March 17, 2008


When I told people that I'd be going to Portland for SIGCSE this year, they all said I'd like it, and I believed them. I just wasn't prepared for how much I'd fall in love with Portland. Especially given my reaction to Seattle---it was nice enough, but the downtown was kind of sterile and sprawly and pedestrian unfriendly---I was figuring that Portland would be ok but a little dreary, nice enough to visit but also nice enough to leave.

In fact, I could pretty much just stay here. I can't think of anyplace I've visited that was so clearly designed for me personally. Barcelona was close; as I mentioned when I visited there, it was a place that seemed like I'd have at least several months' worth of stuff to do just seeing the city. Providence I liked, but a lot of it was attached to Brown and anyway it took me living there to discover a lot about it. There's Chicago, of course, but that's its own mixed bag.

Portland made its initial good impression when the fast, clean light rail whisked me from the airport to my hotel. And since that initial trip, I've paid for my public transit exactly once, because the downtown (including my hotel) is in the fareless square---totally free transit. Not that I'd need it; I have never seen such a walkable city. The streets are surprisingly narrow (for this part of the country) and closely-spaced, and you'd be surprised what a difference that makes in terms of getting places. The downtown is quite dense, too, and so you don't have to walk too far to get to pretty much anything.

There appear to be things to get to, as well. The Saturday Market has a range of stuff for sale; some of it touristy kitsch but much of it fairly usable. And there are musicians playing and an array of food stands reminiscent of the Taste of Chicago (except without the insane crowds, and with the public transit running right down the middle of it). "Elephant ears": not to be missed. Elsewhere in the city one can find a lot of mid- to upscale shopping, including a vertically-built mall spread over four city blocks (with underground tunnel and skyway to connect). Powell's is everything people say: enormous and with every kind of book, at really good prices, and with the used books mixed right in where you can easily find them. I wandered through some great resale shops near there, and there's a six-screen "living room" theatre that plays indy and old films.

Right now I'm sitting in a café called "Backspace" that Matt recommended, trying to do all my grading (I just finished another round, which is why I'm writing this). It's everything you could want in boho exposed-brick chic, plus free wireless and a couple banks of desktop machines. As friendly as Galesburg is, I've had more random conversations with strangers just in this room than I can remember having in months. Something about the atmosphere here makes me chattier too---as gregarious as I tend to be when friends are around, I'm generally shy about talking to totally unknown strangers; I've been the one starting the conversation at least half the time here.

It may have something to do with a subconscious evaluation of whether my interlocutor is likely to have something in common with me, if only world outlook. Because all of Portland, or at least downtown Portland, seems to be vastly more tech-savvy, geeky, and/or environmentally conscious than all but the most radical residents of the Midwest or even New England. When a shopkeeper asks if you want a bag, and they all ask, the default is no. When I get a new cup of coffee, I'm asked if they can just quick-rinse the mug I had before. Matt went so far as to apologise for how bad the metro wi-fi was---as if the very existence of a metro wifi in the first place wasn't already screaming past just about every other city.

I could get used to this.

"Yeah, well I patented screwing your mom. But it got revoked for 'prior art'. --plunge

Posted by blahedo at 9:47pm on 17 Mar 2008
I'm totally not surprised that you liked Portland. I've been there a few times on business (my employer has an office there) and it really is a nice place. It is a bit weird to see moss growing on the parking lots, though. It rains a lot there. Portland is also the greenest city in the United States, without any question. I have several friends there and it's interesting how they take for granted political positions that would be considered radical in the Midwest. Oregon is a different place, that's for certain. Posted by Kelly Martin at 5:31am on 18 Mar 2008
It's really refreshing to get your perspective on my hometown. I guess there's a lot I'd been taking for granted. Anyway, don't forget to get out of town for a bit while you're there. If you have a whole day, the beach or the mountains are only an hour away. But more realistically, go check out Forest Park - there's a lot to see. Posted by Mark Munoz at 9:36am on 18 Mar 2008
I expect that you saw that the Pope visited the USA, comments? Posted by elvin at 10:11pm on 16 Apr 2008
I expect you know the Pope visited the USA? Comments? Posted by elvin at 10:19pm on 16 Apr 2008
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