[Welcome to our "Say Nice Things About Portland" guide to the city! Did you know that this feature package is also in PRINT?? That's right, this is our first print product since the start of the pandemic, and we're psyched to produce a lot more. Find the "Say Nice Things" guide in over 500 locations around the city, and if you'd like to see more guides you can hold, please consider making a small contribution to the Mercury, please and thank you!—eds]
When people think about Portland and “Keeping Portland Weird,” it’s easy to focus on the obvious, like drum circles, throngs of e-boarders zooming around the Esplanade to “99 Luftballons,” and the Unipiper—who pedals around on a unicycle playing bagpipes. But that’s the “weekend weird.” Some Portland quirks are in the streets every day. They represent a little twist on some commonly held convention, in which Portlanders thought “wait… maybe this other way would be better.” And guess what… it was.
1. Dildos on wires
In 2015, Portland was known for its dildos—the ones hanging on its electrical wires. Reports of someone throwing the shlong-shaped objects skyward, to dangle off of overhead wires like a pair of shoes, made it as far as the BBC. Vice connected with the alleged tosser, who explained she and some friends had come into possession of thousands of factory-rejected dildos. The Oregonian reported that local electrical companies found the dildos about as dangerous as anything you throw onto an electrical wire. They preferred nothing be thrown up there, but they weren’t particularly phased either. While it’s possible that those same 20-somethings are still tying two dildos together and hurling them over power lines, it seems more likely that inspiration has passed to others. Many Portlanders can wryly point to their neighborhood skyward dildo, while still more are unaware it’s a thing. It’s for sure “a thing.”
2. Leaving a note
In Portland you can really get a wide variety of notes. Park your car weird? You’re gonna get a note. Fail to rake your leaves? That’s a note. During the pandemic, my neighbor taped a note to her door demanding that we stay out of the hallway. We were unable to accommodate the note. However, not all Portland notes are admonishments. “Woman Seeking Burrito” was a much-beloved personal ad stapled to an electrical pole from a “28-year-old woman seeking casual partnership with bulky bean-filled food to-go,” but it was also kind of a note. In cafes and restaurants, notes and signage let us know about dishes that are out of stock and, sometimes, strange places where we can stick our complaints. Overall, I like the notes. Even the mean ones are a little funny, and I’d rather be communicated with than not. However you need to do it; let us know. Leave a note.
3. The spinning loaf
Watching loaves of bread wind their way through the Franz Bakery is one of the few free activities still remaining in Portland. From the corner NE 12th and NE Flanders you can watch buns crawl along a conveyor belt at all hours of the day. You can also marvel at the majestic spinning Franz loaf, which gently rotates on a pedestal above the building. The loaf is subtle. You might not think much of it the first time, but as you pass on subsequent evenings it will continue to greet you with low-key revolution. One day the Franz Bakery will remove the loaf, and YOU WILL LOSE YOUR GODDAMN MIND, emailing and texting every media source in your address book: “Where is the loaf?!?” Answer: Sometimes the loaf is removed for cleaning. The loaf will always return.
4. Prices at PDX
Portland has a nice airport. I honestly can’t believe we have it so good. PDX is connected to the city by a dedicated public transit light rail, TSA is generally swift, and you won’t pay more for snacks, souvenirs, or booze than you would in town. In 1988, when PDX’s “Oregon Market” opened behind the security checkpoint, the notion of “street pricing” was already in place. And in the “baggie of three ounce bottles” hellscape that is flying, it’s pretty nice to know you can count on a whiskey and a turkey sandwich for under $20, as you put your whole dang outfit back together after security.
5. Thanking the bus driver
Have you ever been on a Trimet bus when approximately seventeen teenage students exit at once, and they all—one after another—thank the bus driver? It will restore you. And when riding the bus in Portland, you’re likely to hear plenty of “thank you!” as you go. If nothing else, it’s a good way to communicate “I have stepped off the bus” to the driver. It’s the gentleperson’s “back door!”—the thing we are forced to shout when the mid-bus door won’t open. Also, it turns out drivers seem to like it. So, thank you to all the fine folks on their routes, keeping us on time for meetings, navigating streets that really shouldn’t have parking, and being a force of serene stability in Portland.