Places I’ve Lived #17 – Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon PowellsAs a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.

When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.Portland, OregonI was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer  and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”

I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.

Portland, OregonI bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket.  I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.

Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me.  I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, OregonPortland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.

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