I just can’t seem to stay away…
In the book I’m working on, I write about my first trip to Portland in vivid detail. I ate good food, listened to some good music, and experienced nature in abundance. It was such an amazing trip, but lurking on the background was the pain and trauma that I was trying to pretend didn’t exist. I was wounded, but I didn’t want to think about it. I was positively thrilled when I made friends that took me out every night. I went there knowing absolutely no one, and so I was grateful for the much needed diversion. It was as if someone was looking out for me, and knew that I shouldn’t be too alone for too long.
This time, I went there with a little bit of an agenda. I’d love to tell you that it was a secret, but anyone who is close to me, I’m sure that they knew. I was trying to figure out if this was the next step in my journey, if living here was something that I was finally ready to do. I’d be away from my family, but I could definitely fly back and visit. I’d be away from friends, but honestly, my friends are all over the place, and with several of them raising families, we don’t see each other much. Heck, I wouldn’t even have to change my therapist or psychiatrist, as we’re all using Telehealth. They will come with me wherever I may go.
I landed at PDX, and smoothly made my way into the city. I dropped my bags, looked out the window of where I was staying, and chuckled. Staring me in the face was a painting on the side of the building that read, “Fish Grotto.” During my first trip, that was where I’d made friends. I’d arrived at the restaurant just before closing, and the bartender had been kind enough to let me stay and eat. We got to talking, about music and I think writing, and then he asked if I wanted to come with him. I met his friends, and we spent the nights bouncing around downtown Portland. Any place is more fun when you’re with people who know it well.
The restaurant had been closed since my last trip to Portland, which meant that the painting had been there for at least seven years. I was sad that the restaurant was gone, but maybe it was a sign that I should start to move on. After all, maybe I’m wasting my time chasing an experience that will never happen again, and I should be content with the positive memories that I have. The restaurant, the people, they aren’t coming back. Even so, Portland is still a worthwhile trip, even if the subsequent visits haven’t totally lived up to the hype. It’s still a very comfortable place to be.
This year, Portland was great, but there was something missing. At different points in my life, I’ve had these feelings, when I knew that something was the absolute right choice. I got a surge of electricity when it was time to move to New York. I had a similar feeling when I sat in a new car, and quietly said to myself, “This is the one.” Some things, you just know. You trust your intuition, and no more deliberation is required. I wish more things were like that. I’ve been told that I have a west coast personality, but despite all the traveling I’ve done to that region, I haven’t been able to figure out where I fit in. It just hasn’t clicked, and I don’t want to force something if it’s just not there.
This was my third trip to the City of Roses, and it did not disappoint, even if it didn’t live up to the experience of the first. At the very least, it was better than my second trip. I think I was more mentally prepared for a city that was maybe losing a bit of its luster, as it became more and more populated and commercialized. It had lost some of its weirdness, while still staying fantastically weird. I walked everywhere, eschewing the city’s stellar public transit in the process. I went on a hike, took in new sights, and did my best to get a full helping of all that the city had to offer. I wanted to leave no stone unturned. The trip went faster than I wanted it to, but some moments stayed with me.
Down the street was a bar called the Independent. It was a sports bar that had a decent draft selection, and pretty solid food as well. I’d been there a couple of times to watch playoff basketball, and frankly, the distraction was welcome. There’s something about being in a sports bar when you’re alone. You have something to draw your focus, and being there by yourself is less weird because you’re watching something. If anything, you just look like an avid fan. I had been there a couple of times, as it was close to where I was staying, and so on my last night there, I decided to grab dinner. I’m getting very used to doing things alone, and I have to say, I don’t mind it.
The bar was more packed than I anticipated, and so I sat down next to an older gentleman. I asked if the seat was taken. The gentleman said something like, “I wish you were an attractive person of the opposite sex,” but let me take it anyways. We got to talking, and we actually had more in common than I anticipated. It turns out he was originally from Boston. He was 57, and had spent the later years of his life living on the west coast. I don’t remember all the details, but from what I could deduce, he didn’t miss it all that much, even if he had a ton of stories from his time spent living there, where he grew up. I gave him a lot of credit, it can be so difficult to leave the place that you’re from. To go across the country is another level entirely.
We considered leaving for greener pastures, but stayed for food and another drink. The conversation continued, and eventually he invited me to another place. It’s so strange, how I tend to relate to older people better than my own peers. There’s something to be said for shared life experience, how what I’ve been through, it tends to happen to people at a much older age. It can make things tricky when I’m relating to people in their thirties, but when it comes to meeting older people, it’s a smooth and seamless conversation. There’s a mindset about life that we both seem to share.
We bar hopped a bit, and the conversation deepened. He started to tell me more about his life, how his divorce had been devastating, and in the wreckage, he had to think long and hard about how to proceed, if he even wanted to at all. I told him that my dad’s passing had had a similar impact on my life, that after it took place, that I couldn’t really make sense of life anymore. I was 24, and had no idea how to begin again. We were roughly twenty years apart in age, and yet, it felt like I was talking to a good friend. We talked until it was quitting time.
When the bars closed, we started our walk home. He lived in an apartment in the city, and walked with me as long as he could. He gave me his number, and told me to call him if I ever moved there. I think we hugged before I departed, and made my way back to where I was staying. The night had been just what I needed. I was thrilled to meet someone that I could talk to about what was going on in my life. I shared stories with a complete stranger, but he understood me nonetheless.
I have enjoyed my trips to Portland, but it may be some time before I return. My therapist remarked that it seems to be my happy place, or rather, the place I come to when it’s time to make a big life decision. I love this aspect of PDX, but I hope that I’m set for a few years, that I won’t be at a crossroads for some time. Or maybe that’s not such a bad thing, to be figuring things out. Maybe I shouldn’t worry. Maybe I should just enjoy each day, and make the best decisions that I can. Lately, I’m enjoying a hot streak of decisiveness, as I’m realizing that it’s better to make a decision than to let it languish. I’m sure I’ll return to Portland, OR. Maybe it’ll be just a visit, or maybe I’ll come home to stay. Thanks for reading.