July 26th, 2010 | by RUTH BROWN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Diary of an Immigrant: Thank Your Lucky Stars for Wet Concrete and the Taco Lady

bopWW Presents another installment of our Australian music intern's diary of moving to Portland.

Compiling this year's Best of Portland poll was a fascinating task for me. Newspapers and magazine articles about Portland always seem to focus on things like beer and bikes, but most locals seemed to have very different opinions about what makes their city great, and coming from such a very different perspective, there were loads of times I said, “Really? That?” or “But what about…?” or "Hey yeah, that is awesome!"

My favourite question was "Most Underappreciated Person or Place". It's so easy to miss some of the greatest things about a place when they're right in front your eyes every day. I loved reading suggestions like, “The lady at La Jarochita taco cart”—because she is lovely and works really hard making cheap, amazing food but you'll probably never see her in Gourmet magazine because she doesn't make ridiculous hamburgers or wacky doughnuts or have a Twitter account—or "the Made in Oregon sign"—because I pass that sign every day without giving it a second thought, but I love the idea that someone out there gets a giddy rush of excitement and pride every time they pass it.

Since leaving Australia, I appreciate a lot of things about the place I really took for granted before: multiculturalism, restaurants that take bookings, service staff who get paid a living wage, universal health care and the metric system.

Here are some things I hope you appreciate about Portland:

The bus drivers are really, really, really nice. Really. Bus drivers I've encountered just about everywhere else in the world are assholes. And I don't blame them: it seems like an awful and thankless job. You deal with thieves, jerks and nutcases all day. Car drivers get angry at you, cyclists tempt fate by playing chicken with you. It's boiling in summer, and freezing in winter. Screaming kids and their screaming parents. Spilled food, lost wallets, vandalized seats and bad BO.

But every bus driver I've had here has been perfectly lovely. They look you in the eye, smile, ask how you are—and mean it. They're patient if you don't know the correct fare or where to get off or don't know how to use that bike rack thingy yet. A bright, smiling, friendly face is a wonderful thing at the beginning or end of a long work day.

Cheap books. Books in this country are super cheap, and with no sales tax in Oregon, they're even cheaper. I can walk into Powell's and buy a good children's book for under a fiver, ship it to my nieces and nephews back home, and it's still half the price of buying one at an Australian bookstore. Of course, books should be cheap in any educated society, but that sadly isn't the case in many cities and countries. Do me a favour: next time you're out drinking, buy one less pint of beer. Then go and buy a book for a poor kid.

Books are as cheap as beer here (and your beer is cheap, too). That's amazing.

You can hose down the sidewalk. Every time I see that, I still do a double take and go, “Hey, doesn't he know there's a drought on?!” Where I'm from, we're not even allowed to water our garden. The government sent out five-minute shower timers to everyone—not that you'd want to shower any longer with the weak water-saving shower heads they installed. They're even considering making people drink recycled toilet water, Waterworld style. And there are plenty of people in the world who'd kill to be able to do that. Even neighbouring California doesn't have enough water.

But everywhere I go in Portland at the moment, there are kids frolicking around in water fountains (actually everywhere. Do you not have public swimming pools here?) Most public water fountains in Melbourne were turned off years ago. I remember spending countless glorious hours running under the backyard sprinkler in my undies as a kid on hot summer days. I doubt kids there these days even know what a sprinkler is. They can't even legally play with a watering can after 8 am.

Here, you can Water. Concrete.

So next time you go jump in a fountain to cool off, think of the poor kiddies in Australia and other parts of the world who may be soon drinking their own piss to stay refreshed on a summer's day.

Check back in next week for another installment of Diary of an Immigrant. Follow more of Ruth Brown's adventures in Portland at her blog Stump'd.
 
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