How To Tell You Are in Portland, Oregon, Not New York City

August 14, 2012

Living in Portland, Oregon is nothing like the frenetic existence I once enjoyed in the New York metro area, or even the strange temporary life I had in Hong Kong in the eighties. The temperamental difference between New York and Portland can be illustrated by driving habits. At a four way stop sign anywhere within 100 miles of Times Square a  split second delay in decision made by one driver ends in at least an outbreak of staccato car horning, and at worst a shoot-out. With years of war zone driving in my tank many are the times when I commented as I slowly crossed an avenue in NW Portland after an especially timid combatant, “Shall I just follow you to your funeral?”

After 18 years here I now of course never actually say such things out loud. Rather, I have learnt to relax, sit back, change radio stations, adjust my drink selection, meditate on the lame or special architecture of the building to my left, and the way the rain is falling on to my hood via the leaves of roadside trees, have a conversation with the homelss guy waiting there for different reasons. If only I could learn how to wear socks with sandals again, and drink coffee in shorts, on a sidewalk at 50 Degrees I might begin to think of myself as a Portland native. And even though I come from a country where such temperatures are normal for domestic interiors I fear I shall always be an immigrant.

But let us return to a yardstick to help us understand where we are; Portland or New York City. Today at around 2.40 PM going Eastbound on Everett in my terrifically fuel efficient diesel VW Jetta, stationary at the light, intending to go right onto I-405 I was rear ended by a single driver in a Range Rover. Without compromising any legal statements I might make later it appeared to be a simple low speed impact. The driver of the Range Rover cooperated fully as we exchanged all the usual details. And the good kind driving folk of Portland sensing a problem moved over to the left and made their way onward. No honking, no aggravated digital signals, just a gracious tolerance of an unfortunate incident. Until Mr. Irritable & Important showed up. Mr. Irritable & Important drove a large shiny black S.U.V. Not a cheap one either. It was a deluxe version; larger and shinier and overall more pompous than any other of its kind. Mr. I & I’s journey to a very important meeting must have been seriously delayed three minutes by our incident, and so slowing down alongside as two shaken drivers exchanged insurance and registration numbers he powered down his heavily tinted passenger window and leant over to exclaim in imperious tones, “Hey, move your fender bender off to the side!” and then zipped off on his vitally strategic way. Of course, from the lofty heights of his shiny black chariot this expert could immediately see that there were no injuries and that there was no damage to either vehicle and naturally knew that we were not as important as he. For a brief moment I was back in New York City, where as I implied earlier he would have been among the kindlier commentators.

I thank all the other drivers who passed on by without a word or gesture for their restraint and civility. So far we appear not to be injured. Our car will be checked out by a body shop tomorrow, and we will be thankful it was not more serious. Mr. I & I  of course will proceed on to vent his bile and spleen elsewhere in his ugly, black monster that says so much about him that you don’t actually have to meet him to know it would likely not be pleasant.

I don’t recommend becoming involved in a road accident to ascertain your location. But I think you get the picture.

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