In 2008, the dream of the ’90s brought me to Portland. At the time, of course, I didn’t realize that’s what drew me here. I’m 29 years old; in the ’90s, my dreams were usually about Neve Campbell, hanging out with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or, for some reason, fronting a dancehall reggae band. Even just before moving here, I wasn’t totally cognizant of what relocating to Portland “meant.” All I knew is I wanted to finally get out of the Southern California beach town I grew up in and go to a place harboring big-city culture within small-town geography, and San Francisco was too expensive. A job opportunity put Portland on my radar. The job never materialized. I ended up here anyway.
Over the last three years, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that Portland is where I’ve always belonged–and not only because the weather is more conducive to my wardrobe. “Portlandia” introduced itself by having Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein define the culture they would be lampooning via a synth-pop song-and-dance number, but “The Dream of the ’90s” didn’t register with me as a skewering. For me, it was a valentine to all the things that have made me fall in love with Portland. I don’t have any piercings or tattoos, I didn’t study clowning in college (though in retrospect, it might’ve been a better decision than majoring in journalism), and despite what my subconscious used to tell me, I’ve never had much desire to be in a band, reggae or otherwise, but I’m glad to live somewhere in which those things are part of overarching value system. I enjoy being surrounded by people living absurdly. And there’s no place in America that accommodates absurdity more than Portland.
I’m aware that makes it seem as if I’m romanticizing the notion of delaying adulthood. I would argue, however, that what Portland is about is redefining what it means to be an adult, not shirking it all together. That whole thing about this being the city where “young people go to retire” is funny but not totally true. If Portlanders are unambitious–and that’s a relative term to begin with–at least they are passionate about their lack of ambition. You know what offends me far more than artisanal light bulb manufacturers and adult dodgeball leagues? People whose only goal is making enough money to afford to live in a region where the temperature dropping below 75 degrees is considered a “cold snap.” I would never fully slander my hometown–Oxnard, California, known for producing strawberries, underground hip-hop producer Madlib, and gang violence of both the Latino and surf-punk variety–but that’s the prevailing attitude of a lot of my peers who never left. It was a beautiful, culturally diverse place to grow up, but it’s not where I wanted to spend my late 20s. I wanted to spend them in a place where my neighbor works 15 hours per week at a local co-op and the rest of their time in the basement recording a ukulele folk album.
I didn’t really know that about myself until I came to Portland, and despite conventional thought, I think that’s true of most of the city’s transplants. Contrary to popular belief, Portland does not put out a Bat-signal for freaks, weirdos and (ugh, I hate to use this word because it’s lost all meaning at this point, but it feels obligatory) hipsters. People wind up here for whatever reason, and the weirdness gets yanked out of them and added to a culture that’s still being defined. “Portlandia” straddles a line between mocking and celebrating that culture; to hear locals discuss it, the side to which it leans is a matter of interpretation. So I prefer to think of it as a tribute. And that’s how I plan to treat my space on this blog: As an homage to those who dare to live absurdly, in the most absurd place on earth.