Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's Not Easy Being Green: Readjusting to Life in Oregon

Andrew and I have been back in the Portland area for over a month now. And while I feel like the sun has only been out about 4 times, I’ve visited a dozen non-Starbucks coffee shops and paid zero sales tax, so you win some, you lose some.

Coffee shops and dreary weather haven't been my only adjustments, though. Of course I knew it would take some time to reacclimate to Oregon and the fact that I can't get sweet tea at every restaurant, but there have been some other aspects I wasn't so prepared for. Oregon and I are working through this together, but transitioning from Oregon to Georgia and then back again has had some bumps along the way. Here are some examples:

I mean, I don’t want to make it seem like I NEVER recycled in Georgia, but according to Oregon standards, I have probably spent the last 4 years of my life as a fat Bigfoot stomping around the precious countryside with my giant carbon feet. And while I obviously support recycling, it was just a bit more difficult in the South. For example, when we first moved into our house in Savannah, I started saving all our glass and aluminum bottles and cans and putting them in a garbage bag in the garage. When the bag was full, I drove down to my local Wal-Mart so I could recycle the cans and get some coffee cash. However, after driving around the store several times, I was surprised to discover there was no place to recycle. So I drove to another grocery store…and then another, before I eventually gave up and went home. I later asked a friend where I could recycle my cans and bottles. Whereas in Oregon, there is basically a recycling center at every major grocery store, turns out that in Georgia, there is ONE recycling center per COUNTY. So you can imagine where all those cans and bottles went (think the trash can).

We lived in our house for two years before our neighborhood even introduced curbside recycling (so in 2012). And I definitely never felt shame about forgetting my reusable bags at the grocery store. But now that I’m back in Oregon, it’s a different story.

We moved into our house in Beaverton and our recycling containers showed up the following week. Let’s just slow down a minute, Beaverton. I’m sorry, I have how many recycling containers to keep track of? (answer: 4.) And my actual garbage container is how small? (answer: half the size of what it should be.) And I’m sorry, informative recycling video, if I’m a “REALLY good recycler,” I will actually peel off the paper from all my canned goods and separate the paper and metal into 2 different containers? (answer: I will not.) Recycling in Oregon is basically like a part-time job where the only payment is shame and judgment if you don’t oblige.

On top of the recycling canister party in our yard, I was stopped behind a woman the other day in Portland who honestly had a bumper sticker on her car that read “THERE IS NO ISSUE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PRESERVATION OF NATURE.” I actually burst into laughter. Really? No issue? Like people or nuclear war, or maybe just one other thing in the whole world? I’m not saying let’s mow down the planet, but, again, NO ISSUE? I guarantee THAT lady always separates her paper labels from her cans. And you just don't come across bumper stickers like that in many other parts of the country.

(I probably just succeeded in isolating all my native Oregonian friends, but I'm just saying -- it's a different world here...one likely made of non-GMO, sustainable materials. And the last time I went to the grocery store I remembered three of my reusable bags. So, that's something.)

Like any true Oregonian, I always dreaded driving into Washington or California or anywhere that would require me to pump my own gas. In fact, one of the first times I ever filled my tank in California, I somehow managed to overflow gas all over my foot. I then spent the next five minutes frantically trying to rinse off my sock and shoe, convinced that I was going to spontaneously combust from someone’s static electricity. It naturally took me some time to adjust to pumping my own gas everywhere I went in the South. But now, as someone who has lived in a normal self-serve state for a long period of time, I’m definitely a believer. Someone else pumping my gas feels like the biggest waste of time. It is so inconvenient to wait for someone to come over to take my card, to have to get out of the car half the time to enter my own zip code, and then wait until the attendant comes back around to remove the nozzle that’s actually been finished for about five minutes.

And worse, why is it that you’re always low on gas after 11:00 p.m. and the only gas station open is some random ARCO that looks completely sketch. Then the homeless-looking attendant comes up, and it’s like, “Hey, scary stranger! Would you like to take my credit card while I sit with you in this abandoned lot for 5 minutes?”

I can’t figure out how this continues to be a wise economic choice for our state. We are paying someone to seriously do the easiest job ever. If we trust people enough to scan their own groceries and complete their own taxes, can’t we trust them to pump some gas into their cars? I’m hoping there will at least be a self-serve option soon, and that’s where I will go every single time.

While in the South, I would randomly get super excited whenever I would see any type of Oregon memorabilia. Occasionally, I would see a stranger wearing a University of Oregon sweatshirt, or I would spot the familiar Oregon evergreen tree license plate on a car on the freeway (I would even get excited about seeing a California license plate [West coast pals!], which as a native southern Oregonian is a bit blasphemous) and I would feel super connected to that person and sometimes say "nice sweatshirt" or "what part of Oregon are you from?" And now for whatever reason, I can’t break myself of the positive emotional response I have towards Oregon license plates and clothing. So you can imagine how many times I am excited throughout the day...

POLITICAL EXTREMES: They don’t call it the Left Coast for nothing…and while I don’t intend to really enter into a discussion about politics, going from a red state to a blue state requires some social adjustment. I was scolded recently for saying something negative about Obama out loud in a Portland setting. If Jimmy Fallon (and half the U.S.) can do it, so can I!

HIPSTERS: Who are these people? And is it also cool now to be homeless in Oregon? Because that’s the vibe I’m getting from a lot of downtown people. In fact, one evening Andrew and I were walking in downtown Portland, and we passed a “homeless” guy sleeping on a main street sidewalk in a Northface sleeping bag, next to his REI backpack. I concluded he probably actually had a trust fund or something but was just anti- the mainstream, sticking it to the man, etc. Forgive me for not giving money to your worthy cause, bro.

As far as the hipsters who likely have homes, there are a lot of men in tight jeans, shoes I don’t understand, and haircuts that include randomly shaved parts of their heads with other really long, gelled parts of their hair too. Call me a dreamer, but can’t we all just be the same and admit we all like Justin Timberlake?

SPEED LIMITS: Oregon, the rest of the world has accepted a 70 mph speed limit on their freeways (Hello, German Autobahn). Can we please just catch up (literally)?

FOOD: Where can I get some okra? But seriously, does anyone know? And there better be some grits in the oatmeal section of the grocery store. What about if I want a Paula Deen deep-fried corn cake. Any leads? Maybe my local organic farmer’s market?

COUNTRY MUSIC: Oregon likes their country music and I’m glad about that. But they seriously play different songs. I’m sure this is true of any station/genre that varies from state to state (for instance, I definitely heard Sisqo’s Thong Song more than once on the radio in Georgia…not sure that’s still making the rounds in Oregon). But the Oregon country music repertoire seems so much more repetitive. They just don't play as many of the classics (and by classics, I mean Trisha Yearwood songs from the 90s). Not to mention, I learned the Oregon country music DJs don’t even play the full version of songs. If you’re a country music fan, then you’re familiar with Reba McEntire’s haunting and catchy hit, “Fancy.” Growing up in Oregon, I was exposed to the song a lot and often felt sorry for the teenager-turned-prostitute, Fancy. But in the Oregon version, they end the song after the 3rd verse where Fancy decides she won’t be spending the rest of her life “with her head hung down in shame,” because, dangit, her name is Fancy and she’s going to make something of herself! So you’re hopeful for her, but unsure of what will actually become of her future. WELLLL, in Georgia, they play the full version of the song, which includes a verse about a benevolent old man who takes in Fancy and she serves tea in his house to a bunch of rich, important people until she gets enough money to buy her own “Georgia mansion” and now she never has to look back on her old life! Umm, how am I just finding out the end of Fancy’s story in my late 20s? The girl made it! And Oregon never bothered to tell us.

There are other adjustments to living in Oregon, of course: The confusing restrictions on U-Turns, the number of places you can do nude yoga, actually seeing mountains on the horizon, not getting swarmed by gnats, and drive-through coffee places everywhere. But I think I just need a little bit more time to adapt to it all. In the meantime, I am missing my adopted city of Savannah and appreciating all the beauty and family that Oregon has to offer.

And currently, the sun just happens to be out AND I have a latte. So I'm raising my glass to Fancy and her Georgia mansion and trusting that Oregon and I will fall back in step any partly-sunny day now.  


Carmen said...

Oh, the readjustment to what was once familiar. I know it well, and I only moved between cities in the same province. Best of luck to you.

I have a solution to Issues #1 and #2 for you to propose at your next hippie town council: what if you fire all the gas station attendant and put them to work as recycling sorters? One big bin for all recyclables, no paper peeling, and less of a chance that your next midnight gas stop turns into a horror movie.

Charissa said...

I love this post. I kept on instinctively looking for the facebook "like" button.
I do have to say though that I knew the whole version of "Fancy" from Oregon country radio...I used to record songs on my tape player and then write out the lyrics by hand...or was it by typewriter...
We are getting old.

lyndsey said...

Carmen -- your idea is wonderful. You draw up the proposal and I'll sign it.

Charissa -- So guess I should clarify and say the radio stations in Southern Oregon don't play the full version? Because your childhood was more informed than mine! This is something you should have found a way to share with me during our years at Corban :)