From PO to LO: Is There Life After Portland?

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Is there life after Portland, home of the weird? This week we move to Lake Oswego, Oregon, home of the…?

Stereotypes work both ways. In many ways, Portland’s hip weird alternative reputation is just another stereotype. I mean, I live here, I seemingly fit in. And I can attest on a stack of compost that I am nowhere close to hip.

I know this, I always felt at home in Portland. Over the years I wandered, searching for home in New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. Waiting for home to hit me in the face. When I moved back from the East Coast for the third and final time, and I came up over the Marquam Bridge from the airport, where Tom McCall Park and the waterfront first rise into view, it was like the hole inside me was healed. And I thought, maybe home doesn’t hit you in the face. Maybe home hugs you in the gut.

The forests, the Willamette, the bridges, Mount Hood. The glowing articles in the New York Times talk about Portland’s cupcakes and whiskey bars. It’s true, there are a lot of nice blocks with a lot of nice places. But when you live your life here, you know where Portland is. To see Portland, you look up and around. To see Portland, you see the clouds, ten feet over your head. And they remind you that here, things are close to you.

So now the moving truck heads ten miles south. When we tell our Portland friends we found a house they are excited! “Where is it?” Expecting the old Portland neighborhoods – Laurelhurst, Sellwood, Eastmoreland. We say Lake Oswego and they say:

“Oh.”

This past year alone we have met families from Chicago, New York, Ohio, Michigan, another from New York, another from Michigan, southern California, Arizona, central California, another from central California, and more I’m forgetting. Portland has become a meet-up spot. These people didn’t pack up their lives and move two thousand miles to come to an off-shoot, a shadow, a little sister of Portland. They came for what was promised in the ad.

To Portlanders, I believe, Lake Oswego is:

a bunch of rich white people

conformist

homogenous

without culture

without sidewalks

a foodie wasteland

Or maybe these are my own fears.

I know this, crime is lower, schools are smaller, and you can hear birds. It is my feeling that I will be able to let my children play in our front yard. I also know this: in Portland I almost never ride my bike, I repeatedly drive the car when I could have walked, and I’ve never been to organic ocean-sustainable Bamboo Sushi but buy the eight pack in the plastic tray from Trader Joe’s. (Which I drive to.)

Maybe Portland was the possibility. That I might one day put on an ironic cowboy hat and direct an art film in my driveway.  That I might tear up the front lawn and grow a one-loaf-a-summer patch of wheat. That I one day might loosen the shackles that weld me to safety and conformity. That I might be everything I am free to be. Marlo Thomas. There is a land that I see, take my hand and we’ll run, it’s right out the window. In Portland the best was yet to come.

In Portland you never grow old.

In ways then, our move to the suburbs feels like a door closing. That we are going there to build the final nest, our children’s base camp as they age and launch into adulthood. This move is for them, not us.

Moving to Lake Oswego feels like getting married. Not that I was a crazy single person -but the options were there. In the suburbs it seems there is an expectation, a commitment to the stable. There may be nights spent downtown in a hotel after a night of turtle soup and Afghani film, but I will never again live here. I will never be: from Portland, for seventeen years the coolest thing, by far, that could be said about me. I have no idea why at this age I still give any credence to anything as shallow and immature as the word “cool”.

I tried to make it work. Raising kids in the city. The diversity, as we say. Sure everyone was actually white like us, but there were different KINDS of white people. There were white people on homemade unicycles, white people with beards down to their high tops, there were white people dressed up as kitty cats. What better place to teach the children that there is a place for you here in this world, whatever you are.

It got harder to explain the man who stormed down our sidewalk as we unlocked our front door. “DON’T GO IN THERE! DON’T YOU DARE GO IN THERE!!!” he shouted at us, high on meth.

And now that my son can read, free-speech redolent Portland offers a highway lined with darkened parlors full of naked dancers. There’s not a route to the dentist that doesn’t pass a strip joint. I did okay explaining “Lucky Devil”. It got harder to explain Hot Hot Hot Girls. And why they were so sweaty.

I’m scared to move to Lake Oswego. I’m excited to move to Lake Oswego. The truck comes Saturday. Have we hidden our treasures in faceless cardboard? How will we arrange this new life? Will there be a place for everything we’re bringing? What will be missing?

The road goes south. In geologic time, it’s a blip. In the context of the globe and the millions of people and what people struggle through, this is nothing. We’re heading down the road, to see what we find there.