I consider myself a Portlander. I moved here 32 years ago and I’ve lived here for all but three of those years. I’ve had an affinity for this city since my dad moved here when I was 12 and we began to spend summers here. See, that’s how Portland sucks you in: you come during the wonderful, beautiful, warm summer months and decide to live here… but then you get to live here through the grey months, too. Luckily for me, I don’t mind the rain. I’ve seen what it’s like to live somewhere that does not have consistent moisture, and it’s not pretty.
My “hometown” is Huntington Beach, California. I was not technically born there, but I was brought from the hospital to a home in HB, so I think that counts. I lived there for twelve of my first 17 years:
- HB from birth through preschool (at 4 different addresses);
- moved away for kindergarten through 2nd grade (2 different addresses);
- HB for 3rd grade (1 different address),
- moved away for 4th and 5th (2 different addresses),
- back to HB for 6th through high school graduation (2 different addresses).
Yeah, I’ve been around the block (and I’ve lived on most blocks, too). I also abbreviate Huntington Beach fairly often, a habit I picked up from years of frustration over scantron forms that never have enough boxes or bubbles to fill in a long city name or forms that say “City: _____________” where the lines are far too short to fit anything beyond eight letters. (Hmm… and what other city is eight letters long?! Coincidence?)
It’s blasphemous in many circles to say so, but I don ‘t find much of Huntington Beach very attractive. Yes, the old downtown area is surfer-cool and has tons of charm, but North Huntington Beach, where I lived, was largely a land of housing tracts enclosed by concrete-block walls with a school and park in the center of each one, the houses themselves a series of cookie-cutter ranch models with a tree planted in the parking strip out front. At every other major intersection or so was a shopping center and/or gas station; the differences were fairly few. Was the market a Vons, Alpha Beta, or Lucky? Was the drugstore Sav-on’s, Thrifty, or an independent? Was the gas station Shell or Texaco or 76?
Believe me, it was not a bad place to grow up. It was flat, so we could ride bikes everywhere; there were plenty of amenities; the schools were good; and our parish, St. Bonaventure, had an amazing carnival. What more could a kid want? It was just bland, or worse. There was a “moat” (a flood control channel) around my high school, a Naval Weapons Station at the end of my street, a large industrial park just around the corner. But I had good friends and good times and it was all I knew.
Of course, the proximity to the beach elevated its cachet immensely. I mean, this is Surf City we are talking about. Miles of gorgeous shoreline (only some of which is across from extensive oil fields); great surfing; warm, sunny days. I absolutely love the beach and I am sure I always will. It gets into your blood, and a windy stroll on a cold Oregon coast just doesn’t cut it, beautiful as it may be.
I spent hours and hours on the beach, rotating my towel to get a better tan, listening to the radio with friends, body surfing (I was not a surfer, though a few girls surfed), taking romantic walks on the sand with boys or hauling kids we babysat in and out of the water. It was a short bus ride to Bolsa Chica, or a transfer and a longer ride down to the pier. (Either way, you’d get off the bus at a Jack in the Box, strangely.) It was fantastic.
But still. Still, this town that I spent the first third of my life in never got the grip on my heart that Portland did. I came up here and I knew. This was my city. That other place, the place I grew up, is an interesting place to visit, to drive around and see what’s changed. But I don’t love it. I don’t miss it. I don’t wish I were there.
(Okay, okay. Sometimes I wish I were just a short drive from the beach. That will probably never change.)