City of Roses, and Strip Clubs, and Churches

Before getting to PDX I had joked that I would be devastated if it wasn’t one big Portlandia episode. Of course deep down I was hoping it would be a shining example of a modern utopian city. Portland did not disappoint, it was both.

The city is known for coffee, bikes and facial hair. Within fifteen minutes on the (super freaking cheap and efficient) public transportation two of those stereotypes were already played out. I didn’t regret my decision to stick with my ‘dumb phone’ for this trip until that train ride. I’ve drawn little maps in my notebook and written down bus times before leaving the house and that’s all worked fine, but the ability to take discreet photos would have come in real handy right about then. There were numerous mustaches of the cartoonish variety, but one man in particular was trying far too hard. His face pubes started off normal enough towards the center, but stuck out a full 8 inches across his face, twisted and gelled and sprayed into something reminiscent of Wario. I tried to imagine having this man as a boss or a doctor. Did anyone take him seriously? Did it frustrate or confuse him when they didn’t? Then there was the fancy cyclist. Remember tuxedo t-shirts? This man took class to the next level by sporting a skin tight, spandex tuxedo bike suit, of course also accessorized with a silly ‘stache. He was completely irresistible- I’m so sorry I don’t have a visual.

Over the next few days I witnessed a couple of pedestrian freak outs a la Fred Armisen’s caricature of cyclists, the folks on wheels seemed much more reasonable. There was also the train driver who made an announcement to the entire train to ask the young man in the first car to turn down his music because she could hear it and it was distracting her from driving the train, and that takes a lot of concentration (she went on for a painfully long time). Portlanders seem to have a bit of pent up aggression, probably something to do with the frequent cloud cover.

Then there was my favorite Portlandia moment. I found (made a special trip to) “In Other Words” the feminist bookshop that inspired this.

life imitating art/portlandia
life imitating art/portlandia

Beyond the novelty I was legit excited to check out the books and the space but I didn’t get to because that particular Portlandia skit is dead on. When I got to the store it was closed, although it should have opened a half hour earlier. There was one young woman wearing a coonskin cap and summery dress laying on a bench and reading in front of the store, and I assumed position on another bench to read as well, since I figured the store would open any minute. After about ten minutes I got up and started looking in the windows and the seasonally-confused girl started looking at me strangely, so I asked her:

“Do you work here?”
“Are you open?”
“Are you opening soon?”
“Well I’m supposed to open, but I don’t have the key.”

Right. Apparently someone was coming with the key, but they hadn’t gotten there 20 minutes later when I checked back. That blasé fuck-you-capitalism-we-don’t-need-your-money-anyway attitude was part of why I loved the city in the first place, so I can’t fault her too much. Plus if I had spent time browsing at the bookstore I probably wouldn’t have met Amelia at the bus stop, and then my last night in Portland would have been less eventful.

Amelia was from Minneapolis and we started discussing the trend of art/music/people moving between Brooklyn, Portland and Minneapolis. I wasn’t aware Minneapolis was part of any cultural exchange, but Amelia insisted it was and I believe her. She also insisted that I join her for a punk (and I’m using that term in the loosest sense of the word) show that evening. So I did. One of the openers sang a song about assaulting men in the genitals if they annoy you and the headliners were basically a 3-girl Salt n Peppa rip off, but extra trashy and way more vulgar. It was excellent.

So basically, Portland is my dream city and these are the reasons I’m moving there (in no particular order, because I can’t quite decide what I love more) :

Reason #1: Food

On my first day in Portland I ate salad for lunch and homemade vegan tacos for dinner, after that I decided not to worry about my arteries for the duration of my stay. Vancouver is healthy, I’d worry about it there. The first stop in the ruination of my physical well being was VooDoo Doughnut which had a ridiculously long line so instead I opened up a granola bar and thought “screw doughnuts I’m eating healthy” but then I walked down the street and saw a food cart selling crème brulee begnets. I quickly put away my Nature’s Valley crap and at that moment decided I was going to try and avoid eating anything in PDX that did not come from a portable kitchen. Portland has an insane amount of food trucks, something like 6 food trucks for every 4 cars- and there are a lot of cars.

deep fried creme brulee hapiness
deep fried creme brulee happiness and a “cold brew” which is a snobby way of saying/making iced coffee.

Here is a list of crap I ate from food trucks over 3 days:
Crème Brulee Begnet
Fancy brie-cheddar-basil-tomato-otherstuffIdontremember grilled cheese
Pumpkin Curry
Pomme Frites (SO much more than French fries, no not really)
Andouille from a Creole cart
Kale Salad and Bacon Wrapped Dates from “The Cultured Caveman”- a food truck that abides by the Paleontology diet- or not eating any food a caveman couldn’t have eaten. Yes cavemen had bacon.

And because only 94% of those things were fried I also stopped by VooDoo Too (no line) and bought a bunch of doughnuts to sample and share with my couchsurfing hosts. I had alternately been told that VooDoo was amazing or a waste of time. My verdict? An emphatic “meh”

Obviously the things that stood out were the Maple Bacon Doughnut and the VooDoo Doll (filled with strawberry jelly). They get full marks for creativity but lack in execution, which is exactly my problem in life so I empathize.

Reason #2: Nature

If you ride a bus ten minutes through the city you get to this:


If you drive a car thirty minutes out of the city you get this:


Portland’s Washington Park was enough to keep me occupied for most of a day, and if I cared at all about roses it would have been even more entertaining. I went to the Hoyt Arboretum, which seems like it would normally be a very pleasant place to hike but considering I’d been to the Redwoods and the Sequoias in the recent past, it was akin to seeing “Strawberry Fields” or some other cover band 10 days after seeing the real deal, in Liverpool no less.

The best part of the park was a Japanese garden where I totally meditated for the first time ever!


And with the help of some toddlers, I also attracted the attention of these Koi long enough to take a crappy picture.


Reason 2a: Space: Beyond all the easily accessible nature, Portland residents have room to breathe. People with ‘normal’ jobs live in houses like human beings, and for totally reasonable rents. There aren’t many ways you can shock a New Yorker, but the housing situation in PDX certainly did.

Reason #3: Powells.

Portland’s version of NYC’s Strand, but with a passable urban sociology section. ‘nuff said

because my mom would kill me if i didn't take this picture
because my mom would be devastated if i didn’t take this picture

Reason #4: I’m an urban sociologist

…and I’m extremely disenchanted with the for-profit politics and rapid over development of most cities, especially my own. Before getting to San Francisco and Portland I was beginning to worry that I hated cities, which would be terrible for my career. Portland seems to have a social conscience, or at least- it’s a city for the people who are actually living there, and not just the rich ones.

For example, Right 2 Dream Too, which is a homeless community on some very desirable land in downtown Portland. The city doesn’t want them there, fine. So now organizers and city officials are –get this— discussing what they should do. There are no police in riot gear tear-gassing the hell out of people, shit is just gettin’ discussed.


Great food, fun people, nature, and a relatively sane city. There was even less reason to leave Portland than there was to leave San Francisco. That’s the part that kind of sucks about this sort of trip.


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