In roughly a week, I will be joining the ever-growing exodus from Portland to New York, a steady stream of hipsters flowing from one corner of the country to another, trading the coffee shops and tattoo parlors of Hawthorne Street for the coffee shops and tattoo parlors of… whatever streets there are in Williamsburg. This Reverse Oregon Trail is mostly in search of one thing, which New York appears to have and Oregon is sorely lacking: jobs. I’m one of the lucky ones (and luck appears to be a major factor in success these days), in that I have a job waiting for me when I get there, but many of my friends have taken the leap with nothing more than hope. Even so, I’m excited and terrified and have roughly twenty panic attacks a day. But I’m also sad to be leaving Portland, my home for the past two years, the place Fred Armisen claimed is “where young people go to retire,” (which, yes, is largely, laughably accurate), but also the place where I finally became a real, live adult.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009, that last summer left an unsettled feeling in most of us who had been launched into the world with merely a diploma case filled with a slip of paper promising we would receive our diplomas in six to eight weeks. For four years we had enjoyed minimal responsibility and maximum beers. Now we had three months before our leases were up, resulting in a summer of frantic dance parties, last-chance hookups, and drunken conversations along the lines of, “Let’s just move to RUSSIA, man, you know?” (Although one friend actually did move to Russia, so I suppose it wasn’t all just drunken conversation.) On top of this, I decided to come out of the closet to all my friends and family that summer, in a one-month whirlwind of getting it all over with as quickly as possible.
The summer went by in a blur until one day we woke up to find September standing over us and holding a shotgun pointed at our faces, most of our friends having departed sometime in the night. Frantically, I grabbed hold of two girls I knew moderately well — mostly just friends of friends, to be honest — and, during the course of a night of heavy drinking, made plans to move to Portland. And then, improbably, a month later the three of us were living in an apartment in Portland, Oregon. Isn’t that how it always happens in this city?
I say, without the sense of irony this city clings to so dearly, that Portland made me who I am today. I got my first real job here, working a dreary 9-to-5, rotating through the same five business casual shirts every week for the past year. It’s where I had my first one-night stand, and the first place in the world where everyone I met knew me as merely a gay man, rather than a friend who had come out of the closet. It’s where I first fell in love, and first had my heart ripped to pieces, and first realized I still wanted to let myself get hurt all over again, with someone better this time. It’s where I made friends through Craigslist and street festivals and spandex glitter parties. It’s where I deepened bonds with old friends, reaffirming what were already lifelong commitments. It’s where I learned how to drink anything other than PBR. It’s where I learned that, economically, PBR is what I should only drink.
I’m going to miss seeing Portland in movies and TV shows and getting excited — that’s where I live! Look, we’re on TV! (I guarantee we’re the only city in the world eagerly anticipating the upcoming premiere of “Grimm.” We’re probably the only city who even knows what “Grimm” is.) If people in New York got as excited and distracted by seeing their city on a screen the way we do in Portland, the world economy would grind to a halt. I’m going to miss smiling at strangers as we pass on the sidewalk. I’m going to miss Mt. Hood towering over me on one side, and Mt. St. Helens on the other. Hell, I’m going to miss nature. I’m going to miss the rain; it falls so differently up here than anywhere else — lighter, fresher, less threatening. I’m going to miss watching amateur porn with Dan Savage, a different beer festival every weekend, and singing karaoke on stage as a stripper strips.
My entire future feels up in the air right now, more than it ever has before. I don’t know who or what is waiting for me out in New York, and I don’t know when I’ll see Portland again. The city was everything I wanted it to be and more; I wish I could squeeze the whole thing into my U-Haul. Short of that, it’s good to know it’ll still be here, ready to accept me back if I need it.