Notes from Portlandia
We’ve been in Portland for the last few months and are enjoying our temporary home and respite from the road. Despite being here during the wettest part of the year, we’ve been riding around town and exploring the city that has been touted as a mecca for food, craft, bicycles, books and coffee. The lack of sun has been particularly difficult for me, having grown up in Southern California where the “weather” was a reliable 70s and sun. Day after day of grey and drizzle can be spirit crushing. But, as with everything, you get use to it. I looked at the weather for the week and saw highs in the 50s and thought to myself, “Oh! It’s shorts weather!”
It is just within the last two weeks that we feel like we’ve found a group of people that we are lucky enough to call friends, a mix of readers, people we’ve met on the road and completely new acquaintances. If this trip has taught us anything, it is that we are fundamentally socially creatures. Giving up a household of stuff is chump change compared to giving up a strong social network of friends and family.
We’ve been enjoying the fabled bikeyness here in Portland. One can get whiplash sitting at a coffee shop watching all the beautiful bikes roll by. There’s only a few cities where you can see someone riding a bike you’ve seen from NAHBS, a bakfiets, folding bike, fixed gear and carbon road bikes in the span of 15 minutes. We’ve also been taking part in a few of the bikey community activities like BikeCraft, a CycleWild bike-camping trip, a Nutcase Helmet design contest at CleverCycles and even a photo show with bike advocate/writer Elly Blue and a local racer/photographer Heidi Swift.
On a personal front, finding photography work has been challenging. Portland has a reputation as a city with a vibrant “creative class.” What this means is that nearly everyone seems to be a photographer/designer/crafter/writer and that sort of work is tough to come by. There are lots of talented creative people who live here or who have moved from other parts of the country to be here and it is a feeding frenzy for a very small piece of pie. We’ve met lots of folks that are just getting by, people with advanced degrees working temp jobs and many others making a patchwork income. We’ve heard the all too common story of young hopeful couples moving here to live, only to burn through their savings because of lack of work and moving away. Or as a friend of ours likes to say, “It’s called Poor-tland for a reason.”
With that in mind, I’m open to photo shoots around the country. I will take my bike, load it up on Amtrak, and find my way to you. Email me.
Despite its economic challenges, Portland is a beautiful city with some utterly amazing and wonderful people. We feel lucky to know the people we know and we enjoy every minute we get to spend with them. Our trip has taught us about the transitory nature of human relationships. The truth is that people come and go. You can respond to this truth by either closing yourself off and avoiding contact because of the fear of loss. Or you can accept that your time with all things and all people is limited and enjoy the experiences you do have together.
One thing we’ve become acutely aware of is how strange it is to sometimes make friends as an adult in a new city. When you’re a child, your parents do the arranging. They sniff out and background check your potential playmates and their parents and set up “play dates.” As an adult, you still have “play dates” but they go under the name of dinner parties and networking. There is that awkward poker game filled with feints and pauses where you emotionally measure each other up to gauge the potential of friendship.
When you are traveling, those pretenses are dropped. You’re privy to the kindness of strangers. You open up and people reciprocate. The ticking of the finite time you have together sets the pace for everything. You can ask the questions you really want to ask, you can be generous and large-hearted because tomorrow you know you will part ways.
This isn’t the case in the “normal” pace of life.
I’m writing this in a coffee shop and just overheard two friends talk and say goodbye. “See you later,” they said to each other. It is such a simple and commonplace phrase you never think about what it means. It implies a later date, a future, continuity, a guarantee of sorts that you will be around. It’s comforting to know that you’ll see someone again. For the last year and a half, we’ve never had the opportunity to casually tell someone “see you later” because we knew that there wouldn’t be a later. We are enjoying it for now, though for me, I would will opt to say “see you soon.”
Rod January 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm
You guys might find the recent “Sound of Young America” interview with Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein interesting.
I especially liked Brownstein’s comment toward the end about the city’s “pioneer spirit” and what it means for people who are drawn there.
Transcript and podcast link here: http://bit.ly/evZ48A
Jason Olshefsky February 1, 2011 at 9:13 am
How true about trying to make friends as adults. I hadn’t really given it much thought in the past few years, and have been content with the ebb and flow of people in my life. It would be nice, though, to try some new techniques.
While at Burning Man (yeah, one of those people …) I tried a few games that worked there. One was to walk in a direction and if I crossed paths with someone close enough, I said hello and interacted with jem. I played other similar games. I found that it worked great so long as the “game” had nothing to do with the kind of person I was to meet. So meeting people crossing my path was okay, but seeking someone playing an accordion would not work as well.
I tried recently picking a color as I walked to a regular haunt: I decided on green or yellow. If I saw someone wearing “significantly” (however I thought that applied) green or yellow, I would try to interact with jem. I did see someone wearing green and I did eventually interact with jem, but jee wasn’t all that open to meeting people.
Nonetheless, I’ll continue trying things to see what works. But yeah, it is kind of hard to talk to strangers.
Will February 26, 2011 at 10:12 am
I recently came across your site and am very much enjoying your writing. And I was so excited to see that I’m actually featured here!
The fourth picture in this post, of the helmet designs at Clever Cycles, includes my wife and I standing near the wall on the right.
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Perhaps the term “friend” is becoming to limiting when placed in the context of your vagabond reality. You and Laura were in my presence for such a brief time as you passed through North Carolina, but I would gladly open my home to you both again. As a matter of fact, if I’m not in town the next time you pass through, just let me know and I’ll leave the light on for you and tell you where to find the key.