The Narratively magazine today is featuring my essay “Walking Portland’s Great Divide,” which documents my walk along Portland’s 82nd Avenue.
Portland ends at 82nd Avenue, I’ve heard it said, where the real world begins. Exit the organic, gluten-free, locally-grown bubble of food carts, microbreweries, bike shops, bearded hipsters and condos towering over Craftsman bungalows in walkable neighborhoods. On the other side of the avenue, East Portland houses a population that’s poorer, less educated, and more diverse than the rest of the city. Most people with Section 8 housing vouchers, new immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe and African-Americans, pushed out of close-in neighborhoods by gentrification, settle here. In the City of Roses, the other side of the tracks means the other side of 82nd Avenue.
For Portlanders, 82nd conjures an endless strip of used-car dealerships, auto-repair services, gas stations, fast-food joints, Asian restaurants, strip malls, dive bars and prostitutes. In ten years of living here — I am originally from Slovakia — I’ve only experienced it while driving to big-box stores in Clackamas, a suburb. Which is to say, I don’t know 82nd at all. I decided to launch my career as a flâneur by walking its seven miles.