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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Before There Were Cars, Did Portlanders Walk?

I’ve been in Portland one full week, and I’ve taken detailed notes – on lots of stuff. When I experience something that I’m pretty sure I’d never encounter in San Francisco, I jot it down.

In Oregon, I’ve noticed...

1. The air suggests pine trees and burning wood. It smells like a perpetual campfire around here.
2. It rains. A lot.
3. The speed limit on the freeways is a miserable fifty-five miles per hour. And Oregonians don’t dare go fifty-six.
4. But they also don’t honk or raise their middle fingers when I make a minor behind-the-wheel mistake such as turning the wrong way on a one-way street and then reversing until I reach an alley, until I can shut off my car and cry for a bit. So that's a plus.

In San Francisco...

1. The breeze smells like sewage, mostly.
2. The sun glistens year-round. And the fog shows up like clockwork each evening.
3. Fifty-year-old hobos trot down the hilly streets wearing lacy, see-through tops with nothing underneath. Others fly through the Financial District on hot-pink roller skates with golf clubs in each hand, which act as walking (or skating?) sticks.
4. People take cabs; they don’t drive.

Really, what I’m trying to write about is the cab-versus-car thing. (That was a lot of build-up for a minute of bleading about transportation, wasn’t it?) I want you to know that I’m stumped on the subject. I can’t help but wonder, if Portland is supposed to be the greenest city in the country, why do so many folks drive? I haven’t been here long, but in San Francisco it appears buses and street cars and BART trains and taxis are much more rampant than they are in Portland. True?

Another thing: It seems no one walks – anywhere. I’ll admit the sample population from which I draw this conclusion does not include downtown executives who live just blocks from their offices, and it definitely doesn't include tree-huggers in tie-dyed tees who’ll bike miles in the rain; my sample population is made up mostly of twenty-four-year-old sorority graduates in peep-toe pumps and dresses who whine about walking a half-mile to the next bar after a lavish dinner, because they’d rather show up in wheels.

The one time I suggest walking through Portland instead of driving? I hear crickets – and then gasps of panic. But trekking a measly half-mile in Portland is like moseying from San Francisco’s Ferry Building to the Bank of America Building, which is a snap, even in three-inch heels. Jenn’s the only one in the bunch who gets it. She responds with, “Sure, Megs!” But it's only because she lives in San Francisco.

Next, I suggest hopping in a couple of cabs. (Because why give ourselves headaches and drive?) (In my mind, time is money, and I don’t enjoy wasting precious minutes designating a driver and racking my brain trying to figure out ways to park on the street that doesn’t involve having to parallel.) After another round of horrified looks, I pull out my BlackBerry and pretend to answer a text and then study an email from U.S. Student Loan Services. I wish the earth would swallow me up.

For next time, though, I’ll know that some Portlanders still prefer driving to walking. (And driving to taking cabs.) (And driving to utilizing public transportation.) Perhaps in the next few weeks, though, I’ll have a different take on the subject.

Until then? I’ll be in my Jeep.


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  1. SF Spotting: Sad spotting, but true. Older blind women was spotted on Market and 8th Street with soiled pants. I saw this same women on the bus 19 two weeks ago, with the same pants- also soiled. This spotting made my heart go out to the woman.

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  2. I don't think as many peole take cabs around ptown because they aren't around every corner... most times you have to call and wait 10- 20 minutes... and as you said, time is money :)

    On the other hand, come summer... there are tons more bicyclists out and about... atleast in/around the city limits.

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