I can’t watch the show Portlandia. I can’t fucking endure hipsters under normal conditions, and they’ve taken over my city.
Full disclosure: I moved to Portland a couple of years before the Clinton era began. Everything turned sunny-side-up in a hurry. I was a Tri-Met reliant office drone during the work week, which meant that I saw the same bums day in and day out for years. The panhandlers changed frequently. Instead of hipsters, we had a constant parade of yuppies. I did not consider myself a yuppie, since I was anything but upwardly mobile. More than half my salary went to a dank hole of an apartment in Northwest, before anyone thought of referring to it as the Pearl District. A couple of streets had pricey boutiques, but mostly it was college kids and hippies. Lots of windows with “End Apartheid Now!” placards, lots of tie-dyed pizza throwers, lots of white people with dreds smoking skunkweed in the park.
What made me fall in love with this early version of modern Portlandia?
Being on the bus and seeing another office drone in full business armor compliment a punker on her jewelry. Watching them talk cheerfully and be sure to greet each other on following shared bus days made me smile.
Wearing a huge messenger bag was an invitation for all kinds of people to ask me for tissues, breathmints, maxipads, and other assistance, but it never turned out to be a mugging. That was heartwarming.
Another office day on the bus included a streetkid sitting next to me and asking if I had any Tylenol, her cramps were killing her. As usual, I was in trenchcoat and briefcase mode, so I was delighted to be treated like a human being and not a high rise clone. She didn’t know the difference between Tylenol and Ibuprofen, or why aspirin might be a bad idea. She gave me a squeeze when it was my stop.
When I was briefly on a different bus schedule, the early morning bus route was filled with other trenchcoat-and-briefcasers…and one morning we all turned up, one by one, carrying Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which had just been released. The ride was utterly silent as we all read, and when people started getting off, downtown, there were quiet smiling nods of farewell. It was another day that bound me to that town.
Like the day I was in a bad mood and hustling, unsmiling, around Pioneer Courthouse Square. Rounding the corner at Meier & Frank, a streetkid who looked just like Rose McGowan stepped in front of me and asked if she could have a quarter to call home. I opened my bag, told her I didn’t have a quarter, and handed her a five-dollar bill instead. She smiled, blew me a kiss, and scampered away. I didn’t stop smiling all day.
A similar thing happened years earlier in Salem, just after I graduated from college. I was hating life, in full bitchface, hiding behind Ray-Bans and earphones, running errands downtown. A very thuggish looking punked out guy who towered over me tapped me on the shoulder, easily striding to match my forced-march pace, and it scared me to death. I pulled out my earphones and glared at him. He handed me a green-paper-wrapped rose from Anderson McIlnay Florist, which was right around the corner, and said he just wanted to tell me he thought I was very pretty. Little courtly bow, big wolfish grin, and away he went before I could wonder if it was bait from the big bad wolf. I was gobsmacked. It might have been the beginning of my love for the whole damned state.
Like the time we were walking home from closing out Embers and having a late-late-early breakfast at the Roxy. Very clubbed out, party monster style, hooting and laughing, and a bum came up to panhandle. I gave him a couple of bucks and he held my hand and told me a long and beautiful story about my future as a happily married woman with many, many children. I thanked him and gave him a squeeze. He was higher than a kite, but it still touched me.