For anyone that hasn’t been in close touch, I’ve been on the run for about two months now. It all started innocently enough last spring when in the depths of economic news despair I purchased airfare to New Zealand as a carrot to carry myself through to fall. In June, Katie and I listed our house for sale. "Great!" I thought, "The house will likely be sold before November and I’ll have the option to extend my stay in New Zealand if I really like it!" Five months and what seemed like five hundred showings later, the house had seen a total of 0 offers. In mid October I was off to visit family in Indiana and from there on to New Zealand.
In what couldn’t have possibly been more inconvenient, an offer was made on the house just a couple days after I landed overseas. On one hand it was fantastic that the place was finally going to be sold, on the other hand it was a royal pain in the rear as I would spent a sizable chunk of time rushing about every major city I passed through in order to check for, print, sign, fax, scan and email various bits of legalese back to the states. Somehow everything fell into place though, and even our Realtor (thanks Lionel!) seemed amazed at how smoothly the entire transaction played out. One big challenge remained for me though: upon returning to the states I would have a grand total of 6 days to find a new place to live, move out of the house, and do my share of cleaning.
I had already planned on moving to Portland because that’s what all the cool kids had been doing for a while. Of course with maybe a grand total of 10 visits to the city, my familiarity with any area was vague at best. With no time to be picky, I grabbed one of the first rooms I could find that was available for the single month of December. In the meantime, I also secured a storage unit in Corvallis and swallowed my 4 years-in-a-row car-free pride and purchased a pickup truck for moving (and future winter adventures). I’m not sure exactly what days or in what order all this happened. I didn’t think. I just acted as quickly and efficiently as possible. With the house business finalized and the bulk of my possessions stashed away in storage, I took myself and the bare essentials to my temporary upstairs room near Mt. Tabor in Portland.
I probably shouldn’t even mention my idea and leg-work on spending the winter in Moab Utah. Since I’m supposed to be a responsible 34 year old adult, I ultimately decided (about 3 days ago) not to follow through on this. It should be no surprise that my work life has been very distracted by all the vacation and moving drama. Stirring yet another move into the mix didn’t seem like it would make anything smoother.
Speaking of work, in theory after arriving at my Portland safe-haven I’d finally be able to settle into a pseudo normal routine and get some work done. Nein! Though I’m just a mere part-time contractor, I was privileged to be invited to Mountain View for Mozilla’s December All-Hands gathering during the 2nd week of December. This was my first visit since I began work on the AMO website last May. As expected, Mozilla and all my co-workers were completely awesome in person. This was also my first Silicon Valley experience. Unexpectedly, I found myself feeling quite culture-shocked from the moment I checked into my hotel room which would have made a lovely 8-person dorm in a New Zealand backpacker hostel. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or like some small-town trombone band nerd from Indiana. Face time is undeniably very important and valuable. However, while everyone else is enjoying the Silicon Valley party I would be quite content (and productive) to be writing code in a riverside yurt. That said, I’ve yet to achieve any meaningful growth without pushing my comfort envelope. Nothing is ever simple.
Back in Portland my hunt for a home continued obsessively. The problem was I couldn’t settle on what it was I was looking for. Did I want to be in the city proper? Near the night-life? House? Apartment? I found the pile of stuff sitting in Corvallis storage whispering in my ear, "Don’t forget about us! We know how you enjoy your woodshop and array of bicycles and bicycle trailers. You need space. You need a garage!" Another voice would quietly remind me in my other ear how I had all that for a modest and affordable monthly Corvallis mortgage payment. It turns out that what is affordable in Corvallis is not necessarily affordable in Portland unless you venture out to one of the farther suburbs.
For a few days I was convinced that I would be moving to Gresham. Then I visited. Now, Gresham is probably a wonderful place for many people to live and many people do live there. I really liked the library and the conveniently located World Market (I’m a sucker for imported sweets). The problem for me was the conveniently located every-other-strip-mall-storefront-you-can-possibly-imagine that completely dominated the area. Shopping center vibe has always turned my stomach and I can only tolerate it in small doses. As a cyclist there would be no escaping the daily traffic vortex swirling about Gresham. I’m out.
It became clear to me that I would have to adjust my expectations and settle for less than what I had become accustomed to. So the least I could do was indulge my inner Spartan and find something that would let me save up some extra clams, bones, or whatever the parlance of our times may be, right? How did I ever search for rentals prior to craigslist and padmapper.com? Anyway, each budget place I investigated left me feeling more disappointed and like a poor college student all over again. (Mind you my "budget" budget for a 1 bedroom was at least 20% more than any 2 bedroom I’ve ever rented before) I guess Spartans can’t live in Portland without cracked ceilings and walls or tiny bathrooms with thriving shower tile ecosystems. Yesterday I was near wit’s end when in a moment of desperation, I set aside all preconception and took an impromptu tour of a high-rise apartment building in the Goose Hollow neighborhood.
The Vista St. Clair turned out to be an older apartment building, as evidenced by the tiny hatches next to each unit’s door that were once used to receive daily deliveries of dairy from the milkman. How quaint! (For what it’s worth, milkperson is still a viable occupation in some New Zealand communities.) I was thoroughly impressed with the St. Clair management, their friendliness with the other tenants, and the care that was obviously put into the building. I was also thoroughly impressed with the view of the city and Vista Bridge from the 9th floor unit that I looked at. This place felt more like a hotel with all the available maid, personal chef, personal assistant, and laundry services available. Like the hotel near Mountain View there was plenty of posh and no place for a woodshop or even bicycle trailers. Yet I found myself giving in and filling out paperwork while making small talk about the holiday party that was being setup for later that evening. Yes, the location was awesome but the place certainly didn’t feel like me. I am not the retired man riding in the brass elevator with an unlit cigar clenched in his smile, but I guess I’m going to say hi to him the next time we meet.
Like living in a David Lynch movie, I was quickly whisked out of the rabbit hole as I drove back across town and got mixed up in rush hour traffic. I started questioning my judgment and noting the various ways I could still back out of the deal. I started thinking about all the limitations that this place would put on the lifestyle that I was accustomed to. Then I recalled a conversation I had with one of my current roommates, Greg, about how the time limitation of the short film format can really bring out the creativity in a filmmaker. Here is my chance to turn adversity into opportunity! Some positive things I will focus on:
- Simplification: Living in a one bedroom on the ninth floor will force me to rethink my possessions. Admittedly I’ve strayed from the "More Fun, Less Stuff" motto. Time to get back on course.
- Inspiration: I work from home quite a bit, and the right inspiration can make a big difference. If the living room view of Mt. Hood looming over the city doesn’t do it, then I’m dead inside.
- Revitalization: I’m sure I’ll get frustrated with city life. Fortunately the Japanese Garden is a mere 20 minute walk away through Washington Park. I’m not a religious person, but this sanctuary will be my temple and should keep me grounded.
So there your have it. I officially start my 6 month (minimum) city life experiment next Wednesday. I’m sure Portland will have more than a few lessons to teach me as long as I’m prepared to listen.