As we’ve sent out our holiday letters, some friends have been surprised that we’ve left California for Oregon. One said, “I was under the impression that once someone got to California, they never left” – as if being born there, as we were, was some kind of exalted prize never to be relinquished.
When people ask why we left, I’ve found one response resonates most deeply. It relates to income inequality. When someone cut us off on the freeway, were they a jerk, or were they going to be fined if they were late picking their kid up from day care one more time? It was impossible to tell. And because it was more likely the former, we found ourselves losing our empathy for the latter. When you find yourself growing harder toward your fellow citizens, not softer, it’s time to move on. Perhaps the Republicans who’ve escalated this inflexibility to a fine art could depart for … somewhere far away.
We flew back to California for the weekend before Christmas, to see family and friends, and nothing about being back affected our resolve that Oregon is now home. Oregon is different, even though it’s now full of Californians. I suspect that the state was completely empty up until five years ago because everyone seems to be from California. Perhaps for that reason, I’ve only gotten one set of raised eyebrows about where I’d come from, and that was from a retail clerk who should have known better.
How different? For one thing, it rains here. Not as much as it used to, we’re assured (even though there’s no such thing as climate change; yeah, right), but water does indeed flow out of the sky on a regular basis.
For another, people drive differently here. We were walking through the small downtown of the community where we live a few months ago, and someone honked their horn. We turned to each other and said almost in unison, “What the hell was that?” Oh, and here’s the weird part: when you activate on your turn signal, the driver behind you will actually slow down and give you space to merge. We’re still getting used to that one. And in a state with so much precipitation, it’s legal (unlike in California) to drive without your lights on in the rain.
Our little town is a delight. Where we live, just north of downtown, there are few sidewalks. The air is so amazingly crisp and clear and crystalline, I feel like I’m waking up in a cross between Lake Tahoe and Carmel every morning. There’s a state preserve a few blocks from our house that we still haven’t explored completely. It’s invigorating.
What’s strange is how many people have dogs here. I began to wonder if the city government just automatically issued dogs to people upon arrival (“Here’s your driver’s license, and your dog. Welcome to Lake Oswego.”). Apparently, we got the cat exemption.
There are some oddities to the state of Oregon, as well. Some things are cheaper, but others unexpectedly are not. Our utilities are cheaper, but our housekeeper isn’t. My barber is much more expensive, but Monica’s hair stylist is cheaper (and they’re married to each other). Massages are cheaper. Restaurants are cheaper. Parking is unbelievably cheaper. Property taxes are cheaper, but still more expensive than we budgeted. But there’s no sales tax, so the government’s got to fill the tills from somewhere.
Then there’s the quirkiness of political geography. In California, the liberals cluster on the coast and the conservatives cluster inland. There’s a mountain range separating them for each other’s safety. That’s not true here. We live just south of Portland, which is very blue. Our community is the northernmost one in the adjoining county, called Clackamas, which is mostly agricultural. The result is that liberals and conservatives intermingle here, so you have to be careful what you say about certain hot-button issues, like abortion and gun control. At the Clackamas County Fair, there was a cluster of vendors designated as Second Amendment Row. You wouldn’t find that in our old neck of the woods.
People ask us what we miss in California. Friends, of course. Sports, too. Portland only has professional soccer and basketball, so it’s a bit of a crapshoot come Sunday morning NFL broadcasts. I suspect the local affiliates just throw a dart at the wall to see what they’ll broadcast; there’s no other way to explain how many NFC East games they show. And not being able to go to baseball games, either Stanford Cardinal or San Francisco Giants.
But the food here is fantastic. The airport is an unexpected hotbed of efficiency. Regional theatre is wonderful. Hiking is unparalleled. Traffic is bad, but nowhere near as horrific as California. It may get there yet, but there’s also a terrific public transportation infrastructure that the mishegoss of BART, Caltrain, Samtrans, and Muni can’t even touch.
So we gave up the prize that is California. We got a bigger one in exchange. Oregon is the best Christmas present ever.