Welcome me back to Portland! It’s been so long, it’s so nice to see me again. I’ve resided in Portland for 18 years, but have spent almost half of that time touring in a rock band. So although my house is in Portland, I still sleep in cheap hotel beds many nights out of the year. I live on the road and don’t feel truly at home in any one place. I’m just visiting.
I spent the last month or so in Los Angeles and let me tell you, Portland—I get it. I get why people in Portland have such a disdain for LA. Why would you want to drive faster than 25 MPH? Why would you want to eat Mexican food served to you by Mexicans? And why in the hell would you ever want to live, or, God forbid, actually work in the sun? The sun—for people who have never traveled out of Portland—is a gigantic ball of burning gas that appears above LA every day and causes such impairments as sun tans, ambition, and sometimes, even genuine happiness. I can see no reason why anyone from our fair town would ever want to visit, much less live in LA.
Here’s the thing, though: Every time I return to Portland, it actually seems more like LA. The food here is fancy, the rent is expensive, and all the cars have California plates. People are getting more ambitious here all the time—some of them even have jobs—and I swear the other day I even saw the sun for a few hours.
Portland is obviously changing, and quickly. It seems like every day another classic dive bar is being torn down to make way for a posh new restaurant that will serve basically the same drinks at double the price, in a tacky bid to convince us we were just barely surviving without artisanal tallboys.
I would say the city is being whitewashed, except I don’t think it’s possible for Portland to be any whiter than it already is. But it’s rapidly being scrubbed of much of the phenomena that made it interesting in the first place. This past summer, in Forest Park, I saw a junkie shooting heroin into his foot. It made me so sad, because I knew the truth in my heart: In a few weeks, that junkie was gonna be a condo.
That’s a true story, and the grossest part of that story is not that someone was shooting heroin in broad daylight, in a public park. The grossest part is that it was a hot day, and the dude was sitting on a blanket in the hot sun. Next to him on the blanket was a gallon of milk. I watched as he shot heroin between his toes, then took a long pull off a hot gallon of milk. Whenever I tell this story in Portland, no one flinches when I talk about the guy shooting up, but people get the most disgusted look on their faces when I tell them about the milk.
So, if you had to choose: shoot smack between your toes, or drink a hot gallon of milk? No one ever chooses the milk. That’s the spirit of Old Portland, still alive.
Anyone wanna go to Forest Park?