[Friday morning was my first official day as a temporary Portlandian, and jet lag being the prize bitch that it was, had me up scary-early. Which, as I soon realised, was regular time for Americans. They’re flippin’ mad to be up at the crack of dawn and run screaming into the jaws of daily life, those Yanks. So this is the second half of the first day – I packed a lot into the first 24 hours.]
An Encounter With Colton McBride
When I was done chilling out in Southeast Grind, already full of thoughts and notions swimming around my head (see previous post), I got some bus info from a totally sound Southeast Grind regular called Vince (who I swear BLIND was in Portlandia but I haven’t had the nerve to ask him or the energy to check it out) and off I headed into Downtown Portland. At that point I still had some data on my phone because I’d bought a pre-package yoke for going to the U.S., so I was thanking the Gods for Google Maps. But as much as I used them to know the street names, I realised that I didn’t have anywhere in particular to be, so what was the point in using it? Wasn’t the point of travelling alone to use the freedom that comes with it to allow yourself to get lost and go a-wandering? Well, yes it was….but as much as I enjoyed the fun and frolics involved in running around a country I’ve never been in before, I was still my old anxious dread-filled self, so it helped to at least know where the bus stop was so I could make it back to base with minimum stress.
Eventually, when the bus stopped in an area that looked pretty Downtown-ish (lots of coffee shops and a University campus), I hopped off and tried not to look all gawky and overwhelmed like the hick tourist I was. Portland is a big place, but nowhere near as manic as Dublin or London in my experience. I was quite surprised not to be elbowed out of the way the second my foot stepped off the bus and onto the pavement. In fact, people everywhere were just plain…nice. Mannerly. Friendly, even. I knew I was in over my head. So I jumped in and started being nice back. I didn’t know myself after five minutes. Great for the soul, so it was.
I took a minute standing on the street corner (stepping out of the way and apologising profusely – you can take the girl out of Limerick etc) and tried to decide what direction I wanted to go in. As I was looking around I noticed this tall stringy fellow walking up towards the bus stop. Long-haired and gangly, he was the best Goth I’d seen in years. Head to toe in black leather, chains hanging off the studded belt loop, a face of terrifying white makeup with his features shaded in black, with black tear-tracks drawn down his face, he made a rather imposing figure. I suppose that would have been enough in itself to cause folks to step aside when they saw him coming, but the fact that he was carrying an old Victorian-dressed porcelain doll in one arm and rummaging through the contents of the bus stop bin with the other probably sealed the deal between him and the general public to each keep out of each other’s way. Apart from me, though. I thought he looked amazing.
I caught his glazed eye once or twice as he passed and he gave a small smile, but he seemed far away from whatever was going on in Downtown Portland. In among all the standard city ‘extras’ scattered around the scene, this guy was a breath of fresh air. Even in weird old Portland. Hipsters and cool kids were a dime a dozen, but this guy was a one-off. A true Goth from head to toe, with full Crow-style makeup peeking through his wispy dark hair, he cut quite a dramatic figure walking up the street. He made his way across SW 6th Avenue and up towards Broadway, and I watched him go, cursing myself for being so hesitant to talk to him. While it was fairly obvious that he was either on drugs or suffering from a mental illness (or both), I still wanted to at least take a picture of him as one of the beautifully strange people or things that make up Portland. I think I paused because of those things, and of course being Irish we are genetically predisposed to avoid approaching any strangers at all no matter what the situation. So I watched him walk on by.
THEN I gave myself a sharp mental kick up the hole. I was in PORTLAND, for feck sake. This guy literally crossed my path and I didn’t take the opportunity to take a pic and maybe chat to him? For shame. So I followed him up the street, watching as he picked up old Starbucks coffee cups and drank the dregs of what others had left behind, all the while holding and minding his doll like a precious newborn. It was a little heartbreaking to watch, and so puzzling. How did he put himself together the way that he did every day if he had no place to call home? The clothes, you could understand, maybe he lived in them constantly, but the makeup would have to be done and retouched in a bathroom somewhere on a regular basis. Fair play to him, I thought. At least he’s keeping it real.
I crossed over the road to where he had just finished rifling through the old coffee cups, and, taking a deep breath, approached him softly. I told him I thought he looked fantastic, and asked if he would mind if I took his picture.
A more gentle soul you never would meet. He was genuinely surprised at being approached for any reason, not to mind one to get his picture. He asked if I had a dollar; I gave him five and told him to consider it a fee for letting me take his picture. We chatted for a bit, he thought I was Scottish (that happened a lot here) but said that since he could understand what I was saying, I probably wasn’t. Then he told me I had lovely pointy ears like a pixie, bless him. He was pretty excited about getting his pic taken and ending up on the internet, and I found out his name was Colton McBride. Pretty cool-sounding name. He told me to please put his pic up on Facebook (he wasn’t on it himself) so “other people like us can see”. I don’t know which ‘other’ he was referring to, either raising awareness of the many different faces of the homeless community, or those who dress to express like he does, but he made a good point. We had great fun deciding how to take the pic, he stood against the stone wall and struck a pose, saying “You don’t want one of me smiling, it looks better when I look scary.” He wasn’t wrong.
He was such a gentle soul, I didn’t feel right prying into why he had the doll or how he had come to be homeless, if indeed he was. I just felt that saying ‘thank you’ and wishing him all the best was the right thing to do. He seemed happy enough, in whatever world his mind was in, to head off to find somewhere to eat with his five dollars. I hope. With that, Colton McBride went off towards Downtown Portland, where with any luck, the discarded coffee cups would be more full for people like him.