For six months, the coverage was incessant, and almost embarrassingly laudatory. “[Portland’s] vibrant downtown overflows with urban pleasures,” crowed the travel section. “A full-fledged dining destination,” proclaimed Dining & Wine. The Style section called Portland “a great enclave for cutting-edge design.” Meanwhile, the national news desk couldn’t believe how many Portlanders rode bikes. Bike City, USA!
Newspapers may be dying a slow and public death, but don’t underestimate the power of the Times, for this fusillade of coverage had a notable effect out East: it made Portland sexy. Suddenly, a desire to move to Portland wasn’t novel anymore; it was conventional wisdom. “Ah, the great Portland dream!” a friend said, with just a bit too much flourish, when I told him of our plans. “Everyone I know wants to move there now.”
It isn’t hard to understand why this attitude might sour the stomachs of Portlanders. New Yorkers, plagued as they are by all sorts of indignities, from investment bankers to sewer rats, have an unusually active fantasy-of-escape gland. New Yorkers have always imagined that somewhere out there, be it Paris or California or just down the highway on Long Island, there’s a town that’s less expensive, less aggravating, more … livable. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that in 1647, when Peter Stuyvesant became director general of New Amsterdam and closed all the taverns and brothels, a bunch of Dutch hipsters got together to grouse that they just couldn’t take it anymore—they were moving back to Utrecht!
Few New Yorkers actually act on these escape fantasies, of course. Someone (probably Woody Allen) once said, “I’ve been wanting to leave New York for fifty years; I’m almost ready.” Something about the psychic pressure of eighteen million people crammed into a mere three hundred square miles makes it necessary to always have a promised land at the forefront of one’s mind.