When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front-row seat.
- George Carlin
Today marks something of a special anniversary for me. Thirty years ago today- August 16, 1982- I came to Portland for the first time. I’d never been here before, but when I returned to Minnesota a few days later, I’d fallen in love with the city, and I’d promised myself that I’d be coming back to make it permanent. I had no idea how I’d accomplish that, of course, but I was young and just naive enough to have a dream. Thirty years later, I’m still living that dream in a place that continues to fascinate me.
I was 22 and had one semester remaining before I got my BS. I was madly in love with a girl from Portland who, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, decided to go to college in the frozen wasteland known as Minnesota. From my job waiting tables at a restaurant in downtown St. Paul, I’d managed to save up enough money to buy a plane ticket. Except for a couple trips to visit family in Chicago and a trip into southwestern Ontario, I hadn’t traveled much in my 22 years. Coming to Oregon seemed a tremendously exotic undertaking to someone who was anything but worldly.
One thing led to another, and eight months later I was engaged and living in Portland. I thought I’d won life’s lottery; I was in love and living in a place that I found captivating. Roses bloomed IN MARCH!! For someone who was accustomed to dodging snowdrifts in March, seeing green grass and roses blooming seemed nothing short of miraculous. I could drive an hour to the east and see more snow at Mt. Hood than Minnesota would get in three winters. I could drive an hour to the west and reach the Pacific Ocean. Having grown up in a landlocked state, I didn’t see the ocean until I first came to Portland. When I did, I was hooked…and I still am. One of my favorite places in the world is a tiny little burg called Oceanside, a small little slice of Heaven on the Oregon Coast. You get to Oceanside by going through Tillamook, and the road there literally ends in the parking lot at the beach. Tourists rarely make it to Oceanside; it’s off the beaten path, and there are no hotels or large attractions…which means it’s perfect. Beautiful, uncrowded, and peaceful, Oceanside is a place where I feel a degree of serenityI find in few other places. The best part is that Oceanside is only an hour’s drive from Portland.
Like most of us, I’ve grown up over the past 30 years. I find myself living in the same physical place while inhabiting a much different emotional space. Getting here has been a bumpy ride, and that ride doesn’t seem to be getting smoother with the passage of time. If those 30 years have taught me anything, it’s that there’s a lot to be said for experience and perspective. Lord knows I’ve made my share of mistakes and epic screwups. I’ve caused pain and been hurt, which only means that I’ve lived and loved. The good news is that I’m learning to forgive my mistakes and savor my victories; it hasn’t always been thus.
I’m in a good place now, and having been through what got me to where I am, I appreciate my good fortune that much more. A very wise man once told me that unless you’ve experienced the valleys, you can never fully appreciate the peaks…and I’ve had my share. I can say without hesitation that it doesn’t suck to be Jack.
Since I first came to Portland on that long-ago August afternoon, I’ve left and returned four different times- twice to live and work overseas, once to live in Minneapolis for a year, and the last to spend 10 years in Houston (3,722 days, to be exact…not that I was counting). The good thing about my sojourn in Texas was that it gave me a tremendous appreciation for what I now have here in Portland. Somehow, I always return to Portland. After four departures and returns, I’ve come to recognize that there’s a message I’ve finally come to understand. This is home. Portland is a place where I feel as if I belong. I’ve lived in many different places and all over the world…and this is what feels like home. I may have grown up in Minnesota, but that seems a lifetime ago. I barely even think about Minnesota these days, unless I can find a Vikings or Twins game on television.
Thirty years on, Portland is a very different place and I’m a very different person. Both of those things are positive developments. I still find myself walking around downtown Portland from time to time, looking around and remembering the sense of wonder and adventure I felt when I first arrived. I was 22, living in an amazing and beautiful place, and the possibilities seemed endless. I’d found a place that felt like home the moment I stepped off the plane, and that feeling has never left me. The fact that 30 years have passed astonishes me- How could that have happened so quickly?- but I like where I am- physically and emotionally. I’m in a good place, surrounded by good people…and I don’t have to shovel my driveway during the winter.
Nope; it does NOT suck to be Jack. ;-)