I work at a bar in Portland, Oregon called Slabtown. While the bar has been there for a century under many different names, the bar is most famous for being twice in the TV show Portlandia and once in the TV show Grimm. Because of this fact, people come in all the time and ask me if I met any of the cast members, and was I there?
One of the things that these tourists bring up is that Slabtown is a place that is “Portland”. I have no idea what that means or who came up with this list. Today a guy came in and said he wanted to have a “Portland” experience, so he was going to sit at the bar and drink a PBR and wait for “Portland” to happen.
I looked online for this list and I couldn’t find it. There were plenty of sites that let people know what you can do here and it was the normal stuff like Powell’s, the Rose Gardens, walk around the river, hike Mt. Tabor and then the funny stuff like drink beer & coffee, eat brunch and take the street car around. None of the sites said to go into Slabtown – except the sites that list us as being filmed in Grimm or Portlandia.
People are coming here because they think we are as weird as the TV show. People are expecting a bunch of punk has-beens, hippies, hipster parents and a reggae band fronted by our mayor!
The show Portlandia is funny and it has some truths, but as I tell tourists all the time, it is about people who moved here and wanted a place where they can act like assholes. I grew up here and I am not trying to be ten years old for the rest of my life. I’m not riding my bike around with a slingshot sticking out of my pocket looking for a pick up game of dodge ball.
Sometimes I just want to scream at people and tell them that this isn’t the Portland I grew up in. There was none of the hipster bullshit and that if they wanted what Portland seems like now they would have to go to Eugene – a hippy college town of the University of Oregon.
One time a couple asked me where Alberta street was, so I gave them directions: go east on 84, take the 82nd Avenue exit and go North and take a left on Alberta. That way they can see the real Portland for a while before running into the fairy world that people invented.
Portland used to be a mill & port town. Being weird here used to be a big deal because it wasn’t everywhere. Now the old Portland people are made fun of and are being cast out of the city they lived in all their life.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some things that I don’t mind changing. I love the good restaurants that I can wait an hour or so to eat in, not worrying so much about racist skinheads or neo-Nazis, getting an actual good coffee and complaining when it’s just Stumptown coffee, a pretty good local music scene that is affordable and I guess there is more art.
I’ll never understand the idea of Portlandia tourism. I see that national papers such as the New York Times have a crush on us so people want to check us out and a whole sketch comedy show about a city would make anyone curious.
I grew up here, so I don’t see the big deal. I think I’d rather go to New York, New Orleans or Des Moines as a tourist than here, but maybe it’s because I’ve just been here watching men and women act like they’re in preschool.