Have you seen Portlandia? No? Season 1 is on Netflix Instant, go watch it, then come back – this article will still be here. It is the best three hours you will spend watching something this week, I promise. Not a lot of shows are capable of making me actually laugh out loud, but this one does, regularly. If you don’t have three hours to spare right now, these videos should get you up to speed. I discovered the show about a year ago, and ever since have been dying to visit Portland. My days on the west coast are currently numbered, so there was no time like the present.
When people heard where I was going, the most common reaction was “Portland? Really? Why?” For once in my life, I lacked any particularly good excuse, and my only answer was “Um…Portlandia?” People were extremely skeptical of my decision. I started to wonder if my last west coast trip should have been to wine country instead.
Turns out, this was not the case. Portland was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. It’s been awhile (since junior prom, actually) that anything I’ve done has so wildly exceeded my expectations. It’s the manic pixie dream girl of cities; it’s so amazing it feels like it shouldn’t be real, but it is! Every corner seems to have an artisanal coffeeshop or a microbrewery on it. The stores are all tiny boutiques where everything is locally made, recycled and/or organic, and a lot of things have birds on them. The biggest “tourist attraction” in town is a bookstore.
The location doesn’t hurt Portland’s charm, either. I love a city with a river, and Portland is divided by the Willamette (you know, the place where you get to at the end of Oregon Trail!), which means there’s a lot of gorgeous waterfront area to go walking (or biking or double decker biking or unicycling or skateboarding) on. The city is surrounded by nothing but spectacular scenery, including the second tallest year round waterfall in the US. I’m not usually a nature person, but when you take me to a place that looks straight out of Rivendell, I’m going to hang around and take pictures and then maybe go to the restaurant at the lodge, where I will be disappointed that they are out of the locally raised lamb pot pie.
Coffeeshops and scenery aside, what really makes a city is the people, and the people of Portland are fantastic. From the first restaurant we went to, where our waiter was legitimately curious about where were from and what we did, and then made several excellent recommendations for bars we needed to check out, to the last TSA agent I saw on the way out of the city who fake-tried to steal my donuts, everyone was kind, authentic, and often funny. Everyone was genuinely passionate about what they were doing, like the guy who’d moved from England to start a tiny gallery in the front of an office building, and had the best art I saw the whole trip (there was a series of paintings of celebrity heads in weird places that I am not doing justice with this description, but you can see for yourself here).
I feel like I can’t adequately describe Portland except to say that it is a place where magical things happen. It is a place where when you get stuck in a smoking room when you requested nonsmoking, you will be comped a dinner where you’re served perfectly crafted cocktails with freshly burnt orange peel. It is a place where people attend 80’s dance nights with abandon, decking themselves out in acid wash or head to toe spandex and dancing like no one’s watching. It’s a place where the best dancer in the room, who knows all the moves in the MC Hammer video and is wearing bedazzled suspenders, will come over and very patiently teach you how to dance. It is a place where that guy (who works in sustainable energy development and is very cute) and his friends will take you and your friend to an awesome dive bar and then to a food cart that has the best burrito you’ve ever tasted (and I live in LA!). Portland is a city that people are so pleased to show off, they will wrangle up bikes and helmets from nowhere to take you and your friend on an impromptu tour of the city. It is a place where people tell you with a straight face that of course they raise their own chickens (though you’re only allowed three per household in the city limits).
Portlandia skewers all of this in an often hilarious way, but Portland really is a place where the dream of the 90’s is alive, and in an incredible way. I was expecting some hilarious hipster utopia where everything was done ironically, but Portlandians are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. It’s a place where being yourself and doing what you love seem to really be enough to get by. It’s a place where I think I could actually go and open up a bakery that specializes in bread pudding or a Chuck E Cheese themed bar complete with a ball pit, and be totally successful. It’s a place I’d very much like to live in the not too distant future. Stay cool, Portland. I’m coming for you.
Image via InfinityDish