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Iva at Powells

Iva looked out the streetcar window at the long haired man with a Powells book bag.  To Iva it looked like he hadn’t washed in days.  His hair was matted and stringy and covered part of his face.  His beady eyes and long nose caught her attention.  He walked with a shuffle with the bag at his side.

The young disheveled man in tennis shoes, reminded her of the Union rally at the store a few months ago.  “Those people were making noise inside and outside the store,” she had said to a friend.  It was an unpleasant memory for Iva.  That was the day she had taken Janie to Powells.  Janie, an old friend, had a round face, clear blue eyes, white hair, straight to her shoulders with bangs.  Her body was round, plump, not five feet tall.  She carried a cane but she hardly needed it.

Janie was visiting from the beach, down around Bandon Oregon.  Janie was the president of the nurses union when she and Janie worked at the hospital.  Janie, now retired, was only in town for the weekend and so Iva took her down to Powells to get some books to take back home.  They were in the bookstore that Saturday morning after having breakfast out.  

“Why would they join a Longshoremen’s union?”  Iva heard Janie’s high pitched voice.  And Iva too still wondered, why the Longshoremen’s union?  She pondered that question for a moment while the streetcar rolled past the front door and marque of Powell’s Books.

She remembered, the signs they were waving outside the store that Saturday were hand made and the people walking around with the signs were all young, unruly and poorly dressed.  They were chanting over and over. 

What do we want ?


And when do we want it?


She and Janie had to step through, and around the people walking in a circle with the signs to get in the store.  It was intimidating, embarrassing and needless in Iva’s mind.  The store was alive and full of people.  Janie wandered off for almost a hour in the bookstore.

Then Iva remembered the megaphone in the stairwell that was scary loud.  It made her ears hurt.  No wonder these young people can’t hear she thought to herself at the time.  She remembered the noise was horrible.

The loud chanting and the megaphone.

This was not at all like Powells, Iva was so upset at the time, even today she felt a knot in her stomach.  Iva always before remembered the store as quiet, almost like a church sanctuary.  And there she was with her friend Janie, with all of the noise, people milling around, the noise and disruptions.  It was so embarrassing.

The streetcar ramp made a loud noise, metal on cement when it hit the ground.  Wheelchair accessibility was admirable on the streetcar and a large man with a belly like a beach ball rolled in his wheelchair onto the streetcar.

The Couch and 10th streetcar stop always brought up the image of that bearded man megaphone in hand, in the stairwell, in the faded jeans, unkempt brown hair, the megaphone to his mouth, words, sound, blasting  For Iva it was an indelible image.  A picture postcard that also made her ears hurt.  Just the thought of the man evoked the horrid sound for Iva.  Iva felt her body tense. 

When the noise finally ended, there was a rush of customers to the cash registers so both she and Janie waited twenty or more minutes to check out.  Leaving the store that afternoon, they both had a large heavy brown paper bag with handles, “Powells Books” printed on the bag.

The last thing on Iva’s mind was getting through the picket line at the store entrance.  What a bother she thought and Janie was with her!  Iva didn’t want any labor problems, or unpleasantness.  What did these kids want, she wondered?  A union at Powells would change things.  And she didn’t see how they could get what they wanted.  Who’s to say a union is going to be a good idea, she wondered. 

Iva heard the streetcar door close.  She felt it as it moved away from the stop. As quickly as the union protest had returned to Iva’s mind as quickly it was forgotten.  Iva felt the glide of the streetcar, that feeling in her stomach as the streetcar picked up speed on it’s way to the next stop.