Portland: Where Young People Go to Retire


Home. That’s what I thought when I pulled my suitcase off the MAX trolley through the cold wet streets of Portland, my feet sloshing through piles of soggy limp leaves starting to break down back into earth. I’m home.

That was November of last year. I’d taken 3 months to live & volunteer in New Zealand at a wonderful meditation retreat, hiking through world class national parks – totally lost in the Lord of the Rings environment – surrounded by lovely humans from all over the world, connecting over card games & live music (one of the most beneficial aspects of being starved of wifi), in the Spring of the Southern Hemisphere. But I was really looking forward to being home. The whole time.

I spent a week in Hawai’i on my way. It was free to stop, so I decided checking out paradise was probably an ok way to break up a long flight. I couchsurfed in Waikiki, which means I stayed in a posh sky-rise with private saunas and a pool on the roof for free. I had white sand beaches down the road and some of the best happy hour specials I’ve ever seen. And I was still looking forward to the Fall rain.

I thought that was it. I thought my body wanted the Fall because it was used to the seasons changing a certain way. It was biological. I wanted to get home to the Pacific Northwest, and its weather, because it was home. I thought nothing of feeling so alive in the wet streets of Portland. I was back. PNW. Little did I know, there was more to it than this.

I knew nothing of Portland before I came. I hadn’t seen Portlandia (save one scene Joanna Newsom is in – I thought it was dumb) I just knew that, like New Zealand & Hawai’i, I’d like to check it out. A German who’d been living in Portland literally walked into the apartment I was staying at in Waikiki and took me home with her to the best neighbourhood to visit in Portland. Directly downstairs was the epitome of the perfect kind of café I dig. Down the streets were pubs with fire pits, people sitting around them smoking cigarettes, talking about feminism, $3 pints of semi-local semi-craft beer in their hands and old-school hip hop playing from speakers inside. I was in heaven.

I’m never going back. I’m staying. Period. I was so freaking close to just staying and letting every commitment I had back home slide. I had professional agreements bringing me back to Vancouver Island. Plus, I love the Island. Having been brought up in both small town Kootenays as well as an island in the then Northwest Territories the feeling I got when we moved to Tofino so many years ago was something I held onto – an island in BC felt like home. So I dutifully picked up a ride back to Vancouver and boarded a ferry.

Home. Right? Nope. The Island is my home, but the town I went to school in always has been putting me through a meat-grinder. All that awaited me was anything but homely. Not only had I felt the pull to Portland long before I arrived, the place I called home was physically ejecting me as the road to PDX opened up. The idea of home, of community, of this place I had invested in, still held me close though and I was reluctant to commit to staying in Portland. Then I started really letting the feeling of Portland reveal itself to me…

I’d said a million times I was staying here. I’d found a gazillion reasons to make the hyperbolic comment. And I had the feeling I was moving when I packed my stuff up to come back on an invitation. But the vibe in Portland slowly started unraveling my remembrance of that certain je ne sais quoi I felt in Clayquot Sound: home. I started realizing the place I had gone to Uni in is a community I made home, but it never truly felt that way. It never felt like Clayquot. I came home from travelling to go home, to Tofino, but I found I don’t like the town that much anymore, so I moved. It’s a beautiful piece of coastal rainforest where the vibe is very surfy and laid back. It’s gotten extremely touristy and I can’t afford to live in the bush there… yet. So I moved to a town I could go to University in. And I created a home. But I forgot how Tofino made me feel until being in Portland. I feel like something deep inside me is supported by this environment. There are two kinds of home: one you create and one that is created for you. Portland feels like it was made for me. This is my home’s other half. And I can’t imagine living one without the other now. I’ll live between the two.

Portland is its own vibe. Every time I walk around this city I’m accosted with reasons I’ll never leave for good. If you ask me why I love Portland, I’d be hard pressed to explain it. All I can say is it feels like home. I feel like I’m a kid stepping foot into Clayquot Sound for the first time. I remember the place I was when I first felt it, on the island highway, right up from Beaches supermarket, I got this feeling every time I walked anywhere in Tofino – home, home, this is where I belong. Every time I walk into a cider tap house; see a little plastic horse tied up to the horse rings left from historic use on the curbs; overhear a serious conversation about feminism, emotional complexities, astrology; eat incredible food with a pint of nice draught for $10; smell roses & irises popping up from literally every corner of the city; look at the list of never-ending live music; grab a pint and hop into a soaking pool – I know I’m home.

Portland is where young people go to retire; it’s where all kinds of people come to create a new world. It’s not American or Canadian, and please don’t call it ‘hippy’. There should be a word for everyone who doesn’t think being at peace with a sustainable economy is a good idea, not the other way around. Portland isn’t hippy, it isn’t hipster either – it isn’t lazy or pretentious enough to be either. This is where people come to build something better. It’s something new and it doesn’t prescribe to a label. Portland is realistic. Portland is actionable. Portland is making a difference. Portland is the future.

This isn’t the kind of place that’s going to do anything for you, but it’s definitely the kind of place that will allow you to do something for it. People are flocking here in droves. I’m one of them. But if the right people are coming, then this can only get better. Flowing into the stream of consciousness in PDX has been almost seamless for me. One bad week where I finally let go of the last bits of societal nonsense that had been holding me back has given me an even deeper appreciation of being ok to be whatever I want here. Maybe that’s why they say it’s a place where we – the future – come to retire. Because you can drop what everyone has expected of you and be whatever you want here. We’re retiring from the tired old world that isn’t working anymore, we’re focussing on what we choose.

I choose to be love. I choose to be home. And Portland, like Clayquot Sound, seems to be ok with that.

Keep Portland being exactly what it wants to be; maybe one day that won’t be weird.

image: Multnomah Whiskey Library