Exhaust blackened the snow and drips of condensation fell from the windows of the Number 15 bus that lost control Tuesday morning and lodged itself diagonally across Southeast 25th Avenue, blocking the busy passage downtown from Belmont onto Morrison street.
Driver Eddie Mae stood alone beside her helpless giant and, like countless other bus drivers in the city, waited for help.
“I've been here for about an hour,” Eddie told me. “Just waitin' for whatever they're gonna do.”
Next door at The Shop On Belmont, a dimly lit coffee house with the hushed ambiance of soft couches and hard literature, barista Zach Stratton was in for a surprise. Once the passengers of Number 15 realized that their bus was stuck they abandoned ship and crammed into the little coffee house to warm up and strategize their next move.
“That bus was packed. It's been a busy morning,” Stratton told me later as I sipped hot cocoa on The Shop's front porch and watched SUV owners try to rationalize their gas consumption by dominating the hill and navigating their way over the sidewalk, around the stalled bus. Unfortunately, a Dodge Ram and a Ford Explorer actually pulled it off, narrowly escaping a side-impact collision with the bus. A crowd of motley onlookers was gathered to celebrate the contestants' demise and we cheered as one whenever a guzzler came sliding back down the hill in shame.
I am originally from Washington State, which means that I was raised without the general cowardice the average Oregonian shows in the face of unusual weather developments. (EDITOR'S NOTE: This is really, really impressive, Kyle. Almost like growing up in Montana.
) However, I have lived in Portland for over a year now and sliding through a stop sign this morning I noticed how nice the day was.
I promptly left a message for my boss explaining that there was a story to be had here. Knowing that there would need to be something to give substance to this claim I pushed my car to the side of the road, abandoning it for a stroll down Belmont to see how Portlanders on my street were reacting to the snow.
The plate-glass window of the busy Muddy Waters café was foggy as the customers unwrapped themselves to de-thaw. The energy was high and colorful as scarves and jackets were peeled off in favor of a hot mocha and a chat.
“It's like a weekend in here right now. People are pretty excited to have the day off,” said barista Michael Lynn, who stole a moment from the busy line to speak with me.
Dunja Lukse, 23, is from Serbia. She moved to Portland after graduating from Northern Michigan University. Sipping tea and peering up from her book she was just one of many patrons at the Muddy Waters café. Dunja told me “I got a message on the way to work telling me not to come in. So I came here today.”
The Muddy Waters and The Shop On Belmont were not the only coffee shops on Belmont to be barraged by business today. Employees estimated that Stumptown Coffee was 15-20% busier than usual. “I've never made so many hot chocolates in my life," noted barista Jessie Slavich.
But coffee was not the only taste Belmonters were thirsting for on their day off. Microbrews (particularly Fat Tire) and cigarettes were the flavors of the day at the Plaid Pantry on Southeast 32nd and Belmont, according to manager Karl Gainey. The Belmont Grocery took most of its business in the morning, selling “beer, Champaign and wine,” owner Alex Lee told me in his toasty store as we watched the news reports of cars spinning out of control downtown.
Perhaps it was the booze and caffeine, but I prefer to believe the snow is what made everybody's mood so good on Belmont on this snowbound Tuesday.