Last Wednesday, I drove for two and a half hours to Portland, Oregon from Eugene and of course got stuck in traffic because I couldn’t bail off I-5 early. I don’t know Portland at all. I was on a mission to attend my first ukulele jam since before the pandemic, determined to get there in spite of the distance and traffic jam status through the heart of Portland.
I listened to Beatles music on my funky old car stereo with the Bluetooth status even when traffic was at a crawl. I was excited yet a little freaked because of this new Delta variant stuff that’s even spreading among us vaccinated folks. But nothing would stop me. My friend Leonard whom I’ve known since almost the beginning of my ukulele adventure which started in 2010 in California, was leading the jam. I was so excited. I remember Leonard at the “Sons of the Beach” Saturday morning ukulele jams in Santa Cruz by the harbor across from a lighthouse. Every Saturday morning, around 100 people, sometimes more, showed up and played ukulele and sang. They’d been meeting there for many years — until the pandemic hit of course. And they just started back up again this past Saturday. Anyway, Leonard would always set up his chair and music stand on the cement near the coffee shop and Mexican restaurant. After the regular jam, he’d start playing music out of his own songbooks, and soon he had his own little “after the ukulele jam — jam.” I’d almost always stay after. Any time I could play music with others was a good time for me. We’d play while the waves lapped against the shore and sailboats glided by in front of the lighthouse. The weather was almost always great, sunny and not too hot. Not like the 97-degree temps I was at almost a standstill in.
FINALLY, I found the Oregon Pubic House in a lovely neighborhood of northeast Portland and I even managed to find a parking spot close by in the shade. That was a miracle in itself. The Portland Ukulele Wednesdays group has a “public room” to themselves for their weekly in-person ukulele jams right next to the main indoor area. Picnic tables adorned the outside of the adorable venue. I had never been there before.
I found one guy whom I remembered from the last jam I’d participated in with the Portland group over two years ago. He remembered me because I was leading the group the first time he arrived. He and his wife were settled into a table in the public room. They were the first to arrive, and the guy said he wasn’t sure he should even come because of the new Delta variant. I agreed that could be a problem, but others did arrive, and when I saw my friend Leonard and his wife! I was immediately reminded of old times!
“Wow, I can’t believe you drove all the way up here from Eugene for this jam!” he said as we hugged. We wore masks in the main part of the venue.
He and his wife were on a major northwest camping trip which apparently they take every year. They used to live in San Jose close to me, and I’d see Leonard at most of the local jams, especially the one in Santa Cruz, and also at the annual Burning Uke campout events as well where he’d always lead jams of some kind. I would usually lead a Beatles jam. Every year in September, a group of enthusiastic ukulele players camp under the redwood trees near Ben Lomond, CA, and play ukulele all weekend.
The room we had was sort of large enough to distance, at least not have to share music. Some people wore masks, but I didn’t wear one while I sang. People are starting to be concerned about group gatherings. When Leonard stood up front and began to lead songs, my heart soared and I forgot about the long drive, the heat and the Delta virus. I could hear the happy sounds of ukulele strums all around me, and I played along. I sang with my heart. Oh how I missed this, how I cherished a group of happy people playing ukuleles and singing together. Nothing compares, nothing. Tears filled my eyes as we sang, “Gonna rock this town, rock it inside out!” at the tops of our lungs. Life for those moments was as it should be.