Portland was the first city I was ever in and I was old enough at the time that I can still remember it. I was in first grade. My grandparents took my brother and I and our cousin to see the Ice Capades at the Memorial Colosseum, where the Trailblazers played until 1995. I am pretty sure that it was Snow White.
To this day, my grandparents still talk about how, when I caught my first glimpse of the skyline, I said, “Where’s Ramblin’ Rod?” If you grew up on Oregon in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, you know who this is and he requires no further explanation. If you’re curious, here’s his Wikipedia page. I remember the Ice Capades, and also how, when we were at an upscale restaurant, my great-grandmother (now deceased) walked out of the bathroom with her skirt tucked into her pantyhose. Being three sheets to the wind, she laughed her ass off about it.
Portland blew my mind with its big buildings, its Ice Capades, strawberry lemonades and, more than anything, its enormity. It must have had at least a few hundred thousand people then.
For the rest of my childhood, I got taken there twice a year or so by my grandmother. I am the only granddaughter, you see, so I got to go to musicals at the Civic Auditorium and stay overnight at The Benson. My school clothes were purchased at Nordstrom, which I hated, but I would be able to pretend for a weekend that I was a spoiled-rotten only child. It was the best. The boys got taken hunting.
I stopped being in love with Portland in high school. I was pretty much convinced that my hometown was the best place on earth. I also went to Portland more often then, for school trips, and I noticed the water tasted like ass. Also, I hated feeling damp during cross-country races. It was in an outer suburb that I had to relinquish the guide dog puppy I raised to a blind man from St. Paul.
In college, I went there often for concerts, which was fun, but rush-hour traffic on I-5 seemed like the worst and parking downtown is a nightmare. Don’t even get me started on the Powell’s parking garage. Still, I remember (hazily) having some pretty good times in parked cars once my friends and I had finally found a spot.
Even now, the smell of the Crystal Ballroom makes the first concert I saw there come crashing back. It was so nerdy that I won’t even try to get into it here. It was also at the Crystal Ballroom where I hung out for the first time with a nice man whom I would later marry. That was at a Ween show; they played “Band on the Run” for an encore. I also saw a show there (Quasi) right before breaking a boy’s heart; and to even things out, I saw one a few years later (Jack Johnson, oy) right before getting my heart broken. The last show I saw at the Crystal was in May and it was M. Ward, who I always love to see, especially when this lady is on drums.
That’s 13 years of shows at the Crystal, with a bunch more at the other downtown venues thrown in the mix. A few times, we ventured across the river, but the east side was different then. By the end of college, I had been to lots of cities that I thought I liked more: San Francisco, San Diego, London, Barcelona, even Dublin. It’s that thing about familiarity and contempt, I think.
When we moved to New York, in 2004, and told people we were from Oregon, they always said, “Oh, Portland?” Sometimes I would say yes, just to avoid explaining where and what Bend is. If I was talking to a certain type of man, I would say, “We just moved from Eugene” for the sole purpose of hearing him say, “Oh, you’re a Duck.” Even when my heart was wracked with homesickness for Oregon, I still didn’t love Portland. Not for several years.
I fell in love with it for good over Labor Day Weekend 2008, when we went there for my father-in-law’s wedding. That’s when I realized that it is my hometown. It has been ever since, even though I’ve spent collectively no more than four months of my life there. It doesn’t hurt that I have a lot of memories tied to it, memories that stretch back almost to the beginning of memory. Memories that are (mostly) delightful. Could I feel so at home in a place that I didn’t grow up with?
What pulls me there are people I like, whom I feel connected to, even though I’ve never even lived in the same city as some of them. Walking at Mount Tabor and Forest Park, every day if I feel like it, is a big draw. $4 pints (or less!) of my favorite beer in the world sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Riding bikes, working on amazing projects, having a group of friends (instead of a few friends), hiking whenever I want.
It may be the city where young people go to retire, nobody ever tailgates and the politeness of its citizens has become a punchline. But for me, it’s the Next Big Thing, the latest and greatest adventure in my life.
New York, you’ve been good to me and I’ll always come back, but it’s time for me to go home.