Here’s a conversation I have a lot in LA:
”So, Truman, where are you from?”
“I’m from Portland, Oregon.”
“Ooh, Portland! I hear it’s wonderful up there.”
“You heard correctly. It is wonderful up there. I mean, full disclosure, my parents live in Portland now and I visit them there: I grew up in a town called Salem that was about 50 miles outside of Portland, which isn’t nearly as cool.”
“What, like witches and stuff? That sounds awesome!”
“Wrong Salem. Our Salem was mostly famous for its meth labs and the time a dude crashed his car into the courthouse while on meth and the cops had to shoot him.”
“Yeah, but Portland, though! Decemberists, amiright?”
You don’t really realize what it means to be from somewhere until you leave that place and start living in another one, where you’re forced to describe your hometown to people who have never been there who are under the misguided impression that their hometown is better than yours.* But what it really takes to gain a new appreciation of where you’re from is going away for awhile and then coming back.
*Unless the person you’re talking to is from Portland and you’re from someplace else, in which case your hometown is inferior.
The other night, I went to a bar on Burnside with my friend Lizzie. We rode a TriMet bus out there – a ride that only took fifteen minutes, on a bus that, unlike an LA city bus, was not being actively urinated on by one or most of the passengers. We got off on 28th and opted to walk the 17 blocks to the bar, which was possible both because Portland blocks are a reasonable size and because Portland people don’t pitch a goddamn hissy fit at the idea of walking more than five feet the way most Angelinos do.
No, park closer! Park- Hey, why are we parking here? Come on! I think there’s an open spot like half a block up! WHAT THE HELL, MAN? COME ON! ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE? I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!
So we walked across old, uneven sidewalks past funky looking old bungalows and vegan drycleaners and a double decker bus up on blocks that serves grilled cheese sandwiches, and presently we arrived at the bar, situated in an old building that had once been a church. The bouncer was a middle aged guy with glasses in a sweater who joked around with us as he checked our IDs, unlike LA bouncers, who are uniformly nine foot tall ex-MMA fighters who are just looking for an excuse to kick your ass so they can skip the gym that night.
We walked up into the bar, which was open and spacious with hardwood floors, decent seating, good lighting, and plenty of room to move around without having to touch or be touched by other people. The walls were covered in framed posters for bands I hadn’t even begun to have heard of, and well drinks cost $4.
You like cheap drinks? People in LA say to me. I know just the place for you. During happy hour on Monday between 3:30 and 4:30, it’s only $5.50 for well drinks! Can you believe it?
We sat and talked, which we could do because the music was a reasonable volume, and had a few drinks, which we could do because the drinks were a reasonable price. Presently, Lizzie suggested that we head downstairs to listen to whatever DJ was playing, so we champed our drinks, went outside, turned left into the alley alongside the building, and walked down a dark, narrow hallway to the basement bar, where a fat bouncer with glasses and a beard again checked our IDs.
The lighting was dimmer down here, the space more crowded, and the music louder, but the drinks were the same price, which made everything easier. What’s more, the DJ was spinning exclusively soul music from the 1960s – not a hint of techno or that dubstep garbage to be heard. I had a seat as Lizzie and her friends went to dance; because in Portland dancing is a choice, not some fucking societal obligation like it is in LA.
I sipped my drink and surveyed the hipsters, and realized that while Los Angeles has no shortage of hipsters, they’re nowhere near as good at being hipsters as the Portland hipsters are.
I mean, come on, LA hipsters – what’s more mainstream than living in one of the largest cities in the world? Portland hipsters know what the hell they’re doing: They live in some obscure little city you’ve probably never heard of, patronize obscure local coffee shops you’ve probably never heard of, go to obscure little bars you’ve probably never heard of, and drink obscure local craft brews you’ve probably never heard of. Portland has been hipstering so hard we got a TV show made about us. Our hipsters don’t fuck around.
All of this fetishistic appreciation of Portland begs the question of why I ever left, and the answer is because the largest filmmaking center in the world outside of India is, unfortunately, not in Portland – it’s in LA.
There’s a lot of stuff I love about LA. I love living by an ocean, palm trees, seeing the Hollywood sign on a daily basis, abundant and beautiful women, 24 hour everything, liquor in supermarkets, sunshine, countless bloggable experiences, high speed police chases, Mexican food trucks with horns that play ‘La Cucaracha,’ and being able to say to people in Portland, I work in the entertainment industry.
It might be for the best that the film industry isn’t in Portland, because I think it’s good for everybody to spend a chunk of their life outside of their hometown – by which I mean, it’s been good for me, so naturally I assume it’d be good for everyone else. If nothing else, the film industry being in LA means that all the insufferable douchebags (present company excluded) go there and keep Portland pure for the rest of us.
Truman Capps will not miss Portland's more fragrant homeless.