The severe-sounding Portland Oregon Visitor Authority, in the form of the enthusiastic Vero, is taking two other writers, Andrew from New Mexico and Dan from New York, and I to see the city’s big event, the Rose Festival parade. Born out of the world’s fair that celebrated the centennial of the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, it turns out that this parade is a very big deal in Portland.
The first I heard of Lewis and Clark was from my friend Jenn from Missoula, Montana. We were tramping along an overgrown path beside Ireland’s Lough Derg, ducking under branches and narrowly avoiding eddies of cow manure.
“We’re just like Lois and Clark!” I heard her exclaim.
I looked perplexed, unsure as to why Superman and his ladylove would have been stumbling about a Tipperary lakeshore, ankle-deep in heifer dung. It wasn’t until I lived in the Pacific Northwest myself that I finally understood Jenn was in fact referring to the intrepid duo that explored west of the Mississippi and made it through to the Oregon Coast in 1806. Their efforts laid the trail for thousands of others to tackle the formidable 8000-mile journey along what became known as the Oregon Trail. It is unfortunate, however, that I’ve never subsequently been able to think of their accomplishments without first imagining them bravely attempting to skirt puddles of Irish cow poo.
A hundred years after its initial trot, Portland’s Rose Parade coincides with Rose Festival Fleet Week, a week where white-clad sailor boys and girls from the U.S. and Canadian navies roam Portland’s streets in packs, getting hit on by lustful locals. Or, at least, that’s what it looks like to an innocent bystander.
Vero hands us programmes for today’s shenanigans. A heavily made up Hispanic Beauty Queen pouts from a page advertising last night’s Junior Parade. She’s twirling her mariachi skirt and simpering provocatively at the camera. She’s about seven.
For years Portlanders have been returning to their chosen spots along the route, many marking off their patch with duct tape, paint or chalk, or chaining chairs to lampposts. But this year, the festival’s centennial, things have turned ugly. There have been shocking reports in The Oregonian about tape being ripped up, padlocked chairs being forcibly removed. Tensions are running high and desirable corners are hotly contested. Today, on the big day itself, streets around the parade route are cordoned off, with hundreds of police barricades blocking all vehicles from interfering with this 100-year-old tradition.
Dan, Andrew, Vero and I wait in the lobby of the Classic Hollywood-themed Deluxe Hotel for our driver. Our chauffeur Craig is a former head teacher who was relieved of his post after inviting Darcelle IX, Portland’s venerable 75-year-old drag queen, to a school function. Now he helms Lucky Limousines through the city. He appears in off the barricaded streets.
“The cops stopped me a few times,” he says nonchalantly. “But you got me through,” he says, looking at me.
“They waved me through once they heard that it was the Scottish Ambassador I was picking up.”
I am delighted and take to my new role immediately. Becoming the Scottish Ambassador swiftly becomes my new ambition. Obviously I know next to nothing about my country’s politics, but I throw a mean cocktail party and know a thing or two about snail racing. Surely that will snag me the job?
As we crawl through the streets of downtown Portland, we pass half a dozen roadblocks. Craig tells the first officer just whom he has in back. The officer straightens up, nods to his partner to slide back the barricade, and we’re through. As we pass, he looks through the window. I give a regal wave and on we sail. The word goes ahead and we glide through downtown Portland unchallenged.