I’ve spent the last couple of days in Portland. Here are some random thoughts:
I really like the MAX. It really does go pretty much everywhere I needed to go. There is an iPhone app that lets you buy either all day tickets or tickets valid for 2 1/2 hours. So far, it’s been very convenient.
I have to admit that Google Maps has radically changed how I do vacations. I’m old enough that I’d traveled pretty extensively before Maps was a thing. Vacations were OK to plan when you went to someplace like New York City where everything is laid out in a grid, although for a non native New Yorker it was still challenging to figure out which subway to take, where to make transfers, and things like that.
In Europe, the problem was way worse. Some of the cities (I’m looking at you Paris and London) are a thousand years old and the streets reflect that, shall we say, organic growth that has take place. You factor in a place where the language is different (Athens) and getting around becomes a problem. And don’t even get me started on Venice. In all cases, I’d buy a map, trace the route with my finger, stumble off in a direction, get lost, find the track again, and eventually end up at the destination.
Well, with Maps, no matter what city you’re in, it tells you precisely how to get there, tell you what mass transit to take, where to get on, where to get off, and where to transfer. I used it extensively in London when I was last there and it’s equally valuable while I’m here in Portland. If my battery dies, I’m screwed, but that hasn’t happened yet.
You can say that it’s removed some serendipity in my vacations. In one way, it’s actually done the opposite. I basically never worry about getting lost at all. Sometimes I keep my phone in my pocket and just wander around aimlessly. I can go where I want without worry. I know that I can always find my way back.
Back to Portland, being a book geek, I of course had to go to Powell’s. I’ve been there before and it is amazing. In fact, it might be a bit too amazing. Even if you spend hours there, the sheer amount of books are overwhelming. I experienced this last time as well. The book stacks are so high that after a while I get a vague sense of disorienting vertigo.
Near Powell’s is the other Portland must see, Voodoo Donuts. I did go there and I did get my ironically named donuts (The Marshall Mathers and a Butterfingering). Eh…it was OK. I’m not a huge donut person and I’d been there before.
I kind of wonder how often the denizens of Portland actually eat at home. In Seattle, I’m used to seeing a ton of restaurants, but the per capital restaurant count in Portland has to be off the charts. I could live hear probably over a year and never repeat myself. This is not even counting the food trucks, of which there are dozens.
I walked through the Old Town / Chinatown. It was reminiscent of Pioneer Square and the International District in Seattle.
I went to see Mills End Park, advertised as the smallest park. It does live up to its reputation. It’s a little island circle on a street.
In a little town called Kenton there stands a large statue of Paul Bunyan. It was about a thirty minute MAX ride to get there, but worth it. Kenton itself seems to be kind of a hipster main street small town kind of place. One of the restaurants is called the Cultured Caveman, serving only gluten free / paleo food.
I went to the Saturday market at Portland State. In many ways it was similar in nature to the Ballard farmer’s market, but this seemed bigger, nicer, and better organized. The Ballard market is pretty much a throng of people being forced down narrow paths. Here, it was a much more pleasant promenade experience. It had the usual assortment of produce, food stuffs, and hippy stuff. The food selection seemed better than at Ballard.
So, what are my impressions of Portland?
Well, it clearly has the vibe of a large West Coast city. Compared to Seattle, it seems nicer, cleaner, and better organized. Similar to Seattle, it has a significant homeless problem. Some of that could be chalked up to the laid back nature of the city attracting its share of young people looking to turn on, tune in, and drop out, but I also saw many of the homeless with obvious mental health issues. That seems to be a pretty pervasive problem with no obvious solution.
For good or ill, it also does not have an Amazon gorilla living in its midst. On the one hand, there’s probably not a lot of growth and wealth in Portland. On the other hand, it’s probably not in danger of losing its soul.
The bottom line is that when that day comes when I retire, Portland would be an interesting option for me to contemplate living. I think that I could really enjoy living here.