PHOTO: PORTLAND PARK BLOCKS
The main telephone company building where I worked in Portland was located on the corner of Park and Oak, not far from Burnside. It was a total of twenty blocks from where I lived at 10th and Montgomery. Because I worked a split shift, I walked this distance four times a day regardless of weather.
Downtown Portland has a north-south strip of park blocks which are only half a block wide but a full block long. They stretch for about 15 blocks between 8th (Park Avenue) and 9th. It was pleasant to walk through them as part of my daily route. My evening shift was over at 10:00PM, and I never hesitated to walk home alone at that time of night through the park blocks. It wasn’t that I was fearless; it was that I didn’t have enough sense to be afraid. I was just a green country girl.
The irony is that I was afraid of buses. There was a bus that ran up and down Broadway (7th Street). I was afraid to get on one. I was afraid and embarrassed, and afraid of being embarrassed. If there had been a stirrup and a saddle I would have swung on up, but I didn’t know how buses worked, where they went, how to use them, what I was supposed to do. I had always walked. I liked to walk. I knew how to walk. I knew my feet would take me where ever I wanted to go.
On most nights, the park and streets were deserted. But one night, when I was only a few blocks from home, I noticed, by the light of the street lamps, that there was a man behind me about half a block away. I walked faster. He walked faster. I walked faster still. So did he. I thought of the door of the Martha Washington, which was always locked after 10:00pm. I would have to climb 7 stairs, ring the bell, and then wait until the woman at the desk pushed the button to let me in. I wanted to run. I was wearing a winter coat, which suddenly seemed very heavy. When I cut over to 10th Street, he followed me and when I ran up the steps of the Martha Washington and rang the bell, he was right at the bottom of the steps. I turned my head and looked at him over my shoulder. He was just a young man, dark hair, rather slight of build. I was almost paralyzed with fear. He looked right at me. He said, “You’ve got a good looking pair of tits.” He must have had x-ray vision to see through my back and my coat. The buzzer sounded and my hands were shaking when I opened the door and ran inside.
I can’t remember what happened after that. Did I tell the woman at the desk? Did she call the police? No and no. Did I start carrying mace with me when I walked home alone at night. I had never heard of mace. But I do remember that I still walked home at night through the park blocks because I was too afraid to take the bus.