Update from the Midwest Sep06


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Update from the Midwest

Point your finger accusingly towards the center of a US map, and you’ll be pointing right at me. I’m a Midwesterner, once again, and after years of self-determined exile I’d like to posit the controversial opinion that it’s not so bad. I know, I know, that’s not what you thought I’d say. But hear me out—I’ve got a lot of complicated feelings on the matter.

I live in a college town called Columbia, Missouri, which I’m constantly informed is an extremely liberal and accepting place. The disclaimer then follows: *in comparison to the rest of Missouri*, which is a little like assuring someone they live in the most handicap-accessible laser hangar on Vader’s Death Star. My basis of comparison is Portland, not Missouri, and I refuse to be impressed by a city’s supposed liberal leanings until an entire lane of traffic is opened up exclusively for drag queens on Segways. It happened this year in the Portland Pride Parade, and will henceforth be the barometer by which I measure a city’s open-mindedness. Sorry, Columbia—I know that you’re trying. Don’t think that the adorable earnestness of your newly-painted bike “sharrows” is completely lost on me.

I moved here two weeks ago to attend grad school in Journalism, a troubled field in which I have no practical experience. It could be the best decision I’ve ever made or the worst—only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m determined to make the most of my new life through exploratory bike adventures, exhaustive friend-making campaigns, and a concerted effort to get everything I can out of grad school so I can return to my beloved west coast in two years with an actual skill set. I’ll tell war stories of my days in Missouri, singing songs of Midwestern troubles to my sweet, sympathetic squad of motherly drag queens. We’ll mount Segways and ride somberly through the night on a trail of remembrance for struggles past, weaving through the dark streets of Portland in mournful conviction. This pain, this sense of loss, is temporary. “I will survive,” as my drag queens so eloquently put it.

There are things I miss about Portland and there are things that I’ll never quite be able to understand about Portland. When I returned from my last bike tour through the Southern US, I couldn’t believe the level of culture shock I experienced just from wandering through the blessed organic paradise of New Seasons. Fresh produce, whole grains, and in every aisle, at least two beaming, fashionable hipsters radiating youthful vigor and heart-healthy antioxidant diets, toting flashy messenger bags laden with micro brews and baguettes in strong, bird-tattooed arms. There were just so many yoga mats. I was startled. It was overwhelming, and it was uncanny. It was Logan’s Run, actually. Where is Portland hiding its old people???

I had a relaxing summer and eventually readjusted to life without the old people that I cherish so much on my bike tours. Eventually, all those quaint old-timey expressions like “I wanna break her like a shotgun and load her from the rear” were exorcised from my vocabulary and once again replaced with women’s studies/stoner surfer Portlandisms. I “held my bros accountable”. I “took up space”, “subverted dominant gender roles”, and used “Dude” at the beginning of every sentence.

I tried to soak up as many of those “only in Portland” experiences as I could—riding tandems to the Bluffs, gay vegan potlucks, Dungeons and Dragons campaigns with my all-girl “She & D” party, inadvertent participation in the World Naked Bike Ride, and most frequently, long mid-morning runs through neighborhoods filled with community gardeners, tae chi masters, flute-players, medieval LARPers, and early-hour Pabst Blue Ribbon enthusiasts. Portland is not a city known for its high employment rate, and for the first time I too experienced a summer month in the city with no job, no scheduled bike tours, and no obligations beyond mentally preparing myself for the big move. By the time my late-July moving day rolled around, I was ready.

So here I am in the heartland of America, living a quiet, lonely life in a vast apartment with my feline animal companion. It’s a Friday night and later I might go investigate a nearby bike path or gay bar or adult video store–now that I’m a “journalist”, the only active verb I’ve been using is “investigate.” You never know when there could be some hot scoop out there, waiting to be discovered by some enterprising girl detective at the Jamba Juice drive-through window.

Actually, I did get a hot scoop in my first week in town—an anti-bike harassment ordinance that seemingly has the entire community up in arms. It’s that tired, old “motorists vs. cyclists” song and dance. The ordinance passed in June, and apparently a few anonymous road-ragers are demanding the goddamned right to lob their chosen projectile (presumably the “Big Gulp”) at all the spandexed scofflaws running wild on our city’s streets. The gruesome battle to repeal the law is being fought in the city council and on internet message boards citywide. I haven’t actually seen enough of a bike presence here to warrant such vitriol, and haven’t experienced TOO much hostility from motorists here yet either. Well, there was that one time when a loud SUV full of raucous fraternity folk informed me that my bike looks “gay,” but that was probably just a polite observance in an attempt to forge bonds across transportation communities. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of encouraging a cease-fire.

It’s hard to start over in a new city where you don’t know anyone, and I’m a little afraid. I miss my friends. I miss the love and familiarity of my entire Portland support network. I miss the short blocks and tree-lined streets of Portland’s east side neighborhoods. I miss the food and the bikes and the beauty of the entire Pacific Northwest. Mostly, I miss my comfort zone. I have no idea what I’m doing here, no sense that I’ll be any good at this program. I’m standing on the edge of the unknown, about ready to take the first step. And I don’t know how much longer I can hold these boner jokes inside of me.