Portland: A Retrospective

Five years ago, in the worst pain of my life, I posed a question to my friends: I want to go on a trip, but where should I go? The responses were varied and intriguing, but with my social anxiety as high as it was, I ruled out international travel. I didn’t want to go somewhere where there was a language barrier. Besides, there were so many cool places in the US that I still hadn’t seen. Although no one suggested it, one locale was gaining traction, a place that seemed almost too good to be true. That place was Portland, Oregon.

Replete with good coffee and microbreweries, nature, city, and friendly people, I became more and more fixated on Portland the more I read about it. I booked a trip to shortly thereafter, and left early in the morning after little to no sleep. Although I missed my connection in San Francisco and ended up getting there a day late, I didn’t mind. There was no timetable for my trip. Portland seemed to be magic, and I was prepared to spend as much time there as I needed.

I’ll never forget that trip, not ever. Vividly green trees lined the streets, and it was early May. I remember my trip to the Japanese Rose Garden, and my expectations were blown to bits. Every scene, every part of the garden was so alive with color. Everything seemed to be in full-bloom, and the plants were well manicured, taken care of. Everything I saw looked like a painting come to life, or recreated by a highly skilled gardener. I walked around listening to music, and having my own sort of religious experience. I remember my sister’s line, “You went to a garden of your own volition?” I did, and I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of peace. It was therapy without the person sitting across from you, asking you about your week. It was nature in all its splendor, and all it asked of me was that I just clear my mind and focus on what was right in front of me.

When I came to Portland five years ago, I first had to pry myself off of a couch where I’d spent a few months. To me, Portland offered a reprieve from life on the East Coast. It offered me a chance to reinvent myself, to kick-start my life. I wasn’t sure if I’d have the balls to pull the trigger and actually move there even if I loved it, but it was something I strongly considered. I didn’t know anyone there, but after a meal at a local restaurant, I made friends with the bar tender, and went out with him and his people every night that I was there. Someone stopped me on the street just to say hello, even though I had my headphones firmly in my ears. I described the city as, “obnoxiously friendly,” and couldn’t wait until my return.

As many of you know, I did not choose to move to Portland. I was afraid to be that far away from home, especially in the wake of what had just happened. I chose New York instead, and I don’t regret that decision. I get an adrenaline shot every time I go there, and I’ve got many fantastic friends that I regularly return to visit. Still, I wonder what would have happened had I chosen the other option, had I taken the other leap of faith.

Five years have gone by, and the city of Portland has changed considerably. Five years is a long time, and considerable building and gentrification has taken place. There’s only one real way to say it in my mind: Portland has been discovered. In the time between visits, it has gained in popularity, and people are moving there in droves. I had selfishly hoped that it would stay the way it was, that it would be a secret sanctuary I could go back and visit any time I wanted to, that I could recapture the magic anytime I needed a boost.

On that May morning in 2012, when I visited the Japanese Rose Garden, there weren’t many people there. The air was cool, and it even rained a bit while I was there, but no one seemed concerned. I walked around in a trance, and I was able to relax and just enjoy the nature. The rushing water brought me peace that I’d needed.

This time, there were a lot more people, and it was the middle of the summer. Portland is about to be hit by a heat wave this week, which will catapult temperatures well over 100. It hasn’t rained much, and the plants in the Japanese Rose Garden seemed to be robbed of their vibrant colors that made the first visit such an amazing experience. I took pictures, but wasn’t able to muster up the same level of enthusiasm. I still have the pictures and the memories, though, and that will just have to keep me satiated until the next time I visit, perhaps when it’s a little bit cooler out.

Revisiting the past is a dangerous game. The memories you have tend to get distorted, especially when they’re fond memories. I was so blown away by my first visit to Portland, and I knew that topping it was going to be a significant challenge. It fell short this time around, but maybe that’s because I was view the city through a lens that was five years old, when everything seemed to be full of magic. The city was such a different place then, but I also know that I was a completely different person, and I’m happy to report that I’m doing much better these days. So much has changed, but I know I’ll never forget the friends I made, the donuts I ate, or the smell of the clean air. I’m still so thankful for all that the city gave me when I needed it the most.


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