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portland cancer cluster

The right heavy metal. via

Does the name Portland Cancer Cluster sound like run for your life? Should it?

One lovely afternoon I sat in a Division Ave food court/food cart pod for a beer with a dear friend.

We were surrounded by the sounds of urban joy that make Portland such a desirable location.

Young moms and dads talked and ate and drank while tending their kids.

It felt perfect. No one had heard the words Portland cancer cluster.


My friend had recently finished the feat of building a beautiful in-fill home on the high side of the street in SE Portland. He was settling in for a good decade, or so.

The place was similar to the suburban castle he’d built in the suburbs where he and his wife had raised their children, which is where we met and I still lived.

They turned the page with the move.

Now an empty nest baby boomer he opened a new chapter and opted for a more vibrant environment than dull suburban life without kids.

The choices they saw were either being a young couple in an aging community, or being an older couple in a younger community.

From the looks of the food cart party they made the right decision.

Youth called and they answered.

Dressed up roach coaches parked side by side on an empty corner lot drew young parents and the energy they all share.

A beer cart tied it all together.

As a baby boomer parent ten years his senior, we saw things from a different angle.

My buddy was feeling the vibes; I wasn’t. Maybe it’s because my daddy role began eight or nine blocks from where we were.

A couple of urban events helped my wife and I decide to raise out family somewhere other than SE Portland, the current cool spot for evolved couples.

My pal and his wife swapped suburb for urban after their kids grew up enough to adjust. College for the youngest was the last straw.

“So this is it,” I said, “the future of Portland is right in front of us? These all look like nice people, smart people, but they are all one or two negative urban experiences from fleeing to the suburbs.”

I swirled my beer looking around.

“You’re wrong on this one,” he said. “These are all six figure professionals settling in for the long haul. They’re not renters like you were. They buy prime real estate and they’re staying. That’s the big picture. This is Portland’s future right here.”

He was sure, I was sure, but he hadn’t had that urban event. Mine came to my wife and I with our first born.

The short synopsis:

We’d just returned one night after a roadie visit to Grandma and Grandpa to find our block wrapped in crime tape.

I drove around and found a back way to our apartment on 11th and Lincoln.

Once everyone was inside, I walked out to see what’s up.

Police, firemen, and ambulances blocked the streets outside my front door.

I saw a guy standing next to a van.

“Hey, you know what’s going on?”

“Not really, but they’re figuring it out,” he said.

Before we exchanged another word a cop came to us and walked him away.

I asked the next closest person, “What happened here?”

Turns out a woman jumped out of a speeding car, hit a telephone pole face first, and died.

That first guy I talked to was the driver. The woman was in his van.

They’d been at a bar down the street partying before the accident scene.

Eventually things wound down and everyone left. Most everyone.

The next morning I walked out to find parts of the dead woman left over. Blood on the sidewalk. Teeth in the telephone pole. Hair blown into the gutter.

The suburban house hunt started a week later.

It wasn’t a Portland cancer cluster that scared us off.

After we got another beer on Division I said, “One urban event will chase mobile families out of this hipster paradise. I don’t know what it’ll be, or when, but I see something fragile in these moms and dads. Young kids do that to us.”

My buddy is a smart guy. And loyal. He took up for his new neighborhood like a champ.

“You’ve got it wrong. This is what Portland looks like, what it feels like. And it’s good. They’re all staying, just like us.”

I hoped he was right.

Even when things changed for him, I hoped he was right again. Who doesn’t love a shining moment of security?

They sold their custom home and moved out of state after two years of residency in dream land. It was a business decision, not a fear move like mine.

The big time called them before a morbid urban experience like death at their doorstep with human debris left behind.

They left before hearing of a heavy metal plume of cadmium and arsenic, cancer clusters, and health warnings to recycle their contaminated backyard global bucket veggies.

The news is bad for everyone, but imagine parents with babies. No one wants their kid in a heavy metal infested hell hole, especially when the news is slow to surface.

I cruised east Portland on a Saturday with that thought. It looked normal.

Up Alberta, then over to Hawthorne, Division, Clinton, and Powell before dragging NW 21st and 23rd.

People were out with their kids everywhere.

Alberta wasn’t as busy as Hawthorne, Clinton slower than Division, but moms and dads and kids were all out.

NW 23rd was busier than 21st, but still not as packed as Hawthorne.

Portland cancer cluster be damned.

You want your city to stand up for you, to give you a chance to make informed decisions about your life.

The human cost of city living, Portland living, makes responsible reporting feel like a given.

When it turns into Love Canal, Flint Michigan, or the SoCal gas leak, it’s no longer about keeping Portland weird.

The feeling of living in a death cloud, a Portland cancer cluster, isn’t an acceptable risk with kids in the picture.

That’s an urban event to run from, and it’s happening now.

What do you do?

About David Gillaspie
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