If anyone was to ask me where I’m from, I’m immediately proud to say “New Jersey.” Several times in my life, when people first meet me and ask where I’m from, they tend to assume England for some reason. I’ve never been able to explain why except for the joke response that when I was little my parents let me watch a lot of Monty Python and that I tend to be very polite. Dropping a few F-Bombs seems to clear it up though:
“Oh, I thought you were from England or something.”
“The fuck made you think that?”
“Okay, THERE’S the New Jersey, I hear it now.”
… Thanks, Sopranos.
Of course, I don’t live in Jersey right now. For the last six years, I’ve been happy to live in Portland, Oregon. Maybe you’ve seen it on TV or heard about it from your hipster friends. You might even have some ideas about what life here is like from the news of the last few years. Words like “war zone” and “anarchist jurisdiction” were thrown around a lot. For the rest of my life, I will remember riding in a bus around Walt Disney World in March of 2019. Sitting across from Emily and I was an elderly couple, and we started talking about what every tourist at Disney does after the heat, food, and bugs:
“So where are you visiting from?”
“Portland Oregon! Yourselves?”
The old man visibly bristled and scoffed- “Oh yeah, I hear that’s a great place to live.”
“Oh it is! Beautiful nature, amazing food and beer- you should visit sometime!”
I have never seen a man deflate so fast. Pro-tip: if someone’s looking for an argument, the easiest way to win is not to play. That said, when my little sister and her partner came to visit a few weeks ago, they expressed interest in seeing my Portland. Not the hellscape creatively described on Fox News or the goofy version on Portlandia. They wanted the Portland that a local loves/hates. A few years ago, I wrote a little post for people that wanted to move out here. Consider this a more-experienced addendum, and a helpful guide for anyone who wants to visit but is afraid of running afoul of roving bands of Nazis and/or anarchists.
- Portland is the biggest little town in the nation. I live in the Southeast quarter of Portland (by which I mean the city itself.) Most of my life happens in and around the various neighborhoods of the Southeast, and I rarely have need to go elsewhere unless I’m invited or deliberately exploring- kind of like how someone can live in New York but never really visit Queens or the Bronx. After six years, I have not tried every bar and restaurant in my “little” corner of the city, and it’s likely I will run out of stomach and liver before I do. The thought alone is laughable- I can only wonder if Jonathan Gold tried every plate in LA before he died. Don’t stress if you don’t get to see every good thing in Portland in one visit. I still haven’t in six years.
That isn’t to say exploring is difficult in Portland. Last week, a friend invited me to their birthday party at an irish bar in another quarter of the city, T.C. O’Learys. Taking public transit would have been a 50 minute trip with connections. Driving or biking would have been nearly the same time of 30 minutes, but with my bike I wouldn’t have to look/pay for parking. The city is absolutely designed to make cycling around as easy a commute as driving, if not easier.
Is it safe to bike through Portland in the middle of the night with two beers and two whiskeys in my system though? Hills are challenging, but it’s actually very quiet, soothing, and somewhat sobering.
- Homelessness is a problem in Portland. That’s not surprising given how the “Keep Portland Weird”/ Portlandia image has contributed to gentrification and tourism. As property values rise, people with limited income- especially those who are unable to work due to disability or mental problems- get priced out of their homes. Consequently, tent cities are a semi-common sight. In a place like Portland where camping and hiking are so popular, a used or even small new tent can be had for as little as $20, which is considerably more private, reliable, and secure than braving hostile architecture to sleep on a bench or doorway. Portland may have a reputation for being a fun city, but it’s still a city with all the troubles and concerns that come with it.
Lately, Mayor Ted Wheeler has made vagrancy and vandalism his crusades of choice are receiving bipartisan rage over the unrest of last year. That’s also not surprising since his biggest supporters are the business owners of downtown, but it still reeks of covering up symptoms of a problem rather than investing in treating the causes. Sending police officers to move along people with nowhere else to go is not a good look. Speaking of downtown though…
- Downtown is to Portland as Manhattan is to New York. It’s where tourists flock for lack of local knowledge. It’s the most urbane, has the most shopping, the most condensed dining, and is also one of the most expensive places in the city to live. There is plenty to see and do downtown- as long as people are there and things are open. Otherwise, it’s another crowded, noisy, not-as-grubby-as-other-cities-but-still urban neighborhood. Typically, the farther you get from downtown– toward the Pearl or the Cultural/ University Districts, the more interesting and quiet the city gets. It’s almost the most visible part of the city, so that’s why protests/counter-protests happen there. It’s also where visiting Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacy groups march to look for extremely public trouble. It’s practically a rite of passage for them- “march into Portland, get into a scrape with some libs, brag to your friends later over shitty beer.”
Right now, the downtown business owners are fond of citing the protests (which are no longer violent/sexy enough to be belabored on the news) and vandalism for poor business. What conveniently goes unspoken is that there is nothing to do in downtown if you don’t want to eat or shop– and seeing as we have just emerged from a pandemic where people stayed home, lost their jobs, and/or had to learn to live frugally, the fact that downtown hasn’t bounced back as quickly as cheaper, more residential, more fun neighborhoods has a bit more to do with it than some crowds and spray paint.
If you are walking through downtown and worried about getting waylaid by roving bands of “anteefuh” or hobos, don’t be. Worry more about paying too much for a mediocre cheeseburger or donut when you could have gotten better for less in a shop off the beaten path, off the tour bus route. They lately decided the lot that was home to the biggest food pod in the city would be better used as another chain hotel, so the locals eat elsewhere- where they can afford it.
- Portland is a great homebase, but there’s plenty more to see.
Yesterday, my wife and I decided to meet some friends in Newport on the Oregon Coast. It was a two and a half hour drive each way and my wife was hesitant, but I reminded her that we both keep moaning about wanting to get out of the city. That means going somewhere, and that means travel.
The trip went quickly enough (thanks to podcasts and Hamilton,) and the payoff was beyond worth it. The beach was lovely, the Oregon Coast Aquarium was short but fun, and it was desperately needed for a couple of sand and salt air-starved Jersey kids.
I am very happy to live in Portland, even 5 years after the culture shock has worn off, but don’t forget to go out and see what else the state has to offer. There’s more to life than good food and beer, you know.
Not too much more, but it’s definitely worth checking out anyway.