Sara Labor

 Immersed in Portland Culture

There is something about being constantly surrounded by a thousand people who are just as nerdy as I am.

The Sigma Tau Delta convention in Portland, Oregon, was possibly one of the best experiences that I have ever had. From the time we stepped off the airplane, to the time we sleepily climbed onto the bus at four in the morning, I had wonderful experience after wonderful experience.

Our group was made up of eight people, all of whom I know on different levels. One of the people, Hannah, is probably my closest friend. A few of the people were people that I was at least sort-of friends with. Then there were a couple people who I had said hi to in the hallways a few times, and that was the extent of our friendship. By the time we left, Hannah, Nate, Lindsey, Nikki, Jacob, Heather, Tiffani, and myself would all know each other a little better.

Of all the valuable things that happened on the trip, I think one of the most important was how many relationships I forged. I enjoyed being in the company of people I hadn’t spent much time with in school, and I enjoyed learning more about people I’ve spent four years passing in the hall.

Lindsey, Nikki, Heather, and I wandered high end shops and took pictures in front of statues. Nate, Jacob and I experienced vegan food and Portland brewed beers together. Hannah and I ran through puddles and hail to get to coffee and a bookstore.

Besides getting to know my Chadron compatriots better, I also enjoyed meeting new people. It doesn’t happen very often that a person from Salt Lake City comes up to me and asks if I’m a Nerdfighter. When I responded yes, said person yelled “let’s be friends” and hugged me.

There was another girl who I was apparently destined to get to know better. She read at the first session I attended, a poetry session. Afterward, I saw her in the lobby and we talked for a minute. I thought with a thousand people I wouldn’t see her again, but I ran into her during several sessions and was even in a group with her during a workshop. I liked being able to click with someone who I’d never met before.

I was meeting people with common interests from everywhere. By the end I had friends from small and big colleges, friends from the East and the West coast, and friends that I would see in school the next week.

While the people made up a good percentage of why I loved my trip, a better percentage was made up of the city. I loved the energy of the city. The biggest store we visited was a book store, people strolled down the street with Starbucks in hand, you could smell food-truck food for blocks and blocks, street artists juggled in front of stores, and a farmers market boasted local artists. Portland was filled with tattooed and pierced hipsters. Craft stores were on every block, with walls decorated with posters of local bands.

The Portland stereotypes that I’ve heard are true: there are hipsters everywhere.

That meant I had found my people.

I immersed myself in the culture there. We went for coffee on the street in the misty morning. We walked along the waterfront at night to see the lights on the river. One day, I went to a nearby plaza and sat on the brick stairs in the sun, a book in my hand. We visited breweries, craft stores, and gardens. We did everything we could to feel like a part of the city, and to feel sucked up in the culture.

Part of the culture was the food, which I wouldn’t dare to skip over. In fact, one of the main attractions in Portland is a bakery.

Voodoo Donut, a quixotic bakery that has been featured on the Travel Channel and the Food Network, was one of our first stops. We were all surprised when we walked into the tiny space to see tattooed cashiers and neon lights covering every wall, and to hear hard rock blaring from the speakers. It was like stepping into a Hot Topic, except it smelled of heavenly treats.

Our group was at a loss as we stared at the chalk board full of donut titles. Many of the titles were either euphemistic, or obscure references. Triple Chocolate Penetration was a devil’s food cake covered in chocolate frosting and cocoa puffs.  I settled for getting an “Oh Captain My Captain,” which was a glazed donut covered in white frosting and Captain Crunch. The mere thought of it makes my mouth water. It was two of my favorite things, and it was both soft and crunchy at the same time. I probably had a mini heart attack after I ate it, but never have I been happier to eat a donut.

The people, the city, and the food made for an amazing trip, but even more important was what I learned. From Day One, I began to feel more confident about my writing. Our opening speaker asked us to think about reading and writing as though our lives depend on it. Slowly, that message sunk in over the weekend. Hiding between the shelves of the sections in Powell’s bookstore and absorbing the new ideas on the back of every book reminded me why I wanted to be an English Major. I wanted to be an English major because I wanted to be on the back of one of those books that people were gobbling up between dusty shelves.

That lesson from our first day, to read and write as if our lives depended on it, stuck out throughout the weekend.

I love to write, and I need it in my life.

And through everything I experienced during my trip, this lesson was the most important, and will stick with me for a long time to come.


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