The one challenge was getting around: Portland’s MAX light rail is not particularly useful in the Southeast. I relied on the bus — not ideal, but made much easier with the PDX Bus app, which maps routes and, most importantly, provides real-time updates for bus arrival times. It was very useful for minimizing time spent standing around at the bus stop. (I bought a seven-day pass for unlimited use of bus, rail and streetcar for $26.)
I was able to hop two buses and make my way to the Northeast restaurant Han Oak, where it was dumpling and noodle night (every Sunday and Monday). The chef, Pete Cho, lives on the premises with his wife and family, and the indoor-outdoor setting of communal tables festooned with strings of patio lights provides a welcoming, homey atmosphere. After stuffing myself on some excellent pork and chive dumplings (four fat dumplings swimming in a black vinegar and ginger broth for $9), I asked Mr. Cho if he had any thoughts on Portland’s marijuana scene. “You could check out Serra,” he said. “It looks like … the Apple Store.”
The comparison is not a stretch. Serra, which has two Portland locations, is a bright, clean and well-designed showroom, with individual marijuana strains clearly labeled and displayed under glass, like insect specimens at a museum. After showing my driver’s license, I waited for another couple of shoppers to leave the nearly empty store before being allowed in. One of the employees explained to me that they like to keep the employee-customer ratio at one-to-one to provide better service.
Having an employee totally focused on you also discourages lollygagging and casual browsing, and I found it slightly unnerving. I told Tim, one of the employees, that I didn’t know much about marijuana and could use some pointers. He laid out a few general concepts, the primary one being the difference between the strains sativa and indica. Sativa is a little more active, he explained, and lets you go normally about your day. Indica gets you more, well, stoned. “Sativa is going to be more like coffee,” he said. “Indica is more for your evenings.”
I told him that weed generally tended to put me to sleep. “Sounds like you want a sativa hybrid,” he said, directing me toward a prerolled joint containing one gram of Cookies ‘N’ Cream (other names I encountered: Qrazy Train, Bruce Banner, Dawg’s Waltz and Ultimate Urkel). Prices were not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I spent $12 for the joint, and $6 for a bottle of CBD-laced water (cannabidiol, or CBD, in contrast to THC, is a non-psychoactive component of the plant and is used by some as an anti-inflammatory and pain relief).
A couple of pointers if you’re planning to partake in one of the eight states that has legalized recreational marijuana in this country. If you’re headed to a dispensary, bring your I.D. as well as cash. Don’t call it weed — the preferred terminology is cannabis. What you may know as a joint is now referred to as a preroll. Don’t say bud, say flower. Most importantly, understand that once you step from the head shop back out onto the street, you’re not supposed to consume in public (This applies to other states as well — you can’t just light up on the sidewalk).
Back at my Airbnb, I downed the CBD water and fired up my preroll. I couldn’t even come close to finishing it — a gram of marijuana makes for a very fat joint — then went for a walk over to Mount Tabor Park. I was certainly feeling the effects, but Tim was right — I wasn’t feeling knocked out like I usually did. The sensation was relaxed and tingly, rather than a heavy stoned feeling — perhaps the CBD water helped. (Thanks to recent wildfires, air quality has been poor, so use caution.)
The combination of legalized cannabis and easy access to the outdoors is one of the draws of pot tourism in the Northwest. The spacious, forested Mount Tabor was the perfect spot for my stoned outing. I went for a long walk on one of the many trails before finding myself at the northern tip of the park and stumbling upon a free concert by the music ensemble Conjunto Alegre, part of a series of free concerts sponsored by the city. Hundreds of people were picnicking, lounging and dancing to the salsa and cumbia music. I recommend bringing your own food if you attend one of these concerts — the lone taco truck there was so overwhelmed it stopped taking orders.
That’s not to say the food options in Portland aren’t plentiful — and excellent. The city arrived long ago as a culinary destination, and I delightedly sampled as much fare as I could stomach, particularly the street food. Hundreds of informal food carts are organized into pods throughout the city, offering varied types of cuisines at reasonable prices. Gluttony, located in a pod on SE Belmont Street, offers a superior selection of breakfast sandwiches. I got the nearly perfect Biggie Smalls ($5), with bacon, egg, Cheddar and herb aioli on an English muffin.
There’s little that improves on a delicious, inexpensive sandwich — but good music certainly does the trick. Dig A Pony, a popular spot on Southeast Grand Avenue, can overwhelm with its weekend crowds but on a Tuesday night, it was perfect. The D.J. was spinning ’50s and ’60s soul records and I had a very good $9 BLT alongside a $4 Mirror Pond pale ale. Another evening, I wandered way over to 82nd Avenue in search of a good bowl of pho. It’s not the most pleasant place to walk around — lots of auto parts stores — but I eventually landed at Pho Kim, where I slurped down a hearty bowl of beef pho tai for $8.25.
Not everything I ate was strictly for nourishment. Natural Wonders, a dispensary in the Hawthorne neighborhood, had a very friendly budtender (a term I learned while in Portland that I still can’t say with a straight face) who directed me toward some of the popular edible items, as well as the $5 pre-rolls. I picked up a lemon snickerdoodle cookie from Elbe’s Edibles for $17 and a packet of sour gummies for $10. The budtender cheerfully informed me it was “Wake and Bake Wednesday” and that all baked goods were 20 percent off.
One small cookie constitutes five servings, which explains their relative priciness. For that reason, and others, tread lightly. Edibles are more powerful than you think, and the effect is not immediate. I learned this the hard way. After popping a couple of the gummies and not feeling much, I made the unwise decision to eat a chunk of the snickerdoodle. Let’s just say my night ended pretty early. The lesson: Always wait an hour or two after consuming edibles before making any decisions as to their potency.
If Serra was the fanciest shop I went to, Nectar, with several locations throughout the city (I found the Weedmaps app highly useful), was the most frugal, and probably my favorite. They didn’t place a hard limit on customers in the shop, and I felt like I could browse without being pressured to immediately buy and leave. It also had the cheapest joints I came across during my trip — I picked up a preroll loaded with an Alaskan strain for just $3.
A few more things to keep in mind: don’t plan on taking any products home with you. Do not try to board a plane with it, or even drive to another state with it — it’s a felony. This applies even if the bordering states have legalized marijuana. No smoking on federal land, and do not operate a vehicle while high.
While I had a lot of fun playing marijuana tourist, my most enjoyable experience was at a comedy festival I attended at the Funhouse Lounge. I was impressed by the caliber of comedians at The Portland Queer Comedy Festival. “The most lesbian thing just happened to me,” said the host of the “Jeffrey Jay & Friends” show, in a dry monotone. “My ex-girlfriend just borrowed my minivan. To take her new girlfriend camping.”
The supportive audience spurred on the comedians, including Corina Lucas, Belinda Carroll and Rick Taylor. “I’m a trans woman,” Ms. Lucas said. “My boobs are real; I grew them myself. Which is a little weird to say, it makes me feel like a farmer.”
Nearly everyone’s set was solid — a tall order for a stand-up show, and a great way to cap off a thoroughly enjoyable trip. It’s worth noting, by the way, that I was not at all under the influence at the comedy festival. The performances were more than punchy enough to stand up on their own — no controlled substances necessary.