Keep Quiet and Wander – (Portland, OR)

We woke up at 1:30 in the morning in a church parking lot just off the highway. Still 2 hours from Portland, Oregon we’d get to the airport just in time for Natalie to check in and board her flight to Costa Rica. Like any chronic traveler, no journey would be complete without taking a vacation from your ‘vacation.’ For Natalie it was a free plane ticket south for ten days, a small stipend, and a chance to revisit her Maleku friends from last summer that set in motion my thorough exploration of Hipster City, USA.

My initial reaction was groggy – no surprise – sleeping only 2 more hours, crumpled in the front seats, parked in the ‘Cell Phone Waiting Area’ of PDX. First thing was first: Coffee. I love coffee. It’s almost troublesome how much better I feel when caffeinated. Eyes widen, breathe steadies, complex decisions and thought process take on a calm directness – things get done. Second thing: Bagel. A good bagel. Toasty and appropriately slathered in homemade cream cheese. “Kettlemans has great bagels.” suggested a lovely old chap I encountered on the street.

“This is the alphabet district, do you know it?” he enquired.

“No, I’ve only been in Portland a few hours.”

“Well the street names are alphabetical, and the north/south roads are numbered. You’re only a short walk away from it. It’s on 23rd and Lovejoy.”

And thus I fell in love with Portland. 23rd and Lovejoy, just happens to be the central crossroads of the hippest, slightly upscale, yet cozy heart of Northwest Portland. Cafes, restaurants, book shops, etc., for the next four day’s I’d use this area as my launch pad for wandering the city.

After a short drive I noted a few good, safe, parking spots to leave my home-on-wheels and start my exploration of the city, I admittedly had high hopes for. I wanted to love portland and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a premonition of what was to come? Perhaps it is the free downtown public transit system, the calm streets and people, the low buildings, and the clean sidewalks. Maybe it is that Portland has more parkland per acreage than anywhere in the US, or the endless art galleries, independent stores and music venues, or the artisan coffee shops on every block. Or, just maybe, it’s the fact that it’s chock-full-of young, hip, 20-somethings and I feel cozy – like the majority of my friends all founded a city.

The Portland Rose Garden in Washington Park

It’s people-focused, and thus, rightfully so, environmentally focused as well. Urban planning is simple, user-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing. Street cars and light rail keep traffic low, and every shop seems to boast it’s commitment to local-free range-organic-100% whole wheat-no high fructose corn syrup, simple, fun, living. It might sound like a joke, but this superficiality of sustainable living is the calling card of a population of thinkers; of those concerned and engaged with zeitgeist.

And so I people watched, window shopped, and rode the transit system. I walked the streets, silent and thoughtful, drinking the coffee, sampling local fare, and at night watched a few documentary films at Living Room Theatres.

My favorite cafe thus far, 'Coffeehouse Northwest', and the table I wrote this post from...

I tried to imagine myself living here as I spoke with one of the many, ultra-friendly, ultra-helpful volunteer visitor center staff who entertained all my questions of where to live, what the economy is like, and what to see. While I look forward to Natalie’s return, I’m enjoying the simple pleasures of a quiet, thoughtful saunter about this city.

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