I arrived in Portland on a rainy night in September, the day after I turned 24, after spending the better part of a month crisscrossing through the western United States. As I crossed the Willamette in the dark and drove those last few miles to my new home, one I needed directions to get to but had looked up on Google Earth enough times that I felt I already lived there, I remember thinking that I needed to remember that moment; because it was sure to be one of the defining ones of my life. And when the infamous “Portland, Oregon” sign came into view, and I put on a Decemberists song, because of course I did, I realized I was starting the adventure of a lifetime.
I am asked on a near-daily basis why I chose to move here, and my answer is the same now as it was on day one: a shrug of my shoulders and two little words: “Why not?” I had and have always loved to travel, but never felt the need, as many do, to simply “get out” of my hometown in search of something bigger and better and brighter. I’ve never felt the need to escape. My feelings are the opposite; I grew up somewhere wonderful, somewhere I knew I could always happily come back to, so why not see what the rest of this country has to offer for a little while?
I gave practically no thought to the Pacific Northwest prior to my adulthood, save for a brief thought of applying to college at the University of Oregon before dismissing it as too rainy for me. (I eventually settled on college in Boulder, a city known for its 300+ days of sun. I transferred out after three semesters.) But I had taken a lengthy Internet quiz in my last semester of college that claimed to predict where I should move, a quiz similar to those of the Buzzfeed variety, except this one was actually meaningful and didn’t ask questions like “What is your favorite emoji?” After half an hour or so of questions, I drummed my fingers and waited for my results; and when they arrived, I was amazed: Corvallis, Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, Kent, Puyallup, Vancouver, etc. It was a list of twenty or so cities, and only one was located outside the Pacific Northwest. It hit me like a sack of bricks that day, and after the brief feeling of idiocy passed at not realizing it sooner, I became obsessed with the idea of moving to Upper Left, USA.
So, fast-forward two years, a few breakups, and a year in Chicago, when I fulfilled the prophecy of an internet quiz, packed my material life into my car, convinced my roommate to come out here with me, and moved to Portland. But we didn’t move here for jobs, and we didn’t move here for school, and we didn’t move here for a guy, who would have hypothetically been a bearded musician who worked as a barista to pay the bills. We moved here because we couldn’t think of any reason why we shouldn’t.*
That night in September was eleven months ago, and I can say assuredly that the past eleven months have been the most important of my life. I have learned so much, both about myself and my relationships, but also about the rest of the world. I have been the loneliest I’ve ever been, and also the most proud, and I’ve learned many cliché lessons about growing up and about who I am and learning to just let my freak flag fly. Admittedly, much of that has to do with the simple act of moving across the country to a city where I knew virtually no one, and whether I moved to Portland or Seattle or San Diego didn’t make much of a difference. I’m just really, really glad that I chose Portland.
This is a city like none I’ve ever known, and I don’t expect to ever visit a new city and think to myself, “You know what? This reminds me of Portland.” Portland is like nowhere else. In an America where citizens are becoming more and more disheartened and ashamed of their society, the amount of civic pride in Portland only seems to grow. People love to live here; they feel lucky to be here, whether because they were raised here and have never left, or because they did what I did and chose this city over all others. It’s a city where bicyclists are respected, smiled at, and given wide berths, but it’s perfectly okay to drive a car if that’s what you prefer. You can walk down the street in anything you’d like (no, really), you can smoke cigarettes or smoke a joint or not smoke at all, you can find a decent beer for a dollar and change without searching too hard. In Portland, it’s not uncommon to make small talk at the grocery store or in line at the post office or simply walking down the street. Nearly everywhere I go, I am asked how my day is going or what my weekend plans are, and it never feels perfunctory. There were sixteen homicides in Portland in 2013. In Milwaukee, a city with five thousand fewer people, there were 106.
Much of that happiness relates, in my opinion, to the main reason why I moved here in the first place, which is its location. Driving from downtown Portland, I can have my toes in the Pacific Ocean in just over an hour; I could be sitting on a ski lift halfway up Mt. Hood in the same amount of time. Thirty minutes from downtown gets me to the heart of wine country, or to a 620-foot waterfall, or well into Washington. But even better than all of those things is what I can find just out my door. One block from my house is a rose garden, maintained by the community, that should require a fee to walk through but doesn’t, because it’s in Portland. The house down the street has a “community herb garden” out front, and the other day I walked past two kids sitting outside their house with boxes full of extra produce from their garden, asking strangers if they wanted free tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini. There are, by my estimation, eleven breweries within a twenty-minute walk from my front door. Eleven. The stereotypes about mustaches and hipsters and vegan Christmas trees all ring pretty true here, but it’s a lot easier to be proud to live in a city that’s known for its beer and its friendliness than a city known for its gun violence and corrupt politics.
Oh, and that whole issue of the terrible weather out here? I have a secret. It’s not true. Sure, it rains sometimes, and it can be gloomy for a few days in a row, but it’s no worse than in the Midwest or on the East Coast, and it’s a hell of a lot warmer. I was told when I moved here that it would rain from October through June, and then be beautiful from July through September. It’s true that the weather has been perfect, maybe even too hot, since July 1st, but it was also beautiful in June and in May and in April and in March and even in the February, the month we all know is always terrible and should not exist. There aren’t 300+ days of sun here, but in my opinion, the coast is way more scenic on a cloudy day, with layers of fog blanketing the pine trees and no sun to distract you from the waves crashing onto the cliffs. It’s like Hawaii, but less expensive. And I am lucky enough to live here.
I realize that Portland isn’t perfect, just as no city ever could be. If I could have my way, there would be more diversity, a professional football team, people would be better drivers, and there would be better pizza. Everyone has certain preferences when it comes to where they want to live, and I’m sure there are plenty of (completely insane) people who think Portland is the worst city on earth. But for me, a city where I can hike, bike, swim, eat well, drink well, get lost in a bookstore the size of a city block, and still see the stars from my front yard (because we actually have yards here) is a city worth getting to know.
Moving here was a big decision, but it wasn’t one I ever worried I would regret. I moved here with high expectations, and this city has far surpassed them. There are so many more reasons why I love this city, like the nickel arcade down the street and the guy who rides around on a unicycle and the $3 movie theaters, but I’ll never be able to list them all. It’s a city that doesn’t feel like a city, in the best possible way. But it’s more than that. The people I’ve met here and the friendships I’ve made are some of the best I’ve ever known, and I know that no matter how long I stay in Portland, whether it be for months or years or the rest of my life, I’ll always think of this place as home, just as much as the town where I was born.
And did I mention there’s no sales tax?
* I did end up finding that bearded guy, but he is a bartender, not a barista, and his passion is making movies, not music. Much different.