Sunday, February 28, 2016

From the Tavern to the Bar

Character workshop
Act II
#1: From the Tavern to the Bar (Stumptown Shanghai and the Sandbars of the Columbia)

Date: October, 9th 1890 (3 years prior to the completion of the railroad from San Francisco)


Starts just south of Portland Oregon, on a rickety wooden dock that juts out from the heavily wooded embankments on either side; they are bringing in Opium from China. From there we move to a saloon in what is now referred to as "Old Town" Portland. The "Mariners and Mounts" was an establishment that sat on the northern end of the warf of the west side of the Willamette river (the 2nd largest northward river in the world, with the Nile in Egypt being the largest) that is so named because they were known to have a large stable of for horses; for boarding and sale, and of course the sailors who worked on the numerous ships that served to move the goods out of the Pacific Northwest, either to San Francisco or China. This is a very busy establishment, known for a wide variety of temptations and dangerous men, but most who drank, ate or stayed there were just looking for a little fun while on shore leave. And furthermore, most of these sailors were known, and knew each other and the local people. It was strangers coming in alone that had needed to fear.

Crimping, or more commonly known today, Shanghai-ing, is just another foot note in the shameful history that is human trafficking. In 1890, there was enough of a demand for labor in the Portland area that men could make a good money without ever having to step foot on a boat. And while working as a lumberjack or carpenter is dangerous work to be sure, it is not nearly as dangerous as trying to navigate the Columbia River Bar and then the open ocean of the Northern Pacific. Sometimes sailors had to be "encouraged" to join a ship's crew. This story will focus on a Chinese ship and her Captain who regularly "hires" help with the help of a partner who partly owns the Mariners and Mounts and also runs the opium den under the saloon that also functions as the tunnel from the saloon's back room to the waiting ship. My main character, Abraham B. Chalmington, is a man coming from New York by way of San Francisco an the gold mines to Portland looking to earn enough money to bring his wife and young child out to live with him in the Portland area.

He arrives at the Mariners and Mounts late in the evening, seeking shelter and a hot meal. This was his first mistake. One thing will lead to another and he will be given some top shelf whiskey, something he is not used to drinking, which is the reason he tells himself that it tastes weird. 1 hour later he is locked in shackles in a cell in recessed corner of the opium den surrounded by Chinese men who speak no English to him.

From there he is on the ship, forced to be one of the rowers who were needed to navigate the treacherous riverscape. The Willamette meets the Columbia not more than 10 miles north of where he was imprisoned. From there sailing is easier but still dangerous until the mouth of the Columbia River, where they encounter what is known as the "graveyard of the Pacific." The ship probably wrecks here. I don't know whether Abraham lives or dies. But he will do some cool shit during the storm, when all hell is breaking loose on the ship. This portion of the story has a lot of development needed. I'm not sure whether or not he survives is integral to the overall aspect of the story I wish to tell. This is a world that is beautiful and awe inspiring but is right on the edge between the brutal, deadly nature of the north but has echoes of the southern, more gentle climates and landscapes. It is no mistake that the end of the story here will take place on the water flowing by the shore that held the camp of the Clatop Tribe.


Well, I kinda just spoke to this above. But, there is more -- I want to take myself, through writing and researching this, on a journey back in time as an exercise in acknowledment that Portland and it surrounding areas are so new compared to most of the country. Portland was founded in 1845. The mission in San Franciso was formed in 1776, with an economy and influence that has only continued to grow to this very day.

I also want to highlight the rough edges that Portland has always seemed to have. This includes the people that lived and live there, and those that have always been attracted to it. It is no secret that the area is cloud covered a good part of the year. Many days are dark -- with clouds so thick that sunshine can barely penetrate. And the rain. It is not a deluge kind of thing. It is an everpresent kind of drizzle; so much that without realizing its even raining one can become drenched. Weeks and months of nonstop dark and dreariness always is punctuated with a day of bright sunshine, sunshine that causes all kinds of flora to glow in a type of unearthly glow. It is this juxtaposition I wish to highlight.

#2: Zheng He

A 45 year old Chinese national who has been involved with exporting opium since his dad started to teach him the trade when he could walk. We first meet the captain of the largest and most cut-throat opium importer as he is supervising the off-loading of an opium shipment south of Portland, where modern day Oaks Park would be. He will be a simple character until the shipwreck, when we see him at the end of his life. He may either act out in a final gush of cruelty or perhaps, he shows mercy on his captured slaves. Zheng He will work in tandem with the part-owner of the Mariners and Mounts, BattyFang Bobby to shanghai the strangers who come into the saloon looking for shelter.

#3: BattyFang Bobby

An 35 year old English man who jumped ship in San Francisco 20 years earlier and made his way to Portland to help bring in the onj hb pium after meeting Zeng He in the mean streets of San Francisco's China Town. Another fairly flat character, who never gets any opportunity for redemption. He will just go on and on drugging unsuspecting strangers and selling them to any ship's captain he can. His name comes from a low London phrase meaning to "thrash thoroughly," possibly from the French battre a fin -- he has spent more than his fair share of nights licking his wounds after triumphantly celebrating another bar fight where he was the only on walk away.

#4: Abraham B. Chalmington

A 25 year old New York native who is trying to make enough money in the wild west after struggling to make ends meet in New York City. His young daughter has respiratory problems that are being exacerbated by the industrial revolution and the associated air pollution. He is a good man, one not prone to excessive drink or smoking. Abraham first landed in San Francisco via the transcontinental railroad. While the gold rush was decidedly over at this point, there was still a lot of mining in the Sierras. However, there was not enough money to be made near enough to San Francisco to allow his family to comfortably move away from New York. Portland had the reputation at this time of being a boom town, with enough work near the growing burg to support a family in a town with some infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools.

A good man looking for a better life for his family, including ill daughter is lured into a night of drinking and female companionship only to be drugged and then placed into a cage and sold into seamen slavery. Then, when he is working in the belly of the Chinese frigate trying to row out to sea past the Columbia River Bar Crossing, the ship is overtaken by waves and the ship sinks. As mentioned earlier, I'm not sure whether Abe dies or not. I can see him sacrificing himself in order to save some of the other slaves, or perhaps the slavers themselves.

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