"This is my first cabbage! You know, a lot of times they’re kind of soft, but this one is solid! It’s going to be good eatin’!"
"What are you going to make with it?"
"Well, this one I’m giving to my parents. You have to give the first one away or you just spoil the whole spirit of gardening."
"What are you struggling with most right now?"
"Kids. My daughter is doing good, but my son got messed up in drugs. You know, kids rebel, but he couldn’t get out of it. He’s in Missoula now, and I think he’s going to be ok now that he’s out of Portland. We tried 3 or 4 things to try and help him out, and I think this will be the best solution. We’ll see."
"The hardest thing about getting on a boat is bringing your sea legs. I did it back in the seventies, but I just don’t have sea legs anymore. I stay on the docks."
"When I was in high school I went to an away ball game one time. I must’ve been a freshman, because I didn’t drive yet. I lived in a farming area and back then we had rooter buses that would take you to away games because the next school over was a bit far away. My dad was supposed to pick me up at 11pm when the bus dropped me off, but the bus had broken down and we had to wait an hour and a half for the team bus to get there. I got a ride home and when I walked in, my parents just said, ‘You’re grounded for the rest of the school year.’ No questions, nothing. It took them about a week to come to their senses and realize I hadn’t done anything wrong. They never apologized, but they lifted the grounding and I figured that was as good as I was going to get from them."
I thought he looked so picturesque sitting there alone, but his friends really wanted to be a part of the scenery…
“My name’s Happy. My friends gave me the name. My birth name is Christian, but I don’t go by it at all. I just hitched a ride from Idaho with some people coming back from Rainbow Gathering. Before Idaho, my friend Dumpster Baby and I hopped a freight train from Utah. We spent four hours in a dumpster with a tarp over us while it just rained and rained on us before we left. Now I’m waiting for my friend Rat Boy to come meet up with me. He’s never been to Portland before so he’s off wandering. We might see if we can find a punk show to go to tonight, and then we have a squat house we’re going to crash at.”
“How is hopping freight trains different than hitchhiking?”
“Well for better or worse, you’re usually you’re alone for 24 hours on a train. Sometimes the cops bust you. I’ve been busted before. I met some kids that wanted to hop a train and had never done it so I took ‘em. Usually you’re supposed to throw your pack first and then kind of start running before you jump, otherwise you’ll just fall. I watched ‘em do it and they both just rolled. But they were ok. A few cuts and the worst thing was one guy got a bruised knee.”
“How did you start off this life of wandering?”
“I grew up in LA, in not the best of neighborhoods. I was used to always hanging on the streets. Then when I was 15 or 16 some friends of mine told me about a squat house in another city and we hopped a train and went there. I love the community of it, kids all helping each other out. There’s even a web forum where people will tell each other where to stay, who to look out for, or a place where you can get fed and things like that.”
“It sounds like such an adventure! I wish I could come take photos of it all.”
“I had a bunch of photos on my phone, but I dropped it on the tracks once, and that was the end of that. It’s not all great though. A lot of kids I know are on meth and I have a friend who got Hep C from sharing needles. Not me, I’m a straight edge. That’s what these tattoos are about.” He held out his hands.
“What about the one on your face?”
“My family is indigenous and my great grandfather completely tried to deny and hide his heritage. And then his son, my grandfather, tried to embrace it. I’d seen a photo of him with these markings, so I had a friend tattoo it on me.”
“What does it represent?”
“I’m not sure. My family doesn’t even know what tribe. But I wanted to embrace my heritage.”
"I’m about to get on this street car to fix a broken key.You should come by the shop sometime! I’ll show you around. "
"We’re a couple of old ladies, but we love adventures!"
When I talk to people about Humans of Portland, there are several words that I find myself using to describe the intention behind it: authenticity, connectivity, honesty, vulnerability. These are the qualities I hope to encourage in my interactions with others. This is made possible by holding space for someone to share their story. By holding space I mean showing interest, listening without judgment, and acknowledging their experiences as real. Authentic interactions are also made possible by demonstrating my own willingness to be real, honest and vulnerable - even in front of a social media following of thousands. I have at times shared with you pieces of my own experiences, thoughts and struggles as I have carried out this project because I want you to see my own humanity as I make my way through this city we all share. I want you to see that I’m just a person who sometimes chooses to spend time talking to people, and I’ve chosen to share these bits of my journey with you.
My real hope is that by making my process accessible to you, you will be inspired to sometimes choose to spend your own time connecting authentically with one another, holding space for each other and sharing bits of your own journey along the way.
When I go out to photograph people, I’m generally alone. The personal interactions I have with strangers are usually only possible this way. However, I seem to increasingly have interactions with strangers in the company of my friends and family. It has become a part of who I am when I’m in a public place, and the people I know well have grown accustomed to me sprinting across the street to photograph someone who looks interesting, or peeling away from the group to talk to someone I’ve just met for a a few minutes.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a park with some friends when I decided to talk to a man who was barbecuing nearby. A close friend of mine decided to come with me. He and his wife were very friendly and the four of us had a nice conversation about where they had lived previously and the things they enjoy about living in Portland. I took photographs of each of them, but never posted them.
Yesterday I was spending time with this same friend who had joined me in that interaction at the park. She pulled me aside and told me how much that interaction had influenced her. “I was riding my bike home the other day through North Portland when I smelled barbecue. It smelled SO amazing that it made me stop and get off my bike. I saw a man at a barbecue and told him, ‘Your barbecue smells sooooo good. He told me he wasn’t the cook, but introduced me to his brother and his cousin. We all chatted for a while and he invited me to come back and join them any time they are barbecuing. I found myself thinking of you and thought, ‘I’m having a Humans of Portland moment!’ I don’t think I would have felt comfortable doing that if we hadn’t talked to that couple at the park that day.’”
Thank you Tracy, for reminding me why I do this project. I needed that.
What about you? How have you interacted with the strangers around you lately?
"I’m going to tell you a football joke. Once there was an adolescent husky whose parents were getting a divorce, and the judge asked the husky child, ‘Do you want to live with your father?’ And the husky replied, ‘No, he beats me.’ ‘Do you want to live with your mother?’ And the husky said, ‘No, she beats me.’ So the judge asked, ‘Well who do you want to live with then?’ And the husky said, I want to live with the Beavers. They don’t beat anybody.’”
(Donald made a point to show me the contents of his wallet.)
"I remember hearing about the Mayan calendar — this was back in 2003, and it was something I didn’t know much about, having been schooled in Cabala/Jewish Mysticism. But I fell asleep on a beach and I started having what I suppose could be called a dream. And these beings came to me in my dream and brought me a sacred artichoke. At one point I realized I wasn’t breathing, so I forced myself to wake up, but at that point I knew, I could see how the Cabala and Mayan calendars converged. And for whatever reason — I’m not like this — when I woke up there was a rope hanging down near me and I thought about hanging myself and I don’t know why.”
"It wasn’t something you were considering from a sorrowful place in yourself?"
"I don’t know, maybe it was. Maybe I was sorrowful that I had brought an end to what was happening to me."
"His name is Gaylord."
"I used to do stand up comedy. The first time I actually got paid to do comedy was as an opener at a male strip club. There were 200 women in there, and they didn’t want to hear jokes, they wanted to see skin! At the time I was trying to do clean comedy, you know, no swearing or anything, and I was just bombing because I didn’t have any dick jokes. The crowd was getting antsy and this woman yelled, ‘Take your clothes off!’ I told her she was at least going to have to take me to dinner first.”