People of the Pacific Northwest

Inspired by, but not a twin of Humans of NY, I started writing People of PNW posts on my Facebook page during a time when I was feeling very isolated and disconnected socially. It was a way of helping me notice and highlight the humanity and connection available in little moments.

Here’s the one that launched the project:

Humans of Overlook Park-so i had the most wonderful, unexpected experience tonight. i was walking toward the checkout at New Seasons when i passed by the Health and Beauty counter and was drawn in by a sparkly, homemade pink unicorn trophy. I asked the employee if it had a story and he told me it was in honor of a much beloved coworker who had great spirit and was tragically killed a few years ago. He told me how the staff was devastated at the loss but that they eventually grew closer as a team through sharing their grief. One of the last pictures of the deceased co-worker was at Gay Pride parade, where she was wearing a sparkly pink unicorn costume. Now they give the award to an employee who embodies her spirit and attitude towards life. I was so touched by his story and had tears running down my face as i listened to what i thought was going to be a light, goofy story but which was so much more. the HABA employee and I exchanged names and hugged. It was a beautiful little moment of human connection. 8/5/14

  • Humans of Lents- I was feeling down on myself this morning for my inability to get myself to the Planetary Dance at Kelly Point Park, a communal healing ritual that I’ve found very profound in the past. Decided to salvage the day and go to the Lents Int’l Farmers Market. Turns out, today was also the Lents Street fair. I’m not much of a fair person, but I had a great time and left with a buoyed heart and a mild case of food poisoning (good purification). There was a wonderful marching band and pep squad comprised of people from youngins to seniors in wheel chairs. Inexplicably, i started crying watching multigenerational women of all shapes and fitness levels in their purple sequined leg warmers and gold lamé pom poms doing a cheer routine to Pharell’s Happy. It looked like so much fun and I felt silly crying, but I am easily touched. Then I went and had a really great convo with some folks at the Black Lives Matter table about racial justice, followed by some veggie buying and a request for my eggplant recipe from Zenger’s Farm table, lots and lots of Molly-kid-other dog merriment and real talk with fellow fair goers and tablers on everything from depression to the over-ratedness of stainless steel appliances. Lents is one of the few places in Portland where I actually have real, heart-felt convos with people. 7/26/15
  • Humans of Boise/Humboldt Neighborhood: Jengibre: That’s how you say ginger in Spanish. I stopped for gas in my old neighborhood and found out that my neighbor, Maria, who works there, was home recovering from surgery. I picked up a cheerful bouquet of flowers to bring her and went for a visit. She barely looked at the flowers but was really glad to see me and invited me in her house for the 1st time in the 13 years we’ve known each other and gave me a big hug. I barely recognized her without her waist length, black, shiny hair. It’s funny b/c i felt like i needed to bring flowers as an “excuse” to stop by and she valued just the human connection more. That reminded me that I value connection more too. It was interesting to do that dance of trying to understand each other with limited ability to understand the other’s 1st language (although Spanish is also her 2nd language….her 1st one is an indigenous Guatamalan tongue). I offered her some reiki energy work, but i don’t think she understood. I asked her if I could pray for her, and put my hands together in the prayer gesture and she smiled and said, “oh, church. Yes, pray’, and then I remember she is Jehovah’s Witness and wonder if there is some rule against giving gifts of flowers. She’s recovering from breast cancer, radiation and chemo and having some nausea. I asked if she was taking ginger but didn’t know the word in Spanish. It’s jengibre. I am American born, English is my 1st language and I have a ridiculous amount of education and I struggle navigating the healthcare system. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to navigate as an immigrant (not sure of citizenship status), who speaks only a little English and has no formal education, esp. when dealing with side effects of cancer treatment. Her daugther Rosalina, who everyone calls Chula and who I’ve known since she was young enough to sit on my lap is now working to help support the family. I think she’s probably around 16 now and I wonder if she’ll return to school in the fall. I hope the gas station where Maria works provides disability insurance. I don’t know if I’ll get back to visit before I move to Peru, but if I do, next time I’ll bring Jengibre. Please send prayers to Maria Francisco. 7/21/15
  • Humans of Under the Glenn Jackson Bridge- Walking back home under the overpass, a shirtless man with a backpack, who has just put his sandal back on asks me how to get up onto the bridge. When I tell him he needs to go back the way he came, go up a block to get to the pedestrian path he looks dejected and says he was really getting into drumming and stopped paying attention. He’s not carrying a drum or anything drum-like with him. He asks me how long the bridge is and tells me he’s walking it in order to conquer his fear of heights, but he’s not going to jump. I hadn’t thought that he would until he said he wasn’t going to. He introduces himself as Liam and he’s upbeat and engaging, not acting like someone who’s going to jump, but I ask him if he’s sure that’s not his intention, and he reassures me. At my turn off I say goodbye and feel a little perplexed and wonder if I should have done something else. 5/20/15
  • Humans of 82nd Avenue Plaid Pantry– I overhear a woman and man, both of them a bit down and out by appearances, mid-conversation by the beer cooler, ” …no, I remember you….”. He replies, “sometimes it’s better not to remember, that’s ok”. She repeats, “no, I remember you; you’ve helped me at least 2 times that I can remember”. “That’s OK, I’ll help you again if I can…”. As I walk past them, I say, “congratulations, you’ve won the kind citizen award of the day!” and he laughs. He is on line at the checkout ahead of me and says, “you go ahead, you’ve only got 1 thing” Some people call him Artie, some people call him Artie, Baby, and I can call him what I want. He has 1 oversized gold cap on a front tooth, wears a baggy sweatshirt with Scooby-doo on it that says, “Don’t Blame Me”. He tells me the hippies taught him about happiness and that he knows “everything about respect– what it means, how to do it, what it feels like….”. I find myself wondering where 3 24 oz cans of Coors Light come into play, but decide I’d rather connect with his humanity than be his A&D counselor. I let him let me go 1st, so that i can buy his beer and his roll of paper towels, and he is absolutely tickled. I leave, feeling like i got the better end of the deal. 4/27/15
  • Humans of Vancouver-Wintler Park- 3 leather-tanned, neon clad Crones are sitting in the shade of some trees at the beach, smoking cigs and drinking Budweiser beer and Clamatos. Something about them exudes wisdom and I say something like, “you are very powerful women, you look like you know what you’re talking about. Those other guys, they don’t know , but you know; there’s an energy about you .” They smile and laugh and I continue walking with Molly. On the loop back I run into one of them in the parking lot, Clamato-beer in hand and she asks me, “are you precious with God?” I ask myself out loud, “am I precious with God? “ and say, I think so. She tells me that’s what they were discussing when I said they had good energy. 4/18/15
  • Humans of Lacamas Lake-In an Ancient Forest, which once sheltered and fed the First Peoples with salmon, wapato and camas lily root, a group of fluorescent pink clad maidens now jog by; blonde, silky pony tails bobbing with the lightness of ones who still believe they have sovereignty over their bodies and minds. I hope they never learn otherwise. 3/12/15
  • Humans of Multnomah Village — Laura is a Grande Ronde tribal elder who lives in SW Portland. I met her and her husband who has early stage Alzheimers at a Felted Wool Hat Making class. As a young girl she was taken from her family on the Rez and adopted out to a non-native household (in what is one of the U.S.’s many disgraceful periods of history). This is the 3rd time she’s taken this class and has made at least 5 hats this time, and cut out patterns for several more. I asked her what she does with all those cashmere beanies, thinking she would say she sold them or gave them as gifts, but no, she stacks them up in her room so she can look at them. She happens to have the perfect shade of green wool that I’m looking for and I ask her if I can buy it. She says, “I’m Native, we barter”. So I traded some amethyst silk velvet and some red buttons, thinking about another time my people offered trinkets to Native Americans; I hope i’m offering a fair trade. She says trading needles made of bone for metal ones the Europeans brought was a good deal for her people, then we fall into the hushed silence of focusing on our respective projects. 2/28/15
  • The Humans of Vancouver- “People are surprised when I don’t remember them now, but I have no memory after the shock treatments. They were very helpful though. I cried and cried for 6 weeks straight. I just miss my family so much, but there’s no use crying over it”. Pam was hospitalized for depression for 6 weeks after her son died from complications due to diabetes and was inconsolable afterwards. Her husband, “bless his heart, was patient with me, but he said to me one day, ‘Pam I’m just so lonesome’”. He eventually left Pam for a family friend, and “I could hardly blame him”. Now the girlfriend has taken Pam’s place at family gatherings. “All my friends, all my family, everyone I knew or saw, was his friends, his family”. He still helps her out, does things for her, and she has her retirement income.
     She lives in a modest 55+ pre-fab home community. She gets so depressed with these dreary cold winters here, and thinks she might like to try Arizona, or maybe back to Montana, where her family is from, but she talks herself out of the 1st pretty quickly, and hasn’t lived in Montana since she was 15. To stay busy, she boards small breed dogs in her home, and takes a shine to Cavalier King Charles Spaniel types. And she tries to donate blood platelets every few weeks, b/c her blood type is O+ and, “that’s really all I have of value to offer the world”. She refuses to take money for watching my dog while I was recuperating from surgery. 1/26/15
  • The Humans of Alberta Street- By the time I slide onto the wooden bench which runs the entire length of Random Order Coffeehouse, my pie perched precariously atop a mug of steaming hot coffee, Lisa is already knee deep a conversation with the table neighbors. Adrian moved here a few years ago from Indiana and her mother, in a pale aqua car coat and gray permed coif just moved from Indiana recently to live with her daughter. As we gradually return to our own tables conversations, I keep hearing Adrian ask her mother if she wants to use the bathroom, and finally urges her to go and “empty her bag”…”remember what happened last time”. Just as they slide out, 3 well groomed men and a baby slide in. The one closest to me doesn’t even touch me but says, “sorry, I didn’t mean to sit on your lap”; I retort something minorly inappropriate about lap sitting and he laughs. Their son is just 2 weeks old. His name is Dane (not named after Dane Cook, I asked) and this is the first time they’ve gone out since the birth. It’s the complete cycle of life, all during the course of a slice of pie.11/16/14
  • The Humans of Jantzen Beach- She’s wearing a red Christmas themed embroidered sweatshirt and iridescent Grinch-who-stole-x-mas green eyeshaddow, just on the lids. She’s standing on the other side of the Target return counter, where I’m returning a not cushiony enough foam bed topper. We commiserate on not getting good sleep. She tells me she has sleep apnea and has to sleep in a recliner or she’ll knock her tubes out. Also she has 5 cats that all sleep on top of her. One cat stretches from her waist to her shins, another nestles on her chest. I miss hearing where the other 3 sleep, as I am distracted by what are perhaps the most chapped lips I have ever seen….long strings of hardened skin stick out from her lips. I zone back in as she tells me she can’t move with all the cats on her. I tell her my trick for moving without disturbing a sleeping cat and she says my cat must be a lot nicer than hers. I tell her that’s probably true.11/15/14
  • The Humans of Arbor Lodge- I am sitting at the red light at the intersection of Rosa Parks & Interstate, belting out Rollin’ in the Deep at the top of my lungs along with Adele. An exceptionally long-legged, dark-skinned, gray-haired man passes in front of the car, doing a syncopted goose step down the crosswalk with more flair and swag than is strictly required to beat the light. He smiles to himself gently. This is an interesting juxtaposition. 11/5/14
  • The Humans of Lents–The old Orthodox Russian farmer’s potatoes are hard and ugly. His onions are hard. Who knew an onion could be harder than usual? His face wizened and withered. His beeswax is dirty. All his vegetables are oddly shaped and dirty. His wife tries to pass off fennel fronds as dill. When his grandson translates, it takes 2 or 3 go arounds to get to simple understandings. But his prices are very low and he always throws in an extra or 2 of whatever I’m buying. 10/23/14
  • The Humans of Southwest Washington- Becky and her dog just moved to Washougal from Alaska, and she’s here to buy my chaise lounge. She shows up in an aqua with orange polka dot raincoat, a bright floral purse, a bright stripped scarf and autumn-leaf red hair. Based on our email exchanges (things like giving me her phone # and ending it with “taa dah” and, ” Whooo Hooo a new Chaise just like I like..Hot diggity dog”), I quite expected someone slightly unhinged, who would need a lot of containing and who I would have to try to shoo out my door, b/c they wouldn’t pick up the social cue that this is a business transaction, I’m not inviting them for tea. But she’s not unhinged; just quirky. She sighs with audible delight when she tries out the chaise and tells me she’s going to re-cover it in something, ‘loud like me’. Now it’s my turn to be delighted, and ask if she’ll send me a pic when she does. She asks when I’m moving and if they’ve found a replacement tenant. We discuss logistics some, and then hug goodbye. I get a very solid vibe that she would be the *perfect* person to move in when I leave. Not only that, but I want to invite her for tea. 9/21/14
  • The Humans of Vancouver-episode 2–Broken and Woven– Adrian’s 3 daughter’s love, Love, LOVE animals. They’d like to have a dog, but can’t have any where they live. Responding to Pastor Curtis’ call, she offers for her and her girls to come walk my dog and play with her today. I, unfortunately had to cancel due to being at urgent care at that time. She is kind enough to fit me in after the oldest’s riding lesson in Ridgefield/before dinner. Cheyelle, Zoe and Dayona are exuberant, friendly girls. Cheyelle is quiet and has wisdom in her eyes and holds my gaze. Zoe is the real animal lover and her eyes light up when I tell her to watch out for gophers. She excitedly asks if there are leaches in El Swampo. Her mother says Zoe is the reason for every grey hair on her head. Dayona is the youngest and when Molly jumps up on her, she is taller than Dayona. When they return from the walk, Molly promptly goes inside and konks out. The girls curiously explore the land and their eyes light up when I tell them about all the wildlife. We discuss having them come back as Doggie Aunties on a weekly basis. Mom makes apologies for their exuberance. I ask mom to put her fingers in her ears and tell the girls that I secretly like High Spirited Children; the girls smirk and Adrian laughs. I look forward to their visit next Tuesday at 3:45. Broken foot, woven in to community. 9/10/14
  • The Humans of Vancouver- Sybil responded to the call from Pastor Curtis, of Unity Family Church, who responded to a call from an anonymous stranger (my friend) to help a non-Christian stranger in need. She showed up at my house this afternoon in a beautiful white and hot pink floral sundress and took Molly on a 45 min long walk. She is a single mother of a recent high-school graduate and just returned from a vacation to Washington DC with her daughter. She grew up in Portland, but had to move after the Columbia Village projects were torn down to make way for new. She recently got her Associates degree in early childhood education AND her CNA credential. When I mused at the incredibleness of a stranger coming to my aid, she said, “God works in mysterious ways”. 9/7/14

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Originally published at on August 19, 2015.