After having said goodbye to my Dutch friend Jon at SFO airport I left San Francisco to head north. For two weeks we had explored the Californian coast, gotten neck cramps from staring at giants in Sequioa National Park and defied the mist of Yosemite’s mega waterfalls. Now it was solo travel time again.
For the first stretch I took the not so scenic I-5 for an overnight stay in Redding. The next day I cut through beautiful Shasta-Trinity National Forest to connect to the US-101 North to admire the Redwood National Park. I stayed in the coastal town of Crescent City for two nights, spending one day hiking in neighboring Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Then onwards along the coast across the state border to Florence, Oregon. Via Eugene I finally reached Portland, a.k.a. PDX.
With a population of over 600,000 Portland is by far the biggest city in The Beaver State. Among them is Steven Masanz, a thirty-two year old, red bearded staff member of a doggy daycare. Over coffee at Bipartisan Cafe on Stark Street Steven told me his story. About how he grew up in rural Virginia to a military family and how his father died of brain cancer four years ago and was buried in Arlington Cemetery with honors.
Steven was born in Heidelberg, Germany to parents serving in the U.S. military. After two years the family moved to Williamsburg and later Fredericksburg, Virginia – the site of one of the most famous battles of the Civil War. Steven recalls as a kid roaming the grounds and finding old bullets, shrapnel and other remnants.
At age twenty-two, Steven worked in the operating room at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg at the time of the shootings in April 2007. He remembers the confusion and the calls coming in from worried parents. It was long unclear whether there were multiple shooters. It turned out to be just one, a deluded psychopath, who killed thirty-two people before taking his life.
When Steven’s mother moved to Guam – a United States territory – in 2008, Steven joined her for what would turn out to be a one and a half year period. During that time he worked at a car rental company and made friends with some of the natives, called “chamorro”. After a short stint living in Manhattan, Steven moved to New Hampshire for four years working at a sports bar. In 2011, his father, at age fifty-one, living in England with Steven’s stepmom, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM. Doctors estimated his life expectancy to be no more than eighteen months.
After being diagnosed, his father and stepmother moved back to Fredericksburg where Steven would visit them more often. He had always known his father to be a hard worker, stiff, but very intelligent and always professional about every aspect of his life. He lived by the belief that if you do right, good things will happen. The cancer ruined that.
Steven remembers him being frustrated and angry. The medication made him wither away. He didn’t talk, didn’t show emotion. GMB is an ugly form of cancer. It messes with the brain and made Steven’s dad partly blind. It affected his balance requiring him to use a walker to move around. Steven tried to be strong for him during visits, just like his dad had always been strong for everyone else. He nevertheless declined quickly and passed away in April 2013.
Steven’s dad was decorated with a Bronze Star for displaying heroism during the First Gulf War. He was doing satellite surveillance when the hotel he was in got hit by a scud missile. He stayed and continued transferring his findings. Top military brass attended the funeral at Arlington Cemetery on July 6th, 2013. It was a difficult day but it made Steven realize his dad was a rare sort. He got things done. After his military career, Steven’s father worked in the private sector and did construction work when he was in between jobs. He never cut corners.
As a kid, Steven noticed his father didn’t really want the paternal role. His temperament would sometimes get in the way. After the divorce he became a different person. He softened up and he and Steven became friends.
They were very much alike. Steven appreciated that even more when a year after the funeral he went back to Arlington, using the back entrance reserved for relatives. He felt a deep sense of pride of his father as a person. Steven himself had tried out for the army but was not accepted on account of his ADD. Admission criteria for the military were relaxed after 9/11.
In 2013 Steven left New Hampshire for Portland, Oregon. He wanted to get as far away as possible and a book he had read about PDX had peaked his interest about the city. He made a new start there. At the end of our talk Steven tells me he has plans to move again. If he had the money he’d move to Manhattan. To Steven, New York City is more than a place; it’s a heart that never stops beating.