Thursday, February 8, 2007

Barely Pranksters

So a couple of years ago a converted schoolbus full of Merry Prankster wannabees from the East Coast parks across the street from my apartment. Figuring that it's Portland and all, I'm sure they assumed it was okay to camp out in a semi-industrial area during the summer.

I think they are still assigning the Tom Wolfe book "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" to all the trustafarian kids back East. It's either that or there is a network through Reed College that transcends the usual avenues offered through the the Internet.

So these very sweet, dirty and overpriviledged kids set up their camp on the sidewalk, with old cardboard boxes, strips of brightly colored cloth, Tibetan prayer flags, tinfoil, etc. Sort of a poorman's SE Portland version of Burning Man. They were in good company because we usually also have a merry band of the extremely underpriviledged who set up their camp under the walkway bridge running over the train tracks. They of course don't have the same innate joie de vivre, "kooky" sense of decorating style as the traveling buskers, so their camp is decorated with old couches, shopping carts, and stolen bikes with the attached child trailers full of old socks, garbage, bottles and hub caps. Wait, I take that back, they also used old cardboard boxes and tinfoil.

After setting up camp, the Bus O' Trusters ask to use our hose out in the front yard, so they can take a shower. They also ask where the closest place is to go busk. They needed to earn some money to fill up on their supply of lentils (Yay Neal!!) and get more gas so they can head down to the Mothership in Eugene. We suggested trying Hawthorne, but in hindsight realized that might not be the best place to start out because they really wouldn't stand out all that much.

After unsuccessfully trying the Hawthorne gig, we suggested heading over to NE Broadway, by Peet's coffee shop, because they don't really get all that many "buskers" over it that area. Basically people will shove money your way so you will just leave them in peace to enjoy their non-fat, half-decaf, one-pump caramel lattes, and let them resume their conversation about the latest trends in teaching their yuppie larvae sign language at the age of 8 months.

To digress, that stretch of Broadway has not always been the lovely melange of boutique restaurants and boutique boutiques that it is now. When I first moved to Portland about 15 years ago it wasn't quite as pretty. We would be sitting at the picnic tables in front of the Tec having a cold one, and would be witness to the parade of not so rich people wandering over from the Plaid after picking up a forty-ouncer (after having craftily rolled the bag into a makeshift handle), and asking for change. One time this crazy guy carrying a box full of bones of an unkown origin, managed to run back and forth through traffic, screaming at people, without being hit or arrested. Some other idiot driving on the same street, hit the curb, ended up driving on the sidewalk, and took out a few picnic tables and a street sign. They didn't get hurt.

Unfortunately, due to gentrification and the neighborhood cleaning itself up, that sort of thing is rare now.

To get back on topic, in case you aren't familar with the term "busking" it usually means people doing a loosely translated version of street performance/entertainment for money. The Bus O' Trusts version consisted of wearing really bad costumes (cut-off khaki Gap pants with suspenders, costumes from when they took ballet as children, and smeared makeup) and doing some juggling and singing. They showed me their act, and I felt kind of bad because it looked like a really bad performance of "Godspell", but with a smaller cast.

After a couple of days schlepping all over Portland, I think the reality of their situation was starting to sink in. This isn't the mythical hippie town that they were lead to believe. The legend of the Green Tortoise, peace, love and happiness, and pot growing freely in every SE garden wasn't all that it was made out to be.

I kind of felt sorry for them, because it sucks when you have missed out on an era where the freedom to roam and find yourself, do massive amounts of drugs, and pretty much sleep with whomever and/or whatever you wanted to was "OK." I'm not saying that doesn't still happen, it's just not as rebellious as it used to be.

The combination of high 90's summer temperatures, living in a converted school bus with no airconditioning surrounded by concrete, corrugated metal siding, gravel, broken glass, no shade and no bathroom finally took its' toll. I let the girls go through my left-over bead projects so they could make trinkets to help support their busking efforts. They took one last hose shower, and filled up their water supplies for the trip south.

As they pulled away, slightly dented, but not beaten up, I wished them well, and hoped they would remember these past days, especially when they finally gave up and used the one-way plane ticket back to their parent's house.

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