I’ve been asked to cobble together my thoughts on my trip to Portland, to give my impression on the city, the state, and its people. It’s taken me a while to digest and put it into words, because the city doesn’t exactly have a strong flavor. In my five days of taste-testing, there’s just no singular flavor note on the palate that I can mark down in my notebook.
If pressed to find something, it’s this: Portland is a city of abrasive contrasts. That’s the biggest takeaway I have.
From the lips, it’s warm and inviting; from the eyes, it’s paranoid of everyone it doesn’t recognize. The people there will smile and are friendly to the end of the transaction, but behind it is a distrust. You have to be there long enough, as a neighborhood resident, as a frequent customer, to be welcomed and embraced, to be pulled into a long conversation about nothing. Otherwise, you’re just some guy from the street. The homeless problem there is so bad, the housing situation is so exclusionary, that as a tourist, walking around with my black hoodie and black backpack, I felt the side glances, the silent judgments, from those wondering if I was a danger or if I was going to ask someone for weed or bus fare.
The city is caught up in the act of change, like a film scene of a man painfully turning into a werewolf. Once upon a time, it was a manufacturing and shipping town, but with the decline of those industries, Portland’s manual labor workforce is hungry and bored, and all the warehouses, grain silos, docks, railyards, are slowly being emptied out and taken over by land developers. That’s a universal story at this point, but it’s strongly marked there in Portland.
So you have all these areas that are decaying, oily, dirty, fenced off, disused, or otherwise vacated. Contrast that with the verdant beauty of the place; the constant humidity and frequent rainfall means the botanical landscape is always exploding with everything green and orange. It’s a fantastic place if you like forests, hills, mountains, streams, rivers. I wish I could’ve taken more pictures that captured just how beautiful the place is. But in the big middle of it all is this gentrifying grease pit of iron and brick.
I guess with all the paranoia, hope, helplessness, overcast skies, furious growth, middle-class delusions, and distrust in everyone and everything despite all evidence, the city of Portland is me. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that I have no desire to move there. It would consume me before I could ever take it all in. My life here in Austin is just as cold and distant as anywhere else I’ve ever lived, but at least Austin has warm days to help me ignore all that.
I could move there, I guess, but why? I dunno. That’s why my vacation there was more an expedition. I needed to know what it was about, and my five days there showed me, at least on the surface, what was there and gave me a peek at what was underneath. I could be completely wrong; I could find the greatest friends and the most wonderful loves of my life in that weird bond of shared meteorological and financial hardships, but I won’t know without enduring at least a year and a day in its city limits.
And that opens up an existential question that I should ask myself daily.