Rex is a big guy, maybe six foot five. He works around town for some app delivery service or other. He has the nervous energy of a smaller person and an undercurrent of rage I think I see behind his default expression, which is the sort of smile you would present to a savage encountered in the jungle, to show you mean no harm. He’s often coming into conflict with the local homeless. (I hesitated over writing the phrase “homeless community”, before realizing it is apt; in some ways they have more community than us)
Rex is unwilling to ignore the homeless and is often in conflict with them.
He bounded over, phone drawn, and, as he does, began as if in the middle of a conversation:
“So these two guys? I don’t think I told you about these guys. They were prowling cars over at the plaza” he pointed off in the direction of what I think is a retirement home, “and I told the security guard you know?”
His smile lapsed into a genuine expression as he became enthusiastic.
“So I see them again. Look at this shit.”
On his phone I see the homeless combatant coming at him from across the street and slashing at him with a tiny knife as he fends him off with, I think, a hot bag for carrying food.
“Whoa dude.” I say (I have to be honest, this is what I said). “Did you call the cops?”
“Yeah. They’re not going to do anything about it.”
“They’re not sure any law’s been broken, I guess.”
“What the hell?”
“But I told them about their chop shop.”
“Their camp between the freeway and Fourth over there. They take stolen bikes there and do whatever. I told those fuckers ‘I know about your chop shop!’ “, that’s when they came after me.”
“Jesus dude, be careful.” I say.
The next day I see the police clearing out the camp he talked about, taking all day to fill a truck with their abandoned gear.
“That’s not their only shop.” Rex tells me when I give him the news the next day.
“Have you seen those guys again?”
“Oh yeah. They’re over on Fourth and Jefferson right now. I just saw them.”
“Yeah. I’m going to bail on downtown Portland for a while. It’s too bad; it makes it harder to make money doing this shit if I have to avoid the city.”
“I saw a guy coming down Broadway Drive, not one of the guys who attacked me but an associate, I’ve seen him with them, and he’s coming down the steep part full speed like a daredevil, like he’s got no brakes, on an expensive-looking bike.”
“No bike is safe.”
“It’s true.” He laughs.
“They’re making their way higher up into the hills. Used to be they’re weren’t that determined.”
“Yeah. They’re getting way more aggressive all around. And they’ll steal anything. But they love bikes and breaking into cars.”
Yesterday I saw him again, and he bounded over, phone drawn, and resumed the conversation:
“So I saw this video ‘attempted stabbing of US Marine’ and you’re in it.”
It’s a video of protesters chasing a man with a bicycle off the street, heaping various indignities on him before the scene breaks down into chaos.
In the 360 degree video we see a masked man with another tiny knife, this time out for the Marine bicyclist. He gets close, but, probably because the crowd wasn’t thick enough to hide his actions from view, he withdraws.
The Marine, at least, kept his bike. But more importantly, he kept his dignity.