Thursday, June 13, 2013

Portlandia And Points Beyond

Posted from Delta flight 1228, Salt Lake City to Indianapolis.

It’s a little like a foreign country up here in the northwest. Not quite. But almost.

Monday, Micki’s uncle Bob dropped us in downtown Portland. We walked a block to the Bike Gallery and rented two cruisers to explore the city. When we hit the streets, motorists, pedestrians, and even streetcar drivers were so patient and friendly, we knew we were in a cycling paradise.

We made a B-line to Voodoo Doughnuts. I ordered up a Maple Bacon Bar (a caramel-iced donut topped with 2 slices of bacon) and an Old Dirty Bastard (a classic yeast donut, drizzled with chocolate & peanut butter, then encrusted with Oreo’s). Micki went for “The Dirt,” (think dirt pudding on a donut).  As we settled at a picnic table outside, a car decorated with elaborate, demonic sculptures pulled up. The driver, a slim, middle-aged man in jeans and sandals propped open the door so all could hear KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” blaring from within. He donned a monkey mask and began dancing in the street.

Decadent donuts and some dude in a monkey mask dancing in the street: “Shake, shake- shake. Shake-shake-shake. Shake your bootie. Shake your boooootie.”

Yeah, not exactly breakfast in Indiana.

In the satirical TV show “Portlandia,” they say, “Portland is a city where young people go to retire.” Most jokes begin with a grain of truth. There are several grains of truth in that line.

Portland is a city where everyone has a dog or a bicycle, or both. It’s a city where, like its hip sister to the north, Seattle, people are pissed if you smoke cigarettes in public but fine if you’re smoking weed. There’s seemingly a micro or nano brewery on every corner. And across the street is an interesting restaurant of one sort or another that cures its own bacon or grows its organic arugula on the rooftop of their building. And across the street from that is a left-of-center gift shop or art gallery. It’s a town where gays and lesbians walk arm-in-arm or hold hands and nobody cares or stares. Make eye contact with pretty much anyone and they smile back, warm and welcoming. It’s a town where you can take a streetcar around the city center, light rail to the burbs, or Amtrak north to Seattle or south to California. And all three rail systems are clean and well tended. (Where’s the mass-transit stench of stale urine so familiar in Manhattan’s subway or Chicago’s L?) Wanna backpack the forest, hike the Columbia River gorge, ski Mt. Hood? It’s all nearby.

They plant roses in their highway medians and exit ramps, they cover their high-rise rooftops with gardens, refuse to “poison” their city water with fluoride and most overpass graffiti reads something like, “May the world be free of suffering.” They’re on the cutting edge of land planning, environmentalism is a cornerstone, and the organic and local food movements – unquestioned. Portland and Seattle seem not to give a flying-fuck what the rest of America is doing. They’re gonna do it their way.

So for a Hoosier, yeah, it’s kind-of a foreign country. And for this Hoosier, it’s kinda paradise. But no, it’s not the America I live my days in.
Chris & Micki on Purget Sound
Micki and I took Amtrak down to Portland from Edmonds, Washington last Sunday morning. A stones throw from the sailboat where we were staying up there on Puget Sound, you could take a ferry to various islands, jump Amtrak to Seattle, or enjoy the lovely, pedestrian-friendly town about the size of Noblesville with its old movie theater showing first run films, killer restaurants and coffee shops lining the streets, and farmers markets and breweries making life just that much happier. Everything is so well cared for, so thoughtfully tended, it’s almost a little creepy. Almost. Simply because it’s so foreign.

Seattle is Portland’s rival for hippest city in America. But no need to fight about it. I’ll happily take a condo in both city’s and just split time between the two.

The previous Saturday we took in Pike’s Market and dined on a deck beneath the 5-story high Ferris wheel overlooking Puget Sound. That night our Edmonds friends, Chris and Janelle, who used to live on Logan Street back home in Noblesville took us to a Sounders soccer game in Seattle. Imagine the number of people who show up for a Colts game showing up instead for a professional soccer game. There were 53,000 people in the Seahawk’s stadium. And not because there was nothing else to do. Literally right next door the Mariners were playing the Yankees in Safeco field.

American football exudes militaristic imagery. Two teams at war in helmets and uniforms. “Bombs” are thrown, defenses “blitz,” from the German war term “blitzkrieg,” and there are “neutral zones” and “trenches,” ala World War I.
Micki @ waterfalls along the Columbia River
Not soccer. The fans stream in with scarves, randomly chanting team ditties in unison, strangers picking up the tune and hopping and chanting along with like-minded strangers. Chris reminds me that to most of the world, soccer is a winter sport, so the scarves make more sense elsewhere. But no matter, on this 70-degree day scarves representing the local team are required wear. They’re part of a series of rituals in this sport that are not militaristic, but tribalistic. It is not so much standing on the ramparts watching two armies clash, but more a shoulder-to-shoulder hugging, dancing and chanting ‘round a Celtic or African tribal campfire in preparation for a gang fight. It is both more primitive and more gentile than American football. Earthier. Friendlier. Less contrived.

These are familiar rituals in the northwest. But not so much in my home state. If you’re wanting to flee conservative America, this is your homeland, whether you know it or not. I can’t see myself retiring to Florida and eating the blue-plate special of salisbury steak and overcooked green beans at a Morrison’s cafeteria, but I can see myself retiring here and eating grilled fish & clams late at a craft brewer’s tap room.

On Wednesday I confirmed our flight home and gave Micki the rundown as she headed upstairs with a cup of coffee in her hand. “Fly out of Seattle-Tacoma at 1:00, layover in Salt Lake City, then arrive in Indy at 10:23.” She smiled and shook her head, “No baby. I’m not going back. I’m staying here. You go on without me.”

We both know better. But it’s nice to fantisize about a new life in this foreign land all the same.

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