By MIDGE PIERCE
“It’s Coming to Take Us Away, Ha-Haaa, Hee-He!” Portopia’s riff on the original song by one-hit wonder Jerry Samuels, aka Napoleon XIV.
Oh Portopia, in this place where life was once (purportedly) beautiful all the time and googly-eyed ghouls competed for attention, it’s the scariest of times.
Despite monstrous headlines, the real terror on our tricked-up streets is fear stalking us like the living dead. It’s come to take us away from our wit, reason, dreams, and civility. It spawns the zombies of insomnia that keep us awake listening for tire slashers, porch pirates, wheelies on the street, gunshots in the night, and the endless whirring of Portland Police’s Air Support Units circling the skies overhead spotting trouble that those in charge do nothing about.
We sigh as another friend packs up their remote kitchen-table office to head for cover, sleep, and ennui in the suburbs, back in California, Austin, or, in extreme cases, Idaho.
Our eccentricities are not helping.
We chalk up $1.2 million for our (albeit beloved) Elk statue but we can’t even pick up city trash. We brace for the end of Covid rent forgiveness knowing our sidewalks will stack up with more tents. We reduce graduation standards to level the playing field, not realizing that lowering expectations limit opportunities for those who most need a boost. Kids set fires for kicks. Anarchists destroy minority businesses because they can. We bolt our doors, turn on our doorbell cameras, and cozy up with Nextdoor posts that pull us into a state of catatonia.
In this election season, Portopians are so hungry for change, everyone is voting for reform no one understands. For every Portopian trying to unravel the Gordian knot of Charter Reform, someone else is pitching ads about gubernatorial candidates variously described as a seasoned bully, an NRA-approved gun-toter, and a body-autonomy snatcher. We drop our ballots off— safely— at our beloved libraries because we can’t afford stamps.
We color our hair— and our dogs’ tails— a rainbow of colors in affirmation of each others’ self-agency and to hide the gray caused by fear of (choose one): nuclear armageddon, global warming, extremism, absolutism, the Big One, compassion fatigue, or Covid exhaustion. From Burnside to Boulder, moms raising kids in the brave new end times report micro-dosing on psychedelics to chase away the blues. As the divide between Frank-N-Furters and pumpkin patchers widens, we’re lost in a maze of discord.
Yes, winter is coming to Portopia where our single-party, lofty-leaning systems splinters like glass into a thousand special interests. Long-in-the-tooth liberals are vilified as Draculas sucking the souls of younger generations. The only thing Portopians agree on is that we’re headed in the wrong direction.
Even the crows and rodents are committing hair-raising horrors. Portopians don hardhats against micro-agressive squirrels that throw bumper crops of acorns after pilfering our paltry, home grown produce. Fine-feathered fiends dive-bomb us in parks. Politicians lob chilling aspersions and enablers excuse Portland’s atrocities.
But oh Portopia, don’t be tricked into putting up the headstone. Let’s not RIP just yet.
Remember the joy of coming together to paint sunbursts on our hardscapes? Consider what a difference we could still make in repelling the heat dome if we washed all our streets, rooftops, and buildings in a pallet of pastels. We could mitigate climate change by house shaming exteriors of deep black and blue. We could reduce heat islands by embracing, not defunding, Friends of Trees.
Let’s drop the smugness and be the change.
For every broken window, let’s sweep up debris, rub our multi-boostered arms, and party downtown like it’s 2019.
Let’s drink more tea and eat less gluten. Let’s appease our Thai jones and nosh on the panoply at our local food pods. When a wine bar closes, let’s support the spicy chicken or dessert cart in the beer garden opening in the food desert across town.
For every artist forced to move to Hillsboro because of Portopia’s high rents, let’s install a little go-fund me free art museum or a student’s diorama.
With the holidays approaching, let’s buff the hard edges off family gatherings.
Let’s take back our streets for costumes and kids. Let’s allow children to walk safely to school without side-stepping needles or vents about privilege.
Let’s reclaim words like United, as in States, patriot as in caring about all our people, red as in the color of passion, and silver in acknowledgement of the wisdom of a generation with the lived experience of clapping rather than jazzing their hands.
Oh right. Old Portland was far from perfect. But at least Portopians of yore feasted on the creative juice of civil, civic debate. In New Portland a certain SE District Coalition I reported on for years now demands loyalty oaths that negate neighborhood autonomy, squelching dissent as effectively as the people-eating plant Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Beware, Portopia. We may be the Revolution. But the devil is in the details— and nightmarish, unintended consequences.
Rather than sinking some, let’s lift all Portopians. Let’s support diversity by finding common ground rather than grinding neighborhoods down. And while we’re at it, let’s sever the platinum parachutes of six-figured, bureaucratic, blood-curdling failures.
Beware Portopia. We may be the Revolution. But the devil is in the details and unintended consequences that stir night terrors and bring out the clowns are turning Portland into a skeleton of its former freaky, but weirdly charming, self.
Yet, how glorious Portopia is still! Finding a row of late season dahlias on a residential street. Spy the first red maple of fall. Feeling the satisfaction of keeping umbrellas stored away during the rainy season so they can shield us from the August summer sun, instead.
Let’s explore quiet neighborhoods like Cully and Concordia, Woodstock and Multnomah Village; find a post-RIP four-plex that actually blends in with Portland’s storied bungalows.
Let’s put aside our texting while driving, slow down and focus outrage at those who tailgate bikes and don’t stop at every crosswalk. Let’s smile from street corners again and turn Portland precarious into something closer to Portland polite, with conditions, of course.
Let’s foster kittens…
… and suit up for the office on occasion…
Let’s ghost away our differences…
And when cameras and camaraderie come out at sunset, let’s fall in love with Portopia all over again.
Midge Pierce is a recovering media consultant and personality who worked from East to West Coast Coast on newspapers, in TV for network and public television affiliates and for cable programmer Starz where she ran a channel for young people known as tweens. She is currently a semi-retired freelance writer in SE Portland enjoying time spent with grandkids. She is passionate about finding balance between old Portland and new.