Turboglacier asked me to write about why this place is the best place to live (or, if it isn't, why I live here anyway). I'm not sure whether this is the best place to live. But it's certainly the best place for me to live.
Portland is the best place to live because it's just the right size. When you meet somebody neat that you like you discover you're actually connected to one another in three or four ways. But it's not so small that you've already met all the neat people. There are still restaurants I haven't been to, that I'm looking forward to checking out. But there are a bunch of restaurants where the employees know me. It's a town where it is possible to feel like you know the town, while still realizing that there are new things, people, places, whole scenes left to discover.
Portland is the best place to live because water is everywhere. Casco Bay and its islands and, out past Junk of Pork Island, the open Atlantic, are all around. We have dozens of lighthouses and buoys and ferries and tankers and lobster boats, plus the wind and the clouds and the grey sea making the view from any spot infinitely changeable. And the islands have forts on them, with tunnels and turrets, so you can look out and see a bit of history and imagine the adventure of exploring the island and climbing the towers. It's easy to drive into the city and to get out -- in 20 minutes you can be at a beach with breaking waves and surfers idly sitting on their boards waiting for the next big set to come in. You can be on a windy cliff next to a lighthouse looking at waves crashing on the rocks right near you, with gulls circling and diving overhead and the smell of seaweed in your nostrils. You can be in a quiet cove where the shoreline is crabgrass and mud. Or, if you drive inland, you can be at a great big freshwater lake with green-brown water and sandy beaches. Right in the middle of town there's a cove about two miles across, with a tree-lined walking path of 3.5 miles around it. There are ducks and herons and Canada geese and egrets hanging out on the perimeter of this tidal estuary, and it's right smack in the center of Portland. It's easy to go sailing in Portland. You can be on a boat within 10 minutes of leaving your office.
Portland is the best place to live because we have a baked bean factory and it's on primo waterfront real estate. And because there's a tall building in town with a flashing sign that broadcasts the time and the temperature. You wouldn't believe how handy that is. Portland is the best because downtown is small enough to be walkable, big enough to be varied. There are still secret places that you can get a great parking space and park all day. Portland is the best because there are art galleries, great bars, coffee shops, and restaurants everywhere. Portland is the best because you can get to know the people who own businesses here. Portland, and, in fact, the whole state of Maine, is great because anyone you'd like to meet, with the possible exception of Stephen King, is at most two degrees of separation from you, and if you want to have lunch with them, you can arrange it pretty easily. Portland is great because it has Silly's, and the Bayou Kitchen, and Scales, and Ferdinand, and Arabica. Portland's weather can be lousy, but it is very changeable and the sky is beautiful almost all the time. Portland decorates its streets in the winter time with bright colored, Dr-Seuss-esque hanging shapes, and wraps trees in wild colored lights, and has lampposts and crazy twisty bell shaped lighted sculptures that makes you almost glad it gets dark so early in winter. Portland is great because LL Bean is about 20 minutes away, and 25 minutes away you can be in the real, actual country, walking in the woods with big trees and deer tracks everywhere.
My gripes with Portland: the music scene here isn't so great -- we've recently lost a few good venues that used to bring the kind of acts I most like to see to town. But I haven't explored the local bands as much as I should -- we have some pretty good ones. I'm reluctant to fault the scene before I give it a fair try. The public transportation could be better. I keep meaning to take the bus into town more, but almost never do it. You probably couldn't have an affair in Portland. You wouldn't be able to go to a restaurant where you'd be sure you wouldn't run into someone you know. I'm not sure that's a gripe; just a descriptor. It's possible to go a day without running into friends an acquaintances, but that's not something you can safely predict, and from time to time that feels claustrophobic. There's no good Mexican or Chinese food here. A couple of the major arteries leading west are clogged with traffic at rush hour (otherwise there is NO TRAFFIC to speak of). It's not a very diverse community. Housing prices are going up too fast, which means a lot of young people can't buy homes in Portland anymore.
My fantasy runner up spots are: in Maine -- Vinalhaven Island, across the Thoroughfare from North Haven; Stonington, especially if I had summers off and a rowboat; Peak's Island right here in town. If I were banished from Maine for life: South Austin, Texas, in one of the little neighborhoods off Congress; New Haven (or maybe Short Beach in Branford), CT; the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Diego. Possibly Charleston, S.C.