22 March 2006


22 March 2006

I heard on the radio today that Portland was rated the most ‘vegetarian friendly’ city by some organization or another.  This called to mind something that happened a long time ago.  

My Youngest Brother, at somewhere between ages nine and thirteen had declared to the family that he was a vegetarian, and not just vegetarian, but vegan. At the time we lived in Wyoming.  Also at the time he was the only vegan that I knew.  

As was our custom, that summer we drove to Portland to visit out mother’s family.  We’d been over to visit Grandma in her new apartment and were off to do something else when lunch rolled around.  We specifically looked for a restaurant that would have food my brother could eat.  We weren’t having much luck, so when we found one that offered gardenburgers we went in and ordered.

Our food came out and those of us without dietary restrictions started eating.  We were all very hungry, as the search for a restaurant had taken longer than expected.  Youngest Brother however, had realized that the restaurant didn’t actually grasp the whole ‘vegan’ concept.  They had cooked his burger on the same grill as the meat– contaminating it.  

Now with three hungry kids, one of them very disappointed, and a mom who’d had to deal with them this whole time, it was not a pleasant scene.  I don’t remember the resolution.  I do remember how upset Youngest Brother was and how tense I felt as a result.  I am afraid my middle brother and I might have not been as sympathetic to his dilemma as we might have been.

Over the years this memory faded, leaving behind only a very strong need to try to cater to possible food allergies and dietary restrictions in others.  I never thought about how my perception of Portland as a city might have been shaped by that encounter.  I was surprised when my reaction to the news item on the radio was outright skepticism.  It wasn’t until I’d thought about it and brought this memory up from long term storage that I realized my perception of an entire city was shaped, in part by that one encounter in a restaurant over 25 years ago.

Each day, as I go about my business, I meet people and have encounters with businesses, civic groups, and volunteer organizations.  Most of those interactions are positive but the few negative ones have real staying power and can affect not only my perception of a particular business but of an entire region of town.  And if it’s not a place I visit often, I might never have cause to revise my opinion.  Not only that, but as my reaction to the news story shows, I am going to give more weight to my own personal experience, even if it is severely out of date.

I don’t think I’m unique in this.  The saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” can be literally true.  The first encounter I have with a person or organization my be the only encounter I have with them, and while a good impression may fade away in a haze of general memories, a bad encounter leaves a mark that is difficult to erase.

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