A Stranger in a Strange State


Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to reflect on why Portland, Oregon, is a different sort of city.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

First, a disclaimer. I’m going to step on Oregonian toes with generalizations and ignorance. I’ve never seen an episode of Portlandia. Just as people judge California by Los Angeles standards, my part of the state is more like the Midwest. We’re all about agriculture. Yes, we’re full of fruits and nuts but they’re pomegranates and pistachios.

I arrived at my limited perspective through two things: the VA Hospital and the bus ride to and from the facility. I was there to meet the doctors who would evaluate me for a kidney transplant. It was July in Fresno and 105 degrees. Portland was a balmy 90. When my friend and I arrived, the TV news announced that cooling centers were open. We thought it was a joke. Our cooling centers don’t open until it’s more like 110. That’s when we sweat.

I didn’t find the city very attractive. The huge buildings seem old and gray. Freeways are gridlocked. I saw my first cannabis shops, one called Zion and the other a “farmacy” called Stone Age. But from the second floor of the hospital, looking out at the Colombia river on a clear day with Mt. Hood in the background, the city is majestic. The sun lures people out to parks for a dose of Vitamin D. Oregonians stay healthy by bicycling or jogging with their dogs. Dogs are important. They have dog rescuers, people in climbing gear who scale down cliffs to rescue dogs that have fallen off the beaten path. This happens a lot and makes the 6 o’clock news.

Speaking of canines, the veterans come to the hospital with questionable service dogs. I also noted that the dress code for men is flannel and women forgo make-up and hair products. Everyone seems very sturdy. The men are irascible as only Vietnam vets can be. They are also much louder and more demanding than the vets at my Fresno hospital.

When I got the call that a kidney was waiting, I arrived during the rainiest October in their history (according to their TV news). It rained every day. I was also there during the election and didn’t get to vote. I watched the riot in downtown Portland on TV. Every visit I’ve made since there’s been some kind of protest in progress. I believe this must be the local pastime. I picture a group on standby ready to take to the streets when the call goes out.

The populous seems to have inherited pioneer blood. I didn’t see much of the laid back lifestyle I’m used to. Several of my friends are ex-pats who left the Golden State for the Weird one. Not to Portland proper but to the country. They’ve gone native. They clued me in on marionberries, the secret fruit Oregon refuses to share with the rest of us. A cross of two varieties of blackberries, they’re too soft to ship and it’s a moot point as the locals gobble them up.

On my recent trip in March, I noticed signs with emergency numbers to call if you spot a pothole. This seems to be a major concern. There’s an urban myth that people were growing pot in the potholes, but it’s just a photoshopped picture on Facebook. The real story is that an anarchist group is repairing them at their own expense.

And that’s how they keep Portland weird!