It was sometime in the beginning of 2013 when I decided to take the plunge and move to Portland Oregon. I was 32 years old, had just come out of a bad relationship, and suddenly found myself living in my hometown again.
It wasn’t exactly by choice. My narcissist jerk of an ex had taken our dogs and bought a house in the country and didn’t invite me. He must have forgotten about the fact that I supported him while he went to med school.
I needed a place to recuperate, and my best friend was gracious enough to let me sleep in her attic while I got my shit back together.
Also, I was broke.
It dawned on me while I was sobbing into a vat of ice cream one day, that I could use a change of scenery. New England was too conservative of a place for me. I had grown up there, but there was a reason I left as soon as I graduated high school.
I hated it.
Something about the way Fred and Carrie parodied their city spoke to me. It seemed fun, and just small enough to not be overly crowded.
Boston, New York, L.A., Austin.
Those were all big city destinations that people talked about. Who the hell cares about little, old Portland Oregon? I thought to myself.
So I packed my things into my Jeep and headed west.
The magical land of Portland that they portrayed in the show seemed like just the place I needed to be to get my life back on track. I had tattoos and worked in restaurants, so I was practically a Portlander already!
The city that greeted me was everything I had hoped for. Not only was it green and beautiful, but it was also slightly dirty with a hint of that weirdness I was searching for. I rented a cot in a hostel for about 6 weeks while I worked on finding an apartment.
My new boss practically laughed me out of her office when I told her I was a transplant looking for a place to live.
You realize that the rental market here has less than 1% vacancy rate, right?
Why no, Laura, I did not know that!
Sure enough, each apartment I looked at was taken by an eager person who had called minutes before I did, or who showed up with a pile of cash in hand. I was starting to get a little desperate since living in a hostel wasn’t fun, or cheap for that matter. **
I could have sworn when I was doing research prior to moving, that Craigslist had tons of places to rent. But it seemed like in the 6 months it took me to move, something had changed.
The city was growing dramatically by the day.
What was portrayed in the show as a place that welcomed everyone, had now become a place that was downright hostile to transplants. Each day I heard some new drama about how So-Cal people were ruining things for everyone.
What started as a little bit of traffic in my morning commute, became a two hour shit show on I-5. Cars sitting in Rose Quarter during rush hour, and EVERY OTHER HOUR just because.
Eventually I found myself in a series of weird roommate situations and now, five years later, I live in a van with my boyfriend because I can no longer even afford normal lodging.
The quirky neighborhoods that once drew me in with their artistic communities and hidden gems are now being ripped apart and turned into condos to support the influx of people. Each 600 square foot apartment costs more than I am willing to pay out of my monthly salary.
I can’t even imagine what that feels like to someone who was born here and makes less than I do. While I was able to make a choice about where I lived, most of these people could not, and for that I am very sorry.
While I’m not taking up any of the housing, I am a part of this city. Living in the van has made it so that I have disposable income for things like entertainment and top notch dining. Gentrification is aimed at transplants almost exactly like me, and for that I feel awful.
I have lived all over the United States and this is one of the most amazing places I have ever experienced. Unfortunately, I know I’ll have to move on soon because it’s starting to tear at the seams.
This small gem of a city can’t support this type of growth for too much longer. I love Portland Oregon, but by moving here, people like me unknowingly helped destroy everything that once made it great.
**Fun side story: One of my bunk mates in the hotel was named Tim. Tim was a runner who did not like to shower. He constantly smelled like B.O. and would crawl into my bed to sleep after I left for work in the morning. I could tell because my pillows and blankets smelled like his armpits…