Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Trespassing the Made in Oregon Sign


"The only thing better than free is stolen," my cousin told me when we swiped a whole a pumpkin pie from the family Thanksgiving for ourselves.

And the same applies to trespassing. There are lots of good views in Portland: Counsel Crest, Mt. Tabor, North Portland bluffs. But those are free. The top of the Made in Oregon sign is stolen.

It is also now on lockdown since the University of Oregon purchased the building underneath, renovated it and starting having classes there (and security guards at night). So my friend Asa and I decided to steal one more night with it.

Asa is the person who first showed me the way up the sign after a long night of terrorizing Vancouver, Washington (search for my name).

Once you climb five stories up the drain pipe and mount the roof of the building, you think the hard part is over. But the sign itself is deceivingly terrifying to climb. There are electrical cables running through it and the ladder is visibly held together with zip ties. There's an antique no trespassing sign.

But the scariest part was when Asa and another friend of mine, Randy, climbed down into the building, balancing on old wood beams ten or twenty meters from the floor. They wanted me to come in too, but I wouldn't do it. The ratio of risk to thrill wasn't good enough.

Anyway, it was the last Monday in March and we knew that school started on the 31st. If it wasn't too late already, it would be soon. We had to say good bye to the sign.

Like many bad ideas, this plan began at Tube. We tried to rally a small posse to come with us, but the only one who agreed was a girl we both liked and might have fought over, but was trouble anyway because she did coke. She also wound up ditching us, which was probably for the best.

I had to climb in bare feet because I was wearing cowboy boots which simply do not work for the monkey-style climbing necessary to get up the drainpipe. Some homeless people saw us. We hoped they wouldn't tell the police. Homeless people do stuff like that in hopes of a reward of a dollar or a cigarette or some brownie points for next time the police feel like hassling them.

We looked in the skylight. The beams Asa and Randy had climbed were still there, but everything else was new. The ladder was even more rickety than I had remembered. When we reached the top, I touched the white stag's nose. I was surprised that it wasn't hot.

Then I noticed that we were completely alone. I could see all the way to the Crystal Ballroom and there wasn't another car or person on Burnside. It was like looking at a model of the city.

I said goodbye to all the weird hotels that were cut in half to widen Burnside some decades ago. They might all be torn down by the next time I trespass my way to a similar view. They're being bought and demolished left and right. But Asa and I, we stole them for a night.

Part of this piece was a pitch for a magazine article that didn't work out. Hence the delay.

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