Portland Sucks: A Paean
Howl with me comrades, “I hate Portland,”
Don’t migrate here, stranger. It sucks,
It’s cold and our taste stinks,
We’re all weird and ugly,
The praise is hype.
Jet to New York, stay high in San Francisco, square-dance to Austin, re-confirm the superiority of Capital-P Portland. Just please! Please! Don’t come here.
This Portland, Maine,
This Cubic Zirconia,
It’s a fraud,
Your inclinations were right,
Between us two, Portland is the blood in my veins,
That its streets welcome walking,
That its food springs more plentiful by the day,
That its bars bubble over with choicest local brew,
That it remains relatively obscure, oh Portland — song of my heart — more the better I think.
So I shout out loud, “Oh how awful Portland is!” to keep the masses out,
Scenic coastline? More like geological deathtrap,
Fresh-caught seafood? Mercury-filled offal, inedible and poisonous,
Plentiful microbrews? They flow like moose urine in the forest (and as appetizing),
Vibrant food scene? Know-nothing dilettantes stewing sea spiders in warm brine,
Its proximity to nature? Better for wild beasts to eat your children,
Portland: Hell on earth but cold.
Cover your ears, Oh Portland! My love!
Icy winters obscure your hidden beauty, like the Serengeti’s heat shimmers obfuscating an oasis,
Glory, Maine, that your name too rings rough on the tongue: creepy Stephen King, frostbite, depression, hermits, moose, the stereotypes of a rough-hewn past,
How they belie such a glorious present,
How they keep those weak-of-soul out.
I want to keep you to myself,
Just the way you are.
Am I a local, even? Interloper of two years,
No, I consider myself a cub,
True locals see my flannel, my trim beard, my Ray Ban sunglasses and swear, their cusses more lyrical than mine,
I blame them not at all,
I am the lapping wave of an ever-rising tide of city slickers, trust funders, and disaffected yuppies, looking for “the next place,”
And oh how I have found it.
We transplants caught the ambrosial hymn of Portland, whispered on the northern wind,
Yet our arrival lugs with it the baggage of change — longer lines, more expensive apartments, sold-out shows, and worst: annoying, loud, space-filling, sweating, cackling, price-hiking, mouth-breathing, trend-following, raw, organic, low-fat people.
So I repeat to all who don’t yet live here: Portland is a cesspool,
It’s less a city than a conglomeration of asphalt and tears,
Still your write-ups and reject your awards, my Portland!
Hold your pride in your throat!
What does national acclaim bring but more bandwagoneers clamoring aboard a beaten horse?
Do we need a celebrity to tell us what our taste buds already know? Do we need numbered lists to confirm the deliciousness of our microbrews? Does a plaque, hammered to the wall, make pastries taste better?
Not that I don’t want you to grow, my Portland,
Not that I don’t want you to thrive, my Portland,
Not that my first inclination isn’t to bellow Portland’s praises as loud as my diaphragm will squeeze,
I delight in your sloping promenades, your undulating sidewalks, your Munjoy Hill’s rolling peak, your low tide’s organic funk, your Congress Street’s glorious human fauna — splendid in their vivacity and unvarnished individuality, your frame of sea, sky and trees, your crisp, capricious northern wind, your beaches — by turns sighing and raging, your unending winter’s savage test, your dense foliage of coats in the cold, and the brief flashes of sun-starved skin in summer, your gulls, your curves, your color, your everything.
I don’t want you to change, but alas, you must,
We all must,
Time, ever an increase in entropy,
But if we Portlanders try, can we slow time’s work?
Can our collective gravity shape the flannel of reality?
With our words against you, Portland, can we slow your change?
We can try.
Keep our secret ours, Portland,
Let us sink into delicious obscurity,
We know we have it good so — like lobstermen on a choice spot — we must proclaim we don’t,
Respond with me dear Portland comrades, when asked about your home by the sea,
“You’d hate it here.”
Yes, Portland sucks.
And it’s ours.
That’s right, I’m undertaking the grave folly of reviewing the Portland food scene as a whole. And like an old, resolute friend, I recognize that Portland may not be perfect, but goddamn it Portland is perfect to me. For the amount of people stirring about Portland’s streets, not to mention our Continentally remote environs, the options for food astound. While Portland is no vast, steaming pot of culture like a New York or London or Taiwan, it IS a mixing-bowl of peoples diverse enough to keep the city interesting while not so disparate that our food goals feel scattered. Disproportionately more people up here in our nook of Maine seem to love food, and I love them for it.
An Arm (not a leg)
Some places require fatter bank accounts than others, but it is a reasonable city by and large. The range trends toward the middle (as it is wont to do) with more $10-$15 entrees than both other sides of the spectrum.
Seaside Sylvan City
Nestled between bays and coves, downtown Portland welcomes walking. Take the cold out of the equation and Portland transmogrifies into a seaside resort for 20-30-40-50-60-somethings like myself. Fortunately — since I’m a fan of cold and many other people aren’t — the temperature for 60% of the year is a large consideration.
In my time here, service has actually improved. When I first arrived in Portland, way too many places seemed inordinately loosey-goosey in their serving styles: waiting just too long before coming by to pick up orders, water glasses perpetually unfilled, forgetting that I asked for hot sauce; small but important aspects of the dining experience, unfulfilled. Now, maybe I’m just only going back to places with service (and food) that I enjoy, but it seems that the quality has raised. In addition to that, rare is the server who brings any air of snobbery to the table, no matter the location. And while many servers, I’ve noticed, will not be the ultimate authority on the finer details of wine-pairings, or a dish’s origin, the casual attitude of service here in Paw-tland leads to no less enjoyable a meal.
Here, I cannot tell a lie. Despite the above poem imploring that we all trumpet Portland’s suckitude, I must write here that the boot-shaped peninsula and its surrounding areas have captured my frigid, shriveled heart. Don’t come here though, you’ll probably hate it.