Monday, July 23, 2012

Unlikely Souvenirs: Lessons I Learned In Portland

Funk and I received the super generous gift of a surprise honeymoon from his brother and his brother’s husband. The conversation went something like this:

J: So, we’re sending you on your honeymoon as a wedding gift.
Me:  (Faints)
J: And it’s going to be a surprise.
Me: (Faints again)

So, the night of our wedding, sitting in the middle of an Irish Pub, Loren and I opened up our “honeymoon box.” In it were airplane tickets, some spending money, and two travel books. We were leaving for Portland, Oregon in the morning.


I had only driven through Portland before – well, technically, I slept in the state university student union on a road trip to Washington – and I couldn’t wait to actually explore the city. Minus the throwing up and getting sick for the first day part (adrenaline crash, anyone?), I was not disappointed in the least. From the moment I stepped into the airport – those fancy toilets that conserve water! Easy, amazing light rail! Recyclable products everywhere! – to when I walked through the city – vegan options on every menu! Awesome vintage stores! POWELL’S BOOKS! – I was in love. I shot off a text to my brother-in-law professing my love for the city and he warned me I couldn’t move there. So, I decided to pay close attention and figure out what about Portland I could bring home with me. Here are a few of the lessons I learned (in list form, because I love my lists):

1.       Portable glass Tupperware for take-out: It’s the small things that count when it comes to being nice to the planet and this is one I saw everywhere in Portland. Food truck time? Bring your own dish. Know you can never finish that vegan hash from the corner bakery? Bring your own Tupperware. Have a routine of a black coffee every morning? Bring your own mug. It’s so simple and so easy to do.

2.       Make public transport work for you: I know, I know… public transport in the Los Angeles area SUCKS. It does. But do a little a research and find out what types of public transport are in your community and how it can work for you. Here, even if I just take the bus to town (I live on a college campus) and ride my bike to the grocery store and back, it’s saving me gas and getting my jeep off of the road for 15 miles (plus, it’s exercise!). Another thing I have to remind myself is that my own two feet are great public transport. Again, every little bit helps. 

3.       Bring reusable bags everywhere: Reusable bags are really catching on (to the point that Long Beach even has a law banning plastic bags!) and it’s really great. But even I forget to bring reusable bags to places other than the grocery store. In Portland, I saw the bags everywhere – in grocery stores, clothing stores, bookstores, toy stores, restaurants, tattoo shops – anywhere people knew they’d need a handle and a sack to help them carry something a reusable bag was there. So, I’m going to tuck mine into something I never forget at home – the diaper bag.

4.       Farmers’ markets are the bees’ knees: Farmer’s markets are everywhere in Portland and had delicious, locally grown, fresh food. And guess what? Camarillo has a local farmer’s market on Saturday mornings (and if you don’t live in Camarillo, I bet your city has one close by, too). The Camarillo focus is definitely food but other cities focus on art and culture as well. The market by my mom’s house in Long Beach even has pony rides and games for the kids (plus $2 hummus and fresh pita straight from the hands of the family who makes it). Really good stuff!

5.       A simple reminder:
The biggest lesson I took home from my honeymoon wasn’t a specific tip or hint. Instead, the lesson was something that happened gradually over the five days we were there. So many times, I found myself saying, “Oh! I wish we had this in California!” After irritating both myself (and, I’m sure, Funk), I realized I needed to stop complaining and start making things happen. In my “Rachael world,” I sometimes feel like it has to be all or nothing – I sit down to a blank page and will-write-a-novel-right-now-or-die or I want to sweep through and make-all-the-things-sustainable-and-green-and-awesome-this-week! But then I took the advice I always give to my students who are daunted by the large task of writing a paper; make a list of what you want to do, or free write about it, or make one small change to your writing habit. Make the task manageable. So, that’s what I’ll begin. I can make a small start by remembering my reusable bag, or by bringing Tupperware out to dinner, or riding my bike instead of driving to town.  All of these “small starts” will eventually add up to me living the life I want to live in my own head, the life where I’m making conscious decisions about how my actions affect more than me, where I’m practicing what I preach, and am trying to make some sort of change so that I leave a better place here for my kid.

So, thanks Portland, for these unlikely souvenirs.(And delicious vegan doughnuts...)


  1. I take food home from the restaurant where I work and feel SO guilty about to-go containers.

    When I get food it's usually a "gift" from one of the chefs so I don't want to think I expect it. Tupperware would be frowned upon :( I also don't really feel comfortable turning them down. Awkward!

    I put silverware in my glove box theeeen my glovebox broke and now I can't get into it. Le sigh!

    1. Yeah, there are always situations where it's not going to work out so well! But, it's good to be thinking about it :) Again, I'm not perfect by any means and I forget and sometimes get lazy, but every little change towards being better to the environment is a good one!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I get stuck, like you, wishing for things to be different instead of making a difference myself. It never occurred to me to bring my own tupperware!!! and I always forget my reuseable bags. Making a commitment now =) Thanks, Rachael!