Sometime in the 1850s, when what is now Portland was just a bunch of trees and a small trading fort (oh yeah, and some Native Americans who would swiftly be pushed out), two men decided to buy the place. Because their names are irrelevant in this story, we’ll call them Antique Gentleman #1 and Antique Gentleman #2. I like to imagine that they both had elaborate mustaches and wore delightfully impractical coattails and monocles in the Pacific Northwest drizzle while they scoped out what they dreamed would be their kingdom. Antique Gentleman #1 (AG1) and Antique Gentleman #2 (AG2) were from Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, respectfully, and both wanted to name this new city that would be built after his own hometown. The obstacle seemed insurmountable until—in a method that is just so wonderfully Portland, it’s like they already knew what this city would become—they decided via coin flip. As I hope you can discern, the Masshole did not walk away victorious that day, and this new city on the Willamette River had a name. Thank goodness; “Boston, Oregon” doesn’t have quite the same ring.
Even though the city has a perfectly good name, its denizens seem to have a constant need to nickname the place, more so than any other city I’ve encountered. Portland has a lot of nicknames, and they all have stories. Those stories range from the charming to the weird to the inane.
City of Roses/ the Rose City
Portland, I’m told, has the perfect climate for growing abundant, colorful, beautiful roses, and there are a lot in this city. Our backyard is charmingly scattered with them, and big bushes dot street corners and lawns like they’re dandelions or something more commonplace. Even the roses are chill and unassuming in Portland.
BUT it is not just pedestrians and amateur gardeners who get to enjoy these roses—the International Test Rose Garden is in Portland which, you guessed it, is where new breeds/ hybrids/ strains/ whatever they’re called of roses are tested out and cultivated. Also, the Rose Garden grows roses for things like….oh I don’t know…the ROSE PARADE that happens in California (barbarians) on New Year’s Day. We have our own Rose Parade that I’m sure is weird and nostalgic and kind of odd. See: Elliott Smith’s “Rose Parade.”
A big river—the Willamette, if we’re getting specific—divides the city East-West. It’s a wide river and the city spans both sides, therefore we have a lot of bridges to help us traverse said river. I don’t know; Portland has a lot of bridges. There are t-shirts with the bridges that say “Bridgetown.” There’s nothing more to it, unfortunately. The Hawthorne Bridge is the one in the opening credits of Portlandia? I bike across it every day and people pass me every day. There’s something. Just trying to give you a little something to chew on with this one.
In all seriousness, though, at any point along the water one can see at least a few bridges, and they’re all beautiful and are almost more the skyline of the city than the skyline itself (the city has a strict zoning limit on building height, so we don’t have any tacky skyscrapers like our “neighbor” to the North….scheisty Seattle). There are 11 bridges that span the Willamette in Portland. I just looked that up.
The nickname “Rip City” is normally in association with Portland’s NBA team, the Trailblazers (our only other major league sports team in the Portland Timbers, which is soccer…more on that another time). The nickname comes from the flash of inspiration of play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely during a normal game against the Lakers in 1971, the Blazers’ first season. A Blazers player shot off a random long distance shot that ended up going in, and Schonely—all excited—shouted, “Rip City! All right!” It made no sense and was completely random, and therefore it stuck.
Mostly, I love this nickname because it makes Portland sound more intense and jocky than I think it ever could be. This nickname gets me amped. This nickname makes me want to shout “RIP CITY!” at random intervals and shoot some pool and sing a fight song and get all intense.
I think P-Town is uttered in one of three ways:
- By a vaguely jerky yuppie type who is very proud of himself that he’s recently moved to Portland and says it while schmoozing with friends and chattering his teeth;
- By a dad inquiring with his son/daughter over the phone/email about life in their adopted city. Ex: “How’s everything in P-Town?”
- By someone pretending to make fun of one of the above but actually just enjoying using the nickname.
PDX is the code given to Portland International Airport, and because it has an X in it people decided that it’s cool and have laid claim to it. Seriously, “PDX” is everywhere—I’ve seen tattoos, if we’re trying to fully express its breadth of usage. Basically any restaurant website here is restaurantnamePDX.com. It’s the “X,” man. People just can’t get enough of it.
What Seattle did to coffee (and Portland has now totally matched, might I just say), Portland did with craft beer. There are an INSANE amount of breweries here making an insane amount of beer that I just can’t believe tastes all that different. “Beer” and “nirvana” I suppose makes “Beervana.” It’s mildly clever.
Now we’re just getting out of hand.
People’s Republic of Portland
Portland is kind of its own country. This reflects this. Also: liberals.
Not JUST the name of the famous coffee roasters, Stumptown is a name for Portland that goes way back to when it was just that whole bunch of trees. When the developers started clearing the trees to build a city, they left a lot of stumps that weren’t cleared immediately. People apparently leapt from stump to stump in order to avoid the crazy puddles and mud that would accumulate because of our notorious rain and the fact that they were building a city and therefore were turning over a lot of dirt. When Stumptown Coffee Roasters opened a few decades ago, the name saw a renaissance. Also important: a Nickel Creek song.