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.