The Moorish-themed, 1920’s movie palace known as the Bagdad Theater has long been an anchor in my neighborhood. When I first moved to Portland, the Bagdad was the place to spend a rainy Saturday night. My friends and I would pay four dollars to sit through two awful, second-run movies, eat not too good pizza, and if someone had a little extra money, drink some beer. The camaraderie was great, it was often warmer inside the theater than at home, and the architecture of the building itself made you feel that you were someplace special.
Twenty years later, the Bagdad plays first-run films, the clientele is a little more genteel, and the admission is closer to $10 for a single flick. You can still buy decent beer and unexceptional pizza there, but it’s just not the same experience. That could be said of Portland itself.
Everywhere you go in Portland’s business districts these days it seems that somebody is busy making a storefront into a new shop selling expensive dust collectors, opening the next hip restaurant, or building yet another pot store. It feels less like a community than a travel magazine spread.
The old streetcar neighborhoods close to downtown, where I dwell, have been transformed from places of benign neglect into investments; houses are bought and sold, and sold again. My old neighbors are slowly disappearing and new anonymous, always in a rush, wealthier ones appearing. It’s easy pretend that everyone is a character in one of those bad drawings you made in high school, with a bunch of arrows pointing at typical features of some stereotype. The New Portlander includes someone heading to their electric vehicle, texting about their startup while leading a Labrador retriever, carrying a reusable coffee mug and a yoga mat on the way to the micro gym.
Me, I’m just as much of a stereotype: bearded Middle Age Man, cruising along on a customized city bike, donning a Gor-Tex shell and Teva sandals with socks, on my way to the farmer’s market. Once my wife and I went through the middle class rite of fixing up an old house, we joined the wave of change that had quietly started years before we arrived.
I confess that I sometimes shop at New Seasons, the Whole Foods-like grocery that replaced the Daily Grind, a classic health food store run by real hippies. I occasionally eat at the much lauded and tourist-filled restaurant, Pok Pok. I can even be seen in one of the glittering new cafes because the bread is so darn good, but I still miss the past.
It’s not the just the old stuff that I yearn for. You could easily put your finger through a lot of the produce at the Grind; I’m quite a bit happier with the fruit at New Seasons. Rather it’s the laid back feeling and creativity; the laissez-faire attitude that low-rents and ample space once provided. Portland has always had a pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of newness. The city and its people have been reinvented countless times over the years.
I don’t aim to reverse the tide of New Portland but I intentionally live life at a slow pace, riding my bike a lot, even when it is impractical, talking to the new locals, supporting the new alternative radio station, and shopping at the quirky little businesses on the edge the hype. But I am stalwart in my desire to be laid back, be sincere, be welcoming, just like the people of Portland were when I first came to town.