Portland: What a Trip!
My daughter Rachel moved to Portland shortly after graduating from college and she’d been raving about it ever since. “You’ve got to come here, Mom, you’ll love it. Everybody here is doing what you’ve been talking about and writing about all my life!” She sent me local magazines to whet my appetite to visit: Columbia River PDX Green Living – A Practical Journal for Friends of the Environment and the 11th Annual ReDirect Guide to Green Businesses.
I’ve felt like I was shouting against the wind my whole career as an environmental journalist and author. Living in Florida there has been plenty of motivation to keep me busy trying to better inform the public about issues which really are life and death to everyone, yet are ignored by so many. What would I have to do in a town where everybody already “gets” it?
I finally made it west after Rachel had been there for a year. She met me at the airport (where we surprised ourselves by bursting into tears – we had never been apart for so long!), then ushered me to a metro train that whizzed us to a bus that took us into her neighborhood, Laurelhurst. We walked along pleasant, tree-shaded streets with humble 40s and 50s-era homes; yards filled with all colors of blooming flowers, berries and fruit. There were even tomato plants in the medians. Rachel lived in an upstairs apartment with a roof-top terrace looking down on a small backyard lined with rose bushes. Portland’s cool, wet climate is ideal for such beauties, earning it the tag, “City of Roses.”
We lunched in the neighborhood at Pambiche on savory black beans and rice with a delectable avocado salad that we relished – all vegan. Later our friend Kristen Bebell treated us to dinner at Blossoming Lotus, an all-vegan restaurant in the Irvington district, that she and her husband Tim have taken on to much acclaim. I love vegetables, but I was amazed at the unique combinations and tasty dishes we enjoyed with our fruit cocktails. Kristen grew up with Rachel and her brother, Bud, in South Florida and she and her husband are committed to helping the world realize the value of protecting animals from the industrial nightmare our society has pushed them into. The restaurant is a longtime establishment in Portland, but our friends are refreshing it with an eclectic, delicious menu that celebrates the luscious flavors of the garden as well as the value and rights of animals.
Kristen, a glowing picture of beautiful health, was excited about the restaurant and the city, but sad to share with us news of a new fad that champions eating odd parts of animals, such as eyeballs and snouts, in some kind of perverted twist on justifying animal consumption.
Portland is a land where dreams of Generation Jonesers, like me, and Millennials, like Rachel, have merged and been forged into reality by both teams. The Jonesers are those tail-end baby boomers who grew up watching the hippies rail against the establishment in the name of peace, love, creativity and self-fulfillment. Our older siblings and their peers inspired hope in us that we could change the status quo. Then, just before we were old enough to vote, they accepted defeat, and turned instead into a band of yuppies who decided to quit fighting the “man” and instead joined Wall Street, with a few renegades relegated to eccentric obscurity. Suddenly, we young’uns were left with the ball and no experience in keeping it afloat. Wikipedia describes us thusly: “It is said that Jonesers were given huge expectations as children in the 1960s, and then confronted with a different reality as they came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, leaving them with a certain unrequited, jonesing quality.” We are the people who were so excited when Barack Obama came along – a man of our own age, espousing the ideals we shared, seemingly willing to buck the system and overthrow the powers that be in a way that our siblings had not achieved.
Our children were raised by our ideals, and consequently have not been received enthusiastically by the business community on entry to the traditional workforce. As CBS reported in Feb. 2009: “A new breed of American worker is about to attack everything you hold sacred: from giving orders, to your starched white shirt and tie… They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief, you can take your job and shove it.” The article goes on to describe the workplace as a battlefield with insolent, selfish new hires dissing the old guard, who are encouraged to coach or nanny these kids who “roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but want to be CEO by Friday.”
I pushed my kids to expand their creativity, to push themselves toward independence and not to toe the corporate line, but they’re far from self-indulgent spoiled brats as this industry-biased corporate line suggests. Pursuing their creativity, happiness and health matter; so do the planet and all its creatures. Now they, and their generation, are making those frustrated dreams of the Jonesers come true in places like Portland.
During my visit, Rachel took me on a tour of the thriving vintage fashion scene. She interned with Collette Patterns, an independent, woman-owned business that creates patterns based on 40s-style lingerie – subtle but with a modern style. We stopped by Lille, a lingerie shop that sells hand-made panties and bras for $30 to as much as $300 – it’s also a woman-owned independent shop with two storefronts in town. Next up was The English Department, where Rachel apprenticed with bridal gown designer Elizabeth Dye, who offers fully unique gowns of lace and flowing silks.
Before moving to Portland, Rachel ran her own little vintage fashion shop online, picking up cast-off clothes of linen, cotton and silk at thrift shops, and re-crafting them into stylish finds for an appreciative audience of buyers. She was doing well with her Red Lips Vintage online store, but decided to set it aside in favor of learning more about the field in this vibrant fashion community. Our last fashion stop was at the Portland Design Collective, a co-op shop featuring several local designers.
While I was in town, Cassie Ridgway, who leveraged her guitar to open her own shop, Mag-Big, to showcase locally-made fashion and art after her art fair booth became successful enough to merit the space, held an alley-way fashion show of locally-made and recycled vintage wear in the tony district of Hawthorne, where fashion and culture converge.
“I knew that the one big event I would throw my heart and soul into would be a fashion show–but not a fashion show like other fashion shows– this fashion show was about small production in the public space. I assembled a group of the smartest, most incredible movers-and-shakers I know to form the Alley 33 board,” says the 24-year-old Cassie, who holds a poetry degree from Portland State University, where she won a Kellogg Award for one of her poems. “Alley 33 was easily one of the proudest moments of my life; I am so excited to do it all again next year.
“Our vision, which absolutely lived up to its potential beyond our wildest aspirations, was to convert the historic alley of 33rd Ave./Hawthorne Blvd. into an urban runway, bringing small production apparel designers directly into the public eye.” Alley 33 featured 19 talented designers who exemplified the quality and principles of sustainability through support of small production. “I hope that Alley 33 communicated to a larger audience how essential it is to support our city’s producers, and how fun it is.”
We stopped by the Doug Fir, a night club where my son’s band would play on tour in a few weeks. I was sorry to miss the show, but glad to preview the cool club and adjacent hotel where they’d stay, The Jupiter.
We cruised an amazing food cart plaza. – Portland has 30 food cart “pods” with more than 400 food carts providing an array of global cuisines – but we lunched at Habibi, a Lebanese restaurant in the “West End.” I’d never had potato/walnut kibbe and it was a delightful comfort food that I look forward to trying again. We sat on the sidewalk, watching the crowds go by as well as the metro that swished right alongside the curb. Afterward, we made our way to Powell’s, the legendarylargest bookstore in the world, where we were happy to find my books on the shelves.
We met up with our friends at the Saturday farmer’s market at Portland State University. Susana Esclasans and Lanny Provo, an artist and photographer, live in a Chown Pella loft converted from a warehouse in the Pearl District, Portland’s tony section. The building boasts many green innovations, in addition to its status as a recycled industrial structure. Its proximity in the heart of the Pearl District makes it particularly attractive to creatives.
We strolled through the expansive market, sampling local berries and watching a mushroom grilling demonstration. A vast array of organic vegetables and flowers coupled with live local music made for a very pleasant afternoon. Rachel split off to go bikini shopping while the artists and I met local filmmaker Matt Briggs for lunch at South Port Seafood, where I had a memorable butternut squash ravioli and we talked about art, film and sustainability. Matt is a mushroom distributor who created the film Deep Green out of his passion to help the world understand our environmental issues and how we can solve them. I had screened his film at Cinema Verde, an environmental film and arts festival I host in Florida. Matt opens his home for tours so he can showcase the many ways that he’s been able to create a more efficient and sustainable home and lifestyle. “I created the film to provide an introduction to the ways we can solve these problems… how to decarbonize energy and restore land and sea.”
After dinner we met up with Rachel again and Lanny took us by Cacao, a fragrant shop dedicated to chocolate, where we sipped a thick rich brew, sampled chocolate perfume and hand lotion, and were simply intoxicated by the display of beautiful truffles and colorfully wrapped delights from around the world. Next we stopped by Deschutes, one of the largest breweries in town, for a sip of local beer before heading to the Portland Grill for a birds-eye view of the city from the rooftop restaurant.
On the last day of my visit, we rented a ZipCar and drove an hour or so out of town to Smuggler’s Cove at Oswald West Park. We passed through countryside, farms and clear-cut mountains before arriving at the beach, which was shrouded in fog even at noon. We picked wild raspberries and followed the winding forest path to the shore, then settled for a picnic and watched surfers tackle the waves. A cascade of beautiful, smooth rock formations framed the cove, which was alive with plenty of appreciative beachgoers, yet not too many to feel crowded.
I can see why Portland is such a coveted place to live for Rachel and people like us.
“It is clear that the discourse in this city for sustainable living is a salient characteristic of our economic, agricultural, educational, and artistic terrains,” said Cassie Ridgway of Mag-Big. “When we focus on locality, we as a community are making the decision to stabilize our economy by directly supporting its producers, which, in turn, has a multitude of positive effects on the environment and our immediate economic climate. By turning our economy inwards to small production, we are paying less for transported merchandise and lessening the primary consequences of imported material. We are also protecting our community from homogenization by ensuring that the community defines itself. In short, we are making a decisive measure to sustain the growth, impact, and quality made possible by our community.”
People in Portland love their environment and they aren’t afraid to protect it – Portland, land of the disenfranchised former hippies and the next generation who share their vision and have made it their home, is often tagged as the most environmentally friendly city in the nation. Green buildings abound, recycling is the norm, vintage fashion thrives, the farmer’s market is full of organics; musicians and creatives are revered. Public transport is in place, cheap and efficient, and you can hike across town in half an hour or ride your bike in a few minutes. Claiming more microbreweries that anywhere else in the country – with a mayor named Sam Adams – people enjoy the chance to savor relaxation. It’s even legal to smoke a joint after work (if you have a prescription, of course).
What’s not to like? Returning to Florida, I wondered how these places and their populations could be so different. As much as I love the sunny blue skies and balmy weather of Florida, I have to wonder, how did I end up in the land where old conservatives went to retire, and to legislate? Why can’t we evolve into a more forward-thinking , supportive community? I guess being here and working toward that instead of giving up and going away is the only way we’ll ever get there.
Trish Riley is an award-winning journalist and author who has covered environmental issues since 1992. Her books include The Complete Idiot’s Guides to Green Living and Greening Your Business (Penguin, 2007 and 2009). Trish is also founding director of Cinema Verde, an environmental film festival, and publisher of www.GoGreenNation.org. She loves exploring the world and life!