"Poorland" - A Portland Update October 2014

I could talk about so many things today in my update: the blood moon, the protests in Hong Kong, Isis, my sister’s wedding, my boyfriend’s first show at Ash Street Saloon, my talks with a big time literary agent in NEW YORK CITY (say it like those old salsa commercials,) Ebola, the alt-lit rape and sexual harassment scandal, and the list goes on and on. Instead I’m going to talk about birds and Portland.  Here goes.

Oh, and by the way - I don't have any good photos for this update so I've just thrown in some of my own that have nothing to do with the subject at hand. 

 There are several thousand swifts that live behind a waterfall in Guyana.  The  waterfall is called Kaieteur Falls and it’s huge, and breathtaking, and plummets more than 700 feet to a pool below, as the River Potaro continues its journey to the sea.

 It’s a magical place and I discovered it watching a documentary on birds of South America last night. The name means “old-man-falls," derived from several American Indian stories about either a chief who sacrificed for his tribe by going over the falls in a canoe, or one about a cantankerous old man who was shoved into the river by his relatives.

In the updrafts created by the falls, the swifts whirl and dive in their search for bugs; their hunting style mimics the movement of the insects they eat.  When it is too dark to hunt, they fly through the waterfall and make their home behind it, in the caves and rock cliffs that have developed over the centuries, behind the curtain of spray. The narrator on the documentary stated that they are safe from predators here; hawks and snakes aren’t “brave enough” to venture through a swiftly moving current of water.

 Safe on the cliff wall, the swifts huddle in their soggy, slimy nests. They are adapted by now to the constant wet; the roaring sound of the falls lulls them to sleep each night.

 As a child, Portland seemed like the waterfall to me, and the swifts were us, the Portlanders. I always wondered why Portland was so small, why more people lived in other cities than in Portland. In my simple child’s logic, I thought it was because we were making a trade-off: the uncomfortable wet for the safety and security of living in a small city.

Me as a kid, in the Montavilla neighborhood, wearing a tie-die my dad and I made together. Photo by Mike Grover.

Me as a kid, in the Montavilla neighborhood, wearing a tie-die my dad and I made together. Photo by Mike Grover.

 But now I know that Portland is more accurately represented by our very own Chapman Swifts. The tiny birds that roost in the chimney of Chapman Elementary each year from August to October, are migratory birds – much like the young people that move here (and seem to me anyway) to move on when they realize there are no jobs, and that the centers of power are somewhere else. (The New York Times Story Here.)

The hawks and falcons, however, that feed each night on the swifts as they spiral and dive into the chimney – they aren’t from somewhere else. They’re here to stay. Secretly I root for them under my breath from the hillside with my picnic blanket and bottle of wine. Actually my boyfriend and I were joking about making t-shirts that say “I’m Rooting for the Hawks” and wearing them to watch the swifts. Needless to say, I don’t think we’d be that popular if we did do that. 

A couple years ago I heard a kid at a party refer to Portland as a “five year city.” He meant it as a description of his intentions here: have some artsy fun after college, but move away when the time comes to settle down and raise a family, have a career, you know – get a life.

 Look, it’s fine with me if people don’t want to make Portland their permanent home – move on if you don’t like. That’s perfectly okay. However, when you combine nomadism with civilization, you basically get the worst of both worlds: environmental degradation and lack of infrastructure.

 I wrote in my Portland update for September about the Sandy River and my ferocious protection of it. But I also want to point out that the Portland Mercury just did a great little piece about East Portland, the part of the city east of 82nd Ave. (http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/the-forgotten-portland/Content?oid=13629549)

 This area is missing basic services like sidewalks and parks. East Portland is home to many young families and poor people. This is the demographic that needs services the most, but they’ve been pushed out to an area that has bad scores for walkability and other amenities like social services and good grocery stores. To make matters worse, many newcomers to Portland refer to this area as “Gresham.” I find it rather disheartening that our residents don’t even know the boundaries of their own city. Look at a map people.

 On my way to a show on Sunday night I noticed the White Stag neon sign on the Burnside Bridge. It was missing a few letters, so the sign flashed “Welcome to Porland.” Yes, it is Poorland. When you look at the demographics of the whole city, not just the newly gentrified inner core, you see a lot of poverty.

The true Portland is not Portlandia. It's not about this place being a city where young people go to retire, it's more about it being very hard to find a J-O-B here. And that's why I've never really found Portlandia to be very funny. It's written by two people who didn't grow up here, and just feels like they are making fun of my friends. And good comedy should punch up, not down …  right? 

 My mind now turns to Rheea, my fellow updater from Bangalore India. I was reminded of her when I saw on Facebook, someone named Savya Saachi, commenting on the new changes that Portland is facing; this city is set to grow by millions and millions in the next ten years. Here’s what Savya had to say about that (I used this quote with his permission.)

 "For someone who came from another country, another city, that was once regarded as the garden city of India, a true melting pot for its own citizens let alone expats .

I can confidently say I am witnessing all over again the beginning of the demise of the charm to a city I have loved living in and have called my home.

 Bangalore used to be a very residential city, green all around, easy going lifestyle and liberal attitude, fantastic fountain head of art and culture bridging not just intra cultural divides within India but also an international bridge. Similar to portland over 60% of the population is migrants in Bangalore.

 When I first got driven across the marquam bridge 8 years ago from the airport, I fell in love with portland instantly. portland reminded me of the city I grew up in 20 years ago... Now, the rampant migrant population flowing into portland is not unlike that which Bangalore had seen over the past 10 years. It has utterly ruined the charm of the city. The green spaces back home have been reduced to an oasis now and just as rare for the folks who don't want to get choked by the ever increasing smog from burgeoning traffic and industry coming up. The locals feel threatened with prices skyrocketing ( it is almost as expensive living back home as it is here I found out last year!), their culture and language being sidelined and forgotten.

 Forget about rent and buying property. Even with my earning being in dollars and I earn a good chunk, no way in hell I could afford to buy property back home. Portland is on the same similar trend.

It's the way of the world with burgeoning population and only thing I feel I can do about it is to either adapt and live with the reality of things or find my next 'Bangalore'.”

 What does this all mean for Portland? Only time will tell, but I remember something else someone once said to me on Facebook: “I had to leave Portland because it had changed so much it wasn’t Portland anymore. I had to leave Portland to find Portland.”