Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What's in a name?

The famous Shakespearean quote goes like this:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

(Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2)

So, how did Portland get its name? It's actually an interesting story, even for a non-history buff like me. The spot where Portland rests was first known as a 640 acre spot called "the clearing", the flat area between the banks of the Willamette River and the west hills. It all started with a guy named William Overton (who, coincidentally, was from Tennessee where there are a few schools and a county named after him, among other things). Overton thought "the clearing" had great growth potential due to its proximity to the river and the Pacific Ocean, and the large amount of forests nearby. But, he couldn't afford to file a claim for the land. So, he convinced his friend Asa Lovejoy (from Boston, Mass.) to file the claim (for a whopping 25 cents) and they would share it. Tangent: I know it was only 1843, but the guy didn't have a freaking quarter? Weird.

Later on, Overton sold his share to a guy named Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Pettygrove and Lovejoy both wanted to name the new city after their respective hometowns, so to settle the argument they decided to do a coin toss (best 2 out of 3, in case you're curious). As you can deduce, Pettygrove won the toss and now the famous coin used for this toss is on display by the Oregon Historical Society, and is known as the "Portland Penny." (Seriously, what is it with coins in this story?)

Portland has several nicknames, too. The most common one is "The City of Roses" or "Rose City". This nickname is supposed to have started with a guy named Leo Samuel, who grew roses outside his home. He placed a pair of garden shears outside so random people walking by could cut one of his roses and take for themselves. I guess it was a big hit, and then other people started doing it, and before you know it there were roses all over the place. Portland also has an ideal climate for growing roses, and is home to the International Rose Test Garden which overlooks downtown Portland and Mt. Hood. There is also an annual Portland Rose Festival that started in 1907 and still continues (which I am personally looking forward to in 2009!)

Another nickname for Portland is "Bridgetown" for fairly obvious reasons, if you've ever been here. There are a total of eleven bridges crossing the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and they're all really cool. One of my blog goals is to visit each one, take some cool pictures, and talk about them a bit. This only shows 7 of them, but you get the idea:

The most bizarre Portland nickname is "PDX" and I personally think this one is much more common (at least locally) than "The City of Roses". PDX, for you outsiders, is the airport code for Portland. No, I'm not kidding. The. Airport. Code. For freak's sake, what a dorky nickname! I mean, I can't imagine if Nashville just suddently started calling itself "BNA". And the thing is, it's kind of out of control. I mean, there are coffee shops, art galleries, clothing stores, bars, medical clinics, magazines, non-profits, car dealerships, craft shops, even schools that use it, for crying out loud. (For real, Portland State University's website is I do not understand it. At all.

Between 1851 and 1879 Portland grew from 800 residents to almost 18,000. During this period of phenomenal growth, people started referring to Portland as "Stumptown". Trees were being cut to make way for roads, and there was not enough manpower to go back and remove the stumps for quite a while. So, residents started painting them white, and would even sometimes use them to cross streets without sinking into the mud. In modern times, people call Portland "Stumptown" as a joke because there is a lack of tall buildings in the downtown area. I haven't heard this one too much, with the exception of Stumptown Coffee which is pretty popular here.

Another, less common nickname for Portland is "Little Beirut", because of the large amount of protesters that came out when the first George Bush would come to town. "Niketown" is another one, because the world headquarters of Nike are located here (not actually in Portland, but close enough to count, I guess.) "Rip City" is another not very common nickname. This one came from a famous Portland Trailblazers game against the LA Lakers where a Portland player ripped the net when shooting a three-pointer. I say it's not very common, but I also don't watch Trailblazer games, so maybe they use it more often.

So, what's in a name? A lot, I think... I just don't know if things would be the same, had Asa Lovejoy won the coin toss and this place was called "Boston, Oregon." What do you think? It's one of those deep, philosophical questions that will probably keep me up at night.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weather, Schmeather.

As soon as I started telling people I was moving to Portland, everyone was like, "Oh! You'll love it... I've been there!" or "My daughter lives there and she says it's amazing!" But inevitably after these glowing recommendations, there was a short moment of silence, followed by, "But watch out for the rain!" or "But I hear the weather is just awful." or "Make sure you take your parka and galoshes!" I was so worried, that I googled "Portland Weather" before we moved out, and found no shortage of blogs and commentaries on the horrible-ness of Portland's meteorological predicament. One lady even said that the entire winter, the whole city smelled like a wet dog so she decided to move. Yikes! Wet dog is no good.

When we got here and started meeting people, even they made comments about the weather, but it was more like this, "Oh, yeah, the weather is pretty bad. Most people can't handle it." Or, "Yeah, it's rough... new people have a really hard time." After these conversations, Justyn and I were both pretty concerned... asking ourselves, "What on earth have we done?" But luckily we got here during the amazing portion of the weather, so we just put off worrying about it until the end of October, when it was supposed to start getting bad.

October came and went, and then November, and I started wondering what all the fuss was about. It occurred to me that maybe people who live in Portland want outsiders to think it's really rough living here. There has been a huge influx of people moving to Portland, and I think the natives are getting restless. It's a scare tactic. They want people to think they're tough and strong and that they're suffering.

So, I finally called someone's bluff (namely Justyn's brother, who lives in Seattle where the weather really is horrible). I said, "Seriously. You used to call Justyn and say, 'DUDE... I haven't seen the sun in over a month.' I mean, is that really true? Does the sun really not come out at all? Or does it only come out every few days? You can be honest." After some serious stuttering and mumbling, he admitted, "Yeah, I mean, it will come out every now and then, I guess." I proceeded to ask exactly how often, and he said, "maybe once a week, or once every two weeks."

A-HA! The truth comes out! That's not so bad. There were plenty of times in Nashville where it would rain every day for a week. And it kind of sucked, but you knew the sun would come out sooner or later. After this admission, I stopped worrying about it too much. But when it came up in conversation, the natives would say, "Well, it really doesn't get bad until December." Well, it turns out that December brought a snowstorm that dumped almost 19 inches of snow in the Portland metro area, that which the locals have dubbed "Snowpocalypse", a.k.a. "Snowapalooza", a.k.a. "Arctic Blast 2008". And, I suppose I must admit that if it hadn't been so cold, all of that snow would have been rain. But, it wasn't, and that makes it okay. Because snow is wicked cool, and I feel like there isn't enough of it in my life.

Let me take a minute to comment on Portlanders and their ability to handle a winter storm. I was actually looking forward to witnessing their behavior, after living in Nashville for 20 years where the mere prediction of "a few flurries" sends everyone to their local grocery store to buy all the milk and bread they can fit into their carts. (And can I just say how stupid that is? Why on earth would you go buy 2 of the most perishable items that exist when you think you might be socked in for several days? Grab some canned goods, people!) Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest (keyword: NORTH) I thought I would finally see some people who know how to handle driving in inclement weather. But ooohhhhh no. I was so very wrong. Most of you have seen this video, as I did last year when it circulated through email. The locale? You guessed it, Portland. Had I known that, I wouldn't have expected so much from my fellow Oregonians. This video is pretty funny, too, and is from the most recent storm. To make a long story short, the whole city practically shut down, schools closed for over a week (now they're trying to figure out how to make it up), and tire chains were required on all roads, even ones that were cleared. Which explains why the roads in Portland are so bad. To make matters worse, Portland doesn't own any snowplows or salt trucks that I know of. (They don't use salt here, I guess, they use sand and gravel, which is not so fun to drive on and plus the cars in front of you throw little rocks up at your windshield. Oh, and watch out for rogue tire chains. Those sonsabitches are bad news when they come loose at 40 mph.) I heard they had to borrow plows from Washington State to get some of the roads cleared. But, I digress.

In the latest conversation I've had about the weather with a local, she confided in me that the weather really doesn't get bad until January, and now I think I'm beginning to see a pattern. It has been mostly sunny every day this week, and check out the forecast for next week:

That doesn't look like "bad" weather to me. So, I'm making a prediction. The news stations and long-time Portland residents will start saying, "You know, this winter was really mild. Normally it's a lot worse than this." I guess I can see their motivation. The weather is the only complaint I've ever heard that would prevent someone from moving here. And, if they don't have that, what do they have? If they didn't scare people off, I can just imagine how crowded it would be, because everyone really would want to live here. But I will not be fooled. Portlanders are trying to keep a big secret, and I'm not going to be a party to it.

Either that, or they're all just a bunch of sissies descended from the Wicked Witch of the West that think a little rain will melt them into a little green puddle. But, I don't think so. There are way too many dogs in this city for that to be true, and I'm pretty sure she was afraid of dogs.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Home is.... where, again?

They say that home is where the heart is.

... and they also say that home is where you hang your hat. But which is it? And, who are "they" anyway?

For the holidays, Justyn and I went back to Nashville. It was an odd sensation to be a visitor in a place that used to be home. A place, in fact, that until recently I have still referred to as "home." Like, going "back home" for Christmas. But even preparing to leave, something just didn't feel quite right. I mean, I always get a little anxious about traveling even though I like it. So, I rarely "look forward" to any kind of trip or visit.

I saw downtown Nashville from the plane and I felt nothing. Don't get me wrong, I was excited to see friends and family, but I felt strangely distant from the emotion of being back. Of course, part of me was nervous. It's daunting to juggle time with mom, dad & step-mom, brother, best friends, and other friends, and to fit everyone in the space of just one week. But we had made detailed schedule beforehand (did you expect anything less?) so that helped take some pressure off.

My mom is staying in our house (the one we couldn't sell) so it was sort of like being in the twilight zone while we stayed there. But, I found it oddly comforting, though. Although it was a little unsettling to see someone else's stuff in our house, I was glad to see my mom in a nice place. And better her than some other renter that would trash the place or junk it up with a bunch of crap. We had major landlord problems, though, from the moment the plane landed. From a fried water heater to a leaky toilet, and even some autumn leaf cleanup, it definitely ruined my relaxation goal for about half the trip. It makes me glad to live in an apartment. I do not miss owning a home, much to the chagrin of my husband.

I miss my friends the most. I mean, of course I miss my family, too, but they're family so I know they'll come visit me and keep in touch. But friends, they're different. We went to visit some really good "couple-friends" of ours, and it was like we'd never left. It was after midnight and we had been there for almost 8 hours, plus we still had half an hour drive home. But it was still the hardest thing to just get up and say, "Well, guys... I guess we should head out..." Even though we've made some friends here, nothing will ever compare to our friends in Nashville. They're the only people I know that can discuss men who lactate and an Amazonian fish that swims up your pee-hole all in one dinner conversation. I'm not much of a cry-baby, but I did cry after saying goodbye to Amy... and that was the only time.

So I guess the conclusion is that I miss the people in Nashville, but I don't miss Nashville itself much at all. I think that's why I haven't really gotten homesick all that much since we left. We've been in Oregon for 6 months now, and I think I've reached the displacement phase. Because, Portland doesn't really feel like home yet. But Nashville definitely isn't home anymore either.

So, is home where the heart is, or is it where you hang your hat? I guess for me, it's somewhere in between. Like, somewhere in Nebraska.