Portland Take 1
I am 20. I’m getting a great education at a state university in a wonderful small city; I have lots of friends and fun – the hiking and ice cream can’t be beat – yet I’m curious about life outside a big public university. What if I experienced one of those small elite-seeming intellectual schools I had eschewed as a high school student when their glossy brochures kept appearing in the mail?
(At 17 I was mortified rather than proud when I was in a group photo in the local paper of all the students honored for having the highest SAT scores- did I publicly have to reveal something that seemed so uncool at the time?)
So a few years later and slightly more mature, I thought I’d like to check out a completely different type of academic setting. Others went on semesters abroad, I opted for a semester in Portland. Reed College to be exact.
I arrived not knowing a soul. I somehow met someone when checking in and crashed at his group house, earnestly called the Dustbin of History, where the inhabitants talked about radical politics and made their own granola. Within a day I found someone seeking a roommate in a classic little 2 bedroom house in SE Portland, a fellow student who became an instant friend, one of many relationships I formed within weeks of arriving.
On the surface the school was composed of a fairly homogeneous group of lit dance anthropology majors moving and arguing across the campus green, yet there were so many people different from any I’d ever met: there were the guys who made MDMA in a lab (apparently the Chem department was very strong : ); my first friends in AA who invited me to their sober Thanksgiving; there was the crew who volunteered on weekends to chaperone young woman who were aggressively denounced by protesters at the local abortion clinic; a satirical group called Reds for Reagan who drew national media coverage for the then Republican candidate’s visit to the city; the others who spent every evening at the library studying until closing time, biking home in what seemed a constant drizzle that was the perfect weather for staying inside and reading, yet mild enough that you could still get out and explore.
And explore I did – Portland gave me my first interest in urban planning as I marveled at how well designed the city was – eminently bikeable with free buses around downtown, I could easily visit the great farmers market, Powell’s Books (the world’s largest independent bookstore), local parks. I could get medicinal herbs at a coop and good local wine at the supermarket, attend great concerts on campus or out in local clubs. I stayed close to college much of the time and was enthralled by the city whenever I ventured out.
It was a great unplanned adventure. I enjoyed that semester so much, yet was too young to appreciate how remarkable so much of it was, the way I made a plan by myself and went off into the unknown without a worry in the world, trusting or at least assuming it would all work out.
Not surprised that it did.
Portland Take 2
Now 40 years later it is B starting a new chapter in Portland and I am so excited for him, for all the people and experiences that will be in his future. I am his traveling companion for the first few days to help him settle in, to satiate my curiosity about his new apartment and neighborhood. His aunt and uncle will drive down from Seattle, the Pacific Northwest welcoming committee. I’m thrilled for our reunion – it’s been five years since I’ve been out west.
This time around the planning is altogether different: I’ve organized three different helpers for V, shopped for food while I’m away, gone through the daily schedule with T, done everything but change the weather forecast, which I can’t control. (Not surprisingly, rain is predicted for Portland.) I have an airbnb and have ordered a bed to be delivered to B’s place on our first day, the rest we will piece together while we’re there. This trip is about B yet I’m elated for my first travel in years, still in awe that it’s happening. Forty years has found me not as fearless and energetic; but also in many ways stronger, wiser, more grateful for and aware of every small detail that makes the journey possible. I don’t take anything for granted this time around.