If the purpose of this trip were to find a place to move after graduation, I would’ve just stopped in Portland. The city is alive with color from the plentiful wildflowers, sunflowers, and hydrangas. The youth appreciate Americana, gathering to watch folk bands with instruments like accordions, mandolins, and even kazoos. Even more appealing, the bulk of the businesses are local and independent, each with its own flare. I didn’t see a Target, McDonalds, or Wal-Mart there in five days.
This morning I had coffee, an egg and bacon sandwich, and a fresh doughnut in a cafe built inside an old wooden house. Yesterday I ate lunch in a place called Por Que No? which sections off its patio with discarded front doors. The grilled cheese truck around the corner from my friends Pat and Marika’s place utilizes a double-decker bus for a dining room. As I walked by it one morning I waved to a little girl in the top deck with her face smooshed up against the glass.
Portlandians make use of the goods lying around them. Instead of hauling in tons of new materials to build up their city, they make do with what’s already there. They practice sustainability, minimalism, and even conservatism in that they attempt to conserve resources, conserve the beauty of the mountainous countryside, conserve a way of life that celebrates individualism over homogenized mass consumerism.
Food truck pods appear all over the city. One open lot might contain eight trucks with eight different genres of food. And bicycles rule the road. I took a five-hour bike ride yesterday up Mt. Tabor, along the Willamette River, into downtown, and back to Pat and Marika’s. Cars yielded to me, waiting for me to pass before turning, always conscientious of my presence and my safety.
So why doesn’t the rest of America look to Portland as an beacon for what we could become, a model for preserving regional culture as natural resources dwindle and mass-consumerism white washes our greatest cities? Partly because Portland doesn’t want the attention. The more people discover this gem of a city, the greater the chances Wal-Mart, Target, and McDonalds will move in and dilute their forward-looking, individualistic culture.
And there’s the paradox: if I had halted my journey in Portland, would I assimilate smoothly into their city, or represent another step toward the globalization of American cultural identity?
Either way, I’m back on the train and making my way down to San Francisco where I’ll stay for three nights then head over the mountains to Salt Lake City, Denver, Austin, and New Orleans.