Portland is in the middle of an identity crisis. It has been promoted as this magical place where anything can happen and where people can keep it weird. For decades, Portland has been billing itself as an environmentally conscious city where it’s cool to be green, and so Portland has become the Mecca for anyone who wants to be seen as green, even if they’re not. These dreamers hear how great the public transportation system is, and that there are buses and trains and trolleys that can get you almost anywhere. These dreamers hear how Portland has it figured out, because everything gets recycled, there is even city-wide composting. These dreamers hear how Portland is so bike-friendly — there are bike lanes everywhere. These ideas are appealing to those who like the idea of making a difference, and for dreamers who want to help save the world, and so they move here with their cars and then complain about the traffic.
Beyond the branding, though, there is something magical about Portland. Whatever people come to find here, they can find it.
If Portland likes you, it will let you know. It will take you in with open arms, and you will be all you ever wanted to be.
On the other hand, if Portland doesn't like you, it'll let you know.
As one, sad rider put it, "Portland will chew you up and spit you out."
I came to Portland without ever seeing it. I packed up all of my things and moved here with a 5 part plan: I wanted to find a place to live, to find work, to finish my degree, to meet someone significant, and then to move to Vancouver, B.C. Within a month of moving here, I had an apartment downtown for $390/mo. It was seven blocks from my new job at an art college where I could finish my art degree for free. While at that college, I met my wife. Her family is generations deep in Portland, and we're not moving anywhere. I never got to that last part of my plan, but hey, 4 out of 5 ain't bad.
I almost always ask my riders, "Are you from Portland?"
Probably a good three out of four riders say, "No, I'm from California," and probably three out of four of those are "from the Bay area."
An animosity towards these recent transplants from California is growing, too. Most of the the complainers seem to be recent transplants from the Midwest. They complain about all of these Californians moving up here and raising prices. Personally, I don't care if people move here. I figure everyone is from somewhere. The complainers must be fairly vocal, though, because so many of my riders say, "I'm from California... but I'm not one of 'those' Californians'." It's funny they say that. How would they know? They don't know that my apartment downtown that was $390 in 2004 is now almost $2000, and instead of looking up into the mist-shrouded trees of Goose Hollow, the apartment windows now open onto the skyscraper that was built in the old parking lot. Anyone who moves here and pays more than the going rate for property is part of the problem. By definition, they are the actual problem. They move here with their car(s), and they then complain about the traffic. I had a rider -- a recent transplant from California -- complaining about the traffic one morning, and I had to explain that this city is designed to run on TriMet, skateboards, and bikes. In front of my old apartment, 12th Avenue used to have a "skateboard lane". It didn't have a bike lane, but it had a skateboard lane. Anyone who moves here with a car is part of the problem and if they also happen to be from California, then they are indeed "one of those Californians."
I have met people from the bay area who've moved up here to Portland, and they still commute to SF to work! Some telecommute, but others fly up here every weekend! For them, it's cheaper to live in PDX and to commute to SF than it is to live and work in SF. Those are the people skewing the local economy, for sure.
It is ironic that everyone is complaining about Californians. I grew up in Colorado, and in the 80's the housing boom started in Denver. At that time, everyone in Colorado was complaining about Californians moving out to buy cheap land. House prices went up, property taxes went up, traffic increased, and my parents got fed up. Just as anti-Californian bumper stickers were starting to make an appearance "Keep Colorado clean - send a Californian home on a bus." My parents moved to Kansas. Twenty years later, I moved to Portland only to hear people complaining about those Californians. Portland is changing, but change is natural. The key is to keep the magic. Keep Portland weird. Really.
I dreamed of Portland long before I moved here. A couple of my riders have had the exact experience. We dreamed of Portland before we ever saw it or knew anything about it. In my dreams, I wandered Burnside, crossed the Fremont Bridge into NW, and tooled around the dirt roads of the Mt Hood Wilderness Area. After moving here, I saw the sights from my dream. While wandering the streets of Portland, I have randomly encountered a dozen people I knew from other parts of the country and from other times of my life.
Back in the day, I used to have coffee at a place called the Paradise Cafe, in Lawrence, KS. Every Sunday, I would meet my friend there. We would drink coffee and shoot the shit. After I moved to Portland, I invited this same friend, Scott, out to visit. Since I was living at 12th and Burnside and it was around three in the morning, we dropped in to Roxy's. They were definitely the only thing open in those days. Scott and I sat down to grab some coffee, and guess who walked up to take our order?
The same waitress who used to work at the Paradise Cafe!
She walked up with her pencil and pad at first, smiling a friendly smile, but when she registered our faces, it was like she was knocked back a little.
It was so surreal.
The three of us were playing such familiar roles but in a totally foreign time and place.
I've had several experiences like that in the 13 years I have lived here.
In the words of Snoop Doggy Dogg, "That types of shit happens everyday."
Like I said, Portland is magical.