Sunday, June 28, 2009

Big City

View of Portland taken winter 2006-7, during a lot of growth and development.

I used to be a Big-city girl, or thought I was. Then I went to Middelburg, and now big cities... scare me a little.

My sister keeps laughing at me, for example, because I can't remember how to jaywalk. I encountered maybe .5 traffic lights on an average day in Middelburg. Actually, less, because they only time I had to cross a street that had a traffic light was on my way to the library or the train station, and I did that less than once a week last semester.I'm never used to traffic when I come home for vacation.

But it's even worse now, because Portland is bigger than ever.

I mean, really. Portland used to be a small-big city. Now that's changing, and it's becoming... a big city. According to wikipedia (not the most reliable resource, I know, but I'm too lazy to do the proper research right now), the city is closing in on 600,000 residents, and the metro area as over 2 million. It's the 23rd largest metro area in the United States. (Still wikipedia. Sorry.)

But the numbers wouldn't mean much if they weren't so apparent on the street.

Taking the interstate MAX home from Overlook Park to the Rose Quarter at 1 pm on a week day, the train was pretty full. I mean, there were places to sit, but far fewer than I would ever expect on that line.

Every time I've taken MAX downtown from NE 7th, it's been hard to find a seat. No matter if it is day or night, no matter if it's weekday or weekend, those things are packed.

Which is good. Portland is green. People take public transport.

But seriously! When I was in high school, you could take the MAX anytime outside of rush hour (and maybe weekends) and there would be plenty of free space.

And then, on Friday, my family drove out to Beaverton to meet my Dad at his work and have a picnic.

A lunch picnic, mind you. This was not Friday rush hour; this was Friday at about noon. And the freeway was already packed. It wasn't a traffic jam, but it felt like after the next corner... or the next one... it might slow to stop-and-go. It was insane.

The most concrete proof, however, of this population growth came yesterday. We drove out the Historic Columbia River Highway to Hood River, to show my second cousin Misa, visiting from the Czech Republic, the stunning natural beauty of the region. On the way back, we planned to stop at Multnomah Falls....

...and couldn't.

Because there were too many people.

As in, ZERO parking places.

A little further on, we were lucky to grab one of two available spaces at the lesser-known Wahkeena Falls instead, but really. There were only two.

Granted, it was a summer Saturday. But that never used to be a problem.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Catch-up & Conversation

I have slacked off, unsurprisingly, on the blogging in the past couple of months. As is generally true, it was not completely without good reason. School finals, then short trips to Amsterdam for shopping and rugby with friends, then the parents and grandparents came to town. Graduation week came, and flew by - truly one of the most bittersweet experiences of my life so far - and before you knew it, the graduation ceremony had ended, dinner with the family was over, and it was time to try to pack up what seemed to be a whole life.

The week after graduation I took a trip through the Netherlands - mainly the northern regions, such as Drenthe, Groningen, Noord-Holland, and a little time in Overijssel, Gelderland and Utrecht. We toured pancake restaurants for an article my mother was writing and ate them until pancakes, apples, and bacon were coming out our ears.

Then the padres left and I had one week to get rid of all of my furniture, find a home for a huge number of books, strip and clean my room bare before returning to Portland.

And that is where you now find me. It's already been a week and a half, and although I was really looking forward to this trip (it being two years since I experienced a hot summer), it turns out I was not entirely prepared for certain other aspects of Portland:

1. Jaywalking is not widely done in the Netherlands. It's especially not common in Middelburg, where there are hardly any streets that actually have stoplights, and if a car is coming you can't be sure it will stop for you, so I always wait. Here, however, I have been stranded on the sidewalk multiple times while my 17-year-old sister seemingly steps out into traffic on a regular basis.

2. The weather - I just said I was looking forward to the heat, but it barely hit 75 for a few days in Middelburg last July. I'm not used to this kind of heat. And it's not even 80 degrees out there.

3. Transportation - Portland is a biking city, but the cars scare me, and even though I feel like a total dork, I'm terrified of taking a bike without a helmet. The streetcars are much more crowded than I remember, and I haven't driven in about two years. It's a jungle out there.

4. Conversation - WOW, do people here like to talk. Out for coffee with a friend at a bakery: "Hey, I haven't seen your mom lately! Or you, for that matter. How are you?" In the stores: "That top is so cute, isn't it? Have you seen this one? And the solid prints are only seven dollars. I always think it makes a nice outfit with those shorts over there." At the grocery store: "It's all right, we're open till 9. I won't start rushing you till 8:55. You got it? Okay, let's see... yup, you got the right change! Turns out you can count. The scary thing is, I can't. Oh! So maybe you didn't get it right! Now we'll never know.. enjoy the rest of your day!" At the used clothes store: "Whatcha up to today? Oh? That'll be fun. Yeah, there's a lot to do down here. Have you been to _____? How about ____? You should definitely check that out." On the streetcar: "I love your skirt. It makes me want to travel again. The funny thing is, I've been to all those places... Mexico - I traveled all over Central America, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica... Haven't done the Sahara, though, funny that's on there". Or, also on the street car: "Beautiful weather, isn't it? Enjoy it! Enjoy your day in the sun!"

And I could go on.

But I think you get the picture: Portlanders are friendly.

I knew that. I just wasn't expecting that.