for the dollop of sour cream offsets the otherwise bland beans and rice that accompany it. But at least I’m not hungry anymore, Though I wonder when did eating while standing become a thing? If there is one thing that lacks around public events, it is the lack of places to sit. I’m sure the excuse is to facilitate traffic flow. But placing a dead end at the very back of the fair is piss poor planning in my opinion. Anywho, I digress.
After eating our food like starved dingo’s on the plains of Africa… (Yes, we were “that” hungry.) We start to meander with the throngs of people, rivers of humanity flowing aimlessly to nowhere. I’m not a blues music fan but I can appreciate the love the people have for the music. There is a lot of sole here. You can see the age in people’s eyes like they know something you don’t, a secret mystery of the unknown. We make our way back through the festival and find an empty table suspiciously near the elephant ear vendor overlooking the secondary stage.
I began to watch the throngs of people in front of the stage The table we’re sitting at is a good vantage point atop a small rise like a commander surveying the troops below. As I start to look at individuals, smiles seem lacking there is a sadness among the crowd. Even the weathered skinned dancers who have seen too many sunsets are emotionless in their gyrations moving to the beat of a sad drummer. I don’t know what the singer is so excited about because his face tells a story of tired weariness. The sound assaults my ears as I strain to understand what he sings about. Blown out speakers make the music a droning escapade of incoherent gibberish. Of course, these are the observations of an uninitiated first-time blues festivals goer. I’ve honestly never seen so many excitedly unexcited people. Glancing at the weary dancers I feel their tiredness where I sit. I can only wonder what drink infused delirium has brought them to this state. I wonder if the aging man on the dance floor may have recently lost his wife. He spent hours endlessly dancing, with a myriad of women showing his eagerness to fight his loneliness and not caring that his dancing prowess was lacking in co-ordination and amusing to watch.
A vibrant beautifully tattooed woman is led through the crowd to a quiet corner. These free spirits, a glow of difference in the crowd. She and her partner start to perform a form of ballet combined with acrobatics beautiful and elegant in its erotic simplistic complexity. My wife and I enjoy watching them do incredible moves of balance and grace. Tone fit bodies like iron bars of a jungle gym supporting one another. We amused ourselves by deciding that her name was Mira, and his was Sergei, could they go by any other name?
The day began to yield to night as we plotted our next destination, the cold wind started to blow across the river. A chill began to creep in as my wife clung closer to me. Going to the main stage area to watch the fireworks was out of the question. The wall of humanity impenetrable, not to mention the trip out, it was best we stay close to the exit in an effort to be able to get to the train out of town quickly before the throng of humanity. Did I fail to mention it was the 4th of July? By the time we made it to the edge of the waterfront all of the places were taken, people were even “borrowing chairs” from the tables around the stages to sit on. As one person shifted I pulled my wife with me to the rail overlooking the water and a great vantage point for the fireworks. Or so I thought, there looming in front of us was that very same Hawthorne bridge we saw in the beginning, it would inevitably block our view of the fireworks. As we looked around for a better vantage point it was readily apparent this was as good as it was going to get. So we stayed, cuddled up for warmth, happy to be there together.
The fireworks were enjoyable, the foreground of the bridge framework silhouetted by the brightness
of the fireworks as colored light danced off the different angles. It was a new and beautiful sight. Like most things in life, I have found that if you wait long enough things will tend to work out and show you the unexpected usually for the good. When the fireworks were over and we began our journey home. I reflected on the day. It was a perfect day despite the unpleasantness of the food or the port-a-pottys. The beauty of the people like Mira and Sergei, the old weary Hawthorne bridge highlighted by the colorful fireworks. Each offset to provide the harmony to a song of perfection that without imperfection, could not have been obtained.