Aug 23, 2017

Portland

I touched down to immigration chaos in Seattle. I don’t know if they were recovering from a computer system outage or what, but the halls and corridors were full of people, all foreign passport holders, sitting on the ground in roped off areas. There were merging streams of passengers going through a single frazzled immigration officer who was shouting “just American passport holders come here please! Show me your passport!!” etc. Once I was through that bottleneck, then it was not so terrible getting through the automated return system.

SEATAC seemed to be in dissaray, actually. The signage was confusing and bad. My flight was 1, Hall C, Gate B, but there were no useful maps to indicate what the halls were, and I nearly left the airside space trying to get to area C. The language throughout was English and Korean.

I like Alaskan Air. They mostly fly small turboprop planes, offer beer, load from both ends of the plane, and the flight from Seattle to Portland flew over some really lovely and wild mountaous forests, interspersed with dramatic, snow capped volcanic peaks. We breezed by Mount Saint Hellens, which was a really amazing sight when you see the scope of how big the mountain exploded. It looked an asteroid struck the earth, the scale was so immense.

On the ground in Portland, I got my luggage and ordered an Uber to Ruben’s house. Ruben, a classmate from Wash U,  put me up for a few nights, although he was actually gone most of the time I was there. His family had already taken off, and he want to join them in St.Louis the following day. He showed me around the place, and left to meet a friend for dinner. I crashed.

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Friday was a scramble. I had to wait for Ruben to take off to the airport so I could get the keys from him and lock up the house, and I had three apartment visits lined up that morning, not to mention the new sim card I needed from my new office downtown. When he finally left, I was short on his heels, taking an Uber downtown to my office. I dropped off some fresh baked bread from Stuttgart, along with some RitterSport chocolates, and picked up my new sim card from the front desk.

My first appointment was at 10, and I was late, so I sent a frantic email explaining I was running late, while desperately trying to get my sim card to work, and to get the uber app to work. My iphone 4 is agonizingly slow. Five minutes to request an uber. I was about 15 minutes late for my appointment, the first showing, so it was a bit of a hurried visit.

Walked around the neighborhood a bit after, and then the Uber app ceased functioning at all, so I caught a bus to my next showing appointment. I was on time, but barely, and only because I sent word I was coming but that I was 15 minutes late. Not a great neighborhood, on a major street intersection, next to tons of live nudes, porn shops, lap dances, and some kind of sex-positive community organization which as far as I understand from the website is a kind of sex workshop with private rooms and an S&M dungeon. Talking to the landlord, and looking a bit closer at the neighborhood behind the house, the picture emerges of a neighborhood at the bleeding edge of development- not yet popular or cool, but definitely seeing new investment, interest, and construction way ahead of the gentrification curve. Might be a place to buy in a year or two. The apartment was certainly priced that way.

Good vietnamese bakery across the street. Got an iced vietnamese coffee and looked longingly at the pork belly bahn mi sandwiches, but I had no time to eat, sadly. I’ve been using an A5 sized notebook to record all my notes, schedules, adresses, and information about the move. It’s handy, durable, compact, and it’s got a unique binding system that lets me tear out and move pages around. I went to pull it out at the vietnamese bakery and panicked when I realized it was gone.

Did I leave it on the bus? Did I leave it in the apartment I just visited? I darted back across the street but the landlord was already gone. Breathe. Think. Not a total panic- I didn’t have any bank or credit card info or social security numbers in there, and nearly everything is duplicated online or in paper in some from or another. Did I really lose it? Follow the meter rule. In the shade of the building, I went through my backpack, methodically checking every pocket. And there it was. I just started using this bag this trip, and I slipped it in a pocket I’d never noticed before. Big explicative of relief. On to the next thing.

Next apartment was really cool, but really like living in a californian highway town with everything centered on the highway. Saw the apartment, where they made a big deal about a great pet policy, and went to the Rite Aid next door where I finally got a decent street map of Portland. Took the bus back to the city center which wasn’t as long as I thought.

Seeking a center, I went to Powell’s City of Books, where I bought a coffee and plonked down in the cafe to use the wifi and plot next steps. Made some calls, resolved some issues for St.Louis, and then headed over to a neighborhood nearby across the river which had some small apartments for rent. After checking out the quaint old bungalows, and with the lateness of the day, I decided to walk back to Ruben’s house on the far side of Mt. Tabor from basically 20th street, a distance of several miles, but one which would take me throught the heart of East Portland.

Grabbed a burger and a beer along the way, and passed through some lovely neighborhoods. Portland, by and large, reminds me a lot of Tempe, Arizona. Small bungalows mostly from 1920s-1950s in the style ranging from victorian to wood shingled to Californian spanish, some cheaply build and clad, some really nice. Mostly old buildings with some really mediocre modern low rise apartment buildings sprouting up in the old residential neighborhoods. Lots of trees. Good sidewalks, great bike lines. Hiked over Mt.Tabor, really a large hill, technically a fumarole from the Mt. Hood volcanic system, and down into Ruben’s neighborhood. Like all my evenings, I stayed in, looked at houses online, wrote emails, played with Ruben’s fat cat, Belle.

Saturday morning I used Ruben’s car to get some donuts. Sort of. I realized after I bought them that they were actually vegan donuts. Portland! Not bad, but something was a bit different about them. Coffee was very, very good.

After breakfast, I used Ruben’s bike to get around. Ruben has a really nice road bike, a superlight Trek with a single band instead a chain. Fast and light. It was a delight, acutally, to combine my “six flights of stairs twice a day” legs with a lean bike built for speed, and Portland’s dedicated bike highway streets. I fairly flew. Only one appointment in the mid-afternoon, so I headed first down towards Milwaukie neighborhood, and then rode the MAX back up to close in Southeast and Ladd’s Addition.

It appears that in Portland, Pearl district is basically neuvo-hipster, peroxide-hipster, hipster-by-retail. The real hipsters come from Southeast, where they don’t have such things as chain stores or parking. Ladd’s Addition, I have to say, is breathtakingly lovely. Old bungalow houses in rainbow of styles, all from the 1930s-40’s, tree canopy covered streets, little community gardens and tiny shops, and people obviously love the houses and living there. I want to live there, but I dont think we will either have the chance or be able to afford it.

I went to see an apartment very close by the area, which is still super trendy- including small farmers markets, bike bag shops, and coffee. These apartments were anomalous- 1960’s or 1970’s apartments, super typical of the midwest or west, motel style with exterior stairs, small windows, and clapboard siding. Maybe fifty units in the complex. Faint reek of ancient cigarette smoke. Bad carpeting, cheap fixtures, acousitic popcorn ceilings. University dorms, first apartments. I used a new system to check it out without an agent.

Rently.com gets your info including credit card info, and front and back side of your photo ID. In return, you can visit an apartment anytime you want using your phone to get smartbox access codes.

I biked across SE, across the Williamette River, and along the riverfront parks, which were full of people enjoying the lovely sunny day and the thronging Saturday market. Any fears I had about missing being in a crowd were immediately dispelled. I followed the bike trail along the river and up around to the industrial side, over by the still-functioning central station and between heavy industry and overpriced luxury condo towers. Crossed over to 23rd Ave (“Trendy-Third”) and saw another depressing example of an absolutely terrible apartment in a great location with a reasonable price.

Crossed the street back over to McMinamens or something like that, apparently a very old local chain of brewery/taverns with a heavy atmospheric feel somewhere between psychadelic/fantasy/dive bar. Monsters painted on the ceiling outlined by neon lighting. Pool tables and shuffle table. Wooden booths and tables, metal cafe tables on the sidewalk outside. Surprisignly good food. I got a beer made with raspberries and a “trucker grilled cheese” which was toasted ciabatta with bacon and gouda and tomatoes and a cajun spice cream salad dressing, and it was amazing. Spicy tater tots on the side. America is a bit overlooked as a great food country.

Biked back across the industrial north side of town, and caught a MAX train back to north of Tabor. Biked down to check out the outside of the apartment on Burnside and returned to Ruben’s apartment. Took out his car again and ran it over to fill it up with gas. Or someone else to fill it up with gas. Forgot that it’s illegal to pump your own in Oregon. It’s a stupid thing only kept alive for sake of tradition.

Sunday was even quieter. I was severely chaffed and sore from all the bike riding, so I took public transit all day. First went to check out the old victorian house for rent. Cool, interesting, questionable immediate neighborhood. Then bussed over to the MAX to take a trip to Beaverton.

Beaverton is a separate city from Portland. Many Portlanders use it as a bedroom community, it has the biggest population of Latinos in the area, and it is also home to some major industrial players like Adidas and Nike. It’s new, boring, spread out, suburban. Big shopping centers, Target, strip malls. Even the “main street” had a feel like Chandler or Glendale or some more commerical parts of Ahwatukee. A few 1960’s buildings, mostly newer. More Californian than Portland. The apartments available there were like ASU dorms or student housing as well, but nicer and newer. Still felt like student housing. And the rents were not really any cheaper considering the distance to downtown. Between St.Louis and Stuttgart, we are completely spoiled when it comes to apartments.

Walked around, stopped into a local coffee shop to get a flavor of people and place, and hopped on the train back to Portland. Hit the lovely central library for another hour or two of apartment comparisons and seraching, and then browsed some of the stores downtown before a burrito at Chipotle and returning to Ruben’s place for the evening.

The next morning, I locked everything up, left a bunch of food and water for the cat, and headed out to the airport via bus and MAX. At the airport, had some of the best damn airport coffee I've ever had at Stumptown roasters, and settled in at a table, taking occasional peeks at the sun as it went through it's 99% totality. Interesting, to be sure, but hardly worth flying to a different city over.

Flew one of Alaska airlines' big boy planes to Saint Louis.
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