I recently took a trip to Portland, where my better half, Amelia, would be presenting photographic work in the Photolucida Review. As a black-framed glasses wearing individual with an affinity for baking, a healthy (vinyl) record collection, and ability to speak knowledgeably about craft beer and homebrewing–I was warned, “Dude, you’re going to love it.”
On the quick flight–(I mean, have you driven out West? I’m still amazed that I can leave during daylight, land during daylight, and still have daylight hours left to explore)–we turned to each other and said, “Let’s not love Portland.” Once only known (to me) for it’s proximity to forests and Jordan-rival Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, the city’s transition over the past couple decades has resulted in it’s current stereotype as some sort of hipster paradise, full of young, alternative-looking people, carefully considered food-and-drink haunts, and off-center pursuits like...bicycling, brewing, or book-binding.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Portlandia–a sketch-format caricature based on certain truths that has blown up the city’s profile as America’s mecca for idealistic pursuit of what my elders would refuse to call “a career.” If you haven’t seen a clip of the show yet, I’ll leave you to your reality-avoiding ways.)
Within an hour of decamping from the terminal (quickly, cheaply, easily via train, your narrator notes), we had witnessed:
- a man carrying a unicycle onto the bus
- a grocery store playing Bjork deep cuts off of Medulla while a stroller-toting Mom sampled a Double-IPA
- a group of teens openly smoking illicit substance in the perfect public park climbing tree
- a take-out window handing me two Belgian-styled waffles for immediate consumption
Just like many stereotypes are based on experiences; caricatures are based on actual features, blown-up and zoomed-in for comic effect. Turns out, Portland didn’t need a caricature (before you jump my case for Indy-hating, I’d say neither do most urban areas, if you people-watch close enough), and as additional days went by, we forgot our pre-planned bias and started loving the city’s mix of vibrant neighborhoods, fantastic Spring bloom, and extraordinary level of customer service. Not that I expected a bunch of grumpily faux-hawked and fitted-jean slackers–and besides, Amelia agreed that everyone we’d encountered had been genuinely friendly, and above-and-beyond … nice!
Late in the trip, I wanted to get some writing done, and wandered into a random coffee shop (if you close your eyes and walk with hands extended–you’ll likely end up in a cafe); I already had the first sentence in mind, and wanted to sit down quickly before it left my non-stick brain.
“Coffee, black, please. For here,” I said to the man behind the counter. He flipped over a piece of cardboard covered in handwritten script and began to tell me about each of the day’s blends, from taste and smell to the origin. Not pompous and clearly knowledgeable, I let him finish his fine-tuned descriptions and chose an exotic, dark roast to jump-start my neurons. He proceeded through a ritualistic, careful brewing and gave me the cup, after which I expected to drop more than the typical dollar-seventy-five help-yourself price; but, it was only two bucks, even. I had been accumulating quarters from bus fare, and left as many as I could without creating a cairn on the counter, and that’s when I realized: I’m tipping just as much for this guy’s story as I am for the admittedly expertly-prepared mug.
A second realization came later: Portland is the American epicenter of culture-powered marketing. You can see it in the pride service-level employees take in each interaction, in the stories you see and hear from the moment you cross a business’s threshold, in the smiles and handshakes I exchanged with brewery owners, shop-tenders, and Airbnb hosts.
At a creative, humanistic level, the energy and vibe were inspiring. I think Indianapolis is on a path to finding it’s own version of this people-powered, culture-creating energy–and we shouldn’t just coat-tail off Portland, but rather establish our own vision. I’m not sure what it is yet, as we are in the formative stage of our post-factory statehood, but I hope to continue to help create and curate experiences that give me the same grateful feelings I had on my trip.