Last Time I Was In Portland

It was the summer of 1980 and I was visiting a college friend who was working on John Anderson’s campaign. All I remember about Portland, Oregon was that the place was covered with ash because Mount St. Helen’s had just errupted. That, and the rose garden. That’s it.

Okay, so here I am back in Portland 30+ years later and let me say, it’s a weird place. A very odd rendezvous of hipster-cool and professional homelessness. Everyone in this city seems to be under 30, and they’re either annoyingly hip or lying in a bedroll in the bushes. There is very little in between.

Tonight at dinner I watched a “homeless” couple arrive at their street corner, unroll the bedroll, put out the dog like a prop, then unfurl a sign which read: “Hoping For A Cheeseburger.” After about an hour and a half, the lady in the party disappeared, only to return with a bag of sandwiches. They then picked up the dog and the bedroll and repaired to a shady spot beneath a tree, where they enjoyed their dinner break. There was something so perfunctory about the whole business, as if this was their job, which I guess in a manner of speaking it was. It was a complete 180 from the previous evening, where we enjoyed cocktails at a rooftop bar so hopelessly hip and cool, there was an actual stampede of black-clad 20-somethings trying to grab a seat when the doors opened at 4 pm.

I’m sorry if you live here and I’ve offended you. I just find this city incredibly strange. I don’t think I’d want to live here. But I will say this: we’ve had gorgeous weather, enjoyed the art museum, and ate a lot of really excellent meals. The city is clean and the public transit is efficient. So there’s a lot going for it.

A booth at the Saturday Market:

Hipster Hats For Sale

A homeless camp at the entrance to Chinatown:

A Fence Of Doors

At the Japanese Garden:

Peace In The City

How uncool of me to act the tourist and take pictures from Portland’s hippest rooftop bar! Oh well, sue me:

A River Runs Through It

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Last Time I Was In Portland

  1. Mark Rogers

    Be sure to check out Powell’s Books. Apparently it is the world’s greatest bookstore and a major local attraction {and that is wonderful in so many ways}.

    I have a friend who is an attorney with many clients on the West Coast who loves the place. Apparently he manages to schedule most of his flights to the other cities on the coast through

    It is the ‘Jungle Jim’s’ of books. Not to be missed if possible I think.

    • We did hit Powell’s, spent a good bit of time there. Reminded me a lot of Strand Books, which we visit whenever we’re in New York. Powell’s is the kind of place where we could spend an entire day. I bought a book of Sam Shepard plays and Mr. Beale bought two books as well, because both of us are constitutionally unable to enter a bookstore and not make a purchase.

      Wish we had a place like it in Nashville.

      • I LOVE Powell’s. I grew up in The Other End of Oregon; Portland was far away so I rarely visited until I was in my 20s. I lived there briefly in 1996-97. Wasn’t quite so hip then, but no shortage of homelessness then either.

  2. Mark Rogers

    I was in the Strand a few years ago. My stack was eight or nine books high and the cashiers were swamped. Always being the soul of politeness, I turned the books to the price tag and placed the first few in front of her and told her I would call out the prices if that would help. She looked at me in rather stunned silence for a few seconds. Then she said: “You’re not from here are you?” And she wasn’t talking about my accent.

    It made me proud to be from Eastern KY and Middle TN.

  3. democommie

    The Multnomah County Library system, according to a piece on NPR which aired a few days ago, is second only to NYC in the number of items it loans out in a year. This does include books, tapes, CD’s, etc., but that’s still pretty impressive.

    I was in Portland, OR, once. It was a beautiful day I. I drove through downtown, spent an hour or so with my dad’s late brother and drove on about another hour or so to Beacon Rock State Park which is on the Columbia River, Washington side. It was a very nice camping spot.

  4. I was there march of 2004. Maybe times were better. Seemed like better than 50% of the people out on the street were under thirty. Funky bicycles everywhere. Big bike racks for twenty bikes. Even the dewds dressed pretty funny. Everyone had the layered look. And nobody but nobody used an umbrella. Instead, they had these woven coconut rain helmets. I felt right at home.

    It would be fun to drive to Mt. Hood. Maybe cross the metal drawbridge over the Columbia and check out Washington.

    A lot of really killer weed is grown in Oregon.

    • I really want to visit the Columbia Rive Gorge, drive that highway that skirts the river. Didn’t have time this trip, unfortunately. But it’s always good to leave something for another trip!

  5. democommie

    Dear Mr. HSD guys:

    I think that Mr. Flying Jr. mis-poked his keyboard thingie. What he prolly meant is that there are some really good WEED KILLERS up in Oregon.

  6. ThresherK

    I got nuttin. Well, except that (soccer geek I am) I remember the original Portland Timbers, so it’s cool to see the new Timbers in MLS.

    And we’ve been watching “Portlandia”, gaining an appreciation for Fred Armisen which doesn’t always have the room to play on SNL, and Carrie Brownstein’s improv chops.

    Let us know if the city is anything like the show.

  7. gemini in knoxville

    I’m in Portland right this minute. I’m a Tennessee girl, but I married an Oregon boy, and we come out here a lot. I LOVE Portland. If we ever leave Tennessee, this is where we will come. Beautiful (glad you went to the Japanese gardens), interesting, PROGRESSIVE city with lots to do within a day’s drive – the Cascades, the Columbia River Gorge, the fabulous Oregon coast. And Powell’s, of course.

    We’ve been here 4 days and I’ve seen as many middle-aged folks as young ones. Maybe at 60 my filters are different.

  8. I like the pic of the doors.

  9. deep

    Yeah, I’ve heard similar things too. In fact a friend of mine who is normally fairly progressive became quite opposed to the Occupy movement simply because she hated the filthy shiftless hipsters in Portland. They weren’t doing anything any different than what they usually did, but they tried to pretend it had some sort of legitimacy by “joining” the occupy movement.

  10. Why is the word homeless in quotes when you say they had a bedroll?

    Why would it be annoying that someone was hip?

    Have you ever been to Capitol Hill in Seattle, or East Hastings Street in Vancouver BC?

    What do you think should be done about the homeless problem?

    • I put “homeless” in quotes because not all people with a sign on a street corner are homeless. I didn’t know what this couple’s situation was and I didn’t want to label them.

      I’ve worked as a homeless advocate in Nashville for over 10 years and I am very familiar with this issue. I also know that there is no one solution to the homeless “problem,” because there are as many reasons for being homeless as there are homeless people. But a good start might be to stop viewing the poor, mentally ill, addicted and disenfranchised as a “problem” to be solved/ignored/dissed and instead view them as fellow citizens with unique needs just like everyone else, and as deserving of a seat at the table as everyone else.

      Nashville has a lot of really good programs helping people get off the streets and helping the homeless have a voice in the community. A few are the Homeless Power Project, Room In The Inn, and Rooftop, the latter a homelessness prevention organization. I’ve been actively involved with all three organizations.

      I’ve also written a lot about homelessness, you can view some of the posts here.

  11. democommie

    Homelessness of the poor and, um, blackfolksheysomeofmybestfriendsarenon-whitei’mnotabigot are like, totally to blame for their “fall from GOD’S Grace unlike those poor, hardworkin’ CEO’s and WS Shylocks.

  12. krb

    You were hardly in Portland long enough to be a judge of the City. Frankly, who cares whether you like it or not. I have lived here for over 50 years, and would never live anywhere else. Sorry you think were strange but then again I am sure a number of people think or find you strange, that’s life.