My family moved to Vancouver, Washington by way of Concord, California in the fall of 1978. I was two years old at the time and carry no memories of life before we moved here. With the exception of a brief six-month stint in Wilsonville, Oregon, I have lived my entire life within the city limits of Vancouver and have seen it bustle and grow. I remember as a kid how it felt like it stretched forever and there were certain areas that we rarely went to because they were too far away. Over the years, existing roadways were improved and new roadways were constructed, so now days it’s fairly convenient to get just about anywhere in town from anywhere you might be.
While most of the people in my age group dreamed of leaving the city, I was always very content here. It could be attributed to the amount of years and happy memories that I’ve created while living here, but Vancouver never seemed as lame as my friends always made it out to be. Sure, when you have a great city like Portland, Oregon only ten minutes away, Vancouver can seem a little on the boring side, but I loved it any way. It always had a charm about it that no matter how many times I went to Portland, couldn’t be replaced. Places like Uncle Milt’s Pizza, Smokey’s on HYW 99, Waterworks Park, and Lake Shore Drive offered me a place where I felt comfortable and at peace during my challenging teenage years. As I got older, I learned to appreciate Officer’s Row and Joe Brown’s Cafe downtown. Again, they certainly weren’t places that could compete with Portland’s hipster persona, but they were perfect for me. If only few others would ever learn to love these same places, then I was content to enjoy them on my own. They were a part of my Vancouver.
Sadly, over the years and unbeknownst to me, my Vancouver was slipping away. While I was living in Wilsonville, I dreamed of getting back to Vancouver. It was friends, it was family, it was home. I bought a home in the spring of 2007 in the East end of town. It was a little further East than I had wanted to be, but it was available now and could be occupied within 30 days, so I took it. It was a really nice house. It was built in 1992 and had only had a single owner, so it was still in great condition. It felt like home and I was happy to be back. Less than three months later while attending a fantasy football draft party in Newberg, my home was broken into. I didn’t notice it right away when I got home because they only took two things, but once I did notice, I was in complete and total shock. Everyone knew to stay out of the Fruit Valley and Rosemere neighborhoods, but I’d never heard of burglaries happening in Orchards before. I had never been robbed before and couldn’t have ever even fathomed the thought of it. I always thought “who would ever rob me? I’m such a nice guy.” A naive thought process certainly, but again, these things didn’t happen in my Vancouver.
With the memory of such a horrible event now a year behind me, in the fall of 2008 I was robbed again while I was at work, only this time, they cleaned me out. In total, they stole approximately $14,000 worth of stuff. If it wasn’t too heavy or nailed down, they took it. I had good insurance and 99% of what was stolen could easily be replaced, but they took things that could never be: My limited edition original 1968 Fender Stratocaster and my sense of security. I had always felt safe in Vancouver for over 30 years, but in one evening, it was gone forever. Soon after my sense of security had been taken, my love for the city I grew up in started to slowly go with it.
It was gradual at first. I stopped spending any time in the back of the house in fear of someone breaking in. I had a security system installed as well as new locks and deadbolts. Even on interior doors with no external access. It was an illness. I wanted to hold up in my coccoon and never face the city outside again. I had become paranoid of everything. Even the meaningless little things that I would’ve never noticed before. I started to see the neighborhood I lived in without the rose-tinted glasses and suddenly the reality of my situation was seeping in after a year of delusion. It was as though I had been thrust into a post-apocalyptic future without even knowing. I became very aware of everything in my neighborhood that was different, or unusual. For example, my street is on a “horseshoe,” so in theory, the only cars that should be driving by would be neighbors. What I noticed instead is that there was a constant flow of traffic. Most of which were cars just passing by for no particular reason. Sometimes driving incredibly slow as if searching for something. It was also about this time that the neighbors from hell moved in just three houses down. Forgive me, I mean not to belittle a person’s financial woes, but these people clearly could not afford the home that they’d purchased. In an effort to make it work, three other sets of roommates moved in, each just as inconsiderate and trashy as the original purchasers.
Imagine the worst experience you’ve ever had with a neighbor and multiply it. These people are the absolute bottom feeders of human creation. As best I can tell, 75% of them are unemployed and the only discernable talent between them is the ability to modify mufflers. Perhaps you’re familiar with that ridiculous phenomenon of car culture where people have their mufflers adjusted to make as much noise as humanly possible. Not only have these people done that to each vehicle in their driveway/curb, but they have apparently found entertainment in modifying the mufflers of non-conventional vehicles. They’ve done motorcycles, dune buggies, hatchbacks, and my personal favorite, a full-sized RV. The noise pulltion from their home I would have to imagine is against county ordinance, but no one in the neighborhood has the gumption to notify the police. Probably for the same reason that I don’t, which is the fear of having so many unstable people against you, so they continue to do whatever they want without reprecussion.
All of this was just from my neighborhood, but the reality was that my situation was not unique, and in most cases, was actually tame compared to what was happening in other neighborhoods in the city. As the city became obssessed with urban sprawl, they’ve all but abandoned the city in between and that is where the bottom feeders are now residing. Not an hour goes by that I don’t hear sirens racing down the major road just a block away. At my old home, I would open my windows at night to listen to the “ocean” effect caused by night time traffic on the nearby interstate. Now instead of an ocean, I simply hear a sea of ambulances, cop cars, and fire trucks. Where am I? This isn’t my Vancouver.
After spending these last three years in this hell, the time has finally come for me to pack up and say goodbye to this place, which is now so foreign to me. My childhood little league ballpark is now low-income apartments, Uncle Milt’s Pizza is now a dirty gym in a bad part of town, and the parks are now overrun by drug deals and the homeless. I rub my eyes in attempt to wake from the bad dream, but alas, it’s all very real. The spirit of this once great city is dead and there is absolutely no bringing it back to life. As property values plummet and the quality of occupation opportunities continues to dwindle, there is no reason for the bottom feeders to try any harder to improve their station in life, thus drag this city down with them and make it more like home to them. I’m sorry, Vancouver, but I can’t live like this any more.
So after 33 years of calling this city my home, on April 15th I pack up one last time and make my new home in Oregon City, Oregon. A town that is only about 1/5 the size of Vancouver and with 1000% more pride in it’s great history and preservation. Their crime rate is less than 1% to the national average, where as Vancouver’s exceeds it. Sure, it’s not a hip, happenin’ kind of place, but it’s one thing that Vancouver could never be: Quiet. The people are friendly. While walking downtown, a car actually stopped to let me cross the street despite them having a green light. Seriously?? The town is old and charming. The people are quiet and kind. Our new home is beautiful and tucked away on a dead end street. Across the street from our house is not more houses, it’s a green space. We’re walking distance from a cute little cafe across from the library and fire station. I fell in love after spending only a few hours there and am happy beyond belief that in just a couple more weeks, it will be my home. I’m not the same person I was a year ago and mentally, I’m ready to “retire” somewhere quiet and start a new life. I’ll miss you Vancouver, but you’ve let me down. Thanks for the memories.