Bring your bike

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My bicycle had a really nice spot in the basement of my Chicago home.  I rode it from time to time but it usually felt like playing Russian Roulette.  Although they’ve built bike lanes in recent years, the motorists of Chicago are not used to cohabitating and neither are the cyclists.

In Portland, there seems to be a hierarchy of courtesy.  The motorists share the road.  People look before they open their car doors.  There is a whole system in place for the cohabitation of drivers and cyclists.  What’s more, I have had multiple cyclists stop their bikes for me to cross the street.  That’s right, the motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are living in harmony.

Biking is woven into the fabric of Portland. There is no shortage of opportunities to shop local.  You can get a your helmet from Nutcase or browse for a new bike in River City Bikes with over 2,000 bikes in stock.  Soon you can even cross the river on a car free bridge.

Portland hosts numerous bike centric events.  May brings a film festival dedicated to movies shot by bike.  If you are feeling hot in June you can join the naked ride.  The streets are shut down for Sunday Parkways throughout the summer.  If you bring the kids, just remember there is a helmet law.

Portland Time

From food to checkout lanes Portland is not in a hurry. Maybe this goes hand in hand with how nice everyone is. I guess it’s hard to be so helpful AND keep a line moving but Portland is falling just short of Island Time.

 

I was standing behind a women in line at Freddie’s and the check out fella proceeded to have an entire conversation with her after her order was complete. Trying to stifle my annoyance I waited, internally steaming, until he began scanning my items. With a bright smile, he checked me out chatting casually with my son. My anger started to calm because he was so genuinely pleasant.

 

This summer my husband was starving at the Mt. Hood Ski Bowl and was drawn to a slice of pizza like a moth to a flame. The service worker did not want to serve him the pizza perched before him because it was about an hour old and it would only take him “about 15 minutes to make a fresh one”. It’s an amusement area, the food is supposed to be overpriced and taste like cardboard. Not in Portland.

 

Then there are the food trucks. The whole concept of my food coming from something on wheels indicates speed to me. Although the people who own them have probably shaken the hand of the farmers supplying their ingredients, you will surely feel like that handshake has transpired between placing your order and receiving your food. Similar to the Freddie’s experience the forgiveness comes when you bite into your food.

 

My friend, also a city gal, has taught me that some of them (sushi truck on 28th) will take a phone order so you don’t have to wait so long once you arrive. For now, I will continue to find workarounds until Portland speeds up or I complete my assimilation.

 

In Search of a School

After going through some serious ups and downs with Chicago Public Schools and being a believer in participating in the public system, schools were a huge factor in our move.

 

We started looking in Lake Oswego because the schools are exceptionally good.

 

Alas, it was just too suburban for these city kiddies. So I needed to find a quality school in the city of Portland. We had navigated schools in Chicago so I had a bit of experience with school spreadsheets.   I used scores from the following sources to start to get a picture of where the “good” schools were: Great Schools, Oregon Live, US News and World Report

 

What I had really learned though was that all data aside schools just have a feeling about them and sometimes the ones on the way up have more energy than the ones who have made it to the top. One of the schools that my children attended in Chicago had a principal who made himself very accessible to the parents and staff. He was an exceptional communicator and I saw the difference that made within the school community.

 

Sadly, Principals need to be politians and I was looking for one I could believe in. Whether through luck or research we ended up in a happy place. When I asked my daughter what the best part of the move was she said “my school.” Full disclosure the day is almost an hour shorter here and there is an additional recess but I’m going to put one up in the win column.

House Hunting

Searching for a house in the “right” neighborhood in a city you don’t know can be daunting.   Schools were a huge factor for us but I’ll get into the schools in a future post. Commute time was an area we had identified to improve our quality of life so I didn’t want to be anywhere farther than a 20 minute commute. Fortunately, I learned that 20 minutes is the quoted commute time for pretty much anything in Portland.

So, we drove the 4 quadrants of Portland in search of what neighborhood and home felt like a good fit.

Once the cat was out of the bag about the move, it turned out many of my friends had friends who lived in Portland. So, I asked to be put in touch with anyone who was either still here or had lived here in the last few years.   Urban neighborhoods change fast and I needed current intel. I also discovered I had two former co-workers living here and both have children-thank you Linked In!

This has become one of my favorite maps and has some good neighborhood data.

I also used the descriptions in Newcomers Handbook for Portland to help me get a feel for neighborhoods ahead of getting here to drive them and look at houses.

When it came to looking at houses here is what surprised this Midwestern girl:

  •  They count the basement square footage. I’m not talking finished, walk out basement. We looked at multiple houses with unfinished basements, no egress windows that had included the square footage in their listing. This made the rest of the house much smaller than I expected.
  •  Many houses don’t have a basement at all.
  •  Many houses do not have a garage
  •  It is not uncommon for Portlanders to use their garage for the kayak, paddle board, bikes, etc. Garages are not necessarily a car thing.
  •  The shared driveway-in some of the SE/NE neighborhoods there is one driveway that leads to both your garage and your next-door neighbor’s.
  •  Some of the “backyards,” especially on the SW side, were the side of a mountain. This provides beautiful dinner party views of the city. It also scared the hell out of this mother of young children.

Blow it all up!

 I came to Chicago post-college seeking everything a big city has to offer and man did it deliver.

Fast forward 10 years a husband and 2 kids and I found myself in a life where we were doing more keeping up than living. My husband and I knew that the pace we were moving was not ideal but we were happy, had great friends and loved our urban life.

We often talked about what we would retrofit in order to make life more manageable. Then we started talking about what we would look for if we made a bigger change. What if we blew it all up and started over. What would we look for in a place, in jobs, in life.   What life would we build if we started with a blank slate?

What started as casual pillow talk turned into a list that would help us evaluate opportunities.

Equal or lower cost of living

Quality schools

Urban environment or at least a walkable downtown

Shorter commutes

Warmer weather

Charming houses

Just as casually as our list started a conversation started with a company in Portland, OR. Neither of us had ever been to Portland at the time. In the end we blew it all up. We’ve Portlanded and now we are putting the pieces of life back in place in one of the quirkiest cities in America.