Moving Back to Portland
I’m into my fourth week back in Portland. I was previously in San Francisco working at a little startup called Yammer—now acquired by Microsoft. I spent about a year and a half in San Francisco, and while it was fun, I don’t miss it. I really tried to like it, I did, but it wasn’t for me or my family. I ultimately left Yammer just because it was in San Francisco and my family and I missed Portland.
I grew up in Vancouver, WA. An Apple Bees, chain food, suburban, filthy, boring, shithole of a city across the river from Portland. You’ve probably never heard of it because absolutely nothing happens there. Because it is so boring, the amount of teens on hard drugs like heroin and meth and committing crime is alarmingly high. It didn’t take much thought to know I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. With my first well paying job—a web developer for the City of Portland—I moved out of “The Couve”, as people called it, and into “PDX”. I absolutely loved it, but I felt like I was missing something.
A large chunk of my friends were getting jobs at startups and talking about how glamorous it was. Catered lunches, didn’t rain every day, free alcohol all the time, amazing pay and best of all, stock. So much stock! Friends kept telling me how if I work at their company and they sell out in a year or two I’d be rich and even richer if they IPO. I applied at a few places and had a few choices to pick from, but decided on Yammer because they had a real monetization model, a CEO who’s done it before, and a product that didn’t have any serious competitors. It seemed like a clear win. Glad to say I was right and I’m happy I picked them. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life.
What I didn’t know was that to get people to move down there they needed those huge salaries and instill dreams of becoming rich because life there is so rough. The money and glamour of it all is a smokescreen. My salary was almost double, yet we lived in a house half the size miles outside the city and over double what we paid in Portland and we lived in the downtown core of Portland. The same apartment we had in Portland in San Francisco would probably be millions. This life of being broke but bringing in a six digit salary becomes normal.
It didn’t hit me at how much life is different in San Francisco until I had my phone stolen from my hands while waiting for the bus and being told they’d kill me if I didn’t give it to them. This just less than a year and a half after moving there. They have such bad crime on public transit there’s a program called the “San Francisco Muni Ambassador” where they have people who just watch for crime and walk you to the busses to make sure you don’t get mugged or raped. The busses and trains themselves are just dirty, old, and badly vandalized. The local government treats their public transit employees like dirt and it rubs off on the commuters when the bus drivers act cold and angry. Public transit is something I took for granted in Portland. The busses are so much nicer and cleaner. Bus drivers greet you with a smile. Other passengers are nice, but best of all, they’re actually on time.
It’s not just the bus drivers either. People in general are just so pissed off in San Francisco.Everything and everyone is a hassle. If you take one second to hit the gas when a light turns green people start honking and having a brain aneurysm. My wife parked, temporarily, 2-3 inches over our neighbors driveway to load up our kids. When she got back down not too long after getting them ready there were signs plastered on the front and back of our car with threats. The neighbor comes down and starts screaming at my wife the entire time she’s loading up two small children about how he had to get to work and couldn’t get out—which was bullshit since he had plenty of room. The thing is, this is normal in San Francisco. The city that lights everything on fire and breaks stuff when their sports team wins. I called up someone who had a package delivered to me by accident and he was blown away by this act of kindness. So much so he gave us a bottle of nice wine. I didn’t think anything of it and it started to worry me that I’d start to become the same way.
In San Francisco you become numb and calloused to the world or blinded with alcohol and tech parties. That’s not how I wanted my kids to grow up, and it’s not something I wanted my wife to have to deal with. If you’re single looking to grab a startup lottery ticket, work your ass off for a couple years, and meet famous tech people, San Francisco is your place. Otherwise, it probably isn’t.
I’m glad to say I’m back in Portland now. My wife and I couldn’t be happier. We literally picked the place we wanted to live and lo and behold, they had openings—as did every other place we checked. I’ve found that I’ve been far more social in real life and meeting with friends for lunch or beers after work here as well. It’s also nice to be back in such a bike friendly place so I can ride my bike to see friends on the other side of town and not be scared some asshole driver will run me over. Here bike lanes are as large as car lanes. San Francisco drivers and bicyclists scared the hell out of me so I never biked down there and just getting around town with a car or Muni was so exhausting I never wanted to go out.
If I learned one thing from San Francisco, it’s that sacrificing quality of life just isn’t worth it. I’ll be staying here for awhile now. If I do move, it’ll be to a city like Portland. I really didn’t realize just how much I’d miss it when I moved down there, but I’m glad I did get to try out the San Francisco life because it showed me just how beautiful, friendly, and great Portland is. It feels good to be back.