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Thursday, July 14, 2005

I got da ba-loooze...





... (as Gul used to say in school), on July 2nd in downtown Portland, on the waterfront.

The Waterfront Blues Festival here in Portland is an annual event that brings blues lovers and artists from around the country to the banks of the Willamette, along which people walk, smoke, stretch out, run after dogs and children, listen to great music and eat corn dogs. And since it usually coincides with the 4th of July, everyone-- And I mean EVERYone-- huddles together like happy sardines on that night and stares up the sky, waiting for the fireworks to go off.

Our intrepid group ventured out on the 2nd though- we were helping out the organizers, who happen to be Safeway [a happy chainstore found in yankville] and the Oregon Food Bank, who through this festival collect cans of food and green bills with old mens faces on them that those who visit the festival care to donate. No entry fee, give if you feel moved to do so.

Whoa.

I don't think I've ever been to a charity affair anywhere else where the audience could choose to be charitable, entry-fee-wise or not.

Another thing I was moved to whoa about? The money and food collected goes towards fighting the hunger problem in Oregon.

I didn't know there was a hunger problem in Oregon.

In fact, together with a large number of people from around the world, I didn't think it was possible for the States to have a hunger problem. All I have been told is about the U.S government dumping surplus wheat into the pacific. Rumor or not, the following fact isn't:

According to the Oregon Food Bank's website, working Oregonians in two income households have a hunger rate almost 4 times that of the rest of the nation. 2 parent houses with kids have hunger 3 times the national average.

Perspective gained, then. And a T-shirt, with the festival logo on it, and the chance to see what kind of genial animals live in the Portland Ark.

My job-- and that of three of my brave companions-- was to hand out festival programs to visitors. And thus the full regalia of the portland community burst forth first upon our eyes... and it was more fun than I have had in a long time.

I could tell you about the piercings, the dyed hair, the cyclists, the sk8er bois, the grandparents, the mexican tribes, the lone smokers who strode on full steam ahead, eyes focused on the concrete... I could tell you about the children, and the unfortunate man who asked me which blues performance I would recommend. I shifted from one foot to the other, made polite throat noises, thrust a program in his hands, and pointed him towards the main volunteer group. What can I say? Blues, though I do love it, is not my strong point.

Gregorian chant and polkas yes, Blues no. Though one day...

That day however, saw us standing there under a rain-threatening sky for 4 hours, energetically telling people to "have a great day!" and tapping the occasional foot to music being played on one of the four stages closest to us.

Ben and I even got to stand backstage, since one of the technicians figured we were having so much fun on that side of the fence, we might as well be where the action was. And I loved it. The band on stage was doing a smooth rock and roll groove to the blues their lead singer was croonin', and four couples were on stage, dancing.

Could've been you and me, or mum and dad, or the guy who works at Fred Meyer and the nice lady who serves out my spaghetti every day at lunch. They were laughing, having the time of their lives, and the crowd loved it.

God, I wanted to dance. The smiley techie guy informed me that all I had to do, like these people on stage had done, was to go find a partner.

A partner. I grinned, shook my head, and got back to distributing programs before someone noticed I had been gone. Program distribution is simpler though less fun than negotiating the intricate steps of dance and man-finding in life, and always will be.

Om.

There were ducks in the waters below the pier, sun streaming from behind clouds above. There was also an enterprising young man who had painted himself and his clothes, and his little pedestal, a shiny blue-green. To the tips of his hair, even. And then he'd stand on the edge of the crowd, on his pedestal, very still, and play statue.

People loved it. The festival should include him as one of their attractions- He kept raking in the moolah with his handshaking when people came too close, his juggling of three glass globes, and his immaculate silence.

At the end of our shift, amidst the ice cream stains... the genial security people guiding boozed-out-of-their-skulls young men to the side... the cajun food smells... the dried grass, and the crushed ciggie-buds... the whistling and clapping crowd, and the shrieking kids running in and out of gushing pools of a hydrant someone had let blow....

at the end of our shift, we went home.

The festival attracted 1,500 volunteers this year. $348,000 dollars and 107,000 pounds of food was collected. And when you got tired of distributing programs, you could blow soap bubbles for general amusement, and personal Oming.

God, I love Portland.


3 comments:

A Hairy Snail said...

i hope this duck can get you to dance when you return. ;D

though the bit about hunger in oregon sounded kinda wierd! hmmm....

The Wizard of Odd said...

The question is, whether I can get this duck to dance.

Far more monumental than cleaning out the Aegean stables, I will swear.

Weird in what way?

A Hairy Snail said...

them going hungry and all. and if they are dumping wheat, they might as well do it in the atlantic.
the africans would swim over and get some to feed themselves.