Growing up, I always had to defend my city. I loved Portland – I wanted to get the hell out, but I loved it all the same and was happy to brag about it on our (many) travels.
“Where are you from?”
“No, Oregon, you see we’re actually bigger than Portland, Maine, and-”
And then something happened in the last couple of years. Portland had been gentrifying for some time. Sellwood was suddenly no longer a place I wouldn’t want to lock my bike; Milwaukie was no longer a ghost town; northeast was becoming chic rather than ghetto (at least close to the river. Go east and it’s still pretty ghetto).
Don’t get me wrong, many of these were good things and I like a lot about the new, bigger, shinier Portland – but it comes at a cost. And that cost is…..Hipsters.
Dun, dun, DUN!!!!!!
Because now-a-days, I get sick of hearing about Portland – mainly because it isn’t Portland, at least not at its truth. People move from all over the country for the arts and the coffee and the cheap housing. So all over the internet, I’ll see people talking about or photographing Portland-
But it’s not Portland. It’s invariably the really weird parts of town. Where everyone has dreadlocks (WHY IS THIS A THING NOW!), there are strange works of art over every cafe (and there are a million cafes), everyone’s smoking and wearing their hipster clothes from American Apparel and whatever (to see the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, look here, and you will see EXACTLY what I mean: Hawthorne)
And the thing of it is, that is only a very small part of the city. Leave Hawthorne or Sellwood or Burnside, and you get a much more standard picture, populated by the people who were born here and are actually trying to live here, not make some artistic, save-the-Earth statement: go into the Pearl and you’ll see a sea of Yuppies. Stroll downtown through the parks, and for every PSU student you see with Che on their shirt, you’ll see at least ten businessmen in well pressed suits, strolling between the courthouse and Starbucks – because Starbucks STILL out-populates the independent shops. Head west and you’ll see upper-middle-class “standard” American mothers pushing strollers through Beaverton, or Waverly Heights (okay, technically that’s east, but still ritzy), or Hillboro or the Hills. ESPECIALLY the Hills.
These are the people that more or less were in Portland when it wasn’t in the midst of a building frenzy: before that ugly-ass building blocked the justice center, before the weird tram they built for OHSU that pissed a bunch of people off, before they were building unsafe and underused light-rail like it was a competition for wasting money. These are also the people who will be here long after Portland loses its “hipster” status.
Because it will. It is doomed to. In the last decade, it was a sweep of young professionals when Portland tried to market itself as a mecca for medical science. It didn’t work. Once these young men and women grew up and needed a serious job, the had to leave. People come to Portland, but they can’t stay. The city is the number one employer, and it can no longer sustain all those who need a living wage. And despite the city’s best efforts, no other business has risen to take on this mammoth task.
Right now, the big push is green energy. But when the recession was at its worst, Portland had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and nobody was coming in then. I assume at least MOST hipsters grow up eventually, stop smoking weed and drinking Pabst (WHY PABST, FOR GOD’S SAKE!), and realize they need a real job, as Mom will no longer pay for you to “find yourself” and all those old records you need to buy. Because a f—ing mp3 player is just too damn mainstream. And then they’ll leave again. Our population will shrink, because we are a city where the blind lead the lame, or more aptly, the moronic lead the easily gullible. We always have been. We desperately need our port, but we refuse to save riverspace to allow it to expand and bring in actual prosperity. We love green energy, but we suck at producing it. We love art – but nobody buys it, because hey, we’re not THAT gullible.
And so the hipsters will leave. They’ll have to, because the day Portland actually creates a job market for people with that kind of liberal arts degree (I’m allowed to say this. Because I have a job) is the day I’ll eat my missing hat. And we will go back to being slightly dingy, well-meaning, and perfectly content amongst ourselves.
And wherever I am living then, when people ask me where I’m from, and I say, “Portland,” I will no longer have to cringe. Because the response won’t be, “OMG, I love Portland! I’ve never been, but, like, someday, you know? You guys are just…..f—ing epic, man…..” Maybe that will also be the day I decide to stick around for a while.
…..also, my M key is fixed.