l'm sitting in Upper Left Roasters in Southeast, sipping the most colorful and intricate cup of tea I've ever ordered—a bag of yellow dried flowers and herbs in a homespun teabag, placed in a perfect white ceramic cup and saucer. I pause for a moment just to take in all in: the beauty of the tea, the relaxed vibe of this place, the sunny, blue-skied weather outside, and the fact that people put on real clothes rather than the brightly-colored yoga pants that seem to be the San Francisco uniform.
Every time I come home to Portland from the frenetic Bay area, I feel a sense of peace, like life is moving in a happy type of slow motion. I'm struck by how different the two cities are, how pure Portland still feels, how most of it hasn't given in yet to the money and anger associated with getting ahead and outpacing one's neighbor.
But changes are taking place here. Changes that aren't the good type of changes, like a new rose garden or beer garden or thrift store or park. The changes I see remind me of San Francisco, which has succumbed to tech money, greed, overcrowding, and overpriced everything.
I've noticed it's harder to park in inner Southeast during the day. How traffic is building on MLK and Grand during rush hour. I've seen the new, fancy apartment buildings that are a blight to Portland's skyline. Small businesses I've known and loved my entire life are getting priced out—Besaw's, Old Wive's Tales, Jimmy Mak's, to make way for more condos and more people who have more and more money. What's next?
And I hope against all hope that this city I grew up in, the one I still love with all my heart, the City of Roses, doesn't turn into the City by the Bay. It hasn't happened yet.
People in Portland still smile at each other. They still stop at street corners to let pedestrians cross. They still drive slowly and don't honk when someone makes a mistake, or pauses in the middle of the road, lost. They still put on quirky outfits and shop at Goodwill and socialize over $3 happy hour bites and $3.50 pints. They only have to drive a few minutes to the lushest forests, an hour to amazing wineries and an hour to the coast. And to the dismay of many Portlanders, people are discovering this place.
Oregon is the top moving destination in the country, and traffic increased 6.3% just in the last year. People are coming here by the droves, trying to escape the bank-breaking prices in the Bay Area. Tech jobs are spiking, with more and more Silicon Valley companies setting up offices in the Silicon Forest here in Portland. With this influx of new people, I'm afraid rents will continue to skyrocket, drivers will become angry, and Portland will eventually lose its small town charm that I've known and loved for my entire life.
I used to be in love with San Francisco like I still am with Portland. To me, San Francisco was vibrant—a cultural and artistic mecca. It had endless quirky, cute neighborhoods, colorful rowhouses, funky people who were fun to watch. When I lived in Davis, I spent weekends in The City, drawn to its energy and vibe. I wanted nothing more than to live there, to broadcast on the mighty airwaves of KGO Radio, to finally have made "The Big Time," a dream which came true.
But my love affair with San Francisco has slowly dwindled and in March, got to its lowest point with the layoff of most of the KGO newsroom, myself included. Sometimes I wonder if it's me who changed, or The City. Maybe I got sick of crowds, fancy restaurants, complicated cocktails, and battling for a parking spot just to have a $7 beer.
But often, I think it's the city that's changed. People don't smile at each other. Horns and traffic are prevalent at all times of the day. Everyone's charging every which way to make another buck. The vibe is opposite of laid-back. It's downright manic. And I wonder if it will ever recover its artistic vibe. Maybe once again it will be the place that brewed creativity and gave birth to the Beat generation. Maybe once again it will become affordable, a place where regular people can live and work and stroll parks and drink coffee that isn't $5 per cup.
I'm hoping with all my heart that Portland doesn't stray so far from its roots. Even though traffic is already thicker than I'm used to here, I notice something peculiar: No horns. People still stop for pedestrians in rush-hour traffic, a move that would give you an angry honk and a finger in San Francisco. I know Portland does have its issues, especially the contention between bicyclists and cars, but I hope this city can maintain its charm through gentrification and the rise of the tech industry. The city has to plan accordingly, not be wooed by the millions in tax dollars promised by tech, and build plenty of affordable housing.
We can't deny that tech is here to stay, and it's good for the economy, creating high-paying jobs and serving as a source of innovation. But we can't let tech control us. Portlanders must keep their heads up, keep smiling at one another, and stop to smell the roses, or see the beauty in small things, like tea.