November 21, 2021

This morning’s sun rose behind an overcoat of fog, light diffusing between clouds slung low into the trees. Fog used to make me think of Sleepy Hollow—imaginary worlds of headless horsemen. Now it makes me think of every post-apocalyptic movie, rebels ducking between abandoned buildings, marauders around every corner. As I drive into the city, the sun breaks open, then retreats. I pull onto the highway and pass a billboard that reads, “Remember when Portland was known for our food carts and airport carpet?” I remember when Portland was just known for being weird, when people who didn’t live here called it “eclectic” instead of texting me to ask, “Hey, so, how are things going over there?” How are things going over here? We are no longer known for our food carts and airport carpet. Our airport carpet has been rolled up and replaced, and our food carts live behind a fifteen-foot wall crowned with barbed wire. This particular pod of food carts has the word “asylum” in the name, and we crowd around a fire pit with our gyros and pho—a fire pit that emits no warmth, as far as I can tell, even when I hover my hand mere inches above the flame. Some weeks ago, I was at a stoplight, staring at a painted wall that read, “Still here.” At the time, I found it encouraging, but now I wonder, is there merit in simply surviving? On the way home, I pass another billboard, half of which is covered in graffiti. I can’t remember what it says, just the nonsensical spray paint scrawling, the homeless camp right beneath it, the bright November sun now arcing freely across a clear blue sky.

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