[Editor's Note: BikeSnobNYC will read at Powell's City of Books on Sunday, June 20th at 7:30pm. Click here for more details.
Last October, I was fortunate enough to visit Portland, the home of Powell's, and I wrote an article about my trip in some magazine that appeals to the kinds of people who drive Subarus and who wear climbing apparel and "technical footwear" to Whole Foods. However, while I consider that my first time in Portland, the truth is I visited once before. I just don't count that visit because it was only for a day and I didn't have a bicycle with me. This is sort of like how some people choose not to consider that painfully awkward sexual encounter where it "sort of went in" to be their First Time. So as far as I'm concerned, until the fall of 2009, I was a Portland virgin.
I do, however, often think back to my actual first Portland visit. It was 1998. The Goo Goo Dolls filled the airwaves; people filled the theaters to see Titanic (directed by James Cameron, this now-forgotten film was the prequel to Avatar); Bill Clinton still insisted he had not had sex with that woman; and I was working for a well-known rotund liberal documentary filmmaker.
My job was to travel around the country with this filmmaker while he screened his latest movie, and my responsibilities consisted mostly of getting yelled at by the studio, getting yelled at by his production company, getting yelled at by him, and constantly plying him with bottled water and Ricola throat lozenges so that his voice did not fail him during interviews (or while he yelled at me). Ricola duty was especially difficult because I was under strict orders never to allow the soothing droplets to pass through an airport X-ray machine. (The filmmaker was convinced that if they did, they would become irradiated and carcinogenic, giving him throat cancer.) If I accidentally left the Ricola package in my bag and it did go through, I had to discard it and immediately procure a fresh one, since he was liable to request a Ricola at any time and to be caught without meant censure or worse.
After awhile, though, I learned to lie when he looked at the Ricolas suspiciously.
"Have these been through the X-ray machine?"
To this day I am haunted by that "Riii-co-laa!" jingle from the commercials, and I live in fear that I'll one day see the news headline: "Noted Documentarian Ailing With Throat Cancer."
As it happened, the subject of this particular film was Nike, and in it the filmmaker badgers Nike co-founder and Chairman Phil Knight about their manufacturing practices. For this reason, the filmmaker had something special planned for our one-day Portland stop. The details of the actual presentation have long since dissolved from my mind like a black cherry cough drop in the salivating maw of time (it involved presenting a fake award on the local news), but I do clearly remember that upon landing at PDX, I had only a couple of hours to make the actual award. Basically, the filmmaker wanted me to get the biggest sneaker I could find, paint it in garish colors so that it looked like a hyperbolized Nike, and then use it as the basis for some sort of Oscar- or Grammy-esque statuette. As I understood it, this would somehow shame Phil Night into making a public apology, after which he would announce the company was moving production from Indonesia to Michigan and replacing Michael Jordan with Ralph Nader as their celebrity spokesman.
Having minimal artistic ability and no knowledge of Portland, I was at the mercy of a driver who, while good-natured, did not exactly share my sense of urgency when I told him that I needed him to help me find the necessary materials to build an ironic sneaker trophy. Clearly, he'd never worked in show business, nor did he appreciate the fact that this shoe would surely force Corporate America to grovel before the forces of self-righteous liberalism. Eventually, though, I somehow gathered a bunch of crap, set to work in my hotel room, and with a moment to spare, I presented the filmmaker with a Payless basketball high top covered in acrylic and glitter. It looked like it had been fingerpainted by a kindergardener with ADD.
"Be careful with it, it's still wet," I warned him as I handed it over right before he went on the air. Unfortunately, he had already smeared purple paint on his sweater.
Though nothing was said, I knew that I had fallen considerably in his estimation. Later that night, after the screening, he confirmed this when he gratuitously sent me off in search of more bottled water while he hobnobbed with noted Portlander Gus Van Sant. Incidentally, Gus Van Sant had not yet fallen in the public's estimation — he was still basking in the success of Good Will Hunting, and the world had yet to see his wildly unnecessary Psycho remake or hear Sean Connery utter the words, "You're the man now, dog." I, on the other hand, was far from being "the man now, dog." At best, I was a Ricola monkey with sub-par shoe-bedazzling skills.
For this reason, it was a tremendous pleasure for me to return to Portland with the twin luxuries of time and a bicycle, and without an onerous boss. I did, however, take a bit too much pleasure in the improvement of my circumstances by reveling in the misery of others. For example, at the grocery store, I always asked the checker for a bag. In my experience, nothing pains Portlanders like excessive shopping bag consumption. You'd think I was asking them to kill a puppy.