Years ago, a local music store started a campaign to “Keep Portland Weird”. They sold bumper stickers and put up a sign outside on their building making that same plea. Keep it weird. Don’t let it go yuppie or DINK (double income no kids). During this time, a section of Portland was being rebuilt into high rise condos and lofts that were going for high prices – with Starbucks and high end boutiques under them. The threat to making Portland more “normal” was upon the city. This was their response.
Keeping Portland weird means keeping the Last Thursday Arts Festival in the Alberta Neighborhood – a grassroots arts and music festival that is held the last Thursday each month – a response to the high end First Thursday held in the Pearl District where only true “artists” could participate. Last Thursday is a street party with people riding around on Dr Seuss looking bikes and dressed in crazy clown suits versus business casual art collectors going to eat gourmet food while drinking expensive wine.
It means keeping the independent stores more popular than the chains. Powells Books occupies a city block and a half downtown – the largest independent book seller of new and used books. The first place people go rather than going to a Borders, Barnes and Nobles or the like.
It’s a place where independent record stores still thrive. Yes, we have huge new and used record stores still around this place.
It means small music venues catering to the industrial rock crowd one night and the folk crowd the other night. It means Darcelle’s female impersonators being a stop on everyone’s visit to Portland. It means keeping Voodoo Doughnuts more popular than a Krispy Creme and food carts more popular than McDonalds.
It means caring about our food a bit too much. It means raising chickens in the heart of the city and converting your lawn into raised vegetable gardens. It means owning more bikes than cars (and using them more often). It means carrying our own bags everywhere. It means a microbrewery everywhere – and a lot of people evangelizing why you should do it yourself. It means shunning Starbucks for Stumptown. And being way too caffeinated.
It means sitting on pilates balls instead of office chairs at work. It means wearing jeans to work instead of slacks. And dressing up for work is khakis and a button down shirt unless you’re an attorney. It means biking challenges and public transit challenges in the work place. And most people are heavily tattooed and overly pierced – and no one bats an eyelash at it.
It means Saturday Market. It means Bridge Pedal. It means MAX trains instead of freeways. It means independent bands rising to popularity – bands like The Decemberists, Quarter Flash, Modest Mouse, Pink Martini, Everclear, and The Shins – to name a few. It means Gus Van Sant, Matt Goening, and Will Vinton. It means Beverly Cleary, Chuck Palahniuk, and Ursula Le Guin.
That is Portland – weird.
Enter IFC’s new original series Portlandia – a spoof on Portland’s weird culture. An insanely accurate representation of Portland’s weird culture.
Locals fall into two camps. Love it and laugh or hate it and shun. Those in the latter camp, I believe, feel it has hit too close to home for them. Many I know fall in that crowd don’t appreciate Portland’s weirdness.
Carrie Brownstein is a local who co-created and wrote Portlandia, She also plays one of the main characters, so she knows Portland, the neighborhoods, and the weird trends that make us weird.
What’s cool for us is how they have filmed some of the major segments in our neighborhood. Feminist book store – down the street. The shop with the birds on everything – nearby too. The place they play hide and seek? The community college down the street.
G and I are in the camp where we love this show. Because that is our culture around here. We are weird. It is why, I believe, many find this place feels like home – because it can be home for anybody. What Portland lacks, somewhat, in ethnic diversity, it makes up for in the cultural diversity.
Plus, it’s hard to feel weird in a place where everyone is weird.
Anyway, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
(check out the episodes online if you can’t find it locally. totally worth it.)