Pandemic Birthday: Revisiting My Hometown

As I celebrated (?) forty seven years on this planet, and I must say it's nothing I could have predicted for my life and of course for the world we live in. Living here on the Oregon Coast and spending an obscene amount of time in our house this past year, the only thing I wanted was this: food that I didn't cook, and that wasn't made by any of the local restaurants, 95% whose food is neither sustainable nor truly delicious.

So while a normal weekend getaway of course was not in order, we decided to hole up in a hotel in downtown Portland, watch cable TV, and get some seriously awesome food delivered to the room (particularly the best and most sustainable sushi in the Northwest!)...and a really, really good cup of coffee that, again, doesn't exist in my neck of the woods. I also was craving seeing a familiar face I'd not seen in over a year, so we made plans to have a socially distanced 'double date' at the gorgeous Lan Su Chinese Garden downtown. Thanks to our mileage plan, we were able to use miles to pay for the hotel which was awesome.

Downtown versus the rest of Portland definitely was a trip. We'd done a quick overnighter last fall, but had only stayed on the east side and so, in the gray of winter, the heartache was very apparent and, as I texted a friend who also grew up here then moved away, it reminded me in ways of PDX when I was a kid. Lonely. Businesses boarded up. Drizzly. Except worse, because way too many of the longtime places that were open when I was a kid - those amazing ones that were still around in 2020? Gone. Or hanging on by a thread with a parking spot in front tented out for 5 or 6 tables.

Yet there were interesting - albeit tiny - bits of hope. Small businesses renting window space to advertise their goods with a QR code to order it (seeing it in person is so much cooler than seeing it online). The local hole-in-the-wall New Orleans-inspired doughnut shop that sees die hard sugar fanatics lined up early on Sunday mornings in the rain to get some crazy good La'ssants (similar to the East Coast's cronuts). The friendly faces serving my favorite Valrhona mocha on my birthday morning and the little Boston Terrier puppy eager to give his love to all around him. And the "back hug" my friend and I gave each other (imagine leaning back-to-back on each other and laughing) because hugs are still taboo, not to mention opening up her gift of locally milled bread flour along with some goodies she knitted while quarantining (she knows me!). The smiling face of the houseless man we shared our Chinese takeout and doughnuts with. The street art exploding in creativity on both sides of the Willamette that reminds us that art will never die.

While Chuck Palahniuk once said "Portland in particular is a cheap enough place to live that you can still develop your passion - painting, writing, music," which is why I loved growing up and returning after my divorce to buy my first home, it's something that tragically is no longer true and I tend to now nod in agreement to W. Kamau Bell, who said, "I have always had a strange relationship to Portland, Oregon. It's a great city...But something has always felt weird to me about Portland. And not in the way Portlanders mean 'weird' in their slogan 'Keep Portland weird.'...Everything looks right, but something is definitely wrong."

Yet I will say this: for anyone who dismisses Portland or believes the hype in the media about "burning the city down", just stop. Portland is simply a fucked up reminder of how fucked up the WHOLE country is when it comes to addressing its past - its whiteness just shines a brighter spotlight. Gentrification wasn't born here. It's happened up and down the west coast, it's happening in Austin, Chicago and Detroit. Environmentalism wasn't born here, nor was social justice. People are learning, and hopefully will translate those lessons into systemic change.

We'll have been away from the pavement for three years this June, but it's not because of anything you might read about. It was, for us, about the ocean, the quiet, and the space to grow. My heart wonders what the years will bring. But in the meantime, I'm another year older and hoping this time next year things will look different.

Don't we all?

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