Smiling about rocks in Portland
Travel is at its best when it’s serendipitous—when magical coincidences make seemingly ordinary happenings feel extraordinary.
Such was the case this weekend when I traveled to Portland with my biggest girl, L.
We were in town for a number of reasons: 1) To attend the bar mitzvah of a cousin, 2) To see one of my closest pals, 4) To report a story in Washington Park, and 4) To poke around one of the weirdest and coolest cities in the West. But the best part of our trip happened when both of us least expected it.
It was mere hours after we landed. L and I had checked into our room at the Hotel Lucia downtown and were on our way to find a place to eat lunch. L spotted some steps and sat down so I could take her picture. After the snap, she looked to her left and spotted a silver dollar-sized white rock painted with a cute design. The rest is a part of history we’ll remember forever.
There on the rock was a cartoon drawing of a kitty cat. Normally this would be just another detail. But for L, who is cat-obsessed, it was a HUGE DEAL. Immediately I started thinking of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca waxing poetic about how there were all the public steps in the city, and we had to find a cat rock on that one. Even L was skeptical at the serendipity of it all. She kept asking me if I had put the rock there. She kept wondering aloud whether “somebody” knew how much she loved cats. At one point I think she convinced herself SAR was her grandmother.
Of course the artist had no idea who’d be finding the rock after he or she put it there. We found an Instagram address on the back of the rock, and three minutes on that page made it clear that the artist—a person who goes by the name Smiling About Rocks, or SAR—painted dozens of these rocks and placed them all over the city. (FWIW, our rock had the number 221 on it, which probably meant the artist has made at least 221 of these things.)
Instructions on the Instagram page were simple: “If you found a rock, take a picture of it and send it direct to me. I will post it on my feed.”
So we did. I had L pose holding the rock and snapped the shot you see atop this page. We sent it to SAR. SAR reposted our image the following day with full caption (and note that spoke directly to my kid). For my daughter, this only made the experience seem more serendipitous. Upon seeing the repost she exclaimed: “It’s like a fairy tale!”
Would we have had fun in Portland without our run-in with SAR? Of course. But this run-in made the trip even richer, and provided us with an instant memory I’m sure we both will have for many years to come.
The experience also served as an inspiration. When we got back to our hometown L reached out to a friend about doing a similar project here. The two have been talking about painting rocks all week. To be honest, I hope they follow-through. It’d be nice to pay the serendipity forward for a change.
What is the most serendipitous experience you’ve had on the road?