Say Nice Things 2024

Say Nice Things About Portland… Again!

It’s time to take Portland back from the buttholes. Here’s how.

Portland’s Cutest Creatures

Let’s say nice things about the city’s most adorable critters!

Why I (Still) Love Portland

A former Portlander returns to survey the city’s damage—and rebirth.

Say Nice Things FUN PAGE: Can You Find Time-othy the Chrono Goblin?

Time-othy the Chrono Goblin is causing trouble in Portland's past, present, and future... so find the little fucker, QUICK!!

Say Nice Things About… Biking in Portland

Things have changed since the early 2000s (not to mention 1896), but biking in Portland is still magical.

(Portland Chefs) Say Nice Things About… Portland Chefs

Portland’s premier restaurant and cart owners hype up the local food and chefs they love!

Say Nice Things About Local Drag Artists (Proudly Representing Portland All Year Long)

You might not know these performers (yet), but these drag artists consistently embody Portland’s strange and timeless beauty.

Say Nice Things About… Portland’s Themed Bookstores!

Whether you’re into sci-fi, romance, or weirdness, Portland has a bookstore for YOU!

The Evolution of Sleater-Kinney

Indie rockers reflect on 30 years as a band, and why they still call Portland home.

AfroVillage Does the Real Work on Portland’s Homeless Crisis

Founder LaQuida Landford shows up for Oregon’s most vulnerable ‘round the clock.

[Welcome to our second annual "SAY NICE THINGS ABOUT PORTLAND" issue! Read it online here, or if you like physical, paper-y things, you can find it in more than 50 locations all around the city!—eds]

I sat in my car outside of the Mercury offices. It was the beginning of March and I was afraid to open my door. It was raining—the kind of rain that’s hard to be romantic about even when you’re perpetually homesick. The drops hit your windshield in a way that’s meditative when you’re in park and horrifying when you’re in drive. It’s that sort of sustained, battering, ever-present rain that Portland gets every so often that lets people say “it’s so green here!” when they visit in August. It’s the kind of rain that native Oregonians, for whatever dumb reason, insist on braving without an umbrella.

When I finally succumbed to the reality of the weather, I jogged through the deluge, and into the friendly confines of the Mercury’s office, and that’s when the pitch came in. “We’re doing a whole issue about why we still love Portland. You want to write something?”

To me, this wasn’t even a question. The two things in this world I love most are Portland and attention, and this gave me an opportunity to combine them. I have an affection for this city that starts in my bones and weaves its way through my wardrobe, walls, and general sense of identity. It’s verging on obnoxious, to be honest. I’m wearing a Kacha T-shirt as I write this. My AirPods are in a Trail Blazer-themed case. A sizable banner hangs in my living room, decorated with a rose and the words “Portland, Oregon.” Not “I Heart Portland ‘’ or  “Stumptown” or something else appropriately twee for a felt flag. Just “Portland, Oregon”—a point of interest, a simple declaration of fact. Except, it isn’t even a fact, because my living room is in Los Angeles. I’m an expatriate evangelist. I grew up in Beaverton, spent my twenties in Southeast, and I’ve been gone now for just more than a decade. A lot has changed in that decade.

Still, I agreed to the writing assignment in an instant. The editor and I fell into a banter that’s immediately familiar to anyone who has been put into a position to defend Portland.

“People act like the entire city is on fire! Oh, you can’t go downtown? I was just down there and I bought a $7 coffee and I saw a store selling $450 selvedge jeans! People were smiling, people were laughing, Pioneer Square was buzzing! Nobody was engaged in open combat with the police! Yes, I saw some people doing drugs—people have always been doing drugs downtown! I’ve done drugs downtown! It’s just a bunch of dumb Fox News bullshit propaganda. It’s so stupid. (Pause.) I mean. (Longer pause.) It is gnarly. (Pause.) But it’s always been gnarly!”

When I’m outside the city, I feel very comfortable having this conversation. My job takes me on the road and when people find out that I’m originally from Portland, they are, without exception, compelled. This has always been the case, by the way. Ten years ago, telling someone you were from Portland was like telling someone you were dating Stanley Tucci. This year it’s like telling someone you’re dating Stanley Kowalski. In liberal cities people greet you with concern; in conservative cities they shower you with disdain. Like, honestly, an insane amount of disdain. With the Republican set, the city has reached mythical levels of animus on par with “welfare queens” and women who have even one opinion about their own bodies. Whatever their background, I’m more than happy to disabuse them of their concern, panic, or unsettling, misplaced hate. These people sincerely believe that the city is actively patrolled by fentanyl zombie ANTIFA supersoldiers, pulling hand-crocheted guns on innocent taxpayers, and demanding they update the pronouns on their LinkedIn. I savor the opportunity to correct them. In fact, if they give me their email, I offer to send them a list of ice cream places they gotta try if they ever visit. Ice cream places. Multiple. Even Tucker Carlson likes ice cream. Defending Portland to an outsider is easy.

When I’m talking to someone in Portland, these conversations are harder, or at the very least, more complex. I’m the outsider now. I’m the tourist. I’m the person who thinks of Portland in terms of ice cream. You live here. You know the hyperbole is bonkers, but you’ve also cleaned human shit off your shoe in a puddle next to Powells. You see your fellow Portlanders hunched over in doorways hitting little glass pipes, and it’s more people than you used to see doing that, and maybe you don’t care. Or maybe you do care, but you care about the person, the human, who was a baby once just like you and me, who has been driven to desperation. You care about the economic system that has driven them there and the social safety net that has failed to deliver them any kind of meaningful aid. You care in the right way. Maybe you care like that and also in the superficial way. Is that okay? Maybe you hate the broken windows, even if they’re on a boarded up building, even if they’re on a Starbucks, even though corporations are violence, or whatever you’re supposed to say so people don’t get mad at you. By the way, please don’t get mad at me. My point is, no matter how you feel about the city of Portland, you live here. I don’t. I live in a world of increasingly hazy memories forged in chicken wings from Pok Pok, tequila sodas from Dig a Pony, and any number of other toppled institutions that won’t mean anything to anyone in a generation. I can’t spin you a hagiography. 

I left the Mercury offices and headed back out into the rain. It was dawning on me that writing about Portland wouldn’t be as easy as it was back when I had a weekly column in the print version of this newspaper. I needed to think, and I can’t think unless I walk, and since my veins now run cold with the coward blood of the Californian, I needed to walk indoors, away from the storm. Using the internal homing instincts of a man who hasn’t held an address here since Obama was President, I headed to Lloyd Center.

"He said that things did suck, but also, it was like when a tree falls over and a bunch of plants and mushrooms and smaller trees start growing out of it’s collapsed trunk. I was immediately jealous of the metaphor and then, just as suddenly, I was embarrassed. I had forgotten where I came from."

You don’t need me to tell you what Lloyd Center is like right now, but you may need me to tell you what it was like at the turn of the century. Here stood a bustling center of millennial commerce unmatched in the Pacific Northwest. Lloyd Center fucking ruled. There were so many places to buy baseball hats. There was an arcade, two movie theaters, a Spencers and a Hot Topic, an ice skating rink, and a store that mostly sold rainsticks and driftwood and other things a childhood psychologist could use to decorate their office. The Gap, Baby Gap, Gap Kids. Express. Express for Men. Express for Dogs. The food court was like a grand bazaar offering delights from the furthest reaches of the globe—every manner of cuisine, as long as it was drowned in corn syrup. Lloyd Center was A MALL. Now it’s a crater. I feel like a schmuck saying this, but it was depressing. My friend, who is not a native, joined me on the walk and I kept pointing to vacant storefronts and telling him what it used to be, back in better times. 

Lloyd Center isn’t abandoned, though, not quite. There are little stores popping up here and there. You’ll see a comic book shop, like a hermit crab, in the shell of a shuttered Banana Republic. There’s a sneaker shop. There’s a pop-up art gallery. The headquarters of a civil rights organization. I don’t mean to paint a rosier picture than reality. Lloyd Center has fallen. I was lamenting the state of things and my friend, who’s not from Portland but who lives in Portland, waved his hand towards the failed mall. He said that it did suck, but also, it was like when a tree falls over and a bunch of plants and mushrooms and smaller trees start growing out of it’s collapsed trunk. I was immediately jealous of the metaphor and then, just as suddenly, I was embarrassed. I had forgotten where I came from.

All those hometown T-shirts in my closet and cookbooks on my shelf, all the time I spent bragging about the beautiful summers and farm-to-table cuisine, all the love I had been shining on the superficial edifice of Portland, the value I had been extracting from the city’s cultural footprint all these years—and I’d lost touch with what really makes this city beautiful. The rot. The rot is what I love about Portland. I love the broken people who have run so far west that there isn’t anywhere left to go but down. I love the artists creating and collapsing and abandoning their dreams for just long enough to pick up some new ones. I love that there are people who refuse to let a pile of shit and a broken window stop them from starting a business. I love that they hate to complain, but do it anyway. I love that we try, and fail, and try again. I love that guy sleeping in a tent, smoking meth, and I wish things were better for him. Even if I’m annoyed that he’s ruining my brunch, I’m happy he’s here and alive, and not in Cleveland and dead. And you’re happy about that too, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. I love that it’s hard to be in Portland, because it’s always been hard to be here. 

Don’t let Portlandia’s time in the sun fool you, this city has always been about the rot and the fertility that comes with it. Portland has always been about the rain. How do you think it got so green?