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I used to love Portland

When I first saw Portland I fell in love. I guess I was already in love because it was June 1952, and I was newly married. I was a bride all of three weeks. I was a native of Pittsburgh, Don was a native of Astoria. And I was seeing Portland for the first time. Portland captured my heart and head.

Portland had lots of bridges. Pittsburg had lots of bridges. Portland had lots of water. Pittsburg had three rivers. Portland had lots and lots of hills. Pittsburg had lots and lots of hills. Portland had lots and lots and lots of trees. Pittsburg, or rather western Pennsylvania, also had lots of trees, although they were deciduous.

Portland had lots of contemporary houses mostly made of wood. They were tucked into the trees on hillsides, celebrating the view and clean air. Pittsburg uses brick and stone. One exception, found on the cliff overlooking the Point, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join and become the Ohio River, there are European designs in stucco, both old and modern churches, restaurants and the Incline, all of which comprise a Pittsburg tourist attraction.

But most of all, Portland was clean and friendly. It felt like a real community. Pittsburg was a meat packing, coal and steel town. I never thought of it being friendly ... merely tolerant ... even though in the ’50s it was the home office of 11 of the Fortune 500 corporations. Maybe it was just the Rust Belt chill.

On that first visit to Oregon, we borrowed a car from one of Don’s friends in Astoria and promptly drove all over Portland. I saw downtown merchants sweeping sidewalks outside their doors and collecting the debris and cigarette butts for disposal. We drove through Laurelhurst and its stately homes where Don’s mother once lived. We ventured up Rocky Butte where Don went to Hill Military Academy for one year in his early teens. We stopped at the Grotto and walked the Stations of the Cross and knelt at the altar carved in the hillside cliff. Then driving down Sandy Boulevard, I saw the Coon Chicken Inn with its big billboard. I remember the Bomber and its restaurant on McLoughlin Boulevard. Further down 99E we stopped at the overlook in Oregon City and viewed the Willamette Falls and the locks and the adjacent paper mill.

I don’t remember quite how we got there, but I remember vividly our driving east down Country Club Road in Lake Oswego and stopping at the insane “kamikaze corners” with its five stop signs. Slowly proceeding down A Avenue, I gasped at picture perfect Mount Hood squarely framed in the distance wearing its cape of sparkling snow. I knew in my bones that I would live in Lake Oswego someday. It took 26 years, but I made it.

Why do I relate so well to Portland? I finally realized that for all its beauty, what really resonated with me so viscerally was that at that time it was the right size city for me.

I had been wondering what I wanted: to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond. At last I knew! I wanted to be a middle-sized fish in a middle-sized pond and Portland fit.

I moved to the Portland area in 1978, more than 30 some years ago ... longer than any other place I’ve had an address.

But I don’t love Portland anymore. Now it’s just too big. Too much traffic. I never shop there. I’ll go to cultural events on occassion in the city, but I won’t go to meetings. The only public event that I ever attend at Pioneer Square — Portland’s living room — is the Italian Festival held in late August every year. Otherwise the city’s just too crowded. It’s changed, just too many anonymous faces with cellphones growing out of their ears. Maybe that’s just progress. Maybe, as it’s changed one way, I’ve changed to another.

I’ve detached from the city I chose from all others and loved so much. Now I seek alternatives in the suburbs, something I never thought I’d do.

For me, Portland lost the very luster and warmth that I’d cherished and once flaunted to my guests at my bed and breakfast in John’s Landing. That place that I loved to show off to the World Affairs Council’s visitors when, during the ’80s, as a volunteer hostess I provided them with transportation and orientation of Portland metro sights and environs. That place doesn’t exist for me anymore. Now it feels like a cosmo city wannabe.

It may be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I’ll take the ’burbs.

Sylvia Malagamba is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.



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