Portland, OR / Bill Wesley, the bus driver

It’s a little hard to leave Ashland, both mentally, since we had such a gracious and welcoming host, Vincent Craig Wright, and physically, as I had a bit of a tough time extricating the bus from the narrow alleyways and streets, requiring Joshua to get out and watch my back and sides for me while I managed to get by two cars with inches to spare.

Once we get to the freeway we’re after some biodiesel—Travis looks it up on the Internet and finds it in Phoenix, Oregon, just a few exits away, and they are even listed on the freeway exit signs! The signage continues for a mile or so then we drive right by the place because there wasn’t much of a sign on the place itself. We finally get topped off and get back on I-5, but we’ve lost time in the process, and have to rush a bit the rest of the day to make it up. All this time I’m trying to dictate my blog to Liz Black, a Wave Books intern who has been with us since Austin, but my laptop touchpad is driving her crazy, bouncing the cursor around, moving random chunks of text to unexpected places. She handles it with good humor, and at a rest area near Oakland, Oregon, I finish up the blog and pass it to Travis for transmission.

It’s a nice sunny day passing fall colors in the Southern Cascades as we wind through some low mountain passes. We stop for a quick lunch in Cottage Grove, and then push on past Eugene and Salem, making our last pee-stop at a rest area outside of Aurora.

Whenever we stop anywhere Linas Phillips, the filmmaker who’s making a documentary of the tour, gets out with his camera and accosts locals asking them how they feel about poetry, and asking them if they would like to have a poem read to them by a poet. Linas searches out the quirkiest, weirdest people he can find, and if they aren’t particularly into poetry, so much the better. I spot a classic Linas victim headed out to the parking lot and I look over at Linas and he’s grinning a thumbs up. Everett is a big goofy logger looking guy going to his camper van to retrieve a cowboy poem that he helped write.

Linas pulls together a group of poets, myself included, to listen to Everett’s poem which has to do with a cowboy going out on a boat with all his ropes and tack to escape all the fences and rules, then when civilization intrudes too much on that lifestyle, goes off with space aliens to tame horse like creatures on some alien planet somewhere—we all applaud his affable reading, then Matthew Zapruder reads him a poem which seems to contemplate suicide and Everett doesn’t seem to care for it very much. He gives us his basic philosophy—life is short so it’s best to joke and laugh about everything.

Earlier the front roof vent flipped over onto the roof, requiring me to pull over and try to pry the hinge with a big screwdriver while Travis got up on the roof to push down while I pried forward. While I’m grunting and straining Linas is interviewing me, on camera, about my earliest childhood memories (I was 3 and slipped down to the deep end of a swimming pool, looking up to see my Older sister, Nancy, plunge in and swim down to save me) because he just rolls like that.

Getting closer to Portland, running late again, we hit commuter traffic, and when we finally get off the freeway we are misled by Google Maps again and it takes a while for Travis and Matthew to orient us and get me pointed in the right direction. We finally get to Mississippi Studios and it’s a really cool place, though it’s a little strange that you have to walk through the restaurant next door and around through the patio to get to the space, which is like a small, cozy theater. I’m not reading, but the poets that do are great, including the locals. It’s also my first time seeing the Vis-a-Vis Society, which is Sierra Nelson, and Rachel Black, two thirds of the Typing Explosion, who were on the bus from Toronto to New York. They pass out poetry surveys during the first set, and in the second set, wearing their white lab coats and using an overhead projector, they give the hilarious results.

Edwin Torres, whose work brilliantly fuses performance art and poetry, finishes his reading, near the end of the second set, with a poem for me about Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska. I know it’s Homer because after offering me many kind words after my virgin reading in Ashland, we discussed our mutual love for the place, which figures prominently in one of my poems. His poem was about the fact that Eagles mate for life and his observance of one couple hunting together, and it puts my meager poems to shame.

Afterwards I drive the bus to another host house where we all hang out for a while before calling it a night. Some of us are a little sad that it’s almost over, but I’m kind of used to trips ending by now, and I really, really need some time off.

Originally Published: October 25th, 2006