Thinking back, I remember the lost days more than anything—driving from Southeast Portland to Downtown, up into the hills, out to St. John’s looking for something to stake claim to… a good bar, a decent place to find food, somewhere to buy records that didn’t make me feel like a cretin. I’m speaking here of a universal lostness, the heavy and discombobulating displacement in moving to a strange new town and thinking “I’m glad I’m here but… it’s just so big.” Unless you’ve lived in the same place all your life (and if you have, move; go see the country), we’ve all been Axl in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video, stepping off the bus in our hicky clothes and cowboy boots, staring into shop windows, hustled at from alleys—just ridiculously rudderless and confused. A new city—any city—can be daunting.
A huge help for people new to Portland comes as Microcosm Publishing’s The Zinester’s Guide to Portland. Billed as a “low/no budget guide to visiting and living in Portland, Oregon,” it works fine for the former, but it’s new Portlanders that it truly helps. Now in its 4th edition (it started as a 16-page photocopied pamphlet) its 128 pages break down the Portland grid by neighborhood with descriptions of good restaurants, thrift stores, bars, places to loiter, etc.
Says the entry for my favorite cemetery: “Old cemetery filled with pioneers, lumberjacks, beloved mothers, and soldiers. A bit of Portland history in this small cemetery that has some beautiful tombstones, statues, and lots of shady trees. Fun to hang out in day or night.”
An entry on the park by my house reads, “This 643 foot high hill was formed by volcanic activity. In fact, it is an extinct volcano, the only extinct volcano to be found within city limits in the US!” A favorite restaurant of mine gets a mini review: “They make a fine ’n’ dandy bean and cheese burrito that’s only $3.25, but Laughing Planet excels in the art of making ‘fancy burritos,’ using feta cheese, broccoli, jicama, and even SPAM as ingredients (even cactus occasionally!) Tofu, soy cheese, and vegan sour cream are also available.” A local vegan grocery gets some nice words: “Food Fight is a wonderful and brilliant thing.” (These, of course, are all excerpts from longer descriptions.)
It’s conversational, non-exclusive, friendly, and—above all—easy to use. Which is not to say the Zinester’s Guide is like Citysearch. Instead, it gets shoulder-deep into history and local lore, reaching into the guts of its subject and pulling out a hot, wriggling, well-rounded argument as to why (fill in the blank) deserves your time. It also demystifies (the very mystical) Tri-Met public transportation, Northwest bike culture, the public library system—basically anything you need to know as the new kid in town. All cities deserve the same.
To the wrong eyes the book’s title might imply a guide to Portland ’zine culture, but as says editor Shawn Granton in his introduction, “the Zinester’s Guide has never been strictly for ’zinesters. It’s always been about sharing the interesting and unique things that make Stumptown great, and also helping people get by that aren’t swimming in scads of money.” For those of us that can’t so much as dogpaddle most days, this is “community” at its mightiest.
BIO: Adam Gnade's (guh nah dee) work is released as a series of books and records that share characters and themes; the fiction writing continuing plot-lines left open by the self-described "talking songs" in an attempt to compile a vast, detailed, interconnected, personal history of contemporary American life. Check out recent writing here
and songs here
. Contact: email@example.com