What a perfect Saturday in Portland.
Unseasonal sunshine was filtering down through gorgeous red and yellow leaves still clinging onto the trees for dear life. The cool air was cleaner than expected, with a sweet scent of wet grass and rotting leaves. It was a perfect day on the West coast and I was determined to see as much of it as possible.
Prior to the big Bootsnall party (my primary mission for being in Portland) we decided to hit the streets and walk. and walk. and walk. We covered easily more than 10 miles – which I would find out later was a light day of walking.
Owning a car here is pretty much optional. Between the excellent bus and train systems and your own two feet, you can get around exceptionally well. If you have to drive occasionally, you can even use the Zip cars which allow you to grab a car (gas paid) for about $8.00 an hour, the same way some cities offer yellow bikes which are shared and returned to stations. Amazing.
Portland is a big city carved into neighborhoods such as “northeast” and “northwest”. Gorgeous bridges separate these neighborhoods from downtown and I spent a lot of time near the river on these bridges. Neighborhoods are filled with old, well architected homes splashed with different colors. I love it and it reminds me a lot of Appleton, Wisconsin. The terrain is so hilly here that you can see all the way downtown from our neighborhood perched higher in the Northeast.
Portland becomes rural very quickly, and offers great (and close) access to some amazing outdoor areas including the snow covered Mt. Hood – which we were able to see looming in the distance on this clear day. I felt the familiar tug in my chest when seeing a mountain like that. I wanted to get close to it, touch it….climb it.
There seems to be a coffee shop or microbrewery on every corner. There are enough ethnic restaurants to eat a different country every night for months – and I plan to hit as many as possible!
Although the city is a good size, you see a lot of the same people out while walking making it easy to meet new friends and recognize people. Unfortunately to me, a lot of these people look the same and seem to match the Portlandia stereotype I had in my head before arriving. Earth tones, organic, full beards, knit hats and scarves, messenger bags dotted with political flair, and square black rimmed glasses pretty much sums it up.
I thought I saw the same guy go past me on a bike ten times in one afternoon.
I might as well have been wearing Bermuda shorts and shirt standing there in my black leather jacket. Why no leather jackets here? Maybe because its not replenishable like wool and cotton.
The surprisingly clean streets around downtown were dotted with homeless people and activists. Both had a tendency to ask for money or signatures. Both were also very friendly and talkative. Some talk to each other, some talk to me, and some talk to themselves. It seems that everyone is talking here (and smiling) and I enjoy that – could it be the coffee?
Everyone also has a cause, whether it be on old classic like Global Warming or a more cutting-edge, trendy cause such as stopping animal grazing to save the spotted frogs. No, I didn’t make that up. Damn those horses wanting to eat grass!
The cars tell the story as well. People are dying to express themselves and do so with tricked out rides or if they can’t afford the wheels, by using their car as a gigantic medium to advertise their cause. Stickers such as “Biodiesal turns me on“, “Portland bike polo club“, and colorful ads for the multitude of local musicians are plastered on every unsuspecting telephone pole and bumper.
I have been warned repeatedly to be on the lookout for “hipsters” – the trendy, retro-fashioned, megalomaniacs wielding PBR beers and cell phones exploding with Tweets. They even have their own tricked out, custom bikes – here is a tall bike that I found parked. The owner (no doubt an attention seeking hipster) was no where to be seen, but I will hunt these guys with my camera for the coming days!
Hipster, homeless, or just normal guy or girl – I cannot say it enough…..people here are friendly! I always thought the American South was supposed to be friendly, but Portlandites take it a step beyond. Even in places where people aren’t supposed to be friendly, like the 7-11, rental car counters, and segway armed policemen – all offered a smile and were interested in why I was in Portland.
Even the bus drivers would give directions without being asked and acted as my concierge more than once. Also more than once paying the $2.00 fee was optional, this place really is an enigma.
For my first day of boots on the ground in Portland, I like it. Sure, I still enjoy a Starbucks every now and then and I have no idea what the hell a spotted frog is, but I’m sure these friendly people would work on me if I stayed long enough. From what I can see I love the city, the people, and the buzz of potential for change here.
Now, if only it wasn’t going to rain until June. 🙂