Down in what might be termed the “low-rent” district, just a block or so up from the Portland train/bus station, is an Italian cafe. The owner-operator, Robert, is a Croat (one of the many warring peoples of Eastern Europe); so I’ll call him here what I call him in life, Robert the Croat. The bouncer is a former champion swimmer — champion, that is, to hear him tell it, and he refers to the 1960s, so who knows? — who spent a year in an insane asylum: since I myself spent some months, about a year after I got out of the federal penitentiary, in just such an establishment, Mike the Bouncer and I get along swell.
The place already had the name “Monte Rossa Cafe” when Robert the Croat took it over, so he chose to let it stay that way rather than spend a lot of money to change the name to no significant benefit. The result is, might I point out, that your Italian-American Secretary of the Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party of Oregon can add a splash of authentic Italian flavor to an Italian cafe in downtown Portland, a block away from the bus station, owned by a Croat.
That’s just window-dressing. The crucial aspect is, that a guy from the former Yugoslavia who is a young, so far successful, urban entrepreneur in the United States is not going to give a rodent’s rear end about minor-party political activity which one of the steady customers might engage in. He’s just delighted to welcome one more eccentric to the crew. I told Robert I planned to make the Monte Rossa cafe my campaign headquarters, and he was pleased to have me. Nor does he express any reservations about what opinions I might express, out on the sidewalk at my table laden with books and Green Party propaganda, quite in contrast to my experience with the Fred Meyer Starbucks across the street from my home. Too cosmopolitan for that, faithful reader. Or, better expressed, not corporate enough.
Lots of the people passing through Monte Rossa speak in Serbo-Croatian, the as it were national language of the former nation-state of the South Slavs; my neighbor at the table next to mine yesterday was delighted to speak Russian with me, at least for a few minutes — Robert told me he’d spent four years there, in Russia — but then (it was embarrassing) when he asked me to speak in German, with which he was more comfortable, I spoke in a mixed-up hash of German and Russian whenever I tried to say anything, and we all laughed and settled down to English, the commonly-used medium of communication in North America.
Not that, to tell the truth, a significant minority of the people you meet at Monte Rossa don’t speak Spanish: they do. Arturo Rios, for example, speaks Spanish to some people and English to others; he was extremely suspicious and anxious when I addressed him in the former tongue. I haven’t spoken to him since.
The neighborhood has some peculiarities: there are no posters for lost cats on the lampposts or telephone poles. Almost everyone smokes. Robert comes out onto the sidewalk and stands on the kerb every half-hour or so. The thin man John, who inhabits the window seat to the left of the door, seems to have the heaviest tobacco habit; when I am able I add my distinctive pipe smoke — a smoke which may soon become as legal south of the Columbia River as it is north of it at present — to the mix.
Robert warned me that there would be a lot of good-looking women in and around the Monte Rossa when I first started visiting regularly, and he wasn’t wrong. Males dominate the population to a greater extent than at other cafes of my experience, but the few women have a lot going for them in the looks department.
Oh, yeah — lots of dogs. Many small, but average-sized ones, too. They all know and love Mike the Bouncer, for he feeds them (he offered me a slice of pizza a couple of days ago). I think a reasonable estimate is, that one-third of the traffic on the sidewalk beside my table is canine.
That describes, at least in summary fashion, the Meo for Congress mobile office. Come on down to the three hundred block of Northwest Fourth (it says 327 above the door, yet the official address on the website is 333; hey go figure) and join me, any afternoon before 4 pm.