I was having lunch with a friend and she asked me why I moved back to Hillsboro after living all over the world. I hesitated, as we had been talking about various breeds of dogs before he suddenly threw out that question, and in that moment of hesitation he continued, “What is your favorite place you’ve ever lived?”
“Uh, well…” I said.
“Spain! I bet it was Spain. I want to go there so badly,” he said.
“Spain was nice. But, you know, I really liked living in Portland,” I said.
“Oregon?” she asked.
Mm-hm, I started. I lived there for two years in the early 70’s and immediately fell in love with the city and its people. I was married when I moved there and after two years, I left and she stayed and lives there to this day. Her sister and her husband came to visit and still live there. Her mom and her dad moved there. My wife and I teach at different high schools, but in the same district. She taught physical education and coached the swim team. I taught English and was an assistant coach in both football and baseball. I think we made about $3,000 each. It seemed like a fortune.
We ate out a lot. I had my first fish ‘n’ chips at a British-style pub called The Elephant and Castle and my first real Chinese at a great place called Far Hung Low’s. Far Hung Low’s was in Portland’s Chinatown, which covered much of Burnside Street. Burnside was one of the first “skid rows” in the United States. Burnside is now clean and gentrifying, but was once a haven for out-of-work men. In the 1930s, many men could not get stable jobs, so they lived by traveling from harvest to harvest. They were called hobos, or lunchboxes. They would go from place to place by illegally jumping onto freight trains, “riding the rails” or even, out of desperation, “riding the bars,” which meant crawling under the freight car and hanging from an iron support bar. . Portland was a gathering point for these transients and there was always a “jungle” to the south or north of the city.
In the summer, Portland is unbelievably beautiful. I never got over the feeling of walking north or south down a street and then turning east to see Mount Hood, apparently right there in the city. It was huge and on a clear summer day it seemed to be going down the hill on the other side of the Willamette River. I never got over that feeling.
Portland is known as the “Pink City.” Every May is the festival of roses and there is a huge parade and the queen of roses reigns over the festivities. Our first year there we rented a house with a big yard and we had roses most of the year. The climate, due to the Japanese Current pushing out into the Pacific and reaching the coast just 60 miles from Portland, is very temperate. It is often described as Mediterranean. The average temperature in winter is 41 degrees and in summer it averages 71 degrees. There are extremes at each extreme, but they are rare. Summer is blue skies, clean air, perfect for outdoor lovers who like to climb mountains or hit the coastal beaches.
But here’s the problem: from September to May, it rains. Every day. Nothing drastic, just a daily drizzle. It rains in the morning, clears at noon, and rains again a few hours later. If you can handle that, you’ll fall in love with Portland too. It rained every soccer game during the two years I trained there. At the end of the first year, my wife and I separated and later divorced. She kept our car. I stayed with my motorcycle. I rode it every day, rain or no rain. Usually there is a week in the winter when there is a little bit of snow. I put on my heavy Belleville-style combat boots and rode my bike. When she felt the need to, she would simply put both feet on the pavement and endure any uncertainty until she felt in control again. I never had an accident.
Portland was a great place to get involved in small theater. I became more interested in acting as a single young man and was lucky enough to jump from one play to another during my senior year in Portland. I met a young ballerina and we decided that when the school year was over we would travel to New York where she would make me a famous Broadway star and she would wow the city as her next Prima Ballerina. Things don’t always go the way they should.
But my two years in Portland, Oregon were memorable, and for a long time I thought of that wonderful city as my favorite place to live.
Garry Boone is a Hillsboro resident.
Garry Boone Contributing Columnist