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Meet Smokey Box; advocate, bike tourer, piano player

Posted by on November 8th, 2007 at 3:39 pm

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Smokey Box
(Photos © Jonathan Maus)

The other day while riding down on the Esplanade near the Salmon Street parking lot, I noticed a man walking a peculiar bicycle and trailer set-up.

It was beach cruiser, with huge tires and massive ape-hanger bars, pulling an overstuffed cargo-trailer (tarp flapping in the wind) with a big, red ice-chest hanging from the rear.

At first I continued on my way, but something made me turn around. I’m glad I did.

I met the operator of this monstrous vehicle. He said he goes by “Smokey Box” and that he’s been living on the street since 1964.

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After we chatted for a while about his bike, Smokey proudly pulled out an old photo from his chest pocket (it took him awhile, he must have been wearing four jackets). He said, “Years ago, I rode this fifteen footer from Portland to DC and back.” The photo showed Smokey and a bike with an Xtracycle and a cargo trailer attached.

I asked about the ride. He said it took him three years and that he went to DC to, “Advocate for bike laws, it was sort of like that scene from Forrest Gump.” I didn’t really get all the details, but it must have been a big rally.

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Smokey couldn’t recall when he did that ride. The reason for his troubled memory might have something to do with a pin he wears on one of his many jackets.

The jacket was leather and the pin was of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. As he showed it to me he said something about being hit by a truck while riding it. “That was a bad weekend,” he said.

These days, Smokey told me he spends time playing piano for everyone at the Union Gospel Mission. He also likes to collect blankets from the Mission, load them up in his trailer, and deliver them to his friends sleeping on the streets around town.

The only problem he says (with a laugh) is that, “I end up passing out all the blankets, and I keep forgetting to keep one for myself.”

Before I continued on, Smokey noticed the sticker on my frame that says, “If you were riding, you’d be happy by now.” He laughed at the sticker and asked if I’d drop some by the Mission.

He also gave me his email address. I hope to keep in touch.

There are many people in Portland like Smokey Box. They live on the streets, using bikes to get around, haul stuff, provide shelter, and so on.

I plan to continue doing little snapshots of them in a series called, “Street Life”. To read my previous stories in this series, visit the Street Life page.

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Comments
  • Joe November 8, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    one word.. (WOW) year before i was born..

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  • Andrew November 8, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    I wish you would have caught Smokey Box with his Patriotic spandex. It is probably the greatest thing in the world. If you read this, I hope you\’re doing well, and that those handle bars I put on for you are as great as they look.

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  • Qwendolyn November 8, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Hey, great story.

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