I’m sitting in an unusual cafe. Instead of walls, there are windows floor-to-ceiling all the way around the building. Situated at the corner of the square in downtown Portland, I have an excellent view of the massive christmas tree in front of me, towering over crowds of people rushing between trains and busses.
I’ve worked here several times, many years ago and many years between. I’ve always loved this place, but I’ve only just realized why.
Lights bathe the tree from behind me, illuminating my screen as I type. The lights of an ambulance. “It wouldn’t be the square without an ambulance,” I say to a frantic barista as he makes my coffee. He takes a break from perpetually pushing his glasses back up his nose to laugh and agree, his face changing momentarily as he takes in the chaos around us. He glances to my side where a man is waiting in line and dozing off while standing. A classic heroin addict in downtown Portland. The barista laughs again, and I take my coffee and sit down at a table beside a window.
Outside, a strange girl is standing and waving hysterically at every person in turn until they wave back at her, making her way down the side of the building.
This place is synonymous with sensory overload, the loud music fighting with conversations for maximum volume. The lights flashing from the ambulance, through the cafe and bathing the already illuminated christmas tree as it pulses with multicolored light amidst an endless crowd of people rushing in different directions.
More than sensory overload, this place is the personification of madness and insanity, barely holding together and punctuated by moments where it seems to almost fall apart, one exhausted barista or heroin-tranced patron at a time.
I love this place. I love it more than any other place on earth. All my cravings and nights out and art are my attempts to emulate the character of this place and it’s delicate balance of radical opposites, fighting for some semblance of structure inside the chaos that surrounds it.