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Portland prone to keeping it weird

Acupuncture is not just for people. It’s also for cities — if the city is Portland, Ore.


Acupuncture is not just for people. It’s also for cities — if the city is Portland, Ore.

Adam Kuby has stuck a seven-metre needle into the ground down by the Willamette River and hopes to plant more, choosing locations where he figures the city’s “chi,” or vital energy, needs some help.

Unusual? You bet. Unusual for Portland? Not really.

For several years, Portland has been reaping praise from lifestyle magazines, from Men’s Journal to specialty publications, as one of the United States’ more livable cities, listed among the best places to have a baby, grow old, go for a walk, ride a bike, take a jog, breathe clean air, own a dog, take public transportation, start a business (green or otherwise), go out for dinner or not get mugged.

The praises don’t stop. Swing a cat and hit 10. On second thought, don’t. Portland is rated the third-most humane city in United States.
But the magazines skim over Portland’s quirkier qualities. They aren’t bandied about, but they’re not hidden either. To some, they make Portland even more endearing.

There’s what’s left of the 24-Hour Church of Elvis (online only these days), the Voodoo Doughnut shop, nude bike festivals, the 5K Bare Buns Run in Forest Park and what was billed as the world’s longest drag queen chorus line.

Public nudity is illegal in Portland but in a state where live sex acts are protected as free speech, police involvement generally is limited to keeping order.

For kitsch lovers there’s the Velveteria, a black velvet painting museum. Lots of taste, all of it bad in some eyes, unless you love it, and the owners do. Nothing is for sale. Open weekends.

A black light room enhances your favourite Mack Truck Jesus, wahine, Elvis or bandito.

“You will never be the same after a visit to the Velveteria,” the website promises. And it has “arrived.” A monthlong show at Powell’s Books, billed as the world’s largest bookstore, began May 1.

“Zoo Bombers” are young adults who race on kiddie bicycles down steep and windy roads starting near the Oregon Zoo. Speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour are achieved. Details and photos of fractures and ghastly scrapes and bruises are posted on the Internet as badges of honour.

“I used to bomb until a friend of mine biffed it pretty hard. He was in a coma for two months,” says Chris Banks, who works the counter at a pizza joint where the Zoo Bombers sometimes gather before starting their wild Sunday night rides.

There weren’t any Bombers at the pizza joint on a recent Sunday night.

“They don’t always start from here. They’re probably up there getting loaded first. These guys are hardcore,” said the well-tattooed Banks.

Among the latest additions to the panoply of Portland’s oddities are Adam Kuby’s giant needles. An artist who arrived from New York four years ago, Kuby says the acupuncture project is an attempt to get people to see the city in a holistic way.

“It is a visual way of expressing what a lot of people already know,” said Kuby. The city is “one organism, one body, one very complex, independent system.”

Not to mention eccentric.

Ubiquitous bumper stickers proclaim “Keep Portland Weird.” They were meant to support small local businesses to keep Portland from being big-boxed out of its identity.

 
 
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