Portland, Oregon is about a five-hour drive from my home. Now if you live in the eastern portion of the United States or in Europe, a five-hour drive will take you through about five major metropolitan areas, here in God’s country (the Pacific Northwest, land of milk, honey and coffee) a five-hour drive will take you to the tattoo/piercing capital of the universe: Portland.
Each year, for the past eight years, I have made this psuedo-religious trip to the Rose City with a friend. Our primary goal is to visit the greatest bookstore on the planet, Powell’s books, but the trip has evolved from a frenetic attempt to squeeze as much Portland into a day into a ritual of friendship. The first few times we visited Portland we played nine holes of golf and worked Powell’s into the equation, these days it is primarily Powell’s.
What makes Powell’s so great? The same thing that makes everything else great in the United States of America…hugeness. Powell’s is a monstrosity of a bookstore, which by American standards makes it great, but it is also an independent bookstore in an age when local bookstores are dying. Powell’s has managed to prosper in this age of digital content and books delivered to your doorstep. The main reason (I don’t really know but because this is my blog I can say what I want) Powell’s is successful is because it is located in Portland, land of the weird. The citizens of Portland have bumper-stickers and T-shirts with the unofficial city motto: Keep Portland Weird. Could there be a better motto in the world? Okay, Berlin’s “Poor but Sexy” is a close second.
The people of Portland might step into a Barnes and Noble bookstore, but they would feel like they were cheating on their significant other. The citizens of Portland might look like a bunch of dirty hippies, but they take their social responsibility seriously.
The plan goes like this: Arrive at Powell’s, park, start upstairs in the Drama section and work our way down through the bookstore until exhausted. Usual time spent in Powell’s: 3.5 – 4 hours.
After we have reached the end of the bookshelves, we reconvene in the coffee lounge and decide what to buy and what to return. This year I managed to keep all of my bounty: Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Calvino, The Sun Also Rises Companion by Reynolds, The Crack-Up by Fitzgerald, The 1-Hour Guidebook to Hamlet, Those Guys Have All the Fun by Miller and Shales, and Picasso’s: Guernica by Chipp.
I could not find two of the books I was hoping to bring home. The lady dressed like Tinkerbell at the information desk said they had the books at the Beaverton location, but I could not fit that into my busy schedule. It will give me a reason to search out the Beaverton location on my next drive through Portland.
Tomorrow’s post: Lunch, a stroll through smellyville, and dinner.