After a long nap on the crowded 4-hour train ride between Seattle and Portland, I found myself in the beautiful Union Station of Portland, Oregon. My friend Grace and her company, having just come off a 5-day drive herself, picked me up right on time. Night had fallen, so I couldn't see any of the city on our way out of it toward Lewis and Clark College ("LC").
LC requires that one dorm per holiday break pack itself so that the students and athletes that stay on campus over break have a place to stay. Grace's dorm happened to be the one to temporarily move out, and they had to move everything back in again upon arrival. I helped a few people out - mostly sophomores - and hung out in dorm rooms with the students until midnight or so. It can be somewhat exhausting to meet so many new people in such a short period of time, but most everyone I met at LC was relaxed, engaging, and super-friendly.
The next day, Grace loaned me her Trek commuter-esque bicycle so I could tour the area while she continued unpacking. I couldn't have been more excited to explore on two wheels in Portland, the city whose reputation for being bike-friendly far exceeds most of its other aspects.
There are bike lanes everywhere, and outside the city proper Portland is hilly! I was sweating while I rode for an hour or so, going over bridges, past roadside coffeehouses, and through a nearby State Park. The sun was out, tenatively, and the sky was a deep, tangible blue. The greens were profound. Runners and families abounded; Portland's pedestrian ways are actually used. The town feels wholesome and intentional.
To that end, not much in Portland is solely nominal in nature.
Later that day, four of us went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I was psyched for a history lesson, but ended up learning through having fun at the kid-oriented museum. I saw a fetus grow through each week, and watched a computer animation program age me 30 years. The largest T-Rex skeleton and a green-screened weather forecast garnered attention, plus a toad feeding (less exciting than the octopus feeding in Seattle). I wished I were twelve again!
After breakfast on my last day, I had a few hours to explore Portland on my own before my train left. There are officially about 600,000 living there. It's known as the City of Roses and the City of Bridges. It has aggressive anti-sprawl policies, the most notable of which is the urban growth boundary. A popular sticker seen on bicycle tubes is "Don't Mess with Portland."
I don't like the downtown so much. It is rife with pushy homeless people who lick their lips and stare at me; with others who push and kick trash cans and rummage through them for bread and cigarette butts. I didn't feel comfortable walking on the sidewalk; I'd feel better on a bicycle. It's not a city to meander; I would feel better if I were there with an explicit purpose. The edges and beyond of the city are much more liveable and appealing.
Portland feels nervous and defensive, as though it's ready for a fight. Almost as though it's looking for a fight - for another establishment to repel. The recession may have hit it pretty hard.
While the city itself was somewhat of a turn-off, every single person I met charmed me. Conversations are sincere and easy, and I sense that people respect one another regardless of differences.
I grabbed a coffee and marched to Union Station just as it started to rain. Inside, a girl with a frame pack and banjo sat on a bench and played as we lined up to board the Coast Starlight, heading south. It's a sweet memory, and a good one to take from Portland.