Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Days 15 & 16 - Portland & Seattle

Even though I’m from Medford, only 5.5 hours south of Portland, I haven’t spent much time in our state’s biggest city. Every athletic Oregonian kid goes up to Portland for at least one sports event: I’ve done my share of swimming and gymnastics meets there, too. But I’ve never really gone out and explored the city.

We only had one day in Portland, and one in Seattle, so we didn’t have much time to see different areas of either city, but I thought it would be interesting to spend most of the day in one area and become somewhat familiar with it rather than jet all over the city with a brief stop here and there.

I saw Voodoo Doughnut featured on the Travel Channel and even though I guessed it would probably be pretty touristy, I decided that it merited a visit for our Saturday morning brunch. As we drove by the storefront, searching for a parking spot, I heard a lot of comments from the back seats about how the 35-person line out the door and down to the street corner resembled the one that forms in front of Nashville’s famous “Pancake Pantry” every weekend.

About 30 minutes later we stepped over the threshold to be greeted by a long list of sexual innuendo-laden doughnut choices. Their slogan, “The magic is in the hole,” is available on t-shirts and underwear. The doughnuts turned out to be average, and the prices were too. $1.50 isn’t bad when you think about the average cupcakes that are sold in Nashville as specialty items for upwards of $3.00! Voodoo even offered an entire 5 gallon bucket of day-old doughnuts for only 8 bucks. It was nothing extravagant, but people loved it.

After grabbing a doughnut we headed down a block to the Portland Saturday Market, under the famed Burnside Bridge. White vendor and exhibitor stalls were set up in a grid format through which wandered mostly middle-class families, often toting babies in an African-style body wrap or in strollers. An unshaven, raggedy performer on a drum set, complete with hands-free harmonica set-up, drew in handfuls of children joining in with the various musical instruments – maracas, triangles, and mini-djembes – that lay at his feet. It was a community oriented, family-friendly atmosphere. Even the 30+ homeless people sitting against walls and in front of the central fountain seemed happy. Among them were two families that I found myself thinking about later on in the day. One family consisted of a mother and father, seemingly in their early 30’s, a pre-teen daughter, and an 8 year-old son. They had a dog with them too. The young son was skipping around, collecting some scraps of paper, and ran up eagerly to show his dad, who smiled and congratulated his son on the find.

What struck me though is that these homeless families appeared to be part of the larger Portland community, not living on the outskirts of society, in some park that no home-owning person would ever venture into, like so many of the homeless in other cities we’ve seen.

The next day in Seattle we visited Pike Place Market. I was interested in comparing the atmosphere and visitor demographics of these two markets, seeing as they’re both set downtown in major Pacific Northwest city-ports.

Pike Place had a very different vibe. The first thing I noticed was the diversity of its patrons. Asians, Native Americans, Germans, Northern Europeans, Mexicans, French, Moroccans, Greeks; they all blended together into a steady blur of passing sights and intelligible sounds. The demographic was more upscale, wealthy people, and the street musicians followed the same trend. The market consists of an abandoned warehouse, renovated and divided into stores, and during a few days of the week local farmers may set up tents in the courtyard to sell their fresh produce.

Off to the side of the market, in a little grassy knoll overlooking passengers boarding a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, surrounded by 40 foot-tall Native American totem poles, was a group of Chinese immigrants practicing Fulan Gong (seemingly similar to tai chi) and protesting the alleged death camps instated by previous Chinese president. Volunteers with heavy accents requested several times that I sign a petition demanding President Bush to speak up against the camps (although since he’s no longer President I’m not quite sure what they were hoping for), but they couldn’t coherently answer many of our questions about the situation and their goal.

Seattle’s Pike Place Market wasn’t as stable a community as Portland’s Saturday Market; there was more traffic and less fellowship. I enjoyed the vibrant feel that reminded me of the excitement I feel when I go into an airport, the hustle and bustle of people going places. But I also enjoyed the leisurely quality family time that I saw taking place in Portland.

Seattle’s market was focused on commerce, fast and dry transactions, getting in and out as quickly as possible. Portland’s was slow-paced, enjoyable, focused on the arts. Both have their place.

I think of these cities in conjunction to different stages in life. Heather mentioned the other day that she thought of Los Angeles as High School and San Francisco as College. In a similar analogy, I think of Seattle as great place to spend my young adult-hood while my interests and focus are on building a career, meeting new people, spending time on the go. Once I get married and want to start a family, I think Portland would be a great place to settle down and raise my kids in a stable and friendly community.

But before I do either I’m going to have to get over my dependence on sunlight. Neither Portland nor Seattle seem to offer more than 10 or 15 sunny days per year!

3 comments:

  1. I love Pike Place and am glad you got to experience it! They have the BEST flowers and dried fruits, mmmm!!

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  2. im so excited that you went to voodoo doughnut! i want to go there so bad! a maple and bacon doughnut? WHAT?

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  3. I know! I have a picture of that famed bacon-maple donut...I'll show you! :)

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