Few people have heard this story and fewer still understand the full context and impact it continues to have on me, even if they knew me at the time these events unfolded.
In the summer of 1993, I was enrolled at Portland State University, in Portland, Oregon pursuing a Master’s in Geography/GIS. I was living “paycheck to paycheck” as it were, which at that time, in my life, was effectively credit cards from American Express, Discover, Prime Option, etc. along with various Pell Grants and other financial aid loans. I made my tenuous situation much worse by the irresponsible decisions to spend much of that monthly “income” on mountaineering and rock-climbing gear, and then spending copious amounts of time under the stars on the sagebrush BLM lands outside Smith Rock, the Sisters, Mt Hood or in the Gorge. It was difficult for me at the time to imagine a better scenario, knowing all too well that a day of reckoning was not too far off in the future.
My roommate and I at the time had a terminal falling out, and as the fall semester was less than a week away, I was suddenly facing the prospect of being homeless, even if that ultimately was to be short-lived. I moved all worldly belongings to a shared closet in the graduate student offices on campus and my 1986 Subaru. I slept on my campus desk for a couple of nights, then in my car for a couple more nights, “showered” in the Geography Department bathroom. It was a sunny late summer day on campus and I was literally down to my last $18 (at least until the winter semester’s financial aid check was available — 16+ weeks away), and I walked to the local Safeway, bought $8 worth of fried chicken, and proceeded to sit down in one of the many green open-spaces on campus, eating as slow as possible while time crawled by and I contemplated what my next move might be from a very short list of options.
About half-way through my “comfort meal”, a guy I had briefly met a couple of times on campus was passing by and I didn’t think he’d noticed me or even remembered meeting me. He spotted me and swung by my spot and asked what I was up to — the sort of small talk that people make when they don’t really know each other well in unfamiliar situations. Contrary to what I was telling myself to say, I more or less laid out my current situation and dilemma in as much of a positive way as I could muster…