When it rains in Eugene, it rains like nowhere else. Nestled in a damp drawing valley where trees would seem to fare better than people, people nevertheless thrive. It takes time for one to transform, to essentially “sprout” into a Eugenian.
In such a Pacific Northwest drizzle I arrived, via bike — so Eugene nouveau — at Friendly Street where it crosses 27th Avenue. Cars splashed hastily and unconcerned by, but not a soul outside crept with whom to speak. Having locked my bike, jacket shuffled up more correctly against the darkening weather, I walked, flipping the sidewalk rain water from the tips of the toes of my shoes, in search of a neighborhood lingerer or resident I could connect with and talk to.
At Friendly Park, a close walk by, three guys huddled near together on a wood table under a windblown, metal canopy. One was basically hollering into one of the others’ face. I joined them in their less wet squat under the enclosure, offering cigarettes. Before long a conversation started between myself and the one left not previously engaged by the shouter.
His name’s Colin, as red-haired as you can imagine and a bright smiler for a homeless person. I filled him in on the sort of thing that I was after, how the requirements of a journalism school assignment had brought me there in an effort to make a clean profile of a stranger. This is not an easy way to approach someone and at first, because of a disconcerting look, I was unsure about how Colin would respond, whether I would no longer be welcome there with them.
Colin made gestures and glanced sideways, but did not reflect any indignation about being involved in the assignment. Only a couple questions set the metaphorical flood gates of this guy open and on he went about being from the Midwest and how different things are here compared to there. Being from Ohio, I could in some ways relate to what he was talking about, and I believe it opened up a channel of communication between us.
A fascinating person, to be sure, this Colin. He shared details of his sordid affairs with drugs and moving cross country, landing in unfamiliar places and just making the best of it. He was not, and did not seem to be approaching, available via telephone or internet. With the way he talked and as articulate as he was about emotions and regrets, the way he told his story, appealed to me. In the end, however, because of the difficulty and unreliability of communicating with him, I thought it best to make a new day of it — in other words, find another subject.