A month ago, I completed what I expect will be the pivotal moment in my post-divorce life: moving from Southern California’s High Desert to Portland, Oregon. By popular demand1, I have a few additional things to report about my first month as a new Portlander.
Just last week, a friend invited me to a spoken-word performance, where a running theme of the storytellers was “The moment I knew I was really in Portland.” I think that moment way well have arrived for me while writing this post. That is to say, I’m a little reluctant to share the good stuff going on here–and there’s a lot of it–not because I’m jealous and don’t want to share, but because I want things to stay as good as they seem to be right now.
So if you’re from out of town and are thinking about coming here, may I suggest that you begin by reading the captions on my photographs2 and skip ahead to the conclusion, so you can gather your information and make your decision expeditiously. Thanks in advance.
Environmental and Anthropological Concerns
I’ve not wanted for sunshine despite the legends of eternally dreary gray skies. Actual sunshine, not the misty stuff floating about under cover of clouds which we Portlanders ironically call “liquid sunshine.” Much of the time I like a long-sleeve shirt but often have found that a jacket or a sweater is too warm. But the umbrella has stayed indoors even on the rainy days. It’s a Portland Thing to not use an umbrella in the rain, and mine have stayed securely folded up and put away since my arrival. Your hoodie works just fine and it isn’t raining that hard.
And I am now smiling when I see a gorgeous cerulean dome overhead, and finding excuses to take long breaks from work to go out and walk in the afternoons. When I take my evening walk, I’m marveling at the palette of slow-changing colors rolling into the westside mountains that house our zoo, Franklin Park, and Forest Park.3 How Portland is it to play hooky from work to go worship the sun, fearing that one day soon, it will vanish for months at a time? Way Portland.
I’ve taken lots of public transit. Buses, streetcars, and light rail are just fine for getting around the city, much of the time. But I’ve found that timeliness is important: when I’ve been short on time or needed to see my new lady friend in Beaverton, it’s proven too taxing on time. My ridesharing bills were still higher in one month than a reasonable car payment, so I bought a Prius. Which is a Totally Portland sort of car to own. This not only lets me see my new lady friend with greater ease, but it also opens the door to exploration of the areas not within public transportation’s reach.
Nevertheless, I continue to walk or public transit to most places; a monthly pass for every transit vector in the metro area is $100, purchasable on a cell phone, and it’s easier than dealing with parking in a lot of neighborhoods. I don’t think I’ve driven through downtown or the adjacent Pearl District yet. So, having a personal car yet choosing to take public transportation feels like a Super-Portland sort of thing to do.
When discussing transportation, I’ve determined that unlike my former home region, Pacific Northwesterners eschew use of the definite article when referring to routes and highways. Back in L.A., a typical direction might be “Take the 5 down to the 605, and then get on the 405 south for a while and then take the 73 to get to Newport. See you at the beach.” But here, “I took 26 to the Coast.” Note the lack of any article, either definite or indefinite. Using the definite article to refer to something so mundane as a highway is a Not-Portland mannerism of speech.4
Delightfully, tater tots seem as popular as French fries.
As noted above, I’ve made a new lady friend; I sought some company on my recent birthday and pulled out a dating app. Unlike my experience back in the desert, the women I’ve interacted with on dating apps here in Portland are willing to have an in-person meeting after a minimal enough back-and-forth with the texting. I don’t know why it is that the women back in California seemed only to want texting buddies, but here, at least, the dating app facilitates actual dating. And not to seem shallow about looks, but I’m not blind, and I actually think the count of good-looking women here is higher than I found in Los Angeles. Maybe that comes from living a half hour’s walk away from a 5,000-student liberal arts college with a heartbreakingly beautiful campus and near a public university that has a higher enrollment than the University of Oregon thoroughly integrated into the city’s downtown and cultural life. The woman works at Nike, which is a Supremely Oregon kind of employer to have, and has already spotted me a friends and family discount pass to the Nike Store, a Thoroughly Portland sort of place to buy clothing. Though maybe not as Thoroughly Portland as Columbia.
Anyway, my new lady friend and I have enjoyed some fantastic dinner dates, and just took a trip out to the Coast this weekend5 where we explored Seaside and Tillamook and searched for wineries to get some of the state’s excellent Pinot Noir, the Totally Portland6 wine varietal which goes with red meat, makes room for poultry or fish, and is super OK with vegan dishes. I found, to my great pleasure, a nice Tempranillo at a winery not five minutes from Tillamook’s massive dairy food processing factory
Speaking of Tillamook, maybe another sign that I’ve quickly morphed into a Portlander is in my yogurt selection at the store. In California, I sniffed at other brands of yogurt and went straight for the pricier-but-better-than-the-competition brand Chobani. Here, I’ve quickly begun sniffing at other brands of yogurt, including Chobani, and go straight for the Tillamook, because it seems ridiculously fresh, intense in flavor, joyously locally-sourced, and as creamy and smooth as a skilled dance partner wearing a silk garment.7 How could Tillamook yogurt be more Classically Oregon? A signature location of bucolic Oregon is right there in the name.
I’ve noticed much more diversity than I’d been told would be here. It’s clearly majority-white here in the Pacific Northwest, but less so than some folks had led me to believe. Perhaps that’s the circle of people I’m associating with, but I see plenty of people of color on the bus, walking about running their errands, and otherwise living their lives. This has been a pleasant surprise. The LGBTQA community is a thoroughly integrated part of life here, seemingly unremarkable when I’ve met members of the community in my walking club or out to sample local craft beer.
I’ve yet to meet an out-of-the-closet Republican, though. I know there’s such folks out there in the Red! parts of the state to the east of the Cascades, but the truth is, most people I encounter seem pretty apolitical and acceptance of a generally left-leaning attitude towards government and life feels like an assumption, sort of like clean air. Of course, I’m also just getting to know people so it stands to reason politics is a topic to avoid early in a friendship.
I’ve gained five pounds over the past three weeks and need to reverse that course. But damn if there isn’t a cornucopia of fantastic consumables around! I’m within easy walking distance of at least two pods of food carts, a very Chic Portland sort of way to get lunch. I’m within walking distance of microbreweries and good restaurants and three high quality supermarkets. So I joined a walking club and have circumnavigated various routes around the Willamette River and the city’s signature bridges.
On a stroll through my neighborhood, I found the Lounge From 1968 (not its real name) where there’s dark wood paneling, classic cocktails, good pizza, dudes on barstools reading books to pass the time, and a cute, tattooed Goth server of indeterminate but obviously too young-for-me age, who is different from the cute, tattooed Goth server of indeterminate but obviously too young-for-me age working across the street at the sandwich-and-salad shop, which in turn is kitty-corner from the neighborhood cannabis dispensary which of course I shall of course never never patronize but is in all respects a quite ordinary local business.
And yes, the distinctive aroma of the quite-legal marijuana is a smell I frequently encounter.8 I’ve also found the eco-friendly brewpub and just a few blocks away is a strip club offering “gluten-free lap dances,” which has to be the Most Definitively Portland thing imaginable.
I’ve even found high-quality avocados for very close to the same price I paid for them in California. I fear this will not persist into the winter months, but the avocados are likely being imported from abroad at this point anyway, so perhaps my fears will prove unfounded. Time shall tell.
For some reason the previous owners of my condominium did not think to install light fixtures,9 so I’m having that done and it’s been a bit of a struggle to find an electrician who would promise to do the work before December. Note to self re business opportunities: there are not enough electricians in Portland.
I’ve set a small rug out next to a chair near my front door. This is sort of a secondary welcome mat for guests, so that they have somewhere to sit and take their shoes off when they come in. Never used to think about that when some dry sand was all I had to worry about — now, there’s every chance that someone coming to visit, or me coming home from one of my periodic walks, is going to track water and mud all over my nice 70-year-old hardwood floors.10 This is one of the most Portland things I can think of from the home economics perspective.
So now there’s an outer doormat and an inner doormat, and I wish to acquire some sort of a bench with a shoe rack built in for people to use as a convenience and to neatly store their shoes while visiting. I’ve considered bailing out of my law job to up my woodworking game and to acquire ironmongering skills so as to make handcrafted and beautiful versions of such things for sale, which seems like a Really Very Portland sort of daydream.
I’ve been to three live spoken word performances, one of which hosted and produced by Our Tod (here’s a plug for his next similar show, which I highly recommend). The third is actually going on the evening that this post is scheduled for publication, a live performance of my favorite podcast. How Portland is that? So Portland you probably can’t even stand it. I’ve wandered into art galleries and wineries, talking shop with the creators. I’ve walked, bussed, and light-railed across the Tilikum Crossing.
I’ve stumbled across gorgeous public rose gardens with gorgeous fountains while taking a walk after the game to sober up after being in what feels like the best Green Bay Packer bar west of the Mississippi River.
Fred Meyer is King ’round these parts. He is a combination of Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger’s, Ace Hardware, Best Buy, O’Reilly Auto Parts,and Cabela’s. Whatever you want, you can start with Fred. The Freddie’s that is just within walking distance of my place is a two-story affair on Hawthorne (a trendy main east-west thoroughfare) with a fantastic grocery store on the ground level and a better-than-Target quality housewares and other dry goods selection on the second story. It’s kind of a legacy of pioneer days, where all the prospectors didn’t make all that much money but the general goods merchants cleaned up. Where did all my money go after I moved here? I gave it to Fred, ask him. Spending all your money at Fred Meyer is a very common Portland experience indeed.
I’ve been told that there is a drought on. A drought? In Portland, “drought” means “Please maybe consider skipping a day or two watering your lawn.” Which is so! Cute! I came from California, so let me tell you what a drought is all about, Portlanders. Drought? There’s so much water here they just let hundreds of thousands of gallons of the stuff pour out to sea every damn minute.
Curb Appeal, Southeast Portland Style
A friend from the site is mildly irritated with me that I haven’t yet embraced the propensity of a lot of Portland homeowners to maintain yards that are, well, lumpy. I’m used to front lawns that have beautiful, even grass, and a lot of Portlanders seem to prefer a more variegated texture with a wide variety of plants.
I realize it’s a matter of taste and there is attractiveness and utility to all the native plants as opposed to grassy smooth lawns upon which one might practice golf, but that’s the thing: it’s a matter of taste. Mine may yet change, and probably will as I become Even More Portland than I already am, enough so that one day I shall embrace and cultivate my own edible-producing, lumpy front yard.
But then again, perhaps a compromise can be found, as illustrated here, to the right, which I do find attractive and maintains some trademark Portland lumpiness.
Lest You Think It Really Is Paradise
What’s bad? Well, getting an electrician, like I mentioned above. Between working and what feels like an immediately active social life, I still haven’t finished unpacking. Two denizens of our web page have already dropped by to visit and seen the chaos that is my new home, and I’d like to have them and others back for a housewarming. But between no light and not allocating sufficient time and effort to setting up shop, I’ve not been in a position to offer hospitality yet and to me, that feels like I’m not yet a complete person. I hope that will change soon; lights are due to be installed today, if the electrician shows up.
Ride-sharing got expensive and from time to time ride-sharing from the airport spikes to ridiculous costs. So let’s count paying too much for a Lyft from the airport as one of my peculiarly Portland inconveniences.
Sunset and sunrise are, at the moment, taking place at comfortable times, but I’m further up the Earth’s curve than I had been used to in California. Home-shopping in the summertime was exceptionally pleasant as twilight lasted until nearly nine in the evening (despite the mountains to the west) but I’m aware the price to pay for that in the upcoming winter will be a shortened day. Getting up and starting work before sunrise, and in the wintertime not finishing work until sunset or even later, is hardly a particularly Portland experience, though. It’s just something different from life in the more southern latitudes.
Oh, there are lots of spiders. If spiders creep you out, you probably don’t want to know about the two quarter-sized orange-and-black gals who were setting up seven-foot-wide webs every night across the bushes near my front door stoop. I tolerated them until I saw one of them left an egg sac and I found the husk of her mate’s carapace on the stoop below it. So that told me it was time to evict them. But now, some of their friends have moved in their place and I suspect spider patrol shall be an unending bit of maintenance I must incorporate into my life.
After one week of owning a car, and not having garaged parking, and using public transportation for intra-city (and planning-to-drink) trips, I took the vehicle out Saturday morning and found she11 needed a shower. Leaves from the overhead tree had fallen on the car and left stains of pollen and mud. When I took the car to a car wash the guy looked it over and said he was not sure even the mechanisms would get the job done. It worked out, but given my driving habits, I’ve decided to cover the car in a canvas wrap when I’m not using her. Which shall be inconvenient when I do want to use her again. But better that than a pollen stain becomes permanent on my brand new car’s namesake pearl finish. And it’ll keep the rain and mist off the glass, especially after I get to the canvas with about twenty dollar’s worth of scotchguard.
Most of the time, I can’t see our volcanoes. I know Mt. Hood stands sentinel of our south bank of the mighty Columbia, and her cousins Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens are also nearby and readily-visible on a clear day. But there are so many tall trees and buildings around that it’s often impossible to see them on even the clearest of days from within the city. There isn’t much air pollution but there is often haze that can obscure distance vision. But, on very clear days, the far-away outline of Mt. Ranier in Washington State and Mt. Jefferson towards the center of Oregon will peek over the horizon, but I will probably need to climb the peaks of the hills to the west of the city, or find a cleared area along the banks of the Columbia, to see them. This makes me sad; they inspire awe when I can see them.
And then there’s the taxes. My income tax withholding here is actually higher than it was in California. Making up for that is the lack of sales tax on basically anything.12 Registration for my car is ridiculously cheap. But yeah, my state income tax is more than it was in California. And were I to go north across the mighty Columbia and venture into Washington, I’d have a higher sales tax there than in California, as I understand it.13 But the fact is, I’ve not found cause to go to Washington just yet; I had a date with a woman from across the river, but she was quite happy to come meet me in the Pearl District for a drink. At this rate, I may well make it to the Town So Nice They Named It Twice for wine tourism before I go visit my immediate neighbors in Vancouver.
I don’t feel like I’ve done a good job here of deterring people from moving here and overcrowding our lifestyle. Maybe when I add in some pictures I’ve taken in my recent adventures…
Conclusion: Out-of-Towners Can Skip To Here
So, yeah! Anyway, thanks to the editors for giving me a chance to practice my, um, my utopian fantasy fiction writing. The reality is, it kind of, um, everything sucks. It rains all the time. Everything is expensive and no one has money and they’re all hipster douchebags. Massive evil spiders live by my front door waiting to eat neighborhood cats14, and annoying mountain jays constantly screech out my back door15. Uh, the internet only works part of the time. And the rent is too damn high16 and all there is to do at night is watch TV. Definitely no vibrant arts scene with everything from sidewalk chalk art to slam poetry to symphony orchestras to stylish architecture. So, sure, come on up and visit and I can show you the only two decent restaurants in town which are totally just Olive Garden and Applebee’s like you’ve got in your own hometown, and send you on your way back to leave me in my semi-monastic existence, slipping slowly into a gray fog of depression. Oh my god what have I done moving here stay away if you know what’s good for you.
I hear Bemidji, Minnesota is going to be the new hip happening place go check it out instead. Definitely do not come here.
- That is to say, “by editorial request.”
- All photographs on this post were taken by me, with my cell phone.
- Which, in my opinion, are as much “mountains” as the Hollywood Hills were in Los Angeles, as they seem similarly not-very-high, but quite rugged.
- However, it is still “soda” here, and not “pop.” And mostly you get a “submarine” or sometimes a “hoagie” and not so much a “hero” or a “grinder.”
- In California, one goes to the “Beach.” In Oregon, one goes to the “Coast.”
- My lady friend tried to claim “totally” as a logism particular to the area, but ignoring good sense, I disabused her of this claim.
- Note to the marketing department of the Tillamook Dairy Cooperative, I am willing to accept cash or product in exchange for further endorsements. That one’s a gimme.
- It’s an aroma I continue to find mildly unpleasant; if I were to patronize a dispensary which I’m not saying I would do I would prefer an edible product like those delicious pomegranate-flavored gummies with balanced distributions of THC and CBC for a smooth, mellow high but of course I would not actually do such a thing and if you’re a Federal law enforcement authority or a prospective employer please consider that a purely hypothetical sort of musing.
- I presume they or their tenants used lamps.
- Yeah, that’s right, I’m bragging about my 70-year-old hardwood floors. That’s called “pride of ownership” the real estate biz, yo.
- I name my cars, this one has a female name due to the pleasant and moderately seductive voice given to the onboard computer by my friends from Japan.
- There was a small tax on my car called a “luxury fee” or something like that but I know a sales tax when I see one.
- But no income tax were I to move there.
- Seriously, there really are big orange spiders, like, everywhere, but come on they’re just spiders.
- Yeah, this happens sometimes too.
- The shame of the city truly is its pervasive and persistent homeless problem.