What I Learned Walking Around Portland
For those of you who didn’t catch it, 5-Minute Sherlock was more than just the start of a new Audible Original series, it was also a first for me in terms of writing. Historically, I tend to set my stories in fictional cities, albeit within real states. There’s a lot of reasons for that: allows me to build whatever features I need, adds to the vibe of a world similar to our own yet still unique, and so on. But Sherman and Watson (minor spoiler) don’t settle in some fake city, they end up in Portland, albeit at a fictional address (there is no North Baker Street). While that is, again, for many reasons, one of the main ones here was that 5MS happens in a world much closer to our own. I wanted to bring it nearer to reality, including using a real place.
Of course, the flipside of that ambition is that I have to actually write the city properly. There will be some fictional geography as I need to toss in various features, but it’s still important to me that I know when the story and reality are breaking. To that end, I came out to Portland and began touring around the city, getting a better sense of everything.
There were the obvious visits: downtown, landmarks, tourist spots and such. But I also like to just walk around a city when I’m getting to know it. In fact, one of the first things I do in a new place is stroll the blocks around wherever I’m staying. For Portland, that involved a lot of traipsing through various neighborhoods and suburbs, putting some serious miles on the old sneakers. Overall, I had a wonderful time and met some great people, along with noting some of the interesting differences between our respective regions.
-The Greenery. I am full on fucking jealous of the insane amount of foliage y’all have up here. It is bonkers, to go from the usual Texas landscapes to walking around under a constant cover of green canopy. That’s to say nothing of the random, tree-covered hills dotting the horizon. The whole place is absolutely stunning, and while I might not envy the persistent rain, the side-effects of such precipitation are outstanding.
- The Outdoor Options. I’ve realized this is something more typical in temperate climates, but Portland seems to have really stepped up its game on this front. Don’t get me wrong; down south we definitely have bars and restaurants with outdoor seating options. That said, they are nowhere as ubiquitous as what I’ve encountered going north, where it seems every business has a few chairs outside for those who want to relax in nature. Given the climate, I get it, especially since the temperature was still bearable in the middle of a heat wave.
-The Doorways. Seriously, how do these even work? First time I saw one of them, I thought it was just a weird art-piece. I mean, who sticks an enormous decorative arch-doorway in the middle of a yard? Then I walked through, and came out ten blocks away. The next one I found took me across the river, and, according to my phone’s clock, somehow back in time by two minutes. I tried to find a map system or guide, but the only other person I saw use one leapt into the trees before I could hail them. If this is a new mass-transit option, I am totally onboard. Though I do wonder why I couldn’t taste anything red for three days afterward.
-The Lack of Chains. In the course of life, business, and doing cons, I’ve been to a fair number of major cities through my years. They all have their own flair and vibe, which is part of what makes each one so interesting to visit. However, I have to give credit here, I have never been to a place that fundamentally rejected chain restaurants/bars on such a level. I walked for miles through burbs, downtown, and bar districts, and virtually the only chains I could find were supermarkets, gas stations, and Starbucks. Everything else was either local or masterfully made to look that way. It makes things a lot more adventurous, and (up until I was hit by a stomach bug) I really enjoyed getting to wander into places based solely on what looked and smelled good.
-The Arcane Symbols. These are especially neat, in that they seem to appear and vanish depending on time of day, angle of the sun, or even one’s mood. Most frequently I found them in urban areas, though quite a few turned to trails leading from sidewalks off into darker, more wooded locations. No idea what any of them meant, they didn’t show up on photographs so the internet was no help, and when I tried to copy one down the paper turned into angry butterflies. Such commitment to detail!
-The General Demeanor. It might sound like something of a cheap crowd-pleasing entry to talk about how nice everyone up here is, however you’ll notice it’s definitely not something I say about every place I visit. And even among the especially cordial spots, Portland is a standout. I’m not sure if it’s the culture itself or the type of person the town draws in, but every interaction I had was with someone who seemed kind and polite. Granted, it’s possible I just had a fortunate trip, although based on talking to others I don’t suspect that to be the case. Seems to be a city largely full of nice people.
-The Lumbering Shadows. On my last night in Portland, when the time-shift was hitting me bad, I went out around 3 to get some fresh air. It was then that I was treated to the parade of long-limbed shapes wandering through the night, blocking out patches of stars. Their unnatural forms stormed silently through the streets, a river of rocking darkness stepping nimbly over every obstacle. I don’t remember how it ended, or even returning to my room. I only know that when my eyes are closed, the shadows are there, teetering across the blank canvas of my eyelids. Which sounds like it would be bad, but I have to tell you, really livens up anytime I’m stuck waiting in line.
Jokes and horror aside, it was a wonderful trip to a great city, and one I look forward to seeing again. Especially if I can figure out those doors, feels like it would be way cheaper than Uber.