Why is Portland so Weird?

“Keep Portland Weird” is our motto. Some say we borrowed the motto from another city, such as Austin, Texas. Portlanders would defend that we are the weirdest city by far. But what does it mean, and why are Portlanders so proud of our weirdness? Visitors come from far and wide to experience the um … uniqueness of Portland. Now there is even a hit show on IFC celebrating how kooky we can be – in every square inch of our five quadrants.

What’s Keeping Portland Weird?

Walking around Portland, you might experience a variety of delightfully strange phenomena that we accept as commonplace daily experience. There’s the man who drives around in a minivan with toys glued to the outside who plays loud songs that he sings ventriloquist-style with his hand puppet (yes, as he drives!). There is the “Silver Guy” who mesmerizes everyone with his glass ball juggling, and keeps them wondering if he’s a robot or a human. There are a variety of street performers who mime, juggle, dance or tumble to please the crowds every weekend at Portland Saturday Market.  Portland Walking Tours  presents a variety of tours to amuse, baffle and make you wonder, including tours about ghosts who haunt downtown, and tours about Portland’s legendary Shanghai-ing. Their sister company, Run Brain Run, offers team-building exercises, such as Search Party scavenger hunts through downtown, where participants may have to demonstrate their “stupid human tricks” (shown in the picture). Finally, Portland strongly represents (could we argue most strongly represents?) national movements such as The Cacaphony Society with events like the Santacon, The Urban Iditarod, the Flugtag, and Superhero Pub Crawls. If you are looking for any kid of vampire ball or steampunk gala, you’ll be amply satisfied with the Portland yearly event calendar.

“Put a Bird on It” – Portlandia:

Embracing the kookiness of our rainy utopia has been taken to a whole new – and national! – level by IFC’s hit comedy Portlandia.  The show entered its 2nd season this January.  Created by Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen, and Sleater-Kinney musician Carrie Brownstein, the two morph into multiple lovably quirky characters that embody Portland’s most wonderful strangeness. A catch-phrase from the show (watch for it!), “put a bird on it” has swept through the local pop-culture, media and art scene. If it wasn’t true before that local Portland artists put birds on everything, it certainly is now!

Characters returning to Portlandia’s utopia of odd include Peter and Nance, an excessively eco-conscious couple caught up in the organic and local food movement; Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman, an arty, obsessive couple who find a new trend to explore; and Toni and Candice, the formerly activist, self-involved shopkeepers of the feminist bookstore, “Women and Women First.” Also returning will be Portland’s Reggae bass-playing Mayor, portrayed by Desperate Housewives’ Kyle McLachlan (the mayor’s assistant on the show is played by real-life Portland Mayor Sam Adams).

New Portlandia characters introduced in season 2 will include Marcus and Madeline Harris, the “sanitation twins” who are obsessed with separating trash, Spyke and Iris, the militant bike messenger and his fiancé who are trying to create optimum non-conformity in their approaching wedding; and a struggling band with an overly enthusiastic fan.

New guest stars will include Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Independence Day), Sean Hayes (Will & Grace), Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), Penny Marshall (Laverne and Shirley), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption), Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live), Amber Tamblyn (127 Hours, House) and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live) as well as musicians Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse), Steve Jones (guitarist, Sex Pistols), Johnny Marr (guitarist, The Smiths), Joanna Newsom (singer/songwriter), Eddie Vedder (songwriter/ vocalist/ guitarist, Pearl Jam) and Annie Clark (songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, St. Vincent).

Portlandia is directed, co-created and co-written by Jonathan Krisel (Saturday Night Live, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), executive produced by Lorne Michaels and produced by Broadway Video. Portlandia is available on DVD through Broadway Video Enterprises, Video Services Corp and MVD Entertainment Group. Portlandia airs on IFC Fridays at 10pm ET/PT.

“The Magic Is In the Hole” – Voodoo Donut:

Another quirky treasure of Portland is Voodoo Doughnut, recommended by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations. Don’t miss a trip there next time you are in P-town, but be prepared for a line that winds round the block, any time of the day and even late into the night. Bring a coffee and a paper and wait it out – it’s completely worth it!

Traditional delicacies include the famous Bacon Maple Bar, the Voodoo Doughnut (shaped like a little chocolate-covered dude, with a pretzel stuck through the heart and filled with raspberry-jelly), Tang-covered doughnuts, and Captain Crunch-covered rounds. Voodoo Doughnut used to offer Nyquil-filled doughnuts, until they got the kibosh from the Food and Drug Administration. Custom-shaped doughnuts are a possibility as well – past creations have included The Simpsons characters (named after streets in NW Portland) and members of KISS. After each Portland Timbers soccer game, in a tradition called “Hex the Next,” Voodoo Doughnut presents a huge doughnut wearing the jersey of the next game’s nemesis in the VIP room. Also, you can get legally married Voodoo Doughnut’s sparkly storefront next to Portland Saturday Market.

This last year Voodoo Doughnut scored multiple victories, including the new shop, a World Record win for the world’s largest ever box of donuts, and the creation of a new “Bacon Maple Ale” Voodoo Doughnut-inspired microbrew by Rogue Brewery. Doughnut Barons Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon send a call out to their fave quirky town – “We love Portland! This business wouldn’t be the same in any other city.”

To Summarize…

So, those are some choice selections in the buffet of quirkiness that is offered up on a regular basis in Portland. Visitors are encouraged to dive into all the strange glory. Visit Portland Saturday Market. Eat the doughnut guy. Tip the silver dude, even if you aren’t convinced he’s alive. Dress up as Santa, or as a super hero, and go on a pub crawl. Go on the tour and see where the infamous Shanghai-ing took place, and where the ghosts live. Try it all! If you haven’t, some say you haven’t really experienced Portland.

Voodoo Doughnut:
22 SW 3rd Ave.

Voodoo Doughnut Too:
1501 NE Davis St.

Portland Saturday Market
2 SW Naito Pkwy

Portland Walking Tours
Call 503-774-4522 to make a reservation.

Photos courtesy of IFC, Voodoo Doughnut and Portland Walking Tours.

Merlin Varaday Written by:

Merlin Varaday was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, raised in Ashland, Oregon – home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival – and has spent the last ten years in infamous “keep it weird” Portland, Oregon. With a B.A. in Tourism Marketing from Portland State University, Merlin’s day job is to answer questions for visitors to Portland and tell them about everything awesome in the grey-skied City of Bridges. Additionally, Merlin has contributed to the writing, editing, and layout of the Old Town Chinatown Crier (www.oldtownchinatown.com). Currently working on a blog about Living the Good Life on the Cheap in Portland (web location to be announced shortly), Merlin’s immediate plans are to stay in her hometown and write about all that the quirky metro has to offer. Which is a lot: leading developments in sustainability, an award-winning transit system, eccentric annual traditions like the Santacon, and culinary anomalies such as Voodoo Doughnuts. Because of this, Merlin considers herself a “stay-put writer” (as apposed to a travel writer). “Maybe sometime soon I’ll get to travel some place fantastic,” she says, “and then I will be a travel writer. For now, Portland offers a tremendous amount of material.”