Over the last two installments of Ye Olde Portland, I told you about the Big German who terrorized the cyclists of early Portland's Union Avenue. Though the story of the menace of the Big German and the plot hatched by the cyclists to hire an amateur pugilist, a Swede, to confront him and give him a dose of his own medicine was reported in The Oregonian, the outcome was not. The German turned out to be Austrian, and rather than fight him, the Swede tried talking to him. We now resume the story…
The Agile Swede trailed the Big Austrian, pulling his rickety bicycle through the tall grass. In the distance, there was a small wooden building that looked like a toolshed. In fact, it was the tiny shack where the Big Austrian lived.
The shack was sweltering and there was a peculiar potpourri. On the wall was a shelf that stored jars of vegetables soaking in brine: carrots, wild onions, radishes, cabbage. The Austrian explained that when he was a boy, there was a German delicatessen that made pickles a certain way, but after his father moved him to Oregon, he had been unable to find a decent approximation. "Portland is a very bad place for pickles," he said.
The Swede asked where he lived when he was a boy, and the Austrian answered. "Pittsburgh. My father poured steel in a foundry and one day came home with tears in his eyes. A good friend had gotten drunk and fallen into one of the vats. He decided steel was too dangerous, and if he remained in the profession he risked making me an orphan." The Big Austrian's father became a lumberjack—a trade no less dangerous than steel. "My father passed a few years ago following a battle with a certain festive tree parasite that entered his bloodstream through the wood in his teeth." "Words cannot describe the horror and helplessness you feel as you watch bunches of little berries sprout from your father's appendages."
The Swede gained the courage to tell the Austrian why he was there that day. "I came here to challenge you to a fight. As retribution for your antagonism toward the bicyclists of Portland. They chose me because I am a trained pugilist known for my fighting ability. Though you are much larger than me, I have no doubt I would have defeated you—"
The Big Austrian leapt at him with feline agility, armed himself with a jar of pickles off the shelf and cracked the Swede in the head. Everything went dark for the Swede. Several days later, he awoke on the floor. From the corner of the shack, the Austrian's blue eyes glared icily. "I apologize. I do not like to fight, but that last thing you said was very smug and I couldn't help myself. Now, where were we? I wanted you to know that I do not have any animus toward bicyclists in particular. I simply do not sleep well in my house because the smell of vinegar keeps me awake. So, I sometimes sleep in the road. I have found it a very peaceful place, though recently bicyclists have been passing through the area. Sometimes, they startle me awake. I might sometimes come across as an ogre when that happens."
The Austrian and the Swede reached an understanding, and spent the rest of the afternoon collaborating on a system that would hopefully put an end to bicyclists interrupting people trying to nap in the road. The edges of the road would be painted with designated "napping lanes," which bicyclists should not cross.
As we know, things didn't work out exactly like that. Though the Swede tried to explain how the napping lanes were supposed to work, when encountered in the wild the cyclists tended to be flummoxed. Rather than avoid the napping lanes, they would often go out of their way to ride inside them. This further inflamed tempers and led to many altercations.