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So-lame? Are we willing to settle for that?

So-lame? Are we willing to settle for that?

My husband calls me Doomsday. I am his worst-case scenario girl. Give me a cloud and I can willfully ignore the silver lining. Show me a parade and I’ll be happy to rain on it.

But when we were thinking about moving to Salem, Oregon, we received a lot of dark prophesies – from current residents, friends, and people who have been here. Actually, the advice we got bordered on the apocalyptic, even for a cynic like me.

Salem, we were told, was a dingy dive sandwiched between the coolest city in the country and one of the raddest college towns on the planet. Salem was Portland’s dowdy, spinster half-sister. Salem was Eugene’s lame neighbor to the north. Salem was a great place… to leave on the weekends. Worst of all, someone told me Salem lacked a soul.

But like so many other immigrants to Oregon lured here by the promise of life lived well between the mountains and the ocean, we decided to move here anyway. After all, we didn’t spend our childhoods playing the computer game Oregon Trail to never make the move West ourselves. I had already lived in Washington, D.C. for a few years, so I knew what it was like to live in a city of teeming bureaucrats. I had already once moved where people told me not to – a transitional neighborhood in D.C. where (gasp!) people spoke other languages.

In November, after traveling the country for a few months, we pulled our stuff out of storage and set Tom-Tom, our GPS navigation system, to Salem. Tom-Tom analyzed 52,000 roads to get us here, but in the end we only really needed three: Interstates 80, 84 and 5.

We got a lot of advice and tips on our move to Salem:

Number one: Move to Portland.

Number two: If you’re going to live in Salem, you absolutely have to live in West Salem or South Salem, every other neighborhood is either too trashy or too dangerous to inhabit.

Number three: You can’t bike to work.

Number four: Go somewhere else to find good food.

Number five: You gotta get out of Salem to find good bookstores (for me this was like saying I was being sent to the Gulag).

Three months later, I am happy to report that we are living in a house in Northeast near I-5, my husband is biking to his job at a dental office, we’ve already found three local restaurants to frequent with regularity, and Portland is a destination, not an escape. Our immediate neighbors are a winemaker, a gardener, a guitarist, a historic preservation specialist, and a counselor. As far as I can tell, they all have souls.

Oh, and I’ve found the books. I’ve got eclectic tastes, but the Book Bin, Reader’s Guide, or the library have had everything I’ve wanted so far.

I’m new in town, so I’ll be writing about Salem from a newcomer’s prospective. Some of the things I will write about in this space won’t be new to you, but I promise to bring fresh eyes to everything I take on. I promise no silver linings, no parades. I’m no local booster, and I’ll be the first person to say when something sucks and sucks hard. But more than anything else, I promise to willfully ignore the naysayers who trash the town they call home. That’s my home you’re talking about.

Emily Grosvenor is a journalist, essayist and blogger. You can read about her adventures in Oregon on her blog desperatelyseekingsalem.wordpress.com.

9 Comments

  1. I’d like to hear more from you . I’m in the Chamber’s Leadership Salem class currently and trying to tackle the very issue of Salem being So-lame……there is a lot more going on here than I think most people realize!

  2. Thank you for writing this. I am moving there at the end of the summer and I must admit, I was a bit panicked after reading some reviews. I am breathing a bit better.
    Thank you!

  3. I’m very happy to have stumbled across this article. My husband and I are thinking of making the move to West Salem from a “sleepy” town about 45 minutes outside of Atlanta. When I started researching the area I was pleased at first, until I came upon the negative reviews from the locals who can’t wait to get out! It’s refreshing to see a positive light.

  4. I grew up in Portland and moved to Salem a few years ago with my wife. We live in Candelaria with our two children. I am still trying to love Salem. At times, I really like it. I like Bush’s Pasture Park and Minto Brown Park and Riverfront (Riverfront only kinda and sometimes). I like Saturday Market and Wednesday Market and First Wednesday Market (Wednesday Market only kinda). I like EZ Orchards and Discovery Village and being close to Silver Falls and the Oregon Garden (love the OG). I like the downtown (kinda reminds me of Sellwood or St Johns of old). I like Willamette University and the creek running through and the ducks and the little zen garden and Hallie Ford Museum of Art. I like the Mission Mill and its holiday and special events. I like Tokyo Int’l University cafeteria. I like the YMCA and Ike Box and Vietnamese best baguettes on Court St. I like the Little Cannoli Bakery and crystal shop in the basement of the Reed Opera House. The Elsinore is a beautiful beautiful theatre and Grand Opera House is fun – especially talent show and old movies. Northern Lights is a good food & brew movie venue with second run films.

    Salem has a soul. It has a core. It has interesting people. It has good and growing restaurant options. It has an art scene – though you have to look for it. It’s on the river. It’s closer to the coast than Portland. It has manageable traffic. It doesn’t have the pretense or ego of Portland. That’s why I like the saying “Keep Salem Lame”. It has that kind of Bob Straub sentiment per his famous statement “Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.” I kinda like that Salem may be too lame for Portlanders (or others).

    There is of course, the bad: Institutions and decades of residual and all that goes along with that. You don’t have to look hard to see the effect of drugs. There are certain hostilities by some of the inhabitants of Salem that goes with a downtrodden town.

    There is the (hopefully) Improvable: City planning that emphasizes a core and alternative transit. Please please, oh powers that be, take a page from Portland and Corvallis and develop a bike/walk corridor from Minto to Riverfront. Develop a little marina. I think these little things would go a long way.

    Keep Salem Lame! (a better kept secret from those who would claim their superiority)

    Keeping Portland weird is cliche ;) … it’s a tag line on KINK after all.

  5. We just moved up to Salem from Eugene, and I find it a refreshing change. People rave about Eugene, but it’s not for everyone. We felt like people were constantly sizing up our “granola quotient” and it’s surprisingly expensive there (after living in downtown Seattle, the only thing we found cheaper was housing). Salem is more of a normal town, which makes it stand out being between Portland and Eugene. The downtown area looks less dated and abandoned than Eugene, and also lacks the armies of roving vagrants.

  6. Thank you for your refreshing view point. My twenty something daughter was offered a job in Salem and the opinions online are indeed dark.

  7. Thank you for this post! I’m hoping to move to Salem in a few month, as I’m trying to get a job as an instructor at Chemeketa. I visited Salem about a month ago and absolutely adored it! Lots of charm and green spaces. Running/hiking trails. Civilization (currently live too rural for my tastes). Bike routes. Not too big and not too small. The river is gorgeous. The proximity to Portland is perfect.

    I started to get a little nervous when reading about hoe much Salem sucks online, problems with the energy being blah (as I’m rather sensitive to those thing, growing up in a TX town with 9 prisons), so I’m rather thrilled to find this post. I look forward to reading more about your experiences.

  8. Thanks for writing this! We just moved from Corvallis and I work in Portland and commute everyday. We live in Keizer, but often eat out and shop in Salem. I have a food blog, but would love to connect with other Salem area bloggers. I’ll check out your site!

  9. Funny- a few years later if like to see how you still feel about Portland. It looks like it’s become as douchey and overpriced (and unoriginal) as moving to Brooklyn. Which in my book makes Salem seem that much more desirable.

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