Even before boarding the train for Portland, Oregon, I had heard the slogan: “Keep Portland weird.” I was curious. What was so weird about Portland? I was going to find out.

Tuesday September 17 (early evening)

I start my exploration with a visit to the corner of Belmont and 34th Street. Here are several restaurants that were recommended to me. Since it’s a little early for dinner, I pop into Noun, a shop that sells both antiques and cupcakes! OK, now that’s rather weird.

I walk into Circa 33 five minutes before the end of happy hour, and order a plate of fried calamari and a vodka & tonic at a reduced price ($10 for both). The calamari arrives mixed with battered crawfish, red peppers, and onion, sprinkled with fennel, and sitting on a bed of greens with a lemon and garlic aioli dip. Now, that’s rather unusual (although not really “weird”). The weird thing is that when the bill comes, there is no sales tax!

Wednesday September 18

Today is a rather normal day, which is a little disappointing when you’re investigating weirdness. The only things that may qualify are a little boy wearing a comb in his hair (with the handle pointing forward as if it were a cap) and a pizza menu where several of the pizzas contain potato slices. A little strange, but actually good.

Portland also has some 700 food trucks grouped into “pods” in different areas of the city. The food trucks are subject to surprise food inspections which keeps the quality and safety high. They are very popular with office workers at lunch time.

At the Tourist Office, I mention to the employee that I am searching for Portland’s weirdness because of the famous slogan. “You want to know what that means?” he says. “I can tell you. 99% of people here don’t even know where that comes from.” Although I am worried that his explanation will ruin the “magic”, I agree to hear it in the interest of research. “We stole that slogan from Austin, Texas” he continues. “All it means is support local businesses, since the big box stores are seen as normal.”

That is rather anti-climactic. No matter, I am going to continue looking for true weirdness.

Thursday September 19

The morning starts well. Even before I have my coffee I spot a weird tree sculpture on the porch of a house, and a purple flower that looks like an elephant head.

I have a cappuccino and chocolate croissant at Crema, a recommended coffee shop. The croissant is actually flaky and buttery, just like a real French croissant, which is extremely difficult to find outside of France. Weird. But good.

Then I join a walking tour lead by Erik, who promises to reveal the “Secrets of Portlandia” (one of the many nicknames for Portland). Erik is very entertaining and among other things lists a few of Portland’s “weird laws” including the fact that it is illegal to modify the weather without a license as well as feed canned corn to fish.

He also tells us the story of Voodoo Donuts, a donut shop established by two aging bartenders who came up with their eureka moment while floating, drunk, in inner tubes. The shop almost got shut down when it was discovered that some of their donuts were filled with drugs (Nyquil, Pepto-bismol and Aspirin). They got a second chance and now a constant line-up snakes out of Voodoo Donuts. The weirdest donut is without a doubt their namesake “voodoo donut”.

One more oddity: Portland is home to the world’s smallest city park, named Mill Ends Park (or Leprechaun Park), which, according to jealous rivals is just a glorified flower pot.

Here are other weird things I heard about, but didn’t witness:

  • The yearly naked bicycle ride (pretty much what it sounds like).
  • The Brew Cycle, an odd-looking 15-seat bicycle that goes on a brewpub crawl, stopping at three different bars over a two-hour period.
  • The Peculiarium, part museum of oddities, part art gallery, and part ice cream parlour.

So, is Portland weird?” I would have to say “a little”, but it mostly is a progressive and environment-conscious city. Many of its streets sport bike lanes and 25% of the population uses them. There are free charging stations for electric cars. Portland has had a Climate Action Plan in place since 2009. Citizens choose to not fluoridate their water supply. A high unemployment rate also stimulates entrepreneurship and creativity. As Erik proudly said “San Francisco’s heyday was the 60’s and 70’s. Portland’s time is now!”

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