Ode: Ally Karsyn Travels Alone
Going out to the airport, a man with a tennis racket sticking out of his suitcase takes a seat across from me on the train. Before long, he becomes one of the many people who asked me before, during and after my trip – do you know someone in Portland? Friends? Family?
I tell him what I told everyone else, “No, I went because I wanted to go.”
He calls me brave and admits he’s jealous because he could never travel alone like me and go somewhere without knowing a soul. I think nothing of it, and in that moment on the train, I forget to ask him, “What’s stopping you?”
When I told other people about my trip, they just assumed that I had a travel companion since I’m married. I didn’t feel the need to correct them and open up an entirely different conversation.
Long before I left for Portland, I set an intention that I would have a good time no matter what.
I land in the City of Roses at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, when most people are shuffling off to work. I’m staying with Adam and Arthur, an artist and a real estate agent, who rent out two rooms in their beautiful bungalow through Airbnb. They’ve hosted hundreds of people over the past three years and managed to maintain solid five-star reviews.
I’m fairly confident I’ll be okay, but this is my first time using Airbnb, and I guess, since I don’t look like a strangler, Adam and Arthur entrust me with the four-digit code to unlock their front door. I tiptoe inside. It looks like nobody’s home. I find my room and collapse on the pillowed bed. After awhile, I hear the hardwood floors creaking outside my door. I don’t think I’m alone. When I get up to leave, I don’t see anyone.
I don’t dwell on the peculiarity of paying to stay with strangers. I have better things to do like seeing and eating everything I can over the next five days. That starts with a trip to the feminist bookstore, where part of Portlandia was filmed, for a class called Yoga and Dreams.
Now I understood the yoga part, but I didn’t know what we’d be doing with dreams. I was half-hoping for a nap. After an hour of bending and breathing, Sprout, the yoga instructor, opens up the floor to her four students and starts interpreting the symbolic meaning of the thoughts that go through our minds when we sleep. I’m skeptical, but I sit back and listen.
One of the girls, wearing butt-cheek showing shorts, describes her surrender to a vampire lover, fulfilling a longtime fantasy, while her friend, in equally short shorts, tells a whimsical tale that went from cleaning her grandmother’s house to wandering into an enchanted forest with a protected valley of temples that she saw from the seat of an invisible roller coaster.
In the spirit of sharing, I bring up a slightly disturbing dream I'd had about two weeks earlier in which I was having surgery – a double foot transplant.
Like a therapist, Sprout asks, “What do you think it means?”
I look skyward for a second and say, “I think I've been walking in someone else's path for too long, and I'm finally going to stand on my own two feet.”
Sprout consults her dream dictionary.
Feet represent independence, freedom and your ability to move forward. And surgery, well, that points to the need to eliminate something from your life that is not positive. It shows you need to accept changes that may be difficult or painful at first, but there’s healing on the other side.
The dream isn't disturbing anymore.
The rest of the week becomes a blissful blur of books, bicycles, beards, cafes, apothecaries, food trucks and farmers markets. It was the world as I hoped it would be.
In a serendipitous misadventure, I’m in Portland on 4/20, which I only realize when I pick up a paper and it’s “The Weed Issue,” a guide to Oregon’s legal recreational marijuana market.
You almost expect a cannabis haze to be rising up from the streets with everyone imbibing. While outsiders arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, completely taken by the fact that there’s marijuana here, the hipster haven just exhales an air of indifference.
I don’t know anything about this so-called stoner holiday, so I’m not going to go out of my way to celebrate. I have other plans. I came to Portland to eat my weight in artisan pastries and wood-fired pizzas, to indulge in salacious scoops of organic ice cream and drink a Gilmore Girl-quantity of coffee.
But when I get back to the house at night, Arthur is just finishing his work and, being the courteous host that he is, he lets me know he’s going out to the patio to relax and smoke a bowl.
“You’re welcome to join,” he says to a writer on 4/20. Do you really think I’m going to say no?
Up until this point, I’d never touched the stuff, and it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. I had some of the worst college roommates who would smoke weed in the bathroom and snort lines of Ritalin off the kitchen table. Instead of inhaling something that was probably 90 percent cornstalks, I experience an organically grown variety that smells like watermelon before it’s burned.
As the sweet grass smolders at the end of the pipe, Arthur, who describes himself as a “Cashew,” a Catholic Jew, worries he might be corrupting me. In the flickering candlelight, I see a smile spread across his face.
“This is a safe space,” he says.
And that’s exactly what I need.
Hours slip away as we talk about everything from how his mom fought lymphoma with meditation and met Deepak Chopra to how the most uncomfortable moments can be the best teachers of all.
What transpired was one of those conversations so simple, yet profound, that it almost makes you sad as it's happening because it will never happen that way again. But just as joy doesn’t last forever, neither does pain.
In that truth, I find comfort and clarity that I carry with me.
It’s in the seat right beside me on the train, going out to the airport, and I cling to it while I’m fighting back tears, because when I get home, there will be no beautiful conversations, just a stack of beer cans, and that thought is almost too much to bear.
The man with the tennis racket pulls me back into the present moment and reminds me that I’m stronger than I know.
The next live event is Saturday, July 30, at Vangarde Arts. The theme is “Why do we tell stories?”