Sunday, October 28, 2007

Portland Bridge Walk

On Saturday, my hubby and I went on a fun little adventure in downtown Portland. At 8:30 am we arrived on the steps of the NW Natural Building at NW 2nd and Everett, where we were greeted by Sharon Wood Wortman, the author of The Portland Bridge Book. She has developed these really cool walks and talks in downtown Portland and this past Saturday was the last one of the year. Sharon is the coordinator and the guide, but she had two musicians (more on them later) AND Oregon's Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada, as part of our morning. It was much more than your traditional walking tour.

After early morning chilly introductions (thank heavens I had my gloves, hat, and scarf with me), we walked to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT - Region 1) and were directed inside to the main command center! We got to see their wall of multiple screens and complex computer stations, and we were given a demonstration on how the cameras that are mounted throughout the city function and how they can zoom in on buildings and cars, ala 1984, kinda creepy cool. We were then herded down the hall where two musicians, Stephen Cohen and Alan Ames, performed a snappy tune about the Portland bridges.

Oregon's Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada, was present and spoke about bridges and images and challenged us to keep our minds open and alert to new possibilities. Because he had what he called a "gimpy leg," he was not able to join us for our walk, but promised to meet us in the rose gardens outside Union Station later in the morning. Lawson is sure a warm, engaging man, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Before departing, Sharon provided us with an overview of bridge styles and functions, and gave us a brief history of the Portland bridges. After bathroom stops, we were on our way. While waiting for the Max train to take us to our first destination, the Morrison Bridge, Sharon had us form circles to demonstrate and experience the physics of how bridges function; gravity and trust were at work in our little huddles! After a short jog on Max, we walked to the Morrison Bridge, where we were greeted by the bridge tender, Jan. Sharon guided us down the stairs to the guts of the bridge, where the electrical and computer components are located. She then took us farther beneath the bridge and directed us to stand behind a long yellow line. Once we were safely in place, she called upstairs to the bridge tender and asked if she could please open the bridge. We heard a loud bell ring above us, then the cars quit zooming overhead. Very soon a large concrete slab, the counterweight for opening the bridge, began to rise just feet in front of us. Exhilerating!

Once the bridge span was back in place, we climbed our way into the little glass bridge tender lookout, where Jan gave us a more detailed history of the Morrison Bridge. What a view of the Willamette River!

Because we were a pokey group, we didn't have time to take Max over the Steel Bridge to walk back on the foot path on the lower level (but Sharon told us we had to promise we would take this walk sometime in the future!). So we hopped on Max for our return trip to Union Station (and a walk on the Union Station foot bridge), where we were greeted by a waiting Lawson Inada. Lawson was excited to hear about our adventure and asked a few of us to share what we had witnessed or learned, then he read one of his poems. He encouraged everyone in the group to write a poem about a bridge and then gather sometime in the future to share what we had written; Sharon promised to coordinate this future event.
Sharon concluding by reading one of her poems, and for added impact (it related to the poem), she had Carlos Reyes, a poet who was on the walk, and his partner, Karen, ever so slightly barely touch lips (but I think they cheated and actually kissed!). A beautiful conclusion to a very lovely day in Portland.

However, hubby and I weren't quite ready to have our Portland time end. We made our way to the central downtown, ate sushi at the Dragonfish Restaurant, and hit the 2:10 matinee of Lars and the Real Girl, a quirky, touching, off-beat film. A perfect day in downtown Portland!

NOTE: I am still learning how to do this blog stuff and working with the photos has proved to be annoying and frustrating. In my first attempt to move the photos around (using the html function), I accidentally erased the majority of the text for this post! Aarrrrggghhhhh . . . I retyped and reposted the photos, although all of the photos appear at the top of the post. Okay, I'll learn. In case you are wondering about the photos, this is what you are seeing:

Photo of the Steel Bridge

Stephen and Alan on their guitars

Sharon Wood Wortman

Lawson Inada exorting us to go forth and be aware

Huddling and experiencing bridge suspension while waiting for Max

Inside the Morrison Bridge

View from the Morrison Bridge bridge tender station

Lawson reading outside Union Station (that's me in the green coat and black beret)

Carlos Reyes and Karen