Dreams of the 90's

I apologise for the size of this comic, making it larger cuts off some crucial parts of the dialogue. It's the one that got me reading Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques every single day. My friend posted it to my Facebook wall, poking fun at me for possibly being a hipster while also having a scathing disdain for them.
Let me get this out of the way quickly: I may indeed have hipster tendencies. I ride my 1985 Schwinn roadster to work, prefer microbrews over Budweiser, and plaid grows in my closet like Virginia Creeper. Perhaps most offensive of all, now that I've had PRK eye surgery to correct my vision (still 20/20 baby!) I sometimes want to get a pair of fake glasses a la Zooey Deschanel in New Girl.
Sometimes I quietly panic while looking in the mirror, thinking to myself, "Oh my God, maybe I am a hipster." But then relief flows through me. A hipster would never admit to being such a thing. So, for now, I am safe.
Or I was until last weekend. 
Dear Reader, I have a wicked, nearly malicious case of Portlanditis. Except, I don't think anything malicious could ever originate in Portland. I've discovered that Portland is a city of the nicest people, some of the best beer and coffee and, besides Scotland, the most refreshing summer nights. Our last night there, people were wearing light sweaters. In New York, people were telling me, the humidity combined with temperatures in the 90's was unbearable.
Portland forcibly reminded me of my hometown, Calgary AB. Like almost a carbon copy of it, though with better seafood and monochromatic money, and no one saying "eh?" Every day the comparisons slammed themselves into my brain. It was as though all the liberals of Calgary had fled south of the border and founded this city. Our first day there, while enjoying one of the most delicious IPA's I've ever had, I texted my sister, "I have to move to Portland."
"Yep," she responded. "Those are your people."
When we returned to NY I wrote as my status update, "I'm already homesick for Portland." My friend, the same one who introduced me to Questionable Content, responded, "hipster."
But I promise you my Dearest Reader, it wasn't the gauged ears, the fixed gear bikes, or the underground band posters that won my heart.

I just could not get over how nice everybody was.

There were times, most notably on the bus, when I nearly wept at the kindness on display by everyone. When they got off the bus they would thank the driver; one guy said, "hey man, I've just got to get my bike off the front."
"Okay, thanks for telling me."
There is a temptation, especially if you're the parent of a teenager, to hear oceans of snark in that response. But you have to trust me that these two individuals spoke to each other like one was trying to be considerate of the other, and the other was trying to convey just how much he appreciated that.
It was other things too, like when we walked about downtown, trying to find some ice cream after sushi, I noticed something was missing. I tried hard to figure out what it was and then realised that there was no noise. Of course there was the noise of a bus kneeling to its stop, or birds tweeting. But I'm from New York, where there's constant cacophony from taxis honking their horns, people trying to pass out flyers, other people blaring their headphones, the subway rattling underneath and sirens. Endless, sirens as though NYC is just endlessly burning. This is part of NYC's appeal, I know. You don't have to tell me. There are countless tributes to the clickety-clack of the A train.
Some people also like death metal. I'm just not one of them.

It's difficult to decide if neurotics and generally grumpy people flock to NYC because of their condition, or if they're neurotic and socially maladjusted because of NYC. A chicken vs. egg thing.
 Perhaps people with social anxiety find themselves in New York. They think to themselves that here at last, they have found their people. People who don't understand small talk, people who would rather shut themselves up in tiny little bubble, alone with their difficulties, than be a bother or be bothered. They may have found people similar to them, but really, with all the flashing lights and honking horns and the constant swearing that bubble has to be extra thick so one's soul doesn't go into total shock.

My friends know me as a snarky bitch. They either love me for it or love me despite it. Either way, I'm glad to have my friends, it's just...
I like being nice. I want people to like me. The sarcasm is something I picked up in my pre-teens as a defense mechanism, a force-field, if you will. Mostly because no one in elementary and middle school (or very few people) was being nice to me. Dry wit served me well; it made people laugh, it made them think I'm smart, my mother's friends would look at her wide-eyed and comment on how pithy I was at the tender age of 14. So I figured it made people take notice of me, and take notice that I wasn't someone to mess with. People love messing with me. They love seeing me boil when they tease me about any number of things: being Canadian, being female, caring about shit. For them it's entertaining, for me it really hurts and I've never ever understood why being sensitive is something to laugh at. So I picked up sarcasm the same way some other geeks might pick up Krav Maga: it's a swift jab to the verbal nuts.
Now, I can't deny that I've always been sassy. You can ask my mother or my sister for stories about how, at 5, I coldly informed a family friend pleading with to perform Ursula from Disney's The Little Mermaid that I hate being crowded.

But now I wonder if I layered on the bitterness, and the sassyness with each year I've lived in Poughkeepsie, the so-called Queen City of the Hudson River where the only thing people care about is themselves. I'm convinced the worst drivers are in Poughkeepsie. They seem to think it's okay to have conversations in the middle of the street. Turn signals are optional and the last time they properly stopped at a stop sign was when they took the driving test.
The moments that people extended themselves to help someone else, with no expectation of benefit for themselves, literally get reported in the newspaper.
In high school I never made it a secret that I could not wait to get the hell out of here. I applied to schools in Chicago, Ontario, and Georgia. But when I left, something inside me wasn't ready to give up on Poughkeepsie. So I came back every break, and moved back when I graduated, to my family's mystification.A few years ago I tried to explain my bizarre affection for this place, and my reluctance to leave. I said, "Poughkeepsie is like my younger autistic brother." What I meant was that I was sure that Poughkeepsie was just about to discover itself. I though it had so much potential, so much beauty that just needed a little bit of elbow grease to really shine.
3 years later I've realised that, no, that younger brother is just so much of a social douche bag that he appeared to be on the spectrum. What I thought was potential is just problems that would be very easy to fix, except that no one cares.  I was reluctant to leave because I was certain that soon Poughkeepsie would come into its own, and I wanted to see it happen, I wanted to be a part of it.
Poughkeepsie will never improve in my lifetime.

Perhaps it's unfair to put Portland on such a pedestal. Maybe I've been emotionally departing Poughkeepsie for a while. Maybe, this would happen anywhere. But when I was in Portland I remembered two things about myself, and remembered them with such painful clarity as though I were jolted awake from amnesia.
1) I am Canadian. I was born in Canada and lived 9 years of my life there. I was born in a hospital overlooking the Rocky Mountains, and I walked to school with my friends, and went to Brownie's with them and had birthday parties at the Wave Pool, and the Olympic Oval. I took the bus to my karate lessons, and inhaled bags of ketchup flavoured chips, and dill pickle chips and President's Choice chocolate chip cookies.
But most of all, I was born in a country that, for whatever reason, never seemed to have a problem being a community, and where a person has to try really hard to get someone angry, even in Quebec. When you cross that border from Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Ontario, people instantly become nicer. And I really love that, I love it so much I think I need it. Every time someone in Portland was nice, I was that 9 year old from Calgary again.
2) I am a city girl. Sure, I just bashed NYC for a good 2 paragraphs, but NYC is off the chain. Although I do love it. NYC for me is great food and great art and great shopping. I love testing my sense of direction, and I love taking the metronorth and arriving at Grand Central, my favourite moment is rounding the corner from Spuytin Duyvil and gazing at the bridges soaring above us. But then you have to take a deep breath and jump right into the river of people. I think the amount of cafes and eateries are there solely to provide little safe havens for a breather. I could never live in NYC.
I'm from a city that was mostly residential with a downtown that rose from flat prairie like an 80's computer graphic. I need sidewalks that don't end randomly, cafes and restaurants I can walk to. Stores that aren't in a mall, a bus line that makes sense, districts, neighbourhoods, streets that don't change names all of a sudden and are laid out on a grid.

Crossing the street in Portland I was trying to rush because there was a car trying to make a right turn. I braced myself for the honking, the slow rolling into the intersection to make the point that the flow of traffic was being held up. All I heard was silence, so I looked up and at the driver. She waved me on, and smiled at me. A kind smile. A Don't-worry-bout-a-thing smile. I had to remind myself that I wasn't in New York, that there are places where people function like this. And I want to go to there.


Popular Posts