30 Mar

This year, the Starlight Parade is called on the carpet

This year, there will no interviews with the grand marshal of the Starlight Parade.

It only communicates with carpet sweepers.

In yet another move designed to persuade the rest of the world that “Portlandia” is a documentary, the Rose Festival has announced that the grand marshal of the 2015 PGE/SOLVE Starlight Parade will be the departing carpet at Portland International Airport.

It apparently narrowly edged out a baggage carousel.

“We get it,” said Starlight Parade chairman Jeff Deering. “It’s a carpet.”

And not even a red one.

Although for its formal public appearances in its new municipal position, it does have two plastic googly eyes and a PDX baseball cap, potentially equipping it to run for City Council.

The occasion for the honor – although possibly only Portland would consider it an occasion – is the replacement of the carpet after decades of hard service, and possibly also after being pulled out of line by the TSA. When the carpet was first installed, in 1987, visitors could walk right up to the airport’s arrival gates, people could bring more than three ounces of liquid onto planes, and Portland International Airport’s only international access was the Tuesday afternoon flight to Vancouver, B.C.

With a stop in Centralia.

Thursday, to prepare for the Starlight Parade, the carpet was available for selfies. (That is possibly a sentence that has never been typed before.) Around noon, a steady supply of Portlanders was streaming into the Rose Festival headquarters on Southwest Naito Parkway, and KGW-TV went on the air live interviewing one of the arrivals, who explained, “I’m just here to support the rug.”

(That may also be the first time that sentence has been typed.)

“Only in Portland would we do this,” declared Dawn Mendenhall, after shooting a portfolio of selfies with the carpet and friends, “and I’ve lived all over the country.”

Her friend Janna Sondenaa explained that the opportunity fit a pattern; every time she’s flown back into Portland, she’s posted a selfie of her feet back on the carpet. Accordingly, after the usual smiling pics – she was smiling; the carpet’s expression was flat – she took another shot with her shoe up against the grand marshal.

But her smile wasn’t as big as the one on Ray Jarvis, Rose Festival public relations manager.

“Social media has been blowing up on this thing. The Starlight hasn’t gotten this kind of attention in years,” exulted Jarvis, noting coverage of – if not interviews with – the grand marshal in The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News. “Nothing’s compared to this.”

In terms of publicity, it’s been what you might call a carpet-bombing.

The Starlight, Jarvis pointed out, is by definition off-beat; it’s preceded by the Starlight Run, which includes a costume contest, and this time might well include competitors dressed in – or as – carpet. In the past, said Jarvis, Starlight grand marshals have included Donald Duck and Pack the elephant, although this does seem to be the first time the position went to, um, “an inanimate object.”

But it wasn’t like the Starlight was giving the carpet its big break. As Jarvis conceded, “This had a life of its own before we got involved.”

After all, this is Portland.

The parade will not, it seems, be the carpet’s farewell appearance. Swaths of the 13,000 square feet will be sold as souvenirs, the way you can buy a seat from an old baseball stadium, and its pattern has been reproduced on T-shirts, socks, tote bags and on the front of note cards, useful for corresponding with your own favorite floor covering.

(“Dear linoleum, I know it’s been a while…”)

Still, it does seem unusual to make an icon out of an airport carpet. Many cultures have legends about people on flying carpets, but only Portland would make a legend out of a carpet for flying people.

“In any other city in this country, it would likely be considered weird to name a carpet as grand marshal of a major parade,” admitted Deering, “but this is Portland, Oregon, and we do weird very well here.”

Often as public policy.

These days, after all, Portland has embraced an identity of not only weirdness but willful weirdness. And if it sometimes seems less a we-don’t-care-what-you-think weirdness than a hey-look-at-us weirdness, it is matched with a deep affection for all that is ours – even if that attitude produces a rug admiration otherwise unseen outside Persia.

On the other hand, there is now the real possibility that the grand marshal of the 2016 Starlight Parade will be a Voodoo Doughnut.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 3/29/15

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