I deeply adore my adopted city of Portland, Oregon. However, there are definite disadvantages to living here – or anywhere on the West Coast, really – compared to living in the midwest, where I originally came from.
Housing prices, for one thing, are considerably more outrageous. I was listening to a local program on Oregon Public Radio (OPB) yesterday, and a guest expert was saying that the housing market in Portland is still depressed as a result of the financial crisis and the lagging economy. Then he said, “I think the average price of a house is $227,000 in Portland.”
In my small home-town city in Indiana, $227,000 would buy you a palace. And yet in Portland, this is the average price of a home in a “down” housing market. Portland is also the number one place in the country for missed mortgage payments. (We’re Number One! We’re Number One!)
The overall cost of living on the West Coast is also higher than it is in the heartland. This unfortunately applies to gasoline as well as other living expenses; when I spoke to my brother in Indiana a couple of weeks ago and we compared the prices at our respective local pumps, I think we were ten to twenty cents higher here in Portland. This makes things pretty tough on people trying to hang on through unemployment, underemployment, or just trying to keep afloat with a full-time job where wages are frozen and a job market that is insufficient to meet the demand for work.
Two days ago, I was stuck in stop-and-go traffic (mostly stop) during my homeward commute from my (part-time) job. I have to say that while being in a traffic jam is never a pleasant experience, it seems less obnoxious in the Portland area. Here, we tend to slow down to let people change lanes in front of us or to let them into the flow of traffic, and we don’t lay on the horn every time we get a little frustrated or pissed off at the antics of another driver.
While I was sitting still, waiting for my next chance to move forward two feet, the man in the large black pickup in the right lane called to me. “Excuse me. Can you tell me if there is a gas station nearby up ahead?”
“If you’re going across the Ross Island Bridge,” I told him, “there’s a Shell station not long after that.”
He nodded his thanks. “I’m worried that I don’t have enough gas to make it much further.” Then, sheepishly, he continued while we each inched forward as traffic allowed, “I don’t usually let this happen. But these days, you have to make a life decision when you get to the pump.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. I had filled my tank two days earlier, and it was the first time in over a month that I had felt safe spending that much money on gas all at once.
My traffic friend described some of the choices he found himself making these days. “Do you buy food for the dog, or fill the tank? Do you eat today, or make sure you can drive to work tomorrow?”
And if the rest of the folks in the traffic jam could have heard this exchange, I’ve little doubt that they would have echoed his worries, as I did and do. Most of us are in this dark place together, even if to varying degrees.
Even so, we Portlanders manage to be polite to each other most of the time. We let people in when they need to merge into traffic… and sometimes, we let them in, even as total strangers, to hear and share our private challenges and fears.