It used to be so simple: Portland hated Seattle and Los Angeles. Those two cities fulfilled us. They gave us all the hate we needed. Seattle—gray, cold, condescending—served as our older sibling who married well and never let us forget it. Los Angeles, spiritual home of weird traitors at Blazer games in Lakers gear, caricatured all we disdain. Shallow. Vain. Rich-and-beautiful-but-did-we-mention-shallow-and-vain? As we nobly browsed People’s Co-Op, we could bask in righteous loathing for these twin foes.
Now, however, one senses a turn. Beyond natural solidarity among coastal Free Cities—even you, San Diego!—the old loathes have dimmed. Portlanders sometimes express sympathy for Seattle. They lost Boeing HQ and the SuperSonics; gained rent apocalypse, Amazon domes, and a misbegotten soccer franchise. There but for the grace, etc. Meanwhile, LA enjoys unexpected Portlandian cred as a hip travel destination, new market for your artisanal micro-mega-brand, and/or home address when you’re priced out of Northeast. We’ve lost the moral high ground on traffic and juice trends.
But the heart has its needs. With changing times, a rival rises to fill the void, the epitome of antithetical values (moral and, well, property) and dark futures: San Francisco.
Our interview with Portland author Corey Pein underscores this new tension. Pein, a former Willamette Week reporter, embedded in San Francisco and the suburban Silicon Valley tech scene that now rules the city itself. He found sobering stuff. In his telling, tech money killed SF’s bohemian soul and replaced it with a free-booze-fueled paper chase. (“It was like hanging out on Wall Street,” he confided, to sympathetic shudders.) Tech power brokers pursue “disruption” at all costs, with scant regard for law or decency. As digital titans muse about immortality and planet-ruling AI, the industry’s underclass packs gnarly “hacker hostels,” driving San Francisco rents skyward—gentrification, without nice stuff.
Pein’s new book, Live Work Work Work Die, chimes with general sentiment. How often have you heard a Portlander bemoan Bay Area money coursing into our housing market? How often do figures in politics—even in our local tech industry—invoke San Francisco as the place we don’t want to become? Onerous prices. Work above all. Tech bros and chip-implanted venture capitalists. The urban surreality portrayed in Pein’s book (and interview) chills all true Portlanders to the marrow.
I would stipulate that I’ve had good times in San Francisco, though I’ve usually departed under cover of darkness with certain regrets. And—if it needs to be said—of course jealousy and anxiety are at play. Portlanders eye SF’s aura of success with envy, even as we nervously contemplate our own path. It all says more about us than it does about them, as is always true. That’s OK. Every lasting relationship has to start somewhere.
Editor in Chief