Portland Revisited and Seattle Discovered

The house in Portland, Oregon where I lived in in the summer of 2002 and 2003

In the fall of 2000 I packed my life into boxes, shipped them across the country, and began a five year love affair with Portland, Oregon. I lived in a house that housed a record label, regularly hosted indie pop shows, and sheltered a somewhat revolving cast of characters who were indie rock musicians or appreciators of the genre. After a year of zine making, playing in bands, biking and making intense friendships (the kind you kindle when you are 19 and you are linked by common interests, far fetched ideas and, often, a lot of drama) I moved to NYC to go college. That was right in time for September 11th, but that’s another story.

Sign outside the Independent Publishing Resource Center

While I was in college I returned to Portland as often as I could and lived there in the summers and helped organize the Portland Zine Symposium until 2004. I deeply associate Portland, its relaxed lifestyle, political commitment and particular aesthetic with my early 20’s, with finding and revising my identity and informing the person I decided to become.

Crepe cart at Cartopia on Hawthorne in Portland

Portland has changed a lot in the past 10 years. By changes I mean it has intensely gentrified and every year another street seems to be taken over by a host of art galleries, wine bars, eco-friendly, artisan produced goods, and food truck pods. I often wonder what the underlying economy is that drives this relentless development. It’s also become somewhat of a national joke thanks to the (very funny) TV show Portlandia. Sometimes it really does feel like the dream of the 90’s is alive in Portland.

Brunch at Junior's, one of my favorite PDX breakfast spots then and now

However, I’m also happy that many of my friends have grown up and been able to buy houses at relatively cheap prices and been able to build their adult lives in Portland. I visited my favorite place, the Independent Publishing Resource Center, which is growing and flourishing. I even attended the Portland Zine Symposium, which is still going strong after 10 years. The choice of zines and dedication to independent media and radical ideas about and society was just as strong as they were when we began it 10 years ago.

Pony Boy Press' Table at the Portland Zine Symposium

Playing in the park with my former housemate's daughter

After Portland I headed further up I-5 to Seattle. Despite my long standing, long-distance fascination with Portland I had hardly spent any time in Seattle. SMH went to college there and despite growing up in Central Washington, his family now all live in the Seattle area.

Puget Sound, Seattle

We jumped in to some touristic activities. This included visiting the Crab Pot, a seafood restaurant on one of the downtown piers that give you a pot of steamed seafood, a mallet, a board and a bib. Coming from Maine I know that lobster crackers would be much more effective than a mallet, but with no shame I donned my bib (I had to go to work after lunch and was wearing work clothes) and dug in.

Seafood Lunch at the Crab Pot

Donning my bib with no shame at the Crab Pot

I also got to enjoy some delicious coffee on Capital Hill, and an astronomically large, grease soaked breakfast (in the middle of the afternoon) at Beth’s Cafe in Green Lake.

Breakfast at Beth's. The hasbrowns and coffee are unlimited. The portoin sizes are legendary.

I really wanted to love Seattle. At first I thought that it would combine my need for a big, cosmopolitan city with the nature, greenery and relaxed lifestyle I love the Pacific Northwest for. But here was a problem I did not anticipate: the traffic. Seattle has terrible urban planning and only adequate public transportation. This is surprising to me, given that Portland, Oregon, has made a major commitment to improving its public transit infrastructure over the past 20 years or so. Seattle’s current mayor is a major bike supporter, but I don’t see a lot of infrastructure being created to encourage cycling. And parking. In addition to traffic and whether I-5 will be totally backed up, that’s all everyone talks about. Where to find it. How to pay for it. I do not want this to be my life. So for now, Seattle is off my “I’ll move there one day when I get sick of New York City” list.

Outside of Trading Musician in Seattle

I know where paradise is and you can get there on a ferry from Tsawwassen

BC Ferry on its way

BC Ferry off Galiano Island

My life is made up of moments made possible by the generosity of my friends. Sometimes they are people who I have known for years, who I have slowly and surely built a relationship with based on shared experiences and ideas and we give to each other because we have known each other for so long and our roots run deep. Sometimes friendship comes in a flash and I feel a kindred spirit with someone I have just met and the generosity pours out suddenly. It was the second case that got SMH and I on a ferry from Tsawwassen, British Columbia, to Galiano Island last weekend. Galiano is an island just north of Washington state in Canada’s Gulf Islands and a place that I’ve decided closely resembles paradise.

Dusk, Whaler Bay

Dusk on Whaler Bay, Galiano Island

I met our host J., who lives in Vancouver, at a baby shower for a mutual friend last winter. I mentioned that I was probably going to come to the Pacific Northwest in the summer and she mentioned “the island.” We hit it off and hung out again before she had to head back to Canada and her job with the BC Ferry company. When we made plans to visit the island I had no idea what a treat we were in for or how generous J. and her family would be when we were there. Getting to Galiano is easy – it’s about a 40 minute drive south of Vancouver to Tsawwassen, the port where the ferries leave from, then about an hour sail across. Even though you can still see the Tsawwassen terminal from the docks of Galiano once we stepped onto the island we stepped into a different world.

Fishing at Sunset

Fishing at Sunset, Galiano Island

Our weekend consisted of catching  crabs and fish, huge, ugly, monstrous looking Ling Cod to be exact, and eating them that same evening; drinking wine on the deck while the sun set over the bay; cracking up while watching Bill Murray in Stripes on VHS; walking through thick forests to a pebbly beach with frigid water; admiring seals, otters and eagles; and even taking the plunge into the refreshing waters of Whaler Bay.

Whaler Bay, Galiano Island

Whaler Bay, Galiano Island, Afternoon


Taking the plunge into Canadian waters

Growing up in Maine I used to spend a week or two a summer at lucky friends’ summer homes on islands, so I know a bit about the island life and how transporting it can be. However, there was something about Galiano that seemed even more magical. Maybe it was the thick cedar and fir trees covered in moss in the forest, or Mt. Baker towering over the bay in the distance, or the fact that nature is so abundant that you can pull your dinner out of the water (provided you have a proper fishing license). Galiano Island is one of those rare places that worked its way into my heart quickly and suddenly and I know I will keep it there forever, not unlike those suddenly generous friendships that continue to endure throughout my life.

Mt. Baker at Sunset

Mt. Baker in the distance at sunset

O, Canada II

O, Canada!