I have just arrived in Portland, Oregon, on a mission to discover what makes Portland weird. It is standing-room-only on the TriMet, and as the train departs, I turn to apologize for involuntarily rubbing backsides with a fellow commuter. Only then, do I realize I am having an alarmingly close personal encounter with a man dressed head to toe in a black cloak. Protruding from the back of the cloak is what appears to be an axe handle. His heavily mascaraed eyes are foreboding. It’s Portland weird.
I jump off at the next stop and find myself on Burnside Avenue, in an area that would be described as ‘transitional’ on its best day. The only line longer than the one at Voodoo Doughnuts is the que for handouts at the Union Gospel Mission. A free-range street person strides down the street shouting ‘Eat Sh- -!’ Another character stands on a second floor balcony practicing his primal scream.
Sometimes it seems as if Portland’s population is primarily composed of tattooed trust fund babies who don’t have to work, retirees who no longer work, graduates who tell their parents they are looking for work, and street people. One segment of the population does have real job security: gas station attendants. It is illegal in the state of Oregon to pump your own gas.
Portland has Casa Diablo, a vegan strip club, and Velo Cult, a bike shop that doubles as a bar, cafe and music venue. There is a Chinatown which is oddly devoid of Asians, and a Trappist Abbey which invites overnight guests. Tell me who, besides a monk, really wants to live like a monk? Portland boasts the world’s smallest park, Mills End, which occupies 452 square inches and is reportedly frequented by leprechauns. There is an entire museum devoted to dental anomalies, and another which pays tribute to the history of vacuums. There is even a collection of antique toys curated by a man named Mr. Kidd. You just can’t make this stuff up.
One morning, I am peering through the window of a store in Portland called Hoodoo Antiques. I’d read that the place is haunted by lady wearing a long black dress and a bonnet. A passerby stops to chat, and I tell her, “I heard this store is haunted.” She responds, “Oh, that’s no big deal. I am a witch. I can tell you that the spirits are everywhere.”
Perhaps Portland weird is best exemplified by the Woodstock Mystery Hole. The origins of the Hole, even its location, are, of course, mysteries. I visited the Hole, and can only tell you that it located in a southeast Portland neighborhood, in the backyard of a man named Barron. Imagine Peter Pan and Timothy Leary morphed into one person, then sprinkle in a heavy dose of wry humor. That is Barron.
When Barron is not hosting Meteorite Watching Parties, he occasionally gives tours of the Woodstock Mystery Hole. Visitors can also peruse the diminutive Woodstock Mystery Hole Gift Shop. The Gift Shop includes some real treasures, like vials of Mystery Hole Vapor, and Mystery Hole Seeds so you can grow your own hole at home. Speaking about the Woodstock Mystery Hole, Barron says, “There isn’t much information about the Hole that can be stated with authority. One thing’s for sure. It’s a hole in the ground. It can’t be seen, because like all holes, it’s invisible. If it were above the ground, we wouldn’t even know it was there.”