Where you can get by walking
I had another in-the-flesh encounter with a Portland-area blogger today. This time it was ace observer Chris Snethen, whose wonderful blog with the unfortunate title "Undecided Resident" graces the OregonLive.com website.
A while back, Chris had challenged my assertion that "you can get there faster by walking" than by waiting for, and riding, the Portland Streetcar. He had conducted his own test of that proposition, and had asserted that it was faulty. He had tried to race the streetcar from Northwest Portland to Portland State, and the streetcar won hands down. I took exception to his methodology -- I thought he should have put himself in the place of someone who had just missed a streetcar -- and so we arranged to conduct further empirical research together.
We met at the OregonLive offices, where Mr. Velveeta and the Velvelettes were hard at work on their site. Alas, the Big Cheese could not join Chris and me for lunch as planned, because all hands were on deck to pitch in on coverage of the Nawlins disaster. So Snethen and I scored a Baja Fresh and headed out on our own.
Our test began at NW 18th and Lovejoy, where we waited briefly for a streetcar heading downtown, and let it go by. Once it was a block away, we put ourselves in the position of a hypothetical rider who was trying to decide whether to wait for the next one. How far could we get before the next one passed us? Wherever that was, we would get there faster by walking.
We headed east. The time was 1:15 p.m.
"Of course, I'm stacking the deck against the Streetcar," I confesssed as we meandered down Lovejoy. "Once you let one pass you by, you can always get somewhere faster on foot. The real question is how far you can get."
I knew we'd never make it to Portland State before the next streetcar did, but I was convinced we'd make it to about the Central Library. And so along the streetcar route we walked, at a normal pace, obeying traffic signals more or less.
It was a beautiful day -- brilliant sun, temperatures in the mid-70s and climbing. Snethen and I continued the conversation that had been going nonstop since we met in Velveetaville an hour and change before.
We see eye-to-eye on many things. And we know a lot about each other. This is why blogger "meetups" can be so intense: There's no need for much preliminary factfinding about the person you're with. You already know tons about them from their blog. So you can dive right into topics that you would never touch with a real stranger.
It was only 1:26 p.m. when the next streetcar caught up with us. We had made it to NW 11th and Glisan -- a mere 12 blocks. I had to admit, we hadn't gotten too far before The Toy had matched us. "Well, they've got ideal traffic conditions right now," I harrumphed, and they did. It was a sleepy late summer day in the Pearl, and there were few cars on the streets.
We kept going, just for kicks. We covered all sorts of topics as we walked -- blogging, careers, the Portland power structure, bosses, The O, both of our radio days, sports, the San Francisco cable cars, the 'Couv. The day grew a little hotter, and we got a little sweatier, as we sauntered south on 11th.
We made it only as far as Main when the next streetcar caught us. It was 1:43. And so if you had just missed the car at 11th and Glisan, you could have gotten to 11th and Main faster by walking than by waiting for, and riding, the next one. But 13 blocks -- that's not that long a stretch.
"Oh, well. I guess it's my week for apologies and retractions," I sighed. "I was just wrong again."
We headed back to our starting point a different way, back past the Mallory Hotel and the Oregonian printing plant. "There's my first apartment," Snethen pointed out, a block off our path, in the direction of Lincoln High. Great memories, except for the cockroaches.
"There go the Civic Apartments," I mused as we passed the bulldozers and crane at the demolition site across from the Civic Stadium. "Those babies were quite the eyesore, but I don't think I'm going to like what's going up in their place much, either."
"I remember going to a game at the stadium and seeing drug deals going on out the window of that place," Snethen recalled. "It was a drive-through."
On our way from there back to 17th and Northrup (where we had stashed our two cars), it dawned on me what a good time I was having, and what a great place Portland still is for goofing off and taking a nice long walk. My whole attitude about the city had taken an optimistic shift. We have spent way too much money on toys and Californication, but if you're just wandering around, not thinking about how it's being paid for, it looks and feels quite fine.
There's a real danger of getting too negative after blogging for a while. Look at how many journalists suffer from alcoholism, family problems, depression. The activity of writing about public affairs attracts intensely critical minds -- minds already inclined to look for what's wrong -- and it has the distinct tendency to kill the spirits of the writers as they stay professionally focused on society's warts.
And as technology enables us to engage in such activity in our own little cells, there's an isolation that makes the internal challenges even harder than in the days when the reporters all sat together smoking cigarettes and pounding out the stories on manual typewriters in big newsrooms. We now have all the heartbreak, and little or none of the face-to-face cameraderie -- not a good formula.
Racing the streetcar on a gorgeous day with a great guy like Snethen is the perfect antidote.