There’s an old James Thurber story my mother used to read me, from his series, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
In it, Walter Mitty, a man defeated by the daily grind, breaks his glasses.
During his walk to the repair shop, his altered vision reveals to him the ordinarily overlooked magic of daily life.
In the midst of it, Mitty muses,
“I saw the Cuban flag flying over a national bank, I saw a gay old lady with a gray
parasol walk right through the side of a truck, I saw a cat roll across the street in a small
stripped barrel, I saw bridges rise lazily into the air, like balloons”
He eventually gets the glasses repaired- and ultimately decides to hide them in his drawer- so as not to lose this porthole to the Cuban flags and parasols of this closely parallel life.
The romantic moral of this story, although often used since this ones’ inception, effectively sums up my perception of Portland: a city, existing in an altered universe, that so intimately transforms the ordinarily mundane into the magical.
If other American cities had security gates, the citizens of Portland’s willfully quirky subcultures- from the bandana’d gutter punks selling handmade mustaches on the street corner to Scot Campbell, blessed creator of the happily delusional “Never Never Van” would probably never make it through them.
While I do love LA, and car-centric cities like LA are the reason I am designing this e-bike, Portland is now the official incubator/ inebriated babysitter of my bike project.
I’ve just returned from a business trip from this forested land of delicious food and incredible people, many of whom have apparently thrown away their broken Walter Mitty glasses long long ago.
The way of Portland- self sufficient, creative, communal crafty and creative, has spawned an amazingly diverse approach to mobility.
Here are a few highlights from my trip that I hope will aid me in informing the spirit of my finalized design:
CHRIS KING COMPONENTS
To me, Chris King Components embodies all that is good with Portland companies. A bicycle component craftmanship company, here is a snippet of who they are and what they do.
THE OREGON MANIFEST
A competition, run by some fascinating people, dedicated to designing and building the ultimate urban bicycle.
I look forward to learning more about their approach to bike culture in the coming months.
THE NEVER NEVER VAN
Lastly, the Never Never Van.
Ah, the Never Never Van. A Portland institution, lap-dancing monkey puppet and all, that will inspire, frighten, shock, uplift, and/or traumatize your inner child.
In it’s creator’s words, (or at least from a blog dedicated to the van) Scot Campbell quips:
NEVER NEVER VAN is a labor of love, a work in progress. I have already spent hundreds of hours working on it over the past few years. I love to entertain people and want to share my art with the world. So many people laugh and smile as I drive by, this brings me great pleasure seeing the faces of both children and adults react to NEVER NEVER VAN. When I drive my latest creation I feel young, eternal and exuberant! I would hope onlookers would share the same emotions. Imagination never grows up, never grows old!
According Portland Noir, a book I’m adding to my list, if you see the Never Never Van, you will have a day filled with good luck.
We spotted it on the highway, on our way to a networking event held by Art Center and Uliko, a remarkable materials exploration/curation studio in Beaverton. http://uliko.squarespace.com/
As we drove past the driver’s window, we saw who I presume to be Scot, caked in clown make-up, bouncing a monkey puppet on his lap, singing along to a song lost in the highway rumble.
We were silenced by his existence. I couldn’t help be reminded of some of the people my mother would find on her daily bike rides.
She’d bring them home, much like a cat does a dying rodent, with the proud intention to show us how her daily ride had gone.
Some of her friends would stay for a shy moment- others would stay until our father kicked them out.
My brothers and I once shared our room with a bicycling clown and her pet duck.
We also prepared a chicken and a change of pants for one-legged man whose girlfriend, in a sidewalk brawl my mother accidentally rode into, was
trying to set fire to with a Bic lighter and a bottle of malt liquor.
All this time, I thought my childhood was so unique. Coming back from Portland, I now wonder if I was just born in the wrong city.