I have been to Portland, and I am awed.
In pursuit of employment as an English college instructor, I traveled to Portland for a week to get the lay of the land.
And I must say that it is truly awesome.
For one thing, people are really, really nice in Portland. I've lived in L.A. since 1990 and while I've managed to sustain myself, at least intellectually, I haven't managed to sustain my employment on a continuous basis. L.A. is a vast sprawling metropolis, really a whole galaxy of cities with several hubs--one of coolness (the industry, rock and roll, Lemmy of Motorhead lives here and is an incredibly genteel person), one of city government (our mayor is doing a pretty damn good job, actually), and one devoted exclusively to crime (gangstas, who come in many unexpected flavors; as unepexted as the ganga-puffing ex-stripper former English teacher turned editor/anthologist of what is soon to be the most sensational book in town). Anyway, I'm just saying that while L.A. is a hot place to live in many respects, it's also a cruel town.
Whereas Portland is a friendly town.
I'd barely stepped off the plane to pick up a rental car my dad and I were driving to check out possible homes, when I first encountered the Typical Portlander; actually, two of them, both male. These were the coolest guys you could ever possibly hope to meet, and would rarely if you lived in L.A., unless you traveled with a very hip and exclusive circle, as I sometimes do.
The Typical Portlander closely resembles my memories of being a Slacker Generation kid at U.C. Davis in the late 80s and listening to lots of cool new music. There's a kind of intensity there, an intensity that looks so innocent in retrospect. The kind where you're just at the point in your life when you've discovered the magical powers of literature and want to share this potion with everybody and anybody. I remember being 21 and feeling this way.
Portland has at least two major aspects, at least from the superficial slice of observation that may be garnered in five days. But these two aspects are so ubiquitous that you soon realize that they form a consistent pattern.
The first thing, besides the friendliness and intensity mentioned above, that I discovered was a free-floating mellow attitude; there was a sense that here one might easily nab a position teaching college English while working part-time at Powell's Books. Unlike uptight cities like L.A. where we don't really have trees, Portland abounds with cool spirits and wilderness that dots the city like punctuation marks.
This I love: as bruited in the very funny Lorne Michaels show Portlandia, Portland is indeed a place where they don't frown on you if you don't really have a full-time gig or even a vague sense of direction in life. In Portland, these are considered good things.
In Portland, people ride in Zipcars, which are cars that may be rented on a daily basis by anybody willing to pay a nominal monthly fee and an hourly rate to have access to a car. If you ride in a Zipcar, you can run as many red lights as you feel like and you won't be busted...after all, you could be any one of 500 people who've used the car that month.
In Portland, there are many steep cliffs. This makes it difficult to maintain a comprehensible street plan.
In Portland, there are many dead ends and muddy roads.
In Portland, they are ferociously galvanized on behalf of TREES.
In Portland, a child molestor would probably get by easier than a TREE ABUSER.
In Portland, there is no sales tax. I bought a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes for $4.20. Imagine that. 68 fewer cents than I pay in Torrance.
Do I like the fact that there are a million colleges and universities in Portland? Do I like the fact that there's a bookstore so vast it fills an entire city block? Do I like the fact that graduates of the prestigious private university, Reed, can still work part-time as clerks at Powell's books without losing any social status whatsoever?
You'd better believe it.