Thursday, August 06, 2009

Tom's Portland: The Man of Portland

He got here quick: I've already seen him walking up Glissan, wandering Pearl, hanging at the microbrew bars between here and Union Station. I've seen him drinking fairtrade coffee in cafes in Alphabet, or walking his girlfriend's comically small dog down 18th. And now here to greet me at the hostel, timely and peppy, is The Man of Portland.

He has a neatly-trimmed beard and he wears shorts and track shoes. The Man of Portland takes out the Free Map he has advertised prominently on the webpage for his hostel. (You can also pick this map up out of huge piles of same in any visitors' center in town.) The Man of Portland draws on the map for me: here is the hostel, and here is Trader Joe's, which, explains The Man of Portland, is a neighborhood supermarket they have throughout town. And here are a variety of microbrews and cafes.

He wears a loose-fitting t-shirt and his hair is sensible. The Man of Portland leads me up to my room. He has plastered helpful notes throughout his hostel: "Tasty filtered water for you to enjoy!"; "Please Respect Quiet Time After 10pm"; a lengthy list of ways to stay safe while sleeping on a top bunk. The Man of Portland explains to me how a fitted sheet works.

The Man of Portland has, it turns out, a passion for helpful notices. He has plastered his city with them. Not a surface goes wasted in his civic design: The Man of Portland will stick a "Do Not Drink" sign anywhere it could be seen on a water feature. A list of ways to exercise Reasonable Caution will find its way onto any surface of any sculpture that might be seen by human eyes. A friend of mine has spent a pleasurable few days simply wandering Portland, photographing the myriad ways in which The Man of Portland is looking out for our wellbeing in officious-notice form.

The Man of Portland, ever-present on his own streets, is always there to help. He's like a bearded, sensibly-haired Bobby on the Beat. I consult a map momentarily; The Man of Portland is there to ask where I am going, ignore the part where I tell him how I plan to get there, and tell me a less efficient interpretation of what I just told him.

Not for nothing The Man of Portland's sensible preservation of his town and my experience of it. He built this city; he built this city on nu-folk and acoustic guitar-based comedy. My friend and I accept a pedicab ride from a young feller so desperate to ride around that he offers to pay us to ride his cab. (An earlier driver asked for any change I had, but was mainly happy to tell me stories of Ragnarok and delighted when I correctly guessed what they meant to him). Our driver tells me how The Man of Portland found his way here, creating a little village where Liberal, free-thinking folk could feel safely sealed away from the old-time Conservatism that pervades farm-rich Oregon; how The Man of Portland led his people on the long exodus from Seattle, a New Oregon Trail, begun once Grunge and Starbuck's had become embarrassingly ubiquitous and ended once this golden city on the river had been reached.

Nobody in The Man of Portland's town will ever call him "Sir". He has purged the entire area West of the Willamette of Morlocks. The Man of Portland's grip on his town is as strong as hemp rope. He will be wearing his shorts and his beard into his sixties, when his loose-fitting t-shirt no longer hides his gut and his sensible haircut creeps ever further from his smile-cracked eyes. The Man of Portland has got a good thing going, and he's not about to ruin it with fuddy-duddy concerns like age or style. The Man of Portland needs neither in his paradise.

Over the river, though, things are different. On a tip from a long-trou'd holdout in a coffee store, I am informed that the central Westside contains a wealth of interesting cemeteries, mausoleums, mortuaries and the like. I determine to cross The Man of Portland's dread Stygian waterline, into the land of the big rigs and the wide highways and the occasional black person. Here crows stalk sunshine-dappled gardens; here suburbs are named for the men who ran their insane asylums.

Here there's a region called Belmont, permanently implanting earworms of 8-bit vampire-killing theme songs. Belmont houses the Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, where black squirrels hide behind the obelisks on Masonic graves and the bones are interred of The Man of Portland's wagon-riding forebears.

Here is none of the West's persistent "Keep Portland Weird" sloganeering; here a homeless man pesters me at a kickball tournament for the Bible he thinks I stole. I tell him it's on the steps of Kent and Kent, Attorneys at Law, where he left it, saying he'd been "carrying this for too long". This was directly after he made us stop at a titty bar so he could get a matchbook and steal someone's cellphone.

As I cross the bridge back into New Portland, dozens of fixie-bikes whizzing past me, the sun is slowly setting on The Man of Portland's domain. He will listen to an acoustic bluesman named Madman Sam murder a variety of popular folk standards, and he will retire to his quarters at a sensible hour. But over the river, they know the night as well as they know the daytime.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to jump straight to the prosaic here but were there really black squirrels Tom? I've never heard of such a critter - Lois (who doesn't have an account so will show up as anonymous)

Homage said...

Just for you, Lois, here is proof, although his blackness in this picture is not as salient a feature a that of, say, Skip Gates. <--TOPICAL

someonefromsometime said...

What a good read. seriously. The Man of Portland is depicted in quite a favorable light. I would almost say "sensible" but you said it so much it wouldn't sound the same.

I can't say that I find Portland interesting even though you so eloquently told of it's riches. :)

good pictures too!

Keep livin it up!


PV said...

Hey Tom, greetings from Denmark!

Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog, especially you current travelouge from the good old US of A. Look forward to the podcasts to come when you get back though. Until then, keep writing. We love it!