Giant cross-country moving vans blocking entrances, mailboxes, and assigned parking spots are now part of the rhythm of my condo life in Portland. I assumed this was business as usual, but apparently, that isn’t so.
I was schooled to this fact by an elderly gentleman who has lived in my section of our condo complex since the early 1980s. Having met him only once before, I waved hello as we watched a United Van Lines driver trying to back into a space better suited to a much smaller U-Haul. My neighbor expressed disgust as the truck almost wiped out a new granite sign engraved with the name of the property.
“This was always a place where people from other parts of town started out or moved to when their kids left,” he said. “For the longest time, I knew the families of almost everyone who came. Now, it’s people from all over the country moving in here. I hope that rig isn’t full of just one new guy’s stuff because there’s no unit that could fit it all.”
Finding that thought hilarious, he waved goodbye and shuffled home. I did the same and put the conversation out of my mind.
Until last Sunday’s snowfall, that is.
During halftime of the Super Bowl, I remembered I had to run to Shaw’s for coffee. Chances were good if I didn’t get distracted by the impulse items at the checkout counter I’d make it back for the scheduled fourth-quarter Jeep commercial that was rewritten and performed by Bruce Springsteen. It had been teased for a week and I was curious to see what kind of commercial he would agree to make. Springsteen didn’t do it for the money, so it had to be something important.
I bundled up and headed out to my car, briefly thinking of how much I missed my garage. It was dark and windy and if freshly brewed caffeine wasn’t my favorite legal guilty pleasure, I would have skipped the trip.
As I tried to back out my progress was blocked by a car with Florida license plates that seemed stuck. After waiting for about two minutes, I knocked on the window of the small car and asked if everything was OK. The young woman inside was crying.
“I’ve never driven in snow before,” she sniffed. ”We just moved here and I feel really stupid. My car isn’t going anywhere and it smells like it’s burning. I need girl-stuff from the store.”
I offered to help and rocked her rear-wheel drive car out of the ice-crusted rut she was in and parked it. She thanked me profusely, we made introductions from behind masks, and I said I’d grab what she needed from Shaw’s.
“My boyfriend and I had to get off the Florida panhandle and considered a lot of places,” she told me. “He consults with nonprofits and I’m a translator. But we had to get away from our parents.”
Thinking that was normal for a twentysomething couple, I was sucked into the conversation. She went on and started to weep again.
“The people we’ve met here are cool. (Boyfriend) Harry and I are the only ones in our families back home who voted for Joe Biden and supported Black Lives Matter and wear masks,” she said. “We just didn’t want to be there anymore.”
We exchanged contact information and talked about other cities they’d looked at. My neighbor admitted driving in winter was not part of their moving pros and cons checklist. After agreeing to talk more soon, I went to the store and picked up her stuff, along with my coffee. After I left it on her step she sent the following email:
“Thanks again for the help. I can’t wait until we have you over. What I didn’t tell you is one of the other reasons we picked Portland is because Harry is a New England Patriots fan. And now, Tom Brady plays for my favorite team.” The email went on and ended with an agreement that driving school was a good idea.
Like Tom Brady, my new neighbors made an exciting but uncharted move to be better with like-minded people. That makes them winners. My elderly neighbor may not agree, but I know he’ll be welcoming when he finds out they have a Labradoodle puppy named Mac. Harry being a Pats fan won’t hurt either.
Other neighbors will be happy the new couple substantially raised our property value with their winning condo bid. Yes, they did bring in the big wheels, but they have as much to offer us as we do them.
And as Springsteen’s Jeep commercial said, it’s time to meet in the middle. Maybe it’s even OK to park there.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].