Why I’m Here (Not Philosophically Speaking)

Saturday night, Tara and I met up with a friend from Seattle for drinks at our favorite Portland hangout, Interurban. They had dinner reservations elsewhere, so she and I headed down the street to a restaurant that specialized in Southern food (think hush puppies and collard greens). Good stuff. Then, when we were walking back to our car, I was marveling over the houses in this great Portland neighborhood, and snapped a photo of this one.

PDX House

This is exactly the type of house I so desperately want, and the reason why I’m always bugging Tara about moving to Portland and buying a house. Not tomorrow, but someday. We’re always driving or walking through really cool Portland neighborhoods like this one, and I am forever marveling over the houses. This one has it all: charm, beauty, bay window, fireplace, front porch, rose bushes, mature trees, big yard, great location. Even my soon-to-be-mother-in-law, who shares Tara’s “Vancouver is better” philosophy, admitted that this house would be a nice one to call home. You may be thinking, why not buy a house like that in Vancouver? and I would grant you points in that argument except for the simple fact that Vancouver does not have houses like this. Maybe a few downtown, but trust me, you don’t want to live downtown. By and large the older houses are single-story ranch style homes, and the newer ones are all modern cookie-cutter architecture. They’re just not the same. And you don’t see a lot of rose bushes (or old hitching posts) in the ‘Couve, either. Best of both worlds? Maybe, but the houses pale in comparison.

So this photo represents my dream house. Maybe someday all the stars will align and it’ll happen. We’ll see.

On a related note, a blogging friend recently posed the question, why do you live where you live? I’ve talked a lot about why I live here and what I love about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared how I came to live here, and that was the basis of her post. So here’s the skinny.

As I’ve mentioned, I grew up an Air Force brat. We moved every three years on average, and I never had a place to call home. My dad’s assignments took us all over: Hawaii (three separate times), New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, and California. By the time I was a senior in high school living in the Bay Area, I had a fascination with the Pacific Northwest, even though I had never been there. It seemed lush and green, rugged and beautiful. I had a dry erase board hanging in my bedroom with a picture of the Oregon coast, which I would stare at sometimes, oddly captivated. One day I came home from work and said to my then-wife, “do you want to take a trip to Seattle this weekend?” She jumped at the chance, and we embarked upon the most spur-of-the-moment trip of our married lives. We knew nothing about the city and ended up staying in a real trashy motel on the main strip out by SeaTac airport. Turns out it was the hunting ground for the Green River Killer, still at large at that time. Used drug needles in the parking lot almost scared us away, but we toughed it out and had an amazing time. Did all the usual touristy stuff (the Space Needle, monorail, Pike Place Market) and took a ferry to Victoria, B.C. We had a great time, weren’t murdered by a serial killer, and the trip fueled my longing to live up here.

“Up here” was Seattle, by the way. It was really the only place on my radar. Grunge was happening, Singles was a hit, and man, I wanted that life.

A year or two later, an opportunity opened up through work. The company I worked for was expanding into the Pacific Northwest, and offered me the chance to relocate, along with a promotion and a raise, if I was interested. Talk about everything falling into place! The only problem was, they were torn between Seattle and Portland. We had regional managers in each location, both pushing for the office in their city. So the ex and I took another trip up here, driving this time. We spent a couple of days in Portland first, and while we liked it, it didn’t excite us as much as Seattle. She was born and raised in San Jose and felt PDX was much too small for her liking. We had a decent time – visited downtown, had some great seafood, I ordered my first-ever latte “to blend in with the locals,” took a side trip to Multnomah Falls – but then we continued on to Seattle, and fell in love all over again. We even looked at some homes up there. We both desperately hoped my company picked Seattle for the location of their new branch office.

They picked Portland.

In that regard, they were ahead of the game. Portland in 1994 was nothing like it is today. It wasn’t even remotely hip or trendy. There was no Voodoo Doughnut or Bunk Sandwiches, no food cart pods, and nobody on The Food Network or The Travel Channel was raving over cool Portland destinations. Vintage stores were called thrift shops and people went there out of necessity. Hawthorne Boulevard was still kind of dicey, and places like Alberta Street and Mississippi Avenue – a couple of our favorite haunts now – were downright scary. We drove through that area once, and made sure we had our doors locked and windows rolled up. George Bush’s staff nicknamed Portland “Little Beirut” in ’92, and the idea of a television show called Portlandia was laughable then.  The city wasn’t on anybody’s radar, trust me.

To say we were disappointed is an understatement. We had to so some real soul searching, in fact, and almost decided against the whole move. It would be a huge life-changing event, and did we really want to take a chance on a city we knew virtually nothing about? In the end the lure of the Pacific Northwest proved too strong to resist, and I was all in. So was she, and in November of 1994, we drove north, to a new home and a new life.

It didn’t take long to fall completely in love with the place. And then the rest of the country discovered it, too. Nowadays, I think back to my company’s decision to locate their office here, and breathe a sigh of relief that they didn’t choose Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Emerald City, too. It’s a great place to visit. I just can’t really imagine living there, not when Portland is – in my humble opinion – so much better.

That’s my story. How about you? Why do you live where you live?


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

20 thoughts on “Why I’m Here (Not Philosophically Speaking)

  1. I was born here. And I was silly to move back and get married after I’d spent the winter in Key Largo. If I’d been smart, I would have moved to Key West and stayed there. Ahhhh the things we do for love! 😉


  2. Wow–lots of great stuff in this post. I never knew why you moved to Portland.

    Sara and I owned a Victorian in heart of Lexington, Kentucky. We loved it for over 7 years. Then decided to move to Ecuador. Of all places, you might add.

    Clearly, we love Cuenca because of the climate–high in the Andes with spring-like weather year round. And the cost of living! Jeepers, it’s cheap, in a good way.

    Hope you get your dream house soon!



    1. Yeah, I was kind of surprised that I’d never written about WHY I moved here before. Just one of those things that slipped my mind, I suppose.

      I loved your house in Lexington, based on the pics. And I’m sure your home in Cuenca is every bit as beautiful! Maybe we’ll get to see it in person someday. 🙂


    1. Thanks for the writing prompt! And that’s a great question. I meant to address it in my post. Yes, my ex is still in the area. We live about 25 minutes apart (for now), though she is looking at moving across the river to Oregon, too. Not only is she here, but her mom and brother both relocated here from the Bay Area, as well. There’s just something about this place that draws you in.


  3. I have to agree with you, Mark, that house is a beeeeautiful! It’s got such a wonderful coziness about it.

    And it’s funny you posted about Portland today, because I met a girl who works at one of the Starbucks here, and she said it ROCKS!

    I live here in Philly because it’s only an hour and a half from NYC – HA! Philly is okay, but it’s definitely not where I want to live forever. Even though I was born here, it’s just not in sync with my energy. It’s a beautiful city, but not a lot depth. I’m always researching ways to get back to NYC. And one of these days, when the timing is right…I will!


    1. Yes, the secret is out, Ron. Portland rocks, and everybody knows it! Which, as I mentioned in my post, was not at all the case when I first moved here. It’s been interesting, watching things evolve over the years. In many ways, Seattle now plays second fiddle to Portland. It’s very weird (but cool) to see.

      Hope you make it back to NYC soon!


  4. I was born in Chicago. When I was about seven my mom remarried and we moved to Clinton,IN. I have been here since. I am ready to move to San Diego but like everyone says “what we do for love”. I am waiting for her to finish her studies and hopefully she will be as ready as me. I have visited the keys on vacation a few times and it is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for the post. You always write great entries.


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