Walking in Portland

convention-bell.jpg.JPG Today was the first day of the Supercomputing 09 conference. It’s been one of the highlights of my year for the six times I’ve been able to attend before this one. It’s fun to go see what is up with the industry and see whats new and interesting, but I’ve really had a ball just walking around most of the cities that I’ve got the chance to visit.
Portland has kind of a funny vibe so far. I’ve been here a couple times before, but always alone and always just for the afternoon as I was on my way to the coast. This is the first chance that I’ve had to just spend time aimlessly poking around. I’m really digging the variety of architecture, especially the late 1800’s masonry and the way the regooding hasn’t seemed to caught it all yet. One of the best examples I saw of this today was a preserved corner facade of a building that separated another building from the street, complete with trees growing inside the old building space. If my legs work tomorrow I’m going to see if I can’t get some better pictures when there’s some light, and when I have something other than my phone to capture it.
I’ve also not seen so many people begging for cash since Baltimore in ’02, and the Baltimore panhandlers were at least soft-spoken lot and only gave each person one shot. Most of the ones I’ve been approached by here are persistent and fairly obnoxious. The homeless situation here is heartbreaking, as you can’t walk from here to the convention center without seeing several people wrapped in blue tarps in doorways and under the bridges. The hotel in which I’m staying has two buildings next door that have little cardboard gates in front of their stoops with people huddled against the chill and the rain. I’m not sure as to what good a 1′ high cardboard barrier provides, but maybe it’s a talisman for personal space.
The light rail system is really nice for getting around as we’re in the free-fare zone, although it does tend to shake my room every 15 minutes or so enough that I’m often tempted to toss the conductor a quarter for the vibrating bed. But today the preferred mode was walking in the light drizzle that the locals have referred to as ‘the rainy season’. It’s been a fairly mild and pleasant, but gray storm all day, and going over google maps from one destination to another it looks like I may have walked between seven and ten miles. My legs are feeling it, too. I’m starting to get the landmarks down. There’s a building with a greenish neon strip at the top that puts me close to my hotel. The North Steel Bridge shows up near the river, but there’s not a lot of real skyline that is visible for a long distance to get my bearings, and without mountains or big, distant buildings I’m left to navigate from the light rail maps (when I don’t get them turned around).
One if the huge differences is it’s just really hard not to j-walk across these tiny roads. There hasn’t been much traffic most times and it just feels stupid to stop at a streetlight with no traffic when you can practically spit across the street. And with the majority of the streets seeming to be one-way it’s not like some traffic is going to surprise you. We got so caviler about it that it’s almost funny the way I nearly fell into the streets several times when I’ve actually seen that I needed to stop. At least there’s been the added humor of looking for the purported sources of the names of The Simpson’s characters on the street signs. We’ve seen Flanders and Lovejoy, but those are the only ones I’ve recognized so far.
But for now it’s off to bed with the rattle and squeal of the Morrison train to rock me to sleep. I think I hear one coming now.
Did I mention I tend to ramble when I’m tired?