First, they were thwarted by a global pandemic. Then, they had safety concerns. This weekend, for the first time since 2019, the Portland Polish Festival rematerialized in North Portland.

Once upon a time, I’d go and take photos, but mostly it was about the food. For me, that meant the Combination Plate: pierogi, kielbasa, bigos, and bread.

What I mostly thought about, though, while waiting today in a longish line for tokens and a long, folded back upon itself line for food, is how the event is a great example of how powerful is the innate peer pressure of conformity.

There were two moments in which I needed to remove one of my earplugs, and the sheer aural violence of the crowd and the loudspeakers from the stage was such that I cannot comprehend how in the world I ever attended without them.

It’s noisy, and populous, and close-quarter, and while it’s true, as I’ve mentioned before, that pre-diagnosis my photography hobby likely summoned up an autistic hyperfocus which served as a kind of protective bubble, it’s also true that pre-diagnosis I simply didn’t have any reason to think my experience was different than anyone else’s—and everyone else just sucked it up and dealt.

This doesn’t even reach the fact that it’s often also sunny and warm for the event, which would have added to the distress I didn’t recognize as unusual. This weekend, I picked the cooler day, and mostly stuck to the shade.

I waited for tokens, I waited for food, I sat down and ate my Combination Plate, and then I left. How I ever did more, I will never understand. Except I do now understand: you do what you see, even though it’s damaging you the entire time.

I thought this was just what everyone did
I thought this was just how everyone lived

—Metric, “Oh Please”