COLUMN: Playful Portland could teach us some

It took four visits, but I finally figured out what Portland has that the rest of the Pacific Northwest lacks. It’s a sense of humour.

It took four visits, but I finally figured out what Portland has that the rest of the Pacific Northwest lacks.

It’s a sense of humour.

Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland all share West Coast sensibilities, climate and inclinations.

The Oregon city, though, is the only one that makes us smile.

The city’s unofficial slogan is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ and boy, do residents work hard at keeping it that way.

I couldn’t find a motto for Greater Victoria, but I’m sure it’s not along the same lines. Nor do I think we’ll see any of the local mayors posing, as did former Portland mayor Bud Clark, wearing only a raincoat and flashing a statue for a poster that read Expose Yourself to Art.

Not that long ago, Victoria council was arguing about whether or not it was okay to have more than two restaurants open after the bars closed, as though being able to eat after 2 a.m. was somehow a problem.

The recent decision by Oak Bay council to not support the annual palm tree sale shows a total lack of a funny bone. If council was smart they would have voted to keep the sale and planted the entire length of Oak Bay Avenue with palm trees.

Here are a couple of events I came across on my trek to our southern neighbour that I think illustrate my point that Portland is just far more, uh, let’s say fun-oriented than the rest of us.

The Urban Iditarod was in progress on a recent Saturday afternoon. This race, very loosely based on the Alaskan dog sled competition, sees teams pull decorated shopping carts along city streets and over the city’s many bridges, with frequent stops for liquid refreshments. I saw teams of pirates, doctors, cartoon figures and even penises, yes, penises.

I asked the relaxed young police officer sitting in his car watching the hoopla if the event was official. He said no, though he thought they could easily get a permit if they asked. He was just hoping that nobody would get hurt over the next few hours until he was off shift and could let someone else take care of the racers.

Most Portland drinking and eating establishments offer a Happy Hour with drink and food specials. My family and I enjoyed the views from the 30th floor of the Portland City Grill so much we missed taking in a performance of the Portland Cello Project at the Wonder Ballroom. The orchestra of cellists puts on concerts that often feature surprising choices. We missed seeing the group perform heavy metal band Pantera’s songs from their album, Vulgar Display of Power.

Lest you think that the cellists are a one-time joke act, they have upcoming concerts listed for Minnesota, Kentucky and California. In the past they have performed concerts playing everything from classical to rap music.

Walking the streets you come across the Benson Bubblers – drinking fountains installed around 1912 – famous quotes inlaid in sidewalks and odd sculptures placed throughout the city.

Another night we stopped at the Rogue Distillery and Public House and my son left with a bottle of maple and bacon beer, inspired by Voodoo Doughnuts, a shop that is open 24 hours a day, accepts only cash and always seems to have a lineup out the door. Their maple bar is a maple-frosted doughnut with real bacon on top.

Last March, we watched as thousands of entrants took part in the annual Shamrock Run. What struck us was how many of the racers, including many of the serious runners, were dressed up in green wigs and more.

We hope to get back to Portland soon and take in some more of the Rose City’s finer and funnier events.

We’d like to check out the 24-Hour Church of Elvis (if the latest incarnation stays open), maybe take in an episode of the Pedal Powered Talk Show. But as much as we wished we could, we can no longer check out Velveteria, the Museum of Velvet paintings, as it closed in 2010.

Maybe someone could open a spinoff here? Velvet Victoria anyone?

Don Denton is Black Press Victoria’s photo supervisor.

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