Taking Me to the River: The Portlandia Mermaid Parade

mermaid mass

The Mermaid mob!

What makes someone consider the mermaid life? Dressing like a Mermaid? Participating in a Mermaid parade? These questions had been in my head since last year. After missing the 2018 parade, I needed answers. The event, in it’s fourth year, had me incorrectly assuming it had sprung from a skit on the show Portlandia until I read the website:

The name ‘Portlandia’ is in honor of the river goddess sculpture created by Raymond Kaskey, currently located above the entrance of the Portland Building located in downtown PDX.

Okay, so there’s always been a bit of confusion between the statue and the TV show.

mermaid parade


Getting there was a challenge. It can be when you travel by bike or bus. The bike option had us stopping at a repair shop with a mechanical issue. I thought we might miss the Saturday, July 27th parade entirely. I misjudged how long it would take to get there. As we got closer I realized I had no idea where the parade was. Such festivities that included floats and Mermaids in kiddie pools would have involve street closures but I didn’t know the streets. Despite my worrying, we intercepted the hard-to-miss parade cutting through the Tom McCall Waterfront Park with no floats or kiddie pools in sight just people pushing Mermaids in hand carts and wheelchairs.

make way for mermaids

Make way for mermaids.

The event has a Portland vibe. It’s a definite local bucket list item. The Mermaid theme, not exclusive to the area plays up Portland traditions of homemade creativity in style and design. Seeing the parade in real life helped me interpret its mystery.

mermaid push

When push comes to cart.

Pictures don’t do it justice. This force, a nautical battalion cruising dry land had me searching for a descriptor. What’s a group of mermaids called? A herd? A gaggle? A crush–if you got in their way. A school? A pod? The internet couldn’t settle it so I decided on a mass for the alliteration but I think mob works better. It was a conglomeration of people celebrating mermaids and moseying towards Poet’s beach, an urban oasis of sand under the Marquam bridge. The Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” blared from a boombox in a theme of Mermaid unification.

mermaid canyon

I know the alley.

The procession continued through the SW Harborside retail canyon of what seemed like mostly ice cream stores anchored by a McCormick and Schmidt’s steakhouse. A table of mermaids had given up and gone to lunch. The group remained an amazing spectacle for the unsuspecting as they moved in a methodic, disciplined school of fish fashion.

mermaid wave

Greetings earthlings.

No one could resist the colorful costumes. My wife, Ronna, told me I should have let her know the parade was formal. Which begs the question about what to wear to a mermaid parade. Anything with scales, I suppose. Mermaid fabric pants were in order.

jelly fish man

Under the jelly.

On Poet’s Beach a Mermaid’s tail flapped in the sand. I saw smiles and countless photo ops with plenty of chances for photo bombing–if that’s even a thing these days. My surroundings felt like a Fellini movie set, extras in shimmering costumes pursuing the unusual. I heard Ronna in her bathing suit say, “I have to work on my mermaid game. This is awful.” A t-shirt read, “I Can’t Run I’m a Mermaid” reminding me of my obvious and poorly constructed joke that mermaids can’t parade in a literal sense.

photo session

Summer’s pose.

“Can a mermaid’s tail get wet?” a little girl asked her mom about the tail she was dragging behind her as she headed to the river. Impending rain had me anticipating an uncomfortable ride home but I was comforted by the realization that Mermaids drip dry. I couldn’t help imagining a future Trump tweet threatening to deport Mermaids back to the sea.

dog mermaid

Merdog and friends.

This Mermaid parade and gathering could be described using words that start with the letter “F” like fun, freeing, frivolous, fancy and family. It’s a communal, inclusive celebration of anything mermaid related. Sharks, pirates and jellyfish umbrellas weren’t excluded. Kid’s fascination with mermaids has to be part of the reason for this necessary spectacle.  Out of the ordinary is inspiring. On the beach Aretha Franklin could be heard singing about freedom. People were freed to express themselves. Reasons for Mermaid gatherings were adding up. This celebration felt good; a great way to spend a summer’s day. Mermaid good cheer is something to commemorate on an annual basis.

mermaid rocks

Rocking out.

You never get over the Hans Christian Andersen effect of seeing a Mermaid on a rock. The paraders spread out over Poet’s Beach socializing while kids swam. Mermaids seemed wary of the water. Who could blame this threat to their costumes, extensive make up, face paint and wigs. Who wants a wet wig? I began to feel pasty on the beach in need of sunshine. The parade became a day at the beach. I took comfort  knowing a shirtless burly man, who arrived fashionably late with two kids in tow, was not a sea creature.


mermaid throne

Una holds court.

Una had me starstruck. I feel like the Mermaid scene revolves around her as their de facto leader, but I may be mistaken. She seemed otherworldly, exotic, graceful and dignified—like a real mermaid. She had scales on her face, flowers in her hair and a multi-colored costume. After the parade and Poet’s Beach gathering some of the celebrants headed back to the Harborside retail area. I was a few tables away from Una. I discovered that Mermaids like ice cream. She was an amiable celebrity, happy to chat with passersby enchanted by her costume. I made too much of the notion of being in the presence of a Mermaid Queen. Queens make people nervous. I’ll get the whole story someday. I have no doubt her grace would be willing to answer a few questions from the Portland Orbit.

Rubbing Elbows with Aliens at the McMinnville UFO Festival


Somewhere down the Pacific Highway the strangle hold of suburbia gives way to wine country. You want to believe everything past Sherwood is a place where grapes grow well. Seventy years ago was a different time when ultra-modern technology, still light years away, allowed a UFO to swoop through the McMinnville area skies. Paul Trent took photos of the craft much like the one pictured above and the rest became history that has included a celebration of all things UFO related for the last 20 years.

The Alienation of Puppetry

Aliens are necessary. They give people an identity as either believers or non-believers. Anyone above “UFO nonsense” would still have to give it up to the people of McMinnville for devoting a weekend to the celebration of alien culture. Strains of unalien carnival music lead us downtown. My first glimpse through martian eyes was cosmic. So many people in the streets the cars had to dodge them. Minutes into my arrival I came to a realization. I don’t have to wear jeans slitted up the thighs to be cool. How can aliens be stranger than the people surrounding me?

Monkey and Aliens

Waiting for the parade to start, I spotted my first alien but couldn’t figure out which pocket held my camera phone. By the time I found it I was too distracted by a gorilla across the street. Then a monkey, who had no place in a UFO Fest, walked by. I was at an event that inspired people to dress anyway they saw fit, the theme broader than expected. Walking through the festival’s retail section, I found myself too jaded to make contact with Portland celebrity the Unipiper. I was enjoying the wares that were all things alien, soap with alien faces being my favorite. An alien fashion t-shirt displayed the phrase “Get in Loser.” My mind wandered. Why are aliens portrayed with big eyes and skinny bodies? I know this comes from someone’s description but it seems clichéd. Aliens need a better publicist or better yet, a stylist.


Alien Fashion Hub

At the Bigfoot tent, one of the retailers looked intense. I’m not going to be the one to question why Sasquatch paraphernalia is being pedaled at UFO Fest. Next door there was a rep from Bath-Fitter, again, why? But then why shouldn’t everyone jump on the bandwagon even bath-tubbers? Maybe there’s a special on alien shaped tubs. This niche market only gathers once a year. My mother was right though, I am a purist. I’m only in it for the aliens.


Random Dude crashing the parade.

Dryer Hose Man Rules!

As we waited, my wife, Ronna, pointed out that the scariest part of any parade it’s when the random dude, this one had his skull and face painted blue with black spots, walks the parade route by himself. This parade started off unofficially with three intrusions. A group of men approached pushing what looked like a grill, but turned out to be a speaker. As they passed, I heard a man say, “One of the things the bible says…” before I got distracted by my philosophical musings that religion and alien celebrations don’t really mix. Minutes later a simple, yet effective, giant dryer hose wearing guy broke into the parade unpermitted.

Alien Wars

We found the media section of the parade route and settled in. The event seemed to be an excuse to sport alien fashions and get your face painted. I overheard someone say, “They have to have a beer garden set up around here,” and of course, the beer drinking excuse. I asked myself why I’m so fascinated with plastic alien blow-up dolls. Kids in renaissance costumes were ready to fight off aliens. I felt safer.  I wondered if the parade would ever start? The media section was a reminder that you never really have to leave the house. Everything will be live-streamed. I wondered if alien candy would be flung from floats? Restless kids might have wondered about this too as they danced and lay down in the streets. The parade was not on time. Before the parade started impatient aliens turned on each other. I watched two kids swing blow-up aliens dispelling their parade anticipation energy.


Waiting, I grew tired of aliens and alien joke t-shirts—funny in small doses. (Have you seen the one where the flying saucer beams up a Sausquatch?) Where’s this bleeping parade? Finally, the first few “Caddy” convertibles carried, in a Grand Marshall vein, what I assumed would be politicians but ended up being  festival speakers and UFO experts. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a guy walking down the sidewalk sporting an alien related t-shirt that read, “What is real” No question mark. What is real appeared to be alien floats full of homegrown creativity. There can’t possibly be many UFO themed parades. Yet I was at one brilliantly conceived albeit a bit off schedule. Real aliens could have crashed this festival. Who would have known?

Hold That Alien

Floats floated by. A mishmash of Martian chronicles: A helicopter festooned with blow up aliens like something our of Star Wars, a flying saucer hoisted up by a genie lift. The Linfield College marching band, out paced by all the other local school bands, couldn’t find motivation to play their instruments. They’re just kids paying too much for their education. Another freaky participant was spotted until I realized it was only a mask.


What? A mask!

The giant Alien puppets holding utensils were my favorite. Ronna insisted Aliens invented the spork. My reverie was broken up by a parade attendee saying, and it’s only the second quote I got all day, “Excuse me, do you mind you almost hit me twice with your elbow.” I apologized and spared her a rant about my being a practicing journalist who got carried away taking photos of passing puppet aliens. This woman had no idea she was in the media section. The second photographer, who showed up late and stood in my way, didn’t even make it obvious. This town, with all it’s great shops and restaurants, was proving itself to not be big enough for the both of us, and my elbows. I seethed for the rest of the parade.

The Art of the Foil

In all it was a day of goofball weirdness. Let’s hope no aliens were pissed off with so many people making sport of them. I took away memories of silver face painted folks under giant foam cowboy hats who strutted their stuff and square danced while some we-can-fend-off-aliens-with-martial-arts street fighting broke out to the tune of a Led Zeppelin song. Jiffy Pop lid headed Parade watchers, cosplay players and other foil contraptions crinkled my brain. Our fest experience ended with psychedelic boogie-woogie music after hearing the tale of a guy in a beer line wearing an Area 51 shirt and talking about his visit to that area that ended with him watching security guys through binoculars while they watched him back with their’s. You could have many interesting conversations at a UFO Festival all of which make you question reality. As long as there’s a question mark I’ll be okay.

Alien Stroll

Alien Stroll

More photos from the parade can be found here: