Last night my wife and I watched the first episode of IFC's Portlandia with more than a little city-envy. Portland is just way hipper, greener, progressive, and energetic than our sleepy Salem.
I can't begin to imagine what a comparable Salemandia TV series would be like. All I know is that it'd be boring.
Comparatively, I have to admit. Meaning, Salem has the geographical misfortune of being located between two of the most interesting cities in the United States, Portland and Eugene.
So the yawn with which we Salemites describe our town is a relative evaluation, not absolute. Case in point: I just got back from a vegan potluck gathering, which shows that some people in Salem are as culinarily cutting edge as Portlanders are.
At the potluck I talked with a youngish (late twenties?) girl about Portlandia and what it's like for someone her age to live here. She said, "Recently I lived in Grants Pass for six months, so that colors how I look at Salem. I'm much happier here, though admittedly it's nothing like Portland or Eugene."
She then made an interesting point which I hadn't thought of before during my thirty-three years of Salem living.
"I like Salem because it forces me to be more creative than I'd be in a more with-it city. If I want to be with fellow vegans, I need to organize a group, or otherwise reach out. In Portland there's lots of alternative lifestyle options right at hand; here, often you have to fashion them yourself."
I then told her, mistakenly it turns out, that since the first episode of Portlandia showed a newly arrived girl about her age being stripped of a nose ring and earrings (too San Francisco'ish), she'd have to give up her own piercings and earrings if she moved to Portland.
However, upon a second watching of that scene, I realized that the girl's piercing got the Portland hipster OK, so I was only half right.
My other favorite scene in the Portlandia premiere (which had some decided cinematic rough spots) was at the restaurant where an excruciatingly ecologically conscious couple is grilling their server about how humanely the chicken they're thinking of ordering was raised.
I used to be a member of an India-based, guru-centered meditation system which was strictly vegetarian. So much so, we weren't supposed to eat cheese made with animal rennet.
I didn't think it was a big deal if I ate some specks of cow hoof, or whatever rennet is made of, but sometimes I'd be at a restaurant with fellow disciples who considered this to be horrible karma.
So they'd grill the hapless waiter or waitress while I looked on in embarrassed quasi-horror. "Does the cheese on your pizza contain animal rennet? What brand is it? Please go and check, we can't eat anything that isn't purely vegetarian."
Thus I found the Portlandia restaurant scene entirely believable, up to a point. (I never knew anybody who took a drive to check out a cheese source, but the group I was part of did put a lot of effort into analyzing the vegetarian vs. animal rennet ingredients of every major cheese producer in the United States.)
My favorite line in the show was, "Portland is the city where young people go to retire."
Being retired myself, though old, I'm entirely on board with the Portlandia lifestyle of getting up at eleven and, maybe, working a few hours a week at a coffee shop. Only difference is, I don't work at a coffee house; I drink the brew and blog there.
Otherwise, aside from a lack of piercings and failure to ever attend Clown School, I could easily be a happy resident of Portlandia.
(The Portland Oregonian asked readers to write their own reviews of the show. I looked over some of them. Here's one I liked from "Valdez":)
I think this show is HILARIOUS! I thought it was a fairly spot on parody of the city that I live in and love so much. Come on, you guys don't know the various characters in this show?
The bike nazi guy that I saw in the previews/web exclusives is my best bud at work -- a guy that while riding his bike will scream at cars and kick them if they get too close or invade his "space." My wife has a friend that went to CLOWN SCHOOL. And all the hot chicks really do wear glasses!
My wife and I used to drive out to Corbett to buy chickens from our own personal chicken farmer, taking great solace in the well-being and "happy lives" the chickens led - before we ate them! ha ha ha
This show cracks me up. The "put a bird on it" stuff is SO true, too! I posted the advance Hulu exclusive on Facebook and ALL of my friends thought it was hilarious. Good job Fred and Carrie! Thanks for exposing Portland's funny idiosyncrasies in a fun and hip way. LOVE THE MUSIC, choices, too!!!
Hello Brian, and Laurel,
I share your city envy preemptively.. Right now I live in one of those great places, Brookline, Massachusetts just barely beyond the Boston city limit. I’m writing this comment in a coffee shop (OK, a west coast Peet’s) in the very cool Brookline commercial enclave of Coolidge Corner after browsing a while in the also very cool Brookline Booksmith. And I work in Harvard Square. But next summer I plan to retire and move to Salem, Oregon to live with my daughter. I so belong in Portland, but she has lived in Salem for 11 years and is well settled there so Salem is where we‘ll be. (She thinks my east coast orientation might be a bigger hindrance to cultural assimilation in Portland than my urban affinity would be a help - maybe so.)
I remember coming across your blog a few years ago when I became interested in (the late lamented) Sustainable Fairview and then Pringle Creek. Just this weekend I came across HinesSight again when Googling places to take classes in Tai Chi in Salem. I took Yang style classes years ago but have fallen out of practice and would like to take classes again.
I love Oregon - the mountains, the coast. I spent my 60th birthday bicycling halfway around Mt. Hood from Welches to Hood River on a fundraising ride. And on the following year’s birthday I was at an orientation for a week-long camp & bicycle tour of the north central Oregon coast (during which a young woman grilled a waitress about the vegan purity of her meal.). But I have spent enough time in Salem to know that it will be a big adjustment. How that adjustment will play out, I’m not sure.
The lack of good public transit will be a real culture shock. I don’t have a car, don’t need or want a car. I bike, walk, take public transit for almost everything I do, with occasional help from my son who lives nearby. I bike to work whenever I can (not now with all the snow we’ve had since Christmas, but that’s what transit is for.) There are four grocery stores within a 15 minute walk from where I live: Trader Joe’s, Whole foods and two supermarkets. My daughter has a car, but it’s liberating for me to be car-free and a driveway with a car at hand seems like a slippery slope.
Bookstores - even here they are fewer than they used to be, but we still have some great independent booksellers. The Barnes & Noble in Coolidge Corner only lasted a few years, but the Booksmith lives. Diverse neighborhoods and interesting streetscapes. Lectures by some of the great thinkers of the day - I don’t begin to take enough advantage of these opportunities, but I have been privileged to hear Al Gore, Bill McKibben and James Hansen speak in one 8-day period. E.O. Wilson, Paul Ehrlich, Joseph Stiglitz, Juliet Schor, Amartya Sen. I guess that’s what YouTube is for.
I liked what the young woman you quoted said about the need to be creative in Salem to find like-minded people and compatible activities and I’ve been exploring opportunities in Salem via the web and conversations with my daughter. I like your style and I like your politics and will be following HinesSight and exploring your archive for insight into living a progressive life in Salem.
You might be interested in exploring material on the website of the organization I work for - the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Lincoln supports research, conducts seminars, lectures and short course trainings, and publishes books, papers and reports around land policy topics - urban sprawl, conservation, impacts of climate change, community economic development, property taxes, etc. We produced a documentary film on Portland, OR - Portland: Quest for the Livable City - the third film in a series called Making Sense of Place. Many of Lincoln’s publications and some of the educational sessions are online and free. Patrick Condon of Vancouver, BC who is on the design team for Pringle Creek has conducted seminars and written papers and reports for Lincoln on urban issues and most recently on cities and climate change.
I’m very much looking forward to the next stage of my life, to sharing it with my daughter and to finding my own niche in Oregon. And I look forward to reading more of your blog for ideas on how to do it well.
Posted by: Laurie Dougherty | January 30, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Laurie, almost-welcome to Salem. I'm confident that you'll like it here, though like you said, it'll be an adjustment after living in (or near) oh-so-cool Boston.
My mother lived in Brookline for a while, and my grandfather lived in Medfield. So when I was young we visited the Boston area frequently, but I don't remember it much.
When you move to Salem, be sure to give me a call. I'll email you my phone number. My wife and I can help get you in touch with the progressive side of Salem.
I'm sure you know that a Trader Joes is going to open on south Commercial Street fairly soon. The building is being remodeled now and is looking appealingly Trader Joes'ish.
But Salem is a lot more spread out than where you're living now. Getting around without a car would indeed be a challenge. As a scooter rider myself, i have to ask whether you've considered a small scooter.
Inexpensive. Great gas mileage. (Electric scooters also are sold in Salem.) Trendy. And yes, more dangerous than a car -- yet maybe not more dangerous than riding a bicycle on Salem's often non-bike friendly streets.
You sound pretty adventurous, given your biking exploits. So I could see you riding a bright green 150 cc Vespa (or whatever), stylishly clad in a red or yellow helmet/jacket (for visibility and protection), wending your way to Trader Joes and LifeSource Natural Foods via a 90 mpg (or so) transportation option.
Anyway, it's an idea. Thanks for your informative and entertaining comment. You're just the sort of person Salem needs more of.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | February 02, 2011 at 10:35 PM
I just got an email from a friend who shared this probably true story, I say "probably," because he has an ironic/wry sense of humor. Anyway, it rings true to me.
A Russian exchange journalist worked for the Salem Statesman-Journal newspaper for a year. He was addressing a group of students and offered a comparison of Moscow and Salem.
He said "You know in Moscow we love to party and we think of Monday as the hardest day of the week because it is so far from Friday. Tuesday is a little better but still too far from Friday to get excited. Wednesday, you call it "hump day" here, and it's better than the two previous days because you're half way to the weekend.
Thursday feels pretty exciting because tomorrow all the fun begins. Friday is of course the best because that night you go out on the town and launch into a weekend where you can do anything you like. In Salem, however, every day feels like Tuesday!
Posted by: Blogger Brian | February 05, 2011 at 11:29 AM