Wherever You Go

I came to Portland looking for answers.

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I found:

1. Banana cream pie, for lunch-dessert and then for dinner-dessert. The one with caramel sauce (from Jake’s Famous Crawfish) knocked the other one out of the water. This was an answer, sort of.

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2. People who look up and laugh, when the sky cheerfully upends a bucket of water on their heads. With almost no warning whatsoever.

I kid you not — it’s really something. To be extra clear: I’m not talking about a little drizzle — I’m talking about a downpour. You know, the kind of rain that will soak you to the skin in approximately six seconds. The kind of rain that will make you need to wring out your raincoat — which will suddenly seem like the most useless piece of clothing you own.

While you’re yanking up your hood, fishing around for your umbrella, and preparing to sprint-walk anywhere away, there will be at least one person near you looking mildly amused. This person will not have adjusted their stride or made any obvious attempt to cover themselves. The most you’ll see is a small shrug and a smile — if you look close. Do that, and you’ll see something else: secret delight. The same kind that splashes across a child’s face, when both of their feet land smack dab in the middle of a very large puddle.

I’d bet my next coffee and cookie on it.

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3. Books. Or more specifically: Powell’s. I found Powell’s, and I never wanted to leave.

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4. Some odd ducks, for sure. (Think Portlandia, along with a surprisingly high homeless population.) But also: the friendliest people you’d ever wish to meet, should you be contemplating moving across the country, alone and unemployed. We shared elephant ears and epiphanies with a total stranger at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, and then he took another hour to show us around. And it wasn’t even his neighborhood!

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5. Little pockets of the city that look just like NYC. The West Village, Greenwich Village, Soho, the UWS — they’re all here. Only minus the pace, and for half of the price.

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6. Phenomenal food. Honestly: everything you could ever want. (More things than you could ever try, in four days.)

I wanted Thai at Pok Pok on Southeast Division’s Restaurant Row the most, and it did not disappoint. I’ve never been so happy to have my lips burn.

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I had also been dying to try Oba – Nuevo Latino cuisine. Living in The Pearl District would definitely be a pipe dream, but I could see myself coming back for Oba’s Baked Argentina. (Basically a Baked Alaska, only with chocolate cake, bananas, pineapple, guava, caramel, vanilla bean ice cream, and toasted meringue.)

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Living in Belmont didn’t seem like it would be too much of a step down, after splitting the salmon burger from Dick’s Kitchen.

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And then it turned out Belmont would also probably be out of reach, and ice cream felt necessary. Ice cream from two places, because I wasn’t sure which one we’d like better.

We gave Cool Moon’s ginger cookie a try, and that got an A.

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We gave Salt + Straw’s sea salt with caramel an A, too. We decided we aren’t too discerning — we just really like ice cream. Particularly when things feel overwhelming and discouraging.

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In that case, pizza also helps. Pizza from Oven and Shaker, which I just loved, and can’t wait to compare to Delancey, when we check out Seattle.

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I’ve heard the food carts here are also a good bet. All 600 (700?) of them. I’ll let you know the verdict — we still have two lunches left! I have my eye on Nong’s Khao Man Gai and El Masry Egyptian, but I’m also really interested in Indian from Bollywood Theater.

7. No shortage of twentysomethings doing something else in order to continue doing something they love. I’ve been testing out calling myself a writer, when people ask, and nobody has batted an eyelash, out here. It’s nice. Nice not to feel like the only person not cut out for corporate. The only major difference is nobody else seems to see it as a major cause of conflict.

8. Amazingly good public transportation. Which I can’t seem to stop calling the subway — whether I’m on the bus, the streetcar, or the light rail. If I happened to decide those aren’t quite working, it seems like biking would be an option too. Maybe even the option.

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9. Billions of bakeries. Bakeries I can sit in and wonder what the heck I’m going to do, and how I’m going to do it. I can see things becoming clearer, in places like Pearl Bakery, Nuvrei, Little T Baker, and La Provence Boulangerie & Patisserie.

Right now, I don’t think I can come here without either a 9 to 5 job or a friend to live with. I think I need one or the other. To have enough courage. To stop feeling so anxious. There’s also a growing part of me that feels like it would be smart to put the book proposal on the back burner. To focus on getting the skills I need to land a job that will make me feel financially secure.

If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t think I can see myself working in a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a retail store — all in order to write something that may or may not sell. All in order to continue to eke by, paycheck to paycheck. And I don’t think I’m really ready to rent a room (in a house full of people I don’t know) for $500/month — which would be about all I could afford. Cruising Craigslist makes me feel a little sick. 420 friendly? I had to Google that.

If that makes me a wimp — well, okay. Maybe I am a wimp. I want to write, but I’d rather do it at four in the morning and go to work with everyone else. I’d rather have normal weekends and a retirement plan and enough money left over to be able to take myself out to breakfast.

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Because it’s nice, to be able to treat yourself sometimes. To buy a new dress — the first one in two years — without beating yourself up for it.

That’s how I feel today. But who knows? A lemon bar at Lovejoy Bakers could change all that.

10. Some really are clichés are true. I’m thinking about this one, in particular:

“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” -Neil Gaiman

I’m thinking about that one, while I eat half of everything and step blearily onto the hotel treadmill. While I avert my eyes under fluorescent lights and heave the shower curtain closed. While I ignore my mom, with great big tears in her eyes, when she tells me I need to eat more.

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