TURNLESS IN PORTLAND

We live in the country.  Things here are different than in cities. For example, there are no ‘one way’ roads. One lane, yes. One way, no. They’re just wildly impractical in a rural setting.

That being said, I want to tell you about our experience last weekend. But first, I need say something before anyone takes offense. We love Portland. The people are friendly. The city has amazing parks and glorious architecture. The Saturday river front market is fabulous and Portland has one of the best bookstore anywhere, Powell’s Books.

Portlanders also have a strong commitment to being ‘green’. People walk and bike. There’s a fabulous public transit system. Some streets (okay, many streets) have dedicated bus lanes and light rail lanes.

But for out-of-towners there’s a darker side to all this friendliness, eco and otherwise. You see, it’s impossible to make a left turn on an arterial street in downtown Portland. In the usual downtown lattice of one way streets, left turns are simply forbidden.

Actually, from a safety point, it makes good sense. So, upon discovering this, I figured, “all I have to do is revert to my ‘Big City’ training and go one block further, turn right, turn right again, etc.”

It’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

Not in downtown Portland. Not only is it forbidden to make a left turn, but at the next block where you SHOULD be able to turn right, you can’t. There are big signs that say NO TURNS. That’s right, NO turns, none, nada, zippo. So, once you get onto one of these highways to perdition, you can’t get off. You might want to get off. You might need to get off. But you can’t. At least, not lawfully.

I discovered the undeniable truth of this nightmare when we went to pick up some friends at a downtown hotel. I turned onto 6th Street in order to loop back around to 5th. That’s when I learned that you CANNOT get off of 6th Street. Ever. It’s the beginning of the suck zone. We became like Dorothy in the cyclone.

Once you’re heading north on 6th Street, you MUST drive all the way to the Greyhound Bus Terminal. I don’t know why you have to go to the Greyhound terminal; I just know that you can’t alter your journey. So don’t even try.

At the far end of the terminal, 6th Street appears to abruptly end in a plaza of dazzling, geometrically patterned brickwork, bordered by shrubbery and sculpture. It takes a moment to realize that this is merely decorative pavement. What looks like a plaza is, in fact, the Yellow Brick Road that permits you to get out of Oz (or to 5th Street in this world).

Once I realized that this cheat existed, I was able to make my way back to our friends’ hotel and we proceeded on to Powell’s for a prolonged bout of biblio-therapy.

Somewhere between the science fiction and romance sections in the Gold Room level a question occurred to me. Just how eco-friendly is it to channel people blocks and blocks out of their way so that the buses and light rail trains can have clear, unimpeded routes of travel? As Jimmy Buffett said, “I didn’t ponder the question too long. I got hungry and went…” into the café for a coffee and pastry. They made things better almost immediately.

But I realize I may have something else to worry about. I may have nonredirectophobia – the newly discovered fear of not being able to change directions. Either that or I’ll wake up and find out that we’re still on 6th Street and that the last 96 hours of sanity have all been a dream.

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