Portland: First Impressions

Initially, I planned to write a blog post about all the places I’ve been in Portland so far: coffee shops, bars, yoga studios, etc. But it just wasn’t coming out naturally. Yes, I’ve been to too many “places” to count so far (a byproduct of having out-of-towners visit you when you still feel like an out-of-towner yourself). But the underlying truth of it all is that Portland so far hasn’t been about places; it’s been about impressions. Of this city. Of the people in it. Of the weather. Of the spirit. Here is a compilation for those wondering how it’s going in Stumptown.

Now, for some vignettes…

1. twyla tharpe man on bus

Yesterday: I am taking Trimet home from the elementary school I am doing my service at. I am reading The Creative Habit by the choreographer Twyla Tharpe. A young-ish looking bearded redheaded lanky man wearing plaid is holding his four-year-old son. Everyone offers his son their seats (like, everyone – In New York, some people don’t even realize the person right in front of them is pregnant. I was guilty of that once and, appalled with myself, it was the moment when I realized it was time to leave for a bit). He declines the offer except for when the person sitting next to me gets up at her stop. He leans over to see what I am reading. “I had dinner with Twyla Tharpe once,” he says. Realizing he is talking to me, I exclaim, “Really?” “Yeah, she was flirting with me in San Francisco – it was before I had this guy [points to his adorable son with toddler-sized TOMS]- and she took me out to dinner. She is amazing.” We talk for the rest of the bus ride, until we are no longer strangers.

2. man who commented on my bad outfit

First week in Portland: I am living out of a suitcase at a commune right off Hawthorne Boulevard. The 25-year-old married couple that run the commune have two children, three chickens, a tomato garden and a momo cart (a Nepali food truck that they bike – rather than ride – around the city). The house is always flooded with people so I am waiting as long as I possibly can to do laundry. One day, I emerge wearing a poofy yellow dress that makes me look like a cupcake and, because the mornings are about 20 degrees chillier than the afternoons here, I put a purple sweatshirt on over it. I now look like a vanilla cupcake with food coloring gone wrong. On my way to Oui Presse, a man carrying his own cup of coffee nods in my direction and exclaims (it is 8am in the morning on a Saturday), “I LOVE your outfit!” I think cupcakes are just hipster enough for this city.

3. how many hipsters does it take to refill a carafe of coffee?

My first morning in Portland: I wake up so excited to buy my own cup of coffee in Stumptown, a city known for its coffee! But, because there is a Stumptown in NYC, I decide to get it at Blue Star, a donut shop on Hawthorne instead. I go to the drip machine and the dreaded sound emerges. It takes me about five minutes to get the attention of the man who is attentively decorating the freshly-baked donuts. When I tell him the coffee is out, he informs me it will be a 10-minute wait for more. But he does it with a smile so I take it as a sign from the Universe that I’ve been drinking too much coffee anyways.

4. everyone smiles

When I first started taking the bus, I got creeped out because everyone just smiled at me as I walked on. Between that and the fact that I work at a bizarrely happy school, I think I am learning a new type of samaritan etiquette here: be happy and other people will be happy back.

5. spider on my effing bike

During my first week here, my roommate (from Chicago) pointed out how freaking overgrown everything is. The trees practically bleed into the streets. And, while beautiful, it makes it hard to walk mindlessly or fast (clearly, this is medicine for me) for fear of bumping straight into a tree/branch/plant or – and this is the worst – a SPIDER WEB. I never thought of myself as arachnophobic, but I think that’s just because I was never really around spiders. Here, it’s hard to know when one is going to get hit by a web. Anyways, fast forward to Monday: I enter the bike room to take my bike to the shop and then give it a good ride (it is my second day with a bike here) when I see it. A SPIDER WEB. Entangled throughout my front tire! And up to the handlebar! I didn’t even know this could be possible! I immediately freak out (i.e. I start Snapchatting everyone and their sister; I am a product of my generation). I decide to woman up and remove the bike from the rack anyways, but as I do, THE SPIDER CLIMBS UP THE BIKE. I flip out and stand, staring at the spider, until a nice neighbor named Sam comes in and offers to do the deed for me. Thank you, Sam, for enabling a spider-free ride throughout the many bike lanes (there is practically one on every street; it’s a bike utopia here) in Portland.

6. farmer’s markets or… “haha, my figs are more local than yours!”

After going to the People’s Coop Farmer’s Market last night and having numerous vendors wax poetic about just how local they were and how vegan they were and how mindful they were, this is kind of all I have to say about farmer’s markets in PDX:

Oh, and my mantra for this whole experience still rings true three weeks in: Portlandia is an understatement.

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