Why Portland is the Greatest City in the World, No I’m Serious, Stop Arguing You’ve Already Lost.

So next week marks a full three months since I moved to Portland.

I know, I know, that’s not completely true. Technically I moved to the Portland area a little over a year ago, but aside from my god-awful daily commute, I didn’t do a whole lot of exploring in the City Proper. Which is nothing short of a travesty.

But since then, I’ve upheaved my whole life and plopped my lost little self down in the throbbing heart of the city… and believe you me – I’ve made up for lost time.

I considered trying to tally the number of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, food carts, and shows I’ve been to since beginning this exploration… but just the thought of that task overwhelms me.

Instead, I’m just going to sit down for a moment and explain to you how absolutely, unequivocally, head-over-heels in love I am with this incredible town.

Elizabeth Gilbert taught me that when keeping chickens, there are some circumstances where you have to introduce a new hen to the flock. And you can’t just toss it in with the old chickens, or they’ll see it as an invader – instead, you slip the new bird into the coop in the middle of the night while the others are asleep.

In the morning, when the chickens wake up, they don’t notice the newcomer – thinking, “She must have been here all the time, since I didn’t see her arrive.” The thing is, awakening in the flock, the newcomer herself doesn’t even remember that she’s a newcomer – thinking only, “I must have been here the whole time…”

This is exactly how I arrived in Portland.

Without further ado, here’s why Portland is the absolute best city on Earth, no arguments, I’m not even listening to you anymore:

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Friends. Before moving here, I was so nervous about starting a brand new life by myself, so worried that I wouldn’t know where to go or what to do, so terrified of being alone and so far from everything I knew and loved. I’ve had the same group of friends since I was 12 years old, and I’m not historically good with new people… so before the move, I caught myself awake in bed at 1am, reading articles entitled things like “How to Make Friends as an Adult.”

But as it turns out, Portland was basically built for people just like me. Want endless new activity options like haunted pub crawls and underwear bike rides? Check! Looking for somewhere with a rich culture, and inhabitants who are immensely passionate about art, music, craft beer, or all of the above? Check check! Need a city where 60% of the population are fellow transplants from other states, so literally everyone you meet is on a let’s-explore-and-try-new-things-and-go-on-adventures kick? Check, check, check! Living in Portland is like having a making-new-friends starter kit.

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Weirdness. They’re not kidding when they call Portland weird – the whole city is an island of misfit toys. If America were a high school lunchroom, Portland would be the table of eclecticism – it would include a few band geeks, some sign-carrying activists, brooding artists, gregarious performers, bookworms, that guy who goes barefoot because he thinks shoes are a sign of oppression, and probably a unicyclist. If the whole rest of the country asks you to fit into a stereotype (“Oh, you’re from San Diego? Do you surf?”), Portland is where stereotypes go to die. It’s the type of city to open its arms and say, “Yeah – we know you’re a freak. It’s cool, though, we are too. Come on in.”

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Weather. Speaking of San Diego, the main thing I was warned about here was the rain. In fact, it was more or less all I heard about. When I finally arrived here, and I kept hearing about the rain, I actually got really defensive about it. I told all my San Diego friends that it didn’t even rain that much, we actually went 125 days in a row last year without a single rainy day, and that it was beautiful and sunny a LOT of the time and that they shouldn’t believe everything they hear.

But as a bona fide Portlander now, I’m not going to say that anymore. In fact, I think I’m contractually obligated to tell you the following:

It rains. SO. MUCH. All day, every day. Portland is a horrible, gray, rainy city all the time. Tell your friends. No sunshine, EVER. Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

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People. The other thing? Portland people really are the best people in the world. I don’t know what it is, maybe there’s something in the water. Maybe we’re all just so relieved to finally fit in somewhere, maybe we’re all just collectively exploring who we are, maybe we’re just sharing this adventure together. But Portlanders are a special breed – legitimately kind, genuine and curious and dimensional.

And good people. Remember that time when a complete stranger went miles out of his way to help me change a flat tire? Remember Bearded Ryan, the superhero who embarked on a wild goose chase to track me down and return personal documents to me that he’d found on the side of the road? And of course, the person who had every right to screw me over, but instead left me a friendly reminder to be a better person:

These were all Portlanders. Do you get what I’m saying?

The city. You guys, I get to walk to work every day. Which is something I’ve never had the privilege of saying, and it’s freaking oh-my-god-crazy-fantastic.

Have you ever lived in a city before? I mean in an actual living, pulsating city with an actual heartbeat and a personality? Have you ever walked through that city by yourself on a lively evening? Have you done it in boots and a peacoat, with really good music in your headphones, and the kindest people on Earth nodding at you cheerfully as you pass?

I have!

The country. Little-known fact (actually it’s probably pretty widely known, I’m just really in the dark about everything, all the time): Portland is the largest city in Oregon. And even Portland, in fact, is pretty tiny with all things considered: it’s made up of approximately 584k people – about 18% of the population of, say, San Diego County for instance.

And the rest of Oregon? Get this: the entire state is made up of less than 4mm people. Meaning Portland makes up roughly a sixth of the population of Oregon, even though the city itself only accounts for 0.14% (less than a quarter of a percent) in total square mileage.

All this to say, a lot of my state is made up of the polar opposite of my quirky urban setting: quaint, rural towns where people raise livestock and farm Christmas trees on acres and acres of land. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a pie auction in one of these towns – the proceeds of which went to a modest scholarship fund for high-achieving youths at their local high school.

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pie auction, you guys. Pies that had won awards at county fairs, women who I’m sure had perfected recipes over generations, a hundred people crammed into what used to be a high school gym – where everyone knew each other by first name and teased one another affectionately (“Next up – a chocolate fudge pie, which we all know is going to Hank…”). It was wholesome and authentic and it absolutely warmed my heart.

The forest. Last but not least, Portland would be incomplete without the glory of nature that surrounds us. They don’t call them evergreens for nothing – the Pacific Northwest is overgrowing with life. Vines creeping around light posts, rogue leaves peeking through cracks in the sidewalk… and moss, endless and everywhere.

You get the sense that if the apocalypse came tomorrow, it wouldn’t take long for the Earth to reclaim this city – the land is practically twitching with anticipation for it. In literally every direction there is green, trees and plants who seem almost smug in their assuredness. And it only takes a short stroll off the beaten path, into another world where long leafy tendrils are draped across great mossy branches – to be reminded of how small we really are, how trivial our problems, how life will continue going on long after we’re gone.

That’s what Portland is, really – the perfect blend of city, country, and forest. The most amazing people, the most incredible culture, and the most delicious food carts. (Oh right I didn’t even talk about those…)

Long story short, here I am: three months in, surrounded by a collection of truly amazing people and with a ton of new experiences under my belt… and I’m actually awed at how anxious I originally was. Because now that I’m here, it seems odd that I’ve ever been anywhere else.

I slipped into Portland like a bird in the night, and it feels as if I must have been here the whole time.

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What it’s like to be alone

What is there to say?

What is there ever to say?

It’s been so long since I dipped my toe in the murky waters of chronicling my life that I can scarcely remember how to do it.

But since time is a weighty currency not one of us can spare, I’ll get to the point:

Due to a set of circumstances I am nowhere near ready to disclose on this blog… I am single. And now living alone in a city apartment in Portland.

Having been in my most recent relationship for just shy of three years, and the one preceding it for four, and the one preceding that for one… I’ve been somebody’s girlfriend for eight of the last nine years, and my entire adult life.

In other words, being single is entirely unfamiliar territory.

And, let me tell you: it’s hard.

It’s hard not having an automatic recipient to your random thoughts throughout the day. It’s hard not having a witness to your life, a sounding board who knows all the right backstories to every character in your story. It’s hard not having someone to wonder about, to care for.

Being alone – which I count as a separate entity – is also hard. Even surrounded by people, the world can be a lonely place. What if I told you that you had to spend the rest of your life, every single moment until the end of time, with the same person? More time than even your best friend. More than your significant other. More than any member of your family combined.

And the weird thing is, that person is you. YOU are the person you’re going to have to spend eternity with, forever, regardless of the presence of others. And, consider this carefully… do you even like yourself? If you were someone else, would you want to spend eternity with you? Or do you even know yourself to begin with? What kind of person are you? What do you like to do?

That’s what being alone is like, and it’s terrifying.

…But, okay, it’s also awesome.

Being alone – as far as I can figure (having had about two weeks under my belt) – is also an awfully exhilarating adventure.

I feel thoroughly unqualified to adequately express my experience thus far… so by way of explanation, let me just describe my day today:

I woke up by my own accord.

I don’t mean to say that I didn’t set an alarm, because that’s been true of most weekend days in my life.

I mean that when I got out of bed, it wasn’t because I knew someone else was up and puttering around in the kitchen. It wasn’t because waking up was the polite, considerate thing to do. It wasn’t because on some unconscious level I knew it would be improper to sleep any later, and that it was “time” to start the day.

I woke up for the luxuriously simple reason that I was done sleeping.

Once awake, I asked myself a deliriously wonderful question: “What would you like to do today, Susie?”

And as bad at I am at decisions, I knew the answer right away. Gosh darnit, I want some eggs benedict.

And here’s the crazy part; are you paying attention? I got some eggs benedict. I walked to a locally acclaimed breakfast joint just a few blocks from my apartment, and asked for a table for one.

Because I wanted to watch the Charger game (no, I don’t want to talk about it), I was situated in the far back of the restaurant with my very own dedicated TV.

I was in heaven.

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This restaurant (not that I’m in the business of promoting random restaurants) offers bottomless mimosas for $9.

mimosaThe secret to bottomless mimosas is to make sure you get your money’s worth. $9 is a pretty penny, UNLESS you have a fair few of them to balance it out. #lifetips

Also, while most boring places will offer you breadsticks or some nonsense while you’re waiting… this place serves complimentary homemade doughnuts. So, no big deal or anything.

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Gee whiz, I sure hope nobody’s paying too close attention to me photographing all this food.

After swallowing my last bite of eggs benny and watching the Chiefs return a Chargers punt 50 yards, I made my way back into the misty sidewalk and headed home.

Before reaching my building, I stopped off at the local supermarket and treated myself to a some fresh veggies and (because I won’t be kissing anyone anytime soon) cheese curds entitled “Garlic Cheddar – Vampire Slayer.”

I munched on them while watching (who am I kidding?) crying over Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

After I was all cried out, I started to get sleepy, and (because there was no one around to suggest otherwise) I went ahead and took a two-hour nap.

When I woke, I dolled myself up, grabbed a book, and walked down to my favorite vietnamese restaurant. I reveled in every last nanosecond of slurping my pho (because why hurry?) as I devoured Truman Capote.

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The pho place is the hokiest hole in the wall you’ve ever seen, and their source of music is YouTube playlists. I made it through two of them (I know, because the proprietor had to yell at her son to change it twice) before pushing my bowl away, thoroughly satisfied.

When I left, the owner gave me a bright, genuine smile and shouted, “Happy holiday! Happy holiday to you!” as I walked out the door.

On my way home, I passed a bar and – what the hell? – grabbed a glass of wine. I met a girl named Jennifer, Asian and gorgeous with dark-rimmed glasses, who spent the evening convincing me that I should care more about the Blazers than the Chargers. (I am absolutely not convinced, but A+ for effort.)

When I arrived in my over-budget, outdated, turn-of-the-century brick apartment, I cranked on my noisy radiator and plopped on my horribly uncomfortable couch to write a blog post.

And you know what? I absolutely adored it. Because it’s mine, all mine, and this day is mine, and this life is mine, and every decision I made or will make in the future will be mine.

This isn’t a novel idea. I’m sure there are people all over the world – in the most remote African villages, even – who wake up in the morning and decide what they want and then go get it for themselves. This is probably very simple for some people. You might be reading this right now and think, “What? You had to double your rent and move into the throbbing heart of a new city to learn this? This is Adulthood 101, you idiot.” And you’d be right.

But the thing is, when you lasso your life with someone else’s, you forget how to want something and go get it. Your life becomes this multi-colored mishmash of desires, and everything becomes gray after awhile. “Do I want this? Or does he want it, and I only want it because it’s what he wants?” You truly can’t tell the difference. Because there is no difference. You are one being, a single floating amoeba.

But now, I’m forced to press the question, over and over again, “What do I want? What is important to me?” And I keep surprising myself with the answer.

So as terrifying as it’s been so far, it’s also like some part of my subconscious – the adventurous, spunky, ‘why-the-hell-not’ part – has been locked in a closet for the better part of the last decade, and has finally been let out to start stretching her legs.

And boy, is she ready to run.

Why They’re Called Best Friends

You may be wondering why my last two posts have been Throwback Thursdays.

Or how the Egyptians built the pyramids.

Or why Paul Rudd has always been completely overlooked in every discussion of attractive male actors.

paulI mean, RIGHT?!

…What I’m trying to say is, there are a lot of unsolved mysteries in the world. But THIS one, at least, has an explanation.

My blogging absence can be attributed to the fact that I just had the trip of a lifetime visiting my hometown of San Diego, CA last week.

I do not exaggerate when I say “trip of a lifetime.”

First came my family – I got to visit Sea World with my mom, enjoy some of my dad’s famous cooking, and help my little sister with her 10th grade biology homework.

(Side note: I am literally THE BEST at pneumonic devices. She was having trouble remembering the characteristics of living organisms – so we came up with “Hey, Rhinos Love Going Poop Mondays.” Which had us both giggling, because I’m five… and, in turn, helped her pass the test. Let me know if you ever need help with 10th grade biology pneumonic devices, guys, I GATCHU.)

xianneEven 8 days after her exam, she still remembers. Freakin genius. 

ANYWAY. After an absolutely wonderful stay with the fam bam, I then got to spend some much-needed quality time with the group of gals who pretty much dominated my existence from ages 11-23. You can even watch us all age, if you really want to…

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(Circa 2003)

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(Circa 2006. I know I was awkward, okay? I know. I don’t wanna talk about it.)

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(Circa 2010)

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(Circa 2012)

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(And then, because we’re just THAT goddamn cute, in the exact same spot two years later, on this trip.)

These girls were almost exclusively responsible for the person I am today. Every sleepover, every late-night-crying-on-the-phone session, every birthday, every milestone, every pivotal moment in my life… they were there.

As expected when we graduated high school, different paths were forged. Different colleges were attended, new boyfriends were acquired, and separate lives began to develop. We were warned of this.

Consequentially, our friendship together began to assume miles and miles of radius. One girl is now married. Another lives in Seattle. A third is in the throes of starting a new business right now. Our relationship is tumultuous and chaotic, messy and complicated and hard.

…But there is just something about bringing us back together.

The walls tumble, and the years spent apart suddenly seem so far away. We pick up right where we left off, with the same sense of humor and the same conversational cadence.

Even after months and months of never speaking a word, an Eminem song comes on and we’re all immediately on our feat – grinding and singing and arms in the air.

And regardless of where we are, or how long it’s been, or what’s happened in between, or what we’re doing… we’re back.

On the flight back, when we began our descent and the pilot announced “Welcome to Portland,” I had a brief moment of panic – Wait, what? Portland? Did I get on the wrong plane? Isn’t that where I just came from?

(…No, Susie. Portland is where you live. San Diego is where you were visiting. This is home now.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life up here. It’s just that – relocation or not – seeing my best friends is something of a homecoming experience in itself.

Because in every group of people – be it my parents, or my family, or my coworkers… I am a different version of myself. Still “Susie,” sure, but shaded a different color. Diluted, maybe. Toned down and re-sculpted to fit into the mold of each new situation. I think this might be true of everyone.

But with my best friends? There is no coloring. There is no dilution. I’m just me – a big un-sculpt-able blob, my legs spilling over the arms of the couch and outside car windows. No filter, no mold, no worrying what they’ll think or say, no sucking it in, no second-guessing myself, no holding back at all. I am, by most accounts, the truest version of myself.

Which is why, come to think of it, they’re not referred to as “my closest friends” or “my nicest friends” or “the friends I’ve had the longest.”

Because it’s simpler than that…

They’re the best.

Traffic is our all-powerful overlord and resistance is futile.

Here’s a fun fact for your Tuesday: the city of Vancouver, WA has a population of about 160,000 people. 

60,000 of them (that’s almost 40% of all Vancouver residents) work in Portland.

…I’m one of them.

For those of you who have never travelled to our little corner of the Pacific Northwest, allow me to give you a geography lesson. Vancouver and Portland are separated by the Columbia River… over which there are a measly two bridges.

Which means, if you’re paying attention, I share a total of seven available lanes with sixty THOUSAND commuters every weekday.

trafficThat’s not the Columbia River, but look! My phone has the chicken pox!

Needless to say, my travel time is not ideal. I thought traffic was bad in the Bay Area… but this Portland-Vancouver mess has brought my appreciation for congestion to another level. (Thank goodness I love my job, and that some kind, angelic soul introduced me to audiobooks.)

I tell you all this, because something strangely magnificent / magnificently strange happened to me yesterday.

For the first time since getting this job months agothere wasn’t any traffic on my way home.

You might not think this is very noteworthy, and that’s because you’re living in a fool’s paradise where driving is a speedy ordeal and traffic doesn’t add two hours to your workday. But for those of you who feel my pain, who have ever felt my pain… I kid you not, I went the speed limit the entire time. I never even had my foot on the brake pedal. Traffic hummed like a gospel choir, smooth and solid and never wavering. 

I felt like I was on an episode of the Twilight Zone, and I found myself pondering this anomaly. Did I leave at a different time than usual? Is it a holiday? Any notable weather occurrences? I tried looking at it from every angle, dissecting every remote possibility. Is this even real? Am I maybe hallucinating? Could it still be Sunday night, and I’m actually still asleep in my bed?

Then, I stopped this train of thought dead in its tracks.

Somehow, I became fearful of acknowledging this phenomenon. I seemed to know, instinctively, that if I called attention to it, it might slip away from me. I forced myself to think of other things.

Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Is it because summer is ending, and tourists are going home? NO. Don’t think about it. Or is it the residents who have gone on vacation? STOP. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

But my car kept speeding along, and I couldn’t help it – I gawked at the world around me in utter disbelief. I was tempted to roll down my window and ask a fellow driver at 60 mph: “What’s going on? Do you know? Why is this happening?”

But I imagined they would give me the same reprimand – “SHHH! Don’t let it hear you!”

I became so deliriously happy with my car’s speed that I actually began to see it as a gift, just for me. I started wondering if maybe I’d done something to deserve it – maybe I’d pleased the karmic gods somehow and this was my reward. I racked my brain for recent good deeds but came up short. 

I very literally found myself pleading with traffic to grant me this easy commute again. Tell me what I have to do, traffic! Be nice to strangers? Exercise more? Sacrifice a lamb? But my questions were left unanswered, and as I arrived home – a full 40 minutes ahead of schedule – I allowed myself a sliver of hope that maybe I’d be so lucky again.

Today, I carefully duplicated my Monday routine. Parked in the same spot, left at the same time, took the same route home. It took all my will power not to run to the car when I walked out of the office. I calmly began my journey, trying my best to act like this was a completely normal routine – so as not to tip traffic off to my desperation. As I neared the bridge, I bit my lip and peeked around the corner eagerly. 

Before me stood tangible despair, in rows and rows of brake lights. 

Oh, well.

I dutifully took my place behind a semi-truck, turned on my audiobook, and settled in for my usual ride. Traffic is a fickle friend, and pays no mind to efforts like routine duplication or lamb sacrifices.

Then again, there’s always tomorrow.