Thursday, March 4, 2010

Keep it Weird



The signs are everywhere. On city busses, sometimes, on billboards, and especially on car bumper stickers. KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD. There are even variations. My favorite is Keep Portland Beered. But that's only because of the many fine brew pubs with a sparkling array of home brews to choose from. Portland will always be beered, but it's the weird part that has me fascinated.
By way of definition, weird could mean any of the following: People here dress comfortably. There is a definite look and it often has something to do with the weather. Hats, scarves, casual warm. Weird includes Voodoo Donuts, an institution with it's hangover Peptol Bismol frosted morning offering to it's Fruit-Loops covered special for kids of all ages. It's the horse rings that most streets still have. These are the original steel rings cemented into the curbs left over from the days when people would tie up their horses in front of a business or residence. Now people are fond of attaching small model horses to maintain the tradition. Kids love this. Some of it has to do with the fact that this is a friendly city. Sure it has a seedy underbelly. Too many winos and meth heads surviving on the fringes. Too many petty crimes, some turn into full-tilt tragedies, too many mentally ill folks on the streets. But too many in Portland is not nearly like most cities. Did I mention that people are friendly. No really. It's so noticeable to those of us who have lived most of our lives in crowded urban environments. Friendly is part of weird because it's often rare. I'm not talking about the occasional smile or good morning. No no, people will stop and talk a while, even in the grocery store line. Things move slowly. Too slowly for many people.
It's a knowing your mailman's first name kind of town. Weird means unpredictable too. People do funny things. Like last night, while walking a mile to my local market I noticed that someone had been busy knitting scarves and wraps for some of the objects adorning a nearby coffeehouse. So we're walking along and suddenly notice that the bicycle rack or the bus stop or even a railing or door now has a colorful, knitted wrap of some kind. Weird means that when you tell this to somebody, and then go back the next day to look, it's all still there.
In Portland, people share tables, they open doors, they pump your gas. (It's state law) But you see, it makes for more direct conversation with your fellow residents. This is a bicycle friendly town too. So much so that it WILL change your driving habits. Share the road means be on the lookout at all times. You can only appreciate this driving home at night and seeing the constant stream of bobbing headlights coming at your from every angle, every street, at every hour.
People are migrating to the Northwest and Portland at steady rates. With them will come all their city resumes, their urban illusions, their hometown expectations. Better bring some Weird.

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