Living in Portland, Oregon

I was having lunch with a friend and she asked me why I moved back to Hillsboro after living all around the world. I hesitated, since we’d been talking about various dog breeds before she suddenly threw out that query, and in that hesitant moment she went on, “What’s your favorite place that you’ve lived?”

“Uh, well…” I said.

“Spain! I’ll bet it was Spain. I want to go there so bad,” she said.

“Spain was nice. But, you know, I really did like living in Portland,” I said.

“Oregon?” she asked.

Mm-hm, I began. I lived there two years in the early ‘70s and immediately fell in love with the city and its people. I was married when I moved there and after two years, I left and she stayed and lives there to this day. Her sister and husband came to visit and they still live there. Her mom and dad moved there. The wife and I taught at different high schools, but in the same district. She taught P.E. and coached the swim team. I taught English and was an assistant coach in both football and baseball. I think we made about $3,000 apiece. It seemed like a fortune.

We ate out a lot. I ate my first fish ‘n’ chips at a British style pub called The Elephant and Castle and my first real Chinese food from a great place called Far Hung Low’s. Far Hung Low’s was in Portland’s Chinatown which covered much of Burnside Street. Burnside was one of America’s first “skid rows.” Burnside is now cleaned up and gentrified, but it was once a haven for out-of-work men. In the ‘30s many men could not get steady jobs so they existed by traveling around going from harvest to harvest. They were called hoboes, or bindle-stiffs. They got from place to place by illegally hopping freight trains – “riding the rails” or even, out of desperation, “riding the rods” which meant crawling under the freight car and hanging on to an iron support rod. Portland was a gathering point for these transients and there was always a “jungle” set up either south or north of the city.

In the summer, Portland is breathtakingly beautiful. I never got over the sensation of walking north or south on a street and then turning east to be struck by the sight of Mount Hood, seemingly right there in the city. It was huge and on a clear summer day it appeared to be just down the hill on the other side of the Willamette River. I never got over that sensation.

Portland is known as the “Rose City.” Each May is the rose festival and there is a huge parade and the rose queen to reign over the festivities. Our first year there we rented a house with a large yard and we had roses almost the entire year. The weather, due to the Japanese current that pushes up the Pacific and crests at the coast just 60 miles away from Portland, is very mild. It is often described as being Mediterranean. The average temperature in winter is 41 degrees and in summer it averages 71 degrees. There are extremes at either end, but they are rare. The summer is blue skies, clean air, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who like to climb mountains or head to the beaches on the coast.

But, here’s the rub – from September to May – it rains. Every day. Nothing drastic, just a daily drizzle. Rain in the morning, clear up at noon and go back to rain a few hours later. If you can handle that, you will also fall in love with Portland. It rained every single football game for both years I coached there. At the end of the first year, my wife and I separated and then divorced. She kept our car. I kept my motorcycle. I rode it every day, rain or no rain. There is usually one week in the winter when there is a little snow. I put on my heavy Belleville-style combat boots and rode the bike. When I felt I needed to, I would simply put both feet on the pavement and ride out any uncertainty until I felt I was back in control. Never had an accident.

Portland was a great place to get involved in small theatre. I became more interested in acting as a young single man and was lucky enough to go from one play to another during my last year in Portland. I met a young ballerina and we decided that when the school year was over we would travel to New York where I would become a famous Broadway star and she would wow the city as its next Prima Ballerina. Things don’t always work out the way they should.

But my two years in Portland, Oregon were memorable and for the longest time I thought of that wonderful city as my favorite place to have lived.

Garry Boone is a Hillsboro resident.