Portland- It Really Is That Weird?


I was a little surprised when I learned that there are bumper stickers saying “Keep Austin Weird”.  I had thought that the slogan belonged to Portland.  Turns out that it originated in Austin and Portland usurped it.  But in a way, it really does belong to Portland, because Portland really is weird.

As the popularity of the bumper sticker attests, Portlanders are clearly invested in having/keeping this reputation.  Some people, like the guy dressed as Darth Vader who rides around on a unicycle playing flaming bagpipes, are overtly campaigning.  But if a city is truly weird, that weirdness should permeate everything and be easily observed by a traveler passing through.  So, on a recent trip to the Rose City, I decided to do a casual assessment and see if it lives up to its reputation for weirdness.

It does.

Portlanders Go By Bike

Portland is considered to be one of the most, if not the most, bike-friendly cities in the U.S., which is kind of remarkable when you consider how much it rains.  I’ll leave it to the photo below to explain why that qualifies as weird…

Greg Fischer's photo of naked bikers in Portland.

Portland claims to be the bicycle capital of the US. Photo by Greg Fischer.

Weird Events

To be honest, I didn’t know there was an “urban Iditarod,” but I can’t say I’m that surprised.  I never made it to Trek in the Park, but I always enjoy the Swiftwatch.

Portland's urban iditarod.  Photo by Misserion.

Urban Iditarod. Photo by Misserion.

The Animals Are In On It

Portland pets get in on the action too. A few blocks from Laurelhurst Park, I saw a tree with small plastic containers holding dog biscuits.  A handwritten sign, addressed to the dogs and “signed” by the cat, invited passing canines to have a snack.

And you can always rent a goat to do your yard work.

brx0's photo of an unusual sign.

Huh? Photo by brx0.

Portland Likes Ink

Wandering around people watching, I found myself wondering whether anyone has collected statistics on what is the most tattooed city in the US .  They have.  Portland comes in at number five (just above Austin).

The city is also very literary.  Aside from being home to the largest independent book store in the world, Portland seems to love literature.  I encountered small, birdhouse-like structures near the sidewalk, stuffed full of paperbacks and with a sign instructing passersby to please take or trade a book.

There were also signposts with flyers to take.  They did not contained advertisements, or information sheets of a home for sale, but rather …poems.  The streets are littered (not literally- Portlanders don’t litter) with random acts of poetry.

brx0's photo of a Portland landmark.

Although Portland’s famous Church of Elvis is now closed, you can still see remnants. Photo by brx0.

Other Random Weirdness

Portlanders are ridiculously politically correct.  A tablemate of mine asked the waitress at a restaurant where the meat came from.  She didn’t blink an eye and came back with the name of the farm – a local one, of course.

There’s good humor too.  Older neighborhoods have metal rings embedded in the sidewalks, from the days when you had to tie up your horse.  Apparently wanting to remind us of this history, someone in Northeast Portland tied a small (2 inch) plastic horse to one of the rings.

Photo by Matt Perreault.

Is that why we wash our hands? Photo by Matt Perreault.

To rest my case, I offer a link to a BuzzFeed list of The 30 Most Portland Things That Have Ever Happened in Portland. Okay Austin, show us what you got?

Gabriel Amadeus' photo advertising Portland's future.

We’re on it! Photo by Gabriel Amadeus.

Published in Culture and People, USA

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Comments

  1. Kimmy | AfterGlobe

    Funny, posted an article on Interesting Facts about Portland 2 days ago.

    The horses attached to the old horse rings started as an art project years ago. They use to be everywhere, all different kinds. The people of Portland have kept it going adding there own horses and ponies throughout the years. Always a fun site to come across.

    When you live in Portland, not much phases you anymore. It really is as weird and campy as the show Portlandia makes it out to be. All those extras on the show are real people that live here that we interact with everyday making the weird our normal.

    We’ve been in the Urban Iditarod with our Bluth family entry, spent more than one day in a sea of Santas, pillaged the city as pirates, and have had full parties on school buses. All just another day in Portland. I even got married to a friend at the Church of Elvis one afternoon, just because. It’s these kinds of things that make Portland who she is and why she’s loved so much.

    1. Jennifer Choban Post author

      Hi Kimmy,
      I´m a native of the area myself. These days I actually feel that I might not be hip enough for my home town! Funny.

  2. annette carter

    I’m a friend of Judy’s and I enjoy your stuff. I think you should check out the history of weirdness. Way back when, (I think Judy remembers when) there used to be a huge ball of string, maybe 3 or 4 feel tall, which was sitting in the window of the Mohler Barber College, downtown on (I think) around 3rd or 2nd.

    Around that same timeframe, there was also a very dusty old cobbler shop which had shoes arranged in the shop window from maybe clowns and babies to…who knows. The arrangements were always interesting.

    cheers, and have fun. Maybe someday we will actually meet….
    Annette

    1. Jennifer Choban Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Annette. It’s good to know the city’s weird roots go back. I’m sure we’ll meet one of these days. 🙂

  3. La Jefa

    I didn’t realize how weird Portland was until I visited Chicago last summer.Chicago is definitely not weird!

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