I often go on bike tours when I’m checking out a new city because bike tours are the perfect way to see the sights and learn about the city’s history. You go faster than walking but slower than a car. It’s the perfect speed. Plus, you get some exercise and can feel the breeze.
I started a bike tour in Portland at 9:00 am. There was a family of four (the kids were around 8-12), and a single female in her late 20s or early 30s. The kids immediately went up front near the tour guide. I stayed in the back and chatted a bit with the single female. She was from the San Francisco area and traveling alone. She figured Portland was an easy flight and she’d never been before.
We rode our bikes through the city, the old China town, under bridges, and even got to stop for 15 minutes to shop around a little. The tour guide recommended we check out Blue Star donuts during the stop so the family of four and myself headed there. While I liked Voodoo donuts, Blue Star donuts tasted higher end. They had artisan flavors that were really unique using quality ingredients. The price is high though – around $3.50 each.
On the bike tour, I learned things about the city – like why it’s called Stump Town. The city started as a port town and was growing so quickly that they had to cut down trees to make room. But they did a pretty crappy job and left the stumps of the trees around.
You might think the city is named Portland because of the port activity, but it’s actually because the two founders had an intense coin toss to determine who could name the city. One guy was from Boston, Massachusetts and the other was from Portland, Maine. They both wanted to name this new city after their hometowns. The guy that won the battle was from Portland, Maine so he named this city Portland as well. If that coin toss had gone the other direction, it would’ve been named Boston.
You can see the growth in Portland’s recent history by all of the high-rise condos that have gone up and are continuing to be built. They’re all close together, look modern, and have a clean look to them.
Homelessness is a big problem for the city and the homeless population is not all centralized like in L.A. Homeless people are scattered throughout the city and you can see them all the time.
Portland’s water supply was so bad way back in the day because the water from the local river was extremely polluted. Because the water made them sick, people mostly drank beer. People were always drunk, all day! Then in 1912, a businessman named Simon Benson came along and said that it was crazy and dangerous that everyone was drunk all the time. He particularly didn’t like that his workers were drunk at time lunch. To fix the problem, he gave the city $10,000 to install 20 bronze drinking fountains which gave the city fresh drinking water. You can still see them around the city today.
These are the reasons I love doing bike tours. I always learn so much history about a city in an entertaining way, that I feel connected to the place. Once the bike tour was finished, I checked out Powell Book Store. This famous bookstore is gigantic! It has multiple floors, old and new books, accessories, and has a really cool vibe. I spent a couple of hours there and bought a few books, including maps of Alaska and Canada in case I lost cell service and got lost on the next leg of my journey.
After the book store, I headed to the art museum because they had an exhibit called The Shape of Speed. The tour guide also told us that on Thursdays admission was only $5. When I went to the counter to buy my $5 ticket, I was informed the price of $5 only applied to the first Thursday of the month. Dang it. I ended up paying $20 to get in. But the series of cars on display was worth it. There was a car that looked like a version of the mini-van we know today.
The cars on display were so unique and unlike any cars I’ve seen. For example, there was an orange car that only had one wheel in the back instead of two. The back of it was narrow to accommodate only having one wheel. The plaque next to it read, “Only one prototype Airomobile was ever built. It was projected to sell for $550, when a new 1937 Ford Tudor sedan was $579. Lewis drove his three-wheeled car all over the United States to demonstrate it, completing 45,000 miles in less than a year, and averaging 43.6 mpg. But he failed to attract financial backing to put his curious car into production.”
Think about how crazy that is. If this car had gotten financial backing, this could be the style we drive around today. It made me realize that the only difference in a design being successful or not is what ends up being financially backed. All these unique artists competed and the designs that didn’t get financing disappeared. Just like that. These cars were works of art and it was an awesome experience to see them.
The next day, I went for a 6-mile hike in Forest Park. The park is only a ten-minute drive from downtown but it felt like I was deep in the forest. I only ran into a few people. This is one of the reasons I ended up really liking Portland – nature is right there and it feels secluded. The trees and greenery looked a lot like Olympic National Forest that I had hiked the week before.
The following day was a Saturday and I checked out the Saturday market – which is actually on Saturday and Sunday. It was neat to see all the little shops and booths but I’m trying really hard not to buy stuff. Souvenirs and trinkets just end up in a drawer somewhere and I’d rather have memories and picture to remember trips, not more stuff. I walked around but didn’t buy anything.
I looked on Facebook events a few days prior to see what was going on in the city for the weekend. I saw that Bill Burr was doing standup at the Keller Auditorium. His name sounded familiar so I googled him and watched a few videos. He seemed funny so I bought tickets.
I took an Uber pool to get to the theater. My driver’s name was Atnafu and he is from Ethiopia. He’s been in Portland for the last six years. He enjoys it there but said it can be hard with such rainy winters. We picked up another rider since it was an Uber pool. He is a drummer in his late 20s, from Austin, TX who plays at a piano bar. He wanted to check out Portland and asked several friends but they all backed out at the last-minute so he said, “Well, I’m going on my own then.” He had spent the last week exploring the city and was going to check out the local piano bar. Next, he said he’ll check out all the surrounding nature. I liked that this was the second person I had met in a couple of days who was traveling alone. I wasn’t happy that they were alone, but I was happy that they didn’t let their friends stop them. Sometimes that happens. Friends bail or you don’t know anyone who can travel with you. Don’t let it stop you. Go anyway. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the experience and the people you’ll meet.
I arrived at the theater, grabbed a glass of wine, and got to my seat. Bill Burr put on a great show! The guy who did the intro for Bill was also really funny. I was getting used to going to events alone and this time it didn’t bother me. I like seeing comedy shows so that was my focus, not on being alone.
After the show, I took an Uber pool back to the hostel. I got into the front seat because there was a guy and girl in the backseat. The guy sounded like a surfer dude and had longish blonde/light brown hair. Here’s some of the conversation between these 20 somethings:
Guy: “Oh dang, I didn’t know we were picking someone up. I only did Uber pool once. I made a comment to the girl in the car about Africa being a country and she was like, ‘it’s a continent’ and I was like ‘damn, don’t be like that. I got sisters from Ethiopia.’ So I was ruined on Uber pool.”
Guy: “Whoa! What’s going on tonight? Where are all these people coming from? Dang, I have major FOMO (fear of missing out).”
Me: “Bill Burr was performing at the theater.”
Guy: “Oh, is that where you were?”
Me: “Yes, it was good.”
Guy to girl: “Dang, you should have gotten pizza. If I was high, I would’ve already had Dominos ordered.”
Guy realizes he’s more drunk than the girl.
Girl: “You had a lot more to drink than me.”
Guy to girl: “Yeah, I was keeping tabs. What? I was paying for the drinks. I had four and you only had one. Then I was like ‘Dang, am I too drunk?’”
Guy to girl: “Do you have at least 20 more minutes left in you before you fall asleep?”
Guy: “Can I stay the night?”
Guy: “I figured I could but thought it would be gentleman of me to ask. I talk a lot more than you when I’m drunk.”
We arrived at the girl’s place and the guy was on crutches, so he was struggling to get out of the car.
The driver and I laughed.
Driver: “Lol, they didn’t know I was picking someone else up. I usually drive before midnight. It’s a different crowd after midnight.”
Indeed it is.