Keep Portland Weird

Portland is not only about establishing a green image. With a young and vibrant population and with roots in the West coast 70’s, Portland has its share of wacky and weird. Something which the city unlike many other places does much to preserve. Therefore, one of the most famous slogans is ‘Keep Portland Weird’. In this blog, I’ll write a bit about the ‘weirdness’ in Portland and about some of the quirky things that I’ve seen.

‘Keep Portland Weird’ means that Portland already is weird. Historically speaking, Portland can boast with a history similar to that of Seattle and Vancouver. It started as a settlement in 1843, where Asa Lovejoy and William Overton bought a piece of land that later became Downtown Portland. Records show that they purchased the area for 25 cent. And rumours has it that Overton borrowed the money from Lovejoy and never paid back. He then sold his part of the area to Francis W. Pettigrove and moved on.

Later in 1845, the citizens of this new townhood became increasingly weary of the place not having a name. Apparently a dispute ranged between Lovejoy and Pettigrove about what should be the name of the town. Both wanted to name it after their home city, because that is as original as it gets out here. In the end and by pressure from the citizenry they tossed a coin with best out of three, and this is why the city today is named Portland, Oregon after Portland, Maine and not Boston, Oregon after Boston, Massachusetts.

Named Portland the city was well on its way, but unlike many other American cities, it didn’t feature a landmark. Therefore the city asked artist Raymond Kaskey to produce a sculpture depicting the woman from the Seal of Portland. In 1985, this became Portlandia, the second largest copper repoussé in North America, second to that statue which the French brought over and placed in New York. However, the sculpture never really has become the landmark it was intended to be. The reason Portlandia is rather unknown is partly because she, in spite of her size, is very well hidden on the side of the Portland Municipal Services Building on SW 5th Ave. Moreover, Kaskey has claimed the intellectual property rights of her, meaning that you can not find any postcards or key hangings with replicas of her.

It is also for this reason that I suggest that the city of Portland find another landmark or icon to represent the city.

My favourite would be Voodoo Doughnuts. Already known throughout the Pacific Northwest and highly likely all over the US, this place can boast with enormous queues of people who stand in line to get that delicious Voodoo doll or the unlikely Bacon Maple Bar. Or perhaps the Cock-n-Balls which is shaped like a particular male organ. Or what about one with cereals on it; the Loop, Captain My Captain, Triple Chocolate Penetration or the Gay Bar (rainbow coloured Fruit Loops). No matter which one people stand in line for, it is a matter of fact that everyone knows Voodoo Doughnut.

But should you be in need of more stimulating food, Portland holds approximately 600 food vendors throughout the city, many of which are gathered in groups. Walking between SW 9th and SW 11th and SW Washington and SW Adler, dozens of food vendors fill the square selling food from all corners of the world. After my visits to Vancouver and Seattle, I have become increasingly aware of the food vendor tradition, but nothing beats Portland’s multitude of food vendors. A man selling fish and chips tells me that the trend only recently caught on and my host Mike confirmed that it has happened within the last two to three years.

Foodwise, I do wish to make a bit of advertisement about a local Portland place. As fascinating as the food vendor syndrome is, I found my favourite place to be an establishment that sells some of the most delighting pizza slices. It is a long time since I had as good a pizza as I did at Pizzicato. It is a local chain which according to the very charming and smiling cashier, is well known in Portland, though not beyond.

Another well known place is the Tin Shed Garden Café where people line up in the weekends, drinking coffee and chit-chatting while waiting for a table. Mike brought me here on the last day. The place was really nice and the staff friendly, as all the Portland people I have met this far. However, as pleasant as it was, my enjoyment was cut short when a waitress walked past with a receipt pin stuck in her wrist. Being scared of needles, that image still hunts me.

It seems there are several food options when reconsidering the landmark of Portland. But while Portlandia is hidden away and the city has to wait another 70 or so years for the artist rights to wear off, the most prominent contestant has to be the rose. Named the Rose City, Portland shows them in the dozens. Every branch of the city administration, be it water supplies or electricity or signing features a rose. Moreover and perhaps as inspiration, at the outskirts of the city in Washington Park lies the Chinese Rose Garden, which flashes hundreds of different kinds of roses. All of which smell and look amazing.

Portland is really a fresh and vibrant city that does its best to limit its CO2 fingerprint and to increase the options of public transportation and biking. It is a city where the confused tourist is offered a free ride on the bus. It is a city where people enjoy nature be it sea, forest or mountain. And it is a city that I hope to one day re-visit.



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