Maps, Junkies, and a Stripper’s Mom: My Weird Night In Portland

The lights go on in the bedroom. I hear a loud grunt, and then a giant thud. Heavy footsteps shuffle towards the door. Daniel wants to stay for the inevitable negotiation. I vehemently disagree. “We are getting the fuck out of this white trash country bear jamboree right now” I tell him.

I grew up in LA. LA is weird. LA is where weird people move to be weird with other weirdos. Portland is much weirder than LA.

I am on a summer road trip with three high school friends from Southern California to Canada. We stop in Portland on the way back down to LA.

On our trip, we stay with strangers that we contact through the Couchsurfing Website. Kianna and Cossette, the two girls on our trip have complete autonomy in reaching out to hosts. People tend to extend more generosity to a couple of cute chicks looking for a place to crash than they would to a couple of bearded delinquents like Daniel and I.

THE MAP MAN

Our host in Portland is a stocky guy with a big thick beard and a trucker hat. Upon arrival, he gives us an extensive tour of his house as well as an exhaustive account of his life and travels. Our host is in his 30’s. He grew up in Silicon Valley and moved up to Portland to study engineering. His parents put the down payment on this house and he is making the making the mortgage payments. He regularly hosts groups of people from around the world through Couchsurfing.

Our host who I will call Russell, to protect his identity and because I honestly don’t remember his name, vets our profiles online and approves all of us to stay except for Daniel. This is because Daniel ignores all of our pleas and neglects to even make an online Couchsurfing account. Russell seems like a pretty laid back guy, but he understandably refuses to host Daniel.

We sit around Russell’s table. He pulls out a map of the city and generously offers to show us some cool spots in town. We expect a brief summary of which neighborhoods and areas to hang out in. However, Russell continues showing us maps for over an hour. He describes the quadrant system in Portland, explains the municipal sewer system in detail, and even defers to a broader map on his kitchen wall to tell us all about the Portland suburbs. Kianna and I silently glance at each other, wondering when class will be dismissed.

Russell smokes a joint and sips on beer during his cartography lesson. As he gets drunker and higher he also becomes more agitated. He stops his map talk several times and angrily accuses me of trying to sneak Daniel into his house behind his back or trying to “screw him over” in some other way. After each mini outburst he calmly continues showing us maps and talking about urban planning as if nothing happened.

Finally, the tension reaches a breaking point. I voluntarily offer to leave. As I’m heading out the door, I hear Kianna’s voice. “Wait for me” she says grabbing her shoes.

STAY WEIRD PORTLAND

I refuse to pay for a hotel on principle. Daniel owes me money from a couple days ago in Seattle. He should pay. We scramble to find someone we know in town. Daniel knows a girl from high school. I will call her Rachel, not her real name.

“We can call Rachel” Daniel suggests. I ask him if she has any idea we are in town. He shakes his head no but responds “She is probably still at work. But this girl will let us stay with her.” I look at him skeptically, “dude it’s 11:30 on a weeknight, what do you mean she’s at work?” Daniel tells me that Rachel is a stripper and she will probably be off around 2:30. Nevertheless, he remains confident that we can walk into the strip club and he can coerce her into letting us crash at her house.

We drive into Chinatown and park in one of the few open parallel spots. The streets are packed with people. I have never seen so many different groups mix so organically. The picnic tables outside of Voodoo Donuts, a novelty donut shop and Portland landmark, is a melting pot. At one table sits a group of attractive girls in their 20’s dressed to go on out on a Thursday night in short little dresses and 5-inch heels. At the table next to them sits a disheveled homeless guy deep in a schizophrenic monologue. Another vagrant sits on the floor between the two tables silently scratching his balls. As we continue walking toward the strip club I pass several junkies lying on the sidewalk. On a second story balcony just above us, I see a skinny teenage white kid grimacing and shaking like he is about to go into withdrawals.

We are greeted at the strip club by a bald tatted-up 6 foot 8 bouncer. Daniel announces that he’s Rachel friend. The bouncer gives him an odd look but after talking to a couple people lets us in for free. Portland has a lot of strip clubs and this one is far from the most exclusive.

When Rachel sees Daniel she gives him a huge hug. “Is it weird that you can see my nipples?” she asks him pointing to her pink fishnet top.Rachel is a tall, skinny punk chick. She has anchor piercings placed strategically on her body from her hips to the bridge of her nose. Her tongue has been surgically cut down the middle so she can wiggle both sides like a lizard.

Daniel tells Rachel our sob story and she shows a surprising amount of compassion. “Of course, you guys can stay with me!” she says. Rachel explains that she lives with her mom and stepdad and that we will have to sleep in her living room and sprawl out on the couch and floor. Beggars can’t be choosers.

HEAVY FOOTSTEPS

Rachel finishes work at around 2:30 in the morning. “Just follow me home” she says. We drive behind her across the bridge and out of the city. She continues driving for almost a full hour before we get to her place way out of town in the middle of nowhere. We quietly enter the living room and talk for a little while. Rachel is a super cool girl and we are really grateful she is hosting us. At around 4 am we all decide to go to sleep. I lie on the floor wrapped in a comfy blanket and close my eyes.

Literally seconds after I lay my head down to sleep, a primal scream rings out from behind me. “This isn’t a fucking hostel!” yells a short middle aged lady. Rachel jumps up from the couch and confronts her mother. The calm, serene girl that I spent the last hour talking to was now in a frenzy, screaming and waving her arms. Both mom and daughter hurl four-letter insults at each other. “Everybody get the fuck out of my house” Rachel’s mom screams. Rachel charges at her. Rachel’s mom picks up the closest object she can find, which luckily was made out of paper, and hurls it at her daughter. The debris misses it’s target and hits me square in the face.

The stripper’s mom now starts screaming for her husband to wake up. The lights go on in the bedroom. I hear a loud grunt, and then a giant thud. Heavy footsteps shuffle towards the door. Daniel wants to stay for the inevitable negotiation. I vehemently disagree. “We are getting the fuck out of this white trash country bear jamboree right now” I tell him.

As we hustle out the door, Rachel’s mom tries to reason with me, “I am sorry for hitting you. My daughter is just out of control.” I smile politely and walk out into the summer night. I have no time for this Jerry Springer style bullshit. I am just unlucky traveler, not her psychologist. Especially not at 4 in the morning in weird Portland.


Originally published by Philip Vogel at www.theodysseyonline.com on August 22, 2016.