Footnote: I’m leaving Portland just as I start writing about it. That gives you an idea of how utterly busy and wonderful my visit has been, so as to keep yours truly from performing his sacred duty – that is perving Americans.
In the 48 hours prior to my departure for Portland, Oregon, I take my time to carefully examine my possessions and plot out the next step to my trip. Already my budget is narrowing down to a very narrow streak – never good news for a first time traveler – and this meant that I had to pursue any viable options lest I wind up drifting in the streets or tapping into reserve funds.
After answering several concerned emails from friends and relatives alike, I spent the remaining time in Seattle visiting the Center and bidding my farewells to everyone. I identify as a kinkster, yes, but first and foremost a gentleman and as a man of class and integrity I made sure not to forsake the promises I made in parting; that is my safety and welfare, the likelihood of my return and the support of people I’ve barely met.
Examining my schedule, I am delighted to learn of the upcoming KinkFest – one of the largest fetish conventions in the Pacific Northwest – organized by the Portland Leather Alliance. Featuring vendors from abroad and speakers for workshops ranging from the history of leather to the basics of needleplay, it was none of these things that appealed to me; rather, I became aware that several of my fellow deviants from Vancouver would be present there. On top of that, I also managed to find a reasonable hotel booking nearby the convention and with this in mind, I packed my bags and left the Emerald City.
In the early morning, I waited for the Bolt Bus line at the heart of Seattle’s own Chinatown. Passport at the ready, I paid a mere $20 and boarded the shuttle, glanced out the window one last time as the bus rolled away and left the city behind me. So long, Seattle, I will share your support to the people I meet in Portland (unless a handful of your kinksters run into me again, in which case hello from afar).
Prior to my arrival in Portland, I was told of only several things regarding that particular city and that were simply these:
1.) Portland is known for its coffee.
2.) Portland is known for being the home of the strange (“Keep Portland weird!”).
3.) Bacon doughnuts.
Aside from the upcoming KinkFest, I intended to set out and debunk these three simple myths, and with that I kicked back and slept through the entire bus ride. From time to time, I would wake up to the sound of the incessant banter of the passenger directly behind me chatting loudly on his phone (I’m looking at you Aaron “I’m still on parole” Bradley, Wisconsin). Beyond the mild disturbance, the blue skies of the countryside along the freeway were surrounding by large forest glades and farmlands; the weather was remarkably clear, speeding along motels and country inns. From time to time, I was amused at the sheer amount of dead insects that splattered against the screen of the bus. Perhaps this explained the titular pseudonym of the shuttle line.
Upon arriving in Portland, I observe the city streets momentarily after I hail a cab. Here, in Oregon, the cabs are fewer than one might expect and frankly that comes as both a relief and a bit of a curse; the smaller population diminishes the need for taxi services, but when required they are rarely there when you need them. The initial sights I find here are the many coffee shops, both franchise and homemade, that align the boulevards. The architecture resembles that of Victoria with the exception of taller and more renovated buildings. Although not as green as one may expect from Seattle, the culture is prominent in the fashion of its locals – most have the attire of hipsters, alt scenes, and denim jeans and converse.
I check into my hotel and unpack my bags. With a fantastic view of the river and office buildings, along with an incredibly comfortable queen bed and marble bathroom sink, I waste no time in looting the place of their soap and towels. Only a sucker would truly leave these things in place, right? Once I setup my WiFi, I began to check in on the rest of the world and the local scene. First stop: the Wednesday PDX Munch.
“Portland is great this time of the year,” the cabbie informs me, directing my attention over the aging industrial bridge. Across the view from both sides are numerous buildings for residents and blue-white collar workers. An unlit neon sign with a great white stag read simply, ‘Portland, Oregon: Old Town’. After a series of turns, the cabbie pulls up alongside a stretch of sidewalk pubs and cafes, the kind with outdoor seating draped by large umbrellas. Unsure what to make of the place, I stepped inside and began to look for the local deviants.
It did not take very long, indeed, for no sooner when I walked in the door did I immediately notice the nearby table that had a clutter of ropes spread out, a group of young adults chatting together. A gentleman in a black vest approached me after I stood around looking confused. “Are you here for the munch?” He asked, politely. I am. “Welcome. Make yourself comfortable.” Isn’t there a table? He grinned, gesturing at the entirety of the pub. “You’re looking at it.”
You can’t be serious. “I am. Is this your first time?” It is, but I’ve been to munches before. “Are you here for KinkFest?” Yes, I replied, I’m visiting from Vancouver. “Washington?” No, BC. “Ah, people refer to Vancouver, Washington down here. How’s it going, eh?” I chuckled and replied, What are you talking about, huh?
In a matter of minutes and with careful deliberation, I describe the transition of an empty and spacious pub to that of a bustling space of deviants – something which I personally have never experienced. Admittedly I had not found the time to attend one of Seattle’s munches (Sorry!), and though it is biased to compare between states without first having witnessed their events, the PDX munch is remarkable in scale and atmosphere. The background music is a toned down tracklist of punk and rock from indeterminable origin. Most of the time the overlapping roar of conversations bewitches even innocent regular pub goers, who even then seem familiar of the gathering itself.
“This event has been around for some time,” explains one of the people there. “In fact, its been around for 15 years.” I nearly feel my jaw drop, repeating after them, 15 years? “Yeah, 15 years or so. Not always in the same place, of course, but its been exchanged between organizers. This is probably the oldest munch in the city.” The oldest one in the city or the oldest one by far? I asked. “The city.” Yeah, its the oldest one I’ve ever heard of.
“Welcome to Portland,” another man says, shaking my hand firmly in greeting. “Where are you from?” Someone else asks, shaking my hand as well. Immediately I placate their friendliness with a semi-formal bow, which seems to delight the locals. One woman asks, “Are you here for KinkFest?” She adds, winking, “I’ll see you there this weekend.”
Between the sheer number of people present at the munch and the endless stream of questions that the locals provide, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the crowd present at this gathering. Every week, Portland hosts various munches though the general opinion (quote-unquote) is that the Wednesday Munch still boasts the largest number of attendants. I began to realize the brilliance to the choice of venue – being a licensed pub, there would be a lack of minors allowed admittance, reducing the need for discretion that is generally key to restaurant-based munches.
Teaming with faces both local and otherwise, I made my way around and fought back my social anxiety. Did I mention that before? Large crowds make me nervous. Large unfamiliar crowds make me downright terrified. Regardless of my inhibitions, the attitude of the Portland deviants, perhaps approximately 3/4 of the patrons, an easy three to four dozen in number, are refreshingly open and friendly. It became apparent then that like Victoria, most of these people were known to one another, and while lacking the organization of the same degree – the essence of the event was one quite similar to it.
There is a noticeable migration of the older generation to the younger one, evenly balanced on that particular day; similarly there are numerous men and women sporting collars made of leather or metal, noting them as being bottoms, submissives or slaves. “People don’t care if you wear one of these outside,” One of them explains to me when I ask about it. “Most people call it a fashion statement, I call it a mark of character.”
“Portland isn’t weird,” Someone else says to me, after I poke about on having rope lying about the place. “It’s fucking weird and we want to keep it that way.” He sips his beverage, offering me some of his chicken. “Make yourself at home, relax, tell us where you’re from.” I do so. “You’re a Canadian, eh?” Goddamnit.
The immediate thing you may notice as an outsider is that it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed by the residential kinksters. However, do not be dissuaded by this – most, if not everyone here in Portland, are quick to introduce you to the rest of the locals. That is, if you’re willing to show a good sense of humor and modesty. “Will you grace us with your presence at KinkFest, Sir Gentleman?” One collared woman asks, smirking. Certainly. “I look forward to seeing you there then.”
It is important to note that the cardinal rule of thumb here is not to be fooled by the interactions of the regulars. Some will openly grope and kiss one another, but like any other conventional standard, this does not mean that anyone is permitted the same privilege. As one patron rudely cut through the line, his hands ‘accidentally’ touched a woman’s backside – immediately this warranted the attention of her Master, who alongside several other munch goers, addressed this issue. It was resolved in a civilized manner, a firm handshake in agreement of the transgression.
The Portland deviants are quick of tongue and wit, readily able to flirt in almost any situation – the primary explanation, I warrant, is the incredible number of brats present in the scene here. A large majority of its population, those involved in public interactions, identify also as switches too. These two fetishes, while similar, may be reason for such interactive temperament – brats, in my own experience, are known for a feisty attitude in common circles.
“What’s the link to your blog?” Someone asks me, scribbling down the web link. “Might I add you to my friend’s list?” Another woman asks, tapping into her phone. “Its a pleasure speaking with you, Yellow, are you going to the next munch? Oh, good! We’ll see you there!”
“How are you getting back to your hotel?” One man asks me, that evening, concerned. One other woman asks, inquisitively,”Do you need a ride?” No, really, I’m quite alright. Thank you, I appreciate the offer.
“There’s a party later on this evening at a place called Sesso.” One gentleman tells me. “You ought to come with us in our car, we’d be glad to introduce you to everyone.” Is there food there? “Yeah, they have an open buffet.” Wait, what? “An open buffet.” Is it free of charge? “It comes with the cost of the entry fee.” You’re kidding. “Nope.” I’m there then.
Maneuvering my way past the late comers and regulars, I exit the pub and glance back at the place behind me. To an outsider, unfamiliar to its depth and scope, Portland’s scene is almost immediately intoxicating. It would not dawn upon me that I had only barely managed to scratch the surface of this rich and wonderful community until much later on.
Next Update: Club Sesso & KinkFest Day One