17 October 2010

365 Days in the City: Day 42 - Street Cars and Homeless Penguins

This day simply couldn't get any more entertaining.

I decided to ride the street car to meet a friend for lunch today. It was my first time trying it, and like a kid on the first day of school, I wasn't without apprehension. I checked the schedule and walked the two blocks to the stop. On time, clean and quick, it was great. Even better, I live in the fare-free zone that encompasses most of downtown Portland (what an amazing city this is), so it was without cost. Lunch was fine and I headed back to get on the street car.

As I was awaiting the car, a man sat down next to me who was clearly homeless (I was breathing through my mouth for a while). I didn't really pay any attention and continued my telephone web browsing, until a somewhat chirpy, sing-song voice said:

"Excuse me, could you tell me what time the next car comes?"
"In about two minutes," I said.
"Thank you, penguins are not very good at reading small print, but we can march in straight lines in temperatures of negative 50, so we are rather militant."

I'm sorry what?

I looked up and now noticed the man next to me. Penguin hat (like the ones that have a face on them and ear-covers that are like wings) and a face painted red. I decided to engage.

"Well, it's a good thing it isn't that cold here," I said.
"Indeed, but it was chilly today," he said as though he hadn't just suggested he was a penguin. "But I don't much like marching in lines, do you?"

I indicated that indeed I didn't.

"It gets quite sunny here, which can lead to sunburn," he said pointing to his face which was clearly painted cherry red and flaking badly. "But if you try to steal anything, they will catch you, red handed," he observed, opening his palm to reveal more paint. I laughed and he indicated that I sounded like I might be a Portlander, and asked if I knew the mayor, whom he said he was quite close with.

He asked where I was from and was excited to hear that I was from the DC area.

"I used to live in Dupont Circle! Have you heard of it?" he asked.
"Yes, I have."
"I worked for a congressman there for a while."
"Are you involved in politics, is that why you lived in DC" he asked.

I explained that my father worker for the Smithsonian (which isn't even why we lived in DC, but it's an easy connection. This revelation made him very excited.

"Ohhhhhh! The Smithsonian! Well, I used to work there also." he beamed "You could say I change jobs like some people do shoes." But then his demeanor darkened a bit. "But I don't like to talk about that experience."

Sadly the street car came at the moment. The penguin had explained to me earlier that he didn't like crowded street cars, and this one had quite a few people in it. So, he wished me well and we shook hands as he waved to everyone on the car.

Well, Portland has penguins who hang out with the mayor after migrating from the DC area where they enjoyed stints with congressmen and the Smithsonian. Well, not the Smithsonian, we don't talk about that.

Best. Day. Yet.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh. Chris, that is CLASSIC. I've had some crazy (I mean, CRAZY) experiences on the subway and U-bahn... but that trumps them all. Hands down.
    My favorite part? "I decided to engage." Good choice.
    Some day, I hope I meet a runaway zoo animal on the tram... or, a homeless man who believes he is one.


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