Your Stupid Town"Have you noticed how their stuff is s— and your s— is stuff?"
I traveled to Portland a few years ago to spend a long weekend with a friend.
Portland, if you’re unfamiliar, is like if NPR built a city, which is exactly as
wonderful and horrifying as it sounds. We didn’t attend a Blazers game while
we were there—I had just paid to fly 2,100 miles; NBA tickets weren’t
happening—but Blazers paraphernalia is something you can’t miss in Portland.
Or at least I couldn’t. As an NBA junkie, I’m sort of preconditioned to spot
Blazers flags in bar windows, but I suppose you could miss such signage while
spending hours in the city block-sized Powell’s Books, grabbing a food cart
burrito downtown, or while resisting the urge to propose to a pretty twenty-
something in a sundress. (You’re a very attractive city, Portland.) But one of
the most interesting things about the city of Portland, at least to me, are the
pockets of direly committed Blazers fans scattered across the city like so
many snowy clumps of powdered sugar on a piece of artisan french toast.
(You do breakfast correctly, Portland.)
Being a fan of a sports team is an identity marker for a lot of people—note
how many Facebook and Twitter profiles mention a person’s allegiance to a
specific team—but in Portland, being a Blazers fan is an especially unique
identity marker because A.) Portland isn’t a sports town in the vein of
Boston, Cleveland or St. Louis and B.) Portland doesn’t have a professional
baseball, football, or hockey team. (Here I note the existence and rabid
fanbase of the Portland Timbers, but being an American soccer fan is an
identity marker all its own.)
Being a Blazers fan is, I think, being both a part of the city and apart from
the city. It’s like being a fan of Z-Ro, but not Jay-Z. Sure, a lot of people
like Z-Ro—they compose a not-insignificant portion of the rap nerd landscape
—but it’s not like you could fill Madison Square Garden ten times over with
Z-Ro fans. To be a Z-Ro or Blazers acolyte is to be part of a sizable
subculture. Blazers fans are a proud subculture. They rep Portland as
adamantly as anyone. Their identity is held in being both a minority within
their city’s larger culture and an advocate of it.
I’m speaking in broad strokes, and, of course, cities aren’t monoliths. In
fact, their unmonolithicness is sort of the point of them, but for the
purposes of not having to describe the idiosyncrasies of every person
within their borders, we try to define them with a handful of descriptors.
We peg towns with an identity. Think Pittsburgh and industry, Los
Angeles and Hollywood, Miami and strip clubs. There are filmmakers in
Pittsburgh, blue collar workers in Los Angeles, and strippers everywhere,
but we assign certain traits to cities because it’s convenient shorthand
and not altogether false. It’s not like Pittsburgh is Mecca for avant-garde
visual artists, and we’ve just been lying about it for decades.
I have lived in Chicago, a parochial city in its own right, for the past four
years. Despite being a city with manifold cuisine, a theater district. a
phenomenal downtown, myriad diverse neighborhoods—a rich cultural
identity, is what I mean—some of its residents—natives, mostly; Chicago
is kind of a midwestern LA in that it houses a lot of transplants—have a
strange inferiority complex toward the coasts. They bristle at the mention
of New York or Boston or Los Angeles. No city shall be as great as the one
that invented the pickle-adornèd hot dog! It’s weird. Because Chicago’s an
immense, sometimes beguiling city. I sometimes wonder why its residents
—its advocates, really—can’t be satisfied with being a wonderful town in
the middle of the country.
Because there exists no objectively great city or town. Where you live is
a matter of fit, and where you’re from is a matter of what city your
mother was in when her water broke. It’s sort of an arranged marriage:
it will affect you, but you don’t have to develop affection for it. I’m from
a smallish city in upstate New York, and I kind of hate where I’m from.
It’s too small for my liking (both in terms of population and worldview)
and most of its citizens would build a giant metal dome over the town if
they could. They deserve to suffocate beneath a physical manifestation of
their own insularity. Most of them, anyway.
I’m a Cleveland Cavaliers fan because of this town. There were no local
sports teams, so I decided to root for my cousin’s favorite team. So here
I am: a Cavs fan, but not a Clevelander. I’m trying to figure out whether
or not this is important. Ostensibly, it’s not. I’m about as devoted to the
Cavaliers as any fan of the team, and I’ve been to Cleveland a handful of
times. If I had grown up on the shores of Lake Erie, I don’t think I would
be extolling Cleveland’s virtues to non-residents at parties. I’m also just
not wired that way. Some people like to define themselves by the groups
they are a part of—fanbases, cities, country clubs—but I’m not one of
them. One of my favorite things about living in a colossal city is the
anonymity it affords me. I can go days without being recognized on the
street by a friend or acquaintance. I can just a be a dude on the corner,
waiting for the light to change; that recession into nothingness is
comforting to me.
But this strong city-team-self triangle—I’m from Cleveland, I love my
hometown, and I’m a huge Cavaliers fan—is a crucial part of fanhood for
some people. It’s not something that can be easily dismissed. I’m trying to
understand it from the outside. Cities—though they’re really just a mass of
flesh, concrete, and steel—breathe. They are frighteningly organism-like.
And what better way to celebrate that almost-organism than by watching
your favorite sports team— ambassadors of your favorite city—assert their
dominance over...CONTINUE READING AT CAVS THE BLOG