Oregon is a state full of luscious green hills and mountains and beautiful clear rivers. Lots of young people with the hipster look – color layers of mismatch vintage clothes, over-sized plastic frame glasses, skinny jeans, and casual style hair. Oregon is also one of five states that do not levy a sales tax (along with Alaska, Delaware, Montana, and New Hampshire). The adventure of traveling to and from Oregon learning about the state’s gay history, its unique state constitution, its many tourist attractions as well as its eye-opening social problem, make this trip a learning experience of a lifetime.
There’s no direct flight from Baltimore to Portland or vice versa. I traveled on Southwest (a great airline) with a layover in Kansas City and returned to Baltimore on Spirit Airlines (not so great) with a Las Vegas layover. When I booked my ticket for Spirit using Priceline, a third party service provider, I did not see the extra cost for a carry on and I did not notice the extra step of having to go to Spirit’s website to pay for one. Spirit increased the price of my ticket $60 at the airport as a result – not happy.
Oregon’s gay history is rich. In 1806, Lewis and Clark were directed by local Indians to a place where “two young men” live together. In 1843, Oregon Pioneers adopted the code of Iowa simply because someone had a copy present, and the Iowa Code did not outlaw sodomy. In 1850, a new code was adopted by the Oregon Territorial legislature and it also did not outlaw sodomy. It wasn’t until 1853 that Oregon outlawed sodomy and until 1886 that someone was convicted under that law. In 1977, Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt issued a proclamation for Gay Pride. In 2006, Virginia Linder was elected to the Oregon State Supreme Court and she is the first gay member of a state supreme court. In 2008, Sam Adams was elected mayor of Portland – the first gay mayor of a major U.S. city.
Oregon also has a unique relationship with its strip bars. Under the Oregon Constitution, Article I, section 8, states, “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinions, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.” The Oregon Supreme Court has vigorously defended the “free expression” including stripping, resulting in an explosion of strip clubs throughout Oregon –including gay strip clubs – because they are difficult to regulate at both the local and state levels of government. Out of all the major cities in the U.S., Portland has the highest number of strip clubs per capita and the same holds true on the state level. Some of the gay clubs where you will find dancers include Silverado, (Silveradopdx.com), Stag Pdx (Stagpdx.com), and CC Slaughters.
There’s plenty to do in Portland. There is the Portland Aerial Tram that takes you to the OHSU Center for Health and Healing – at first read, an odd place for a tourist attraction, but it is not – which is on the top of a mountain where you can see the city and Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. You can walk along the Willamette River and visit the Maritime Museum, Japanese Historical Plaza, and the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
One of the best places to eat is Tasty ’n’ Alder (Tastynalder.com), but the wait (it’s worth it) can be around two hours, so bring your walking shoes because you will have lots of time to kill while you wait. If you’re out late at night, The Roxy (Theroxydiner.com) is a great place to sober up – in fact, it’s next door to Scandals (Scandalspdx.com), a small gay bar.
With all the fun things to do in Portland, one major drawback is its high homeless population – i.e. homelessness itself is not unusually for a city, but the high number of homeless people for the size of Portland appears unusually. The racial and age demographics are white and young, as opposed to the cities in the northeast that have homeless populations that mostly consist of older minorities. The light rail ride from the airport to downtown Portland takes you past tent cities along the expressway and past people living on the side of old abandoned buildings. On the Riverwalk beside the Willamette River, homeless people are standing around and it’s not uncommon to be asked for money. On a few of the street corners, homeless people just wonder. A few of the people seem like living zombies, trapped in mindlessness, just slowly roaming – signs that point to potential drug use.
Oregon is a great state to visit, especially if you need to escape to the West coast for a few days. Portland is walkable and it has great public transportation. The cost is reasonable and the people are friendly. It is not uncommon to see the local bars have business at 3 p.m. – including weekdays and even on a Monday. So pack your bags and head to Portland!