There was the municipal elevator, the Oregon City Elevator, the green landmark, the city’s fantastic logo, the name of the high school newspaper I wrote for, the only outdoor municipal elevator west of the Mississippi River, that I rode for free all the time for the sheer hell of it, even later in my 20s and 30s when I took dates there for a ride and a stroll along the Promenade, down the path with New Deal stonework on one side, past the historic homes, oak and maple trees and rhododendrons, past my old orthodontist’s office and his gorgeous Farrah Fawcett assistant, the Great Hovering Presence in my youth. She was later the subject of my first published piece of writing, a strange confession that appeared in my high school literary review. I still can’t believe it was ever published.
Not too long ago, and this will be the only writing in this memoir about Oregon City to reference its present-day state of mind, I took a walk around Clackamette Park on a cloudy December morning and admired the boatless rivers. I stopped near the confluence, near a large pile of cottonwoods blown up there by a flood. A shiny purple bag on the ground arrested my attention. Resting near the bag was a syringe. I considered the syringe and its provenance. I considered the syringes encountered everywhere I go in Oregon: beaches, woods, rivers, streams, streets, sidewalks, parking lots, parks, trails, malls. I considered what this meant for American culture.
An elderly man spooked me out of my consideration of the abandoned syringe. He materialized from the standing cottonwoods, the ones with exquisite beaver gnawings, the ones about ready to fall. He said “Merry Christmas” in a Russian accent. I said “Merry Christmas” to him. He moved on. I watched him walk over the purple bag and syringe and stop at the river’s edge. He urinated into the river and then knelt over and washed his hands. I moved along and talked to squirrels and geese.
At the Promenade later, I watched a lone smokestack on the west side of the river puff smoke or steam or whatever it was. Two Japanese tourists snapped photographs of the falls and the sprawling, spellbinding and once-bustling industrial site. The Elevator beckoned me to ride, but I didn’t have time. Next time.
I have lived some great stories on this Promenade. I have been in love with someone here, many, many years ago. She wore purple that summer evening.
The Promenade is a great place to walk and talk with someone you love. It is a great place to sit on a bench and write. Much of this book was written on the Promenade.
Another syringe appeared.
I saw a transient wearing a striped poncho standing on a rock, talking loudly to himself. He yelled something to me. I waved and kept walking. I saw the I-205 bridge, easily the ugliest bridge in Oregon, one without a shred of grace. In its foreground, I saw the old Conde McCullough bridge, one of the most beautiful, graceful bridges in Oregon. I considered the contrasts between these two bridges and what it revealed about American culture. A lot.
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