I lay on a bed in my one bedroom apartment. It is early July. My place is on King Street, one block up from West Burnside road. Once known as Skid Road for the fact that early loggers used to fall timbers in the West Hills and skid the logs down a path to river. The path eventually became a street when the timbers ran out. And then Skid Road transformed itself into Skid Row for the better part of the 1900’s, where fallen men drank themselves up and down the street.
The leaves on the trees outside my window sway in the evening breeze that always builds this time of night as the sun goes down and the heat from the city draws wind down from hills for several hours. A little known fact: living on the east side of the West Hills you never get to see the sun actually set, except in this time of year, when the Earth is still tilted enough to allow the downtown skyscrapers to reflect sunlight back upon the hills themselves. It is this sunset-reflection from the east that I witness as I walk out of my apartment to my first destination of the evening, The Ringside.
The Ringside bar is dark, brick laden, with waiters and bartenders dressed in the old fashioned "black and whites". It is a class joint, lit only by small candles on the tables and a few overhead lights that shine down upon the shelves of liquor. As a restaurant I hold their steaks in the highest regard, but as tonight is not for eating, I merely order a Manhattan, light a smoke, and stare at the ice in the glass.
Time passes, but the night remains young. Another Manhattan, and then I pay the tab and continue the evening down at the Kingston.
The waitress comes over and I order a Budweiser. On another night I might have been able to recall more about this old building, its upper windows now boarded up. But nothing comes to mind on this night. A sports bar today, the crowd here is more blue-collar, mixed with students. Sports bars have their place, but it isn't my scene, and I leave my bottle half full as I walk out the door.
Station number three tonight is the Marathon Taverna. Half-way between The Ringside and the I-405 overpass, and half way from upper class to lower. This bar has a flavor to it that can only be appreciated after dark. On this night the crowd is older, raw. Most are honest hardworking people, but there is the mixture of aged winos and stool rats that could have been decaying in the haze of smoke probably since the afternoon. I sit and order another beer.
Several beers and many hours later I find myself walking east through the heart of the modern Skid Row. The last bastion in Portland these days where the homeless, hapless, users, pushers, prostitutes and pimps still gather just off the side streets of Burnside.
On NW 2nd I sit myself down on the curb with a brown bag in hand and find myself staring at a brick facade with gold lettering that reads ‘Erikson Saloon’. On this very spot, over 100 years ago, August Erikson built one of the grandest bars Portland ever had. The Saloon took up two city blocks in it early days, and had a bar that boasted to be the largest is the world. It was known as The Working Man’s Saloon, and back in the day that is exactly who it catered to. The loggers, miners, sailors, and dockworkers that all migrated to this house of liquor, gambling, and entertainment. Erikson’s closed in 1981, at that time it had been cut in half, and was a mere shadow if itself. This sign exists as a memorial to the bar.
The sky begins to lighten in the early morning. I drop the bottle in the street. Hail a cab. Time to return to the empty apartment. My walk is over. The city moves on.