by David Oates
An empty space sits where I once sat. I miss it. I miss the strangers I shared it with, and a few regulars with whom I achieved a nodding relationship. A couple of baristas I might greet and chat up. Very briefly.
I miss the space itself – long and wide, its tall ceiling held up by industrial concrete pillars of old-fashioned ornateness reflecting its Model-T era use as a Ford manufactory. The space gave room to think and to be connected yet anonymous, with big tables for groups and – the star attraction for me – counter tables all along the windows where for years I have sat for my afternoon writing and reading. Getting lost in a poem or a book. Jotting a few words experimentally, or working on a chapter in progress. Gazing idly at someone at a sidewalk table (peeking at a book title if I can see it). Taking in the rush of cars and trucks, heading towards their 4:30 gridlock.
Strangers walk by with dogs, or with addictions, or with clothes nicer than I even know the words for. They all make me think. . . of what? Hard to say. How much I like a kind face, or a handsome one. Or an old one with lines.
What unknowabilities we all are.
But this space now sits plague-emptied, closed down apparently permanently. Here I wrote large pieces of my last book. And the one before it. I relied on this perfect one-mile walk from my home, an afternoon leg-stretch, a change of scenery, a change of mind. A way to feel connected to the humans. (But not too connected.)
This sociable, urbane space was a bit of what is called the “New Urbanism,” a thing for which Portland, Oregon had become renowned. But New Urbanism is shut down now. Public spaces empty. Restaurants shuttered. Transit deserted.
As if all that was left us was to revert to the 1950s and move back to the suburbs, isolated and safe, bourgie and dull. For the plague, we fear, may be killing cities as well as individuals. Read more »