Am I the last sane person in Portland?
I wish I were joking.
I’ve long complained about our city‘s many faults — its smugness; its Smart Growth advocacy; its godforsaken “Young Creatives”; its weird preoccupation with food carts (and community seating); its highly overrated transit system; its contrived friendliness, and, of course, its fascination with “keeping it local.”
A quick disclaimer before I embark on another rant. There are many things I like about Portland — my son was born here; I have nice neighbors; I like the weather (in all its variants); I enjoy the city’s proximity to the Columbia River Gorge, etc. Those things are immutably good.
But…there are so many things wrong here — and I experience them so frequently — that it baffles and alarms me when people (both locals and fawning national media types) extravagantly talk up our richness of purpose, our supreme sustainability, our unparalleled livability.
It’s as though I’ve infiltrated a cult. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there is a distinct mass pathology at work in Portland.
Finally though, even the New York Times — a huge propagandist and cheerleader for Portland — has noticed cracks in our farm-to-table facade. In a July 8 piece called “The Pride and Prejudice of Local,” NYT journalist William Yardley shines a floodlight on our regional neuroses. People in the other 49 states will no doubt be amused by the story’s quotes, but they need to understand that Yardley isn’t cherry picking. He’s not exploiting the anomalous behavior of a few morons.
No, no, no.
Yardley provides a revealing snapshot of our dystopian hamlet. He describes — with absolute clarity and perfection — the overriding mindset of the entire city. To wit (emphases mine):
Duane Sorenson, who founded Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland in 1999, is originally from another coffee capital, the Puget Sound region of Washington. Stumptown, named for one of the city’s early nicknames, now has cafes in Seattle, New York and Amsterdam. Predictably enough, it has lost a few fans in Portland as it has expanded.
“I don’t even go to Stumptown,” said Paul Sykes, who makes bike fenders and bottle holders out of wood. “I go to a more local place.”
Not that Mr. Sykes opposes growth. Most of his business comes from the Internet.
“I sell these things all over the world,” he said of his products. “That’s the only way I can make any money.”
Yardley shows great restraint in not drawing further attention to Sykes’ sad, stupid statement. There’s no need to, after all. The lunatics keep presenting themselves…and impaling themselves…en masse. Witness the righteous indignation of someone named Eric Bechard at a recent culinary contest involving pork ravioli and niblets.
For Mr. Bechard, it came down to this: never should a pig from Kansas or Iowa have even been entered in the contest; it only made it worse that the Iowa pig won. After all, there are Red Wattle heritage pigs raised right here in Oregon. The chefs who competed work in Oregon, and most promote locally produced food.
“I get there and I get the flier and I’m immediately sickened because I’m seeing ‘local,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘local farms,’ ‘local chefs,’ ‘local wine,’ ” Mr. Bechard recalled, “and then two of the pigs are from Kansas and Iowa? I’m looking at my friend and he said, ‘Eric, just let it go.’ ”
Many hours and drinks and insults later, witnesses told police Mr. Bechard was the aggressor when he encountered Brady Lowe, the event’s Atlanta-based organizer, outside a bar. Words were hurled and fists flew. The police came, firing Tasers and pepper spray.
Does anyone besides me detect a fundamental error in judgment here? A profound misunderstanding of how reality works? I don’t fault outsiders for laughing at these anecdotes. I’d laugh too were I not confronted (and confounded) daily by similar exhibitions of childish naiveté and illiberal group-think. Note, too, the sympathy that Bechard elicits from other locals:
…Manuel Recio, a former advertising executive who decided to become a vegetable farmer several years ago, said Mr. Bechard should not have gotten into a fistfight. Yet, he also told of Portland chefs who blend imported strawberries into desserts whose ingredients are misleadingly labeled as locally grown. He said Mr. Bechard had a point.
“It was great to finally have someone call people out on it,” Mr. Recio said.
Um, yeah, Manuel, it was awesome. You fucking lunatic.
…in Portland, each cultural entity is born almost simultaneously with its backlash. Anti-Stumptown sentiment has existed almost as long as Stumptown. Even before the roaster lost its local cred a couple years ago by opening its first store “abroad” (in New York), alternatives had popped up for those who thought Stumptown had become too corporate. (In Portland, anything that makes enough money to stay in business is “too corporate”.) One popular Stumptown alternative, Courier Coffee, started as a door-to-door bicycle coffee delivery service. Stumptown tried to counter with a program to buy bicycles for Rwandans, but it was too late: The double-backlash was on, and shit-talking Stumptown is now an excellent ice-breaker in Portland.
Forgive the “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” pretense, but yours truly has despised Stumptown since its inception. Perhaps things have changed, but when the store was freshly squeezed from Duane Sorenson’s entrepreneurial teat, it seemed like a haven for Portland’s teeming masses of contemptible indie dorks. If it has truly “gone corporate,” then perhaps I’ll become a Stumptown “fan.”
Some more Gawker observations though:
Anyone who thinks the double-backlash is the harmless pastime of a bunch of white people in a damp Pacific Northwest enclave would do well to look at Bechard and Lowe’s battered mugshots. As successive backlashes drive maddened Portlanders ever-more militantly local, this whole thing might end in a Civil War.
Civil War? No, but extreme polarization of idiot splinter groups? That’s possible. Throw in the perennially exasperated pragmatists like myself, and you have fertile grounds for a highly sustainable bloodbath.
Hopefully there will be ample community seating available for this clash.