Another judicious report from the Far Northwest by C.A. Carrington, our happily reconstructed former New Yorker. —Ed.
Oh, Portlandia! Why such eco-madness? Illustration by A. Fodero.
How I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and falling head over heels for you in the past few months. You are charming, organized, and creative. You seem to know all the things I like, the food I desire to eat, activities I enjoy. You are filled with nature and life and friendliness, and you inspire me daily with all of your energy, both creative and positive. You know how to make me happy.
But let’s be realistic, darling—you do have some qualities and traits that can try my resolve and good nature, even in my most patient moments. Some perplex me, because they are seeming anachronisms, but that’s just because you are normally so progressive, humanistic, fair-minded, and thoughtful. Some of your quirks just drive me plain batty. So, in the spirit of “Honesty, no matter how bruising, is the best policy,” and so we can grow together, let me give you a few examples of how your mysteries bewilder me.
This one is simple enough: your streets at night are too dark. While I understand that there’s no need for glaring floodlights—this isn’t crime-infested Gotham—I believe that driving around at night, fearing running over pedestrians, bicyclists, or anything else in the street, is not healthy for our relationship. Your leafy shadows obscure the small, already-hard-to-read street signs on corners. We all agree that we want a smaller carbon footprint, but I’m curious to know if our city even shows up at all on those nighttime, urban light pollution photos, taken from satellites in deep space. If your drivers are wearing night-vision goggles and everything is glowing green and clear for them, please let me know and I will go out and buy a pair.
I’ve never met a city, a town, or a small village like you, where traffic intersections provide such dilemmas. Do you like to be complicated? What is this—a traffic light for one street, stop signs for the cross street? It makes sense, I suppose, and seems to work with some logic, but then last week, I came upon a pickup truck smashed into a storefront in Sellwood, a local neighborhood, in the middle of exactly this type of intersection. So I wonder . . .
Even more amazing, you seem overly confident in the friendly, careful, and patient nature of your citizens, because I’ve happened upon two or three residential intersections so far that have no traffic lights, no stop signs, at all. In the Northeast, this would cause havoc, mayhem: Demolition Derby tickets would be sold by an enterprising but shady corner resident. There’s really no need to explain; I now know to drive through these areas at a speed that can best be described as “just took the transmission out of Park and put it into Drive, but have yet to put my foot upon the gas pedal.” Oh, but one more question for you, related to all this: Are there reduced homeowners’ insurance deductibles for those residents who are unlucky enough to live on the corners of the streets I mentioned?
(For the record, I barely passed the Oregon Drivers License written test upon moving here when I transferred my New York license, after some 29 years of driving, accident-free and unticketed, in the congested, speedy Northeast. There were questions on the Oregon test involving bike and auto lanes and other odd traffic configurations that I had never, ever seen in all my years.)
Your Keen Eco-ness Gives Me Conniptions
I won’t make fun of you, ever, for your love of the environment, of being green, for your obsessive attention and commitment to recycling/reusing, composting, reworking and resalvaging. You are very progressive when it comes to these Earth-saving resolves, and I hope I can be more in tune to this as a citizen here, inspired by your devotion to our planet. But when I go to your second-run theaters, your restaurants, your food-cart pods, your trash/recycle areas give me apoplexy (the anger kind, not internal bleeding). Did you know I have test-fright, sweetheart—that I seize up when given too many choices, paralyzed at the idea of picking the wrong one and wondering where my fate might lie beyond? Most public places back East merely had the choice of a trash can or a recycle bin (if that). But, oh, your array of choices/dilemmas! Cans for trash, bins for recyclables, containers for compostables, and tubs for dishes to be washed. That popcorn container: compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable? Those plastic utensils—or are they soy-based, or plant-starch, or bamboo? Hmmm.
More on Your Keen Eco-ness, or Eco-Keenness
I’m just going to be short and sweet on this one: Certain food, when one is eating out, deserves a hard surface (i.e., a ceramic plate) and a metal knife and fork. You seem to be very pleased with the setup of a very thin paper liner (probably recyclable, perhaps compostable) in a basket for your casual restaurant servings, but it doesn’t work for me. Ever. Cutting through a falafel pita and the thin paper beneath it—and having the contents crumble and fall through the basket and onto the table—is neither pleasing nor hunger-reducing.
One of your genius hot sandwich shops, Shut Up and Eat, has the most delicious menu, but then you made me embarrass myself when I had to explain, after finishing my meal on my first visit there, that the food was so good that “I went ahead and ate part of the basket liner too.”
The Leaf Blowers
My apartment complex employs a year-round landscaping/lawn care staff that includes a pair of leaf blowers, as I like to call them—sturdy men with leaf blowers strapped to their backs who dutifully work every Friday, blowing dead leaves and organic detritus about. Is this really sustainable? First of all: In mid-winter there is not much on the ground to remove or move elsewhere. And on a more philosophical note, I’ve learned that you don’t solve any problem by blowing it somewhere else, because it still exists, and if a leaf blower there blows it back, well, it’s your issue again.
I understand that you might qualify this and say you are committed—and happy—to gainfully employ these hard workers year-round, regardless of the volume of detritus to blow about. But I often feel sad, seeing them doing such a useless and ironic task. (I’m also a bit choked up, but that is probably more from the noxious fumes of their two-stroke-engine leaf blowers.)
I hope that you’ve taken all of this constructive criticism in stride, my darling city. I would list the myriad positive qualities you have so wonderfully honed, but then I’d sound like every travel article written about you in the past 15 years, and you wouldn’t be so wonderful if you developed an unattractive, gloating ego.
In conclusion, I will offer you this wise disclaimer, and share a bit of my background to illustrate something about our growing relationship: I am the product of an upbringing in which, after dinner was done, my mother would dump the food scraps from our plates into the trashcan, throw the afternoon contents of her ashtray on top, and then summon me to peer down into the trash with her as she proclaimed: “Look, I’m going to be the next Jackson Pollock!” So you see, my dear Portland, a city whose unofficial slogan is “Keep Portland Weird,” we really do make nearly the perfect pair.