Monday, June 19, 2006

The Salmon Ambassador to Portland

I have met the salmon’s Representative-on-Dry-Land.

If you encounter this man, listen to him, because he has something to say. How will you recognize him? He wears a cardboard salmon on his helmet and he travels exclusively by bike. That should be enough to distinguish him from most other humans.

Don’t be shy, he is very approachable. There’s a good chance he’ll approach you first, as he did me. “Hello, Friendly Biker!” he called out, gliding up next to me as I was locking up my trusty steed in front of Portland Cutlery.

Normally such a greeting would have activated my Weirdo-Repellant Forcefield, but though his degree of friendliness was a little alarming, his energy was wholesome and intriguing. He immediately pointed to the license plate of a parked car. “Do you see that license plate?” he asked me. “Yes,” I replied. “Do you see that metal frame around it that is obscuring part of the state name?” Clearly he saw this as a serious problem, and I began to harbor serious doubts about him again. “I can still plainly make out the numbers,” I argued. “But do you see what’s written on the frame?” he asked. “You mean [bla-bla] Auto Dealers?” I asked, mystified about what he was getting at. “YES!!” he exclaimed. "And do you know how much that license plate weighs?” he further inquired. “Not off the top of my head,” I admitted. And at that point a little bell began to ring.

Yes, I’d heard of this guy. He was in the paper a few years ago. He has done the math, literally the physics, and has figured out how much extra petroleum is being consumed to transport this extra pound of steel attached to most cars. His campaign is to convince every driver to remove the metal frame. But he goes further. What other extra weight are we carrying around? That pesky shirt-label tag poking you in the back of the neck? Three grams, right there. He convinced me to remove my helmet so that he could point out all the “Bell” logos attached and inform me that together they weighed three grams too, and I’d be doing the salmon a big favor to remove them all. The more weight we carry aound, the more oxygen we consume, and the less oxygen remains for the salmon.

He interrupted himself more than once to make a snakey hand motion to a passing cyclist and issue a friendly call-out. “That’s the Salmon Wave,” he explained to me. “Would you like to learn it?” he then asked, after a slight pause. I searched my mind for the courteous way to respond when asked if one wants to learn the salmon-wave, but turned up nothing. It’s an area in which my mother was amiss in her training.

“Oh. Um....I guess so. Sure…”

After a little instruction he told me that I could become an official Salmon Wave Trainer by simply teaching it to two others that same day. Then, as a trainer, I should teach it to two people a day for the rest of my life.

I’m not finished, he had a lot more to offer – such as detailed instructions for how to fashion a cardboard salmon for your helmet out of a used worn-out manila file folder headed for the recycling bin. He has been wearing the same one since 2002. (I forgot to ask him how much it weighed.) He kindly allowed me to take his picture, which I will post later this evening. I said I’d like to resume our conversation at another time, maybe review the Salmon-Wave before committing myself for life, and go over his ideas again, take notes next time. He offered his email address, and took out half a pen to write it down for me, the refill protruding starkly from the barrel – no need to schlep around the weight of the top half of a pen and consume that much extra oxygen that the salmon could be using.

And he rode off into the morning sunlight, his backpack bulging with scrap metal and dead batteries and other trash he collects daily around the city and transports to its proper recycling facility. Goodbye Salmon Man – we shall meet again.


At 6:09 PM, Blogger fabfeline said...

Wow. That was an amazing story! But I think the reason he knows so much about license plates is because he was probably in prison at one time or another. That's who makes all of the plates in the U.S.-incarcerated prisoners.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Well, that's an amusing theory, but it's not the plate itself he's talking about. He's referring to the steel frame around the plate, that usually shows the name of the car dealer on it. He says they weigh exactly one pound, and has calculated the diminished amount of gasoline we'd use up if everyone just removed that one thing.


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