I love Portland, Oregon! It was love at first sight for me…it had everything I wanted: enough city to meet my soul’s need for that; a very mixed population from business to artists to Deadheads; museums, coffee houses…little individually-owned ones where one could read & write for hours without snarky looks. There was pride in the different identities of the various neighborhoods in a city divided by quadrants; a bus mall & transit system that got me out of my car for the first time in eons & there was greatness: Powell’s City of Books…nothing like it anywhere else in North America; a library system that is actually well-used and greenspace…you could be in the rainforest without ever leaving the city. it had one other thing unique to Portland: weather-phobia! Oh, yes…fear of unexpected weather. Psychology has not given it an official name and , in this case, it seems a mass phobia.
I, like most people, had many pre-conceived notions of Portland: small town, unsophisticated, place where hippies went to die and , of course, rainy. Endlessly, always rainy. I was wrong on all counts. Yes, it rains…actually more mist and drizzle than real rain and ,even then, mostly in the winter months. You see, Oregon has some mountain ranges and Portland happens to sit between two in a green belt known as the Willamette Valley. Being between two mountain ranges keeps the weather quite temperate, no extremes. Being an East Coast native..New York to be specific…I like this. Moderate, somewhat grey winters, equally reasonable and sunny summers. Rare is a snowfall or a heat wave, but watch out if there’s either. EVERYONE FREAKS OUT! ALL CHANNELS GO TO 24/7 REPETITION OF WHAT IS OBVIOUS! STORES ARE TEEMING WITH AN ANGST-RIDDEN PUBLIC FEARFUL OF BEING TRAPPED WITHOUT AMPLE……(FILL IN BLANK, DEPENDING ON SEASON).
The first year I lived here, there were mad predictions of a snow storm. Busses were parked on the mall, getting chained….I didn’t know tire chains were still made or used anywhere; people either stayed home or left work early; weather was wall-to-wall on all stations and citizens were assured that the city was prepared to throw something by way of de-icers on the roads. I drove to work. I arrived to find 1 other person, my boss.. and received a hero’s welcome. Oh, did I fail to mention that at this point it appeared like talcum powder from a clogged container sprinkling down? I thought I was going mad! Where were these rugged individualists? Where was that Oregonian can-do attitude. Apparently, clearing supermarket shelves and scurrying back to the safety of their homes. Schools and businesses closed, sometimes a whole day in advance, based on the Magic 8 Ball of weather. I laughed hysterically at this mania along with my fellow transplants from states that had real winter. Life went on, spring and then summer came…
“HEAT WAVE HEADED OUR WAY!” It blared from televisions to print media and , again, I saw the stores selling ice and water….in a city of water fountains from which to drink everywhere and decorative fountains in which anyone can play…on either side of the river. Fans, as though a new concept, were swept off store shelves; people headed in droves to any of the several rivers and lakes around us and, again, media were there to remind us to hydrate, dress accordingly and check neighbors. Coming from a place where the humidity allows everyone to enjoy a steam bath and at least one reporter will demonstrate how fast an egg can be fried on the sidewalk, I was once again astounded. Had everyone lost their minds? Not to mention that for a place as moist as Oregon in winter, it is wonderfully dry in the summer…virtually no humidity. I don’t tolerate heat well as a rule, but it has been a fact of my life always. We went to Coney Island, the Jersey shore or stayed in air-conditioned apartments and cars….and complained. Again, cheap entertainment for those of us from less temperate zones. My main issue with the heat is that I have a low threshold and I don’t actually sweat..a weird malady that leaves me to bloat like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon. Not fun!
After a cumulative 20 years here with a brief madness of 5 years back east, I have realized that these events of winter/summer extremes…usually 2-3 days long…occur about every 4 years. Right now, we are in the midst of a 100 degree weekend and aside from my sweltering apartment…my family back east: “Don’t you people have air cnoditioning?”…and non-sweating bloat, I can take comfort in watching the mêlée around me. Oh, if I do go out, my fair skin requires SPF 1000, so I don’t have that healthy Oregon tan/burn look.
I don’t drive in the snow, can’t use chains and don’t care to mingle among the frantic. I don’t go to the rivers in the heatwaves because I’m not big on being decapitated by someone’s motor boat or drowning among the hoards of people swimming, tubing and getting caught in currents. One big thing I don’t share with many of my fellow Oregonians and that is a propensity for the outdoors-y life.
I’ll shower 20 more times today, sit in front of my fan and kvetch about the heat and wait for tomorrow, when everyone and everything returns to normal…until the possibility of a flurry six months from now and the shutting down of the city…or I move to the glorious coast, whichever comes first!