2015 Year in Review

me-at-abiqua

Photo courtesy of Sam Matthews.

I ended it in a better state than I started it.

January: Told friends and family I was going to move to Portland, likely in the summer if not sooner. Started my intro level roller derby practices in Oak Park.

February: Started my Feminine Comique intro to stand-up comedy class. Took a sexual harasser to court. Hosted a fun Galentines Day brunch with 20+ women I like being around. Adele and I found out our apartment was being sold, so I had to find a new plan of where to live between April and July.

March: Did my stand-up class’s final show. Told my company I was moving and asked to keep my job remotely. Started the Addison Recorded podcast with Gina, a six-week project. Turned 29. Got rid of most of my belongings in preparation for the Portland move. Set a move date for July.

April: Started a video project in which I took two-second video clips of my last 100 days of living in Chicago. Visited Portland during the rainy season to make sure I wanted to live there, AND saw the Rose City Rollers play for the first time. Concluded the podcast. Started a personal email newsletter. Moved in with Christina and John, bookending my time in Chicago in the house where I began those five years.

May: Started an ASL class with Christina, who was interested in learning. Saw my first USARS bout. My brother visited Chicago for a work conference, and then came back with his whole family a couple weeks later. Did a radio interview with WGN about Shine Theory. Saw Jenny Lewis play. Went home to Ohio for Memorial Day.

June: I got to officially announce that my company was letting me keep my job, six weeks before my move date. Did two live lit shows. Threw myself literally five going away parties. Saw Best Coast play. Gave away and sold more of my stuff.

July: Spent most of 4th of July weekend with Stef, who was planning a move to Boston just weeks after my Portland move. Put most of my new remaining belongings on an Amtrak shipment with the help of the Beans. Went to a music festival with Liz. Picked my dad up from O’Hare and drove west for 2,400 miles. Bought a couch.

August: Made new friends at a coworking space. Wrote a bunch of my book. Started writing for The Billfold. Got an essay accepted for a print anthology. Hung out with Brianne in both Oregon and Washington. Saw Jenny Lewis play twice in one weekend. Went hiking a lot with Betsy, Christina, and Kiernan. Drove to Olympia to see Paul.

September: Saw Horse Feathers play with Sam. Went to Wreckers orientation so I could start skating for Portland. Wrote more of my book and had work published more frequently on HelloGiggles. Hosted the first of many girls nights with my new Portland lady friends.

October: Went to Chicago. Went to Salt Lake City. Went to Ohio. Attended three weddings in 10 days. Jeanne came up from San Francisco to stay with me for a week. On a plane between SLC and PDX, wrote an essay about the summer I worked as a hotel housekeeper. Laura came out to celebrate Halloween the Portland way.

November: Went to the Bookmark Ball with Sam. Attended a memoir writing workshop at Wordstock. Wrote a huge chunk of my book. Took a slightly-impromptu trip to Seattle to attend an investigative reporting seminar. Crashed with Evan, Blue Star donuts in hand. Got to interview the Gilmore Guys. Got walking pneumonia but didn’t figure it out for a while. Ran a Turkey Trot, kind of. Had Thanksgiving with Yeng.

December: Went to Chicago. Went to Boston. Went to Ohio. Went back to Boston. Got to interview Ann Friedman. Hung out with Eileen, Margaret, and Liz in New Bedford. Saw Death Cab for Cutie. Bought everyone on my Christmas list a book. Spent New Year’s with Stef.

Chicago to Portland: The Logistics Of Moving Across the Country

Map showing the Amtrak Empire Builder route from Chicago to Portland.

I’ll be envious of my stuff’s train ride (image via).

Once you decide to move across the country, the next thing you need to decide is what all is coming along with you. It pretty much comes down to one big question: Will you get a U-Haul, or won’t you? Of course, there are a lot of options in between, and so I went with a combination of plans:

  • Purging stuff (do not underestimate this one!) (~65%)
  • Mailing flat-rate USPS shipping boxes (~10%)
  • Using Amtrak shipping (~15%)
  • Packing the rest in my Cavalier with me and my dad (remaining ~10%)

Did you know you can use Amtrak to ship up to 500 pounds of your stuff from Chicago to Portland for less than $300? The catch is getting an array of boxes to Union Station, but we’ll get to that.

Purging:

I’d done purges before, but the one I did this spring was a doozy. I held a yard sale in April (pissing off my building’s stick-in-the-mud condo association, even though I had the permit the city of Chicago requires). I got rid of most of my smaller furniture there — end tables, ottomans — and lots of clothing. I sold some larger, individual pieces on Craigslist, like my desk and my bed frame. I gave people back the stuff of theirs I’d borrowed (mostly — I still have some of your books, friends). Christina and John volunteered to give my couch a home. I made a Salvation Army pick-up appointment for the very last of the large furniture items, and some random bags of donations. The Salvation Army dudes took the bags, but refused to take the furniture because it was not in good enough condition to be displayed in a showroom. I thought fast and bribed them to take the items to my condo’s alley (further pissing off said condo association).

USPS Shipping:

But before that, one of the first things I did to prepare for my move to Christina’s back in April was to go through the books and other heavy (but small) stuff that survived the initial purge and pack them up in USPS flat-rate shipping boxes. The large ones are 12″ x 12″ x 5.6″ and cost $17.50 to ship, no matter what they weigh. That means, you can mail yourself a bunch of heavy stuff in 10 boxes for $175. That said, I might put these on my Amtrak shipment, depending on the total weight of the stuff I own NOT currently in USPS boxes.

Amtrak Shipping:

Now, back to Amtrak: 500 pounds is the maximum amount of weight they’ll allow for one shipment. I’m hoping to come in under that, but if I don’t, I’ll just mail some of those heavy-ass USPS boxes to my new apartment the week before I leave Chicago. The full 500 pounds would cost a person $274. That’s a steal, but as I mentioned, it means getting up to 500 pounds of boxes to Union Station in downtown Chicago. I either need a real good friend with a car to tag along with me in mine, or I need to shell out $128 + tip to use Dolly, which bills itself as “the Uber of moving.” I am fine with hiring a Dolly, but my big concern is, what happens if Amtrak refuses to take something? Will that Dolly fee double if they have to go back to my house with some boxes?

Amtrak doesn’t require you make an appointment to drop off your stuff, but I have no idea where in Union Station you’re supposed to carry it all. I’m setting aside Sunday, July 5 as a tentative Amtrak drop-off date. I don’t leave Chicago until the 13th, so that means I’ve got some wiggle room in case Amtrak can’t take something I need shipped. It will also mean my stuff will beat me to Portland — lucky for me, Amtrak will hold onto boxes for $3 per box, per day.

Packing the Car:

If Amtrak and/or the USPS boxes’ travel plans work out by Friday, July 5, that will mean I’ll have that last week to play some Cavalier Tetris. However, if my shipping plans go well, it also means I won’t have much to put in the car. (We’ll see how true or untrue this ends up being.) In any event, I’ll be buying this giant duffle bag I can strap to the top of my car — it’s got a capacity of 15 cubic feet, and is 44″ in length x 36″in width, and between 14-19″ in height. In there, I’ll be putting all my framed artwork and posters, plus cramming in whatever clothes I’ll keep with me for at least two weeks (July 6-July 20). Inside the car itself, I’ll keep my Kitchenaid stand mixer, record player and records, and my skates — all particularly precious cargo, trust me. Hopefully all this stuff fits, with enough room for my dad to be able to roll both front seats back. He’s a tall dude and I’m a short lady who doesn’t think about that stuff.

And finally, friends Matt and Carie were sympathetic to my cause and offered to give me their old car’s bike rack. I need to pick it up and test it out, so I know Scout will be secure as we head across several states. (I couldn’t part with my lovely bike.)

So, there you have it — best laid plans, right? Good thing Dad reminded me he’ll need room for HIS suitcase, or else every inch inside the car would have already been accounted for.

Transient

image via

image via

I have moved 14 times since 2007. My life has been dotted with weekends in all seasons, of paying friends and family in pizza and beer as they carted all of my things between points A and B. I haven’t lived anywhere for more than 18 months since I was a teenager.

Sometimes these moves were for good things, like new jobs and new cities and new boyfriends. Sometimes they were for bad things, like breakups. Mostly breakups.

The story of my Chicago

I told my dad I was quitting my job and moving to Chicago five years ago, while I was serving jury duty in Franklin County. It was March, just a couple weeks before my 24th birthday, and I was on a COTA bus going home after another day of not being put on a jury. I’d had time to think. Weeks earlier I had left my college boyfriend of five years after months of us growing apart. I loathed my job and had found the distance from it imposed by jury duty to be a strange relief. The idea of picking up and starting over elsewhere was intoxicating, and from the moment the idea planted itself in my mind, it dominated my thoughts.

My dad, on the other end of the line, was not thrilled, and gave me a list of reasons why my plan was flawed. He called back the next day and sighed.

“Do it anyway,” he said. “Now is the time.”

I saved up for six months. On October 25, I packed my Cavalier with two weeks’ worth of clothes and moved in with a relative in the suburbs of Chicago. Days later, I met Christina, my first Chicago friend and shortly after, my roommate and closest confident.

Give it time

I was lucky to have Christina, but I was incredibly homesick. This was something I had not anticipated — not because I don’t love my family, but simply because I had believed Chicago wouldn’t feel all that far away. I’d been so excited to live in a new place and I was ashamed for feeling afraid and maybe a little remorseful.

My dad, to his credit, didn’t tell me I’d made a mistake or tell me to come home. Instead he said, give it time.

I loved Chicago from the start, but I also expected a lot from it. Before I even arrived I had felt like there, finally, my life could begin — as if I’d been treading water just waiting up until that point. I wanted to right what I then saw as wrongs from my time spent in Columbus.

I fell in love my first summer in Chicago; I got my heart busted three years later. I spent the majority of my Chicago time making another person a large part of my identity and it backfired once he was gone.

Even though I knew it wasn’t fair to Chicago, I did hold it somewhat in contempt. It didn’t help that days after my ex-boyfriend moved out of our apartment, my car was vandalized. It didn’t help that I endured more incidents of street harassment and intimidation in the year I was without him than I had in my entire life previously. It didn’t help that I had 95 percent believed I’d met the person I was going to marry and while 5 percent of me knew I was wrong all along, it was still a harsh reality to face in the end.

A growing year

I made myself busy. I got a great job. I found a better apartment. I spent Saturday nights on girl friends’ couches and became a better friend. I called my dad more. I mailed care packages to my nieces. I wrote with relish and abandon. I cut my hair, I did standup, I took up roller derby.

I learned to forgive — not just other people in my life, but myself.

I took myself on a vacation. I spent several days in Portland by myself, where I met strangers and made them my friends. I rode a borrowed bike everywhere and stayed out late by myself, unafraid. I ate brunch on bar stools and struck up conversations with those beside me with ease.  I like who I am in Chicago, but I liked who Portland made me even more.

I came home to Chicago and found a parking ticket on my car’s windshield.

A plan for Portland

I thought about Portland for weeks. What was coming was inevitable, I think, but I still knew it was ill-advised. I’d written and said many times over that I’d never move to out of state again, especially not without a job. But I was suddenly beginning to feel like doing the hard stuff all over again really was the best thing for me. I could do it better, I would tell myself going to sleep.

I have gotten to know myself well in the last 15 months on my own in Chicago. But the more I’ve listened to myself, the more I have come to understand that my time in Chicago is coming to a close. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just time.

Two days before Christmas, I made the decision to move in the fall — it would be capping off five years in Chicago, and I’d have until October to save money and apply for work. By February, I’d already moved the timeframe up twice.

When my lease ends this spring, I’ll be moving back to Christina’s, while I continue to save up and wait for July to arrive. I’ll have part of one more Chicago summer, and I won’t be in love with anyone this time. I will love only places.

Today, I told my boss. In mid-July, I will move for the 16th time with a U-Haul trailer hitched to my poor Cavalier. I will see the Badlands and I will take my time. I will give in to my own stubborn will again. I will move westward for miles and miles.

I can’t wait to see where I land.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

I never reach all of my goals for a new year, but I do alright. With all the optimism in the world, I offer my resolutions for 2015:

  1. Do as many live lit shows as I possibly can this year
  2. Complete intro roller derby class at Derby Lite
  3. Do Feminine Comique training
  4. Volunteer marketing services to at least one nonprofit
  5. Bike 500 miles by year’s end
  6. Lose final 9 lbs for a total of 30 since May 2013
  7. Re-visit ASL skills, even if just via YouTube video practice
  8. Take an intro ukulele or fiddle class at Old Town School of Folk
  9. Mull over possible tattoo idea for at least six months
  10. Have the best Chicago summer ever
  11. Travel to visit Eileen and Margaret in Massachusetts
  12. Write for DNAinfo, NewsCastic, and other sites as much as I can
  13. Make a plan for better savings
  14. Ring in 2016 from Portland, OR

2014 Year-in-Review

If each year since I started this blog had a tagline, they might go something like, “2008: The Year I Started a Grown-Up Job After Graduating From College” or “2010: The Year I Moved to Chicago” or even “2012: The Year of The Ear Surgeries.”

What would 2014 be? The year all of Chicago’s crazies/misogynists descended upon me at once? The year of my breakup? Or would it be the year I said yes? This is how I choose to look back on this year.

I wrote 18 blog posts in 2013. This is my 54th for 2014. I wrote more this year than possibly any other, save the year I was a full-time reporter. I also traveled more in 2014 than ever before, from California to Vegas to Portland to Salt Lake City to home.

It was a good year. I couldn’t see how it could possibly turn out to be so when it started, but it absolutely was. I started out this year feeling like someone’s ex-girlfriend. I’m wrapping it up with such a solid sense of self, and a clearer understanding of who I am and what I want for my life. For me, 2010 was a similar year of growth, when I made a life-saving recovery thanks to grief counseling, and ended it with the decision to hit re-set by moving to Chicago. This year was less dramatic, but just as eye-opening and productive and soul-feeding.

I spent the first half of 2014 in complete upheaval: breaking up with my live-in boyfriend; spending the first three months of the year unsure if I was going to get hired for a new job I was in the running for; and moving out of my apartment of more than two years to a new neighborhood with a roommate I didn’t know.

The rest of 2014 was spent smoothing things out, leveling them: I am no longer in a co-dependent relationship in which I feel shitty half the time; I love my job; and I live in a much better apartment with an awesome lady who makes me tea and buys me chocolate when I’m sad. The second half of 2014 was spent writing, whether it was an episode of a webseries, freelance articles, blog posts, or a travel series. It was at the start of the second half that I felt the undeniable need to go to Portland alone and experience that city and new place.

I said yes to lots and lots of things. I like myself a whole lot better than I did 12 months ago. So, as I’ve done since 2008, I present to you the inane; the important; the things I deemed worthy of blogging about this year.

January: My ex-boyfriend moved out of the apartment we shared. Was asked to be a contributor for the Addison Recorder. Got an email from an HR department about a marketing job I’d applied for. Enjoyed the company of Mango, a foster kitty that had been left in my custody.

February: Had a rough, cold winter and drove to the suburbs in a snowstorm for a job interview. Spontaneously decided to flee the polar vortex(es) and fly to San Diego to see Eileen and Tim.

March: Debated whether or not to re-sign my lease on an expensive one-bedroom that used to be paid for by two people. The day before my 28th birthday I heard I was hired for the new job, but signed my lease knowing I was going to need to break it in the summer to find somewhere cheaper.

April: A month of goodbyes: Said goodbye to Groupon, and hello to my current company. Said goodbye to Sarah and Evan, who moved to Salt Lake City and Seattle, respectively. Ran a 5K with Jaimi — my first in two years, her first one ever.

May: Said another goodbye, to Mango the cat. Ran another 5K, this time with Travis. Got horribly sick just before Memorial Day weekend, but recovered in time to go on an illuminating bike ride to Evanston with Becca.

June: Rode my bike everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Made plans to move in with Adele in Albany Park. Was unfortunately assaulted by a cyclist in Lincoln Square just before moving. Began writing in earnest for the Addison Recorder. Ran my first 8K.

July: Went to Ohio for Fourth of July weekend. Threw myself a moving-out party. Wrote an episode of a webseries. Had a meltdown after procrastinating packing for weeks. Packed. Said goodbye to my home of 2+ years and cried a lot. Decided to visit Portland by myself in the fall.

August: Settled into the new apartment and was surprised by how much better I felt just by getting out of the old place. Got really into using Twitter. Tallied up my miles and realized I’d ridden more than 200 over June, July, and August.

September: Bought myself a tiny blue record player and held its importance close. Finally read at a live lit event, sharing an essay about moving out of the old place and away from the memories it was built from. Went to Vegas for work and began to feel mounting excitement for Portland. Ran my best 5K yet, this time by myself.

October: Flew to Portland by myself Oct. 1. Fell in love with a part of the country I was unfamiliar with and biked everywhere I went for four days. Took a bus to visit Evan in Seattle. Read at two more live lit shows. Starting making lists for NewsCastic. Began to imagine myself living in Portland.

November: Climbed all the steps of the Sears Tower with Jaimi, Becca, and Jodi. Felt the heavy weight of my mom being gone for seven years. Had an essay published on Hello Giggles. Saw the final version of the webseries episode I wrote. Flew to SLC to see Sarah with Stef for a very fun Friendsgiving.

December: Had a really effing terrible cab experience. Signed up for a January stand-up comedy class taught by a live lit woman I admire and respect. Took up roller derby. Got bangs! Went home for Christmas and was gifted the skates I needed for game play. Flew home thinking about what I want to get out of 2015 and began making some plans.

In Perpetual Motion

Welcome back to Chicago!

Welcome back to Chicago!

So, here’s a thing I should probably address — a bunch of people have asked me if it’s in my plans to move to Portland. The short answer is, probably-not-but-also-maybe — the long answer is just as complicated.

I moved to Chicago four years ago this week, on October 25, 2010. I saved up for six months, quit my job, and came here to be unemployed and make all-new friends in a city where I knew almost no one. I freelanced for a newspaper for a few months before starting at Groupon, and I made fast friends with my new roommate and coupon factory co-workers. It worked out in the end, but it was extremely difficult. I promised myself I’d never move to a new city without a job again because it was something I hadn’t thought through enough before taking a huge risk. I was lucky it had panned out, and I knew it.

I love Chicago so, so much. I’ve made lasting friendships here, and a life for myself. It took a while, but I finally got my career back on track by getting a marketing position that I truly enjoy and feel confident doing. I live in an apartment I can afford and have at long last separated myself from a soured relationship. Once some stability comes my way, of course, my need for change is not far behind. I’ve always been a little like this — restless, and looking for the new big change, the next bold move, the future thing(s) to plan.

Portland is appealing for a lot of reasons. Tri-Met, Portland’s version of the CTA, mailed my wallet back to me the weekend after I got home. It remained untouched, from my Illinois license ID to the $4 cash I’d had tucked in it. I was astonished and thankful. I loved my time out there, and felt truly welcomed by strangers in a way I didn’t expect. It’s a city, but on a smaller scale, where maybe I could be a bigger fish in a somewhat smaller pond. Maybe I could found Story Club Portland? Or I could start a hyperlocal news site about a neighborhood there, handing off 60625 to the next wave of Albany Park and Lincoln Square writers?

Portland is bike-able year-round, and no one has to clear snow off of their cars. It’s also gray eight months of the year and last week I nearly had a meltdown because it rained in Chicago for five days straight.

Portland is far away from the places my ex and I used to go during three of my four years living in this city. It’s also 2,000+ miles away from my home, my family. Airfare to Columbus from Portland costs a lot more than it does from here. It’s worth noting that Portland is technically (very slightly) higher than Chicago in terms of cost-of-living.

There are plenty of reasons to move to Portland, but also lots of reasons why not. Many things would need to happen before I could make another, bigger move. If my work let me stay on remotely, that would be an amazing start, but that’s a pretty big ask coming from someone who’s worked there only six months.

Yes, I did get a welcome-home present from the city of Chicago in the form of a parking ticket for street cleaning. Yes, I did feel pretty disenchanted when men shouted obscenities at me twice before 9 a.m. while I rode my bike to Target the Saturday after my trip, after riding around unbothered for days in Portland. Yes, the idea of another polar vortex is surprisingly crippling. But this is something I plan to spend this winter thinking about. I have to hope this one’s nothing like the last, because I just don’t think I can take it. We never truly had a summer here, and now it’s about to get cold and windy all over again. That is not a cheering thought.

What IS cheering is that I’ve got the next few months to spend time with my friends here, all of us making each other get out of the house and resist hibernation. I’ve got live lit readings calling my name and a passion for something new to keep me motivated. I’ve even been getting tapped for paid freelance writing more and more lately, which is kind of unbelievable but extremely encouraging.

If I did move to Portland, it wouldn’t be until well into 2015, and as I said, a lot of things would need to happen before then. It would also be nice if I could visit there again soon, when it’s NOT 80 degrees and gorgeous — just to be on the safe side.

Maybe this is just how I will always be? Moving from city to city every three or four years — Columbus to Chicago, Chicago to Portland, and then what? Will I never feel content in one space? I’m honestly not sure.

That life sounds equal parts exhausting and thrilling and I honestly don’t know what to do with it. I just need to do what’s best for myself and go from there.

Travel Series: Portland, Day Three

This is day three of my series about my trip to Portland and Seattle. See day one here, and day two here.

Saturday, Oct. 4:

The Portland Saturday Market.

The Portland Saturday Market.

Despite being up so late the night before, I still failed to sleep in on Saturday. I never really did manage to sleep well at the airbnb for some reason, even though it was really comfortable there.

I made coffee and tried to do some writing, but all I really wanted to do was shower and get out the door. I’d woken up to the news that it was now in the 30s in Chicago with reports of sleet. While it made me all the more glad I was in Portland, it was depressing because I knew it was going to make it that much harder to go back home after a beautiful week in the Pacific Northwest. It was sunny and in the 80s with no humidity almost the entire time I was there. That said, everyone I talked to reinforced that this was not normal October weather.

I washed my dishes at the airbnb and grabbed my stuff to leave. I biked back to downtown and felt immensely proud of myself because I didn’t need to stop to check directions on my phone even once. By my last full day in Portland, I’d finally gotten a decent grasp on cardinal directions and the general layout of major streets.

Chicken shawarma for lunch.

Chicken shawarma for lunch.

I went to the Portland Saturday Market — a huge outdoor artisan crafts and food market downtown — and got a chicken shawarma sandwich from a food cart for lunch. I bought myself a new wallet at the market, a cute yellow and blue hand-sewn one. I put the rest of my cash in it and guarded it with my life. I also bought small gifts for my airbnb hostess (artisanal soap) and for Adele (gourmet dog treats for her adorable new dog), to thank her for mailing Evan my passport.

Evan texted me Saturday morning to tell me to rest easy – the passport had arrived. I could’ve cried. All I needed now was for my stupid debit card to show up at the airbnb and I’d have an almost normal existence again.

Powell's Books

Powell’s Books

I found myself reluctant to admit to people I met and talked to in Portland about my wallet right off the bat. I didn’t them to think I was scamming them and about to ask for money, and I was also embarrassed that it had happened at all. I only mentioned it when it came up or after I’d been talking to someone for a while. I knew there was no use in trying to tell people who carded me my sob story. Anastasia had told me earlier that Oregon has really strict bar and liquor laws.

After checking out the market, I rode over to Powell’s and mourned all the books I wanted to buy but would not let myself spend the cash on. I walked around that downtown area before moving toward SE Portland. I went north and found a coffee shop near Voodoo Too, where I could wait for Anastasia to answer a text I sent her. It was a strange coffee shop called See See Coffee & Motorcycles. It was filled wall-to-wall with motorcycle helmets, gear, and memorabilia. They had a limited menu but when I ordered some toast, the guy behind the counter said they were out of bread. He offered me a hot dog instead, and by then I was starved so I said yes. It turned out to actually be an extremely spicy brat, and after two bites I couldn’t eat anymore because my mouth was on fire.

See See Motorcycles & Coffee

See See Motorcycles & Coffee

Anastasia texted me back and said she wouldn’t actually be at Voodoo Too at the time she thought she’d be, but that she’d told the manager on duty there that I’d be coming. I walked the bike a couple of blocks over and joined the line of about 35-45 people snaking outside the place.

When I reached the front of the line, I sheepishly said I’d been told to come there by Anastasia. The manager was sent for, and I was welcomed like an old friend. She told a girl behind the counter to set me up with an assortment and not to charge me. She filled up their biggest pink box full of around 10 or 11 huge donuts. I left a few dollars in the tip jar and thanked everyone emphatically.

The line outside Voodoo Too.

The line outside Voodoo Too.

I had to take the bike back to April after that, which was close to Voodoo Too, but a little tricky to maneuver because of the giant box I was now carrying. I contemplated strapping the box to the rack on the back but I didn’t think my earbuds would be up for the task this time. Instead, I balanced the box on my left arm and controlled the bike with my right and rode on. I laughed at the image of myself just then: A hipster-dressed, beaming girl pedaling a box of Voodoo Donuts by bike — the complete image of a Portlandia stereotype.

I stopped by the coffee shop I’d went to Thursday morning, where Kim had given me a free cup of coffee, but to my disappointment, they had closed two hours earlier. I wished I’d thought to write a note and put it with some cash in an envelope, but I didn’t have anything like that with me. Instead, I moved on to April’s.

Donuts by bike.

Donuts by bike.

April welcomed me and the bike back warmly. I told her about the broken light bracket and what the bike store had said. I offered her some cash for a new one, but she said she wasn’t concerned and that Phil would know what to do. I told her about my adventures and where all I’d been. I mentioned In Other Words, and she said one of the women who takes her yoga class is on their board. Small city.

She gave me a goodbye hug and I went on to catch the same bus that had brought me to her days earlier. For the hell of it, I went into a Plaid Pantry convenience store to try to buy some local beer, even though I knew I’d get carded. I was, immediately, so I settled for some gummy bears instead.

I walked out only to see the bus was at the stop a few minutes early. I ran for it, knowing what happens whenever you do this in Chicago: 75 percent of the time that bus driver will let you break into an undignified, flailing sprint only to leave you choking in the dust without a glance backward. But this bus waited, and I stepped on, breathless. “Thank you,” I gasped, and the bus driver nodded politely. I dug for my new wallet but she said she wasn’t going to make me risk dropping my box of donuts for a $2.50 fare, and told me I could just sit down.

When I got back to the airbnb, I checked the mail, holding my breath, but there was nothing there. The debit card never arrived. I made a note to myself to ask my hostess to destroy it whenever it did eventually show up, long after I was gone.

I had a pretty low-key final night in Portland. Kyle, the guy from the night before, texted and we talked about maybe making plans, but I admitted I was a little too tired to have another late night out. I told him to call if he was ever in Chicago and that it had been great to meet him. I packed and set an alarm and fell asleep around 11, the earliest I’d gone to bed any night of the trip.

Seattle, Day One will be posted later this week.

Travel Series: Portland, Day Two

This is day two of my series about my trip to Portland and Seattle. See day one here.

Friday, Oct. 3:

Interesting plant life by a bike path in NE.

Interesting plant life by a bike path in NE.

I slept fitfully Thursday night. On Friday morning, I woke up in a panic, feeling so worried about my wallet. After some thought, I texted my airbnb hostess to let her know she’d be getting an envelope from my bank in her mail with my new debit card. I hadn’t wanted to say anything about my wallet to her for fear of worrying her or maybe making her think I was a chaotic person to whom things like this happen constantly, but I knew I needed to ask her to watch the mail. Minutes after I texted her, she called me to offer assistance. I thanked her but told her I was handling the situation and doing everything I could.

My airbnb was a fully furnished, finished basement suite with a bathroom, kitchen, small couch, a huge TV, and a very comfortable bed. I had a private entrance and lots of space. The kitchen had a microwave and a coffee pot, so I made some oatmeal while some coffee brewed.

Bikes-only area in NE.

Bikes-only area in NE.

It occurred to me that morning that an old Microcenter retail credit card I rarely use might have been in my wallet, and I hadn’t thought of it the day before when I cancelled my Chase cards. I sipped my coffee and called Wells Fargo. The balance on the card was still zero, but I cancelled it anyway just in case.

I decided I’d better tell my dad what had happened, now that things were looking like I hadn’t had my credit cards compromised. He said he’d had a strange feeling something bad had happened. It was true that I hadn’t been posting the cheerful Facebook updates he’d probably been expecting during a trip I’d been looking forward to so much. He offered to help me pay for a flight out of Seattle a day or two later if I needed to wait for my passport. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that but thanked him. He told me he was proud that I’d been able to handle a really awful situation on my own and not have a complete meltdown.

“Oh, believe me, the meltdown’s coming,” I said.

Brunch at Tasty n Sons

Brunch at Tasty n Sons

I rode my bike to Tasty n Sons, a place I’d read about for good, not-crazy-expensive brunch. I proudly said “just one today” to the hostess and was seated at the bar. I ended up next to a woman named Patty, who was from eastern Washington, and two of her friends. They were all in their 40s or so. One of the friends, Colleen, lived in Portland and gave me her cell number in case I needed anything during my stay. They invited me to a happy hour that night but when I looked it up later I saw it was probably a little further than I should bike.

I walked around a street full of shops by the brunch spot after the women left and I was on my own again. I went into a coffee shop there with my laptop and the two baristas gave me tips on where I should go in Portland. One of them had recognized my Ohio necklace and asked if I was visiting. I told them I grew up in Ohio, but was visiting from Chicago. I told them I’d be going to Seattle next.

“Watch the guys throw the fish!” one of them said. So many people said to go see the fish get thrown at Pike Place Market.

Laurelwood Brewery in the Hollywood District.

Laurelwood Brewery in the Hollywood District.

While I was at the coffee shop, Jaimi texted me to let me know a friend had told her if I got a police report for my stolen/missing wallet, proper documentation might help coax the airport into working with me. The coffee shop was within a mile of a precinct so I rode over there. I had to wait a while, but after about 45 minutes an officer took down all my information. He even printed a copy for me and waived the $10 fee, since I’m traveling. I didn’t know if my airbnb host had a printer, nor did I want to bother her and ask.

I rode back home and tried to worry less about the airport situation. Losing my ID was far worse than losing my debit card, thanks to the helpful banker who let me get cash out. Relying solely on cash was nerve wracking, but it was also making me much more conscious of my spending than I usually am.

I thought about taking a nap, but stayed up anyway. I ate a breakfast burrito from Jack In The Box for a quick dinner. Jack In The Box was the closest food to my airbnb and I remembered being surprised by how much I liked it when I visited Eileen in San Diego in February.

My brother called, having talked to my dad earlier that day, and he wanted to make sure I was okay. I told him what happened, but again stressed that I didn’t want the wallet incident to overshadow all the great stuff I was getting to do and see in Portland. He understood.

I texted Adele to see if she knew when the passport was supposed to arrive in Seattle, and she told me she’d overnighted it there and was promised it’d get to Evan by 3 p.m. Saturday. I thanked her profusely and texted my dad and brother to tell them.

Laurelwood.

Laurelwood.

I looked online for a local brewery near me and found one a mile and a half away. I scouted out their menu and decided to get their beer flight to try a sampling of what they make. I grabbed only enough cash to pay for the flight, a pint, and an order of nachos plus tip and biked over.

It was called Laurelwood Brewery, and I was at their NE Portland location in the Hollywood District. I ordered the flight and as the bartender grabbed a set of tiny glasses, he asked if I had my ID. I grimaced. I told him no, and to never mind the flight. I told him my wallet had been stolen, but I knew it didn’t make any difference. I apologized and he did too. I walked out of Laurelwood, unsure of where to go since I’d picked that place after researching it. I saw a dive-y looking sports bar up the block. I decided to try my luck, and ordered a cider from the bartender without incident. Relieved, I stopped to look around. I was sitting in between two very cute guys watching the Dodgers/Cardinals game. It was the bottom of the 9th and the Cards were up 10 to 9, and the guy to my right wore a Cards jersey.

A chocolate potato donut from Tasty n Sons.

A chocolate potato donut from Tasty n Sons.

After the Cards won, I got to talking to him. His name was Kyle, he looked like Ryan Gosling, and he lived nearby. The night was suddenly looking up. He had to leave to go see a band play in SE Portland, but he asked for my number since I told him I didn’t have set plans yet. I gave it to him, not really expecting him to text me later, but thinking that it was nice to be asked all the same.

I sat and finished my cider before walking outside. I saw a tall man and a blonde woman sitting at a picnic table outside the bar and sheepishly asked them which way was south. They told me, and then politely asked where I’m from since that was clearly not a normal question Portland residents typically ask each other. I ended up staying and talking with them for a couple of hours. We even stayed after we were forced back inside the bar when the outdoor seating closed around 11, when karaoke began. The blonde girl, Anastasia, killed it with her rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and then asked me to text her my number so we could meet up the next day. She works for Voodoo Donuts and told me to stop by and see her at their second location, Voodoo Too, before her shift ended.

Anastasia and her friend Michael were probably my favorite people out of everyone I met in Portland, even though I liked everyone a lot. They just took a lot of time talking to me about the city and themselves and they were eager to help and make sure I had a great time in Northeast Portland.

The weather in Chicago for Friday, in contrast.

The weather in Chicago for Friday, in contrast.

After I felt like I was winding down for the night and ready to leave the bar, Kyle texted me. I decided to go meet him and his roommate since they were so close. We all sat on their porch talking and drinking before the roommate went to bed. Kyle and I stayed up talking for a while longer and he just turned out to be a really interesting guy. He’s a St. Louis transplant so we talked a lot about the Midwest. He’s in Portland working 40 hours in his field but also going to grad school so he has hardly any free time. I wondered how old he was and asked — he was 24, which made me feel a little old. I left his house and went back to my airbnb, happy to have met so many people who were willing to entertain an out-of-towner.

It was fun being invited into Portland homes and seeing what they are like. It sounds like almost everyone lives in a house rather than an apartment. Kyle rents a huge house with four other people, which sounds a lot like college to me. Anastasia shares a house with several roommates too. The bike couple in Ladd’s Addition was a little older, maybe in their 30s, so I suspect they own their huge, beautiful home.

Portland, Day Three will be posted later this week.

Travel Series: Portland, Day One

The famous "Keep Portland Weird" sign downtown.

The famous “Keep Portland Weird” sign downtown.

I am still on my vacation as of today, and am flying home tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been writing about this amazing adventure, and while it’s all too much for one post, I like the idea of posting a series about what I’ve been doing out here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been an experience and I am so glad I came here. I hope you’ll take the time to read why, as I continue to post installments of this series this week.

For now, here is an account of my first full day in Portland, after arriving in town around midnight the night before.

Thursday, Oct. 2:

I woke up my first morning in Portland early, still stuck on Central time. I showered and got ready to grab the #71 bus to transfer to the #4 to go to Southeast Portland. A woman in Ladd’s Addition had agreed, via a female cyclist message board, to let me borrow one of her bikes for the week. In my initial post, I had offered cash or barter, and she picked the latter. I brought her some toffees and chocolates from Amy’s Candy Bar and had these in my backpack.

A restaurant in SE Portland -- I didn't eat here, I just thought it looked cool.

A restaurant in SE Portland — I didn’t eat here, I just thought it looked cool.

I waited for the bus and used its texting tool to see when it was due — at 8:29, in just seven minutes. I looked up and saw a young boy with a musical instrument case coming to the same stop.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Can you tell me when the bus is coming? My mom won’t let me bring my phone to school.”

I remembered then that it was a Thursday, and thought 8:30 seemed awfully late to be leaving for school. I told him what the text had said, and he thanked me. I asked him a couple of questions about the bus system, and he was surprisingly knowledgeable for a 7th grader. I told him I was visiting from Chicago and jokingly asked where I should go. He actually had a lot of good suggestions.

The bus came and we got on together. He told me about his school and how he was glad he was getting the earlier bus than normal so he’d have time to stop and get donuts at the store before class started. Another boy he knew got on the bus shortly before this first kid got off, and they talked to each other while still including me. The second boy was getting on the #4 bus too, to a different school, so I followed him to where I needed to transfer. I thanked him for helping me and he said “Welcome to Portland!”

A Plaid Pantry in SE. These convenience stores were everywhere.

A Plaid Pantry in SE. These convenience stores were everywhere.

I got to Ladd’s Addition a little early, so I went to a coffee shop nearby. A woman greeted me right away, and I saw the shop was empty aside from the two of us. She asked what I wanted, and recommended a pumpkin latte, which I accepted. I dug into my backpack for my wallet, but couldn’t find it. I thought I must have left it on my bed at the airbnb.

“Never mind that latte actually,” I said apologetically, and explained I must have left my wallet behind. She offered me a cup of regular coffee on the house instead, which I gratefully accepted. I talked to her a for a bit too, taking down suggestions and names of places to see. I thanked her for the coffee and moved on to April’s.

April and Phillip live in a gorgeous, huge home in Ladd’s Addition and have a sweet older dog named Foxy. They gave me a series of bike maps and April helped me select which of their many bikes might fit me best. She and I carried it downstairs from their attic and Phil showed me on the map the best way to get back to my airbnb. The best way, it turned out, had at least eight steps, and once I was out on the road riding, I realized I’d only been able to remember the first four or five. I got a little turned around but managed to get back to the airbnb. By now I was starting to feel worried about my wallet, because I really had thought I’d grabbed it before leaving.

The view overlooking one of Portland's bridges near downtown.

The view overlooking one of Portland’s bridges near downtown.

I parked the bike and walked into my airbnb, a sense of dread forming in the pit of my stomach. I looked at the bed — the wallet wasn’t there. I froze, then immediately began tearing the bed apart, then the rest of the room, then the bathroom, in a fruitless attempt to do something, anything. It was gone, and I knew it. I checked my bank’s website and saw that no charges had been made to my Chase debit card, or to my Chase credit card I’d packed as an emergency back-up. I looked up the nearest Chase branch and found one about a mile away. I have to admit, I am so glad I use Chase, since it’s everywhere.

I walked into the Chase with only my checkbook as some small form of proof. I explained I was from out of town and had lost my wallet. I sat down with a banker, a man around my age, and he was unbelievably helpful. He explained he couldn’t just issue me a new debit card on the spot because I’m from out of state, but he rush-ordered a new card to my airbnb, which he thought should get there Saturday. He also let me withdraw cash so I wouldn’t be completely screwed. I got out $250 since that’s about what I’d budgeted for the first few days in Portland anyway — the things on my Portland to-do list were mostly cheap eats, coffee shops, and breweries. It hadn’t occurred to me yet when sitting at that bank that my hopes for trying a wealth of craft beer were now pretty much dashed, sans ID.

While I was at the bank, I got a text from Sarah, my Chicago friend who happened to be traveling to Portland at the same time with her fiance Andy. I had written earlier that I’d felt oddly possessive of my time in the city of Portland and hadn’t wanted to share it or my experience with anyone I already knew, but let me tell you, when I got her text and remembered they were there, I was flooded with relief. Right then I wanted nothing more than a friendly, familiar face or two. Everyone in Portland had been incredibly helpful and polite, but I really needed a friend. I needed someone who knew me and could sympathize and confirm that this was absolutely a horrific thing to have happen while traveling and just let me complain.

A mural near the food truck pod, around 9th Ave and Washington.

A mural near the food truck pod, around 9th Ave and Washington.

That’s exactly what happened. I got on the bike and met them downtown at a food truck pod — a solid block of food trucks — and gave them big hugs. They commiserated with me over a picnic lunch of sushi, Transylvanian food, and grilled cheese (my contribution, I’m a little ashamed to admit — I needed comfort food). It was all delicious, but we agreed the sushi was the best of the three.

I admitted to them, and in a way to myself, that I was kind of in Portland on a scouting mission. They seemed to understand, because they loved Portland, too. I told myself a long time ago that I would never move to a new city/state again because, while I’m so glad I moved to Chicago, it was much harder than I thought it would be. I’m not saying that I’m moving to Portland, and there a lot of reasons not to. But I have to admit, I like the idea of it. If I were to do it all again despite my past experience and my better judgement, it would be to Portland.

Sarah and Andy were staying in the Pearl District, but they were leaving the next morning for a friend’s wedding in Ashland, Oregon. Sarah recently became the owner of Women & Children First, Chicago’s famous feminist bookstore in Andersonville, so she was interested in speaking with the owners of In Other Words, the store Portlandia’s Women & Women First is based on (and filmed at). The store may be based on Portland’s, but the name was definitely pulled from the Chicago store, after all. Sarah wanted to talk to them about their organization since she’s a new small business and bookstore owner, but it was at least three miles north. We walked to a bike rental place to get bikes for her and Andy.

Me, downtown.

Me, downtown.

At the bike store, I asked someone to take a look at the front of the bike April had lent me: A bracket holding up the front light had snapped an hour or so earlier, on top of everything else, and the light now just danged by a thin cable. I’d tied my earbud cord around the light to try to hold it down, but it was not ideal. They couldn’t replace the bracket without ordering one, but they zip-tied the light to the rack on the front of the bike to at least keep it secure.

We all rode up Williams Avenue most of the way to get to In Other Words and parked right outside. We went in and it was clear that the show shoots the interior scenes there as well, and not just the exterior, like I’d assumed. A signed Portlandia poster hung on the wall by the register.

Sarah found lots of things to buy, while I just picked up three small ‘zines I thought looked funny. I also grabbed an In Other Words bookmark and a couple small buttons. We talked to the volunteers there and learned (well, I learned — Sarah already knew) that they were holding an open meeting Sunday to decide whether or not to close. I was sad to hear it. On top of being a feminist bookstore, they are also a community center, offering services and classes to the area. They said the show had brought them a lot of business and publicity, but that it is still a tough business to be in. They’re a nonprofit but it’s hard to retain devoted volunteers and the ones who are involved now are putting in almost as many hours as they would at a full-time job.

Inside of In Other Words.

Inside of In Other Words.

We made our purchases, got lots and lots of photos, and left.

On the way out, Sarah asked if I have a passport. I told her I did, but that it was in Chicago. Then we realized I could ask Adele to look for it and mail it. I texted Adele immediately and thanked Sarah for the great idea.

On my bike ride home I stopped at a Trader Joe’s to get a cheap dinner and some snacks for the room. Without thinking, I grabbed a cheap bottle of wine too. The woman at the register asked for my ID, and I said I didn’t have it. She was so apologetic, but said she couldn’t let me purchase it anyway since she’d asked. I told her I completely understood, but thought to myself that if there was ever a time that called for wine, the day I lost my wallet on vacation was that time.

I went back to my airbnb and reported my lost wallet to Trimet, Portland’s version of the CTA. I looked into whether or not it’s possible to get on an airplane without an ID (it is, but it’s unpleasant), and I also looked at prices for later flights home from Seattle for a day or two later. They were a minimum of $500 and I had no way to place an order online, even if I had an extra $500 set aside.

I texted Stef and Jaimi and told them what happened. They immediately offered assistance and moral support, but I told them it could have been much worse. I know it sounds naive, but I honestly don’t think my wallet was stolen. Whoever had taken it would have had at least two hours between that bus ride and when I went to Chase to cancel my cards, but no charges charges were made. It was clear to me that the very worst part of this was losing my ID. I had to hope a car didn’t hit me on my bike because no one knew me or could identify me. I couldn’t fly home from Seattle, or anywhere. I couldn’t buy wine at Trader Joe’s or tour a brewery.

That said, I tried my luck that night at a dive bar two blocks north of my airbnb. No one carded me at the door or looked twice when I ordered. I talked to some locals there who patiently answered my Portland questions. One even gave me his email for later, in case I think of anything else.

Portland, Day Two will be posted later this week.

Countdown to Portland

"Women & Women First" is based on a real store called "In Other Words"

“Women & Women First” is based on a real store called “In Other Words” (via)

Two weeks from now, I’ll be in Portland, OR, drinking too much coffee, eating too many gourmet baked goods, and hopefully getting lots and lots of writing done — same laptop, different desk.

I fly out after work on Oct. 1. I’m staying at a woman’s house in Northwest Portland through airbnb, and I’ll be renting a bike to get to downtown and all the different shops and restaurants I want to see. These include, but are not limited to, the bookstore from Portlandia, Powell’s, several brunch places, and Voodoo Donuts. I’m going to wear dresses and tights and boots — new boots that I will buy for Portland but also because it will be fall — and I will talk to strangers and relish knowing nobody in the entire city.

Well, almost nobody — In a strange twist of fate, it turns out two Chicago friends of mine will be in Portland at the same time. Stef and I went to hear our friend Andy read at Essay Fiesta on Monday night, and afterward he invited us to get a drink with him and Sarah, his fiance and our good friend. We got to talking about airbnb and I said something about how I’ll be using it for the first time when I go to Portland.

They blinked at me.

“When are you going to Portland?” Sarah asked.

“Next month,” I said, and they looked at each other.

“We are, too. When next month?”

“October first…?”

October first is a Wednesday. The three of us all decided that would be a great day to go to Portland. To be fair, they have an Oregon wedding to attend, so I can’t really argue that no one I know from Chicago or anywhere else is allowed to be in Portland because I need to take up the entire city with my feelings of independence and weird need for temporary anonymity.

Plus, Stef, who sometimes knows me better than I know myself, pointed out that after a day or two on my own, a socially active person like myself just might feel a little lonesome in a different city all alone.

So we’re going to at least get dinner one night while we’re all out there.

Portland. Oh, Portland. I’ve been dreaming about this trip for weeks now. Every kind of crappy occurrence since July has been lessened by the knowledge that Portland is there and it’s coming. My google calendar has little notes to myself that say things like, “Only 22 days until Portland!” and, the Saturday before my trip, “Do laundry — Portland laundry!

I’ve been resisting the urge to watch “Portlandia” episodes knowing I’ll appreciate them all the more if I wait until just one week from my trip so I can get really excited about going.

What I won’t be doing is watching “Portlandia” while I’m actually there, because I’m not flying to the other side of the country to watch TV on my laptop. I’m documenting this statement now so I can properly shame myself should I be tempted, since the entire series of “Gilmore Girls” drops on the same day I fly out — a show I already own all seven seasons of on DVD.

Anyway, I can’t wait. Also, if any Chicago folks have something they’d like hand-delivered to Evan in Seattle, you’re on notice: You’ve got until Sept. 30.

I’ll be packing my Portland laundry that night.