Vintage Streetcar on 4th Avenue, Downtown Portland, OR

One of my ambitions in moving to “semi-retirement” a year ago was having the freedom to pick my consulting clients and to mitigate the horrendous challenge of virtually non-stop air travel.  I used to wear my 5 million frequent flier miles as a ‘badge of courage’ until I realized how unbearable air travel had become – especially in the US – and what a significant negative impact it was having on my health and mood.

Mitigating travel meant:

  1. Doing more over the Internet
  2. Finding clients in or near my home town, or,
  3. Moving to live in the towns of my clients.

I do conduct much of my work via the Internet – that has been an important tool in reducing the pain and cost of travel.  Finding local clients has never worked well for me.  Living in the Atlanta, Georgia suburbs means that a local clientele trades the horrors of air travel for the horrors of road travel – Atlanta has some of the worst traffic problems in the US!  Also, I’ve never  done well at finding local clients – never being here enough to effectively ‘network’.  Also, it seems that you aren’t taken seriously as a consultant unless you climb off a ‘plane!  But, I have found the strategy of being selective with clients and moving to live temporarily in the towns of my clients works splendidly!

From the Ridiculous…

For example, last year we moved to New York City (Murray Hill in the Borough of Manhattan) for about 3 months and loved it!  We arranged for a ‘house sitter’ to keep our primary residence in good shape, our cat fed and fondled, and our cars in working condition.  With that organized, my wife and I took up temporary residence in The Big Apple.  It was a rich experience – busy, noisy, exciting, cultural and VERY EXPENSIVE!

…to the Sublime

This year, we did the same thing only this time it was to Portland, Oregon that we ventured.  This was a double win as it meant leaving Atlanta at the absolute height of the summer!  I love the Atlanta climate most of the year – four distinct seasons with lots of sunshine.  But mid-July to mid-September can be all but unbearable – unending 90+ degree Fahrenheit days with humidity to match!

Portland this time of year is spectacular – almost unending sun, virtually no humidity and enough variability in the temperature (from warm to hot) to make life interesting.  The other bonus to my Portland experience was finding an excellent client – some of the smartest IT executives and managers I have ever worked with, in a very well run company!

Portland has a unique vibe to it – definitely a Pacific Northwest feel, but with more than a touch of ‘funky weirdness.’

From Streetcars…

I think it has one of the best public transportation systems in the US – an integrated combination of bus, heavy and light streetcars.  The latter even sports a vintage edition that runs on limited routes on Sundays – manned by equally vintage operators and conductors in vintage refinery.  There’s an aerial tram from the South Waterfront to the Oregon Health and Science University’s main campus offering breathtaking mountain views stretching from Mt. St. Helens to Mt. Hood.   Transportation on the streetcars in the large downtown area is free, and even without this, Portland is relatively compact and highly walkable!  As a result of this and Portland’s “green” value system, automobile traffic downtown is virtually zero!  My wife and I were just reviewing our 400+ photo collection and that reinforced for us our impression that the streets seemed to be always devoid of traffic – what a blessing!

The streets are spotlessly clean and we felt safe in any part of the city at just about any time.

…to Street People

It’s good that the streets are so clean, given that they seem to be home to a motley collection of “street people.”  On the one hand, there’s something quite incongruous about this collection of young and old, some down and out, some passing through, and others just ‘out’.  The city is so squeaky clean that you don’t expect to see such a collection – many sporting more piercings than a kabob, and more body art than The Louvre.  And yet they seem to be tolerated – almost encouraged – and sit quietly, many with cardboard signs suggesting a ‘donation’ (“Will eat for food” was among my favorites!) and others strumming guitars or playing improvised drums making quiet music.

Young "Punk" Ladies at the Incredible Portland Saturday Market!

I was researching this phenomenon and came across an eloquent description on Calbert Travels blog.  An example of the images Brenda Calbert describes:

Young girls on different corners, 20ish, sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by backpacks, pillows, shoes – very organized – kind of like they all belonged to a club with the same set up. The girls sat alone, not in groups, and did not hold signs, money cans, or ask for money. Young guys, also 20ish, but in groups of two or three huddled with their stuff, but always with a sign, some creative like, “visions of pizza.” The boys also made noise either drumming the same beat over and over again on plastic buckets or talking loud to be seen and heard. All had a container to drop money in. Older women, no teeth, wrapped in blankets with their money can rattling, usually near the light rail. They always tried to get our attention. An agitated man, with hair out of control to match his actions. He was washing his bloody forearms (looked scratched and picked at) in a fancy four spout drinking fountain on street corner. He was ranting to the people nearby who were waiting for a bus.”

Enhanced by ZemantaThe hairstyles (does it make sense to call them “styles”?), clothing and general appearance can be quite incredible! A feast for the eyeballs!
More in Part 2.