I had a free week.
I won a visitor’s pass to a luxury athletic club not far from where I work. It was like getting to test drive a Ferrari — something mere mortals like me rarely experience.
If I were to rate the establishment on Google, I’d probably give it 5 stars. But would I ever join? No.
One simple barrier keeps me from making that part of my lifestyle… I can’t afford it.
Yes, it was great to put my clothes in a mahogany-faced locker. I loved the gourmet shampoo and body wash (in two flavors). I liked the fact that I could get a few free initial consultations with a professional trainer, so I could learn how to exercise better.
But for approximately five times what 24-Hour Fitness charges, I can’t justify the hit to our monthly expenses.
Heck, I can’t even justify 24-Hour Fitness at the moment.
Gotta stick with free bicycle commutes.
(I took the photo from the balcony, overlooking the tennis courts.)
Portland is a crazy place.
(We just returned from a family vacation that included a few days in Portland.)
I knew that I wanted to get to know the city ever since seeing Portlandia.
I was not disappointed.
- Powell’s is perhaps the finest bookstore on the planet. Besides stocking an amazing range of books (both new and used), they have the most incredible array of stuff from interesting water bottles to funky backpacks to weird socks.
- Food trucks (often food trailers): a huge collection of semi-fast food outlets are all over the Portland, often in collections filling whole city blocks. Wide offerings of ethnic cuisine are available.
- Shops: If I were rich, I would have gorged on the incredible variety of clothing, trinkets, hand-made art in many useful forms such as furniture and all manner of hipster-oriented stuff. One of my favorite shops was Boys Fort.
- Bicycling: In spite of the generally dreary weather, bicycling is a huge part of life in Portland. Bike paths are prevalent across the city, and as our Airbnb hostess explained, bicyclists there often feel like they rule the world, whether or not that is the case.
- The river: Bike paths go along the Willamette River, allowing you to explore the waterway without getting wet (unless it’s raining).
- Trash: There are very few trash cans around the city. Thus, trash accumulates in all the nooks and crannies. Seattle, in comparison, seems to have a normal amount of places to dispose of your waste.
- Homelessness: I’m not sure what attracts so many homeless people to Portland. Denver, the city near my suburban home, seems to have a smaller homeless population. I have nothing against homeless people — drug addiction and mental illness are crippling — but perhaps Denver provides more places for the homeless to find a home. Or possibly Colorado has more restrictive laws governing homeless activities (like no sleeping on sidewalks).
- Maybe a little too much indie-hipster-ness: Though I love supporting small businesses and appreciate creativity, I was almost overwhelmed at the extreme hipster-ness of Portland. One morning, I even wanted to visit Starbucks, believe it or not.
If you can, you simply must visit greater Portland.
Footnote: I only spent a few days there, so these are just a few surface observations.
Video rental stores — they still exist in North America.
Earlier this summer, Heather and I drove down to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a short break. We decided to see a movie in the middle of the day, just because we could. Nice.
The movie theater was in a dying mall. And even more dying than the mall was a Hastings store, providing books, music — and video rentals. I won’t launch into why CDs are dying, bookstores are dying, and streaming video is the way to see a movie.
But I will talk about optimism. The owner of that mall — and even more so — the owner of Hastings — should cut their losses and sell now. It will be a loss to the community when they leave. If the owners can afford to provide that valuable service at a loss, more power to them. But how much do they really value providing that service?
Similarly, our local grocery store had a space with a local coffee shop and then a frozen yogurt stand. I knew from the moment they opened each little business that they were doomed to fail. Finally, they put in a Starbucks, and it seems to be doing well. That multinational chain has the resources to make a really nice shop — as well as huge brand recognition. The smaller coffee chain and the yogurt chain (or independent business owner) did not.
The final tale in this listing of doomed businesses is a new independent drive-through coffee shop on Broadway in Englewood, Colorado. The owners decided to build on the south-bound side of the street. Most people commuting to work from suburbia to downtown drive the other direction. When do people buy coffee? Morning, mostly. This small business will fail, sadly.
As I was driving a big pickup, I reflected on freedom. In America, we have the freedom to buy as large a vehicle as our budgets (or willingness to take on credit) will allow.
Very few people in Europe drive large vehicles, due to fuel costs, the narrowness of roads and the difficulty of parking something so long. But it goes deeper than that. Many Europeans would consider owning such a vehicle wasteful.
Fuel costs are high in Europe because governments (elected by people, in most cases) have added substantial taxes to push people to smaller vehicles. It works.
Wired recently had an article about the least free country on this planet, North Korea. Citizens there have no choice about which car to drive — nor do they have enough funds to buy any vehicle. The article explores the ideas of how former North Koreans (now living in South Korea) are smuggling in western TV and movies to create a sense of discontent in viewers’ minds. There’s no real evidence that it’s working, though change could take time. China has had a major shift in the direction of freedom during the last 20 years. Cuba is opening up. Who knows what will happen.
With freedom comes wonderful experiences — and also garbage. The smuggled USB drives have shows that introduces viewers to the best and worst aspects of western culture. The change agents feel like the worst shows might shock viewers into some kind of awakening. As an American, I am ashamed about some of the ideas my country spreads to the rest of the planet. But getting small glimpses of freedom may spark a revolution.
Footnote: Those of you who know me understand I would never buy a big pickup. I test drove one as a part of a promotion at the Denver Auto Show. Interestingly, the new Ford F-150 with the smallest engine will have a greater impact on America’s fuel consumption than all the electric Chevrolet Volts combined, due to sales volume.