Seeing Hipsters In Hipster Mecca


Why, Hello Portland, nice to meet you!

I come to you as a voyeur, here to see this capital of hipsterdom in its purest most coffee-induced form.

Today I will give a talk at a conference of business and civic leaders. Yesterday, to understand the dynamics of Portland, and absorb a bit of its intrinsic character I borrowed a bike from an old friend and Portland native and discovered that this is quite a lovely place.

Here are some impressions:

From sitting in Courier Coffee and seeing a black woman walking by holding books in one hand and twirling a blue umbrella in the other – only its not raining. I imagine that she is making some sort of northwestern Jimi Hendrix inspired statement about the past, present, and the future. Like she is ready for anything and at any moment she expects the rain to fall down. She turns her head to say hello to a tall dude who nonchalantly flows down the street on a skateboard. Yes,

This city looks cool as shit.

Portland is very inviting especially to the down and out. It would seem that the homeless have gotten the message. So many, in fact, that it was the first impression that I had when I got out of the MAX, their light rail, that took me from the airport to my hotel. There is a layer of grit, and grime, and seediness that feels very western. These are truly the forgotten. In a land where there is so much bounty and so much wealth, the very fact that these men and women are able to exist and be largely invisible is astounding.

Then there are the kids that look homeless but clearly are not.

Like this guy with shorts, leggings, an old hand-me-down looking sweater with stringy oily brown hair and a knit cap rolled at the side. Of course he has white leathery new balance shoes and has the build of a high school cross-country runner that quit the team and started smoking and then started a band. One thing about him though – he’s kissing a girl who sorta looks like a female version of himself. I overhear where he lives.

“Hawthorne District.”

One restaurant worker outside having a smoke by the Willamette described Hawthorn as “the Brooklyn of Portland.” To get there I have to cross a truly no-stress bridge, the Tilikum Crossing, The Bridge of the People! I can almost nearly guarantee that you have never in your life seen something like this. Historically, the Tilikum Bridge, which does not allow cars and dedicates space for pedestrians, cyclists, and the light rail, is akin to Richmond VA, which during reconstruction had the very first streetcars in the United States. Funded by the Confederate Civil War hero, Lewis Ginter, turned flamboyantly closeted tobacco merchant and civic leader. Portland is onto something with this bridge. Is it the sign of a distant future or a flash in the pan idea, which will get engulfed in history, fossil fuels and the rising sea?

For the record, people here are ridiculously nice. I took the Tram from OHSU to the bottom of the hill. Riding along dedicated bike lanes. As luck would have it, I took a spill. People pounced on me like white on rice. “I’m OK,” I assure them, “I have experience falling.” They are very sweet everywhere I go. Except for one thing. I’ve sneezed about ten times and not once has someone said bless you. Crazy.

At a little place called Riverwalk café on the bottom floor of an office building in the shadow of the river span of the I5 I spent a few hours nibbling on tuna fish, Italian pasta salad, coffee, and water. I’d come here again because I saw that a woman near me ordered pancakes and they had maple syrup instead of the fake stuff. It was here that I found the space to write my talk, which I have titled:

A Message to the Grassroots, Grasstops, and to those described as the Salt of the Earth…

I bow to the Wy’East (native name for Mt. St. Helen), guzzle some cold brew, blow a kiss to my new favorite city on the west coast, and get ready to say something brilliant.