I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but Portland has some bridges. Spoiler alert: we are also extremely bike friendly and green. The reason for the bridges is there’s a river that runs right through the middle of the city called the Willamette (Will-Aaaa-mette). The poor Willamette, like most rivers that run through industrial cities, was very, very polluted. In fact, when it rained, the sewer would just (oops!) spill right into the river. I don’t know if you know this about Portland, but it rains here some too. And because Portland hasn’t always been a mecca for the creative class to sit around drinking expensive coffee and beer and riding fixed-gear bicycles, there was also a lot of industrial pollution thanks to mills and factories and things right on the river. Also, there’s a Superfund (Super Fun!) site on the river too.
If you’ve lived in Portland long enough you think Willamette River = the bowels of the industrials and sewage murk of disgustingness. However, in truth, the sewage sitch has gotten cleaned up and there are significant clean up efforts for the industrial waste and the water itself is a-okay.
In other words, the Willamette has a significant PR problem.
Enter my friend Will. About a year and a half ago, Will asked me to coffee because he had this idea that a whole bunch of people should get in the water all at once to show the world that the river is clean. He told me the idea and at first I thought “Yuck,” and then I listened to him talk and thought, “Oh my god, yes!” Will’s whole thing 18 months ago was that we celebrate how livable our city is, but we refuse to go into the river that runs right through the middle of it. If we won’t go in our river, then it’s not a livable city at all.
I remember that meeting so clearly. I remember walking away and thinking, “Whoa. That guy is on a mission. He’s about to change the culture of the whole city.” And then I thought what I always think: I need to find that singularity and dedication to something.
Six months later, Will launched The Big Float. He did exactly what he set out to. Last year, 1500 people got in the river and floated across it in inner tubes. Which means your butt gets wet, and your legs and your body. In the river water!! And no one got sick. I didn’t participate last year because I was in San Diego speaking at BlogHer. Not a bad trade-off.
Yesterday The Big Float 2 happened and Fancyhats and I jumped in the river with about 1500 people. We floated, we formed a human chain to attempt a Guinness record (we failed) and held strangers’ hands. I’m going to write a blog post on how frequently I find myself holding hands with strangers. It happens more than you think it would. Each time it happens, I think, oh, here I am holding a stranger’s hand again.
The water was warm and the sun was shining and we drifted across the river. Fancyhats had his peaceful water face on. I only see this face when we’re participating in a body of water. As soon as we’re out of the water, his peaceful face goes away and his real life face returns. It’s a handsome face, but there flickers of worry and tension and stress that cross it most of the time. I was happy to see that face.
I know people are swimming across the river lately and I’d like to do that. And I know that when Will gets his way and there are proper swimming areas in the middle of the city and we’ll just head out to the river on a sunny day, we’ll make it a regular stop. Pretty sure there are 1500 people who are saying the same thing this morning.
Oh, and I feel fine. Except for that third arm growing out of my chest.