From Portland to Philly

The author on an early spring day in Portland.

I may have said it before — in a column for Philadelphia Gay News, or maybe one in Metrosource, the New York gay magazine where I got my start, or maybe for the South Florida Gay News or one of three queer websites I wrote for in Portland, Oregon — but as a gay man in my 30s, I collected cities. They blur together sometimes. 

When normal people ask how someone’s vacation was, they don’t expect to elicit the response: “Oh, great. I’m moving there next month.” But for a good 12 years, until coming home with my fiance two years ago, that was my general response to places I visited. I did try to make another move while I was living on the West Coast. I visited San Francisco and was charmed, but my zeal was undercut by the cost of living. Did I swoon over LA after going there for a mini-vacation? Yes, but I don’t drive, which was clearly a detriment. 

But earlier in life, I was not so intimidated by the cost of a new prospective home. In my mid-20s, with the economy shattered under Bush II, my eyes were set on Europe. I “moved” to Zürich where I had several well-meaning Swiss friends who did not explain how impossible it was to get a visa. 

One might think or suggest one of the hardest things about moving around so much would be getting used to the new community. That was never really hard for me. Initially this column was about the differences between all the cities I have collected. But, I don’t think the differences are incredibly great, especially when you live in the bitchy-warm embrace of gay culture.

But, let’s try for a summary. 

Sure, Miamians know they live in one of the most unique communities in the country. They wear this knowledge with the same sort of elan you may find in a New Yorker. For those in New York or in Miami, they are the epicenters of the northern and southern parts of this country. I’ll drop in here that I lived in New York for college and some time after; it’s also in my collection. But the New York I loved and knew intimately died on September 11th, 2001.  

After my brief stint in Miami, I lived in the tiny gay village of Wilton Manors. If you live and work in that community, your life was gay. Imagine a gay army base. I went to a hockey game once just to see straight people in the world. 

Fort Lauderdale (which practically surrounds Wilton Manors) is easily the most suburban city I have ever encountered. In Philly, I have heard talk of some people who have not left their suburban homes in New Jersey to come “over the bridge” in decades. Indeed, there are many in South Florida who proudly expound, “Miami? It sucks. Went there once when I first moved here. Never again.” 

I am sure your godmother in Collingswood, the one who hasn’t come over the bridge since 1999 to see the Nutcracker, will parrot what Fort Lauderdale residents say keeps them out of Miami. The traffic, the parking lot fees, the racism. 

Portland was a hard nut to crack. It wasn’t so much the gray-colored skies for much of the year, or the accompanying rain. I found the constant drizzle cozy. Besides, Florida technically gets more rain than Oregon. Portlanders took umbrage with this. They claim the rain as a defining feature.

“Well, I guess…I guess it rains in Seattle. Is that what they say? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been since I went to see the Nutcracker in 1999.”

What are Portlanders like? It’s a good question. One can fall back on the possibility of their being passive aggressive. But they staunchly defend they are not, in fact, passive aggressive. Not in a very direct or passionate way, though. Instead: they defend not being passive aggressive in a passive aggressive manner. I may also add that many of them claim not to know sarcasm. Being from Philly, I pissed off a lot of people.

I found making friendships there was not easy. There’s a belief that legacy residents (and I am not saying this of all West Coasters) had ancestors who left the East Coast to find a New Eden. They liked it so much they forced native peoples out, then built it into the state constitution that Black Americans were legally not welcome there. They proceeded to build an industry in Portland based in prostitution, kidnapping young men into forced work as sailors, and oh…the opium. 

The strangest thing for me about all my moves is not feeling strange about having ended up back home. Now that I’m back in Philadelphia, I see faces and must remind myself people have aged; they don’t look like they did when I last knew them. That is perhaps the most alarming thing about the passage of time.

It’s safe to say now that we’re in Philly, and my fiance Jewell has embraced it as his home, we won’t move ever again. Then again, sitting on the roof deck of Tabu for a Sunday Funday this week, Jewell reminded me he hopes we will someday become expats and move to Italy. I suppose, even with the persistence of time, some things never change.

“I want that just as much as you do,” I said. Then, after our second negroni, I looked at him and said, “I do regret never getting to live in LA. I mean, I’d have to learn to drive but…” 

“Oh, I’d love to live in LA!”

“Maybe we could use Philly as a home base and just…”

“Just keep the apartment here but go live there for a month or two?”

But, really, that was the negroni talking: the real prize is Italy. Now, to start brushing up on my Italian. But, San Diego does have a Mediterranean climate, and is so handy to LA, so… you get the point.