Have you ever been to a show with a band you love and about halfway through the set you are done? Maybe the line-up changed. Perhaps the new album was an awful dance-beat nightmare? Or maybe, to your surprise, your tastes had changed, and the old songs didn’t give you the former buzz. About three quarters through the set, you think about what’s in the refrigerator at home. When the leftover lasagna calls, you take one last look at the stage and walk out. Well, that is how Sally and I feel about Portland now.
There are parts of my memoir that are a love letter to Portland. Or, are those sections a peon to a certain version of the city? I met Sally here, so I can’t argue with that. But about a year ago, we looked around and asked each other, “Why are we still here?” I think my big revelation was that as I roamed the city taking photographs during the depths of the lockdown, I realized that what I really liked was that all the people were gone. The quiet streets were seductive. The lack of traffic created a certain ease. The endless stream of hipsters dressed in black had disappeared. Stripped down, Portland became a list of things I didn’t need anymore. And, what remained, the grime, the homelessness, the narcissistic graffiti bubbled to the top. Covid meant that Sally no longer had to be here to work. The stars aligned.
I can’t live in a place without being well informed. I read online news, formerly newspapers, and stay plugged into the ebb and flow of politics and power. I was so committed to the city that I switched careers and devoted long hours to a job in city hall. However, it was in the last year there that I saw the city’s philosophy move away from me. A classic liberal with a streak of economic conservatism, I saw the first wave of dogmatic progressivism crash into city hall. Slowly, and now completely, thought became governed by a series of progressive litmus tests. I love to challenge narratives, question authorities, and encourage broad thinking in policy discussions. Merely having that mindset has become a problem in Portland. Viewpoint diversity evaporated in a new group think with its sanctions for violating the emerging dogma. Comity and negotiation, the search for balanced solutions, has been replaced with the certainty of the advocate. If I have learned anything in my years, it is that such absolute certainty is cutting the trail for hubris. It now pains me to read about our city’s government.
Last summer, in bed with the windows open, I heard the sound of attacks on the police office about 15 blocks from our house. Now, occasionally, I hear gunfire. There is a new game on NextDoor: Was that fireworks or gunfire? Streets I walked at all hours in our neighborhood, and even downtown, are dangerous. I am a city guy who loves to get a slice of pizza at 1AM after a show. I have a well-developed street radar to avoid trouble. I have seen a stabbing, fights, drunken stupidity and macho posturing but at no time did I think I didn’t want to be there in the clarifying flow of the night. No more. Being in the heart of this city, the chance to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is much higher. Formerly transitory homeless camps are now locked down mini sidewalk cities. Systems have failed. I look down to make sure you are avoiding human excrement and up to gauge the intentions of the violent mentally ill. Moments after a building vacant, graffiti locusts descend, adding to the dystopia. Even the attempts to bring downtown back to life seem forced and fanciful. Oh, it may come back, but no time soon.
When Sally and I drive around the city, we kvetch, sometimes in sadness, other times in frustration. A few days ago, we wanted to pop into a fast-food joint on Hawthorne. Sitting at the lights, we looked out at a spaghetti of lines drawn on the street. Red zones, green zones, dashed sections, solid blocks, lights for cars, lights for bikes, new humps in the street for busses and pylons poking up from the tarmac. Sally’s question was simple, “How do I turn right?” I began to complain, but stopped and we both looked at each other and said, “Drake.”
There is a scene in Aliens where the troops are desperately firing and running from the alien creatures. The troops are being slaughtered. Finally, the combat tank arrives and the doors open. Corporal Hicks, wounded, yells at the last guy in the fight, the rear guard. “Drake! We are leaving!!!” Moments later, the creatures kill the last guy standing, and the survivors escape just in time. Sally and I have taken that scene as our mantra. When frustrated and about to fall into another rant, we say, “Drake.”
We have requirements. To age in place (lord willing and the creek don’t rise) we want a single level home. I want a newer house. Almost 100-year-old homes are charming, but I am tired of keeping this one from falling down. We will not be within the Portland city limits. I don’t want to think about this place. However, we have agreed that we want to be 30 minutes to downtown. That is the outer limit of reasonableness to catch a show or a movie at the Hollywood Theatre. That also puts the Pickles and Hops in easy striking distance for medicinal baseball. Sally must replace Mt Tabor Park. Nature that close is soothing. Little things, room for my dahlias, light streaming into the kitchen, a covered patio eventually. We have the list.
For months, we have been throwing stuff away and making trips to Goodwill. We have a ‘not going’ list too. The new place will be smaller. But, for all our preparation and my grieving for what I will lose, Covid and a housing bubble have made it nearly impossible to find a new place. It’s crazy. Like everyone else, the wacky times capture our life change. For months, there is nothing to buy. We have gotten Zen about it, mostly. We have the happy problem of trading in one nice place for another when the right thing comes along. We have worked hard and been frugal, but we know we are fortunate. So, for the time being, here we are, anchored to our past and present, anticipating the future. There’s a word for that. DRAKE!!!