What's Tony Thinking

A Visit to Portland


We spent the night, last night, in Portland, Oregon — about the last place I would ever expected to become famous for civil disturbances — the protests, violence and riots of 2020 and 2021. Much of my life I’ve had family in Portland, and so I have visited frequently. It has always seemed to me a sort of quintessentially bourgeois town. Though, in recent years, it has become known as a hipster capitol.

We lived there for a time as well. Our first born came into the world in The City of Roses, on the day of Richard Nixon’s ignominious resignation. That, yes, was a long time ago.

I’ve always loved Portland’s downtown, which has some lovely public parks and plazas, including the graceful “park blocks.” The Unitarian, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches, all along those park blocks are especially beautiful expressions of the 19 century neo-Gothic style. And outside the courthouse, sculptures of bears, elk, and ducks. Very northwest.

We were curious to stay in downtown itself, to see how things looked and to feel the vibe. Truth to tell, it looked pretty good. Both the restaurants where we ate, one for dinner, another for breakfast, were crowded. There are swaths of plywood sheathing on some storefronts, but all the stores appeared open and doing a good business. A full-throated vocalist offered live music in the red brick transit plaza in the approximate center of downtown. Nearby stood a 75 foot Douglas Fir wrapped in 2.5 miles of glittering lights — all courtesy of Stimson Lumber.

The glass-walled downtown Apple Store was wrapped in a cocoon of wire fencing 20 feet high. But inside it was packed. Some of the parks and squares in downtown are fenced off, but not all. There weren’t any homeless tent encampments downtown, not that we saw, though there were a few isolated tents here and there. Streets and sidewalks were mostly clear and clean. A graffiti removal outfit was on the job at 8:00 a.m. as we walked to breakfast. At least a couple new high-rises were under construction in downtown.

The east side of downtown stretches down to the shores of the Willamette River, where its parks are known for food trucks offering every cuisine imaginable. Moving uphill, to the west, downtown merges with the beautiful Washington Park, famous for its Rose and Japanese gardens, as well as old-growth cedars and firs. If you have the time and energy, you can traverse the city on foot, from river bank to Japanese Garden, and find a lot of beauty and stimulation along the way.

Walking in downtown, we noticed many “Black Lives Matter” banners and signs, particularly in public buildings, like the performing arts center and museums. You did have the feeling that the banners were so prominently displayed not only as a declaration of conviction, but as a kind of talisman, to ward off possible attacks and destruction. One store employed another interesting adaptive strategy. Its exterior window displays were all in graffiti style, a kind of protective coloration. It could have passed for the real thing except that all the slogans were positive, about “spreading love” and “working for justice” and the like.

My guess is that Portland has made a pretty concerted effort to restore a sense of a sense of normalcy and safety in recent months. It is a city worth saving.




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