Just got back from Portland, where I spent the weekend supporting my dear friend Tessa B at an indie comic book convention, and visited another dear friend, Brent W, a recent Oregonian and host extraordinaire. Having spent a total of four days in this marvelous city, I do believe I know nearly everything there is to know about Portland. Here are some basics:
(Warning: the following contains material both graphic and erotic in nature. The viewing discretion of my mother is advised).
1. Everybody loves yeast: every single cafe and restaurant had a jar of nutritional yeast sitting among more common condiments in Parmesan cheese containers. I asked the lady at the counter of a movie theater, "So...yeast is pretty hip among the kids these days, eh?" She was busy helping other customers and didn't give it much thought before saying, "I 'spose it is, honey, I 'spose it is."
2. Churches are a curious thing: the first "church" I saw was in fact a pub, "Chapel Pub," owned by the McMenamins group, who've also been credited with turning an elementary school into a bar and public bath house, as well as turning a segment of an old movie theater into a pool hall/bar. Also, there are strange "religious groups" which gather to do their god-knows-what. This one, which I found on Alberta street in some random residential strip mall, had some scheduled events posted in their display window. Below the pictures of Jesus, Buddha, Thich Nhan Hanh and Maya Angelou was a sign for an April 30 event, where "a talking donkey" was scheduled to appear, apparently.
3. Public nudity is encouraged: One day I discovered an ad in a local newspaper which read: "Hawthorne Cutlery/Shop Naked/we carry switchblades, daggers, swords, battleaxes, maces, armor!/The only sword shop in town where you can shop naked"! According to Brent, there are more strip clubs per capita in Portland than any other major city--people love them some nudity. Later that night, on our way home, me and Brent found ourselves driving alongside two fine gentleman on a bicycle built for four. As soon as they noticed our vehicle slowing down, they promptly moved their bare backsides upwards and moved them about. When I hung out the window with my camera they said, "Welcome to Portland!" before completely loosing control of their large bike and careening into a ditch. I was laughing so hard I couldn't manage to take a complete shot and zoomed in a little too much:
4. Karaoke jockeys are corrupt: I'm going to have to be honest here and just say it..I'm really angry about this one. The karaoke bar I went to, a tiki bar called The Alibi, had the most corrupt KJ I've ever experienced. Sure, the place was great for ambience--sunken, fern-shrouded booths, slot machines and cocktail specials with titles including things like "pirate's booty" and "scurvy", an extensive song list, and a large space for people to dance. But when I tried to place my song request with the seemingly-friendly, drunken lady working behind the machine, she smiled and pointed to a very large fish bowl and said, "Tips are one dollar!" I complied. Later, I made everyone wait for me to go up for over an hour when half of our party had already left. It was strange because my friend Ben had been called up just 10 minutes after putting in a request. I went back up to her to see how much longer it would be. "You know, if you tipped me more I could give you more priority!" she said, smiling again like she was being helpful. I went back to my friends to discuss, and considered many other options, such as taking my dollar back or perhaps everyone's dollars back. Or just calling her on her shit and making a scene, yelling something like, "What kind of corrupt quid pro quo bullshit is this!" But I don't think my cries would penetrate the then-hiccuping, dancing KJ. Instead I just went up and said, "You can take me off the list, my friends are making me leave." She then miraculously put my song up next. I sang, all the while wishing it was gangsta rap so I could intimidate her by threatening to put a gat in her ass in the socially-acceptable context of karaoke.
4. Coffee reigns supreme: I know Seattle has the reputation for the best coffee in the country; even my own city is supposed to be superior for the morning sauce. But hands down the best coffee I've ever had was over the weekend. The places I started my day at were Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Albina Press, and Extracto. Extracto was so good I would have wanted to go there at least three times a day if not for the maddening caffeine rush and subsequent crash that left me craving a nap at odd hours. At Extracto we would order lattes and cappucinos "Canadian style"--with maple syrup and cinnamon. They made little leaf patterns in the foam with grains of cinnamon floating about. I was in love.
5. Open markets are a way of life: The Saturday arts and crafts fair was the best community market I've ever been to. They had the best goods because you could tell that they were made with love and extremely well-honed skills. And there are so many local shops and brands of nearly every sort of item you can think of that it makes you feel like everyone is hawking something. Also, sometimes we would drive by small trailers or literal shacks that sold food and there would be a ton of people waiting in line. I'll bet everyone that lives in Portland knows or is a merchant of some sort.
At the Saturday Market, I saw one of the best street performers ever. I didn't catch his name, but he said that the item on what's left of his right arm is an electrical conduit he found at Home Depot. When I first heard him, I thought someone was playing Bruce Springsteen:
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