Something seems to be trying to keep me in Portland, or at least give me strong incentive to return. Everyone I speak to, the photographer at Mississippi Studios, the cab driver that sped me to the airport, the hotel clerk at Jupiter, and the girl at the ice cream shop, all said to me that I’ll be back. They said it matter-of-factly, as if they knew me and truly knew that I would. And honestly I think I will be.
The people here are really friendly, like southern hospitality with a young, indie, family vibe. In fact, it felt very oddly like I already knew all the people I met in my brief, one day, visit. Portland is already well known as a city for hip young people and hip people in general, not just in clothes but in demeanor and in mind. It is composed in large part of people who seem to buck authority, while maintaining a sense of polite respectfulness about it. They seemed to care more about one another than what you’d find in other cities. And, honestly, I thought it’d be kind of pretentious and make me feel self-conscious of my own coolness, and though I’m sure you could find this feeling somewhere in the city if you looked hard enough, but I didn’t feel that way at all, even as I spent all of my time in the Eastern areas of Hawthorne and Burnside, and the Northern area around Mississippi Avenue, which are trendy areas.
Something I find funny, is that the cab driver (from New York), the New Zealander (housing the Jacco Gardner band), and the ice cream girl (from Florida originally, going to a private art school in NW Portland, a more upscale area to which I did not have the time to see), all mentioned the meekness of people here, as if it were their self-depreciating duty to mention it in passing. Like a city of people hesitant to intrude on the existence of others, like saying: “oh, did you want these, or, uh, were you just looking or, well, ok, well are you sure? I mean, I don’t want to force you or anything, just saying that like, ok, yeah, then you’re sure? ok, cool, well here you go, enjoy the apples! This years harvest was just great! I think you’ll really enjoy them. There’s a real strawberry, dragon fruit kind of note to the the sweetness. Yeah, I think the rain and the soil this year has just been great! Ok, cool, well I sure hope you enjoy them! See you later” -said with a smile. (and this person could be anyone, male or female, young or old, in a store or open air market. And it may well be accompanied by a conversation of where you’re from or what you’ll be doing on the weekend, or various other things that you’d talk about with a more personal acquaintance. (there are elaborations to this facet of the culture in the tv show Portlandia, which is actually quite a good representation of the city).
And though I do get that vibe here a bit, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. At least the people are nice! I mean, everyone with which I spoke was just super nice and interesting. They were, in most part, people with which I could have a conversation and perhaps be friends. And I don’t say this lightly because I’m constantly told that I have an unreasonably high bar for which to make a determination of interestingness or coolness.
But that’s the thing about the people in Portland, they seem to foster a culture where people build up the coolness inside themselves to display to others. For me, they seem like people who were alone or dispossessed in some way, and then all came here, open and hoping to make friends with other loners and outcasts. Perhaps it’s been said and cliche to characterize it this way, but it is true. And maybe that’s why I liked the place so much. The people seem rather sensitive at heart, and instead of closing off, they smile and bring you in, respecting your personhood -a reality that you don’t much see here in the states.
For me, Portlanders made me feel welcome and appreciated, like visiting extended family or old friends, saying a big, “Hey, I’m glad you’re finally here! Hope you’re staying a while, aren’t you?” It reminded me of a large bohemian family, were there’s adopted and natural kids, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends always around, coming and going, always bringing in new people in passing, bringing an eclectic mix of random ideas and acquaintances all held together, without pressure, by strings of openness.
I’m not sure if it’s been researched, but I feel that if Portlanders took the Big Five Personality Test (one of the more commonly used personality criteria tests used in the field of personality psychology research), that the people here would score well above average on ‘Openness to Experience,’ which is one of the 5 constructs. I score very highly on this construct as well, so perhaps that’s why like the people here so much.
Their openness and appreciation of people, cultures, and things was evident all around in the many quirky shops, organic markets, holistic doctors and wellness centers, intercultural restaurants and cafes, antique and ‘junk’ shops, and small, specialty wares and services of all kinds. It could be called a smorgasbord of representational and expressionistic uniqueness. And not the kind that is exhibitionist, needy and fame-mongering, like I expect to see more of in LA, but simply spoken, to no one in particular, just made as if a statement of confirmation to their selves and to the universe. Perhaps this is the best way for truth and art to be spoken, and is why this city speaks to me.
However, I’m moving on today, on my way to LA, which should be a change -one that I’m not sure I’ll care for, really. But that’s why I changed my travel plans in order to spend two days in LA rather than one. I’ve seen enough of Portland to know that I’d like to come back again. LA, on the other hand, I suspect that two days will be sufficient for some time, but we will just have to see.