Portlandia is Real

Are you familiar with the t.v. show Portlandia? Long before we made Portland our home, we were fans of the show and wondered if there was any truth to the quirky situations and characters represented on the show. As a new Portlander, I’m here to share YES there is much more reality in the show than I could have ever imagined.

Within a month or two of moving into our rental house in SE Portland (Sunnyside Neighborhood), I saw a group of bicyclists moving someone’s belongings (dresser, couch, patio chairs, etc) on bikes through the neighborhood. For those that watch the show, you’ll remember an episode pretty similar. I stood on the porch of my house and just watched. Curious if it was in an effort to be green or save money. I’ll never know the reason why, but I can confirm that it takes a lot of skill to move someone to a new house or apartment on bikes. My favorite memory was a man on what looked like a racing bike with a plastic patio chair strapped to his back as he pedaled past me.

After seeing the bike movers, I was on alert to see other life moments that might end up on Portlandia. I continue to witness events like this on a regular basis but never did I imagine I would would be a participant in my own, real life Portlandia “skit”. Let me tell you about what happened.

So, when we moved into our new house I activated all of the utilities. Within Portland city limits you are assigned trash and recycling companies and your only choice is the size of your trash container. There are also a total of four containers you have to manage: a trash bin (which is picked up every other week and all others weekly), a compost bin for leaves and other organic material and inside food scraps, a glass bin for recycling, and finally, a bin for all other plastic, tin, and paper recycling. While on the phone with the trash company I explained that I wanted the 30 gallon trash service (based on the monthly pricing on their website), but I didn’t know what size the previous owners left us (all of the bins had been left behind in the garage). The phone rep indicated that the previous owners had used a 90 gallon trash bin, and that we should use that bin for our first pickup, which in turn would be replaced with the smaller bin that I was requesting. I also asked about recycling cardboard boxes during this call, because I knew with all of the unpacking we were doing, they would never fit in the recycling bin provided. The phone rep indicated that we could stack those up next to the recycling bin and the driver would take them at no extra charge, but if we did have extra trash that didn’t fit in the trash bin, for $5.00 a bag extra they would haul that away too. About a week later the trash company picked up the trash and exchanged the bin for a smaller version. Everything seemed to have worked flawlessly. . . or so I thought.

Trash and recycling in Portland.

Trash and recycling in Portland.

OK, so two months later we received our first bill. As I looked at the bill I couldn’t understand why there were four line items labeled “extra bag of trash- $5.00” for a total of $20.00 added to the bill. We hadn’t included any extra bags of trash. I called the company to get them to explain the extra fees. The phone rep asked, “Did you leave out extra bags of trash?” “Did you over-fill your trash bin so the top wasn’t closed?” “Did you pack the trash bin so tight that the trash didn’t fall out freely?” I responded no to all of her questions and indicated the only thing we did was leave out a ton of extra cardboard boxes for recycling. She confirmed that she couldn’t understand the extra charges, apologized and credited back the $20.00. At this point I was tired of talking to the trash people and certain I had spent more time on the phone with them in my first two months of home ownership in Portland than I have in all of my years living in Minnesota.

So imagine my surprise and a bit of disdain when about a week later I received a voice mail from the trash company. “Mrs. Hanson our driver has indicated that your trash bin is too big and not the size that you are currently paying for on a monthly basis. Could you please call us to let us know if you would like to keep this larger bin and increase your monthly payment or have the driver bring the correct sized bin?” I called them a couple of days later and explained that after discussing with my husband we had decided to keep the current bin and pay the increased monthly fee. The female phone rep (different than my previous two calls) thanked me for calling and confirmed the increased monthly fee. Just as I thought we would hang up the phone she said, “Oh this is interesting, it looks like you had four extra $5.00 charges on your previous bill.” I confirmed and shared that the last time I had called we were unable to confirm why we were charged and they had been credited due to the error. This phone rep said, “Well, I know why they were there! It’s because the driver knew that your trash bin was too big and was adding these to get the monthly fee increased appropriately.” I said, “Oh, well, mystery solved. The billing should be accurate moving forward.” There was a moment of silence and then she came back and said, “Are you suggesting that you won’t pay the $20.00 from the previous month’s bill?” I explained to her that she was correct, because it had been their error. I would not be paying that additional charge. She very incredulously said, “But YOU generated that trash and you should be responsible for it!” I agreed with her that I had generated the trash, but felt that because of their error, I would NOT pay for those two months of additional charges. She then said, “But if you don’t pay for that, then we have to pay for it and we DIDN’T generate that trash—you did.” This exact exchange went back and forth a couple more times. The phone rep was not yelling, but firm and completely confused by my unwillingness to take responsibility for my trash. I explained to her that had I known they had given me the wrong size trash bin, I would have contacted them and sorted this out immediately so as to not be charged additionally. She said, “But what would you have done with all of your trash!” I told her that I would have stored it in my garage, and slowly disposed of it as I had space in my trash bin, for as long as it took—even if it took a year. She stopped me and said, “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!” Finally, I said, “It is very clear that we are not going to agree on this, so if you would like me to talk with your supervisor I would be happy to do so.” She sighed and said that wasn’t necessary. I thanked her for the lively 8:00 am conversation and wished her a good day.

I better read the rules.

I better read the rules.

I hung up the phone and immediately called my husband to tell him about my real life Portlandia experience. I vented a bit, then we laughed and described what it would be like on the show before we finally said goodbye and went back to our work days. I walked away from the conversation excited to tell some of my work colleagues and perfectly happy to never talk with the trash company again for the rest of my life.

Surprise, surprise. . . about thirty minutes later my phone started ringing with an unknown Portland phone number. I picked it up and was shocked to hear the female phone rep from the trash company calling me again. “I still don’t understand why you are unwilling to take responsibly for trash you generated,” she said. I almost dropped the phone in shock! This time around I was much more terse and told her that until her company puts big numbers on the side of their bins showing what size they are, it’s unlikely someone like me, who isn’t in the trash/recycling industry, will know what size their bin is or if they have the wrong size. She sighed again. I said, “I will NOT pay that additional fee because of your error, and again, if you want me to talk to your supervisor I would be happy to.” She sighed again and quietly said, “I just don’t understand why you won’t take responsibility for your trash. . . it’s your trash.” I wished her a good day and said I needed to go back to work.

I hung up the phone and called my husband again. This time I told him that we were probably on a trash “black list” now and that we needed to be careful not to violate any of their strict trash policies. The next bill will arrive in March. I’m curious to see if I’ll have to call the trash company again at that time.

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