I spent a charming 24 hours in Portland, land of bookstores and tiny perfect donuts. It looks a bit like Seattle and San Diego had a baby and left it to grow up in the Mission.  

The most amazing phenomena though was how polite the people are. Growing up in Southern California, I just know not to jaywalk if I want to stay alive. California drivers are fast. And mean. 

In Portland, drivers will stop for pedestrians, and each other, and ducks. On the plane, I witnessed people actually letting others go ahead instead of running them over with their carry-ons. You can chat with shopkeepers and strangers on the street, unlike in New York, where that kind of nonsense will get you a blistering side-eye.

I hope no one who grew up in Portland ever attempts to live in New York. 

Looking up

On my last trip to New York, I tried to document exactly what it is that makes tourists and newcomers stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look up.


Provided that they're not mowed down by irate commuters, the view is equally breathtaking and claustrophobic. The buildings on every side give the impression that the sky is gone, replaced by apartments and offices, rusty fire escapes and glowing neon. 

My eyes are used to expansiveness the other way. Coming down off the mountains, the Central Valley looks like a neverending quilt, with its edges hidden by fog and smoky bad air. But there are no buildings, or even tall trees, to obstruct your view otherwise.

There's a little of that in Central Park, and it's a relief to lie out on the grass and let your eyes rest on the clouds. But the buildings still peek out and remind you where you are.

Constantly looking up makes you aspire to be in those tall buildings.