Two days in Portland or any city is not enough time to make a full report, but enough to get a taste, albeit a very strange one.
There’s a painted mural on the side of a building across from Voodoo Doughnuts on SW 3rd Avenue that reads, ‘Keep Portland Weird’. Maybe you’ve seen it flash at the beginning credits of the highly underrated show ‘Portlandia’, or maybe you live in Austin where the same logo has rung clear before Portland sort of, borrowed it.
Not to pigeon-hole a town based on a comedy show, or rallying slogan, but within the first ten minutes of exploration down Burnside Ave. bordering Old Town, we get hissed at by a backpacker who looks like a Chinese Chuck Palahniuk, then – a block further – screamed at by a saucer-eyed kilted club manager violently upset at his boss for not ‘letting him take pictures of women in the club the night before’. He projects his frustration upon marti and I, telling us, and the world ever-so-earnestly to ‘just f*ck off’. Ok…
Down the street a city-worker throws a box of Captain Crunch Berry cereal at a flock of pigeons, while a dread-lock junkie takes a bath in a water fountain, inadvertently photo-bombing a model shoot taking place on the very active light rail tracks. Adding a macabre to the bizarreness is the temporary riverside carnival filled with widow-making carny rides, and a Mardi Gras funhouse.
In trying to save time, we cut back through the middle of the carnival to Natio Ave., but are verbally accosted by a real reactionary ticket-taker for not adhering to carnival rules, yet, she allows a wilted mohawked gentleman to smoke a joint right next to her. Nihilistic conformity? Warning: oxymoron alert.
Next to the carnival are idle floats, left from the Rose Parade Celebration the day before, depicting various scenes of the Pacific Coast through exorbitant amounts of floral arrangements now rotting in the sun. I lived in NYC near a methadone clinic for a year, I can say with total conviction; Portland is most definitely keeping it weird.
Dragon Boat Races
A bullhorn, a beep, syncopated chanting, and the crowd goes crazy as large teams oar four competing dragon boats towards colored flags sticking out the river. The scene is neo-viking with large tents housing the race teams that are stretching, prepping, and riling each other up for impending heats. The event lasts all day, but after three or four heats, the excitement lulls a bit, so we head back down the Waterfront Park over to SW 1st passed sleazy strip clubs with Chinese pagoda awnings, and a book store blasting Edward R. Murrow broadcasts through a shotty loud-speaker.
Lan Su Gardens (NW 3rd & Everett)
Down Third Avenue – more strip clubs, gay clubs, and both. There’s a commotion down the street as two, ‘weathered’ women are squabbling heatedly over something. One throws something at the other, and we dip into the safety of the Lan Su Gardens where I meet with Claire, who grants me access above the rock mountain for some nice photo ops. The Garden is an excellent escape from the crazy-town surrounding it, providing a tranquil home-base filled with quiet little nooks for reflection, or just soaking in the serene pagodas, lakes, and well-kept gardens.
We experience a traditional tea ceremony; essentially a means to promote social interaction among participants without cell phones/iphones/pads what have you, and share some Chinese dumplings stuffed with what I believe to be bok choy, or algae from the lake above (kidding). The Lan Su Gardens is a must in visiting Portland. It’s absolutely beautiful, and has that similar feel to Central Park in NYC, where city dwellings loom ominous, but relegated aloof by the impervious sanctity of the realm.
Back outside the walls of the garden, a fire truck and ambulance attend to one of the women who were fighting earlier. One pleads with a cop, while the two tattered legs of her ‘friend’ lay lifeless on the street.
It’s a gallery fest! Galleries everywhere to the north; some are radical, thought-provoking – others are touristy and crap. I buy a planter shaped like a head from a gallery somewhere in-between, then walk down to Powell’s books, which is literally a bookstore the size of a full city block. Walking inside is an English major’s wet-dream. Still thinking about the Asian guy who looked like Chuck Palahniuk (local Portlander and author of ‘Fight Club’, ‘Choke’, and ‘Invisible Monsters’), I stroll to the ‘P’ section, which is mightily stocked from floor to ceiling with various novels of Mr. Palahniuk’s. I buy ‘Fugitives and,Refugees: A Walk Through Portland, Oregon’ just to get a sense of what I’m missing, if anything.
Flipping through ‘Refugees’, a map of Portland-proper, full of little Palahniuk-centric histories, including acid-trips at a Planetarium, and his membership in the Cacophony Club – the inspiration for Project Mayhem in ‘Fight Club’. I realize the author is not much help in my search for the real Portland. For one, the book is from 2003, and is slightly dated in specific locales. Second, a lot of his favorite places are pretty pervy, and scuzzy. So, I turn to the eternal fall-back when straining for direction within a new city, I start drinking for answers.
Across the Willamette River amid industrial sprawl is Distillery Row, a somewhat connected walking tour of various booze factories. The first stop on the ‘booze list’ is closed up. Dusty whiskey vats sitting empty, viewable from the murky windows. We ask at the Green Dragon Pub next door what happened, but no one seems to have an answer. Next to the abandoned distillery is a fenced field full of grazing goats where a couple of kids toss carrots inside, and for some reason, I become reminiscent of rural Mexico.
We find the second stop on the list, New Deal Distillery, run by true Portlander, Tom. Like the wineries in Willamette Valley, you can walk up to the New Deal, pay $10 for a tasting, and sample various booze. Unlike the wineries, this is booze, and it f*cks you up fast. Tom takes us on a tantalizing journey through his various 80 proof concoctions, including some interesting gins, coffee liqueurs, and my favorite, Hot Monkey, a cayenne pepper Vodka perfect for Bloody Marys.
We power through, thanking Tom, who points us across the street to the freshly opened Vinn Distillery tasting for some delicious rice liquor. We stumble over to Burnside Bourbon for shots of rum and bourbon strong enough to slap the namesake side’burns’ right off your face.
Laurel Thirst Public House
Going on recommendation from my buddy Josh of Ghetto Vintage, we attempt to sober up on the cab ride over to Laurel Thirst Public House, in lovely residential Laurelhurst (see what they did there?) for ‘Church’. Church at the Laurel Thirst is the Sunday congregation of fans of the Freak Mountain Ramblers there to jam out with fellow hippies, townies, and what looks like the tantric cast-offs of HBO’s ‘Real Sex’. The Rambler are amazing, fun, and I find myself two-stepping within seconds – perhaps because of the distillery buzz compounded with Rainier beers, or a contact high from the fans’ clothing. Seriously, a must. Thanks, Josh.
Next morning, after coffee and Advil, we drive out of Portland for a half-day trip over the scenic and historic Columbia Gorge Highway to Multnomah Falls. The highway winds through open farmland outside of Troutdale, then tightens up at elevation up through a temperate rainforest with electric green moss hanging from trunks of trees, back down to river elevation.
Multnomah is free to visit, but is a ‘white tennis shoes, knee socks with sandals’ kind of deal. Fortunately, we arrive early enough before the hordes of tour buses.
The falls are split in two, the first being a five hundred foot drop, followed by a shorter, but no less impressive (and quite percussive) seventy foot drop. A concrete bridge connects the path over the falls divide, where those weary of heights (me) trot quickly to the other side. The pressure from falling water creates its own saturated eco-system with purple flowers blooming everywhere, but don’t try to pick them. Signs warn that a small rock from the upper falls ridge can crush your skull at the bottom of the falls. No Irish Springs shower for me. A couple of minutes near the misty impact zone and we head to higher ground for a quick hike to dry off/break away from multiplying tourists, and breath in the smell of fresh, dry mountain pine.
Mount Hood/Timberline Hotel
It’s somewhat eerie seeing the concave rubble of Mt. St. Helen’s – last erupted in the year of my birth, 1980 – squatting in the distance, contrasted to the apparent, supposedly dormant, gorgeous-but-destructive-looking cone of Mount Hood.
But the dangers still exist if not in pyroclastic blasts. The day we visit a hiker plummets to his death attempting summit ascension. It’s a beautiful day, skiers are out, and no one seems privy to the deceased climber.We walk around the outside of the Timberline hotel – the setting for a few exterior shots from ‘The Shining’ – midway up the 11,ooo foot plus mountain. I spend a few minutes looking for the hedge maze from ‘The Shining’ to no avail, happy enough to chase Marti around screaming ‘Dannnnyyyyy’ sans ax.
Final Thoughts on Portland
Walking back to the hotel after a delicious dinner at Masu Sushi, I can’t shake the idea that we’re missing something in Portland; that we’re not looking hard enough. As Chuck Palahniuk writes in his book, ‘Refugees’ people of Portland have to play different roles to survive, sometimes up to three/four at a time. He’s right, it’s as though you need to belong to the Portland Club to understand the city. How to enter this club, I’m not sure – didn’t have time to figure it out, but perhaps the ‘roles’ theory doesn’t just apply to the people, but the city itself. Until next time, Keep it Weird, Portland.
To be continued… – Mike
31 comments on “Oregon: Part One – Portlandia”
Did you swing into Voodoo Donuts? Portland is absolutely on my to-do list.
I did! I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of doughnuts, but they do have an incredible boston cream variation shaped liked…well…male ‘components’.
Portland is definitely the strangest place I have ever lived. I’m still not used to it. Great blog post!!
You live there now? Damn, could have grabbed a beer. Thanks, Rob!
I’m a native and still live here, even though it drives me crazy. I loved reading an outsider’s description. You know what you really nailed? Portland is a very tough city for outsiders. It is a very parochial town, barely large enough to be called a city and very defensive about its citiness…don’t get Portlanders started on Seattle. I went to school on the east coast and that impresses no one. U of O or OSU are the schools. Period. I’ve been to Austin a few times and even though the Keep Austin/Portland/wherever Weird originated in Austin. Austin has NOTHING on Portland for weirdness. I think this town revels in being a freak show.
Wish I had known you were coming I would have given you some insider tips!
Looking forward to your next post,
It was tough. I usually just blend right in, but the city wouldn’t let me, dammit!
Going to start posting where I’m going to get pointers first, definitely could of used your help. The food truck I picked out tried to poison me, and I thought I could walk to kennedy school. Was all sorts of turned around. Hopefully I don’t get verbally pummeled by your Portland friends.
Next post is on how I love Oregon. You might like it…
Portland and Oregon drive me crazy but this is where my life and family are. My sister wrote on Facebook, “he definitely gets it! I think Portland left charming weirdness behind a long time ago.” Sorry about the Kennedy School thing, that place is convenient to nothing, but I’m a west sider. Glad you made it through!
And I posted this on my Facebook.
My brother lives in Portland. I’ve never been there, but have always wanted to. I bet my brother fits in. 🙂 Great post.
Thanks very much!
Great waterfall photo, really love the bridge through the middle!
Thank you! I crossed that bridge…it was scary (I’m terrified of heights).
Another great post Mike. I’m turning into Kathy Bates (I’m your number one fan! lol) I lived in Vancouver for three years and it, to an east coast guy, was weird as well. I lived there for three years so I did give it the old college try, and had to move back east. I couldn’t get past the weather first of all. What was that bright object in the sky of your photos? I remember my last winter there and everyone was excited that in 4 more days we were going to break the all time record for most rainy winter days in a row! wtf?! Next was the people. They were all nice enough, in a, “I’ve been smoking weed for the last 20 years and don’t try to get into my clique” kind of way. I remember one particular day at work (for a large American organic grocery chain) I was sitting in the office with 10 other “manager” types, in total silence when a guy cracked open a jumbo bag of organic,gluten free num nums and proceeded to chew with his mouth open through every delicious gmo free bite until I finally lost it and asked how they were cause they sounded great and perhaps he could shut his pie hole when he chewed. I was apparently struggling through my lonesome I’m not in your clique Baccardi drinking binge to help me forget the rain hangover and was a little short tempered morning. Needless to say, half of them never talked to me again after my outburst. Gasp! I’m a horrible Trontonian who speaks his mind when annoyed. I did meet my husband there so it was worth it. Aaaand scene. Cheers.
Please don’t sledge my ankles….
Hahah. I have a skewed perspective of the Pacific West – I kid you not, every time I go, it’s sunny. Like there’s some conspiracy to keep east coasters and mid-westerners out – a veiled weather deterrent.
As a former New Yorker, I understand those outbursts very well. I call them my ‘Eff You’ moments, and they’re reserved for only the deserving. 🙂
I forgot, “Give me the bat Wendy! I’m not going to hurt you, I’m just going to bash your f#$^&ing head in!” (Did I quote that Shining moment right?)
Yes! Only my favorite horror movies of all time!
Cheers to the ‘drinking for answers’ approach! Too bad you didn’t stumble across any of the awesome breweries in town!
Alcohol Tourism, I greatly appreciate your namesake. We should probably collaborate…
We did stop in to Deschutes, but it was more for lunch (even though we got a beer flight). Seemed like a great spot. Where else should I have gone?
Deschutes is great- we had a 19-beer sample there… which ended our evening. 🙂 We also liked Lucky Labrador, across the river- nice and chill. Hair of the Dog was mobbed, and Cascade Brewery was great if you like sour (which I do not, but Susan does). I am definitely up for collaboration when it comes to travel and good beer/wine/etc.!
Haha 19 beers? That’s all?
Damn, I wanted to make it over to Lucky Labrador, but I think they were closed when we tried. Next time.
Not a huge fan of sour, but good to know.
Do you live in Portland?
Nope, we live in Georgia! Fortunately, close enough to Asheville to get there regularly, and Georgia is slowly becoming more craft-beer oriented…
Excellent. I used to spend a lot of time in the Atlanta area. Great spot.
Asheville is definitely on my travel list this year. Never been.
Asheville is a definite must for serious beer travelers! Their fancy high-end restaurants even tout, “We have an excellent beer menu!” If you go, definitely hit Pisgah- it’s in Black Mountain, but well worth the drive. We have a keg of their triple at the house and it is _heavenly_.
Thanks for the recommend. Might head down to Asheville this fall for a little weekend retreat.
That Pisgah bacon snout looks delicious…huge fan of darker beers.
Portland is my home town. I spent most of my life there and I never really got it. Portland is very much about being on the “in crowd”. They can take awhile to warm up to people from the outside. (If you’re visiting or moving from California don’t tell anyone that. Claim some other state if you want friends.) It can be a tough town for tourists and honestly anyone who doesn’t embrace the “Keep Portland Weird” lifestyle.
On that note, Portland is beautiful. It is filled with little jems throughout the city. I had a very Kodak childhood growing up there. Picking cherries from the tree in my front lawn, exciting parades, lots to do with the family, and pure gorgeous nature. I love Portland, but I wouldn’t move back. As the years go on the “in crowd” mindset is growing considerably. I’m sad you guys didn’t get to visit Portland about a decade ago!
Hey, Joy. Still love Portland and the surrounding area. ‘Tis a lovely place – hope to get back there soon. Where did you move to?
I moved to a quaint little town in Florida. I love Portland, don’t get me wrong. It can just be a very temperamental
Socially and in Nature. 🙂
Nice post. Portland’s a great city, particularly with a noticeable ban on cellphone use in restaurants, a policy supported by the monk I met on the street who wanted to know if I cared to discuss yoga.
Thanks, Stephentravels. I mean, when a monk asks you to discuss yoga, you have to by (Portland) law, right?