Show Me A Sign: Portland’s Food, Music and Signage in 24 Hours

After all was said and done, I probably had about 24 hours to explore what I could of Portland, Oregon. The time to photograph had to be shared with eating dinner, shopping for clothing and accessories, and walking the streets. Personally, I rather liked the city and would never hesitate returning if a reason came for me to go. The vibe of the city was quirky, but authentic, and I appreciated that. People were not overtly friendly, nor were they nasty, but if I made the effort to connect, then conversation usually followed.

My first exploration was around what I believed was called the Pearl District. A bit of a rundown Chinatown, this area had its fair share of soup kitchens and  vagrants. In fact, the soup line at one place was about two blocks long. I may like weird foods, and I love authentic foods, but it would have taken a lot of convincing for me to even consider eating in this area – I like clean. Still, the signs were exceptionally cool, and I spent my walk shooting the ones that drew my eye in with the colours, the patterns and ruination of years passing over them

When I travel, hotel signs have often been a draw, and neon signs are always a fun challenge to set for myself because the light metering is notoriously difficult. My favourites have been the Chelsea Hotel in N.Y.C. and the Floridita in Havana, Cuba. The best part about signs is that they often lead you places. In Portland, one big, pink sign brought me to the doorstep of Voodoo Doughnuts, which is a bit of a mecca for late-night drunks and tv shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations [he ate the maple-bacon doughnut, btw.]

I chose to go all chocolate. Yes, there was a Captain Crunch doughnut, a giant doughnut and a myriad of other flavours, but I just wanted simple, old-fashioned chocolate. For $4.15 I picked put three pieces and headed for my hotel. Each of the doughnuts were essentially the same, but my favourite was the Chocolate Bar in taste – the Voodoo Doll had to be purchased because he was so damn cute and was not expected to taste very good.

Later that night I made my way to Pazzo for dinner with my workshop colleagues. I will be the first to admit that the last thing I needed after my previous night’s indulgence at The Heathman Restaurant was to sit down to another steak, but American beef is just so much superior to what I can access in Toronto that I went with their bavette on a bed of kale. For a tougher cut of beef, it was simply perfect with its seared crust and medium-rare centre. It was a flavour that I could go back to night after night…until my arteries collapsed in about a month.

Portland Restaurants

The next day, my final one in Portland, had me finishing some tasks from the workshop, running about shopping and taking in as much as I could before it was time to check-in to The Jupiter Hotel for my final night. While I could have easily stayed at The Heathman, I decided to cross the bridge and check in to the other side of Portland. The Jupiter had received many great reviews about being hip – bordering on hipster – and I felt like that would be a fun way to end the trip. Exhausted, I took a one-hour nap, and made my way down to the Doug Fir. I grabbed an appetizer of crab cakes and a delicious Doug Fir burger [number four in Portland, and by far the best].

Hilariously, I watched a poor, young girl have a few people photograph her with terrible flashes and cameras. She was wearing a funky wedding slash bridesmaid dress, so I felt bad for what had to be her “last night out on the town.” After a minute or two, I decided to go back to my room, grab the Canon with the 50mm f.1.2 lens and go back. Since it takes different types of memory cards I figured that one of her friends would probably let me shoot a few photos with my camera on her card, and I would have done a good deed for someone who seemed really nice and cool. Sadly, but the time I returned she was gone…until she re-appeared as the night’s main attraction on stage.

Sarah Jackson-Holman just commanded and rocked the stage with her digital piano. Given that I had the camera and a pint of Fat Tire, I decided to shoot what I could of her set for fun.  I will leave my thoughts on the experience to another blog, as I have sent Sarah some of the photos for her use if she likes any of them, and I do not want to post much until I have her permission. Artists should always, always have the right to ask for photos to be taken down if they do not fit their image, which may happen since I just shot for fun and not for her as a client. Needless to say, her music left me with a sense of having watched a truly brilliant songstress balance the stage, her piano, a few digital sample loops and a white dress.

Portland is gone. I came back to Toronto, rode the Ducati up to Newmarket to hang with V. and her family, and will be off to Charlottetown tomorrow afternoon for time with my own family. Prince Edward Island will be nice to go home to. I need the sleep that only the Island air and the safety of my old room can give me in my crazy-paced life. I might shoot Courtney Hogan’s CD release party on Friday for fun, too, and I hope to just have time to rest and touch base with my old, original life.

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One response to “Show Me A Sign: Portland’s Food, Music and Signage in 24 Hours

  1. I have heard great things about Voodoo Doughnut. Now I want to come to Portland just to try it. I love their sign too.

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