The Willamette River: The River We Deserve

The Willamette River from the southernmost end of Tom McCall Waterfront park. Moments before this photo was taken, I watched as a grizzled seagull smoked an entire cigarette before flicking the butt into the mouth of a fish. The seagull declined my hurried request for an interview. Photo by Oliver Fox.

Disclaimer: This is satire. Don’t swim in the river unless you want to look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with the radiation levels of a Chernobyl Dog.

We’ve all thought about swimming in the Willamette from time to time. Some of us have even thought about drinking from it, and a brave few have. But we don’t hear from them anymore, so we can’t ask them what it tasted like. So I have taken it upon myself to guess at what it might taste like for science. And because I don’t want to be taken away by the government if I drink it.

Possible Combo Number 1: Old money 

Old money is the combination of coffee, miscellaneous trees, and if you could somehow chemically alter golf balls in such a way that they became boba but retained their taste and color. Sort of like if you put Reese’s Puffs in coffee with sawdust. Eat ‘em up, eat ‘em up, eat ‘em up, am I right? This flavor experiment is named after the two things that give Portland its defining characteristics: coffee and lumber. It also features the pastime of all high upper middle class rich white men, golf.

Possible Combo Number 2: Spaghetti

 Spaghetti. Surely the Old Spaghetti Factory doesn’t NOT just toss a little bit out the backdoor every day to feed the fishies. Surely there isn’t a curious kid who would make a great Disney protagonist who works at the Old Spaghetti Factory and feeds fish. Are you really telling me that if you worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory, you wouldn’t try and develop a relationship with a fish on the off chance that it might take you to the hidden city under the river, conveniently obscured from any human sight by the fine mist of soot ash and coffee grounds, and obscured from sonar by the sheer amount of car batteries and catalytic converters present in the river? Are you really trying to say that you wouldn’t want to see how the fish live in their greasy, polluted underwater paradise? Surely there’s spaghetti in the river. I bet it’s seasoned nicely too, with the perfect balance of salt and garlic. Jennifer Michelle Lee, call me.

Possible Combo Number 3: The true ending

Seeing as how Portland rapidly industrialized (shout out to being on a river), the pollutants present in the Willamette River all come from industrial activities, and according to studies in the 1990’s we actually have some coolant floating around there! Wild! We also have your favorite miscellaneous “heavy metals.” So nondescript and fun and easy to identify! To close it out we also have some delicious pesticides. All of this actually makes the lower Willamette a Superfund Site, which means it’s eligible for federal funding to help with cleanup and restoration.

Well, I see an unmarked van pulling up outside, so one of these guesses is surely correct! I didn’t even realize it was Earth Day last week, but it feels like perhaps we should think about how crazy dirty the river is. Maybe the Willamette isn’t the river we wish it was, but it’s probably the river we deserve.

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