It's an easy drive to Portland once I get out of Seattle. There, it's pouring rain and traffic is intense on this Monday morning. It's a fast pace and a far cry from the open roads of Montana and South Dakota and another reminder of why I left the city behind years ago. Yet there is no denying the appeal of places like Seattle and Portland, especially for young, educated people - the raw energy, the growth, the unlimited possibilities, culture and entertainment all serve to draw you in and keep you in place.
Benny has lived in Portland for almost eight years now and has thrived. Finding one's spot in the world is perhaps our most difficult task in life. It's like photography in that way where finding the place to stand and point your camera is the most elemental decision you make. In life, it's choosing your spot, because, as Ron Rash says in The World Made Straight, landscape is destiny.
Portland is about as big as Seattle, but seems to move at a slower speed. It's a city of neighborhoods, each with its own unique feel. But it's growing fast, over 30,000 new people a year, and affordable housing is at a premium and can't keep up with the growth. It's a walkable city and Benny's North Tabor neighborhood is nice for that. One morning, I walk south from his house heading toward Hawthorne. I stop to read a poetry post in front of someone's house. It's about children, addressed to another Benjamin, and speaks of the need of children to find their own paths and the anguish it causes their parents. It seems an appropriate poem for me, here, visiting my son, 3,000 miles from where he started out. As I'm reading, a woman approaches me on the sidewalk. "Is it a new poem?" "I don't know," I respond. "It's new to me." We talk some and I realize I like being in places where chance encounters over poetry can happen.
Ben hasn't had a lot of time off from work so we're picking and choosing what we do together. His old friend from Asheville, Spike, and his new wife Jen, have just moved to town and we spend good time with them. We've known Spike since he was a pre-teen, a regular, but infrequent presence around our place. And now he's married to this great woman and beginning a career as an underwater welder.
Another friend and co-worker of Benny's at Clyde Common, Junior Ryan, is getting married to Caitlin Geimer and we make our way to a bar called InterUrban at 10:30 in the morning for the ceremony. It's loud, and close, everyone taking full advantage of what Jeff Morgenthaler calls a Rye and Ginger Thingee. I have one, it's good. I feel very loose. It's raining hard. Food is served - an assortment of various sausages and hot dogs from another restaurant in town, Olympic Provisions, which is owned by Nate and Jane Tilden, who also own Clyde Common, where Benny tends bar.
After ten days in Seattle and Portland, I'm ready to be back on the road. It's been a good visit with my child, and now, armed with the knowledge of his stability and relative prosperity, and the relief I didn't screw up parenthood too badly, I'm content to go. I think all parents must go through this - the revelation of seeing who your children have become - and the further realization that his life is not the same as your life.
I take a last drive through the Columbia River gorge, this time on the Washington state side, which offers a distinct contrast to Oregon's side of the river with its steep, dark mountains hovering over the road and spectacular waterfalls. In Washington, the path is sun-filled, open and higher on the mountain, which offers sweeping views of the river valley.
Ben and I make a quick trip to the coast on my last day in town. It's important for me to see the ocean - to know I've seen the endpoint.
I've decided on a southern route home - weather, but also the opportunity to see a couple of people and places.