Keep (Fill In The Blank) Weird
I saw something in my sleepy ‘burb of Albany the other day, and it warmed my spirit.
For any residents of Portland, Austin or Boulder, you should see the zing as clear as day. For the fortunate many who have no clue where this is going, my apologies. We’re about to embark on a trek, traversing the landscape of the unique counter culture community. Or as it may better be dubbed, the “Keep (Insert Your City) Weird” movement.
Places normally distinguish themselves by natural differences. New York City is the most coveted real estate in the world because it’s an island with naturally deep ports. Boston became the premiere port city of New England because Boston Harbor is the premiere natural port in the Northeastern United States. Switzerland is naturally buffered thanks to the Alps. Swiss neutrality isn’t a virtue; it’s a byproduct of nature.
When places have negligible physical attractions to distinguish themselves, they ape another city. Hence, Chicago is The Second City. The renowned architects of Chicago aped what Manhattan was compelled to do by sheer geographic necessity. Still, Chicago is a fantastic city. Rich with culture and local flavor, it’s a gem. But as a tried and true East Coaster, Lakeshore Drive feels like Storrow Drive in Boston, akin to the way Chicago chose to build up like New York, when it could have built out. A good choice is still a choice.
There are the Space Needle in Seattle and St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, man made marvels. But if your area isn’t graced with a 20th engineering jewel, regional prominence is your best hope. Denver, Houston, Atlanta, I’m talking to y’alls.
If you’re not a regional hub? What the hell do you do? Let me qualify that emphasis right there. What sort of attractions and allure do you present to your populace? If you’re extremely lucky, you live in Steeler Country. But chance may have forced your hand, where you find yourself the owner of Charlotte Bobcats season tickets. Ouch. Sports, to a great degree, indicate cultural significance for a city. Sure, Cleveland is nothing more than a pitiful punch line for sport related jokes of all stripes. Imagine if Cleveland didn’t house THREE professional sport franchises?
And anytime we mention Cleveland, it would be criminal to fail to link up to the Please Stay LeBron video, a real hidden gem. Begging, almost pleading and imploring James to stay, what does it say about our priorities and values that the Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, actually makes it to the filming of this epic remake of We Are The World? We’re not here to cryptojournalize Please Stay LeBron. Just relish in the comic value, generations of pain and anguish from sports fans in the Northern Ohio a great comedic catalyst.
If you’re not lucky enough to live in Cleveland, what’s the alternative? We’re delving into the dregs of American cities. Fresno, Tucson, Jacksonville, well the list could go on for longer than I’d care it to. Well, you could be weird. Your city, if it’s got the chops, can be weird. It’s something of a marketing scheme wrapped in a local community ideal. First coming to my attention in that hotbed of, well, let me get back to you on that, Portland, I don’t really get what it means. A call to arms, a plea to be seen, whatever the shit “Keep Portland Weird” means is beyond my feeble brain. It has something to do with wearing green and brown, to blend in with the trees. And coffee. And tattoos. Because tattoos, trees and coffee are weird. But it’s a full blown movement in Stumptown. And Austin.
That was always the nasty rumor: that Austin, Texas, the Capital of The Republic, was known to keep it weird. To me, it wasn’t very weird if somewhere else was also weird. Call it the ginger in me, but weird isn’t replicated. If two places both brand themselves as weird, what’s so weird about that? Once I heard “Keep Austin Weird”, the whole spirit of the weirdness movement was tainted. Alas, there is a rallying website to Keep Austin Weird. Apparently they do it by collaborative fission of coordinated individualism. Good to know. Sounds like ethical humanism. That can’t be a good thing.
I wound up being much chagrined then, when I first saw Keep Boulder Weird. That’s right, all you liberal crackpots! Boulder is weird, too! Just like Austin. And Portland. And, as it turns out, quite a few otherwise meaningless cities.
Ok, ok, I bet the residents of Louisville and Santa Cruz take offense to that statement. Louisville hasn’t done anything but bust NCAA brackets since they cornered the baseball bat market.
I wish that this were a grand charade. That I was making all this up.
If you don’t want to Keep Louisville Weird, then you’re just some close-minded fop. When it’s one of about a dozen places urging weirdness, though, it just seems sort of silly. Vermont, Asheville, St. Joes, Missouri. St. Joes, Missouri? Well now, St. Joes is a weird community! How neat! If I didn’t know better, that’d be just the most unique thing I’ve ever seen. Santa Cruz, Missoula, you’re on board too, right? Then there’s Erie.
Not eerie. Keep Erie Eerie at least has a good ring to it. Keep Erie Weird is cut and paste individualism. All these two-bit towns are looking for an identity. In doing so, they’ve become indistinguishable. There’s even a Missoula based blog, deriding the Montana city’s choice to be weird. He’d rather it be original. Hear, hear!
If you want to distinguish yourself, be distinguished. If you want to be weird, do something weird. Don’t say you’re weird. I’ve never been to Santa Cruz. Or Louisville. Or Asheville. Or Kutztown for that matter.
Between Portland, Austin, Boulder, Louisville, Asheville, the whole damn state of Vermont, Missoula, Erie, Kutztown, Santa Cruz and St. Joes, MO, that’s a lot of weird places. Which begs the question: what makes a place weird? Not a trite slogan. Cut and paste tag lines create homogeneous cities. Guess what they create. Not a vibrant place of rustic individuals, if that’s where you thought I was going.
This brings me back around to what started it, that fantastic little piece of comic irony: Keep Albany Boring. It says it all, really. “Disregard this sticker.” “Maintain the status quo.” Just, please, don’t try to be weird. And I agree. Better for Albany to be boring of its own accord than be weird to keep up with whatever college town thinks it’s a weird place. And, I love deeply rooted sarcasm. So fight the good fight, and wherever you are, keep it boring!