Afterthoughts: Next Stop, Portland

We’d better staunch this flow of ex-pats or we’re not going to have any citizens left in Honolulu.

Photo: Linny Morris

Everyone who is anyone seems to be moving to Portland.

I ran into a friend at Whole Foods the other day, who cheerfully told me she was about to relocate to Portland. Then our coworker announced he was pulling up stakes and heading for Portland. And local burlesque artist Violetta Berretta? She, too, was off to shake her tail feathers in—everybody say it with me, now—Portland.

Hawaii’s music scene is hemorrhaging talent. Downtown Charley and the Humbones lost a member to Portland’s siren call. Cogito moved to Portland, as did the Quintessentials. By the time I’d even heard of All the Apparatus, I was too late. “The last two members of our band board a plane for our new home of Portland, Oregon,” read the band’s newsletter. “Yes, it’s true! We are moving!”

Clearly, there’s an exodus in progress, and if it keeps up at this pace, Oahu will soon be a ghost town, while Oregon bulges under the weight of 905,034 new residents.

I’m not sure I’m ready to move to Portland, land of espresso fanatics and entrepreneurs. City of vegan muffins. County of DIY crafters. The place is so hip, the mayor is named Sam Adams.

But I know all of this second hand. To get the real dirt on Portland, I questioned an expert: Randy Gragg, the editor-in-chief of Portland Monthly. Why, I asked him, are we losing all our population to your fair city?

“It’s the golden era for Portland,” he said. “There are lot of writers, art, music and performance. There’s an extraordinary food scene.” And, he added, “It’s still the cheapest West Coast city.”

(I ran a cost-of-living analysis via “Sperling’s Best Places,” and found that Portland is 39 percent cheaper than Honolulu, with housing costs being the biggest factor.)

The music scene? Incredibly diverse, says Gragg. “It hasn’t developed a particular sound. There’s a lot of cross-breeding of interests, some of which are very musically obscure.”

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

Affordable housing and a cappella performances of Medieval Byzantine music! Man, Portland was starting to sound hard to resist. Surely, there must something wrong with the place?

“Our unemployment rate is really high,” says Gragg. “We’re befuddled because people keep moving here and there’s no place to work. And, people drive really slow here. Slowly and sloppily.”

Ah, befuddled and sloppy: A natural segue for my question on dating in Portland.

“My single women friends find the dating scene tepid,” laughs Gragg. “The men are very passive. There are a lot of hipster dudes; they’re content to sit in a bar and read Proust.”

Has Gragg had any friends move to Hawai‘i, perhaps hot on the trail of Men Who Do Not Enjoy Proust? No, just one couple, who left Portland for our shores to surf.

Here’s how the score stands: Honolulu is down, like, 3,000 people; Portland, down two measly Oregonians. On the plus side, I read that Hawaii leads the nation in percentage of millionaires in the population. And, we are home to more 100-year-olds per capita than any other state. Take that, inexpensive, latte-loving West Coast cities that I shall not name! 

Besides, our mayor may not be named after a beer, but he can sing and he’s probably a lot taller than Portland’s mayor.

For more of Wagner’s writing, see her “Guilty Pleasures” blog.