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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Portlandia: "the reality might be more extreme than the joke"

For once, an out-of-town writer gets it exactly right.

Comments (44)

Thanks for that.

"...Portland is quietly closing in on San Francisco as the American city that has most conspicuously taken leave of its senses."

Amen, Brother!

That's an excellent find! Wish I could write like that.

"...Portland is quietly closing in on San Francisco as the American city that has most conspicuously taken leave of its senses."

Hey, SF still has weekly garbage service. Sure we haven't passed them?

Just on a lighter note, I've had an experience here that definitely outdoes the show. Incidentally, I'm not a regular watcher but I catch a little every now and then just flipping around. They had one sketch about all the people who are advertising that they are DJing their own party or whatever. It's their standard formula: Pick the premise and then just beat the living hell out of it.

Okay, here's the real city of Portland outdoing it. There are 2 coffee shops within walking distance of here where this has happened: The barista informs me that they will be leaving on tour with a band, and shortly thereafter both baristas end up playing with their bands on the David Letterman show. What are the odds of that happening? I mean these shops are several blocks apart. It may not be land zoning, etc...but this to me is also a Portland thing.

Congress critters in Tigger suits, replaced by his lawyers wife, both gay and straight pedophile Mayors, and the most strip joints per capita.... Portland is oh so progressive. And such a joke.

Good article. Looking at all of our problems, one thing we don't need is another NYT writeup and outsiders gawking at the wonder of Portland. Took me 30 minutes the other day to explain what a fiasco TriMet is to relatives.

We actually don't have the most strip joints per capita; it just seems that way. Springfield actually has more per capita, and state-wide, Oregon plays second fiddle to West Virginia.

Bill - let Letterman die by his own mouth. If he's hiring barista bands, you know he's going south.

Speaking as a recent transplant, and from one of the most ELITE of metropolitan areas -- Washington, D.C. -- at that, I can honestly say that Portlandia suits me just fine. I didn't come here for the cultural hype, merely for love and for a new location to start the second chapter of my life.

But there is so much to this place! It's not perfect, Jack has done a great job of exposing what doesn't work here, but it is nice. Quirky, different, but nice.

I am planning on enjoying what this area has to offer for the rest of my life. I don't know how this will make you locals feel, but I don't care. I intend to make the most of what Portland has to offer.

BTW, I am singing at Tony Starlight's this coming Thursday. D.C. doesn't offer the chance to sing with a live band in front of an audience!

I heart Portlandia! Warts and all!

I grew up in Portland and still love it too. For the most part I think others who post here love it as much, despite some of the complaining. But (Mark) Hemingway nails it.

There have been times over the years when I started to feel as though I was just becoming an old curmudgeon, resistant to change or anything new. New age Hipsters, conforming neighbors, and the local media here can make you feel that way sometimes.

Many of the efforts the city has engaged in seemed silly to me much of the time, almost backward in many respects, and even corrupt in a few cases. After a great read like this I get encouraged, reinvigorated. It's not me headed in the wrong direction, it's them. For me, it’s like calling out the king with no clothes. Say it like it is and Portland has great potential to change. But only if enough eyes are opened.

Great assessment. Too bad it wasn't published in The Atlantic Monthly.

Great article!
I am sending it to everyone I know who tells me how "cool" Portlandia has become.
The Glodschmidt legacy has ruined this town and it will take a long long time to recover....if ever.

A married couple...both natives of Portland...have lived in Eugene since beginning college there and now seriously considering moving back as the kids are grown and raised and they are starting to think of retirement. Couldn't forward the article to them fast enough. For the record, I love Portland but not the humiliating cartoon it has become since Neil worked his magic.

tommyspoon "I am planning on enjoying what this area has to offer for the rest of my life"...

I planned on that too, Tommy. Then property taxes doubled on my house, water and sewer rates skyrocketed, and they quit picking up garbage two weeks every month.

The sewer mains leak, the roadbed is failing, and there's a brand new $59,000,000 jail full of public art that nobody gets to see. It's been empty since the ribbon cutting 6 years ago. Your property taxes continue to pay for those construction bonds.

The Mayor is dumber than a sack of hammers (and not near as honest) and he's surrounded himself with hipster d*****bags. Bad policy is the result.

Not to mention all the bike/walk/ride propaganda I had to listen to and see. I even had a lawnmower cop show up in my front yard once because a neighbor complained I wasn't properly composting my grass cuttings.

In the plus column, they make good coffee. There are some nice restaurants. There are lots of trees.

The article? I thought it overdid the strip club angle, at the expense of a very important topic that has impacted Seattle and Portland more than a lot of cities: hardcore drugs like heroin and meth.

I also feel a very serious aspect to living here that belies the superficial, lightweight silliness they try and stick on us: We are currently awaiting a 9.0 earthquake. To me, that's the background vibe or should I say the underlying problem?

But I think we're giving certain political elements way too much credit. Yes, they occasionally pull something stupid like the 2-week garbage thing, that does affect life here, but for the most part the Portland I live in, is pretty much the same.
It's a place. It's Mt. Tabor, and the Willamette and yes, the weather.
If they want to make Pittsburgh the new hip place, be my guest, but I don't like those Eastern winters and the summer humidity.
I guess I just refuse to accept that something as irrelevant to my life as the city council is making such a difference to where I live.

I love it here. I write jokes and go for walks. Same as it ever was. The Portlandia show represents one side of Portland, I suppose, but I find myself changing the channel after a few minutes, whereas I've been tuned in to the real Portland for over 35 years.
There's a Portlandia sketch for you if they haven't done it already: A bunch of people walking around on a beautiful day in the Rose City, whining about how horrible it is. The New York Times isn't going to change my world. They're thousands of miles away and - incidentally - they lost 40 million dollars last year.

I see I made a typo...but it fits.

He may have gone a little long on the strip club angle but overall he was spot on. What he could have at least mentioned in my opinion is the homeless,streetkids/warriors situation downtown, especially when coming from someone with an east coast perspective...

Great article! And pretty much on target. What continues to amaze me about Portland are the pathetic roads and freeways. Despite spending billions on light rail; the freeways and city streets are largely the same sorry 1960s-era relics they had when I moved to Portland in 1987.

Good article - thanks for the find.

The article touched on this, but the whole jobs thing has shown that our local governance class just doesn't get it- or worse doesn't care.

As long as the connected class gets big money from publicly-funded projects, nothing happens to keep and attract good jobs. Sure when times are better, there are temporary construction jobs to brag about, but that is not an economy to build upon (excuse the pun).

And like a junkie that needs it's daily fix, the constant need for more and more tax revenues to pay off the rich has made most businesses question being here- which further erodes the tax system and forces the need for higher rates.

We are seeing death by dumb planning in ever increasing speed now- the planning is crap, but crap is all they know, unless you want to throw in arrogance.

And all the young hipsters don't get it either- they are being exploited and they think it's cool. What fools.

Don't think of them as unpaved roads. Think of them as part of the Oregon Trail.


I suspect that most of those who live in and around Portland came here from somewhere else. I did. When I was five, over fifty years ago. I liked growing up here, despite living in what was then a 'tough' neighborhood.

I've been appalled with Council politics ever since Bud Clark left office. Of course, since then the facade of unwarranted arrogance has been stripped from Goldschmuck and his legacy, yet the 'shakers and movers' from his halcyon days still guide the city and its corruption.

I will note that I *liked* the termination of the Mt. Hood Freeway and don't care that the funds were reassigned to the MAX 'light rail' line. The 'freeway cult' was just as misguided and corrupt as the 'fixed rail cult' is, if not more so. Had it gone ahead, I wouldn't live where I do, for if I did, I'd be looking down into the eastbound lane.

All in all, I continue to perceive all the kerfuffle to be the result of huge numbers of people who have moved here because it was, or is, 'a great place to live', and immediately proceeded to change it, ironically to make some aspect more like where they just came from. And they all would like to close the borders now, thank you very much. The ironic result is they have destroyed the reason for 'the great place' to which they moved.

The insanity of the trendiness has exhausted my willingness to work to maintain the community as a desirable place to live. The patient is beyond redemption. I want out. I have plans to do exactly that.

Excellent article, Jack. Thanks.

Stand back: I'm going to go Big Picture here. A lot of what is wrong with Portland will wither up and die soon as the federal government hits the inevitable debt wall. Right now out of every dollar, we're borrowing 40 cents and 20 cents of that is from China.

Meanwhile, the story that still never took hold with the American Public is the derivatives nightmare based on fraudulently rated mortgage security swaps. This was not just a catastrophe for America but for Europe as well. The corporate weasels on Fox Business News never address how Europe got into trouble and they certainly don't mention the TRILLIONS of dollars the Federal Reserve is currently pumping into the European banks.

Portland, and most other American cities, have been living in the same make-believe world as our federal government, and when it collapses we won't have enough credit to buy a train set at Toys'R'Us - much less another light rail project to some developer's bank.

Portland is about to hit shore like the New Carissa and that's why some of the biggest political rats we have are jumping ship and swimming away.

The folks at Oregon Wilderness Moonsuit Tours 2020 welcome all the Enviro-Obstructionists Utopian Dreamers from the East that choose to locate here temporarily.

I've been appalled with Council politics ever since Bud Clark left office

Seems to me the very election of Bud Clark as mayor was an early manifestation of the keep Portland weird contingent. Of course, Frank Ivancie represented the old guard and he made the perfect one to foil.

We are currently awaiting a 9.0 earthquake. That's okay - those South Waterfront condos are all built on bedrock, right?

What do you expect from a right wing rag like the Weakly Standard. Portland hipness will really be over when the New Yorker says it is.

Is that lightening striking Neil's west hills enclave in the picture above?
We can hope!

Great perspective Bill, both on how good it really is here despite some of it being really bad, and also on how temporary some of it will inevitably be (it's been built by a 25-year affluence that is over - it just is spinning out the inertia).

I thought the article was poorly written, let me explain.

First, he says he has no idea if the strip club thing is accurate, but has no problem taking O'Toole's stats without any similar caveat. Many people disagree with O'Toole factually, particularly as to the 1% reduction in driving.

Second, the author's hypocrisy is astounding - in the span of 2 paragraphs he acknowledges the whole rant about laissez faire policies, then complains that we aren't policing our morality sufficiently. He acts as if a strip bar isn't an employer, or a business. Typical, and exhibit #1 why conservatives haven't been in charge for decades.

Three, there is a logical hiccup - housing prices are high, a good thing for the people who've been here for a while, and partially justifying the rise in taxes. But this is a bad thing because we're pricing out the middle class? Except there are no jobs for them? All of this is caused by the UGB? If there are no jobs here, who is bidding up house prices?

Fourth, while I admit that the streetcar and Max are underpoliced and bankrupting Trimet largely for the benefit of developers, every transportation decision has winners and losers. Fight crime and corruption, but don't act like it's unique to light rail. My last neighbor's family lost their business when I205 went in, but their neighbors land ended up right off an exit and made out well.

Fifth, we've had 4 politicians with terrible sexual scandals (including the Wood). How novel. So has everybody else in Govt., the pulpit, educational institutions, etc. It has no bearing on our city. None.

Sixth - his critique of the foodie and hipster culture is ignorant. "Food miles" is not just an environmental claim (good, because it's a dubious one at best). It is indicative, in this city, of how proud most chefs are of the relationships they've established with farmers in the area. That's a big deal. Ask a chef at a chain restaurant if they know where their food came from (sure, from Sysco). Many people in Portland are happy to make WAY less money in order to have a good relationship with their work. You want to see some serious hipster/Republican mash-up and get a good appreciation for why we still support the UGB? Drive out to Oregon City for the Farmer-Chef Connection March 5. The farmers there are meeting hipsters who put their money where their mouths are.

"Portland hipness will really be over when the New Yorker says it is."

You mean "The Nation," right?

This is an excellent article, and says many things that needed to be said. "Huck," you seem to have missed it. I'd take your comment on point by point, but it isn't worth it.

Drive out to Oregon City for the Farmer-Chef Connection March 5.

Gasp! Drive? In Portland? That can't be serious. BTW, see today's front-page Oregonian story about transportation priorities. Never thought I'd see something like that so prominently displayed on those pages....

Max, I'm not against driving. Shoot, I even drive a truck. Same one for 14 years. It pays taxes for the system. I ride my bike, too, though, and I'd be happy to figure out an appropriate way to contribute my share, above what I already pay in property taxes and gas taxes (I even told the Mayor the one time I met him - one night we rode the same Yellow line home).

Jack - you're right in that a national counterpoint was sorely needed to the fawning over the city, but don't you wish that the writing had been better than the fawning crap from the Times? I just really feel like this guy missed what his subtitle said it would be: the downside of hipness. How about the debt we're incurring, that Tri-met is nearly bankrupt, that we've diverted funds from critical services, that mission creep is out of control, all things you point out on a regular basis. He doesn't point out even ONE of those.

And is he classist much? "Scabies infested" Occupiers? The rednecks and working-class "strivers" have the "good sense" to move away to find work. Compare that to the "whiff of desperation" of the "hipsters" and "scenesters" who start their own business. And I grew up in the sticks, too, drinking Natty Ice and diving into unscouted waters. The urban rural divide is just as nasty out in the rural parts.

If he replaced the parts about the sex clubs and scandals with some details about HOW we've screwed up, I might agree. I feel like this guy is just writing for a job with the CATO institute.

Agh, sorry, I'll drop it. You liked it, I didn't. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

"Huck", try not to be so uptight. Driving is anti-Portland, which is all I was saying. You're being anti-Portland by suggesting that people drive, yeah - but I didn't go there.

Read today's O, and you'll see what I was "driving" at.

Tri-Moot isn't "nearly bankrupt"; its train has already arrived at that station. One of the problems with zombies appears to be that they don't realize that they're dead.

When they chose to quit being a transit agency, opting instead to be a development agency, they kind of sealed their fate. Half a dozen communities have seceded from their empire, and more will doubtless follow.

I love Portland like a person might love their suicidal spouse. Wary, weary, by turns desperate and hopeful...but there is no doubt that good times are to be had here for a while longer. And ditto on the climate in the rest of the country, who really wants to be shoveling snow and living under air conditioners.

Unfortunately the author didn't address the light rail honor-system scam here, or the homeless situation fronting the Burnside bridgehead, or the merciless pillaging of the bus system. Or the disaster that is PPS.

As for the sex industry, it makes for early awareness. "Mom, why it that 'Naked Bare' place spelled like that? Shouldn't it by spelled B-e-a-r?" "Er, sweetie, there are these people that um, aren't very smart or interesting or fun to talk to, and, um, they like to watch naked ladies all day. Strange, huh? If they lived in the Kalahari, where everyone runs around naked, they wouldn't be interested at all probably. Plus they're kind of like dogs, you know? How dogs always want to sniff your crotch? Some people behave like this. Sad but true."

Dogs never try to sniff my crotch, Gaye. They seem to understand that doing so won't guarantee that I'll vote to place them into the "mayor"'s office.

The writer's critique of Portland's strip club culture is well-taken, but the vague aspersions he casts on such benign aspects of area culture as food carts and the locavore movement tend to confirm something I've noticed before about conservatives: Despite their endless paens to capitalism and the "free market," a lot of them really don't like small businesses or the people who own them. Too eccentric, too transgressive, too aware that their interests don't really conflate with those of large corporations and commercial banks, despite the best efforts of the Republican Party and the Chamber of Commerce to convince them (and all of us) otherwise.

There's a Portland perspective if I ever heard one.

The biggest issue I have with this article is in the first couple of paragraphs: why does the New York Times have such an obsession with Portland? I have a good answer, and it's not any kind of grand conspiracy, either. Simply put, it's because the grand dream of every hipster with a journalism or creative writing degree is to write for the Times. (The presumption is that it gives an "in" to future jobs with other papers, and it's terribly entertaining to watch Times freelancers discover otherwise.) Since the basic mantra of writing is "write what you know," that leaves the hipster with only a few options. Writing about copious and extreme marijuana use only works when you're trying to sell articles to a Village Voice Media weekly newspaper, and masturbation is right out, so why not pitch stories about the places you wish you could live in because they're sooooooooo kewl?

Meanwhile, the editors are stuck, too. Hit count tracking helps put the lie to what features in a paper are really read, so the incessant push is for articles that produce high hit numbers, no matter what. Portland wank articles get this coming and going: all of the wannabe hipsters in the middle of Ohio and Wisconsin use this to justify begging Mom and Dad for moving money "until I can get that job at a cool weekly newspaper." (Mom and Dad are usually glad to do so, for the same reasons William S. Burroughs's family was perfectly willing to subsidize his moving to Tangiers.) Meanwhile, the people who know better keep clicking, if only to say "Can you believe this gibberish they're writing about us?"

Unfortunately, I don't expect this to get any better soon, because now the Portland hype is self-sustaining. (In my case, I get people who ask me about Portlandia based on my time living in the city, and a couple of particularly unemployable cases are moving specifically because they take the points of mockery in the show as selling points.) I'm reminded of the number of similar individuals who couldn't tell the difference between television and reality who moved to Alaska because they loved the quirky and fictional Cicely in the show Northern Exposure, too. What stopped the influx wasn't just the show being cancelled, but the word that native Alaskans didn't have the time nor the inclination to save the twits from both nature and themselves. Once this happens to Portland, because it'll then really be Gary, Indiana with trees, only then will the hipster influx stop.

"The writer's critique of Portland's strip club culture is well-taken, but the vague aspersions he casts on such benign aspects of area culture as food carts and the locavore movement tend to confirm something I've noticed before about conservatives: Despite their endless paens to capitalism and the "free market," a lot of them really don't like small businesses or the people who own them."

That's not the point the author was making - the point was the entrepreneurial horizons of Portlanders seem curiously limited.

Seattle and Portland superficially seem to be very similar culturally and politically, but Seattle is one of the great entrepreneurial cities of the world, which regularly cranks out new innovative companies, while Portland is - meh.

I mean, there is nothing wrong with brewpubs, food carts and precious "locavore" restaurants, but it the extent to which Portlanders focus on them just emphasizes the lotus-eating nature of the city.

Random, you've got it in one. I don't have any problems with all of the "funky retail" spaces throughout Portland, but that can't support the city. Deciding to emphasize all of the food carts and indie bookstores in town is great, but that's the strategy of little podunk towns that can survive on tourism in lieu of anything else that would bring in people. It's certainly not enough to produce a decent tax base, and certainly not enough to produce a tax base that can pay for all of the shiny objects SamRand want to set up every week.

Marfa Texas

and certainly not enough to produce a tax base that can pay for all of the shiny objects SamRand want to set up every week.

When the burden of taxes become unwieldy, and can't pay for plans, not even maintenance, then next is to bring out more bonds, and before doing that as we all know here, reduce service to the point of unacceptable...
public safety
Is that part of the "visionary" plans
on streets for example - to make policy to do no paving for five years, eventually the people will be more than eager to vote for a street tax?

People can only afford to pay so much...and when people's discretionary money needs to be shifted to pay more and more for decision maker's financial mismanagement, then local businesses will be hurt as a result.

I will add some people sadly no longer have discretionary money. Is that why so many empty storefronts?

The rate they are going, we may have empty neighborhoods, like in the days of when the gold rush was over!

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