Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
The Genius Loci of Portland pulls my arm, as she skips ahead like an excited child on Christmas Eve. She wears a dark pea coat, buttoned to ward off the cold of a November Oregon night. Her head is crowned with a black knitted beret. The coat droops down below her buttocks, between that and her mid-calf boots only a few inches of her grey leggings are visible.
For the record, I am not completely delusional. I get that the Genius Loci is a figment of my overactive imagination. So as I dodge between the crowds people in the famed Pearl District, I know that they only see me with my right hand stretched out. No one says anything. Maybe they think I have hurt my arm. Maybe they think I am practicing just half of my gate for a Zombie walk. Either way it is probably not the strangest thing they have seen in the Pearl tonight.
“Hurry.” My ethereal companion says looking over her shoulder. Burnside Street, reminds me of Main Street USA in Disneyland. Not that it looks like the one in Anaheim. I just get the same sense of wonder and awe, from the moving throng, that sense of anticipation as you get when you funnel down it. Like the House of Mouse there is an international vibe here. Sure there are your typical Portland hipsters prowling the walkway, but there is also a multinational feeling to it. Asian tourists staring in to the streets bright lights, a pair of Arab women with long headdresses, fiddling with their I-Phones, a family, wearing matching San Francisco Tee-shirts, speaking a guttural language I don’t recognize.
Finally we reach ‘the ride.’ Well it isn’t really a ride it’s a doughnut shop. In fact the only thing it has in common with a roller coaster is the line. “We are here!” my invisible companion squeals with delight. We have reached the world famous Voodoo Doughnuts.
This is the original shop on Third St. right off Burnside, in the ‘crotch’ of The Pearl. Nestled between a porno theater and a burlesque house. Outside there is a guy with an electric guitar and a portable amp playing sixties rock songs with the enthusiasm of an entire adolescent garage band. It doesn’t look like he is making a lot tonight. I suspect he is there more for the thrill of the music than the tips.
The insides looks like someone took a mom and pop coffee house, Graceland and a Santeria temple threw it in a giant blender then poured out what was left and covered it with ketch. High on the wall is cathedral worthy stained glass, with faces that I don’t recognize. A large fiberglass doughnut with sprinkles is on the wall. Posters and bumper sticks line the wall with a voodoo skeleton motif.
I am in luck tonight, the line doesn’t stretch outside. It looks like I will have at the max a ten minute wait. I have literally seen three hour lines to get into Voodoo. The crowd is a mixed group tonight of local hipsters and touristas. The out of towners all have their cell phones out snapping photos of them in the hallowed halls of pastry heaven. A couple of local girls in front of me are wearing what seems to be way to skimpy clothes for weather, and are graphically describing parts of their anatomy being frozen off..
Voodoo Doughnut’s is a Portland landmark and has been called an ‘international tourist destination’ by the LA times. If you ever go to the local airport PDX, you will see more than one person returning to from whence they came, hugging the trademark Pepto-Bismol colored pink doughnut boxes, a gift for the homestead from far away and exotic Portland. It has shown up in movies and TV shows. When I went to the Rose City Comic-con last year, Christopher Judge from Star Gate brought in a box of Voodoo doughnuts’ more erotic choices, and asked the crowd to explain them.
It started over a decade ago when Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon, decided that they wanted to make food for people who had been out parting too long and too hard. They made Pepto-Bismol doughnuts, Alka-Seltzer doughnuts and doughnuts with a shot of Night-Quell in the whole. But what they didn’t know was that the FDA has rules against mixing food and medicine and they were quickly shut down.
The next phase of their mad scheme was, if they couldn’t make hang over cure doughnuts they would make tasty doughnuts. Legend has it they traveled to Pico Rivera California, where they were trained in the secret of doughnuty goodness by a pair of doughnut gurus. They then returned to Oregon where they elbow slammed the rest of the doughnut producing market.
Some of their more exotic samples are The Memphis Mafia, Fried dough with banana chunks and cinnamon covered in a glaze with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips on top. The Marshall Mather’s a doughnut cover with M&M’s (get it, it’s a rap joke). The Captain my Captain doughnut, a doughnut topped with crushed Captain Crunch cereal. Maple bars with bacon on it. And raspberry filled doughnuts that look like a voodoo doll. And the official doughnut of Portland, the tasty Portland Cream. You can also get vegan version of most the doughnuts.
I am next in line, the cashier calls me up. When he is getting my two Portland Creams and a couple of milks, I ask him who the faces on the stain glass window are. The two middle ones are Cat Daddy and Tres the two on their side are major players in property in the Pearl and he isn’t quite sure who the fifth one is.
.I take a seat at an outdoor table. I watch the city walk by in all its quirky glory. I take Portland in like the doughnut named after it, and wash it down with two percent. As if it was some kind of pastry communion with the town. The Pearl becomes part of me just as the food build the cells of my body.
I get up and leave a doughnut and milk as a sacrifice to the Genius Loci. The two girls walk in to the burlesque theater, explaining their skimpy wardrobe if not their lake of jackets. I toss a dollar in the barely empty bucket of the guitar player and look back. Is it just my imagination that the doughnut I left behind has a small bite taken out of it.