Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
A few weeks ago we had six or so inches of snow, and Portland pretty much shut down. I know East Coast readers are pretty much laughing at us right now. But here in Stump Town it was a pretty big deal. It is gone back to the rain we expect her in Portland.
I am walking through The Pearl, the heart and soul of Portland. It’s what would happen if Disney’s Main Street USA, and Bourbon Street had an illegitimate love child. Quirky stores, exotic food all topped of with tourists and individualists to give this part of the city a free thinking bohemian vibe.
As always my companion is The Genius Loci of Portland. A combination of the spirit of the place and my rampant imagination. She embodies the town that I love.
I look up and the sky is vaguely coated with clouds, the Sun burns threw the hazy membrane. Yet it is raining prettily heavily. There is no obvious point of origin for the rain drops. It is called liquid sunshine. The drops seem to have a glistening golden core like it is filled with honey. The Genius Loci looks up and laughs like a child. She points her face towards the sky and opens her mouth taking in the rain.
No one else notices this. I am the only one that can see her. And I think that the world is a sadder place unable to see her here, like this. Watching her, I can’t help but laugh to it is a good natured friendly contagious laugh I have caught from her.
Come join us as we explore The Pearl
Mary’s Strip Club is not Mary’s Hamburger.
Portland loves its strip clubs. We have the highest percentage per capita of any city west of the Mississippi River. We have so many that it makes me really worry about cities east of the Mississippi, if they think they really need more than us. In fact the only thing I think we have more than nudie bars is Taco Bells. Even Portlanders who do not go to them use as references when giving directions. Turn right at the pink building that says “Hot Ladies” and if you see a sign that says “Vegan Strip Club” you know you have gone too far.
This quantity over quality mentality has produced some truly horrific stories. The one about the eye patch stripper (No it wasn’t part of a pirate costume). The one legged stripper (No it wasn’t some kind of Cherry Darling from Grind House tribute). And of course the full on third trimester pregnant dancer (I don’t have anything that I can say about that one). Not to mention that people occasionally get shot in their parking lots.
This leads me to discuss the Portland and Pearl institution Mary’s Club. It has been in business for over forty-five years, and is Portland oldest strip club. You can see the outside of the place in the open credits of Portlandia. I read a blog where a guy said he went their late one night and watched a nude standup comic routine. It seems to have a spirit all of its own.
The problem comes when people look for another Pearl institution, Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill. Often touted at the best burgers in all of Portland. Unfortunately this place closed last year. This has led to families looking for the famed burger joint walking into the strip club on accident, and women on stage hurriedly trying to put something on, as parent cover unsuspecting children’s’ eyes. I guess they missed the giant picture of a silhouette of a naked woman, and the sign that says “All nude review” on the marque.
As I head down Broadway to Burnside, I past the Santeria church/supply store, and I see the Genius Loci outside of Mary’s Club. She is wearing a dark blue bikini and a policeman’s hat. Instead of a badge the cap has a white button with a hamburger on it with a red circle and slash through it.
A family with two kids in tow stops in front of the club. They are looking at an old outdated map, and are pointing at the club’s door. Though I am the only one who can see her the Genius Loci is waiving them on saying. “Keep going citizens, nothing here for you to see, keep going.” Somehow she gets through to them and the wife shakes her head and leads her brood on.
I approach the Genius Loci, “good job.” I say.
She gives her hat a tug and leaving it at a sexy angle and replies with a grin, “Just doing my job, sir.”
Powell’s City of Books, is the eight hundred pound gorilla when it comes to bookstores in the Pearl, and rightfully so. But a lot of people miss this little gem of a book store. On Third Street it is a bit off from the busy Burnside.
Cameron’s is literally stuffed full of books. From the floor to the ceiling it looks as if another book was added, the store would explode spewing pages and ink across the Pearl. It reminds me of some dorm room and apartments I have been in. There are so many books here it is easy to be overwhelmed.
There are a lot of old books here, and many of them at thrift store prices. Books that may be hard to find anyplace else. But you got to be willing to play Tome Raider, and dig for these buried treasures in print. If you are a true bibliophile that is probably OK. If you are part of the faithful, then you want to spend the day smelling the musty old paper and felling the worn yellowed dried out pages between your fingers. In fact that would be your version of a vacation. But it does take some patience and determination, to get that missing volume form your collection.
My father had a job that had him visit clients on remote sites. So he would often end up waiting for them. He would take an old thriller and to keep him occupied as he waited. He would go through a novel a week, the thrift stores of Ventura County were like his own personal lending library. He would drop of the one he had just finished when he picked a new one up.
Now that he has passed away, I often feel close to him when I wander through used book stores and see the old thrillers and spy novels that he had read. Many of them written almost in just about as much time as it would take him to read them. Not that I care, I don’t want to read them. Just soak in their zeitgeist, to feel his spirit.
I look up from a sixties Matt Helm novel and I see the Genius Loci looking down at me and smiling. She knows why I am here and what I am trying to do, and she approves. I look down at the book and back up where she was standing. Instead of the Genius Loci I see my father, like how he looked when I was younger. Big strong and reassuring smiling the way Portland does, then he is gone, and I am alone in a building of books.
When I lived in Cali, I would love to go to those hole in the wall Mexican restaurants, you know the ones. The ones that look like a health inspector had never ever walked through their doors. You had to practically order in Spanish. But the food was oh so good, and authentic. Well in Portland we have food like that but instead of a single nationality the food is from all over the world.
Food Carts are basically trailers with kitchens. Each one has its own style, nationality or motif to catch your attention. With names like Viking Soul Food, Cartlanida, Carte Blanche and Good Food Here, they all compete for your lunch money. Competition means good food. Quality food is not the only way that these culinary warriors battle each other but they also compete on price and service.
Although other cities like New York have food carts, Portland is the holy land of food carts. Ironically though many are closed on weekends, so a week day is the best time to check them out. But still enough are open on Saturday and Sundays to make a trip to food carts still a worth wile endeavor even on those days.
There is all kinds of food, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, South American and home grown Americana. The food seems to at least my untrained pallet to be extremely authentic. The only hard part is choosing which one you want to buy from.
The Genius Loci looks down at my chicken shawarma plate. She leans back and puts her hands behind her head. “I am full…No, I couldn’t eat anymore…not one bite…” She explains.
“To bad, because just around the corner is Voodoo doughnuts.” I tell her.
He eyes get big like a kid’s on Christmas. “There is always room for voodoo doughnuts.”