Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Some preliminary observations about Portland
Portland is not a fashionable city. However, it makes up for the glut of North Face rain jackets and chunky boots by its bookishness, appreciation for art and beauty, and in-your-face liberalism.
Though threads from North Face, Patagonia, and REI reign supreme, I did see some sparklingly fashionable folks sporting wool peacoats and such. And I'm not one to judge because I was not looking my best. I quickly formed the habit of donning about six sweaters, a periwinkle fleece hat borrowed from my aunt, and a pained expression.
If anything, Portland is an anti-fashion city. If my cousin is to be believed, there are lots of smoking hot indie girls with wonderful fashion sense; they shop mostly at secondhand stores. Besides the indie style elites, though, everyone's more or less wearing the same warm winter wear, so no one's judging on looks or style. Which is sort of refreshing. It opens the door to differentiate yourself by the book you're reading, the company you keep, and so on, rather than what you're wearing.
(Perhaps Portlanders are more fashionable in the warmer months. This is entirely possible. I mean, it's often hard to look good when it's wet and cold. I may have to return to Portland in the spring/summer to investigate!)
Portlanders are nice (perhaps because they enjoy beautiful digs at rock-bottom prices). Everywhere I went, people were sweet to me, whether I was buying stuff from them or not. In the cafe at Powells one day, I ordered a sandwich and chai, and felt no compunction plopping down next to a stranger at the big library tables they have in there. I felt a certain camaraderie as I browsed my book and inhaled my food and drink. No one shot me weird or dirty looks, and I think I got the eye from a few hot young bucks (call me, loves!). It was a really good feeling.
Downtown Portland is pleasant and mostly free of homeless people. Portlanders may disagree, but I'm telling you: Portland does not have a homeless problem compared to San Diego or LA. Let me give you an example:
I work in downtown SD and spend lots of time poking around. What's jarring about downtown at lunch hour is that there are white-collar businesspeople, homeless people, and not that much in between. You do not get the feeling that there is much of a middle class.
In addition, downtown SD and the surrounding neighborhoods (including my neighborhood of Hillcrest, which is one of the most high-rent and fashionable neighborhoods) are crawling with homeless people. It's rare to walk more than a block without encountering one. Horton Plaza downtown is especially bad; at all hours of the day and night, there is a group of at least 10 homeless people, openly panhandling and smoking pot. They do not prevent Horton Plaza from being a pleasant place, but they are a very visible presence.
In contrast, in Portland, I saw maybe one homeless person my entire stay. Walking the streets, I felt absolutely safe, even when staring at my tourist map. No one propositioned me, hassled me or hollered at me from a passing car - common occurrences in San Diego.
(Side note: I don't fear or hate homeless people, but they reflect a certain locale's safety net - or lack thereof. Though Portland may have as many homeless people as San Diego, I get the distinct impression they are taken care of much better in Portland than in San Diego. Or perhaps they were merely hidden in Portland. Who knows!)
Portland is beautiful. There are lots of historic buildings, landmarks, bars and restaurants. I especially loved all the old Victorian houses, fancy mansions around Washington Park, and the high-rise loft buildings in the Pearl District. We have restored Victorians in San Diego, too, but I almost feel they fit in Portland better. Somehow they mesh well with the bare branches of winter, rain-drenched streets, and gray skies. I took lots of pictures of my favorite houses, which I'll be uploading shortly.
I'll start uploading pictures tonight. Highlights will include: old buildings! Animals at the zoo! Plates of food before I licked them clean! More old buildings! New buildings! My cousin's cat! Old crap at the antique store! ...and more!
[Edit: Added photo of a random church that I snapped from my cousin's car.]