I moved to Portland a dozen years ago and one of the my most vivid memories of that first week was spying a certain bumper sticker: “Keep Portland Weird.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I kept seeing it everywhere — not just on bumpers but on storefront windows, kids’ backpacks, bike racks.
Now that I’ve lived here for a while, I get it.
The “Keep Weird” campaign may have originated in Austin, and apparently in Portland it started out as a rallying cry to get behind local businesses in the city, but now it stands for so much more.
Turns out Portland not only tolerates eccentricity and freedom of expression, it embraces it, invites into its home, gives it the most comfortable chair in the house and then makes it a proper Manhattan with just the right amount of homemade grenadine.
Portland loves eccentrics so much that its denizens have provided enough fodder for a TV show (yes, Portland at times is very much as it’s depicted in Portlandia).
And everywhere you go someone has made some kind of statement.
Apparently someone moved the Trump Ballot Box into the poop collection bin at one of my favorite dog parks.
And somebody is not particularly happy with the lack of seating at their neighborhood bus stop — or is it a sly commentary on the efficacy of our transit system?
And this city is chock-a-block full of individuals proudly displaying their quirkiness.
I was driving down the street and I noticed an older gentleman walking jauntily down the street near my house. I am always on the lookout for former clients from my old Meals on Wheels route, so I slowed down to see if it was a familiar face.
Nope, but it was an interesting one.
And what was that he was wearing on his head?
I pulled over and got to talking with him.
Friends, meet Buddy.
I asked him about his hat and he went into this whole story about how he has 45 of these “story hats”.
Apparently people ask him all the time how he’s doing and he thought it would be interesting to come up with cap themes that reflect how he’s feeling or what he’s thinking about.
That way, he explained, “he could just point to his head and show what’s on his mind.”
This particular cap reflects his love of animated characters from both his childhood and recent days (notice both Homer and Superman get equal billing and Batman’s apparently so well-regarded that he makes multiple cameos).
When I asked him how he got started with these story hats, he told me that after his wife died he wanted to do something that made him happy — and this was it.
Creating wearable art.
He pointed out some badges on his coat and told me he was in the Air Force working on the B-2 Bombers, and he wanted his jacket to reflect his military connection.
He couldn’t be friendlier — or more excited about the score he’d just made up the street at one of those Little Free Libraries.
He seemed equal parts aghast and thrilled that someone had seemed willing to part with this Chia Pet Planter– and he was eager to show me that it was indeed in factory-fresh condition.
Honest to God, I don’t know what I liked better — his misty-eyed comment about needing something creative to do after suddenly finding himself a widower or his childlike glee over a free untouched Chia Planter.
(Both were completely endearing.)
I do know that a place that celebrates its quirky residents and rampant self-expression– without judgment or censorship — is a place I’m tickled to call home.