Paper Bags in Portland

I cannot leave town without a bacon donut.

This is my only thought as I hustle down West Burnside Street in the rain, paper Target bag slowly disintegrating under my arm. I’m on my way to Voodoo Donuts – my second visit in three days. On my first trip I didn’t order the maple-bacon donut that several people recommended to me. Instead I was distracted by the Oreo-peanut butter, Rice Crispie, and the brown sugar chocolate drizzle. The order resulting from my telling the woman at the counter, “Just pick out three.”

I can’t remember the last time I even looked at a salad.

I arrive at Voodoo to see a small line stretching out the door. I don’t pause to consider what I should do (knowing that I still need to pack). I question if the paper bag slowly turning to mush in my hands will survive the walk back to my hotel. I question the water-resistance of the new white puffer jacket I’m wearing. I question if I’ll be able to remove the red stain said Target bag has left on said jacket. But I never question if I should stay to get the donut.

The first sign that I am in Portland is in the PDX bathroom. Literally, a sign. Next to the hand dryer where the paper towels would be, is a small placard that reads: “Let’s keep Portland green: use this piddly-ass hand dryer that will just blow the germs into the air instead of those paper towels that you really want!” with a picture of an accusatory owl glaring up at you. Or something. You get the point. Yep, I thought I thought about that little owl and all its little woodland buddies as I jump in my Uber (maybe it was a Prius?) and then cranked up the A/C in my hotel room.

I resisted the urge to just pass out in my hotel room (I gotta tell you – I don’t miss college very often, but I do miss the stress as an excuse to sleep all the time). Instead I did what every 21 year-old does on a Friday in a new city: I walked to the nearest book store.

But stay with me: it was Powell’s Books! The bookstore so large they have maps available at the entrance! And rooms that cover…Okay, so not terribly exciting but for any bibliophile, it’s pretty fabulous. And after it getting over my excuses to not buy anything, about how I didn’t need any more books and when would I have the time to read whatever I purchased? I laughed at the little lies I tell myself as I waited in line with a small armload.


“Do you want a bag?” the cashier asks me. “Yeah, that’d be great!” I give her a much larger smile than I probably need to, but she’s already pissed at me. I was staring into space waiting for the next available cashier, thinking that it’s probably best not to stare into space when you’re the next person in line because you might miss the cashier waving you over and then you’d be holding up the line and wouldn’t that be embarrassing. And as I was congratulating myself on my attentiveness to the situation while simultaneously checking at the doo-dads they always have in line, the cashier waved me over. Which I totally missed so she had to walk all the way other to where I was standing to get my attention. So yeah, I probably was a little over-eager to seem like I was not an idiot when she offered me a bag. A paper bag without any handles.

“And Voodoo Donuts is just down the street?” I ask as she stuffs my books into this little bag. “Yeah, just out the door and to the left.” My naviguessing instincts were correct. I still get lost in the small town I’ve lived in for 21 years, but six hours in Portland, and I’ve got it down.

It helps that the streets are numbered.


Glitter bricks at Voodoo

I arrive at Voodoo to discover there’s no line. As I look up at their menu, I realize I have no idea what donuts to get. My uncle recommended the maple-bacon, but then I remember that it’s a Friday during Lent, and I’m Catholic. Which means I can’t have meat. So I ask the cashier to pick out three which turn out to be Oreo-covered, Rice Crispie-covered, and brown sugar-coated. Hey, it’s tough to forgo the delicious maple-bacon in favor of Oreo-covered vegetarian options, but Lent’s all about self-sacrifice, you know? I walked backed to the hotel with my pink donut box, balancing my paper bag on top.

The next day, I Uber everywhere because it’s on the other side of the river. My first stop is the Japanese Botanical Gardens which look beautiful despite it being early March and chilly. This is the first city I’ve visited on my own, and I only really felt it at the Gardens. Museums and shops I can get around without needing to turn to someone and chat about it. But I know nothing about plants, and it would have been nice to turn to someone and ask, “What the hell is that?”


Same goes for the rose garden located at the foot of the Botanical gardens.

There’s a really excellent show on IFC called Portlandia , a little sketch show all set in Portland (as the name implies). The best (I think) running sketch about Toni and Candance, a couple that owns a feminist bookstore, Women and Women First. And lucky for me, it’s a real bookstore in Portland, In Other Words.

I told myself I wasn’t going to buy anything, but I’ve read about the place may close, and I’d feel like a jerk if I just stood around and took pictures. So I bought a copy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. And the cashier (didn’t have to wave me over) slipped it into another paper bag. And I began to think

On my last day in Portland, a Sunday, I decided to walk to Target for some shoes. Which is very dull so I’ll just say that I grabbed a couple of things. Which they put in another little paper. How do Portlandians carry anything? None of their bags have handles!

Anyway, I walked back to Voodoo because I wanted that maple-bacon donut, dammit. Just as it started to rain. The first real rain of my trip which was kind of a relief because I was beginning to wonder if wet weather just a really big PR trick. But the weather began to slowly turn that darling little eco-friendly bag in my bag to mush. But that donut was totally worth it.