The young woman had been camped out in front of City Hall for over a month. Her hair was straggly, but she had a smile on her face and she was holding a donut.

“Can you tell us why you’re still here?” the local news interviewer asked.

“I’m here because of my deep commitment to equity and fighting the oppression of marginalized communities,” the woman said. Granted, she looked like she wouldn’t recognize a marginalized community if she tripped over it on her way to her local co-op vegan cafe, but I loved her anyway.

I was obsessed with the protests. Every afternoon, as soon as I got home from work, I dropped onto my couch, slipped off my shoes and watched the latest. The campers were opposed to the Mayor’s harsh treatment of the homeless. Their encampment was supposed to be a reminder to him of how those without a home were forced to live. It sprawled out from City Hall into the nearby park, littering it with insulting signs, red flags and communal kitchen pots.

They weren’t going to accomplish anything in the end. And there was no way that I could go sit there with them, not with my job and my mortgage. Despite all of that, I fantasized about the protesters. I fantasized about ordering pizza for them, going to bring them homemade soup. Maybe I could knit scarves for them. I would hand out a scarf to each of them, give them a hug and tell them how special they were. I would be like the Mother Theresa of the City Hall camp. It was the least I could do.

I turned off the TV and went to pour myself a glass of wine. The rice was already cooking. I switched on the radio. The local leftie community station was broadcasting from the camp. I listened and the little butterfly of excitement started fluttering around my belly again.

I could feel a shift in my body and suddenly, another voice drowned out the activist on the radio. The voice was calm and logical, sounding very confident even though it was offering public testimony in front of the city council.

It’s not that we don’t want this development to be built at all. It’s just that it’s too big. It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood…

I shook my head and stared down into the sink. No matter how much I wanted it to turn off, the voice continued.

And is the building going to have sufficient parking? Where are the residents going to park? I’m betting the cars will end up on our street…

I turned off the radio. Mother Theresa. What was I thinking? I walked back to the living room with my wine glass, but the voice followed me.

We all agree that affordable housing is so important, but…

The shift had already happened to me a long time ago. I had turned into the person who testifies against affordable housing projects if they’re being planned for her neighborhood. I could indulge in rebellious nostalgia all I wanted to, but I was not who these anarchist hippie kids wanted to see at their protest, not any more than I wanted to have an actual conversation with someone who was homeless. Not any more than I would have liked to see the City Hall camp in my backyard, if I was going to be honest.

I had shifted far past what I had once believed in, floating off on the stream of comfortable daily habit until I no longer knew where I was. Was I even a progressive? I had no idea.

Well, sitting here and feeling bad for myself certainly wasn’t going to help anyone. I wiped my eyes and turned on the Lifestyle Channel. They always had the best decorating tips.

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A few decades had gone by, and still the war went on.  Nobody in the country even remembered who Osama bin Laden had been, although some had a vague memory of a terrorist getting killed at a televised White House dinner.

And yet, every Friday afternoon the same thing continued in my hometown–the old hippies came out to protest.  The real 1960s hippies had died out by then, but these folks proudly carried on the tradition.  They slouched down Main Street with signs proclaiming hilarious things such as “Troops Out Of Iraq!” and “No Money For Israel!” and “Funding For Infrastructure!”  They circled the downtown blocks, screaming at a President who couldn’t hear them, and who wasn’t listening anyway.

I could hear them, though, every week when I left the office.  The company I worked for manufactured toy drones, and I was always worn out after a long day of customers with malfunctioning drones which crashed into trees or attacked their children.  Friday was when I would treat myself — fries and a beer at my favorite downtown pub.  Even as I chewed, the hippie chants echoed in my direction.  Rain or shine, they were there.  And she was there.

I did my best to keep my eyes on my plate and avoid eye contact as she went past the glass. But on that particular day, much to my dismay, she came in to talk to me.

“Hey, Mom.”  I managed to fake a weak smile.  “I’m very tired right now, so…”

“Can’t I even say hi to you anymore?”

“Not if it turns into another crazy rant…”

“It’s not crazy.  It’s not crazy to tell you that your job is bad for you.  You’re wasting your life. You hate those stupid toys…”

“Oh, sure.  And you’re not wasting your time doing this?”

“I’m doing it for my country!”

“Look, Mom.  Nobody cares.  Your country isn’t paying attention.  This is my one reward for my shitty week–could you please leave me alone?”

“Okay.  Have a good dinner.”  I felt her move away and walk out behind me, but didn’t look back.

But once I’d finished my beer, my anger faded away.  Alcohol made me sentimental.  So what if she wanted to walk around and yell with her anti-war sign, or tell me about all the conspiracy theories she’d read on the Internet?  She was retired, and retired people got to spend their time doing whatever silly stuff they felt like doing.  Hell, maybe I’d join her at the rally.  I wouldn’t hold any signs, of course–I didn’t want any embarrassing pictures of me online–but I could applaud the speeches and pretend to chant along a little.

I paid for my meal and went to the city square, where the marches ended every week in a sparse, hoarse-throated rally.  I must’ve taken too long, because the square was empty by the time I got there.  The cops were half-heartedly arresting one or two people.  The grey-bearded little man who liked to throw eggs at them was being led away.

No rally, no protest, no chance to chant.  No chance to make it up to Mom.  It was now drizzling miserably.

I heard indistinct shouting to my right.  It was the other protester who was there every week — the one with pictures of chopped up babies.

“You’ll burn in eternal Hell!”  he boomed at me through his bullhorn.

He eyed me with suspicion as I approached.  I handed him a twenty.  “For your church,” I said.  I didn’t tell him that I felt sad for him.

He glared at me, but he did pocket the twenty.  In return, he handed me one of his anti-abortion brochures.

As I walked away, he called after me:  “Remember, God doesn’t just want your money!  He wants your soul!”

I laughed.  How sweet of him to assume I had one.

It’s the middle of the week and I’m still suffering from severe post-Pride depression.

I went to the Pride parade last Sunday. I usually try to go. Other cities may have bigger gay pride celebrations, but the Portland one is always such a fun party.

After a while, watching the parade really makes me feel like I’ve landed in a magical alternate universe, full of color and glitter and dance. Rainbows are everywhere. There’s a giant disco burrito rolling down the street. Happy people are wearing shiny unicorn horns and fluffy raccoon tails, and happy dogs are wearing pink tutus. I end up cheering at everyone and everything, even the guy selling balloons.

And then it all ends, and it’s such a coming down. At first it’s not so bad, as I leave the waterfront with a crowd of straggler unicorns and other partiers. But then the celebration scatters, and it hits me. I’m back in the mundane world. It looks dull and drab. Instead of fantastic drag queens, it’s the usual assortment of families in Wal Mart-style T-shirts and flip flops, and drunken dudebros with their pants sliding down to their knees.

Yes, I’ve officially exited Wonderland and find that I’ve returned to my greyish-brown cubicle existence.

But hey, I guess that’s what makes any celebration, whether it’s Pride or Christmas, special–the fact that it only happens once a year. Wouldn’t be the same if I felt that way all the time. I’m sure that next June, Santa will bring me an even bigger and better parade–right?

Fall to February — A bunch of guys in ugly uniforms giving each other concussions. Some of them have underinflated balls, which is apparently a problem.

February — A has-been pop star performs crappy music and the TV plays a bunch of dumb commercials. So the usual, but there’s also a game of some sort.

Spring — A bunch of guys strolling around a field, scratching their (not underinflated) balls and spitting out wads of chew. This is also the time of year when soft-spoken public radio hosts reminisce about hearing the crack of the bat when they were little children and bemoan the fact that America’s national pastime is no longer as popular as it used to be.

April — The Portland Trailblazers lose again. “We’ll definitely win next year!”

May — Awwww, look at the cute horsies getting raced to death.

Summer — Portlanders put on colorful scarves and pretend that they care about sports and that they’re European. Hint to Portland: Real soccer hooligans set cars on fire.

Summer, Once Every 4 Years — The world comes together to celebrate peace and harmony through athletic competition. I can tell that we’re totally serious about it because there’s a giant dove puppet involved.

Also Once Every 4 Years — The world falls in love with the most beautiful game, as FIFA is paid massive bribes.

Winter — Figure skating! Finally, I can watch a real sport! Also, the weirdly hypnotic appeal of curling. Hands down, the best part of the year.

Except that it’s back to the guys in the ugly uniforms again.

Mom was staring at my plate in shock. It was covered with a messy pile of bacon, cheese and chicken.

“What is *that*?”

I was stunned myself. “It’s…it’s a…salad.”

Ah, the danger and the mystery that is the American roadside restaurant. You never know quite what you’ll get served. Somewhere, underneath all that protein, a few wilted green leaves could be found, or so I suspected.

But I was a wimp compared to my fellow eaters. Other families seated in the Kozy Kitchen dining room placidly awaited their deliveries of greasy eggs and meat, with two and three dishes per person, while here I was, a rank amateur, unable to handle a simple “salad”.

“There’s no way you can finish that.”

“Maybe I can, but I’ll need a stent right after.”

Let’s face it, on our trip through the towns of Southern Oregon, we must’ve acted like the most obnoxious of tourists. “Do you have anything with kale in it?” “Why doesn’t this store have an organic veggie section?” And things got even worse when it came to the alcohol department. “What do you mean you only serve Bud, Coors and Corona? This is a joke…right?” At least I dissuaded Mom from her idea of bringing her own personal lime into restaurants with her, so that she could “fix” the Caesar salad dressing. I figured the natives wouldn’t take too kindly to that.

Leaving my little hipster nest to travel the rest of the state has made me realize just how Portland I’ve really become, and has made me appreciate living here much more.

And my bacon and cheese salad? Well, I managed to eat about half of it, and was sick for the rest of the day. Like I said, I’m a total wimp. My review of the Kozy Kitchen–it’s only for the strong.

There is a race going on in this country right now which I’m following with great interest, and I’m not talking about any of the 2014 political contests, although I’m sure I’ll do plenty of grumbling about those later. No, I’m thinking of the race to open the first cat cafe in North America.

The idea for the cat cafe started in that home of the strange and bizarre, Japan, and they are wildly popular there–along with other novelty cafes, like ones where you can have lunch with stuffed animals if you’re feeling lonely. The cat cafe trend has since spread to Europe and Australia as well. It’s such an addictive concept that I’m surprised it hasn’t popped up earlier here in the States–you can sip your favorite caffeinated beverage in the company of anywhere between 10 and 30 kitties which you can pet and interact with. Most of the American cafes which are being planned intend to have the cats up for adoption, so they will serve a good cause as well.

Naturally, when it comes to the cat cafe race, I am rooting for Purringtons Cat Lounge, which is tentatively scheduled to open here in the Portland area sometime in the fall. But Purringtons has fierce competition. There are ideas being bounced around for cat cafes in Seattle, Reno and South Florida. And if I were to bet on the winner of the race, my money would be on the San Francisco area–either KitTea, which is trying to open its doors this summer, or the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, which already has a location and a possible September opening date. I should add that all of these cafes have Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns going, so if you want to support your hometown’s cat cafe bid, you can help make the dream happen.

The hilarious part about all of this is that I love cats, but am very allergic to them, so I will probably choke to death as soon as I step foot in one of these fabulous places. But no matter–it will be worth it. A glorious death, surrounded by all those cute cats! If I don’t make it back out alive, remember me as one who adored the kittehz. And best of luck to Purringtons!

I’m not sure to what degree I can trust a magazine called Monocle. But for what it’s worth, my hometown of Portland has landed on Monocle’s annual list of the world’s most livable cities, and it’s the only American city the London magazine has deemed worthy of its attention. Mind you, Portland is number 23 on the list, so America still doesn’t rank very high when it comes to Brits with monocles.

But what’s much more interesting than this supposed honor–we’ve been on plenty of lists, both good and bad–is the reaction of my fellow townfolk to it. Our local weekly posted about the Monocle article on its Facebook page, and here’s just a sampling of the comments:

Put a muzzle on it for feck sake! It’s getting ridiculous around here. Most nights I can’t even park on my own street. We need immigration control in Oregon!

Can we find who is the monstrous PR machine pushing Portland as the fucking mecca and stop them??!! Please! Can we do something to stop all the greedy developers and landlords?? I can’t fucking afford anything now. Kindly fuck off and give it a break with moving here already.

JUST STOP IT FOR FUCKS SAKE!!!! I already don’t even recognize streets from 15 years ago… STOP MOVING HERE!!!!

I get the sense that Portlanders are not crazy about change. Maybe we love our town so much, we want to freeze it in time and keep it just the way we imagine it is or was in the past.

But I’d like to send a completely different message out to all the interesting people of the universe. What you’ve heard is true! Portland is awesome. Come on over, you’ll love it! Help make this place into the dynamic, thriving metropolis it deserves to be. It’s wonderful now, but it has the potential to be so much more. Yeah, I know prices will rise in the process, but if things work the way they usually do, we should be able to make more money too. And I trust that all of you new residents will help expand and improve the art scene and the nightlife, as well. Stagnation is never good, not even when it’s cutesy Portlandia stagnation.

So like the anti-Tom McCall, I’m here to say “Don’t just visit, stay!” I did, over 20 years ago, and I haven’t regretted it. The first rule of Portland, as far as I’m concerned: tell everyone how fantastic Portland is.