My first encounter with Portland, Oregon was probably on the pages of a Ramona Quimby storybook. I can’t remember any earlier reason I would have heard of the city, and even when my parents read to me about rainy Sundays and Klickitat Street I’m sure it never occurred to me that this fictional world was built up amidst a real place, a place I would live 20 years later. I’m sure as I progressed through grade school and learned more about the geography of our country, I would have heard about the city, but I can’t remember feeling any strong connection with the place until years later.
The next phase of interest would be an obvious college-era fascination with indie-music. Enough of my favorite musicians hailed from Portland that I became envious and somewhat enticed by the “scene.” Still, it wasn’t until the autumn after college that I finally visited, and the most prevalent cultural landmark on my mind was still, “Can we find a Ramona Quimby statue?” I was on my first journey out west, to California (another story entirely) and my mom had accompanied me for the drive. Since I had never been north of San Francisco we decided to take a slightly longer route from Wisconsin through the Northwest, stopping in Seattle and Portland before driving down to California. It was a Sunday in September when I first entered Portland, and thanks to the better writing habits of my youth I have a small record from that day:
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Mount! Saint! Helens! Today we checked it out on our way to Oregon. We didn’t actually get very close to the volcano but we did see it from the visitors center which was just about as close as I care to get to a volcanic mountain. Actually it would have been cool to hike around it but it was already getting late in the afternoon and we still had to get in to Portland.
Portland, as it turns out, is gorgeous. I think I might love it. When we drove in today we could see Mt. Hood to the east and the Willamette River twisting in and out. The city seems real laid back, or at least it did until mom and I arrived and nearly got ourselves killed on I-5 before driving the wrong way on a one way street and getting lost on our way to the hotel. Tomorrow will begin the Quest for the Quimbys as I will now take to calling it. At the very least we’re going to hunt down Klickitat Street…
(From Pacific For Now, slightly abridged.)
I didn’t remember that short 3-day visit had made such an impression on me, probably because once my mom flew back home and I drove the rest of the way to California my life was launched on a trajectory preoccupied with a variety of other adventures and life lessons. Although I do remember in my first few days in California when I was looking for a job, a neighbor mentioned that their son ran a video editing company in Portland, and if I were there I might work for him. The neighbor said this light-heartedly, because obviously I was not in Portland, I was in California, but I remember feeling a little pang in my heart, like, maybe I did want to be there. But California had the momentum of so many years of dreaming. I had my heart set on California since I was probably 12 years old. It was in California that I would be happy! (Oh, but again, that is another story for another day.)
My time in California lasted about nine months, and then I moved back to Wisconsin. Shortly after I was back in my home state, a new drivers’ license design was unveiled, and I openly declared my opinion that it was hideous. My driver’s license didn’t expire for another 3 years, and I boldly announced, “Well, in three years I’ll be gone again, so I won’t need to get this atrocious new license.” It was a challenge to myself. It was a deadline. I was restless and searching, but I was also happy to be safely resting in the familiar comforts of home, and after about a year back in Wisconsin, certainly after two, I was feeling quite settled. The allure of the West had waned; California’s glow had dulled just enough that I could see the folly of placing my hope in a place.
Still, the reckless declaration I’d tossed about – “In three years I’ll be gone!” – would be fulfilled. Not at all in the way I imagined, but here I am, writing from Portland. More to come.
Next: Internetworking, or, how I let a random Myspace click get in my head like a pussy-willow stuffed down my ear canal.