There and Back Again

January 8th, 2004  |  Published in Uncategorized

(A Shopper’s Tale)

Nothing to do for it. Checks had to be deposited and we were hungry for something more than the faded cans of soup on the shelf at Jae’s, so I bundled up, grabbed my walking stick and headed off for the Fred Meyer on Hawthorne.

There was no point in threading through the neighborhood, as yesterday’s abortive misadventure proved, so I stuck to Belmont this time. The sidewalks are almost completely impassable, but there have been enough cars up and down the street today that it’s become a sort of pedestrian mall, with an uneasy truce between cars and walkers holding as of noon. The sidestreets are still pretty much iced and snowed in. Some have been roped off. I’m not sure if that’s happened because of a muncipal authority or because someone in the neighborhood doesn’t fancy the thought of a four-wheeling dolt ending up in his or her living room. There have been a few of those in the past few days. God bless them, the savages. Two tons of metal sliding around on a three-inch-thick sheet of ice = big fun for them.

I was glad I took my walking stick. Three times I nearly fell over only to dig the metal tip of the stick into the ice and pull myself up. Watching other people waddling down the street, even on the relatively easy parts (where easy = icy slush), made my shoulders hurt.

39th Street was in much better shape than Belmont, but the sidewalks were more iced over and there’s no walking on the street there because the traffic is too heavy. So the last 150 or 200 yards to the Fred Meyer were hard going. Making it there felt like an absurd accomplishment.

In the store, the people behind the counters were fairly punchy. There was a sense of snow day camaraderie. At the deli, the woman behind the counter barked “Drive, walk, or bus?” at me, then started laughing in a gurgling, hacking cough. Stock boys were leaning solicitously on counters and flirting with cashiers. There was minor turmoil in the dairy section. During bad weather, milk and bread are always popular. Produce is left untouched, even in the granola-encrusted precincts of southeast Portland, because it isn’t nearly as comforting to heft in the hand as a two gallon drum of Dinty Moore, which you know will not only survive the snow, ice, and resulting flood, but the eventual breakdown of civilization and the flight of small gift shops and quaint boutiques.

On the way back from the store, I was comforted to run into Kay the Mailman. I tried to get a nice “Kay framed against the sky” shot as he made his way down 39th, but he turned around and saw me, so I spoke to him instead.

“Good to, uh, see you guys out and around,” I said.

“Yeah, brother! Since yesterday. Yeah!”

I didn’t mention our own letter carrier, who didn’t bother to pick up our mail yesterday, forcing us to walk it down to a box. Judging from the spikes on Kay’s boots and the set of his shoulders as he plowed through the ice, the mail people are probably really ruing that whole thing about “neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night,” let alone “swift completion.” I’m guessing “swift completion” has devolved into not casting a second glance at any house that doesn’t get a ration of junkmail and bills. I don’t blame them.

I got him to pose for a picture. Initially he flexed and bared his teeth at me in a ferocious snarl, but thought better of it when he saw me lock the frame and settled into something less menacing.

On the rest of the way home, I had “O Superman” going through my head, which was a decided improvement on what I had in my head on the way out to the store. Four years with Uncle Sugar left me unable to walk any distance alone without thinking of a jody call.

Once off 39th, it seemed like Belmont had gotten a little less icy, but the truce between pedestrians and cars was eroding as the cars discovered they could go faster. I passed the neighbor lady (the one I suspect called my car into the police) as I turned down 48th on the way for home and warned her that the cars were getting tired of us.

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