I have an admission. From the mid-1980’s when I arrived here until a few months ago, I had no idea there was a difference between the cities of Tigard and Tualatin. I knew they were somewhere south of Portland. I got this intel from freeway exit ramps from I5 south bound. Since I rarely left the comforting street grid patterns of Portland, I absolved myself of any need to know about these cities by simply calling them the T-Places.
Now, because irony is my lifelong north star, my wife and I own a new home in Tigard. Turns out it is a city of 50,000 north of Tualatin and that the bigger city of Beaverton squats down on both the T-Places like a resting monkey on a branch. Come the end of June, we will abandon our longtime home “High Atop Mt. Tabor” and plant ourselves near the banks of Fanno Creek. This an outcome both as bizarre to me as it is natural.
As I have written here before, sadly, Portland has become a burden. While our neighborhood still has most of its former charms, the trip in and out of our few blocks is now an ugly affair as inner SE Portland is besotted with camps, crime and vandalized buildings. And perhaps our block on Mt Tabor isn’t what we want. The new wave of couples with baby strollers is friendly enough, but they now live in what recently became million-dollar homes. Google money has arrived. I suppose I should just get over it, but my blue-collar roots wonder how I ended up living in what is becoming an exclusive neighborhood. I don’t know if the slightly smaller house in Tigard will eventually have the same fate. I think it will feel different without all the history.
Another reason we are leaving is time. In the last few years, I have experienced how quickly aging can drastically alter one’s relationship with place. The most visible symbol on our street comes and goes. It’s the long aluminum ramp to the front door of these older homes. Our place has at least 3 steps in and out, and two stairways once inside. Turns out, especially as we age, a few steps can be a mighty impediment to living a functional life. The new place is a single level ranch style. Over the last year, we have been excited about potential homes only to open the garage door and see 4 steps to the main level. Sal and I are impossibly practical, but in this need, we feel prudent. Now, we won’t have to think about that outcome, should it be in our future.
Living in a big city, it is hard not to hear the phrase “walkable neighborhood.” In theory, that is where we live now. I can see Hawthorne Blvd from the front steps. I could walk to groceries, dining, coffee, and entertainment. Guess what. I don’t. I like to drive. I drive everywhere. You can take the boy out of Southern California, but you can’t get him out of his car. Everything I need, well Home Depot could be closer, is a quick drive from the new place. And even better, we are 5 minutes from the delicious GTI playground back roads in the Willamette wine country. This thrills me as going for a ride is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Was I a suburb guy all along? I wonder.
Still, early in our search, we concluded that downtown Portland needed to be less than 30 minutes away. I still need live music, baseball, cocktails with friends and vintage movies at the Hollywood Theatre. There is a vast difference if something is 20 minutes away and not 40 minutes. At 40, I know I will just blow it off. Portland is a different place if you are a visitor.
One last admission. I hate, yes hate, the privilege and smugness of bike culture in Portland. I had a bike when I injured my foot. Used it for exercise. It was stolen. I was fine with that. Truth is, biking on the street scared the shit out of me. Not my thing. Unbelievably, I am now looking forward to getting a bike. We are a block from the Fanno Creek trail system. Miles of isolated, improved bike/walk trails. And, 1.2 miles away (I checked) on those trails is a collection of taverns loaded with good cold beer. Now, at last, I have a motivation to try a bike.
Why did I use the dystopian photo for this piece? It’s a perfect example of life in Portland now. Less than a year ago, that building was a 7/11. I liked that store for ice cream bars, beer, and industrial strength corn dogs that spun on those hot chrome tubes. Almost immediately after it closed, the graffiti appeared, followed by a homeless camp followed by large piles of garbage. The owners painted over the graffiti, moved the camp and put up the fence. The next day the fence was breached and all the decay was back. A predictable, endless loop. Even occupied buildings are tagged. Last week, someone shot two souls outside of Gold Dust Meridian, a cocktail bar I like on Hawthorne. An arsonist attempted to burn down buildings at the little Christian college down the street. One was occupied by a family. My wife can’t use her office looking out on Dawson Park because of the gunfire and rounds that shattered the windows of her offices. The litany is endless. We are leaving for many reasons, many good ones. But in the end, we just couldn’t take it anymore. Compassion fatigue, Sal calls it. That’s about right. See you in the burbs.