Just Right {Portland}

I’m a fan of the show Portlandia and how it gets that city so right on.  My recent last moments in Portland, OR could be the start of Portlandia’s next episode.  
I pinky swear this is all true.
I lived in Portland, OR exactly one hectic and crazy year to complete my Master’s program.  I attended Lewis and Clark, loved their progressive classes and the insanely beautiful architecture around campus.  I completed fifty-two credits and three internships in one year, and couldn’t have made it without Luke.  I couldn’t do it over again, and I’m still unsure of how I really made it through.  Praise to my success goes to my Montana-raised guy who kept me fed, ran to the 24-hr copy shop in the wee hours of rainy mornings and, above all, braved a city lifestyle that didn’t suit any part of his fly-fishing, coular-skiing self.  When I remember Portland, I remember fifty-six straight days of pouring rain, but I mostly think of my nose in books, my heart in the hands of children as I earned a teaching degree.  Little excursions around a memorized city map with incredible food, hip coffee houses and amazing music venues sometimes leave me longing for PDX (as it’s lovingly referred to on the west coast).  I love the variant culture of the neighborhoods as much as I love the straight and intersecting clear streets on both sides of river.  And, oh the bridges and the buildings.  Sigh.  It’s a beautiful Rose city. 
On a recent drive back from California, we stopped in the home of old friends and stayed a while.  The vibe of Portland is different from the cities I know well: Boston, Seattle, Billings.  Portland is weird.  There, I said it.  Everyone’s a character, each neighborhood holds scenes from a novel, or at least very well could.  It’s different, it has a beat of its own and I just adore that.  Sometimes I don’t feel cool enough for Portland, and sometimes I feel cool just for knowing Portland well. 
With our minivan packed up and our family ready for our trip back to our island, back to a space where vacations end and normal days return, we stopped at a coffee shop somewhere on Division Street.  Standing in the already-hot pavement of the city sun, I prepared to walk into a coffee shop named after a song with a hint of parody, something like House of the Rising Bean or Espresso Bean Haze, written in purple.  The name was something that implied old-hippie or vinyl record.  I stretched extra long, knowing my next stop standing would be an I-5 rest area or, hopefully, ferry terminal parking lot.
I walked into the space where industrial meets Pottery Barn, where super-cool art meets confusion on the walls.  It was silent, except for the indie-rock cd.  A vintage couch in the far corner was filled with folks dressed in hipster clothes, adorned with piercing, tribal tattoos and cool glasses.  A scene that mixes with old friends from my memory, or at least a definition of city folk in my husband’s eye.  I wasn’t surprised that everyone had an iPhone.
I stood at the counter long enough to get annoyed.  Excuse me, hello? I said to the Bettie Page look-alike named Kia, goddess of the sea.  Um, I’d love to order a mocha and a coffee and, um, I said apologetically, a bagel if that’s ok?
Yeah, Kia said with all the vowel intonation of a doctor’s throat examination, did you download our App?  All those people on the couch are ahead of you.  Typing this, I wish there was a font for sarcastic rudeness. 
Those people, all the way across the room are ahead of me?  I said, confused.
Yeeeeah.  You text your order here.  Here’s our free App, as she slid a laminated super-cool font menu in front of me. 
Right.  I’m not downloading your App.  I just want a coffee.  Just then, I spotted an older German couple enjoying muffins and coffee at a corner table.  Had they downloaded the App?  I was confused.
And, yeah, said Kia in that drown-out super-vowel pronunciation, there’s self-serve coffee across the room.  Just put your dollars in the jar. 
Right, I only have a debit card.  Can I just please order with you? I said, knowing that asking my hubby with a car ready for five hours of road travel to drive around the city more to look for another coffee joint was too much to ask. 
I said I wanted my bagel to have cream cheese on it and to be cut in half, since my two daughters were going to split it. 
Right, I haven’t a clue if it will be sliced.  My shift ends in two minutes.  You’ll have to ask the person who hands over your bagel.
Really?  I mean, really?  I said, remembering my days as a barista.  Clearly, customer service isn’t really my thing, so I didn’t stick with it.  But it really wasn’t Kia’s thing. 
Next, Kia slides over a tablet.  It’s the future of sales.  I feel like I did a decade ago when I first encountered a self-check out lane at the grocery store.  There’s a weird slot for the card, and I’m confused at how it all works wirelessly.  I’m starting to feel old, un-hip, out of place. 
My sale is $9.00.  In order to continue, I must select a predetermined tip option.  I’m not good at math, but I have no idea what percentage the following options amount to: $1.75
$2.55, $3.35.
Ahh, Kia?  Yeah, I’m having a problem.  Just then, the new barista comes on shift as the music changes to something a bit more Burning Man. 
There’s no way I’m going to tip any of these amounts, and this machine won’t let me select anything different.  I just want to leave one dollar, and one dollar only. 
I’m sure Kia spit in my extra-frothy mocha as she twirled her lip ring.  The barista, named after some Buddhist prayer, wouldn’t slice my bagel.  She couldn’t find a knife.  It took forever to get my drinks, as one by one the texting couch customers walked in a hipster way to get their drinks, in front of me, in my personal space, never saying excuse me.  
Somehow, I made it back to our minivan.  Upon further inspection, I was given the wrong bagel.  My girls won’t eat poppy seeds.  
If my husband had gone in there, his head would have exploded.  He would have hurled the coffee lids and straws across the newly laid bamboo floor. 
At that moment, I was missing my hometown coffee shop, with a crow as its icon.  It was time to start driving.
How was it in there?  You took forever, says Luke as he heads towards the interstate.
I begin with a reenactment of my last exchange.
Wow, my hand is burning.  Can I have a java jacket, I say. 
Yeeeeeaaah.  We really discourage the use of those.  They’re really bad for the environment.  If you really must have one, I mean, here.   Please be sure to bring it back for others to use after you,says the one with the self-given name to sound like a Buddhist prayer. 
Riiiiiiiiight, I say in the same super-cool stoner-hipster dialect.  I’m not coming back.  Ever. 

Just Write 
It’s been a while since I free wrote, since I wrote From The Heart. 
It feels amazing to spill from the top of my mind, unedited and unchanged.  It’s such an important activity for writers, and I’m glad to be joining today.


  • Elissa says:

    oh MY, J!!! This is awesome. A) just that it happened. for reals 😉 and B) your writing was incredible. Felt like I was watching a skit on College Humor, not reading. SO VIVID. you rock girl!! and if “old, un-hip, out of place” means still saying excuse me then sign me up!

  • ~ko says:

    Wow! You took us right in to that coffee shop! My husband would have flipped as well 🙂 Glad your home momma!

  • Liv says:

    We really want to move to Portland and if we do, I hope I never go there for coffee! I agree with the others, I could see it all happening as I read your words.

  • tumbledweeds says:

    Tee-hee! This seems too bizarre to be true, except that you write it so truly. If this is our future…. oh, man 🙂

  • Katie says:

    WTF?! Ah, Portland! Glad you're back home to your island coffee shop. 😉

  • Too weird , makes me grateful for our tourist driven local coffee shops – service is good, they know your name if you are local or they don't survive. If I ever go to Portland will be sure to avoid that one – and definately would not take my hubby there!

  • pam frech says:

    Hi Jennifer…Stephanie Walker's Mom, Pam here. I laughed my butt off at this entry. I, too love Portlandia, and yes, I can see Fred Amunsen as the Buddhist guy.
    So funny and spot on….I am way too uncool for Portland….
    Pam Weinert

  • Loved the coffee story. Especially this: I wish there was a font for sarcastic rudeness.

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