Disclaimer: Same as always. Yadda yadda.
Part Twelve: Portland
"Portland seems like a nice place," Ben said aloud, for the benefit of the couple in the booth next to the X5s.
"It is," Tinga replied as they made small talk while they finished their meal. "The pulse didn't affect here quite as badly as it did other places."
"Why not?" Max asked, playing along to look inconspicuous.
"One of the major reasons for the economic breakdown after the pulse is that the infrastructure collapsed. Everyone was too dependent on the connections that globalization had created. When that went away, they didn't know what to do. Most places that translated into doing nothing, which quickly deteriorated into stagnation and shortages."
"How was that different here?" Ben asked.
"Basically they're a bunch of nuts," Tinga mumbled as she tried to eat her own dinner while maintaining a cover conversation that Ben and Max were obviously expecting her to carry. "When the existing infrastructure ceased to exist in one electromagnetic flash, the fringe groups jumped at the chance to rebuild the world in their own image. Once cable went out, it seemed like people didn't have anything better to do. Don't misunderstand, the freaks where already here, but I don't think they were the majority until after the pulse."
"Oh, yes we were!" piped up the older man from the other table. His female companion just rolled her eyes and sipped at her coffee.
"Really? I didn't move here until after. Tell me about it," Tinga prompted and began eating dinner as quickly as she could.
"After the pulse, everything went down. There was a clean slate!" the very strange little man said.
"I bet they knew that part," the woman they suspected was also strange said.
"Ok. Initially, PLUG and PDXLUG were rivals! They competed with each other to see who could mobilize the most geeks, or cyberspace warriors as we called ourselves back then; who could restore the most computers, networks and hotspots! Three days after the pulse the free hotspot in pioneer court house was back up and running!" The old man was clearly thrilled to have a fresh audience to hear the stories of his glory days.
Tinga was happy to be able to eat. Ben was amused and happy to be able gather some local information. Max was happy to provide an audience so that the older man could relive happier times. The man looked at the three happy, young faces before him and just beamed. His female companions smiled and gestured to the waiter.
"After that was back you finally got some sleep," she supplied.
"For a little bit. There was a lot more work to do. Those were some exciting days. We were mainlining caffeine, sugar, Ephedra, Provigil." He stopped to chuckle. "Amazing we didn't just keel over."
"We were young. Thought we could fix the world. Amazing how much energy that can give you; what you are willing to endure for that." she said.
Max nodded knowingly. The waiter approached the table next to the X5s.
"Owen is off on one of his stories. We're going to need more beer," she said. "How about three Bear Bears?" she asked with a smile.
"No, thank you" Max replied.
"Bear Beer?" Ben had to ask.
"Bear Beer!" Owen confirmed, nearly giddy to have another story to tell. "After we restored all the computers and networks in the city with one version of Linux or another, well we had expected everyone else to be back up and running too. Only, obviously, they weren't."
While Owen was off and running (at the mouth) the server confirmed that they would only need to beers, Max adamantly shaking her head no. The server nodded, smiled and walked off.
"A lot of us accepted very lucrative job offers from other cities that were just trying to get back on their feet, some people took job offers in other countries that were trying to swoop in and raid our supply of knowledge workers." His tone clearly conveyed what he thought of both the other countries and the people that chose to go there.
"A lot of us just sat around wondering what was wrong. We had fixed our part, why wasn't the whole working," his companion supplied.
"So then the nuts started crawling out of the woodwork," he said.
"It's not like they were exactly hiding before. They just weren't getting that much attention before the pulse," she said.
"They took credit for our work. They said that Portland was restored because of the divine will of the King or we were touched by his noodley appendage…" he said.
"Well, the Pastafarians weren't serious …" she said.
"But people took them seriously! That was the problem," he said.
"That's a known issue with all both satire and religion. They really should have known," she said.
"That's not the point …" he said.
"Here are your beers," the server rushed in, set two tall black bottles on the table and rushed off.
"Bear beer?" Ben said as he looked at the bottle and read the label.
"Oh, yes. Well after we fixed the computers; the 24-hour church of Elvis and the church of the flying spaghetti monster spread the word of … whatever," he said.
"The TAX EXEMPT word of whoever," she corrected.
"Oh, yes, now I remember the point of all that. Or so we intelligent people like to think. And fortunately the buy organic, shop locally fringe had also thrown themselves into their vision of making the world a better place. We still had food shortages here, but it wasn't so bad. Nobody was rioting," he said.
"We ate a lot of Idaho potatoes that year. The national infrastructure had broken down; goods were not being transported from where they were to where they needed to go. Fortunately for us, Idaho is a day trip. Well, with as much Provigil as they had passed out to the geeks, it was less than 24-hours to go to Idaho, fill a truck with potatoes and then drive back with enough food for everyone you knew for month. Even after the currency started threatening to break down we could take a case of beer and fill up a truck," she said.
"Portland had 33 independent breweries, and a few wineries. I think that more than anything else kept the average citizen …content. Plus beer has a ton of calories. After we realized that national economy was turning into a giant sinkhole we took action. We declared ourselves the beer capital of the world, which was perfectly justifiable; we'd had more breweries than Cologne Germany for awhile. That brought in some tourists. Tour companies started offering guided tours of the city and countryside. See the world's largest park! See the world's smallest park! See the Spruce Goose! Rose gardens, Japanese gardens, Chinese gardens, English gardens!" He sighed and took a drink from his beer.
"It was working; until the federal government decided that the tourists would be a good source of tax revenue," his companion supplied in the silence.
"Despite the best efforts of the lunatic fringe to get everything tax exempt, the federal government managed to tax our local efforts to death. So we just got drunk. We grew hops locally. Gathered local ingredients to create craft beers. And called it a sacrament of somebody so the federal government wouldn't tax the hell out of it. The first version of Bear Beer was pretty weak; I remember gathering ingredients in Forest Park, which is almost six times as large as Central Park and at over 5,000 acres, the largest park inside city limits in the world! Uber-geek to hunter gatherer." Owen sadly shook his head.
"We hate to eat and run," Tinga said as she stood up.
"It's OK. I understand," she said. "Welcome to Portland. You can go right up the street to Powell's, which is still the world's largest independent bookstore and get some free maps. They have a map of the bookstores themselves, which you need. The main store is five stories high and an entire city block. They also have a walking map of Portland, which should be all you need to get around. The ugly yellow bikes you see around are community bikes, feel free to borrow them, just leave them on the street somewhere when you are done." Owen shook their hands as they got up and left.
Ben walked to the counter and removed his wallet. "Hey. How much?" Ben asked.
"Ms White got it. If you wanted to leave a tip though, that would be fine," the waiter smiled at him from behind the counter.
"Ms. White?" Ben asked.
The server gestured back to the table where Max was shaking hands with the older couple, nodding and trying to politely excuse herself. Ben gave the waiter a ten dollar bill and walked back to Max.
"You're Ms. White?" he asked the woman.
"Yes. Pleased to meet you. Owen loves to have someone to tell his stories too." She smiled and offered her hand.
"Are you Mr. White?" Ben asked.
"No. She declined to take my name, but thanks for reinforcing the belief that a wife should! I'm Owen O'Reilly, as in the O'Reilly Open Source Conference, which has been in Portland since before the Pulse," he replied.
"I chose White. I'm keeping it," she replied as she waved goodbye to Ben and Max. Tinga was already waiting by the door.
"Only because you didn't want to be associated with your father," Owen retorted.
Max and Ben walked quickly to the door.
"Goodbye! May the Flying Spaghetti Monster be with you!" said the waiter as the left.
"Ramen!" shouted everyone in the café, followed by some soft laughter.
"Ramen?" said Max as waived back at the nice older couple.
The three X5's walked in silence for a few blocks before Max had to ask. "Tinga, is everyone in Portland insane?"
"No," Tinga replied. "Just many."
"That wasn't a bad thing. They bought our meal and a beer. For complete strangers," Ben said.
"You would have to go quite a way to be stranger than them," Tinga replied.
"We're chimeras. I think we can manage," Max quipped. Ben laughed.
"Oh, yeah," Tinga said.
"You've forgotten what you are," Ben said.
"Yeah, I had. But not anymore," Tinga replied grimly as she led them down the city streets. They walked in silence for a few blocks.
"Still, nice people. That was the nicest thing anyone ever did for me," Ben commented. Max looked at him sympathetically. Zack had obviously not allowed him to settle anyplace long enough to make friends.
"Portland has some really nice people, and some real nuts. They are very used to tolerating differences. Easy to be …a little quirky," Tinga said. "We are going to Powell's. They have some good maps, quiet places to talk."
"Maybe a book on sign language," Max said.
"Or a baby book?" Ben suggested.
"Or a veterinary reference. Think they'll have one on chimera's?" Max snapped.
"We aren't that different," Tinga said.
"Are you sure?" Max said.
"Pretty much. The midwife I used didn't notice anything odd. I was afraid to go to an actual doctor, just in case, but everything went fine."
"Best news I've heard all day," Max smiled.
To be continued ….