Saturday, March 20, 2010

Probably the Sixth or Seventh Entry I have Begun in the Past Few Weeks, With Every Intention of Completing and Posting

Somehow I have managed to get to the airport at exactly the wrong time: Even after unpacking, changing clothes, adjusting the contents of my carry-on and checked bag, and shopping in all the available stores, it is too early to check into my flight.  However, it is also too late to shop at many of the stores, or to get ice cream, which I suddenly really want (it is also too late to get any other food except, I hope, snacks at a newsstand, which will presumably become a lot more annoying in a little while).  Portland has been frustrating me like this.  I already feel guilty about coming to the airport so early, even though I had a perfectly good reason, i.e. that by the time I got done at the conference and had something to eat it was too late in the day to go to any museums or other cultural sites, plus I was carrying my giant laptop bag and wearing uncomfortable (at least after 2/3 of a day of walking and standing) shoes (and, although I didn't know it at the time, the hem had come out of my nice pants... I'm hoping there is someone in New York who can be paid an exorbitant sum to fix the pants, because they are actually flattering and professional-looking, and there is no price that can be put on such a garment), and I had already walked around the easy-to-get-to places, and I was worried that if I didn't get my bag from the hotel within twelve hours of depositing it, they would confiscate it (this is what the claim tag threatened).  So it made sense, rather than sitting in a coffee shop downtown, to come out here and sit around here, where there is also fre wifi, although at the moment no apparent outlets, although I am thinking there will be some by the gates.

Yes, I am crazy now.  You would be too.

My big conference trip kicked off with a forty-eight hour delay due to Surprise We Are Apparently Having Monsoon Season.  (You are several chapters behind, because this is coming on the heels of the big interview trip, which is coming on the heels of about four weeks of crazy, but I assure you it is nothing you haven't heard before.  Pretend I am defending my thesis and training for a marathon all over again, only (a) each is about half as intense, (b) but, I am doing them at the same time.  Extra bonus is now I live in New York, so there are different kinds of crazy all around me.  It's pretty exciting.

So, forty-eight hour delay, which in theory could have been productive or fun or relaxing, and in actuality was a little bit of all of those but not enough of anything to make up for the fact that I missed my free day in Portland, getting unjetlagged, or the first day of the conference (as it turns out, though, Portland is only half as far away as Barcelona, and I had no trouble sleeping at any time, and my problem was much more in the vein of staying awake).

So I've been here since late Monday.  That means I had almost four full days of conference, which turns out to be plenty, and three days' worth of lunches and dinners to spend with my friends and/or walking around the city.  I like that it's such a manageable size, and also that the fact that I now live in a major city means I no longer feel compelled to visit every single museum I'm within five miles of, because there are museums at home.  I actually feel like I got to walk around and get a general sense of the city's flavor and sights without missing ridiculous amounts of conference (I took two 2-3 hour breaks, one of which included lunch, and with walking around to get dinner I actually feel like I covered a lot).  

The sense I get is that Portland is much cleaner and quieter than New York, and generally built in the style and scale of a smallish Midwestern city, i.e. Madison, rather than a smallish East Coat city.  The streets are wide, there are public squares that take up whole blocks, in general there is just plenty of space.  It's obvious they care a lot about greenness there.  They have these tram-y things that run at about 20 mph in the city, like streetcars, and then run at about 50 mph in the suburbs (i.e. to the airport), like the DC Metro.  Restaurants do not strike me as cheap relative to NYC, for what they are (i.e. decent ethnic food in a grungy neighborhood costs $10-$15... on the other hand the waitress may actually be pleasant to you).  People are insanely, ridiculously friendly, everywhere; they are also in general young, attractive, and disheveled  There are tons of panhandlers, but most of them look more like my scruffy filmmaker brother - i.e. they are on spring break from Boston College and ran out of cash - than like NYC panhandlers, who tend to look they way you expect people to would look after living on the streets for couple months.  And speaking of the streets, they are clean, at least to the point of not being disgusting to look at; the people on the other hand, lacking New Yorkers' fastidious about germs and general avoidance of physical contact, are dirty.  Also, they wear jeans and sweatshirts and fleeces and often no makeup, and in New York I am the only person I ever see who dresses like this when not at the gym.  The architecture is attractive and varied, but perhaps a bit too varied to be optimally attractive - every building is well-planned, but they do not seem to have thought much about what buildings each building is next to.  Also, there is sort of a general fake-Western feel about the place, like it has come out of a movie set.  I expected people to be nature-y here, and maybe they are, but the dominant vibe I am getting is similar to the L train on a Friday evening - a lot of torn tights on women and nail polish on men, and apparently flannel shirts did not go out of style here.  

In general, it makes me uncomfortable, because I feel like it is the sort of place I'm supposed to like, but I don't.  I mean, yes, Powell's is what Heaven would be like if it were composed entirely of books, but it is one of exactly two good-sized bookstores in the downtown area.  Everything moves slowly, which there is no excuse for in any area with public transportation.  More, I cannot get a bead on it.  It feels self-conscious, although I suppose I have thought this was true of everywhere I've lived since grad school.  I can't reconcile the generally yuppie-ish feel of the city with the generally not-yuppie-ish feel of its inhabitants; on a purely economic level, looking at the people and the stores and so forth, I cannot figure out where they get the tax base to keep the streets clean and the trams (which are free downtown and reasonable elsewhere) running.  Maybe there are different sorts of people, i.e. richer ones, in the suburbs?  Wikipedia says Intel and other technology companies are the largest industry; it looks like they also do a lot of international shipping.  It's also a regional tourist destination.  They don't have any sales or restaurant tax, however, so this is still a mystery; perhaps they gouge their tech workers with local income tax.

Economics aside... I feel like Portland is a place that good crunchy people are supposed to like.  It is a nice size, and friendly, and the kind of place where a person like means runs away during their quarter-life crisis to be nobley poor and write a novel about the evils of capitalism.  But I think to me a city like this is just the wrong size - big enough to be annoying in the ways a city is, but not big enough to be exciting.  I would rather be in New York and accept the stress of city life, or in a small college town and accept the lack of local excitement.  (It is also true that I am looking at it as a visitor, which exacerbates both stress, since everything is unfamiliar, and lack of excitement, since one looks for things to do.)  Perhaps more frighteningly, if I am having a quarter-life crisis I had better get on with it, and it looks like it will go in the opposite direction, i.e. I am more likely to discard my ratty jeans for business suits than the other way around, and I have already written enough novels to last me a while.

So, anyway, my talk was earlier today.  I had not so much as looked at it since before coming to the meeting, until about forty-five minutes before which was perhaps unwise, but it went find, and afterwards several people told me it went well, including well-known people whom I don't really know, which is good, although (a) is what usually happens at such meetings, because I do good work and present it articulately, and (b) does not actually lead directly to me having a job, so ultimately makes me rather angry and bitter.  I am always uncomfortable saying that I am good at giving talks, even though I am, because my parents, who are supposed to know me better than anybody, say I am bad at public speaking.  It is true that I am often nervous about interacting with strangers, which in my opinion is perfectly rational, because strangers are by definition unpredictable.  But talking about a subject I am highly familiar with in a controlled environment is not like, say, ordering lunch in a strange cafe.  The latter has many scary and unknown elements; in the former, you just tell people what you want to tell them, and maybe they are interested.

(For similar reasons, I am good at navigating unfamiliar cities, at least compared to my friends, even though I supposedly have no sense of direction.  It is true that I do not know by some sort of eighth sense which way North is, but I am capable of reading signs and matching them to the screen of my iPhone and remembering where I have been the previous day and how I got from there to the hotel.)

The wireless is starting to conk out, so I am going to go see if maybe I can check into my flight, and then I am going to demand that somebody sell me an overpriced bag of trail mix or something.  At some point I will write a coherent entry, although that point is unlikely to arrive before Monday.

1 comment:

  1. I like your description of Portland: it's very vivid.