When we were still figuring out Portland's Max rail system early in our visit, a man noticed us reading the posted schedule at one of the stops and paused to give us some pointers so that we could hop over to the Saturday Market and ultimately to the convention center across the river.
A moment later his companion walked back to where we were standing to explain even more about Fairless Square, Portland's free transit area. Hop public transportation within those blocks and you can ride free to any point within the fairless boundaries.
I'm not sure if the couple was homeless or just a little weatherbeaten but I wondered even as I appreciated the kindness.
I know Wayne has written eloquently about encountering the homeless in Chicago, and it's hard not to be in proximity to those down on their luck or facing other adversity and not be affected or to think about the world's disparity. In sprawling towns and cities, in the car culture, it's more removed, something you see on visits to the Salvation Army.
I know there are issues of individual responsibility mixed in with bad luck, that in many cases choices have been made, but in other cases choice may not play as great a role.
In Portland, I had to turn my head down and walk away from one man who approached me menacingly, babbling not help requests but incoherent ramblings. I was more annoyed that frightened as was the young man he approached next.
As I walked to dinner a lot of evenings, it was the hour people started to bed down in doorways, quilts spread, ski caps pulled down against the chill.
I passed one church with a sign forbidding camping, but around the corner at another I saw a young man curled under quilts and blankets with his dog at his side.
I wondered what brought him to the spot, to the spartan existence with hound as sole companion, wondered if addiction or misfortune was to blame.
I wondered more if for him there was hope.
Then I walked on.