Friday, February 25, 2011

Purely Local

I pause at the landing and lift the window curtain to look at the dawn. Half moon due south: a pale blue sky, a dim rash of yesterday's snow on our neighbor's roof. The chances of getting more snow have dropped, but it's truly cold now.

On the street I glide, motionless, standing on the left pedal, the air burning my bare right calf. Sometimes the cold takes me this way, makes me want to be perfectly still. I will only really feel it if I move. And the faint downward grade of this street keeps me in motion: I stand still while the street threads past. It rolls by me like a film set. Scene: prosperous suburban neighborhood, early morning.

The moon tangles in the nets of bare twigs, struggles free, tangles again. The bicycle slows and I suddenly rediscover my will, as the cold ratchets up. Damn. It really is cold. I turn the corner onto Lincoln street and pedal hard: I'll have to get colder to get warmer.

But the distance to Tom's is short enough that I don't have time to get the internal fires really stoked. My gloved fingers fumble with the bike lock. The “Tom's” sign is not yet lit, but I glimpse Robin darting in the side door -- a few minutes late -- and before I have my lights turned off and my pants-leg rolled back down, the white and pink lights are running round and round the sign. The door is unlocked.

I sit down, still in my gloves and coat. In fact, still in my bike helmet, which is distinctly silly. I take it off, but the gloves I'm going to keep on till I have a full hot coffee cup to hold.

It's not all that cold, but after all these years back in Oregon, I'm not longer used to real cold. And I have no clothes for it, for one thing; I'm in jeans, a t-shirt, and a light jacket -- the same thing I wear year-round, except for those rare summer dawns when it's already warm, when I'd dispense with the jacket. I have gear for the rain, but not for the cold.

Martha makes fun of me for not dressing for the weather, but usually, who cares? When you live someplace where the lows are only 40° F away from the highs, it hardly makes much difference. It isn't worth the bother of having lots of different kinds of clothes. I wear jeans and t-shirts, or polo shirts. Simple and easy.

I'm fortunate to live in Portland, where lots of people go to work dressed this way. It's a rumpled and dumpy town, sartorially speaking. Kindly but unsophisticated.

Hot coffee, now. Bliss. And sun streams in through the east windows. Still a chill in the air, though. Everyone's keeping their coat on. As cars go by on Division, or or 39th Avenue, wild reflections and diffractions of sunlight whirl through the cafe.

Excuse me: not 39th Avenue. César E. Chávez Boulevard. The city council, in fit of political correctness, renamed the avenue, something that caused a certain amount of ill feeling, since -- for reasons best known to themselves -- they didn't follow their own procedures and railroaded it through without consulting the locals. It was a typical Portland city government move, these days: they've gotten a bit high-handed. This was a gesture of inclusion to the Hispanic community, which in principle I approve of, though I do wonder how many young Hispanics have the faintest idea who Chávez was, or why he's a hero to the aging WASP counter-culture heros who run this town. There's also the fact that 39th Avenue is not Hispanic territory, particularly: it's mostly poor Anglos here, and they resented having the outlandish name of a labor organizer they'd never liked foisted on their street. This resentment of course was declared racist by the proponents of the name change, and no doubt some of it was: but it was also generated by the knowledge that, this being a politically powerless part of the city, the council could do whatever they liked without stepping on any toes they minded stepping on.

I dislike changing names for correctness' sake in the first place, and I dislike top-down impositions like this. It made me want to grab some trendy part of town, NW 23rd Avenue, maybe, and agitate for renaming it Ronald Reagan Boulevard, or Dick Cheney Way. How do you like having your home streets named for your political enemies? There's the added irony that, in making this gesture of inclusion, they used a name that almost all Anglos, even those with a smattering of Spanish, mispronounce. “Go up and turn right on Sieze 'er Shavézz,” the locals will say, leaving Spanish speakers completely at sea.

Oh well. I'm a great admirer of Chávez, and, as his son reportedly said, he wouldn't have given a damn about a street name either way: what he cared about was people having decent lives.

No comments: