True confession: Avoiding a longtime friend
I'm going to take this opportunity to confide and confess my overwhelming negative emotions toward a close friend, someone I have known practically my entire life.
Sadly, over the last decade or so, this friend has changed. I now find myself doing everything I can to avoid this certain friend. The situation truly breaks my heart.
This friend is Portland.
First, some perspective. I have known Portland since those far less roadway-hectic days when our River City needed only three bridges spanning the Willamette (long before the Marquam and Fremont structures ever necessitated entertaining an engineer's eye.)
There was no I-405 or I-205 or Highway 217. We didn't need them. During those wonderful pre-rush hour bumper-to-bumper quagmire days, there weren't enough of us living here to warrant such infrastructure intrusion.
Sure, I could go on and on lamenting about all the development that has transformed and harmed the face and personality of the Portland that I once knew and loved. However, no one likes to hear old geezers bemoan about how it used to be. I totally get that.
But, today, every time I see another "Keep Portland Weird" bumper sticker, I wince. Portland is no longer weird, my friends. To my eyes and soul, it's just another trendy, way overpopulated metropolis whose throngs of new residents love to festoon a "Hey, aren't we so cool and unique here" conceit. Sorry folks, but one nude bike rally, a cable TV show, and an infiltration of additional snappy food carts just doesn't cut it.
I remember when Portland was proudly weird and no one ever boasted about it. Why would we? We all knew the state's largest city had its ever so lovable hokey, homespun nuances that made it special and different. Oh how I long for those days, for that prevailing mindset, back when we didn't have to broadcast this vanity on our bumper stickers.
When Portland was weird
Portland was weird when its public zoo birthed Packy the pachyderm, the first elephant born in the western hemisphere in 44 years. We named our new resident "Packy" via a contest sponsored by a locally owned Portland radio station. Our very rare in-house-born elephant was an international hit. Life magazine devoted 12 pages to Packy. Visitors from all over the world came to visit Portland's pediatric pachyderm. Several circuses and zoos wanted to buy both Packy and his mother, Belle, from the Seattle elephant trainer who owned them and had temporarily loaned them to the Portland Zoo. Portlanders rallied and proclaimed: Absolutely Not! Its residents raised $30,000 in donations (super big bucks back in the early 1960s) and Packy and Belle became fulltime Portlanders for the rest of their lives. That same year Packy was born, Seattle built its iconic Space Needle. But we barely noticed. We were too busy celebrating baby showers for Portland's phenomenal pint-sized pachyderm.
Portland was weird when its original west side blue tetrahedron OMSI building had the ever popular "Plastic (see-through!) Lady."
Portland was weird when its local pre-color television station had its own in-house afternoon kids' cartoon program called "The Mr. Moon Show." Good old Mr. Moon wore a dark cape and had a big moon head — you couldn't see his real face. This was live TV. One day, during the show, Mr. Moon tripped on a cable and uttered a foul word that means human excrement. He received a warning from the FCC. That same year, toward the very end of another program, Mr. Moon was facing the camera doing his typical wave goodbye to his young viewers' shtick. That day, my sister and I were among them. The screen went black. Something had gone awry in the control room. Unbeknownst to Mr. Moon, his live audio feed was still hot. That's when Mr. Moon said his last words ever on television. The next day, there was no more Mr. Moon. As my sister and I can vouch, we heard his final remark through our Motorola's speaker. Thinking he was finally off the air for the day, Mr. Moon said something like: "Well, there's another show for the little (insert a derogatory, anachronistic word meaning a person born of parents not married to each other)."
Portland was weird when Reed College introduced us to beatniks.
Portland was weird when its Kingsmen recorded "Louie Louie" in a tiny downtown three-microphone recording studio.
Our local rock n' roll band had just enough funds, 50 bucks, to book this humble studio for only one hour. The lead singer made a mistake and started to sing the third verse too early ("We see—"). Even so, that funky first recording turned out to be their one and only take. Despite all odds, a weird thing happened. Their song became a super hit. In fact, it claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the national record charts. It was even banned by the governor of Indiana and attracted the attention of the FBI because many grownups thought they were hearing indecent lyrics. Weird!
Portland was weird when Reed College introduced us to hippies.
Portland was weird when its Trailblazers was basically a locally owned mom and pop organization that happened to have the league's only unashamed vegetarian (before it became cool) who was also a confirmed Deadhead, who also happened to sport the only pony tail in the NBA. This guy pedaled his ten-speed to games. His coach had a Ph.D. in education and was an ultra-marathoner (before Nikes became cool). Oh, and by the way, these two and their affable, non-superstar cast of character teammates (many of whom stayed in Portland after they retired) brought us the NBA title when, of course, Portland was weird.
Portland was weird when its zoo sold cans of elephant poop to the public as garden fertilizer. This innovative and famously named "Zoo Doo" campaign was the brainchild of locally raised Paige Powell, the zoo's public information director, who went on to New York City and became Andy Warhol's confidante and right-hand person at his Interview Magazine. (Full disclosure: Prior to her Zoo Doo fame, I was in a year-long senior poetry writing workshop with Paige along with a handful of other early 1970 UofO students. She didn't like my work.)
Portland was weird when radical Joe Uris, who had been subpoenaed to testify before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, was elected president of the Portland State student body.
Portland was weird when it regaled the Pacific Northwest with its independent and oh so irreverent professional baseball team, our beloved Portland Mavericks.
Portland was weird when it created the Forecourt Fountain downtown and rather than post "Keep Out" signs, invited everyone to jump in.
Portland was weird when a young, mostly unknown touring Jimmy Buffet played at our Euphoria Tavern one weekend. He treated us with an early and late show on both Saturday and Sunday nights. These performances were such huge successes, many folks returned for the later shows—that reportedly rocked-it way past normal closing time into the wee hours the next mornings. Several years later, when the now nationally renowned Buffet returned to perform at the nearby Memorial Coliseum (many moons before the corporate Rose Garden butted-in and soon morphed into the corporate Moda Center), he informed his sold-out Rose City audience that when he drove around the U.S.A. on that first low-budget tour, his most favorite venue by far was our Euphoria, located just a few blocks away. That's where he had the best time. He loved the people here. "When I got back to Florida," Buffet told his Portland fans, "I bought a new sailboat and named it Euphoria." The Glass Palace went wild.
Portland was weird when it introduced and implemented the popular "Fareless Square" mass transit concept (totally gone today, by the way).
Portland was weird when left-leaning, populist, local pub owner Bud Clark became mayor. Whoop-Whoop!
Portland was weird when it (unfortunately) had Tonya Harding and Bob Packwood messing with its psyche.
Portland was weird when it basically introduced the entire Pacific Northwest to these new concoctions known as "microbrews." (Sorry, Seattle.)
Portland was weird when the then locally owned, come-as-you-are informal, innovative Bridgeport Brewing first opened in northwest Portland in the city's old, totally unpretentious industrial area, with its honest, ivy-clad brick buildings and quiet cobblestone streets. The massive overflowing tide of today's trendy "Pearl District" facelift development has forever devoured that part of our city's once historic charisma and charm.
Today? Portland is no longer weird, folks. Trendy, conceited, corporate and overpopulated? Most definitely. But weird? No way.
The James G. Blaine Society
Hey, does anyone out there remember the James G. Blaine Society?
Founded in the early 1960s by Oregon logger, author and popular historian Stewart Holbrook, the society's goal was to discourage people from immigrating to Oregon.
It was named after James G. Blaine, a U.S. Senator from Maine, who, during his 1884 campaign for U.S. president, visited every state in the Union except Oregon.
The society was therefore named in his honor to likewise discourage folks from visiting or moving here.
When the late great Tom McCall served as this state's governor from 1967 to 1975, the James G. Blaine Society enjoyed a brief resurgence. McCall championed Oregon's quality of life and battled anything that seemed to threaten it. This visionary leader put environmental protection ahead of economic growth.
In the governor's now legendary 1971 speech, McCall unveiled and promoted his famous "Come Visit; But Don't Stay" slogan, advising: "I urge you to visit our state often. Enjoy the beauty of Oregon. Come again and again. But, for heaven's sake, don't move here to live."
Perhaps 2017 should be the year that we all jump back onto the James G. Blaine Society bandwagon.
Anyone care to join me?
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Post's editorial pages.