That would be the bellowing lamentation of a man I have come to call “Grizzly Adams,” a flannel-draped young preacher with a bushy beard who expresses his disdain for abortion with the ear-piercing volume of a carnival barker. He’s one of the regulars. Not only does he see demons, but he claims to have the skills necessary to exorcize them back to the fiery pit. He once told me he was a fan of those Underworld movies. You know, the ones about werewolves and vampires battling for supremacy among the undead? Makes sense.
I call his wife “Axl.” In keeping with their religious beliefs—which require women to cover their hair lest they tempt the angels (Seriously. I asked.)—she wears a black bandanna wrapped tightly around her head.
There are others: “Aryan Force One” and his wife, who has given birth to a basketball team’s worth of blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls who all forsake Saturday cartoons for the cause. And, nearby, “Satchmo,” a mustached man who sometimes plays Taps on his trumpet, and his preteen son, whom I’ve dubbed Chris Hansen, Jr, after the TV host of To Catch a Predator, a show for which we both share a secret love.
The rest of the posse spends its shift in various states of reverence: clutching rosaries, circled together in prayer, muttering silently from the Good Book.
And then there’s my “team.” Our unflattering orange vests announce us in stenciled letters as Pro-Choice Escorts. But to the protesters, we’re known as “Death’scorts.”
Like the pro-lifers, we are not without our more colorful members. Our fearless leader, Sara, spends her entire shift covered head-to-toe in heavy-duty rain gear, even when it’s 90 degrees outside. And Richard, who, in his sixties, is the oldest Death’scort, outfits his tiny white fluff ball of a dog in a custom-made escort vest.
Strictly speaking, our job is to keep the peace. Other than the caution “Don’t throw any punches,” we receive no formal training from the clinic. Mostly, we operate on knee-jerk spasms of common sense: Keep the streets clear, make sure the sidewalks remain unclogged and guide patients through the gauntlet of billboards and camcorders, making extra sure their boyfriends don’t attack anybody. We talk to the protesters—a shared loathing of subpar bagels is a favorite topic—but we don’t engage them on the issue. If ever my doctor alerts me to a stress tumor blooming in my skull, I will blame it on these long mornings of intense tongue-biting.
This being Portland, though, we’re buoyed by the support of the motorized contingent: favorable honks from passing Beemers, the doffing of an automated convertible top from a Mercedes, props from the driver of a Porsche.