The Starbucks line of cars is long, but I just picked up my hot red race car/rental car and I am looking forward to using the window that actually rolls down- so I wait. I wonder what others think of me in this red hot car. Am I a single woman that just came into some money or am I a frumpy house mom who is breaking away from her normal routines to dash to see friends? (I know no one cares really)
While enjoying the amusing thoughts of how I could be viewed, I notice a mayfly on my windshield. No matter how ‘classy’ I want to be in this moment, the fact is that the sight of a mayfly gets my heart racing so I awkwardly take its picture (the people in front of me think I am videoing them and keep looking over their backs nervously). I chuckle and try to fit myself into that good old cliché of: ‘You can take the girl to the city but you can’t take the woods [and weird ways she thinks about bugs for fishing] out of the girl’….? I am going to be an awkward mom-tourist in Portland this weekend- that is for sure.
I finally hit the road and feel disheveled as the quietness makes me nervous (usually 3 kids singling loudly in the back ground). It was only a long Starbuck’s line away that I was giving my sweet kiddos kisses while they hung out of our SUV, balling their eyes out saying “We miss you already, mommy”. And I started to cry while re-running the basics past my husband of food ideas and possible emergency preparedness scenarios. He kindly told me to leave. I asked him if I should run in and get them donuts to make them feel better and he said, “just go, now”.
Once on the highway, I am bantered by a mild form of identity transformation- I am alone, with no one there to ask me questions or keep me locked into the motherhood role I have been riding in for weeks. I can listen to any kind of music I want, stop where I want to and just sit there and think for once. It sounds nice to drive alone, but I am also dealing with some anxiety about heading to the big city to see my girlfriends who will expect an energetic, queen of fun… but here I am, sleep deprived and saggy (far from where I was when we left college several years ago and a little bit more worn out than when I saw them 5 months ago). I hope they still think I am funny and tell me I am pretty, even if I am worn out.
Just thinking about them makes me start to tear up- I wonder where I would be in life without them pulling me along to meet up, or paying for my plane tickets here and there so I actually follow through and show up. We have all had our share of difficult times the past few years with kids, extended family issues, economic hardships, and sickness; we have been taking turns calling in tears or just hoping to make the other one laugh so that we still know that we are funny and our personalities have not been sucked out by the breastfeeding babies we are nurturing.
I turn the music up loud and start to feel excited to be around these women that have helped hold me together and mirror back to me a part of myself that I am not sure is still always with me.
The six hour drive is interesting as I study myself and how I spend this time alone. Every river or creek I pass is noted, drooled over, and cataloged in my mind as a possible place to fish someday. Gosh I really am getting weirder with age…my obsession with rivers is definitely different than what the normal mom driving a red hot car would be. I start to judge the other drivers that I am trucking along with. In a twisted way I make up personalities for the cars/drivers based off of the type of car they are driving, their speeding habits and how long they stay in the left lane when others want to pass them. If they are speeding a little and quickly move to the side so others can pass, these are my friends I like to call the “cool kids at school”. We take turns passing each other and I think it is a game, but I realize they are probably just trying to get somewhere (?).
When a cop pulls one of them over, we all slow down and forget each other quickly. I am easily peer pressured by the cool kids though and decide early in the game that I don’t want to be the typical ‘red hot car driver’ with a cocky attitude and risk-taking driving habits- so I tone it down to 73 in a 65 and hang with the mini vans, who I am more familiar with anyways.
Anxiety rises the closer I get to Portland; probably much like a city dweller going out in the open woods alone for the first time- expecting bears to attack them or fish to slap them in the face like in the movies. I get lost once, but find a gas station to change out of my yoga pants into my jeans (this is the city people, they judge you for wearing yoga pants to brunch). I drive right into down town Portland and I feel like I have landed in a different country altogether. The streets are cluttered with homeless people doing odd things, hundreds of people on bikes, multiple recycling bins on every corner and people that I have a hard time putting into a category- they are so hip and their clothes are so strange and their hair is…undefinable. I don’t know what they are, I have never experienced them, but they are so original and each doing their own quirky thing- I dig it, it terrifies me, but I dig it.
Seeing my girlfriends is just like old times. We come together and clang and clamor about how good each other look and how cute our kids are. Things are much different from our college years though- one of us is usually sporting a baby bump or using a breast pump in the corner in between meals. Since we are in our early thirties, and happily married, we don’t have a swarm of young 20 yr. old guys flocking around us anymore- it was so hard being pretty and 21 (that was a joke). So we have become more of the group of women that the 20 -year-olds look at and think either: “Cougars are moving in” or “I hope we are that cool when we are that old”, but we really don’t care what they think.
We bounce from restaurant to restaurant- laughing loudly, eating, drinking coffee and sipping wine. Collectively, we decide Portland is way too hip for us now and thanks to the show Portlandia, we cannot stop laughing with every waiter who talks about “infused melodramatic citrus flavors or robustly flourished organic walnut bread paired with ‘our own’ gluten free organic free-range Marion berry jam”. I’m pretty sure the waiters and waitresses have to pass a theater audition and a ‘knowledge of adjectives’ exam before even making it to an interview at these restaurants.
After our first two meals, we realize that a dinner in Portland is about a 3 hour process, which off-sets our usual rushed meal with kids nicely. Those of us from the country, (aka, not up to speed with the new trends), childishly snicker under our breath at Portland’s ways- we are in a state of culture shock as our skinny waiter wears a jump suit with boots, has a tattoo of a bar code on his wrist and sports a long beard that has never seen the mountains or is correlated with hunting season at all. I love Portland.
I pass by several homeless people begging for money, which pulls at my heart strings at first, but then I become accustomed to it just like any another selfish tourist. I try to offer a bag of cheerios I found in my purse to a homeless lady who told me she was starving, she said:
“She doesn’t want some stupid cereal… She wants a sandwich!”
They are picky homeless-type in the city. But on a deeper side note: the majority of the homeless that I passed were locked up into some world of their own, unable to even comprehend getting help and so there they were, numbing out the other parts of themselves that could change or find hope. It really was a difficult thing for a country-type social worker to walk right by. My friend, Aimee, always keeps me on track though and anytime I get distracted by a drunken person trying to ask for help she moves me along and says I am here to have fun, not to help everyone (good friend right there).
After we ritually pound a gallon of guacamole at dinner, we decide to head out to find some Kareokee. We come across a pile of two people laying right in the middle of the sidewalk- stretched out and intertwined like some sort of an art project. We debated whether or not they were passed out druggies or very creative young adults making some sort of statement as we stepped over them and continued on our way. This was just one example of the oddity of the “street people”, as folks like us call ’em. As a mom, I want to knock their heads together and tell them to get home for dinner.
After a few angry songs performed by a some very skinny male hipsters, Erin and I decide to do our old time duet of the Salt N’ Pepper song, Shoop; which I am embarrassed to admit we sang in front of several classy Portlandians (sober too, in case you were wondering what I was doing). Please don’t judge me for knowing all of the words to that song, or tell my in laws, or tell my kids when they are teenagers. You are welcome though if you were able to experience two stay at home moms responsibly busting out a 90’s rap song.
On only the second day, I start to feel a bit claustrophobic from being surrounded by so many tall buildings and people everywhere. I start asking random locals where the water is located, thinking if I saw it then it would give me some peace of mind (maybe I AM a river addict). We had appetizers at a place we named the ‘space restaurant’, which is located at the top of a tall building. I finally find the river from view point and yes, it provides the rest my eyes need from days of sensory over load. My friend, Marcie, and I agree that we could do about two weeks max here in the city and we would be taking a drive to the mountains. Our other friends said we were weird (we are).
We take turns throughout the day calling our husbands to check on our kids, stepping back into the mom role on the phone to tell them we love them and thank our kind hubbies for giving us a much needed weekend together. I feel like a spy going back and forth between being only myself to being myself and a mother. It’s relaxing to be able to step out momentarily, but I miss my little stinkers too and being away makes me realize how blessed I am to be called a mom (no, I didn’t just add this because my kids will read this someday- its genuine).
My children will laugh someday when they learn we ended up at a dance place during ‘90’s night’. 90’s night is too fitting since we have all gone through high school during this time (and honestly couldn’t believe the hilarious memories the songs brought up). We were surrounded by so many kids that only knew the 90’s songs because of that one station that still plays them on the radio and most of them were born in 90’s! We danced in a small circle and brought old school back…my poor mom-feet were blistered from busting a move and pretending that I had not changed one bit in ten years.
Later that night on our way back to our hotel, the rain was pouring down so hard. We ran from awning to awning, yelling and laughing so loud like a bunch of high schoolers. A few of us pretend we are on the Oregon Trail and yell “Mama, I think I have small pocks!” or “The Oxen is stuck in the river, Mama”! It was so refreshing to be running in the rain, being weird like always. In a way it was one of those moments, just like being out on the river, where the rain is a bit uncomfortable but it makes us feel more alive and adventurous to just let it soak us and run like little, weird, kids. The homeless people still out on the streets were confused by all of these moms running down the road in the rain- Portland makes you do weird things and it’s beautiful.
I am always surprised how we, as a group of friends, step right back into some of our college year rituals of laughing, encouraging and not judging where each other are at in life. Being able to just sit and visit without competition or need to impress is the most refreshing experience a person can hope for while interacting with other women. I didn’t need to prove to them that I have my life all together or that I needed to be worthy of their friendship- they just love me where I am at and remind me of the wild lady I used to be, (thank the Lord it is ‘used to be’). After college, we did not know how our lives could go their separate ways and we could still stay connected, but I am so thankful to say that even though we are hundreds of miles away from each other with different lives and beliefs etc, we have managed to stay close and keep some of our strange ways.
We stay in Portland as long as we can on Sunday, but after a foot massage, and another time of coffee and food at another restaurant, we decide its time to pack up and head back to “real life”, as we call it. The long drive home was similar to the drive there as I was mulling over my mild identity transition and slowly morphing back into a caretaker and stay at home mom. It was fun to have a relaxing, silly weekend away from my kiddos to remember why time with girlfriends is so important and to also make me miss and appreciate my little family.
A red truck and I race for about two hours and then they take the off ramp without even saying good bye…. The red trucks are the stuck up ones. I try to take a picture of the Grande Rhonde River as I pass over it (it didn’t turn out, big suprise) and I start to plan my next fishing trip with my hubby. I make it to the rental car place and call a taxi to take me home…just like Cinderella at midnight, only my pumpkin carriage is more my style than the hot red race car I maneuvered in Portland.
Thanks for the fun weekend, Portland! You are strange, but I love you. And thanks to my ladies who always make me feel young and like all things are possible when we are together!
P.S. I am sorry to family and friends that were not a part of this adventure! It was spur of the moment and carefully designed!