Roll Your Eyes All You Want. Portland Is Going to Keep Being Itself.

Beyond the stereotypes and the hype, you’re never just what anyone expects you to be.

Dear Portland,

There’s no way around it. You’re what everyone thinks you are: America’s most carefully curated city; a hipster paradise; the all-artisanal-everything land of food carts, beards, and tattoos. But I wasn’t lured here by the quality of life or culture. I moved here for a job.

At first, I resented this place for being exactly as advertised. But at some point, I stopped worrying and learned to love this side of Portland. I wake up with carefully brewed Stumptown coffee. Weather permitting, I bike to work in the Pearl District, a hub for creative class jobs like my own. For lunch, I can go kale or I can go pork belly, the ying and yang of Portland cuisine. If we go out to dinner, there’s a good chance we’ll go to Pok Pok or Bollywood Theatre, Asian street fare that goes out of its way to be painstakingly authentic. Weekends were made for browsing the big-city selection (at small-town prices) of Clinton Street Records or catching a repertory flick at the Hollywood Theatre.

But I know your secret, Portland. Beyond the stereotypes and the hype, you’re never just what anyone expects you to be. What makes you special isn’t that you’re unrelentingly trendy. It’s that you’re remarkably confident. You’re a city that’s helping change the way people think about cities, and it has very little to do with being an indie rock band or a regional center. You attract as many professionals as you do underdogs and dreamers. I came to Portland because I had to, but quickly realized that living here was pretty darn enviable.

Even so, no matter how much I sing your praises, you’re certainly not perfect. Though you’re not as white as you used to be, the lack of diversity is a real issue. Since you’re growing faster than expected, traffic can be a real hassle (a major motivation for cyclists, though).

Still, no matter how much you’ve grown and changed over the years, that sense of community is still strong. We get behind independent businesses, freak out about new brunch spots, and support local bands even after they blow up. And everyone is a Trail Blazers fan, whether or not they could care less about any other team or any other sport. It doesn’t hurt that All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are two of the best players in basketball, or that this team could win a title in the next few years. But Portland’s love affair with this franchise goes back decades. There’s a bar called Spirit of 77, after the year the Blazers won their lone championship.

There’s definitely a Portland demographic. But you’re pretty much open to anyone and anything. We’re just a group of people who enjoy living in a friendly, accessible place with a lot of the same culture and perks you’d find in a teeming metropolis. You’re unapologetic about where you’ve been and where you’re going next. What I love most about you, Portland, is that you’re never the city you’re supposed to be. You’re just yourself.

Your humble resident,

Bethlehem Shoals

Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of the basketball writers’ collective and co-author of the Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. His writing has appeared in GQ, Sports Illustrated, The Nation, The Awl, and McSweeney’s.


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