In an account such as this one, it’s important to change the names to protect … well, myself, I suppose. I’m traveling with a middle-aged woman (my spouse/partner/wife/mutual tormentor) and two teenage girls, technically my genetic offspring. The oldest, whom I’ll call Violet, never wanted to leave home in the first place and she travels with us as a skeptic — go ahead, Mom and Dad, and prove to me this is worth the big fat mess it has made of my life. The youngest, let’s call her Carlotta, takes a different tack. She had made it known in the last few days that her future will feature much and varied international travel, much more memorable than our silly little dash to Vancouver and back. So Carlotta has cultivated a kind of jaded it’s-okay-for-now kind of boredom with our trip.
She is, though, for the record, largely a traveling neophyte, so even the vaguely dissociative experiences of traveling through neighboring states are, to my soon-to-be-jet-setting daughter, new and bizarre. She was with me, in fact, when some dude in Eugene in a day-glo plastic vest told me that pumping my own gas is against the law in Oregon, subject to a $1,500 fine. I smirked at the guy, until he repeated it, and a woman in the next car, who was not pumping her gas, dished me off a gesture of pity for being so clueless and … Californian.
In Portland, a local swell who was otherwise a really nice guy couldn’t help cracking on those of us benighted souls from California. Portlanders, he claimed on an eerie silently Sunday morning in the streets of downtown Portland, never honk their horns. If you hear a honking horn, it must be a Californian. Ha, ha. Similar swipes went in the direction of Seattle and Canada.
Does Portland have an inferiority complex when it comes to its more brash West Coast hot spots? If so, it really doesn’t need to. Portland is a lovely city, sure. But it’s also an enlightened one, diving headlong into a green future while other cities are merely sticking a toe in the water. “Livability” sounds like a riff on a beer ad, but it’s a real concept in clean, comfortable Portland. Perhaps I’m being a bit defensive, but Portland’s sheer grooviness is a kind of rebuke to the dashed promise of California. There’s nothing like a visit to Oregon to deflate a Californian’s sense of self. Smugness, it seems, is our newest export, and like most things, it grows better in Oregon.