JASON TANAMOR ON TOUR: Portland as a Character: A Visual Guide to Vampires of Portlandia
COVID-19. Protests. Riots. Wildfires. Aswangs?
Thus far, 2020 has brought a multitude of weirdness to Portland, Oregon. Yes, all the aforementioned have occurred—sort of.
As a Portlander, I’m not going to speak of the current events surrounding the city. They really serve no basis to the novel, “Vampires of Portlandia.” So, let me go back to pre-COVID times, to the Portland I remember and the Portland that appears in the book.
If you’ve ever visited Portland—aka Rose City, aka Keep Portland Weird—you know that each Fall and Winter, the crows descend on the downtown streets to roost for the season. The winter season in Portland is nothing like the winter season I’d grown up within the Midwest. There aren’t two feet of snow or below zero temperature windchills. There is only rain. Lots and lots of rain. And grey skies. And more rain. And a shit ton of crows.
Alongside the rain are homeless people.
And alongside the homeless people is the city itself.
You see, Portland isn’t like any other big city. Sure, there are skyscrapers, shopping, public transportation, and food. But there is also art, lots and lots of art. All forms of it. Whether it’s a life-size mural or sculpture, the Rose City (at least pre-COVID-19, protests, riots, and wildfires) is a destination to explore.
These factors contribute to Portland’s weirdness, which is why a family of aswang vampires could fit into the city’s landscape unnoticed. It’s also why the city plays an integral part in “Vampires of Portlandia.”
The novel has two main themes: 1) it consists of a family of immigrants (in this case—vampires) migrating from the Philippines to Portland, Oregon to live in peace, and 2) how the uniqueness of Portland can assist in creating a world that complements the vampires.
The book also serves as a tour guide of attractions for those who’ve not visited the area. Highlighting various locations along Percival (MC) and company’s journey allows the reader to tour the city through the eyes of the characters.
In the book, Percival delivers food via rickshaw. Many real-life couriers pedal up and down the streets delivering meals to residents. This job affords the vampire a lay of the land.
Portlandia the statue:
Many people hear Portlandia and think of the comedy series starring Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. What people may not know is that Portlandia is a statue that sits atop the Portland Building in downtown. The statue is the second-largest copper repoussé statue in the country after the Statue of Liberty. Seeing this in the middle of downtown instantly makes you think, “That’s weird!”
The famous White Stag sign:
This is my all-time favorite sign in Portland. It’s a huge neon-lit sign that sits at the end of Burnside Bridge. It’s around 30-feet tall and one of the most noticeable landmarks in the city. The stag sign is one of the first things Percival and his family see upon arriving in Portland. It’s referenced several times as a reminder to Percival of how far he and his family had traveled.
The USS Blueback submarine:
The submarine was decommissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1990 and was laid up in Washington state. In February 1994, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) brought the submarine to Portland, where she sits today in the Willamette River for tours. In the book, Roger, the teenaged sibling of Percival, lays on the submarine while waiting for his crush to get off work.
The Portland Aerial Tram:
Roger’s crush works as a nurse at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus. The campus is on a hill in the Marquam Hill neighborhood. Commuters to OHSU use the aerial tram as transportation from South Waterfront to the campus. The tram is one of only two commuter aerial trams in the country and travels 3,300 feet. In “Vampires of Portlandia,” there is something suspicious about Roger’s crush, and Percival and Roger spy on him as he boards the tram.
These are just a few of the landmarks that appear in the novel and add to the book’s worldbuilding. They are unusual and weird enough for the vampires to blend into. And in a city where crows are abundant and homeless people are everywhere, I wanted Portland to play its own part in the story and be a locale where Percival and his family could assimilate nicely. I hope you not only enjoy “Vampires of Portlandia” but also are able to glean just a hint of how weird and special Portland, Oregon is. And why the vampires decided to relocate there. Because you never know...that crow could be a werebeast. And that rickshaw driver could be a vampire…