Portlanders...are friendly. Very friendly. They heartily thank bus drivers. They wave encouragingly at others to go first at intersections. They use tip jars as more than spare-change receptacles. Portland is overall very "____-friendly." Bike-friendly. Vegetarian-friendly. Earth-friendly.
But what about "friend-friendly"?
Here's what I mean: Four months ago, I moved here, alone, from New York. (My husband was finishing up work projects that would keep him back East for a few months; I was impatient.) Back in New York, I could roll my eyes at someone about the length of the deli line away and the next day we'd meet for drinks and exchange résumés. But as a young woman, alone (for now) and new to Portland, that immediate friendship wasn't forthcoming.
I didn't think some sort of "desperate for companionship" pheromone oozed from my pores. But after someone would tell me the time with a smile or compliment me on my scarf, there just wasn't much forthcoming. Not everyone I spoke with had to become my best friend, but people did seem to keep to themselves after the initial polite encounter.
After one month, I'd been able to befriend one person. That's it. And with all due respect, that was a bit too high-school déjà vu for my comfort.
I even contemplated visiting one of (ink-friendly) Portland's tattoo parlors and getting "I have friends in New York, I swear to God" permanently needled across my forehead. According to the last U.S. Census, in 2004 more than 100,000 households moved to Portland from all over the country and the world. And the annual Oregon Population Report, put out by the Oregon State Data Center at Portland State University, shows a net gain of 1,957 individuals in the 30-to-34-year age group from 2004-05 (up to 60,352 people).
My people, they were here! But where were they? I knew I could attract a mate—been there, done that—but how could I court a city? How would I woo the West?
That was it. I'd date Portland.
And I'd get lucky!
Suffused with conquering spirit (or maybe spring fever), I picked out four surefire dating methods and applied them to my platonic friend-finding search.
Here's what went down:
FRIENDSHIP ATTRACTOR #1
The Internet: Craigslist
When I browsed Stumptown's "Strictly Platonic" category on Craigslist, I found that the bulk of its postings were neither strict nor platonic. No, I don't want to watch a movie...and cuddle. No, you can't wear my underwear. And the only activity in "activities" seemed to be 4:20. So, no.
I'd have been floored to meet a lasting friend through Craigslist, anyway. It's the equivalent of shoving through a crowded club while you nod blankly at whatever the stranger next to you is mouthing, when you really want to go home and eat cheese.
FRIENDSHIP ATTRACTOR #2
The Grocery Store: New Seasons (Seven Corners)
Popular date culture burbles in delight over the grocery store. It's nonthreatening. It's clean. You'll at least leave with food. And in such a food-friendly town, wouldn't people be more than willing to discuss their plans for the organic broccoflower in their baskets? Especially at New Seasons, a market that boasts the slogan "The Friendliest Store in Town"?
I tried making eye contact, but it was more of the "Excuse me, where's the hummus?" kind of communication than the gateway to a real connection. That said, everyone I encountered was incredibly friendly—the employees, especially so. But no one asked me about the contents of my basket or tried to start a conversation unbidden.
I didn't really care. I was starting to skeeve myself. I'd always thought that people who tried to pick you up at the supermarket were creepy, and I was no exception.
FRIENDSHIP ATTRACTOR #3
The Gym: Loprinzi's
I hate yuppified gyms. They're expensive. There's a line for treadmills. So the no-frills-and-proud-of-it Loprinzi's fit the bill for my exercise needs. And I have to admit, I have a soft spot for its old-timers; it simply makes me happy to see their socks pulled up to their weight belts as they lift five times what I ever could. Best of all, I can wear a scrunchie and no one cares.
But in terms of meeting fellow age-bracketeers? Not so much. Since my options of people available to befriend might have been influenced by my odd free-time hours as a freelance writer, I haven't written it off entirely. And I did get an invite to go trail running in Forest Park on Sunday mornings with Loprinzi's owner Bob Hill and his girlfriend—which I mean to do, once I wake up in time.
Maybe it was time for an expert opinion. Dr. Jim Mol, a psychologist at Providence Portland Medical Center's Outpatient Behavioral Health Center, assured me that moving is extremely stressful, whether you're moving three or 3,000 miles away. Something that transplants can do, he counsels, is "passionately pursue your interests and find people who are also passionate about them." He says the intensity of the shared experience will help build relationships.
Dr. Carl Abbott, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, agrees. His general advice for newcomers is to find a compatible group of organizations and activities. Duh! Of course! You want things in common with your dates! I mean friends.
Dr. Abbott also told me to get a big, friendly dog as an icebreaker—not sure that would sit so well with my very possessive cat.
FRIENDSHIP ATTRACTOR #4
Passionate Activity: Running
I get bored when I run alone. I also stop when I run alone. Needing accompaniment, I decided on a Monday evening Niketown run. When I arrived at the downtown Niketown, I stood around blankly smiling, as if I had gas. They all seemed to know each other. My heart sped before I'd even started.
At first, I couldn't find anyone at my pace. They were way ahead or even slower. But eventually I fell into pace with Christie, who'd recently moved here from Colorado. And as we talked houses, I realized that running, even in the rain and even up Terwilliger Boulevard, was so simple once you found someone to talk to.
I also met Cheryl, who is part of Team Red Lizard, a local running club, and she encouraged me to come out to Duniway track for speedwork. So I did. And later I met Roberta, who moved here from my small-town hometown in Pennsylvania.
All was great until I got an overuse injury.
But I still questioned Portland's overall approachability. "Compared to other areas, [Portland] is a very friendly area on the whole," Dr. Mol swears. "People have block parties; they know their neighbors. It's a throwback to more traditional ways of living."
It's true that I could name only three people out of hundreds in my former apartment building. But still, I didn't want Mayberry, I just wanted drinking comrades.
"When you move somewhere where people are happy and settled, they're not as hungry for connection," he continues. "While they may include you in their network, they're not as anxious to build one of their own, since they already have one."
So, Portland was a cliquey tease?
"In Portland, and Oregon in general, people tend to be focused more on the external world—on the environment and the natural beauty that we enjoy—than on their internal worlds. They're less psychologically minded," says Dr. Mol.
Aha. So...someone who's completely self-absorbed (little ol' New Yorker me) couldn't communicate with someone who wasn't self-obsessed! It was a language barrier!
Since that breakthrough, I've been trying out that external world. It's kinda nice to notice things other than how I'm feeling. And it's hard not to notice how gorgeous Portland is—especially since it was such a huge part of my reason for relocating here.
I'm starting to meet people through new friends, and I even recognize people at New Seasons (a real sign of a local, I hear). Thanks to my efforts, I have a few new numbers stored in my phone and am always looking for more.
But I'm still thinking about renting a dog.
P-Town Pal Finder
Common Portland social groups and where they may lurk.
For those who want to take the "birds of a feather" plan to the next level, Dr. Abbott outlined several predominant groups in Portland if you're between the ages of 21 and 35. "Portland has several different subcultures of young adults rather than a single one," he says. "Each of the subcultures has its own network of organizations, groups and activities...that invite participation." So, just to prove we're all about getting you newbies hooked up—pal-wise—we've taken the doc's theory to the next level and created a semi-serious "friendiagram" outlining the where's-where of the who's-who.
Dr. Abbott's Main Categories
Artsy types, who groove on music, independent writing, visual arts, etc.
Policy wonks, who are active in grassroots politics, nonprofits, City Club, etc.
Environmental crusaders, who focus on issues of sustainability in the city and region.
Outdoorsy types, who love to hike, snowboard and otherwise get cold and wet.
Fearing we were leaving out a major P-town population, WW created its own, fifth category:
Hard-drinking, vegan/carnivore bike messenger slackers...'nuff said.
A Fresh Pot: 4001 N Mississippi Ave.
B Independent Publishing Resource Center: 917 SW Oak St.
C Valentine's: 232 SW Ankeny St.
D Holocene: 1001 SE Morrison St.
E Just Be Toys: 107 NW 5th Ave.
F Dot's Cafe: 2521 SE Clinton St.
G Wonder Ballroom: 128 NE Russell St.
H Sugar Gallery: 420 SW Washington St.
I Half & Half: 923 SW Oak St.
J Stumptown Coffee: 128 SW 3rd Ave. and 3356 SE Belmont St.
K Portland Farmers Market: South Park Blocks at Portland State University between Montgomery and Harrison streets
A Kang's Bento in the Portland Building: 1120 SW 5th Ave.
B The Bus Project Headquarters: 333 SE 2nd Ave.
C ACME: 1305 SE 8th Ave.
D Dem headquarters: 232 NE 9th Ave.
E City Club offices/Cafe Voila: 901 SW Washington St.
F Back 2 Back Cafe: 614 E Burnside St.
G Pioneer Square (canvassing): 715 SW Morrison St.
H Stumptown Coffee
I Portland Farmers Market
A The Red and Black: 2138 SE Division St.
B People's Co-op: 3029 SE 21st Ave.
C Veganopolis: 412 SW 4th Ave.
D Bluebird 58 apartment complex: Southeast 52nd Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard
E Gold Rush Coffee Bar: 2601 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
F Lucky Lab: 915 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
G Stumptown Coffee
H Portland Farmers Market
A Leif Erikson Trail in Forest Park: Northwest Thurman Street and Leif Erikson Drive
B Portland Rock Gym: 21 NE 12th Ave.
C Lucky Lab: 915 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
D Stumptown Coffee
E Portland Farmers Market
Hard-drinking bike messengers
A The Speakeasy: 609 1/2 SE Taylor St.
B Jolly Inn: 1937 SE 11th Ave.
C Magic Garden: 217 NW 4th Ave.
D Sassy's: 927 SE Morrison St.
E Citybikes: 734 SE Ankeny St. and 1914 SE Ankeny St.
F Vita Cafe: 3024 NE Alberta St.
G Stumptown Coffee
H Portland Farmers Market
Personality type locations chosen through an informal poll of WW staffers, friends and other semi-reliable sources. Use at your own risk!
See the P-Town Pal Finder map @ www.wweek.com/media/7428.jpg