On Wednesday evening I had to enter the belly of the beast: downtown traffic, rush hour, right amidst a series of construction-related detours and lane closures, the streets overstuffed with a toxic blend of commuters and holiday shoppers. I felt guilty adding to the glut of cars, but I had to make it over to the Governor Hotel for a surprise party for AIA/Portland director Saundra Stevens in honor of 25 years with AIA. And then I had to be back across town not long after to take my girlfriend to the airport.
The traffic on the Morrison bridge was backed up all the way back to the east side of the river. Normally I'd have steam coming out of my ears at this point (I'm sadly not a patient driver), but I happened to have my camera sitting in the passenger seat, so I pushed the window-down button and started snapping. 99% of them turned out blurry and I deleted, but a couple shots I decided to keep. But the process was fun, trying to madly focus the camera and hold still enough as the shutter stayed open for a half second.
One thing I like about keeping a camera around is it forces one to focus on visual details of whatever environment you happen to find your self in. Sitting there in stop-and-go traffic at the crescendo of the gently arcing Morrison Bridge, what struck me is how nighttime is kind to a lot of architecture. There are buildings I'm not so crazy about in the light of day that looked, at least in the wider tapestry of buildings and lights, quite nice. If you wind up crossing the Portland bridges enough that you're comfortable and can enjoy the view, I think driving across the bridges seems to always resemble a kind of live film in my mind. Maybe it's the way the crisscrossing steel beams go by on older bridges like the Broadway or the Hawthorne, in a way that resembles the flickering an old 16mm film. As a hobby I've shot trips over bridges with various super 8 and DV cameras, but I am still waiting to successfully capture it in a way that properly resembles the everyday experience - that kind of easy, brief but quietly visceral thrill of crossing the river on a bridge that's in some ways not all that different from what the Romans would have built a couple thousand years ago. I always like the sound the Morrison makes when one drives over the permeable steel middle portion of the draw bridge - it sounds halfway between a tuba and a cello.
Anyway, for once at least I could live with the traffic. And I even got a parking spot within a block of the Governor! Saundra (or "Big S" as she's been affectionately known at the AIA office) seemed genuinely surprised and touched by the surprise party, which was held in the 'Library Room', one of the renovated series of large meeting spaces, ballrooms, etc. It felt a little like being in the Library in the board game Clue, only with a touch of convention center thrown in. Lots of firm principals there, various city officials and a couple of newspaper writers. (What am I, Jonathan Nicholas now?) Anyway, cheers all around to Saundra, my former boss, who is definitely worth fighting a little measly traffic for. And I promise I'll take the bus next time in gratitude to the parking gods who shined on me with an easily found, conveniently located parking spot tonight.