The Rose City
I have lived the majority of the last 25 years (and, therefore, the majority of my life) in the Pacific Northwest, specifically in Spokane. When you live in Spokane and you’re of a certain age or political bent you’re expected to go to either Seattle or Portland fairly regularly to escape the small town/big city mentality of Spokane and get out and get some “hip” culture. I’ve been to Seattle many times but I had never, not once in all my years of living here, been to Portland, outside the airport where I transferred for one of my trips back to Japan. Well, my good friends Zach and Yuki were getting married in Zach’s hometown of Vancouver (not the awesome one in Canada, the one in Washington, which is also good) and I was asked to attend the wedding as the Japanese half of the bilingual ceremony, so I finally got a chance to go this week.
It was a short trip and, with the rush of prepping for the ceremony, free time was at a premium, but I did have one afternoon free to do as I pleased, and Zach’s brother kindly lent me his truck so I could go into Portland and tool around.
The trip into Portland is beautiful, with deciduous trees exploding in fall colors, and lush evergreens. Going over the bridge over the Columbia river is cool, too. There’s something I like about navigable rivers. It’s like they hint at the power and grandeur of the ocean that lies however many miles downstream. The traffic has an odd schizophrenic quality however…I put myself in big city driving mode and was speeding and making quick lane changes and all those things I was expecting would be necessary…only to find at some points that I was the only one going any faster than the speed limit and at other points that my 5-6 miles above the speed limit was woefully inadequate.
Surprisingly this is only partially representative of Portland traffic
My first stop wasn’t technically Portland but Beaverton, to go to the king of Pacific Northwest Asian supermarkets, Uwajimaya. Having gotten what I
needed could get back on the airplane I headed into Portland proper to find Mecca, AKA Powell’s books.
If you look closely you can see the angels
I’ve been told ever since my college days I need to go to Powell’s. That for an avid reader like me Powell’s is the closest thing to heaven on earth that I was going to experience that didn’t involve being naked. They were right. Put a weight room and a kitchen stocked with locally sourced food in that mofo and I’d never have any reason to leave. The store is split up into different colored rooms, roughly organized by subject. The first room you walk into is the green room and, with tables of books by David Sedaris, Mary Roach, Jared Diamond, Paulo Coelho, Isabel Allende and more, ON SALE, it’s hard to even get further than that. But get further than that I did, onto the red room, home of the language and travel books. Which, not surprisingly to anyone who knows me, is where I spent the bulk of my time.
If I hadn’t shown back up in Spokane, this would have been a logical place to look for me.
After picking up a copy of the 2009 Prix Femina winner (a novel called “Personne” by Gwenaelle Aubry) I headed to the coffee shop in the store to enjoy one of the things we do best in the Pacific Northwest, coffee, and also some people watching.
And here’s what my people watching taught me. Portland has a fuckload of hipsters. They are everywhere (and I realize the irony of saying this a few sentences after I’ve talked about French literature and my love of locally sourced food). I should have known when I was parking downtown near this place called Prasad which is a cafe inside a yoga studio (which I didn’t really know was a thing). It actually looked pretty cool but…it’s a yoga cafe…it sounds like exactly the kind of thing a hipster would love until they remembered they hate actual exercise (except for riding those damn fixies which, really? Are you kidding me? The extra gears weren’t invented just to be “boring” and “mainstream,” they’re there to be “efficient” and “move you out of the way of approaching traffic” to “keep your ass alive”). I picked a spot near one of the windows at the bookshop to get my full people watch on. I saw more hipsterism in the 20 minutes I sat there than I’ve seen in a whole night at the Baby Bar.
From left to right: The mayor, city superintendent and city council president.
And it wasn’t just hipsters, though they seemed to be in the majority. It was hippies, neo-hippies, goths, punks, business people, college kids… All in all, quite interesting. And you know what? Hipsters and all, it was a great experience. Great city, nice people, THE BEST BOOKSTORE I’VE EVER BEEN TO and more culture in one block than Spokane has in…well, most of the city.
I’m quite fond of you Portland. I’ll be back.