Portland – polite garbage… wait…

After spending 38 years in NY (with tiny exceptions for a few years in Boston) I moved to Portland this past October. And already the changes have started. It’s… strange, but in no way unwelcome.

The first thing I noticed was that Portland seemed too polite. Like, I mean NYers are polite (we really are) but also in a hurry. So it’s always a sort of polite drive-by. But in Portland when they ask how you’re doing – they want to hear it. At length. And will ask follow-ups. And tell you about themselves.

I… I have no need for that. I really don’t. But I stand there and do some chit-chatting just because I can’t very well set fire to strangers and run off cackling. I mean, I guess I could. But I shouldn’t, and don’t.

But it is constant. Ever-present. And I found myself not minding as the weeks went by. Look, standing in a line and waiting because someone has to dig out extra coupons never bothered me. If I was in a total screaming rush I would plan for it in advance. So that’s fine. I just don’t want to talk to the person digging out the coupons and know their reasons for needing peas on sale. I don’t. But more and more I engage them instead of just muttering “uh-huh” and looking for someone to use a taser on the them.

I’ve also noticed the garbage. In NY taking out the garbage meant going down a bunch of stairs lugging bags and then walking twenty feet, turning a corner, unlocking a metal gate, going down a ramp into a hellmouth and shoving the bags into a big pit full of other people’s garbage that had probably been there for a week and made you want to run screaming. Which meant you put off taking out the garbage, which meant it was even worse of a chore.

But now? Now I take it out my side door, drop it in a can and roll the can to the curb once a week. Boom, done. I have grown actually fond of garbage day. I have my garbage collection company send me emails to remind me of what they pick up that week. Wait.. what they pick up? Portland, you need to understand, recycles and also composts. Because of that they pick up recycling/composting once a week and garbage once every other week. That seemed nutty to me at first but as the time has passed I have noticed it is exactly right. Once you get into serious recycling and composting your actual garbage drops considerably.

It drops enough to scare you that everyone isn’t sorting this much.

But anyway this also, the composting mostly, teaches you to eat leftovers or not make as much food. Because you will have to deal with it later, and you don’t want that. It really has cut down on the random waste of buying that thing in the supermarket you might want later, or just cooking way too much food you know you won’t reheat.

But the recycling, and having to empty the small, in kitchen, recycling bin into the outside large one and so on has had another effect: I keep meaning to switch to reusable bags when grocery shopping. Portland has made plastic shopping bags a no-go, which is fine. But then you get paper bags and I don’t need them so I have to recycle them and it’s one more damned thing to deal with and if I just buy 5 books at Powell’s they give me a free tote bag and if I get enough of those I can use them for the weekly food shopping and…

Portland recycling has given me an excuse to buy more books. Bless you, Portland.

And funnily enough the “cut down on things so you don’t have to recycle them” bit came to play this weekend in a new way. I needed a new light jacket. I tend to always wear hoodies but they aren’t the best in the rain so I wanted something I could wear instead. And I found a very nice jacket I like a lot, but this isn’t about that. This is about what happened when I bought it. The clerk folded and then rolled up the jacket and just handed it to me. Just… here you go. And I took it, and tucked it under my arm and headed for home. It wasn’t until I was near home that I realized that if that had happened anywhere else I would’ve been confused. No bag for purchase? Just take your shit and go? Really, dude?

But if he had given me a bag I would have to do something with it. I didn’t need one. I didn’t ask for one. So he didn’t hand one over. And we were both fine with that.

Welcome to Portland.

I am still confused as to why no place in Portland wants to deliver food without a big stupid fee and why everything seems to close stupidly early – but it’s early days for me here, still, so maybe those mysteries will unlock with time.

Today, as I post this, for the record, it is garbage day for me, and a garbage+recycling day to boot. I haven’t gotten my reminder email yet. But I will.

By Adam P. Knave

Adam P. Knave wrote this, but you knew that, since this is his site. That's kinda how it works.

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