Even Home Depot starts to look gorgeous in a Portland autumn

There are undoubtedly ugly parts of Portland but they’re hard to find; this has to be one of the prettiest cities in the US, especially in fall.

I keep taking the long way ’round to see my favorite mist-shrouded trees, trembling on the verge of fall color. It’s not very efficient of me–the freeway would be faster–but who cares? The sugar maples are glimmering with that incredible, near-neon vermillion, the house-dotted hillsides look like a folk art painting..and I’m so absorbed in driving the city that I miss three phone calls.

I blame my ringtone. Whatever happened to plain old mobile phone ringing? I remember sitting in meetings when a mobile phone rang; everyone grabbed up their phones to see who actually had the call.

That was when all phones sounded alike. Now your ringtone could be the sound of a trolley car, an Adam Sandler voiceover or a clap of thunder straight from the prairies. Maybe an excerpt from the top 40.

That’s great, except my brain doesn’t register those sounds as phone calls. I can listen to that stuff for hours and never realize the phone is ringing. So I acquire and discard perhaps two tones per month, looking for the one that actually causes me to answer the phone. I’ve used favorite tunes, Gregorian chants, Indian qawwalis, old-fashioned ringing telephone noises, buzzes and Lurch’s bell from the Addams Family.

The one I have now works as long as no one else is talking. It’s a fake Frenchman: “Ze telefon eeez ringing. Vy do you not anzwer eeet? Stupid Americain! Anzwer zee phone!”

I’ll give it this: It’s unambiguous. It takes some explaining, though, when a stranger hears your purse calling him stupid. The guy standing next to me in Graingers this week glared until I convinced him I hadn’t done it on purpose.

“That,” he said disgustedly, “is a really STUPID ringtone.” I grabbed my purchases and fled.

I’m blushing about it now, as I’m driving. I wait for a light to change near the museum, and crowd sounds down out the Frenchman’s voice, causing me to miss the first call.

A heavyset guy strolls onto Pioneer Square in workout shorts and a sweatshirt and I watch him out of the corner of my eye. He’s wearing Nike hightops, the expensive kind, which he carefully removes and places in the center of the tiled plaza. Then he takes off his shirt and drops it to the ground.

He turns away from me, drops to his knees and salaams, head touching the tiles. He’s not facing Mecca, he’s facing Starbucks, which is a little over the top even for coffee-worshiping Portland.

The panhandler by my car shouts at him, “Are you nuts?” and almost drops his sign. It says “Need money. Traveling broke and ugly.” I suspect that’s about when the second call came in, because I missed that one, too.

The light changes, and I move on, past the Hillbilly Bento (southern cooking in a box). A couple blocks later a lady signals for me to roll down my window and I do. “Didn’t it turn out to be a beeeeyootiful day?” she beams. I grin in agreement and drive on; somewhere in there the third call happened.

So it seems the contemptuous little Frenchman isn’t working out and I need a new ringtone. Or maybe I should take the freeway…