Going away

How long does it take to fall in love? For me it took less than a day to fall in love with Portland, and about 30 minutes to miss being in Portland.

After a wonderful last day in the city, I woke up early to catch a train that would take me away from Portland until I return—if I return. Excited though I was to disembark in Seattle later that day, as I walked from my bus stop to the Union Station, I felt myself reflecting the gloom in the air. Just as I headed towards the looming building, raindrops began to fall, and Portland flaunted its typical self to me—one last time.

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Mild warmth hit me inside the station. It was a chilly morning, and as I hugged my sweater a little closer to myself, my instinct swung around for coffee. What I saw, instead, was a newsstand full of brochures and “Welcome to Portland” kits. Looking at all the tourist information I’d missed during my visit, I moved closer looking at each brochure. Although I hate standard tourism and typical sightseeing, some of the guide maps interested me. At that moment I realised I hadn’t spent enough time in Portland. Part of me was happy to leave wanting more because, that way, I’d cherish what I did experience. But the other part of me—the part that my heart rules—yearned for me to stay back.

Union Station, news stand

I couldn’t, for Seattle, with its rich reputation and sea line, awaited my presence.

Turning away from the newsstand, I saw what I’d been looking for in the first place. A small shop inside the station run by an Asian couple. Grabbing a cup of their strongest coffee, I sat on a bench. I’d arrived an hour early. About ten other people were in the station at that time, and as the clock overhead ticked on, more drifted in, most of whom walked straight towards coffee. Almost all had eyes for none but their phones, but some of them clustered, discussing their Seattle itineraries. A general hum filled the air around me as stories mingled with fresh brews and the swishing of someone turning over a newspaper. Everyone minded their own business, focussing on their own lives and their own Facebook feeds. When they caught the eye of another person, however, they spread a warm smile. It was the last scene of the city I saw, and it only proved what I’d already learnt about Portland: no matter who you are, where you’re from, or how you present yourself, you’re welcome with assurance of respect and safety.

Union Station 3

As the station master checked our boarding passes, and let us board the train, new thrill spread through my veins. I had booked on Amtrak Cascades, the national railway service of Washington and Oregon. I rekindled my love for a train travel as I approached the gigantic stretch of coaches facing me. Perhaps it’s because I was a foreigner, but everything about the train to me seemed quaint and well-thought of. The little stools at every door of every coach was a simple empathetic gesture towards people who’d need additional effort to climb.

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When I found my seat, I was ecstatic. Not only did I have a place by the window, but I also had the one next to me, as well as the ones in front of me for myself. For someone accustomed to travelling in full-booked trains back at home, those vacant seats felt like a throne. It was as if I deserved all the space around me.

Union Station 2

Relaxing in my seat, I took one last look at the city that had given me the true taste of freedom. As the train pulled out of the station, and the mountains and the valleys flew past me, I knew I’d chosen a great place for my first solo trip.

 

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