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The temporary shelter booted the homeless at 8 a.m., so Rickie Wright passed the morning under awnings and other dry spaces. At 11, he decided to shoot for some place warmer.
"Does anyone know when the 77 comes?" Wright asked a group of people at a bus shelter on Northwest 5th Avenue and Everett Street. "I need to get to Troutdale."
Four homeless people had died from hypothermia this month. Wright, 36, might have found another night at a shelter, but the Love's truck stop in Troutdale seemed a safer bet. It had wireless internet and showers, amenities the Imago Dei emergency shelter run by Transition Projects in Southwest Portland did not.
"The 77 is the only bus that goes from here to there," Wright said.
A 30-something in Patagonia gear pulled out his cell phone to check.
"I'm looking at PDXLiveBus," he said and showed Wright website that gives TriMet schedules. "It tracks the GPS of every bus. The 77 just fell off the map."
Another woman checked TriMet's app and spotted one due in 35 minutes. That could mean anything, she explained.
The governor had declared a state of emergency. Every bus line had an alert. The MAX wasn't crossing bridges, and TriMet had canceled routes. But Wright was homeless and carless. He had to hope a long-delayed ride would eventually show.
"I guess I'll wait," Wright said.
Two 8s, a 35 and a 44 passed. The bus shelter cleared out. At 11:40 a.m., a driver stopped to ask Wright, by then the only one waiting, where he needed to be. Wright said Troutdale. The driver was headed somewhere else, but he told Wright to hop on the 8.
The bus chugged over the Steel Bridge then stopped at Rose Quarter Transit Center. The driver left, then returned and told Wright he'd be better waiting outside.
Wright smoked a Camel full flavor cigarette, the cheapest he could find. He had a red beard and light blue eyes, a camouflage green coat with a camo green vest on top.
"I read that book the Portland woman wrote," he said. "Wild."
Cheryl Strayed's account of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail had sustained him, he said.
"I read it twice while I was in the hole, solitary some call it," he said. "I done 10 years total. I wrote one of them free book shops, and they sent Cheryl Strayed. Reading 'Wild,' being locked up, got me to wanting freedom. I would do the PCT Trail, but I don't have anyone to send me packages so I don't die along the way. I came to Portland instead."
Wright watched as half a dozen Latinos shoveled out the sidewalks that led to Moda Center. He had lived in Arkansas, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas. Every state had one thing in common.
"No matter where I go, Hispanics are are always willing to do the work no one else will," Wright said. "That's commendable."
He had looked for work on Craigslist. He messaged a man who said he needed help loading a U-Haul.
"I told him I was homeless," Wright said. "He didn't write back."
Desperate, he had "flown a sign" for two hours. Portlanders like a seemingly honest panhandler, he said, so he had written, "Why lie? It's for beer" on the cardboard. He had made more in two hours than he had working two weeks of Craigslist jobs.
"The irony is I don't drink," Wright said. "I will smoke weed if someone gives it to me. But I don't like drinking alone. What I really want is a big bowl of chili, a mug of hot chocolate. You can't buy hot food with food stamps."
He waited 45 minutes at the Rose Quarter. No eastbound 77 showed. At 1 o'clock, he spotted one heading west.
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I waited all year. No song ever rocked the world the way "Formation" did. A few came close to knocking me off my axis, though. No New York Times narrative or Donald Trump campaign promise came close to capturing Chicago the way "Summer Friends" and "Casket Pretty" do. I cried when Tribe rolled out that Phife banner on Saturday Night Live. And every time "Ultralight Beam" filled my headphones.
I tried to drink it away. I tried to put one in the air. I tried to dance it away.
It took me a month to appreciate Frank Ocean's songs. Then I spent two more rewinding one line over and over again: "Wish I was there, wish we'd grown up on the same advice / and our time was right." If "Ivy" were the only song I was granted in 2016, it would have been a good year for listening.
Some of my favorite songs were important. Some were dumb catchy fun. "With You" is dancing around the living room on Saturday morning. "Frankie Sinatra" is jumping down my street on my nightly walk. Every story I wrote this year included one binge listen of dvsn's album.
(Listen below -- though Beyoncé is missing from all the streaming sites, as is "Serpentine Fire.")
Beyonce - Formation
Chance the Rapper - Summer Friends
Kanye West - Ultralight Beam
Frank Ocean - Ivy
BadBadNotGood - Confessions, Pt. II
Frank Ocean f/ Andre 3000 - Solo (Reprise)
A Tribe Called Quest - We The People
Solange - Mad
Anderson .Paak - The Season/Carry Me
Blood Orange - Best to You
Solange - Cranes in the Sky
DVSN - With Me
Frank Ocean - Self-Control
Kevin Gates - Pride
A Tribe Called Quest - Solid Wall of Sound
Beyonce - Sorry
Drake f/ PartyNextDoor - With You
Kaytranada f/ Anderson .Paak - Glowed Up
Kamaiyah - How Does It Feel
Beyoncé - Hold Up
A Tribe Called Quest - Black Spasmodic
Kendrick Lamar - untitled 06
Chance the Rapper - No Problem
Kamaiyah - Swing My Way
Blood Orange - Squash Squash
Drake - Feel No Ways
Lil Yachty - Out Late
Young Thug - Kanye West
Mura Masa - What if I go?
Childish Gambino - Redbone
Noname - Casket Pretty
Anderson .Paak - Heart Don’t Stand a Chance
The Avalanches f/ Danny Brown - Frankie Sinatra
Kamaiyah - Out the Bottle
DVSN - in + out
Desiigner - Timmy Turner
Partynextdoor - Not Nice
BadBadNotGood - IV
070 Shake - Sunday Night
James Blake - Radio Silence
Makaya McCraven - Butterscotch
Kendrick Lamar - Untitled 02
- Frank Ocean - Futura Free
DVSN - Hallucinations
Lil Yachty - Minnesota
Rihanna - Love on the Brain
Anderson .Paak - Silicon Valley
Joey Purp f/ Chance the Rapper - Girls@
Young Thug - Wyclef Jean
Drake - Fake Love
Danny Brown f/ Kendrick Lamar - Really Doe
Kamaiyah - Ain’t Goin Home
Chance the Rapper - Blessings
Jaylien - We Fcuk
Theo Croker - This Could Be
Noname - Diddy Bop
Kevin Gates - Really Really
Desiigner - Panda
Mitski - Happy
Travis Scott - through the late night
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam - A 1000 Times
ZAYN - Pillowtalk
D.R.A.M. - Broccoli
The Avalanches - Because I’m Me
Isaiah Rashad - Free Lunch
Travis Scott & Young Thug - pick up the phone
Schoolboy Q f/ Kanye West - THat Part
GTA f/ Vince Staples - Little Bit of This
Anderson .Paak - Come Down
Miranda Lambert - Ugly Lights
Jidenna - Little Bit More
Bruno Mars - 24K Magic
Drake - Controlla
Vince Staples f/ A$AP Rocky - Prima Donna
Kanye West - Real Friends
Partynextdoor f/ Drake - Come and See Me
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam - When the Truth Is
DVSN - The Line
Chance the Rapper - Same Drugs
A Tribe Called Quest - Dis Generation
Clams Casino f/ Vince Staples - All Nite
Miles Davis & Robert Glasper f/ Erykah Badu - Maiysha
Rihanna - Same Old Mistakes
Kaytranada - Lite Spots
NAO - Bad Blood
Miranda Lambert - Pink Sunglasses
Makaya McCraven - Tomtom
Childish Gambino - Me and Your Mama
Ariana Grande - Dangerous Woman
Jimi Tenor - Tropical Eel
NAO - Girlfriend
DVSN - Angela
Anderson .Paak - Lite Weight
Khalid - Location
Aminé - Caroline
Waldo - Kobe’s Room
Gucci Mane - 1st Day Out Tha Feds
River Tiber - West
YG - Who Shot Me?
Frank Ocean - Blonde
A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from here … Thank you 4 your service
Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
DVSN - Sept. 5
Kamaiyah - A Good Night in the Ghetto
Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
Solange - A Seat At The Table
Kevin Gates - Islah
Drake - Views
NxWorries - Yes Lawd
BadBadNotGood - IV
The Avalanches - Wildflower
Lil Yachty - Lil Boat
Beyonce - Lemonade
Makaya McCraven - In the Moment
Noname - Telefone
Young Thug - Jeffrey
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
Theo Croker - Escape Velocity
The day after, I talked on the phone for 12 hours. I apologized for the hangover. I stopped my car on the Interstate while protesters clogged the routes. I waited to crash.
The radio played Tupac. I tried to return to the Miles Davis I'd been stuck on before. Then the voice from beyond came barrelling back. Phife and Tip, right on time.
My home state is the incarceration capital of the world. I am loving this podcast from New Orleans Public Radio documenting the Louisiana lives affected by prison. An episode about rapper Jahi Salaam really moved me.
“You grow up – you living in a shitty house, like your house broke down, you go to school, your school broke down, you feel me, like there’s people getting shot, there’s people getting locked up. That’s what I mean by struggling,” Jahi Salaam said. “You know, it’s hard to grow up. Like it ain’t just – it ain’t no plan set out for you or nothing. It ain’t no road you can just walk down, like, ‘Oh, I know I’m going to be straight.’”
My grandma Louise wanted to die four years ago. My pappaw had already gone, and she spent her days without him watching Fox News and smoking in the carport. She stopped eating for a while, slimmed from 135 to 80 pounds, and told me she was ready.
“I wouldn’t care if it was tomorrow,” she told me when I flew from Portland, Ore. to Monroe, La. to visit her that year.
Much of her belongings were already spoken for, she said. The cast iron pot would go to her sister. Half a dozen others had laid claim to an old paint palette she used back in her crafting days. She gave me odds and ends that nobody wanted. An old bra, my grandfather’s tie. She sent me home with months-old HGTV magazines and a roll of pennies from 1983.
When she found out Portland had banned plastic bags, she began saving hers for me. One night that spring, she spent two hours carefully analyzing 100 bags for holes. Then she folded and smoothed them into a pile small enough to go unnoticed in my suitcase.
She was anti-liberal, she said, but had a country way of conservation. She composted by feeding raccoons her table scraps. She recycled by sending those bags home with me. It had been years since she stayed in a hotel, but she stockpiled cabinets full of travel soaps.
“Here,” she said, pressing one against my nose. “They still smell.”
She gave back jewelry she had been keeping for me, a pair of diamond earrings I wore as a baby and a brooch she said I had been given for Christmas.
“You could have your grandpa’s ring,” she said.
“Why don’t we wait?” I asked.
“Honey,” she said. “You wait too long and there’ll be nothing left.”
Few people get to know their grandparents as adults. My childhood memories of her are spare. I remember the night she woke me up from a dead sleep, hunched over and hissing, “Casey, you’re restless. Get up and go pee.” Everything else is a fragment -- four letter words she said in four syllables, a red-and-turquoise outfit she once forced me to wear.
I kept my distance from her and everyone else in the family. At holidays, I read a book or wrote in my diary while relatives talked meatballs or medicines, unplanned pregnancies and prison stints.
I always planned to move far away some day. I just felt different than the rest of North Louisiana. I thought back then it had something to do with books or music, but as soon as I left for college in Mississippi, I realized it’s because I’m gay. I told my mother that Easter Sunday, inspired by the intensifying chords of praise songs to confess.
The preacher prayed I would repent and die immediately: “Save her and take her.” My mom sobbed and wrote all my professors an email, told them college was a cesspool that had ruined her daughter.
That summer, I went home. At the Fourth of July barbecue, an uncle peered at me over the meat.
“You know about Sodom and Gomorrah, right?” he asked. “God destroyed a whole nation to wipe out homosexuality. He’ll destroy you, too.”
My mom jumped up and ran to the bathroom, a tiny half-bath barely big enough for one. I followed her in, squeezed against a wall and tried to promise I wouldn’t be gay anymore. My grandma knocked then jigsawed in without waiting for an answer.
“Rhonda Jean,” she said to my mother. “Life is a buffet. Some people eat hot dogs. And some people eat fish. She likes women, and you need to get over it.”
Somehow my being gay made my grandma and I grow closer. That summer, she handed over the only thing I ever needed to inherit. She gave me a story.
We were sitting that day at a little wooden table, her fiddling with a pack of Virginia Slims, me with the hair I had just cut short.
“I grew up across the street from a woman who lived as a man,” she told me.
I begged her to say more.
Roy was born in the 1920s, she said. His parents, or at least the parents my grandma knew, had kidnapped him from an abusive family. They changed his name from Delois, she said, cut his hair, then ran. My grandma met him in 1950, the day she moved to town. Roy played “the most beautiful music,” she said, by which she meant he played the first banjo she ever heard. She didn’t know much else. Roy had died before she had a chance to ask.
After college, I moved to Oregon and became a journalist. Working at a newspaper taught me how to talk to strangers in ways that always evaded me with my family.
Distance has a way of burnishing the memories of home. The longer I lived in Oregon, the more I missed Louisiana. Finally, a few years after I left, I returned to visit my grandmother. I told her Oregon had taught me how to investigate. She said she had one mystery for me to solve. What had really happened in Roy’s life? Had anyone loved him? Did he ever feel like he belonged?
“It’s eaten at me all these years,” she said. “Am I gonna die without finding out?”
We decided a film documentary would be best. I assembled a little crew then flew down to meet my grandma on Hell Street, the road where her shotgun house once looked out on Roy’s.
Trailer homes had replaced all the houses, but I knocked on every door. Only a few remembered Roy. She was ornery and mowed yards, one neighbor said. She wore men’s clothes and kept her hair short. Kind of, a former neighbor told me, like yours.
I went to Roy’s nursing home and church then tracked down former Hell Street neighbors. I read Census records and microfiche. Mostly, though, I talked to my grandmother. We went over everything she remembered about Roy. When those stories ran out, we talked about her.
She told me about picking cotton and about the first time she saw running water. In her day, she received newspapers only a few times a month. They were always outdated.
She told me, three times, the story of the day she moved from a delta community she called Frog Island. Her parents could no longer earn enough sharecropping, so the family hitched a ride on a stranger’s truck.
“And I rode on top of a bale of cotton,” she said.
Later, my cousin and I drove round and round North Louisiana trying to find Frog Island. Google Maps, for all its flashback features, doesn’t go that far deep into the delta or the past. We stopped and asked a cottonfield owner for directions. He led us to a stranger’s driveway, one small frog statue left as a reminder.
My grandma told me about the delta quicksand that scared her and the UFO she swore she saw. I know the first time she ate a Chiquita banana was June 1952. The first perfume she wore was Evening in Paris. She used strips of tobacco cans to roll her sister's hair and fashioned Christmas tree ornaments out of candy wrappers she rescued from the trash. As a teenager, she saved all her money to buy herself a pair of red jeans but waited to buy them until she had enough for a pair of green ones for her sister.
My grandfather wasn’t the first boy she dated, but once Troyce Carter drove down Hell Street, no other man mattered. They dated three months, she told me.
“Then we zeroed in on this,” she said and pulled out the little wedding book that had cemented their lives together.
“They put my name as Louise Huffman,” she said, squinting to read the fading ink. “And right here it started Louise Carter.”
She shared family secrets I wasn’t supposed to know, reveals she told me to forget until my deathbed or the afterlife.
I went down a few times a year to ask her questions and dig up whatever I could on Roy. I found Roy’s Bible and a poem he wrote, even a few pictures that showed a curvy boy with a guitar strapped across his chest.
“Did he ever date anybody?” my grandma asked me. No one knew, I told her.
“Can you imagine?” she said. And I could. She talked all the time about my brother’s girlfriends, but my grandma never asked about mine. Finally, three years into the film project, I told her I was getting married. She changed the subject, and I started crying.
“You never ask about me,” I said.
We avoided each other the rest of the day, but she insisted I share a bed with her that night. At 3 a.m., she shook me awake.
“Casey,” she said. “I do want to know you. Bring her down, and I’ll meet her.”
A married woman, she said the next morning, should know how to make biscuits, so she tried, in vain, to teach me. I filmed her three different trips working Crisco into flour then watched them all in Portland before attempting to make the biscuits myself.
“They’re delicious,” my wife told me.
“They’re not hers,” I said. Something was missing, the sour, soft crunch created by Bulgarian buttermilk, humidity and a hundred-year-old cast iron.
My grandma never called me on my birthday, never called me period unless I was in town visiting and she needed me to pick up something. But she knew me, the real me, in a way that made me feel like I could go back to Louisiana and slowly, over time, come to know myself.
The last time we talked, she told me she had a stash of plastic bags and maybe, no promises, a few memories left to drag up. I told her I would finish the documentary, but I had realized, finally, that the film was never the point.
“Just leave me your stories when you go,” I told her. And she did.
My "diversity beat" at The Oregonian most often is a gentrification beat. For the past few years, I've written narratives about the displaced, about the communities lost. A reader and community leader has often pushed back on some of those stories. Rightly, he asked why I only wrote sad stories about African Americans. He sent me numbers showing the population was growing. Both narratives are true -- African Americans have been pushed out in big cities across the country. But there are others who are thriving, making a home in a place the rest of the country knows for quirky whiteness.
Here's the latest piece I did, the first in a little series that will continue through the fall. Photos by Beth Nakamura, my favorite journalist and best tag team partner.
After gentrification: America's whitest big city? Sure, but a thriving black community, too.
Every few months, a national news outlet travels to Oregon to trek through a familiar narrative. Portland is America's whitest big city, they report. Black people have been shoved out, shut down.
Yes, at 76 percent white, Portland is less diverse than Omaha or Salt Lake City. And gentrification did displace and disperse what was once a dense black community in North and Northeast Portland. Others left willingly, realtors said, for bigger lots and better schools.
But those are not the only stories black Portlanders have to tell. Frustrated by the steady dirge, some of Portland's black leaders have begun sharing another narrative. African-Americans aren't disappearing, they say. Some are thriving.
The number of black Portlanders increased 4 percent between 2000 and 2010, they note. And new Census data, released this year, shows the metro area had nearly 5,000 black-owned businesses in 2012, a 42 percent increase over five years.
"We just don't all live in Northeast Portland anymore," said economist Stephen Green, a 39-year-old African American who grew up in Aloha but lives in Woodlawn, among a few Northeast neighborhoods that have added black residents in recent years.
Green understands why the other narrative proliferates. Older black people miss knowing their neighbors. Young white liberals feel guilty for driving up rental prices.
But that story has outlived its use, he thinks.
If people think Portland has no black residents, they won't support its black businesses. Smart, ambitious young African Americans won't stay or move here.
The whitest city in America will become only whiter.
They were a microcosm, just one white police officer and one black man, talking. But the conversation Friday between a Portland Police Bureau captain and a local actor shifted something.
It was the antidote, they both said, to a week of shootings that left officers and black men across the country dead.
Portland Police Capt. Michael Crebs and Alonzo Chadwick first met last Wednesday at a performance of "Hands Up," a series of seven monologues, each written by a black playwright after Ferguson. Each piece explores race or police violence.
Some of the monologues were "real negative" toward police, Crebs said. It "took some effort," but he pushed himself to sit there, to listen.
"For me to be my best, I need to hear those experiences," Crebs said. "As a police officer, it's so important for me to understand the people that I serve. We are all just humans trying to get by on this earth."
Chadwick performed "Superiority Fantasy," a 10-minute monologue that tells the story of a man routinely hassled by police.
Like that narrator, Chadwick's experiences with police have been negative. The 36-year-old first encountered an officer in a Northeast Portland park when he was 14.
"I was treated as if I didn't deserve to be there," Chadwick said.
Then, when he was 19 and driving his first car, a female officer pulled him over on Northeast Alberta Street. Three other cars quickly appeared, he said.
"My mom had given me the talk, taught me how you should comply so you can come home alive," Chadwick said. The first rule: Never reach for anything. An officer might think you are looking for a weapon.
"I was crying," he said. "I knew I was getting ready to die. She told me to roll the window down. I told her I couldn't. My window button is in the middle of the car, and if I reach over you're going to think I'm reaching for something and you'll kill me."
The stop ended without incident, Chadwick said, but before the officer drove off, she said she had stopped him because his tail light was out.
"I asked her, 'You did all that because I had a tail light out?'" he recalled. "And she said, 'You fit the description of somebody we're looking for.'"
Since then, Chadwick said he has had about 25 encounters with police, 80 percent of which have been negative.
So when Crebs stood up at the end of Chadwick's performance last week, the actor wasn't sure what to think.
Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer wanted to buy a wedding cake. What happened that day at Sweet Cakes by Melissa changed their lives forever.Read More
May was unseasonably warm. I bounced through streets listening to all the new songs everyone else is. These, plus Beyonce, too.
How did Chance find such light in Chicago? I felt guilty, dumb-grinning on the bus the day his album came out. It transported me back to my childhood revivals, when we grabbed bliss however we could find it, stubbornly shutting out the dark that creeped in around the edges. His Kirk Franklin feature reminded me of this older tune, "Stomp," which makes me just as happy in my 30s as it did as a Christian teenager.