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Image for post
food cart, El Mercado

So if you’re new to “Portorando” (Japanese nickname) and want to enjoy a deeper experience, what should you do? Ride the cable car to OHSU and walk down, via one of several trails? That’s an option. I can think of so many.

Here’s my advice, for a day outing: get to Asylum District, Hawthorne, by whatever means and catch a city bus 14 heading eastward towards Mt. Tabor. At 50th, the bus turns south and crosses Division, then Powell, then heads down SE Foster. I recommend getting off somewhere in the 50s or 60s, and just walking on southeastward, to El Mercado around SE 72nd, taking in the sights along the way.

Asylum District, where you’ll start, is famous, especially for its Bagdad Theater (that’s right, no “h”), on the corner of SE 37th and Hawthorne Boulevard. What the Bleep Do We Know? was partly filmed in this theater.

But first, why “Asylum District” and isn’t “Richmond-Sunnyside” the more technically correct name?

Answer: Oregon needed a first state-approved mental hospital, and the good Dr. Hawthorne, for whom the Boulevard is named, help create it and staff it.

Just recognizing mental illness is a mark of compassion in my book, versus criminalizing anyone’s objectionable behavior. The beginning of liberalism is in advocacy for the mentally ill (a Quaker cause as well, along with improving plain old prison conditions).

Hawthorne has faced a contender. Another Son of Oregon of whom Oregonians are justly proud, is Dr. Linus Pauling (another doctor, though not an M.D.), two-time winner of a Nobel Prize, both unshared, once for Chemistry and once for Peace. I’ve held them both in my unworthy palms, during a visit to the Doug Strain Reading Room, Fifth Floor, Special Collections, Oregon Statue University.

Why not change the name of Hawthorne Boulevard to Linus Pauling Boulevard? After all, Union Avenue, running north to south as SE 39th, changed to Cesar E. Chavez Avenue. Name changes happen.

I’m reminded of my time in Rome, as an elementary and middle schooler, and realizing that street names could change every few blocks, if we needed them to. Fortunately, Portland has not needed to resort to that practice, for the most part. Having a street name change, just because there are so many people to commemorate, is inconvenient for tourists.

Linus Pauling did indeed grow up right along Hawthorne Boulevard. I’ve been to his boyhood home countless times, as it later, thanks to Doug Strain, the house his widowed mother ran as a rooming house, became a headquarters for a nonprofit named Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy (ISEPP). I’ve even served on the board for a term or two, though am no longer. My late wife was ISEPP’s bookkeeper for more than a decade. She specialized in fund accounting, which nonprofits usually favor.

You will recognize the Linus Pauling Center for Peace by the bright red Alpha Helix sculpture in the adjacent storefront, the body art palace Adorn. Proceed one block east of Chavez.

Back to SE Foster, where you got off the bus: El Mercado is a special place, an indoor mall of modest size, with food carts around the edges. Barrio, on the north end, run by Chris, is a small, intimate location, with outdoor seating on sunny days. I’ve been going there on Thursdays.

You’ll find groceries, meat, fruit drinks, coffee, other delicacies, inside. Check the indoor walls. El Mercado is consciously about the history of Latin American peoples in Oregon. There’s a timeline, with lots of stats. Enjoy the bright colors, friendly people, and sense of history, at Chris’s bar.

Then walk back towards Powell, maybe stopping in the various shops. This is a humble area of Portland, like it used to be. The shops may be esoteric. Visit the newest brewery, Assembly Brewing. Admire the semi-art deco paintings inside, of diverse people working, apparently in a large factory, reminiscent of Detroit, but they’re making pizza.

The pizza is Detroit style. Some thought went into this theme. I appreciate the concept. If you’re renting a car, preferably electric, there’s likely plenty of parking. Read Willamette Week and take it all in. Drink responsibly.

Why I’m suggesting busing it, taking the 14, is you won’t need to worry about your driving skills, under the influence. Catch a ride back to Hawthorne and maybe take in a film at The Bagdad.

Shop in Asylum District’s most famous places, such as Gold Door and Presence of Mind. If you’re interested in food, Three Doors Down on 37th is one of the best restaurants you’ll find. Or try Harlows, for its creative mixture of health food and booze.

For Further Reading:
Notes from a Silicon Forester

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