Brian's Photo Blog — Article 416
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A Country Bumpkin in the Big City
Thursday 23 April 2015   —   Category: Outings
For a few years I have dreamed of going on numerous photo outings to Portland, the largest city in Oregon, just an hour or so up the I-5 from where I live in Albany. But I was never able to get one of those hard-to-find round tuits!

But now I’ve finally started to get around to it! I made two outings to Portland last month — see Dying to Photograph a Cemetery and My First Visit to Portland’s Japanese Garden for all the details.

A week ago today I made my third photo outing of the year to Portland, and next week I’ll be making my second monthly visit to the Japanese Garden. After delaying for so long, I now seem to be making up for lost time. I hope I don’t overdo it and burn out as I have in the past.

Even though I am not ready to show off all of this month’s photos from Portland, I would still like to share with you some of the highlights of last week’s outing. There are numerous advantages to getting an early start: beating the traffic on the way to an outing location, beating the crowd once you arrive, beating the heat of the afternoon, and last but not least, the wonderful photographic lighting of the early morning. Therefore, I was up at 4:15 and out the door by 4:45!

It was around 5:30 when I was passing through the Woodburn area, which is the first place you can see Mount Hood from the I-5 when traveling north. When I looked to the northeast I was treated to a sublime sight.

A small patch of sky was beginning to get brighter and more colorful than the surrounding deep dark blue that borders on black. Along the horizon was a dim, dark, yet glowing, burnt orange color. Ascending from it were layers of yellow, green and blue, each similarly dim, with infinite variations in hue which made it impossible to decide where one color ended and the next began.

And there, in the very center of this gorgeous but subdued glow, was the silhouette of Mount Hood, about 60 miles away. At 11,249 feet, it is the highest mountain in Oregon. With a prominence of 7,706 feet, it stands alone as it towers over the surrounding mountains of the Cascades, making them seem like mere hills in comparison.

I was surprised that the sun would be rising right behind Mount Hood (as seen from Woodburn). I would have thought that the sun would be more to the east by this time of the year. But that is where the early-dawn light was coming from.

Then I noticed that it was pretty dark out, and I wondered where the moon was. I looked out of the various windows of my truck but could not see it. Then I glanced further east — what I saw made my jaw drop!

I had found the moon. It was a huge, orangish, very-thin crescent, sitting right on top of the Cascades, about 30 degrees east of Mount Hood — close to the mountain, but not too close. If that sliver of the rising moon had been shaped more like an arrow than an arc, it would have been pointing straight at Mount Hood!

So there I was, trying to drink in all of this wonder, while flying down the I-5 at 65+ MPH. I would have loved to capture this extraordinary moment with a camera, but it just wasn’t possible. Over the years I have come to realize that there are some scenes in life which are meant to be enjoyed without the distraction of photography.

The vision keeps haunting me, so I found some images on the Internet, adjusted and combined them with Photoshop, and present it here as a similar but not exact representation of what I saw that morning.

As the minutes and miles rolled by, the magic faded away. The sky became more commonplace, and I returned to the normal world of commuting to Portland. What an awesome way to start my outing! Because I had not previously taken advantage of Portland’s excellent public transportation system — called TriMet — I figured it was high time to start. After some research, I discovered an essential mobile app for 21st-century mass transit in Portland. The TriMet Tickets iOS app enables me to buy tickets, look up bus and rail routes and schedules, and see various system maps.

I can even enter a starting point and destination, and it will tell me exactly which transport I need to take to get there. And the app itself is my ticket, which I can show to the inspector to verify that I have paid the fare. I love high-tech, and I think this capability is very cool! No standing in line at the ticket machine — just pay electronically from my iPad Mini and then go!

Although the app works fine on my tablet, it is designed specifically for the iPhone, so it runs on the iPad in that weird compatibility mode. Fortunately, TriMet makes their system data, including the real-time location of all of their busses and trains, available to the public. Developers have taken advantage of this to create a whole slew (53 at the latest count!) of TriMet mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry and more. As a professional programmer, such innovation warms my heart!

During a future trip to Portland I will be using the TriMet Tickets app to facilitate my travel from the first part of my outing to the second part. After parking at the Japanese Garden and taking pictures there for a couple of hours in the morning, I will take two different bus lines to arrive at my second destination: Portland State University, at the southern end of downtown. The app will be a great help while traveling, and it has already saved me a lot of time and effort trying to figure out routes and schedules manually on my own. In order to avoid traffic and enjoy a nice, long ride on the metro (MAX), I drove to the suburb town of Happy Valley. After a quick breakfast at McDonald’s at 6:00, I made it to the free-parking structure at the southernmost station on the Green Line, about 8 miles southeast of downtown Portland as the crow flies. I had just missed the 6:14 train, but since there is a departure every 15 minutes, I didn’t have to wait long.

The metro route follows I-205 north and then I-84 west. On the I-84 there had been an accident, and I felt terribly sorry for all the poor suckers stuck in a huge traffic jam, while I was being whisked to my destination at near-freeway speeds. I was starting to really enjoy life in the big city! But I hadn’t seen anything yet.

By the time I arrived at Portland’s downtown Union Station at 7:05, the sun was still fairly low in the sky, having risen less than an hour before. I spent about half an hour there, photographing the beautiful architecture both inside and out — and making a vital visit to the restroom! Then I set off, by foot, to my main destination for the day, only a few blocks away.

When studying maps of Portland, I had noticed that there are public walkways along both sides of the Willamette River. These include the Willamette River Greenway Trail and Waterfront Park Trail on the west bank, and the Eastbank Esplanade on the other side. Walking north from Union Station, I reached the northern end of that section of the Greenway Trail, at the corner of Naito Pkwy and 9th Ave, between the Fremont and Broadway bridges.

During the next four hours, I slowly made my way down two miles of the river, gawking at some new sight or perspective every few yards, and taking hundred of photos along the way. I felt as if I had been transformed into some sort of country bumpkin, fresh off the tractor, making his first visit to the big city! I was almost embarrassed at myself, because I seemed so astonished by everything I was seeing — every building, bridge, boat, train, and more! What in the world had come over me?

I’m no inexperienced yokel. I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a country village. Almost all of my life I have lived in towns with a population of 50,000 to 100,000. I have been to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area plenty of times. I have visited numerous urban centers, such as San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Washington DC, New York, Vancouver BC, London, Paris, Berlin, all of the largest cities in Switzerland, and Jerusalem. Cities? Been there, done that!

Nevertheless, there I was, acting as if I were one of the Beverly Hillbillies! I meandered up the west bank for a while, then crossed the Willamette on the pedestrian / bike path attached to the southern side of the one-of-a-kind Steel Bridge. I made my way south along the Eastside Esplanade, past the Burnside and Morrison bridges, until I came to the Hawthorne Bridge. There I crossed the river once again, and entered the downtown area on the west side of the Willamette.

After buying lunch at a Subway and eating it in the Waterfront Park, it was time to find a restroom again, seeing that Subway doesn’t provide one. The only public facilities I knew of from previous visits to Portland are in the visitor information center located at Pioneer Courthouse Square, a bit over half a mile away. Without taking too many pictures, I made my way there as quickly as possible.

For the rest of my hour or so downtown, I slowly wandered north from Pioneer Square to Union Station, making a slight detour through Portland’s tiny Chinatown. Apart from the Gate on 4th Ave, it is not very impressive. Near Union Station I took the Green Line back to my truck in Clackamas, and then drove home.

All told, I walked about 5⅛ miles over a period of nearly 7 hours, and took almost exactly 750 photos. Yes, the country bumpkin was impressed with the big city! When writing about my first trip to Portland’s Japanese Gar­den, I mentioned that I had purchased an annual mem­ber­ship so I could enter the Garden at 8:00 AM, two hours before it opens to the public. It took only that one visit to convince me that it was money well spent! My goal is to take pictures there once a month for the entire year. After that overdose, I might never go there again!

Although the Garden opens (for members) at 8:00, the parking payment machine won’t accept payment until 9:00. Therefore, I had to leave the Garden, walk back down the hill to my truck, pay for the parking, and then walk back up the hill to resume my photography. This inconvenience interrupted me right in the middle of picture taking, and caused me to lose valuable time.

An employee at the Garden brought to my attention one more high-tech convenience for 21st-century big-city living. When I need to pay for a parking space, there’s an app for that! With the PassportParking Mobile Pay app, I can make the necessary payment for my parking spot from my iPad while still in the Garden! And if I need to add money for a longer stay, I can do that remotely as well, no matter where I’m at. Very sweet!

I am looking forward to trying it out for the first time on my second visit to the Japanese Garden next week — I’m expecting that it will work wonderfully! That’s the way tech should function in our lives — simple to use and fulfilling a real need. From the little bit I have experienced, I think Portland is a wonderful little big city. Despite my earlier apprehensions about walking around an urban area with a lot of expensive camera equipment, during my seven-hour walk last week I felt pretty safe. It is fairly clean and there is lots of man-made beauty. Unfortunately, like any city, there is also too much homelessness. It was sad to see so many people sleeping on the streets.

In the Wikipedia article about Portland, it is described as ...
... one of the most environmentally conscious or “green” cities in the world because of its high walkability, large community of bicyclists, expansive network of public transportation options and 10,000 acres of public parks.

Its climate is ideal for growing roses. For more than a century, Portland has been known as the “City of Roses,” with many rose gardens — most prominently the International Rose Test Garden. The city is also known for its abundant outdoor activities ... and beer enthusiasm. Portland is home to the most total breweries and independent microbreweries of any city in the world, with 58 active breweries within city limits.
During just one day in Portland, I definitely experienced its walkability, many bicyclists, excellent mass transit and a small part of its public parks. During past trips I had a taste of its beer and more time in its parks. On future trips, once or twice a month, I am enthusiastic about experiencing a whole lot more of everything!

Other articles about this outing: Albums of photos from this outing:
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 416
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