I have been thinking of my fair city a lot lately. I love it here. I want to buy a house here. I want to feel secure in the life I have built for myself here, but honestly, my family can barely manage to stay in a semi-affordable rental house and I am in constant fear the property management company will decided they could be getting more than we are paying and just kick us out. I see it happening all over town. I truly don’t know how people are able to pay the rents and buy houses in the market here now. I see my City changing. I read/see at least three headlines a week about how things are getting so shitty and unaffordable here (and that is a very generous estimate; it seems the damned Willamette Week can’t keep their flame fanning pie holes shut about anything involving this topic, or offshoot topics, these days and they aren’t offering much in the way of thoughts on solutions).
I could be angry about this. I would be lying if I said I don’t have moments of outrage. Mostly I am afraid that after 25 years of putting everything I have into this relationship with Portland, it is going to turn its back on me and leave me out in the cold. And that my friends, does not make me angry, it breaks my fucking heart. But it also makes me feel all fighty. I didn’t get here by giving up. I didn’t manage to stay here by burying my rose [city] colored glasses in a drawer and forgetting who I am and why I came here. And this city didn’t become what it is without me or the rest of my generation.
Some stuff you should know about me…
I have lived in Oregon my entire life. In fact, I am sixth generation Oregonian on my mom’s side and fifth on my dad’s side. My great grandfather was raised in the logging camps that surrounded “Stump Town” (for those not in the know, that is what they once called Portland) while his father cleared the way for this city to be built. My great grandfather on my mother’s side was a member of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s and lived in an apartment off of NW 23rd. My grandfather on my father’s side was a prize fighter in Portland to make ends meet for his family during the depression… his oldest daughter, my Aunt Pat, was born in Vanport hospital. Both my mother and father’s families ended up settling and raising their children on the Oregon coast. I was born in Portland while my father served in the US Coast Guard out of Portland, and when he finished his service my family moved to Bay City Oregon where I was raised for 13 of my first 18 years surrounded by my family and our history.
Truthfully, as idyllic as this sounds, I always wanted the fuck out of there. My love affair with Portland started as a small child. I LOVED getting to come to Portland. If any relative was making the trip I was wounded if I didn’t get invited. My grandparents made regular trips to Corno’s Food Market and I lived for them! We would drive down Burnside in the late 70s and early 80s and my grandpa would point out “ladies of the evening” and “hobos” and when other passengers in the car were locking doors and averting their eyes, I was rolling down the windows and waving. The older I got, the more I felt Portland’s pull. We came here for shopping and concerts and whatever else we could think of when I was a teen. I got my first fake I.D. to come to Portland so I could see Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival (it was 18+). And as soon as I turned 18 and saved up a little money, I packed up my things and I moved here. That was 25 years ago. I am just as in love with it today as I was then.
Some stuff you should know about Portland…
It was a bit of a shit hole in the 80s and 90s (probably earlier than that too, who knows). Yeah, there were nicer neighborhoods and pockets of wealth just like there are now, but on the whole, parents still feared their children moving away from the small towns of rural Oregon to live in the “big city” because scary shit still happened here. Blatantly and frequently. When I moved here the wonderful and charismatic Bud Clark was nearing the end of his second term of fighting to make this city a better place. He had the Burnside skate park built… he improved public transit, he helped make downtown more accessible and appealing to the citizen’s of Portland. And here was my generation, young and learning how to adult in all of the excitement. I know I didn’t have the same experience as all other “GenXers”, but I am confident I am not alone in my feelings on this matter (I really hate the term “GenX”, but I think I will stick with it because it helps paint a picture). I spent almost every day of the first years I lived in Portland between Pioneer Square & the X-Ray Annex, and Powell’s Books & La Patisserie (with lingering stops at 2nd Avenue Records, The Big Bang Warehouse, and Hot Lips Pizza to name a few). At night I was a regular at the X-Ray Café, The City Night Club, and when it was a slow night with no other options Confetti’s/The Quest. I covered more miles on those piss soaked blocks than I can count and I loved every single moment of it.
As I grew up, so did Portland, under the care of the people of Portland and Mayor Vera Katz. She seemed to care about the things we cared about and to continue Bud Clark’s works to improve the city and make it more accessible (I know it wasn’t always liquid sunshine and roses with Vera… but she loves the shit out of this city and so do I). We all, this generation of us becoming adults together, shaped this city. As we all started raising children we started caring less about clubs and the downtown scene, and more about schools and parks. But we were and are still are the wild at heart creatives who have kept this city the magical place that it is. We made it the place that everyone else wants a piece of.
I became an adult here. I fell in love for the first time here. I had my heart broken for the first time here. I became a mother here. More than anything else, Portland was the first place I felt safe just being me and doing my own thing. I have given my life to this city and she has given hers to me. And you know what… as much as we have all grown, I still see the untamed Portland I saw years ago. Burnside is still soaked in urine. We still have a homeless problem. You can still see drug addicts shooting heroine on the street. While I haven’t been chased through downtown in the dead of the night by neo-Nazi skinheads because I was hanging out with “Sharps” (skinheads of the anti-neo-Nazi variety) in about 24 years, I am sure there are still things like this taking place. There are still gang shootings. There is still rampant gentrification (Portland’s not so well kept dirty little secret). But along with all of this shit that is still “wrong” with Portland (nope, none of these struggles are new here); there are still the things that make it magic. We are still here… the people who have been fighting for Portland our entire adult lives… the people who have been nurturing and loving this city and sprinkling our bizarre brand of fairy dust all over this place. We made it somewhere people want to live because we loved it warts and all.
This might sound like an aging Portlander telling all the new fuckers moving here to get off my special, glittery Portland lawn, but it isn’t. If we are being honest with ourselves we have to admit that this isn’t just a Portland problem, this surge in housing prices, it is a society problem. A United States problem. A world problem. And it isn’t a new one. No, this isn’t a complaint. It is a call to action. It is a plea from one Portland lover to the rest of you who are still here and out there. She is as much a part of us as we are her and we didn’t get where we are by giving up. The magic of Portland isn’t held in its street art; its titty bars and food carts, its clubs, arts and music scenes, the organic grocery stores, the independent book stores and businesses, the restaurants, the drag clubs, the parades, the tattoo and piercing parlors, or the god damned doughnuts… Trey Shannon was making music and art happen long before he was making delicious fucking doughnuts. And like him, we have seen numerous failures and triumphs and we have done it together. The magic in this city is in our fight, in our refusal to conform, and in our passion for doing our own thing. Our generation didn’t make this place what it is alone (but let’s be real, we made it pretty fucking awesome), we made it what we needed it to be. And we will again. I will not walk away from her without a fight… and I don’t think you should be either.