This summer I found an appreciation for the city of Portland. I, along with my good friend, set off on a road trip to Seattle, WA. We were excited to leave LA, but little did we know that we would come back fascinated by a city so many miles away. Portland’s enchantment is due to many factors (more than could fit in this page), yet one factor was enough for me to see it as a model for other cities -its strong sense of empathy and support for its fellow citizens.
In a flash of an instant, Portland won me over. As we were walking through downtown, I saw a black and white sign outside a business. It was so simple that I could have easily walked past it without noticing it, yet, perhaps because of its simplicity, I stopped to read it. The words were as simple as its design, “IF YOU ARE UNEMPLOYED AND NEED AN OUTFIT CLEAN FOR AN INTERVIEW, WE WILL CLEAN FOR FREE”. That did it, Plaza Cleaner had won me over and with it all of Portland. That to me was the most beautiful gesture any business could ever do -help others in their moment of need.
Another highlight of my trip was the public library. It was a library that Jorge Luis Borges himself may have imagined; after all, it did seem like a Paradise to me. I was, of course, super excited to walk around the third largest public library in the US, but it wasn’t until I got back to LA and read about the non profit Street Books that again my appreciation for Portland grew exponentially.
Street Books seeks to deliver books to people who don’t have an address. They don’t need to sign up with a library, nor should they be afraid of late charges. All that they need to have is a passion for books. The organization does not see these people as outsiders or homeless just because they don’t have an address. They see them as, well, people. One volunteer, Diana Rempe, describes the act of taking books to the streets as a message that poor and marginalized people are not so different from the “us”.
This road trip, as with any road trip, helped take me out of my monotonous life and thoughts, and allowed me to see other realities that are just as real and perhaps even more awesome than the reality I’m living in LA. Luckily, there is nothing stopping that model of reality from entering other cities. Who knows, perhaps one day that can be the norm.