Since I was already on the west coast I figured I’d visit my brother-in-law Eric in Portland, just a short three hour train ride down the coast from Seattle. This was my first time riding on a train in the United States (at least, since I was about 3-4 years old–I recall riding on a train or something like it when I was very young in Maryland, but other than that I’ve only been on the L in Chicago) and Amtrak was an entirely pleasant experience. The seats were very roomy, the train was clean, and the ride was smooth. The coast was beautiful as well, and someday when I have time to write again I want to dwell on the idea of houses beside the sea and why we are drawn to such tumultuous, tenuous places.
Portland, like Seattle, was not what I had expected it to be. I had never visited the Pacific Northwest but had come to view it with highly romanticized notions of an intellectual mecca coupled with spiritual revival. These two cities seemed like twins to me, centers of intelligent discourse and rational thinking that lent itself to a moderate and educated Christianity. While what I found wasn’t necessarily negative, it failed entirely to live up to my unreasonable expectations.
My self-deception surprised me later because I had already learned this lesson: people are people everywhere. I’ve traveled enough to realize that most everywhere is pretty much the same. You have cars and buildings, restaurants, a mix of educated and ignorant, wealthy and homeless people, and while the ratios may change the basis is the same. Why did I expect these two towns to be different? I have visions in my head of philosophical centers like in ancient Greece, but the truth is that ancient Greece was probably similar to Portland. No place is perfect.
Still, I am glad for the experience, and it was nice visiting Eric. There are a load of pictures over on Flickr, most of which are from a walking tour of the downtown area we took, and I would gladly return to Portland (though probably not to live). I wish my knee hadn’t still been hurting, as it curtailed our exploration of Powell’s Book Store (though on the plus side, that meant I only have to carry 20 extra pounds of books onto the plane!).