On My Last Day Living in Portland

This is an arbitrary picture of Minneapolis. Because I'm moving to Minneapolis.

Today’s my last day living in Portland. My girlfriend and I push off tomorrow around 6 a.m.

A friend recently asked, “When you leave Portland, will you wave goodbye or give it the middle finger?”

Good thing I’ve got two hands.

Around spring last year, I began to romanticize Portland as place where I might be inspired. It seemed like a good thing to say about moving to a new place. We all want inspiration, I suppose. My mistake was assuming it came from a place.

I left home.

“Home” was a rather vague notion until around January, when my girlfriend and I returned to Portland after spending the holidays with friends and family. I remember feeling this intense emptiness when we made it back to our apartment. It was pretty obvious at that point we needed to leave Portland.

I’ve never lived in Minneapolis. I’ve been there several dozen times. I remember being a kid and going to Twins games with my family. I would spend the night before fighting off sleep by thinking about the tall buildings, the chance of seeing a Twin or Viking on the street, the rush of a big city. Since then, I’ve been to nearly every major city in the country, even took the time to live in one, and when that emptiness hit in January, it seemed Minneapolis was the most logical place for us to go. A place we could make our home.

Minneapolis puts us within a four-hour drive of the homes Beth and I grew up in. It puts us within a hour-and-a-half of our college town, where we first met and started dating. Most of our friends live in South Dakota and Minnesota. As places go, that’s all we could ask for.

I don’t expect Minneapolis to inspire me. In the past 11 months, I learned places can’t inspire me like people do.

I know myself well enough to know I won’t be emotional today during my last day of work or tomorrow, when we hit I-84 East. I don’t respond to these things emotionally. A little while back, my company gave us a personality test. I learned I was a “green” – someone who’s analytical above all else. I imagine I’ll spend more time the next few days thinking about what the past 11 months meant. Do they deserve a middle finger or a wave goodbye?

We’re moving to a great place nearby great friends in a great city and I’ve got a great internship waiting for me on the other hand. Minneapolis couldn’t be more inviting. Portland was accomodating, but I never took my shoes off and allowed myself to get comfortable. That’s my fault. But you know what? It’s the best mistake I’ve ever made.

At least now I know what home is.

A Few Things I’ll Miss About Portland

I’ve used this blog to rather bluntly portray my sordid relationship with the City of Portland, but the past week or so has really softened me up to its redeeming qualities. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, right?

When we put PDX in our rearview next Friday, I imagine these are the things I will miss most:

The Coffee

Seattle gets all the attention — founding Starbucks will do that — but Portland is no schlub in the category of quality java. Stumptown is king once you get past the hipster baristas and painfully simple menu. (Think you hate all the options at Starbucks? Trust me — you’d feel confined ordering off Stumptown’s menu.) I became a big fan of City Coffee, which offered free refills on drip. In Portland, you’re never forced to go more than a block or two to get a good cup of joe.

Powell’s City of Books

I don’t mean to turn my nose up at Barnes & Noble — where I’m still a member — but this particular bookstore eight blocks from our apartment boasts over one million books, making it the world’s largest independent bookstore. I don’t remember once going there and not finding the title I was looking for. Plus, it’s a haven for collectors. There’s regular author appearances, and afterward, the store sells signed copies of books without additional mark-up. (I was able to score Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed recently for just $22. Boom!)

TriMet

True, I can’t wait to get back to driving to work. However, Portland maintains one of the smartest public transportation systems in the country and you can get just about anywhere in town on the cheap. I could’ve gotten by without my car here. Damn you, three-year lease.

Fat Kid Weather

That’s what my good friend Joel calls mild weather. (He’s a 305-pound strength athlete.) I look forward to sunshine and blazing hot summer days, don’t get me wrong. But I sweat. A lot. And here, I’ve been able to wear corduroys and button-ups while biking to work without looking like Evander Holyfield after eight rounds. I’m sure I’ll lament Portland winters when it’s (-23) in Minneapolis and the whole city has frozen through.

Varying Topography

A native of flat-ass South Dakota, I’ve appreciated the Cascade Mountains on the horizon. Just yesterday, Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens were all visible from my eighth-story office window. We never took the time to go skiing or snowboarding, but in Portland, you always feel like you live just off the border of a Bob Ross painting. (So many friendly little trees.)

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Yeah, the list could go on, but it’s not next Friday yet. And Portland is still so Portland.

A Moving Experience: Surviving Craigslist

The Net instilled in me a healthy sense of paranoia when it comes to meeting and selling to strangers on the Internet. Also, this flick should've gotten Sandra an Oscar.

My girlfriend and I sold our first items on Craigslist yesterday. For $70, a woman named Fayth and her partner purchased our pub table and two high back stools. That’s not even the good news, though.

Beth was conveniently at work, so I was left alone to carry out the transaction. The good news is I wasn’t brutally murdered.

After all the luck I had last week, I was about due for something to go terribly wrong. Through a series of e-mails Monday morning, it was decided this Fayth — her name, ironic, considering my lack thereof  — would purchase our table and stools and not leave me bloodied on the floor of my apartment. (The latter detail wasn’t actually discussed.)

I spent most of the day anxious, planning every detail of our transaction so I wouldn’t be left vulnerable. (Thanks, The Wire.) I would hide my computer, my iPod, my Flip Ultra HD, wallet, iPhone and so forth. I would not allow anyone in our apartment left unattended. I would get the cash first, check for signs of counterfeiting and insist the transaction take place in the middle of our high-traffic neighborhood. I would wear my running shoes and bring a whistle, in case Fayth and her cronie(s) somehow made off with my furniture without paying.

None of this planning was necessary, of course. Everything went fine. They never even entered our apartment building. They offered the cash right away. They were downright pleasant, and not homicidal maniacs in need of a table set.

You’ve heard stories. Hell, you’ve been on Craigslist. You know how people can be given the cloak of anonymity. Craigslist takes us back to the paranoid mid-1990s, the early days of the Internet’s everyday usage , where in movies like The Net, we learned any fragment of personal information can put you in grave danger where your only defense is Dennis Miller and his needlessly obscure jokes:

The table and stools were small pot. We’re upping the ante today by selling a white sofa. This bad boy, priced to move at $225, has received several shady inquiries involving international money orders, personal checks that “may not clear until next Monday,” as one potential customer put it, and a few other off-the-wall requests requiring unnecessary personal information. Here’s my favorite inquiry yet:

We politely declined his offer. (Lovely name, by the way. Apparently his parents were typos.)

At 7 p.m. tonight, we’ve got someone serious about viewing the couch. Although yesterday went fine, I’m waiting for Beth to get home before carrying out this transaction. I’ll insist she have 911 up on her phone so all she has to do is hit send. In this economy, you never know what people will do for an uncomfortable IKEA loveseat.

Portland: City of Antisocialites

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.

Seattle in Summary

After a few days of rain, the Seattle skies went blue and the Safeco Field retractable roof was left open. Pure baseball bliss.

While most of you poor saps are back to work today after  Memorial Day Weekend, my girlfriend and I have taken an extra day off work to recover from hosting our two good friends who visited from Minneapolis. We’re splayed out in our Seattle hotel room, trying to muster the energy to drive three hours back to Portland.

In reality, we don’t want to leave.

Seattle is everything I hoped it would be. It’s like a Portland that grew up, took a shower and got a job. The architecture is jaw-dropping, the food is achingly good and the people are absolutely some of the warmest you’ll ever meet. As cities go, I’ve got a massive crush on Seattle. And I won’t even get into the coffee.

Here’s one thing that needs to be known about Seattle: Safeco Field is an absolute gem. Now, granted, I spent most of my childhood watching the Minnesota Twins play in a big silo, I’ve seen games at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Camden Yards in Baltimore and Rosemblatt Stadium in Omaha for the College World Series. Trust me — Safeco Field is one of the most intimate ballparks you’ll ever visit. Plus, the fans – faithful to their 19-31 Seattle Mariners — are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met in any sport. Period.

My girlfriend and our friends each wore Minnesota Twins gear, and even while the Twins won 5-4, there was nary a playful poke from a Mariners fan. No heckling at all. We sat near a Mariners fan who acted like an ambassador to the stadium, pointing us in the direction of the best concession stands, speaking to random Safeco Field trivia. I can’t say enough how great it is to have fans who respect the game and experience for fans of both sides.

Before I cut this blubbering blog post short, leaving out our experience on the Space Needle and our ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, I must admit I went to the original Starbucks nearby Pike Place Market. Now I can die happily. It wasn’t an entirely unique Starbucks experience. (Imagine the typical 7:45 a.m. line, take away the seating, and throw in a few dozen tourists walking aimlessly.) It’s amazing to think the world’s biggest coffee brand came from such humble beginnings.

Back to life, back to reality. We’ll take the I-5 South, begrudgingly, back to Portland and kick off our two-month homestretch until we move back to the motherland. Here’s hoping Minneapolis is something like Seattle.

Urban Agriculture Taking Off in Portland

Whether a result of the recession, increased awareness around food ethics or old fashioned environmentalism, urban agriculture is taking off across the country. That’s evident in Portland, Ore., where I’ve met several people who have taken their backyard operations to a new level.

The idea is simple: If you don’t like how food is being produced, produce it yourself. This has led many to cultivate gardens and raise farm animals in the least likely of places — urban backyards and rooftops.

I interviewed my friend, Josh Leake, who decided to construct a chicken coop just about a month ago. He’s built what some have called the best chicken coop in Portland. None of his chickens — he’s got nine of them — have matured enough to lay their first eggs, but in waiting, he’s become something of a hobby farmer.

A cool (and very urban) side note: Josh has a webcam set up inside his coop and you can view it at portlandchicken.com. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to “live feed,” doesn’t it?

How Cities Are Getting Smarter

Portland Mayor Sam Adams believes his city will endure economic realities and environmental demands in the future with 20-minute neighborhoods.

You’ve seen those IBM commercials where a dozen experts or so from around the world speak of a “smarter city,” right? Maybe it speaks to my nerdiness, but I love those commercials because I love the idea of technology that can streamline the function and bundle the  infrastructure of the cities we live in.

Portland, Ore. is becoming an example of said smarter city. This month’s issue of The Atlantic features a fascinating interview with Mayor Sam Adams about the growing number of 20-minute neighborhoods in PDX. Lisa Camner defines these neighborhoods as, “One in which residents can walk or bike to places and services people visit on a daily basis: transit, shopping, quality food, school, parks, and entertainment. In the jargon of real estate development, these neighborhoods are “mixed use” because they provide diverse activities — living, shopping, working — in close proximity to one another.”

Eleven percent of Portland is made up of 20-minute neighborhoods. Ours is one. My girlfriend and I live across the street from a large grocery store, a block from a city park, three blocks from metro transit, and you’ll find some of the best restaurants and locally owned boutiques up and down 23rd Avenue, just five blocks away. There’s a sports stadium featuring minor league baseball and soccer just down the road, and to top it off, plenty of job opportunities, too. Our neighborhood — the Alphabet District — is like in island within a city. The only difference is we require no imports.

As my girlfriend said after I read her this article, “If I could work across the street, we’d never leave the neighborhood.” (She works for the same grocery store chain, only about 9 miles east of our apartment.)

Mayor Adams points on the 20-minute neighborhood is about more than just convenience, but also environmentalism and economy:

“For the city, the benefits are multiple. We’ll more readily meet our climate change goals because there will be less driving. On the individual side, households save energy costs and fuel. And, people who are walking and biking are going to be more fit. People healthier and insurance premiums go down. There’s less pollution. CEOs for Cities did a study and we already drive 20% less than comparably sized cities. We don’t have car companies here, we don’t have oil wells here, we don’t have car insurance companies here, so every dollar we don’t spend on something we don’t produce here is a dollar that stays in the economy. For us, based on 2005 figures, that’s about $800 million that stays in Portlanders’ pockets.”

How is this different from the suburbs? It’s all about location. On average, suburban commuters spend 24 percent of their annual income on transportation expenses, compared to just 16 percent for urban residents. Suburbs can maintain a similar autonomy, but the reality is 50 percent of Americans now live in U.S. cities, not just outside of.

Think about where you live, especially if you live in a major city. Could you get all of your needs met within a 20-minute walk or bike ride?