Breakfast with the Other

I think I brushed elbows with some of those who raced up the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. We were all fixing our breakfasts together–pouring our coffee, dishing up scrambled eggs and sausages–when we bumped elbows.

The potter and I were exploring the lower Columbia River about 6-8 years ago. We drove up one side of the river the first day, and then did the other side the second day. And we were doing it in style! We’d won a free night at a luxury motel in Vancouver, just across the river from Portland.

The only time you mix with other motel guests is in the breakfast room, an intimate situation. People are yawning, grabbing a newspaper and coffee. Usually there are other older couples like us, sometimes a family with children, often several business people. Generally, people grab their bowl of cereal and coffee, eat, and get back on the road.Some take their breakfast trays back to their rooms.

I was curious. What kind of people would frequent a luxury motel?But when we walked into that breakfast room, something was way off. Almost all the tables were full. Some people were eating, but many were just sitting around drinking coffee. And this was not a “luxury” crowd. They were dressed as casually as I was–worn jeans, sweatshirts, t-shirts. Perhaps about 30 people in the room, all ages. Not many children. Some seemed to be acquainted and were visiting, but several looked like loners. I had a clear feeling that I was interrupting something and of being an outsider in the room. It was rather quiet and subdued for that many people. What were they waiting for? I remember being uncomfortable, but people were not unfriendly and no one confronted us.

I looked to the couple sitting at the next table, hoping to catch the young woman’s eye and maybe make conversation, but they were keeping to themselves, and she never made eye contact. No identifying t-shirts or hats among the group, but I did spot one gun-rights t-shirt across the room. What was this? Perhaps more men than women, but at one point an older woman came in with two teen-age girls in tow, both barefoot.

As we finished our coffee, a couple of better-dressed men came bustling in, greeting people here and there. One was obviously some kind of leader, known to this group. The owner/manager of the motel was at his elbow, so very attentive.

On our way out, I stopped at the front desk to ask about what was going on. Who were all these people? The two young women seated behind the desk didn’t answer me at first. They looked at each other, paused for more than a few seconds, and then one of them said, “Oh, there’s a softball tournament in town this weekend.” And then she smiled. I almost laughed. Softball players? No way.

These people had traveled from a distance that required a motel stay, and for whatever reason, had chosen a very pricey motel. As we got in our car to leave, we checked out the cars in the parking lot. Nothing unusual except for a couple of motorcycles. Most of the license plates were from Washington State.

A day or two later, at home, I heard about the serious rioting in Portland over the weekend, initiated by a far right group. It was one of the first big and very violent, riots in downtown Portland, resulting in a number of serious injuries. I knew then who we’d had breakfast with that morning. I’m guessing that they had been given some kind of group rate. Or was a benefactor picking up the bill? Either way, it was a well-organized operation, coming in from out of state to downtown Portland.

Some of that group had been trained and they were ready. Even before realizing who they were, what I remember most from that breakfast, was the intense feeling of relief as we drove out of the parking lot that day.

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