Having now visited all three of the “weird” cities, that is, those cities who have adopted the marketing slogan of “Keep XXX Weird,” – Asheville, Austin, and Portland, it’s interesting to ponder how a movement like this gets started. It’s hard to say what constitutes “weird” when defining a city. For Asheville, it seems to center around their aging hippie/boomer population that gathers every Friday night from April through October for the giant, en masse rhythmic drumming circle. For Austin, just being a blue Democratic island floating amidst our largest bleeding red Republican sea in the “lower 48” makes it seem weird to some. But as for Portland? It’s too weird to even care about the marketing slogan.
There are so many things I love about this city. Like how they don’t shy away from their homeless population. Instead of looking past them like they don’t exist, they hold a Thursday night community service to feed and clothe the hungry. There are volunteers staffing makeshift barber shops, sewing machines, and washing stations to help the less fortunate.
Known as the “Bike-friendliest city in the nation,” I love how Portland mandates that bicyclists crossing the highways have the right of way. In fact, a flashing light stops opposing traffic so bicyclers can cross safely. There seem to be bike paths on most roads, and those without a path emphasize a “share the road” policy.
The town has not one but TWO rivers – the Columbia and the Willamette (pronounced “Will-AAAMM-et.” There was a weekend Blues Festival going on while there. It was amusing to watch the draw bridges open and close as the barge “barged” its way through all the pleasure boats, blasting its five-horn blast, “GET OUT OF MY WAY!”
Portland also has a great “Food Pod” scene. Though maybe not as inventive as Austin’s East Side Kings, they still offer a fresh, healthy alternative to fast food. And one step above the food truck seems to be the trend of ordering at the counter and having your food brought to you, as opposed to sit-down wait service. Cheaper, faster, and so sensible.
I often use Trip Advisor to find the top attractions or restaurants in a city I am visiting. It took me by surprise to find the number one restaurant in a “foodie” town like Portland was an ice cream shop! Salt and Straw is another place with a waiting line, this time half an hour to taste bizarre but oh-so scrumptious flavors like “Honey Balsamic Strawberry with Cracked Pepper.” It tastes as good as it sounds strange! But my far, my favorite was the Pear and Blue Cheese – described as “The delicate, sweet flavor of Oregon Trail Northwest Bartlett Pears from Salem, OR with perfectly aged crumbles of Rogue Creamery’s Crater Lake Blue Cheese (recently named the best in the world at a fancy competition in France) mixed throughout.” As a serious lover of blue cheese, I am not exaggerating when I say this was the best ice cream I have ever eaten. You just can’t imagine the salty, savory, sweet creamy cheese bits enveloping those crunchy frozen pears. And the best part? If you buy a whole pint, you don’t have to wait in line. 😉 And BUGS?? What happened to all the bugs? I have seen only one spider in two weeks, and that was it for bugs. What a treat it is to sit outside and enjoy a nice dinner without feeling like a mosquito’s dinner at the same time!
“Reuse, Reduce, Recycle” is prevalent everywhere! After seeing so much plastic refuse during my travels overseas, to include an entire shoreline of blue plastic water bottles, I really have a thing about plastic. I won’t throw it in the garbage, even if it means hauling around to the next recycle location. Sometimes, I can accumulate the entire back seat of the Tracker full of plastic bottles. But in Portland, I was never far from a recycle bin. And I love the whole “Life without Plastic” campaign that is evolving, whereby restaurants are using cardboard cartons for take-out.
And finally, music is everywhere! Restaurants, brew pubs, garden and farm venues, coffee shops. On any given night of the week, it is possible to find a small local band offering up their own brand of unique tunes, from street side musicians to big name artists playing at small, intimate venues.