Loving Portland, For Better or Worse

Portland Monthly's executive editor reflects on 15 years of learning to love this crazy town.

By Zach Dundas May 1, 2014 Published in the May 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Around the time we started working on this issue, aiming to compile the 100 Reasons to Love Portland, I found myself at Case Study Coffee on SW 10th Avenue. I was early for my appointment, so I had a minute to drink cappuccino and stare into space. Being a writer and all, I figured I should aim for some deep thoughts. So I began to muse on what, exactly, I love about Portland.

Which requires a digression.

At the far end of that block (beyond the relocated Virginia Café) stands the former HQ of the newspaper that first lured me to the Rose City back in 1999. I knew nothing about Portland. Well, I knew about the urban growth boundary and the band Dead Moon—24-year-old me was sold (plus, my other live prospect was in Memphis). So I joined the idealistic wanderers who created Portland. I spent my workdays trying to decode my adopted city and make inroads with the cute girl in the next cubicle.   

Over the years, I would learn many things. I would learn that, despite its reputation as some kind of kale-eating people’s republic, Portland is essentially a conservative city. Our ideal house is a 100-year-old bungalow. Our fantasy neighborhood features a pub, a coffeehouse, and a grocery—an 18th-century Londoner would feel right at home. Our ideal hamburger once ate Gaia’s own green grass. 

Then, slowly, I grasped the paradox at work here: secure in this somewhat quaint identity, Portland could absorb a wild array of realities. Seek an all-vegan lesbian cohousing project? A vaguely right-wing rockabilly band? A mobile-social online financial start-up? Total anonymity in a West Hills mansion? Or in a Foster-Powell duplex? Portland can provide all of the above, or something else entirely.  

By now, I also recognize many reasons not to love Portland: our distinctive weirdness when it comes to race; a chronic lack of eye contact; the damned rain. But for whatever reason, the place works for me. That cute girl from the office and I now have a pair of young native Portlanders running wild in our house. Who knows what they’ll be into—I definitely shudder to think—but whatever it is, they’ll be able to pursue it here if they so desire. In 15 years, I’ve discovered one very good reason to love this town: you can be yourself, or you can be someone else. Portland takes it all in stride—as long as there’s good coffee available.

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