Apostasy: How I Learned to Love Portland
I just returned from a trip to Chicago. Outside of the professional scope of my reasons for being there, I am left terrified by what I experienced.
I’ve never really flown over the Midwest; the Flatland, where bison used to roam by the millions and native cultures flourished on the prairies. As the young TSA agent briefed me about the patdown procedure that he was required to administer for my having refused the scanning booth, my mind began to drown him out and think about what I might see, who I might meet. I wondered what the beer would taste like and how the cannabis would taste and feel, what the air would smell like. My thoughts were interrupted when the agents gloved hands made contact with my clothed genitals the first time.
As the plane gained altitude and began its route east from PDX and I saw the Willamette ecoregion, my birthplace, transform into my beloved high desert of Central Oregon and then into the largely uninhabited Owyhee region, I drifted into sleep, partly because I was tired, and partly because I don’t like to fly. When I awoke a short time later, I don’t know where we were, but when I looked across the chest of the person next to me and out the window, I was brought to full consciousness by what I beheld. It wasn’t the absence of valleys, rivers, or snow capped peaks. It was the asymmetrical checkerboard pattern that was etched into the earth. As far as the eye could see, a two-tone grid of brown and light brown with no particular order that concealed the prairies, the grasslands, and rivers. Even at 38,000 feet with no clouds, I was not able to find a borderline to the monoculture. The checkerboard was sparsely populated with small enclaves of massive structures, and, occasionally, a city.
The tailwind at Midway International Airport picked up as the plane swept down over the suburbs of Chicago and onto the runway, just a stones throw from dense urban population. Stepping off the plane, the air was muggy and heavy. Not just with humidity, but the subtle reek of civilization. I boarded a bus heading downtown to a hotel near State and Hubbard. That’s when I caught my first sight of the Chicago skyline. Rising above the flat earth, where bison would roam and diverse cultures would thrive, a megaclusterfuck of massive, toxic stalagmites made of iron, steel, concrete, and blood stood tall and vulgar. I immediately became homesick. I knew this was not where I belonged. As black as the Paulina Lava Flow, the Sears Tower dominates the skyline, brooding and imposing like the secret lair of super villains.
The bus arrived and I filed off, greeted by the smell of a nearby sewer. I checked in and began work. After the day was done, some cohorts and I ventured to a nearby watering hole called Rossi’s after debating where to drink amongst hordes of pushy, entitled humans. We settled on Rossi’s because it was the last name of a friend of mine that was killed in Iraq. His name was Jonathan Rossi. We offered our ID’s to the woman checking them at the door, she graciously thanked us and we made our way inside.
Now…. I’m a Cascadian. As such, I have been fortunate to enjoy a plethora of the worlds finest beer. And I am quite familiar with how a bar works. I went straight for the taps, and found three choices: Annhueser-Busch, Annhueser-Busch, or Annhueser-Busch. Naturally, I went with the ladder. As the bartender poured, she yelled to me over the commotion, ”That’ll be $13.” It was a cash only establishment, and I fluked by not bring any. A friend covered the tab and we started drinking.
Soon, someone procured some local free cannabis from a kind vagrant and we moved into an adjacent alley to smoke a joint. It wasn’t bad. The grass was floral, and surprisingly smooth. The buzz was there, but because their was so little it left us jonesing. For the record, I’m not complaining, just saying.
If your out there, thank you kind vagrant.
Thank you Rossi.
After the joint we went to a 7-11 that was within one visible block of another 7-11, and bought some reasonably priced Annhouser-Busch. After polishing them off, we went to sleep for work the next day. When the day was over, we again convened for a watering hole, this one called Public House, right next to Rossi’s. We didn’t want to go far from the alley between them, because we got some more kind bud the next day and figured it was a safe place to smoke. After puffing down two fatties, we went inside and sat down for a brew.
The beer menu was vast consisting largely of imports and east coast micros. The pretentious crowd seemed delighted at the idea of paying $8 for a 22oz. glass of Arrogant Bastard Ale. We sat, drank and talked about guns while nursing our glasses of liquid gold. Who would’ve thought that veterans like guns? Coming from so many different places in the US, it always amazes me to see the shock on peoples faces, especially veterans, when they find out that Cascadians enjoy access to a much more open arms market than their own bioregion. They are often jealous and ask why, whereupon they hear a little bit about the rich history of resistance within this bioregion. Then they want to move here.
Some of us talked about the obscene display of corporatism that is Chicago. The entire city appeared to be a food desert, with the primary source of sustenance being processed-food dispensaries like Popeye’s, Taco Bell, and mini-marts. Throughout the dozens of miles we traveled in both business, residential and industrial areas, I only observed two grocery stores. Thankfully, one was a Whole Foods. While no grocery store will ever be able to replace the resiliency that a personal garden or co-op will create, it was nice to see that somebody is concerned.
On the final day, I had time to begin digesting the experience, which was not well facilitated by the chalky flavor, texture, and smell of Chicago tap water. When it came time to leave Chicago, I sat in Midway airport and began to feel a deeper sense of love and adoration for Portland. After my 2nd government patdown was finished, this time at the hands of a much older gentleman with bad breath, I began to self reflect. I must confess that for sometime I have harbored a resentment towards the largest city in my home ecoregion. In fact, it downright disgusted me- the concrete, the polluted Willamette River, the killing of veterans, minorities, disabled, and homeless people by agents of the city, the noise pollution, the size… But none of that mattered when I was in the rat cage-the electrified atmosphere of Chicago, Illinois, a true megalopolis. All I wanted during my trip was parks, trails, bioregionally-conscious food carts, community gardens, anarchists, gun stores, and people walking dogs- even if they do shit on the sidewalk. I wanted fine microbrew at a decent price, fresh green veggies, clean(ish) water, plants, trees, birds, headshops and bicyclists. I wanted to go home.
I wanted Cascadia.
And now I am home, as of yesterday. I woke up today, and realized what we have here. While the High Lava Desert is where my heart lies, Portland, with it’s polluted river, brutal agents, corrupt politicians, and its own signature eyesore US Bancorp Tower (fuck you), is a jewel. With the encroaching assault of dominant culture and industrial development, I do not know if the Portland that I now know and love will last. However, I now know that it is absolutely worth fighting for.