Captures the emotional experience of Portland, OR
A first-hand look at a city that people can’t seem to stop talking about. It’s a guidebook of sorts, but not to restaurants and sightseeing. Instead, Alexander Barrett is your friendly guide to the quirky characters and atmosphere of Portland, Oregon, and how fun, beautiful, and ridiculous it can be. With its approachable, often hilarious tone, this book is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about bikes, beards, beers, rain, and everything else important about the city you’ve heard you should like. The expanded second edition of this popular book is sure to delight!
About the Author
Alexander Barrett is a writer and illustrator who is constantly baffled by the human experience. From his home in Shanghai, China, he uses ink and words to try to make sense of it all. He is rarely successful, but his work has appeared all over the internet, the streets, and the TVs of North America and Asia.
Read an Excerpt
When you start talking about visiting or moving to Portland, people are going to warn you about the rain. Apparently, the consensus between everyone I know is that they'd like to live in Portland, but they just can't deal with the oppressive, ever-present rain.
Here is Portland's greatest secret: It doesn't rain that much. It's a little gloomy for most of the winter, but it only occasionally gets really serious about raining. It drizzles, sure, but anyone can manage a drizzle.
I don't want to seem paranoid, but there is absolutely a conspiracy at work here. Portlanders over-hype the rain in order to keep outsiders from moving in. When tourists visit in summer and think Portland is a paradise on earth and the answer to all of their problems, the locals say, "Sure, but this only lasts for four months. The rest of our life here is a wet, cloudy, living hell. Save yourself! Get out while you still can!" And then the tourists back away slowly and leave the city forever, allowing the locals to stretch their legs, and making the lines at Pine State Biscuits much shorter.
It might not be ethical, but it works.
Okay, I started writing this in January. It is now March. It rains plenty here. It rains about 37.5 inches a year. I'm not part of this conspiracy. I am actually annoyed. It is oppressive. It is ever-present. I'm told it won't stop until the Fourth of July. Save yourself! Get out while you still can!
Reading this over, I'm worrying that I may be focusing too much on the weather right off the bat. Weather shouldn't make a city. But in Portland's case, it really does. Everything about Portland changes with the seasons. And by seasons, I'm talking about Rain and Summer. During the rain, Portland is dreary, but it's still a great city. During the summer, it borders on heaven.
More on that later.
One more observation about the rain: Portland is full of cool people. Raincoats are not cool. How do cool people stay cool in the rain? They get really wet, that's how.CHAPTER 2
Portland hates calling itself "Portland." It has a lot of nicknames and it's pretty hard to keep track of them. Here's a convenient list, so you'll have them all in one place.
1. City of Roses
There are two possible reasons for Portland's official nickname.
a. In 1871, Leo Samuel moved to Portland. He always kept perfectly groomed rose bushes on his front lawn. A pair of clippers sat next to the bushes so passersby could snip off a flower and take it with them, perhaps for use as a boutonniere. In 1906, Samuel founded the Oregon Life Insurance Company.
b. During an 1888 Episcopal Church convention, someone said something about Portland being "the City of Roses." The name didn't really go anywhere for the next 17 years. Then, Mayor Harry Lane spoke before the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and declared that the city needed a festival of roses. Two years later, the festival of roses began. It and the nickname have been going strong ever since.
Here's the thing about Portland: It has a lot of bridges.
3. Rip City
On February 18th, 1971, the Portland Trail Blazers, then in their first season, were playing against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were ahead, it seemed all hope was lost. Then, guard Jim Barnett sank a shot from way downtown. Blazers announcer Bill Schonely, overcome with excitement, shouted: "Rip city! Alright!" It had nothing to do with anything. It was perfect.
Some people call Portland P-town. I've never met these people, but I'm sure they lead rich, colorful lives.
In the mid-to-late 1840's, Portland's population was growing fast. People were settling farther and farther away from the city and trees had to be cut down to make way for new roads. While there were plenty of workers to do the cutting, there was no one to remove the stumps. So, the stumps remained while the city waited for more manpower.
Some people walked on the stumps to avoid the mud. Some people painted the stumps white to make sure the city knew they were still there. When businessman John C. Ainsworth came to town in the early 1850's, he quipped that there were "more stumps than trees." No one was amused, but they'd figured it would be a good nickname.
6. Razorblade City
Portland has a pretty high depression and suicide rate. It gets dark in the winter. The Lifesavas, a local hip-hop group, coined the nickname on their 2007 album, Gutterfly. Despite their name, the suicide rate has not gone down since The Lifesavas got together.
PDX is the airport code for the Portland International Airport. There's an "x" in it, so people think it sounds cool.
8. Little Beirut
Whenever President George Herbert Walker Bush came to town he was always greeted by throngs of protestors. His staffers labeled the city "Little Beirut."
They were all assholes.CHAPTER 3
If you live in Portland and you aren't in a band, people will look at you funny at concerts. They'll ask: "So, when are you going up?" And you'll say: "Oh, no, I just came to hear some music."
Then, they'll give you the stink eye and back away slowly.CHAPTER 4
As I'm writing this, there are about 700 registered food carts in Multnomah County. Not all of them are in city limits. But believe me, a whole lot of them are. As soon as this book is released, that number will will go up. Actually, that number will probably go up tomorrow, but let's just stick with "about 700." That sounds impressive enough, right?
More and more, when you walk down the street, you'll pass what was until recently an empty lot but now is filled with tiny trailers or little shacks, each serving a different kind of food. If Portland is one giant Shopping Mall, these are the food courts.
You'll find the most impressive collection downtown at SW 9th and Alder. A full city block of carts. All you have to do is walk around and take your pick. It sounds a lot easier than it is.
Cart indecision can be a real problem. If you are one of the lucky ones who can easily make a choice, look around you while you wait for your food. You'll see tourists bewildered by options. You'll see locals taking fake phone calls, walking up and down the block, trying to make it seem like they know what they're doing. You'll see the moment that a group of coworkers realizes that none of them want to go to the same place. Each one will end up walking back to the office alone. And you'll see old pros who've narrowed it down to their two favorite places. Their eyes dart back and forth as they weigh the pros and cons because at this moment, they're facing the most important decision in their lives.
People in other cities are used to seeing hot dog carts, fruit carts, maybe a Halal cart here and there. But in Portland, you get everything. One of my favorite pizzas in the city comes from a cart that's next to my favorite poutine which is next to my favorite milkshake. It's a Cinnamon Toast Crunch milkshake. Jealous?
So why are there this many? The same reason restaurants are so jealous of them: you don't have to pay rent, you don't need to hire a staff, and to be successful, you only really have to know how to make one thing really well. Portland appreciates a specialty. The people don't just want to hear about where they should eat, they want to know what that place does better than anyone else.
Take Nong's on SW Alder. They make chicken on rice with a drinking broth. That's the menu. They can't offer you anything else. There's a line every day.
You hear about a place that makes a great thing, you go, you enjoy it on a bench and look at the cart across the way. Next time, you gotta try that place. The cycle continues.CHAPTER 5
the Portland Driver
The Portland Driver hates the right of way.
He avoids it at all costs.
If he sees a cyclist twenty feet from a stop sign, he will jam on the brakes and let him pass.
If he sees someone leaving a house, he will slow down just to see if that person would like to cross the street.
If four Portland Drivers come to a four way stop, they will all put their cars in park, walk to the middle of the intersection and explain to each other that they didn't really feel like driving today anyway.
The Portland Driver is a very nice person.
Way too nice.CHAPTER 6
Portland is home to more strip clubs per capita than any other US city. This is true. Portland has more strip clubs per capita than Las Vegas.
At first, it doesn't make sense. "All I can see here are coffee shops and record stores." Then after a week, they start revealing themselves to you. And they don't stop. There are well over 50 strip clubs in the greater metropolitan area. It is at once awe-inspiring and just a touch shady. It really is mostly awe-inspiring, though.
So, why? Why does the most pleasant, quiet city in the United States have more professional naked ladies than anywhere else? There are 2 reasons. First, the Oregon state constitution protects first amendment rights like crazy. In 1987, the Oregon Supreme Court found that full nudity and lap dances are protected speech in Henry v. Oregon Constitution.
Second, Portland used to be a sketchy place. It was stabbing sketchy. It was human trafficking sketchy. Back around the time of the gold rush, Portland was basically lawless. It was exactly the kind of place that could support a vibrant sex industry. Over the years, as the human trafficking vanished and the stabbing rate went down considerably, the strip clubs remained.
They're just a part of the culture now. In many areas, it's easier to get to a strip club than it is to get to the supermarket. And that doesn't bother anybody. I'm sure it bothered somebody at some point. The Henry from "Henry v. Oregon Constitution," I bet he was bothered. But people like Henry have been shouted down for years. By now, they've either learned to accept it or moved away.
There's something funny about knowing that no matter where you are, you could be at a strip club in 10 minutes. Many times, I've asked my coworkers: "What are you up to tonight?" And they say: "I don't know. Nothing. I'm pretty tired and I think I'm getting sick." A half an hour later, I'm getting drunk texts from the rack at Sassy's.
The next day, when I ask how they ended up there, they just shrug.
It's just what you do.CHAPTER 7
Keep Portland Weird
Portland's number one bumper sticker is : "KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD"
After a year of living in Portland, I'm still not sure to what weirdness it is referring. There has never been a moment where I've felt the need to just stand up and say: "This city is really weird." I'd call it kooky at best. And even then, only on rare occasions. Maybe during the annual naked bike ride. But all those people know exactly how kooky they're being, it's doesn't count.
I saw one pretty weird homeless guy one time. He had a pretty weird hat. But the city is too nice to call that man weird. I've seen plenty of aging hippies, but I'm from Vermont. Our aging hippies put Portland's aging hippies to shame. Our hippies' VW Vans are a lot smellier, too.
I've been to plenty of Portland's art openings and punk shows. All pretty much what you'd expect: pretty fun and pretty cool.
So what the hell is this bumper sticker talking about?
I have an idea for a replacement:CHAPTER 8
SE v. NE
At this point in the book, you're probably ready to move to Portland. Congratulations, I think this is a great decision. Now you're probably wondering where in the city I think you should move. That's easy. I'm an east side guy.
Portland is split right down the middle by the Willamette River. On the West Side, you'll find the downtown area. It's the part of the city that looks like a city. The Northwest is more residential. Things close early there. The Southwest has Portland State University. There's a hospital down there too. I'll be honest with you, I went down there once for a party and I've never been back. That party got real weird.
On the east side, it doesn't even feel like you're living in a city. It feels like a sleepy, small town that decided to get cool. Most of it is residential, with pockets of shops, restaurants, parks, bars, movie theaters, and coffee, coffee, a lot of coffee.
If you work on the west side, it's more of a hike, but I like riding my bike over the river every morning. And if you're meeting friends for a night on the town, you just ride over Burnside bridge and see a tiny, little metropolis unfolding before you. From half a mile away, you can see the whole city, all lit up.
It's like the beginning of Bladerunner. Except way more adorable.
Now you're probably saying: "Sounds great. East side. You've sold me. So should I live in Northeast or Southeast?" That's where things start to get tricky.
Both have amazing shops, restaurants, parks, bars, movie theaters, and coffee, coffee, a lot of coffee. They are equally fantastic places to be. I'm just south of the border, but I can't choose. Please don't make me choose. Most people who live on the east side, however, have a very strong opinion on the matter. And I think I know the reason why.
If you ask someone who lives in the Northeast, they'll say the Northeast is better. If you ask someone who lives in the Southeast, they'll say the Southeast is better. And it's simply because they want to drink close to their house.
If you live in the Northeast and a friend is having a get together in the Southeast, you either have to bike or drive. Let's face it, if you're going to the get together, you're gonna drink. And when you get to that four beer mark, nobody wants to deal with a bus.
If you're asking a friend where to move, their goal is to get you to move close to them so there's less a chance of you having a party elsewhere.
My advice: throw a dart at a map. You'll be happy either way.CHAPTER 9
I'd like to preface this by saying that even after a year and a month in Portland, I still do not have a tattoo. I'll try my best not to sound like an unhip suburban mom.
In Portland, there are 12 tattoo parlors for every 100,000 people. That's a lot of tattoo parlors. How can that many businesses sustain themselves on one, medium-sized city? You'll know why as soon as you walk down any street.
Tattoos are everywhere. And they're on every single kind of person.
There's a janitor at the school down the street with the cover of the Dungeon Master's Guide on his forearm.
Your company's IT guy has an ice cream sundae on his chest.
One night, you'll be out to a fancy meal and your server will have the Thrasher Magazine logo tattooed across his or her neck.
I once bought a book at a yard sale from a mom with a tattoo of a hippie mushroom on her face. Surprisingly, her children seemed well balanced. (Okay, I got a little bit suburban mom just then. Sorry.)
Tattoos are another holdover from Portland's wild west history. Sure, the city has gotten a whole lot more pleasant, but its people want to remind you that Portland is and always will be a city of badasses.CHAPTER 10
In Portland, every bar that serves liquor is required by law to serve at least 3 hot food items and 2 cold food items. This is probably why the "gastropub" has become such an institution. These are bars with great beer, great food, and great atmosphere.
But what if you don't care about great food? What if you just want to sell watery beer and booze? What if you just want to open a shithole?
Tater Tots are cheap and easy. All you need to do is open a bag and dump them into a Fryolater. You can even leave them in too long if you want. Past golden brown and on their way to black is a Portland standard. It doesn't matter, I really won't mind because I'm definitely drunk and anything you put in front of me is going to be manna from heaven.
"Are these spicy Tots or regular, because I ordered regular," I might ask as you place a basket in front of me. "Oh, these are spicy let me just get you a ..." you won't finish your sentence. I don't care. The basket will be snatched from your hands and my mouth will be full of delicious fried potato cylinders within seconds. Your tip will be generous.
I know that Tater Tots are ubiquitous. They are American. Portland doesn't own them. But for me, no night out in Portland is complete without a basket. No matter where I go, they'll always remind me of great times, great people, and riding the bus home, completely satisfied and sometimes asleep.
Oh, and for all you new bar owners: while you've got that Fryolator going, why not throw in a bag of fries and a few corndogs? There's your three hot menu items.
Oh, right, you need 2 cold items. How about a bag of chips and a plate of iceberg lettuce coated with the cheapest ranch dressing you can possibly find?
Excerpted from "This is Portland"
Copyright © 2018 Alexander Barrett.
Excerpted by permission of Microcosm Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"This book is earnest, good looking and a great read: just like the Portland I love.” —Sam Adams, mayor, City of Portland
"This is a very nice book about a very nice town by a very nice boy.” —Joe Randazzo, stand-up comedian and former editor, Onion
"Thirteen insightful, funny, beautifully written short essays on what makes Portland Portland. And it looks bad ass.” —Andrew Dickson, actor and advertizing director, Wieden+Kennedy