Adjusting to the weather of Oregon from a life spent in Florida took me about a week and a half. Okay, truthfully, I needed to run through all of the seasons, but I was comfortable at the end of the first week. Trading the humidity and sweltering heat for breezes and air I could breathe was not difficult.
Soon I had to adjust to the prices of groceries and not pumping my own gas. Fine. The traffic was more tolerable and the layout of Portland and the west side was easy to understand. All that aside, I had to come to grips with my biggest challenge: the People.
I spent my last twenty-five years in a place where I never felt welcome. Not one day. My sense of environment was always somewhere else; in a third area. Not my birthplace in Upstate New York, or where I grew up in the panhandle of the American South. I always imagined I’d find a place where I could have what I wanted. Green like Florida but with actual weather, like New York. But not as much snow. And less red-state rednecks. And fewer tourists, because I tired of them a long time ago.
Then I moved here in 2005. And I got all of that shit.
The people here are different. Those out there who feel that people are the same no matter where you go are just wrong. People are like homemade spaghetti dinners. Everybody has the same basic ingredients, but it all ends up on the plate a little different than the neighbors. Oregonians are as laid back as human beings can possibly be without forgetting how to breathe. The angst and tension I felt on the east coast my entire life just is not here. They don’t have the same motivations. They aren’t pushy. They aren’t fast.
They are supportive and mostly broke. They have pride in their community but they don’t brag. They like sports but they refrain from being pricks about everything. As my friend Dylan pointed out, they are friendlier but not as polite. Politeness is what you need in a society that is tense. It is the grease that keeps the gears running smoothly. If everybody is cool with everything, you are less likely to get in a fist fight with a jerkoff whose Nike’s you just stepped on. It’s unexpected and refreshing.
The problem? Well, I’m not cool with everything yet.
I do find myself wanting people to move their asses in traffic. Everyone here is a safe, conscientious driver who coasts along at the speed limit. Well, I’m not used to that and sometimes I want to get somewhere! Not every day is a leisurely trip to the city park to knock around the hacky sack!
Also, I grew up in a place where the Klan had footholds and there were abortion rallies and protests about gays visiting Disney. Here, there are more transvestites and cross dressers than you can shake a genuine or prosthetic stick at. I’ve worked alongside both men with C-cups and ladies with full Billy Mays beards. Rainbow stickers, marches and gathering in the center of town. And everyone from the old woman throwing crumbs to the ducks to the young Kindergarten teacher has a tattoo. Somewhere.
They are accepting here. They don’t judge anything. Unless you try to build a Wal-Mart too close.
I love all of this. I want to eat it and digest it and breathe it in and be a part of me. I want my kids to grow up in this atmosphere.
But, what I really wish for is to feel like part of this place. I didn’t like being a Yankee in the south. I don’t wish to be a foreigner anymore.
I guess I should ask around. They may have already accepted me.