People Of The Pacific Northwest: PORTLAND

I had arrived.

After two full days of driving, sightseeing, and people-meeting, I parked at my buddy Jay’s house in eastern Portland the night of July 3. He and his wife and daughter opened their home to me in this quiet, residential neighborhood–the perfect jumping-off point from which to explore the eccentricity of this city.

Here for three days, I captured the structure, energy, and activity defining this signature American metropolis. And within, of course, were those who make Portland…Portland.

***

Meet Karen.

I did so at a place completely new to me: a marijuana dispensary. I entered this store on the upper level of a house-turned-business–one of many new such businesses in Portland popping up over the past year. Inside the small retail space was a young, pretty woman behind the counter who was as knowledgeable of her pot varieties for sale as a bartender is about his beers.

After taking a few wincing whiffs of the samples, I walked out impressed by this new frontier of recreational consumerism–though disappointed they had a strict no-photography policy inside. So I did the next best thing and talked to a customer outside.

“I started smoking at the age of 12,” said Karen, who then went on to laud the legalization of marijuana. Her favorites are the edibles.

“What are the gummies?” I asked after she mentioned these pot-products.

“They taste just like gummy, but in an hour you’re feeling yummy,” she laughed at her made-up motto.

I wondered out loud why marijuana candy is legal, but flavored cigarettes aren’t. I wondered silently whether the legalization of marijuana has crippled organized crime’s revenue in the region. But we didn’t get too deep here. Karen was simply happy for this newly legal, mood-altering option, and I was grateful she contributed hers to the many #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest. Look for our forthcoming interview on The Periphery YouTube channel.

***

Meet Sue Meng Vang.

I did so at the Portland Farmer’s Market. I approached their family flower booth after hearing others with her speak. I didn’t know what they were saying, yet the language was familiar.

“Hi, are you Hmong?” I asked.

“Yeah, how did you know?” she responded.

I shared about my work with the Hmong back in St. Paul, which got Sue to nod. She’s heard all about the Hmong community there. She even has family there, she said. In Portland? Not so much. She was one of just a few Hmong in her school.

Still, Sue wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. After college, she hopes to find work in Oregon.

I asked her and her father about their thoughts on the U.S. today. Their responses were short and sweet–happy with their country and happy to be here. Sue did mention a hangup with Oregon’s marijuana legalization and with President Trump’s beliefs. Having come from a refugee camp in Thailand, though, her father said, “No reason to complain.”

See my full interview of their #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest down the road.

***

The days I visited Karen and Sue, I also photographed many other people of Portland…

…at the Farmer’s Market:

…in transit:

…part of the large homeless population:

…adding music to the air:

***

Meet four Chinese people and a white boy.

I noticed them at a park speaking to one another in Mandarin Chinese.

“Excuse me,” I said as I approached the group.

I turned my attention to the boy.

“How do you know Mandarin?”

He answered shyly, “My parents used to live in China.”

“Were they mission workers?” I asked.

“They were in business,” he said.

I gave him a verbal high five, saying how awesome it is he’s bilingual–especially in Mandarin–and how it can open many doors for his future.

He suddenly wasn’t so shy anymore and shared how their group was on their way to meet family friends made in China.

Parents, teach your kids another language. It will open their world, as it has done for this young man. Bilingual  #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest

***

Meet Shanna.

I did when visiting the train stop decorated with support for the two men stabbed to death May 26 on the Portland train. The tragedy solidified an expression from a community affected by the incident’s circumstances: the two men being killed by another they confronted on the train for berating two Muslim women.

Decorations still adorn the fencing of the bridge. Those in chalk along the stairs are wearing off.

As a community member–and on the train immediately behind the one in which this these murders took place that day–Shanna said this incident “makes it a little more scary.”

“As a woman,” she continued, “there’s not a lot of protection on the train.”

As a mother, Shanna said she’s concerned for the safety of her son.

I’ll be honest, I anticipated an opinion about the rise of right-wing hate crimes in this age of Trump–as some of the graffiti on the tribute expressed. But Shanna admitted she’s a bit of an outlier in this Progressive city by being politically independent.

A voter for Clinton, she nonetheless expressed frustration at how protesters interrupted trains and traffic (and rioters vandalized buildings and vehicles) after Trump won the election. She cited white privilege as the reason these murders got national attention while murders in poorer neighborhoods of Portland don’t even get local attention. And she blamed poor parenting for many of the problems in today’s America.

She said a lot of other things, too. Hers was a strong addition to the #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest, and I’ll have the video of our interview forthcoming.

***

TIMBER!

My final night in Portland featured a cultural highlight: a Portland Timbers soccer match.

I hadn’t seen such a lively soccer crowd since the 2014 World Cup. Rabid, some of them were. Spirited were they all, with regular and unified song, chant, and gesture.

Cheerleaders faced the audience.

Here I learned there is a third flag throughout the Pacific Northwest: the country flag, the state flag, and the rainbow flag.

When Portland scores a goal, the lumberjack saws a slice of tree for the fans.

The team played a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Chicago.

***

After three packed days of Portland, Oregon, I realized there’s no city with a style and energy quite like it.

Next week we head down to southern Oregon–to a region known as The Green Triangle. Down to the marijuana farm I went, where I learned about–and camped alongside four growers in–this anarchist part of the country. Plus, on the way down to their farm, I visited a dispensary that was willing to let me videotape inside…

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What say you?