Alex Payne

Writer, backer, erstwhile technologist.

One Year In Portland

I realized the other day that I moved to Portland, Oregon just over a year ago.

Part of me feels obligated to write a big long post talking about the city, my favorite and least favorite things about it, its suitability for startups, the absurdity of thinking that any place can or should be the “next Silicon Valley”, if it’s really like that Portlandia show, how to deal with the rain, and so on.

I just don’t have that post in me right now. Quite honestly, I haven’t felt like writing or tweeting or really sharing much at all, lately. I just want to focus, to do good work, to recognize others’ good work, and maybe, eventually, should my endeavors deserve it, be recognized in kind for what I’ve produced, not for what I’ve said.

When I look back on so much of what I’ve written over the years, I see … well, I see the person I’ve been: young, pissed-off, inexperienced. There are things I’ve written that I still very much enjoy and am proud of, but then there are things that make me wince. That’s the way it goes, though, particularly if you’re an experiential learner fumbling your way through life. Every day is a good day to fuck up and learn something. It has to be.

About Portland, though, I will say this, if only because it was a perfect moment given to me by chance, and such moments deserve to be shared.

Two Saturdays Ago in the Japanese Garden

Portland is not much of a tourist town, unless you’re a food tourist. There’s Powell’s, the mammoth bookstore that occupies a solid city block. There’s a zoo, a couple nice museums, farmer’s markets, some pretty hikes. And then, inexplicably, there is an almost obscenely beautiful and peaceful Japanese garden perched high up in the west hills.

Two Saturdays ago, I took my visiting father and his wife to the Japanese garden. She opted to wander the paths at her own pace, and so my father and I went our own way. We strolled down by the waterfall, up by the stone sea of the Zen karesansui, by ponds and by shrubs. Finally, we stopped at the edge of the garden at a spot with an expansive view of the city.

My father is friendly and kind, understated despite formidable intelligence. He’s the sort of person that constantly gets asked for directions. Strangers look at him and think, “here’s a guy who knows what’s up and won’t give me any trouble”. When I was younger, I didn’t understand some of the decisions my father made. With every passing year, that confusion fades.

We stood there, in the garden, looking out over downtown. The sky was typical Portland gray, hinting at the possibility of rain, but the buildings were clear in the distance. My father spoke.

“It’s not exactly the most architecturally interesting city, is it?”

He thought for a moment, his eyes turning towards the trees, the mountains.

“But then, as pretty as it is here, you’d never really notice the buildings, would you?”

In that simple statement, my first year in Portland.