My girlfriend and I have been particularly bitter about Portland since coming back from Seattle. Though we were there for just over two days, we had dozens of little interactions with the locals, topics ranging from the weather to the imminent retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. (As it worked out, we got to see his last professional at-bat on Monday night. What an honor!)
Am I saying Seattle (and other places) are better than Portland because of a little small talk? Yes! I am! I’ve finally realized Portland is like every DMV, where there’s always a quiet tension, as if the first person to speak might get capped. Portland is anti- many things, including antisocial.
We’ve lived here just over 300 days, so it’s a safe bet we’ve been to the grocery store across the street a good 350 times. I can name you some of the cashiers we see on a daily basis: Dina, Laura, John, Emily. I’m convinced that anywhere else in the country, we might’ve engaged in a conversation or two with these people we see literally every single day. The only acknowledgement we’ve got, however, is from Francisco, the man with the Charlie Chaplin mustache who no longer makes us show our IDs when buying beer.
This is about community. We’re unhappy in Portland because we haven’t been able to build ourselves a community. We’ve met a few people here and there, but to find any sense of belonging anywhere, there needs to be cast of characters with whom you are engaged and dependent on making you feel a part of the world. Portland, even with 300,000-plus people, feels is so isolated, so insular.
I’m literally saying we’d like it here a lot more if the guy ringing up our groceries would ask us about our weekend. It’s simple things like that — interacting with total strangers, but fellow humans, fellow Portlanders — that truly make you feel a part of a place. We’ve felt like tourists now for the past 10 months.
We’re 50 days away from boarding up and shipping out. We think we’ve found a place in Northeastern Minneapolis. Among the things I look forward to are the little conversations with total strangers about the weather, Minnesota pro sports or something else totally random and inconsequential. I had bartended for two years before we moved and thought I’d had my fill of arbitrary conversation. Now, it’s something I long for. Now I get it. Now I see why it matters.
I wish Portland felt the same.