It’s the morning after 4.20 and Portland is smothered by thick, low hanging clouds. Seems appropriate. I’m up early regardless, psyched for Miss Triche’s bootcamp. Becky Jean is coming too! I make myself a nutritious breakfast and zip out to swoop her. (We are on a mission to build our best booties, and Miss Triche is the lady who knows how to made it happen.)
The freeway is slow, rather crowded for a Saturday. (Maybe everyone has weed-hangovers?) I’m not in a hurry or anything, but when someone sees an opening, then flies past me on the left to slide through the chute, I drop in too. Then someone else comes up from behind.
It’s a van on my right, covered in permanent fixtures – an assortment of doll heads and baubles – completely painted with a solid coat of gold. There’s a sign on the back that reads, “VANTASTICA.” I recognize the style, immediately knowing who I’m going to see in the driver’s seat. Portland’s own zany clown guy!
He’s semi-speeding, and I keep the pace, because the dude seems to put on a show, even when no one may be watching. At the moment, he’s tapping one hand on the outside of his door, totally rocking out. On his other hand, he has a happily bouncing monkey puppet. (He always has it while driving one of his well-decorated vehicles.) With frizzy, grayish-white, hair, he wears a clown nose, and sometimes a hat with a propeller top. Dad tells me his name is Scot Campbell, an outstanding local window artist. If you’ve been just about anywhere in Portland over the years, I promise you’ve seen his work. It was displayed for many years at the Hawthorne & 34th Arctic Circle (where I got chocolate dipped ice-cream cones for a quarter as a kid) as well as in the windows of Showcase Music, at the same intersection.
I wave. He waves the monkey. We enjoy our little time together, but pretty soon I have to split to the right, exiting the freeway, and he in his own direction. That’s when I notice my left blinker has been on the entire time.
Coming over the Steele Bridge, I’m the only car around, and downtown is still invisible, under thick white fog.
On the other side of the river, I enter Old Town (aka Bumville) and can’t help but notice – unlike the rest of Portland this morning – it’s bustling with activity! Doorways, usually occupied with lifeless-looking lumps of clothing and sleeping bags, are hubs of commotion, with bums milling around in every direction. Some people are playing craps, others are having little meetings on corners, one guy is strolling around, strumming his guitar.
When Becky Jean gets in the car, I muse, “despite the fact that the rest of Portland seems completely ripped, the crackheads are quite lively. I guess it makes sense.” Then I tell her about my encounter with the clown guy.
Arriving a bit early for bootcamp, we opt to go for a walk. We notice the Portland Farmer’s Market going on in the PSU Park Blocks, and promise ourselves we’ll explore it after class. We spot a young mom, walking with her two tiny sons, as they move like little bobble heads, toddling toward the grassy area ahead.
“Don’t let them beat us!” I say to Becky Jean, taking off after them in a sprint. She quickly gets running.
But then we hear music blasting from somewhere, “Come together… right now… over me.”
Stopping in my tracks, I yell at Becky Jean, who’s already way ahead, almost up to the kids, “WAIT – come back!”
I turn around and run back in the opposite direction, following the sound of the music. Becky Jean, not hesitating, comes with.
Then we see it: VANTASTICA.
The music is coming from none other than Scot Campbell, driving by in that crazy golden van again! We shout and wave. He waves the monkey.
We dance and sing a bit as he passes, then start back towards campus again. Those kids didn’t made it far.
“We can still catch them,” I say to Becky Jean, excitedly. We kick it into high gear, zooming past the bewildered mother, who may or may not hear me saying, “We’ve totally got the little one in red.” The boys, who can’t be more than three years old, have matching blue and red jackets.
“Get that blue guy!” I call after Becky Jean. She is fast.
She races past, crossing our imaginary, arbitrary finish line, and I am soon thereafter, cheering, giving her a high-five. Those kids never saw us coming.