The carpet at Portland International Airport is famous. Though authorities are in the process of replacing it, the carpet has its own Facebook page with more than 13,000 likes. It has been profiled in The New York Times. It has even led parades.
The basic story behind the carpet is that the retro-modern design is meant to represent the airport’s runways, while the colors are inspired by the verdant landscape of the Pacific Northwest. When airport officials announced that it needed to be replaced, they were surprised to discover an outpouring of affection for the carpet, which was originally installed in the 1980s.
During a recent visit to Portland, I saw what remains of the carpet and was one of the many people who took a few pictures of it before I moved along.
What stood out even more, however, is the extent to which the carpet has become symbolic of Portland, as well as how pervasive it is on souvenirs. Before I got out of the airport I saw shirts, socks, iPhone cases, chocolate, and numerous other items emblazoned with the now-iconic design.
When I travel, I’m not much of a shopper or a souvenir-getter. I travel light so I don’t usually have room for bulky things, and I prefer to bring back memories. Moreover, the few times I have lugged souvenirs around with me — my first trip to Brazil, for example — I’ve tended to regret having to store everything later.
But if I had to choose something that was worth making an exception for, I might choose the PDX merch. There is of course an element of silliness when it comes to wearing a carpet design on your shirt, and on my last trip I was in too much of a hurry to actually buy anything.
But truth be told, I actually really like these things as potential souvenirs. They’re iconically Portland, they’re functional, and they’re unique. And they pay homage to forward-thinking design. There are very few potential souvenirs — in Portland or anywhere — that rise to that level.
— Jim Dalrymple II