I moved to Portland in January 2008 after only visiting one afternoon the previous summer. After living in Salt Lake City for three years, I traded my mountain bike to a friend for a road bike that was too tall for me because I figured that I would be able to get a better trade-in value in this temperate bike-friendly city for a bike my size. Long story short, my boyfriend at the time, Nate, ended up keeping the road bike and I bought a heavy steel 3-speed “as-is” from a non-profit shop.
That bike was my vehicle to a new lifestyle. When we arrived in Portland, I had a job lined up that fell through. We were homeless and my car’s fuel pump went out just a week after arriving. I sold my car for a song just to get rid of it and with the caveat that the new owner was going to have to apply for a salvage title. Why didn’t I have the title to my car? My divorce had just finalized a month after I arrived in Portland and realizing I didn’t have it, I called up my ex-husband to have him mail it in April. The day after I called him, he fell into a coma, was diagnosed with acute leukemia and passed away three days before my 22nd birthday.
So, I never got my car title.
After a few months, Nate and I had wore out our welcome at the church we had been both working and sleeping at. I’m sure the pastor would have let us stay longer, but it wasn’t zoned for residential and we had been helping prepare the building for some really fantastic programs to assist with community outreach so the fire marshal and other organizations were wandering the halls. It was too much to have a room that obviously looked like a sleeping space. I went up to Washington for a few months and Nate stayed in Portland to continue looking for housing. I was able to obtain employment with friends I knew up north through lifelong connections, which allowed me to save up a little bit and do some soul searching. I returned to Nate’s new apartment in the late fall and we had grown apart but continued to live together for a few months while I looked for housing.
During that time, I was playing harp on the waterfront one afternoon and met a stranger whom I began talking with about bicycling and music. Nate was with me and we talked about wanting to get a trailer to be able to tow the harp back and forth from my favorite busking spots. He said that he had an old bike trailer in his back yard that he would be willing to just give me. It needed new tires, but the frame was solid. I ended up getting new tubes and tires right away, but rode with a jerry-rigged seat-post clamped (out of plumbing parts and bike tubes) for about a year.
I talked with my dad about upgrading my trailer for a long time. He is a a very calculated woodworker, whom I’ve inherited a lot of his traits from. He told me the measurements he needed over the phone and I measured the steel square frame beneath the polycarbonate shell to let him know what would fit and gave him the dimensions of what I was looking for as for my ideal “sled” and he built it up over 300 miles away and brought it down, full constructed, along with a set of tools (hammer, screwdrivers, etc) for me to have for my needs. Seeing as all I had was a cheep, low-speed power drill and a very light weight ball pin hammer, this came as a wonderful surprise! Also, my dad’s sled’s measurement’s were perfect within half an inch! We we able to take off the plastic bin and put on the new, perfect harp sled with no issues at all.
A year later, I was dating Adam George, an accomplished bamboo bike and trailer builder here in Portland, Oregon who then surprised me for my birthday and converted my trailer for my birthday by replacing the seat post hitch with an axle mount and hitch. (Much safer and easier to attach!)
It has been a very strange and wonderful experience here in Portland. One of the things that I initially loved the most was the cycling infrastructure. After moving from Salt Lake City (prior to their many, many improvements in the last five years), I was tired of advocating for better pedestrian, mass transit and cycling infrastructure, only to have it not taken seriously by SUV-driving bureaucrats. When I initially moved to Portland, I could just commute and not have to get involved in policy.
I broke in this city like an old pair of shoes, though. At first you love them and they fit so perfectly. They’re so comfortable and you can wear them all day long. After a while, though, the sole starts to break down. Maybe they start to squeak when you walk. Maybe the rubber begins to peel. A lace snaps when you’re trying to tie them. Maybe they start to rub on your heel. Who knows. We’re really not talking about shoes, are we?
Just a few days before my birthday in April, there was an incredible offering at my agency. It would not only be a fantastic promotion, but I would also be able to serve the community in a way that I have been striving for years. I agonized over my resume and cover letter. About two hours later, my phone rings and Brad tells me that he was offered a once-in-a-lifetime position managing a bike shop. . . almost 3000 miles away. And that we had three days to decide before they offered the opportunity to someone else.
I barely even thought about it.
Yes, I screamed over the phone as I was pulling up my email to rescind my application, before Brad “calmed my livah” and said that we should have a real conversation about it that evening. And when we talked? All the things that we had loved, both individually and mutually had disappeared or been ruined. With the housing market more than quadrupling in prices since 2008 and business interests migrating to the area from other places similarly affected due to their own environmental, saturation or socioeconomic issues, Portland has become less weird, less artsy, unique and eclectic and more of a mass produced cookie-cutter replica of every gentrified “pop-up shop” street in the US.
Am I bitter?
Not at all. I love the memories I have of this city. I still remember the first time I visited and fell in love with Portland. I will always remember all my first-times here. Unfortunately, we’re experiencing many, many last times.
I ended up rescinding my application and shortly following, provided my employer with a 5-week notice that I would be leaving. It was heart-breaking, having worked for the same agency for nearly 7 years. I was sad to leave the tenant education program that I had been building. I was sad to leave my participants. At the same time, it felt like the right time.
Over the last three weeks, I have been working in warehouse at Brad’s bike shop, learning the ins and outs of shipping and receiving. Have I left a 10 year career in social services to work in a warehouse? Yes and no. One could say it like that, but I had the revelation while out doing “moving errands” that it wasn’t the case at all. My job was difficult and I worked long days – sometimes longer than I could tolerate both emotionally and physically. When I returned home, I was tired, antisocial and void of creativity. My job sapped everything out of me just to keep me running at 100% all the time. I hadn’t burned out yet, but as Lao Tzu says, ‘a flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.’ I think I was just running on fumes at times. That camp fire with the hot coals deep in the ash, dangerous to relight though looked long dead.
Instead, I’m choosing to view it in a much more positive perspective. I’ve left my career to focus on my music and art. It’s been almost seven years since I could put my attention into my harp playing and painting. Now I can do that. But I can’t in Portland where the average income needs to be approximately 60k/year for a one-bedroom apartment.
Brad and I are packing up the cats and moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He’ll be opening up a bike shop in July and I will be helping him run it. I couldn’t be happier. We visited for a week in May to find an apartment and check out the shop space. It was bitterly cold and rainy. When we arrive next week it will be hot and humid.
Look forward to more adventures from BIKELEPTIC, but from the opposite coast!