Portland The Grey

“Paris is pre-eminently a grey city…the range of greys is seemingly infinite…gris, to the ears of a Frenchman, is capable of evoking a world of thought and feeling.” – Henry Miller

And so is Portland.

Not all the time: We gleam in May. Steam in July and August. Have one of the finest and most dependable Indian Summers I’ve found anywhere.

But six months out of the year, we are gris. Preeminently.

44. Portland The Grey

It’s the bottom of the year, roughly November 1 – April 30, when Cascadia’s moods take over. When she’s in a particularly foul one she’ll alternate between two modes of grey in a one-two rhythm that can leave us in the dark for weeks on end.

1) The storms. The Aleutian Low that sets up each November in the Bering Sea delivers the Pacific Ocean to our doorstep in airborne form. They come one after another, like box cars on an eastbound freight, with maybe a glimpse of light between each car. And if that space between systems happens at night? No sun for you.

2) The fog. Tule fog. Portland’s in the Willamette Valley and when an inversion layer forms it can linger for days. Thick, dark, desolate. Like a scene from The Road. And maddening, because you know that a thousand feet up is the bright blue.

50. Deschutes

We make some of the best coffee and beer in the world here in PDX, in no small part to help us get through the winter.

As for life here in Portland? Something I’ve found is, a lot of your success in finding happiness and joy in PDX, it pivots around how deeply you accept and even indulge in the reality of the winter grey.

Even though we share The Grey with Paris, we deal differently here. Paris seems to have a passive reaction. Winter makes the city insular, encapsulated. My image of Paris on the last day of the world would be, everyone in their neighborhood cafe, their closest friends gathered around them, everyone drinking wine and talking politics and who has the best steak frites or blanquette in town.

Portland’s is a more active response. Rain doesn’t stop us. We have gear. It’s the miner, logger, fisherman ethos. You put on rubber and polypropylene and go do what you’re doing. Ride your bike to work. Get mud on your boots. Do it.

Why is Portland the tough guy? Maybe it’s the stock here. Not only are we the people who left the verdant continent to sail halfway across the world in a leaky boat lousy with rodents and scurvy. No, that wasn’t good enough. We had to go all the way across the continent too, in a rickety wagon train lousy with rodents and dysentery to the other side of the other side of the world.

When you’re not from here, when you’re a soft kid from warmer climes, I think all you can do is fake it for a few years. But then you start to notice how people deal. And emulate. And get a little grin when you see it starting to come down, because now there’s puddles to skip in, and how much better does braised lamb or cassoulet sound when the weather outside is foul? Let alone a cup of coffee, or a glass of brandy. And this is how it can begin. Acceptance and indulgence in place. Portland The Grey.

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categories Winter

We Have To Stand Tall

Of all the moments of my career I wish I could rewind and watch again, there’s one that comes to mind:

Standing on my desk talking on the phone to Mr. R.

I’m 21. IT Intern at the very successful, extrremely rapidly expanding money management firm. A big part of the job is telephone tech support for our high net worth reps who work with uber high net worth clients. So there’s a lot at stake in the damn computer just working. Which, this being the 90s and the OS being Windows NT, wasn’t a given on any day. (Not to mention synching those f’ing Palm Pilots)

It’s not fair to say the reps heaped abuse on us. Relatively speaking, they were very professional. But there were moments. Let’s just say it was easy to get pushed around. For me, I had an escape. I was an intern and wasn’t expected to know anything anyway. Harder for my two cohorts: Recent grads, they were being fairly well compensated to ‘get her done’.

I experienced a few months of this sort of bunker mentality my teammates had developed, and I made up my mind. It was a good team. Smart kids. Smarter than me. We couldn’t fix everything and we couldn’t make every problem go away, but I would try my damndest to make it work, and I would not ever ever be cowed.

This was the lesson I brought from the reception desk: You can be polite as pie and customer-centric as all get it out, WITHOUT being pushed around.

Out of about fifty sales reps, one ruled the roost: Mr. R. Mr. R is in real reality a sweetheart, granddad, good man. But he’s a bulldog too. Always #1 or #2 on the sales board. And easily flustered? You bet… computer issues make him flip.

So I’m on the phone with Mr. R one day. He’s in deep in some conflict between his Palm Pilot and Windows NT. And he is not happy. Already worked over my two coworkers. Now it’s my turn. We’re like a regiment that’s been shelled and pinned down in a hole.

The problem? Well, I’m not getting anywhere on fixing the problem. But I must have realized that there was something more at stake. So I decide in my little 21 year old brain, I’m going to get up on my chair and step up on my desk to say what I need to say next.

And right there with my head bumping against the ceiling, I stop that one-sided conversation and give Mr. R a list of what we’re going to do to fix the problem. 1. 2. 3. A deal: I will not rest and nobody here will rest until this is fixed but you sir will not beat up me or my team. Period.

I look around the room and there’s jaws in laps. “Look at him up there! What a clown!”

And my cohorts I’m sure still laugh about it. This kid Jonny The Clown standing on the desk. But you know what? I don’t mind being the clown every once in a while. I’ll trade being the clown for a boost in morale any day. Maybe in some small way that boost in morale is why the problem ended up getting fixed soon thereafter. (Or maybe it was a Troynado)

In our own ways, we’re often in trenches and we’re often being shelled. But we can’t be cowed. We have to stand tall.

The Briefest History Of The SF 49ers

Founded in 1946. Kezar Stadium out in the park. Bad to mediocre team. A few hopeful years in the 50s. Lean years in the 60s. Moved out of the city essentially in 1971, to Hunters Point. A few hopeful years in the early 70s. Then more misery. Rock bottom in the late 70s. Eddie D buys the team. Hires Bill Walsh out of Stanford. Walsh drafts Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott amongst others. Rampage through the 80s. 3 Super Bowls. 2 more in the 90s. Joe retires, Steve Young takes over. Steve retires. Another lean decade. Then in 11-12, a breakthrough under another Stanford coach. Suddenly the future looks bright again.

One day I’m working behind the counter at the Woodside Bakery and in comes a guy I’d recognize anywhere: Coach Walsh. I remember he was very polite, he had a regular coffee to stay, and he had the biggest head (literally, physically a huge head) of anyone I’ve ever met.

Late Winter

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”
– Andrew Wyeth

25. Grey Days


31. The Winter Branches


15. Snow Showers


categories Winter