How do you distinguish tourists from glasslanders? The tourists are the ones carrying the umbrellas.

Glasslanders, i.e., people who’ve been assimilated into the Portland mindset, think of umbrellas in much the same way that vampires think of garlic. They do NOT carry rainboots or slickers or umbrellas. (Or, as my little sister used to say as a toddler, “ungerbers.”)

It started to drizzle once while my parents were visiting my sister, years ago. Mom pulled out an umbrella and Suzi immediately backed away in alarm. “Put that away, Mom!” she hissed, “You’ll look like a TOURIST!”

There’s some logic to this attitude. Once the rainy season starts (essentially Halloween to May Day), glassland will settle into a continuous drizzly-wet/misty/dry cycle. The wet part rarely lasts more than a few minutes so, as a friend says, “you spend more time putting up and taking down an umbrella than actually using it. There’s no point.”

A glasslander WILL pull up his hood–coats, jackets and even shirts around here sport hoods, which also keep out the chill winds. But that’s it.

Me, I mostly grew up in the desert, where rain is a cause for celebration. The feel of actual waterdrops landing on my head is still a wonder, so I quickly adopted the glasslander attitude about umbrellas.

In other words, I don’t use ’em.

My mother thinks I’m nuts. Hoping that my ungerberlessness is simply because I haven’t found the RIGHT ungerber, er, umbrella, she gives me at least one every year. There’s a huge pile of them in my coat closet–at what point can I be considered an umbrella collector?

Every once in awhile I take one out, look at it in bewilderment, shake the dust off…and put it back in the closet. They’re nice and colorful but like my friend, I just don’t see the point. Wet isn’t as bad as putting someone’s eye out with one of those wicked spokes.

Rainy season begins a curiously determined ballet starring my mom and me. If we’re out in a drizzle, she selects an ungerber from the dozens stashed in her car, opens it…and holds it over MY head. (This is a very motherly thing to do)

Of course, I immediately notice I’m not getting wet, and sidestep out from under the ungerber. Mom shifts position. I shift back. She counters with a neat parry-thrust and cuts me off. I back off three steps and take off in the opposite direction, coat flying and Mom whipping after me, ungerber held high.

We can keep this up as long as the sky is grey, which in Portland means until summer.

I think it exasperates her. “Ever hear about the one about people who don’t know enough to come in out of the rain?” she’ll ask, shaking her head.

I ignore this.

One year, I gave Mom a golfing umbrella for Christmas as a gag gift. Golfing umbrellas are enormous, doubtless intended to shield the entire golf cart and the green. The one I gave her was at least that big, and also colored along the lines of a beachball. It cut quite a figure towering over the Christmas tree.

Mom loves it. It makes it soooooo much easier to chase after glasslanders who want to get wet, even if it does look like Mom’s being eaten by a giant half-beachball.

My friends Carol and Emelia are new to the glassland scene, so I’m cutting them some slack in the matter of ungerbers. Sunday night we were all invited to one of my favorite restaurants, Veritable Quandary, for dinner. (Wonderful meal, BTW, thanks again, Marty)

The rainy season had just begun, but instead of the usual drizzle, rain pounded down in waves. It was so very UN-Portland that, riding downtown in Cherry-the-Camry, we looked out in awe. The rain was coming down so fierce and thick that it was hard to see the road.

“This is NEW YORK rain,” said Carol (who hails from there), and I nodded as we stepped out of the parking garage. “Lucky that we brought our umbrellas.”


I looked back and, sure enough, Carol and Emelia had sprouted big mushroom caps of fabric, and were happily standing in the rain, not getting wet. Carol graciously stepped up and ungerbered me as well.

I stifled the urge to recoil, and instead said, “Thank you.” Obviously they thought I’d simply forgotten my umbrella and needed to share theirs…or possibly they’re getting used to my little, uhm, eccentricities.

And then I noticed that my hair wasn’t wet. And that it’s actually quite a bit warmer under an umbrella when it’s windy, because your clothes are dry. And that, when the rain is coming down so hard that it bounces, it’s kinda fun to stand in your own little portable fabric house and watch it.

So this morning I tunneled into my coat closet, pulled out a nice saffron-colored ungerber, and stuck it in the car.

Don’t tell Mom.