Richard Anders places a yellow, 8-ounce soda can labeled "Bird's Nest" on the table in front of me. "It's made with white fungus and bird spit," he says. The beverage is cloudy and has the viscosity of mucous. But it's oddly tasty.
This is just one of 90 exotic drinks Anders has in his Southwest Portland home. The 28-year-old's mind is a bottomless well of quirky concepts—ideas for robot websites and karaoke laundromats punctuated our conversation. Unlike many dreamers, he actually follows through with the ideas.
Soda Pagoda is his recent brainchild. He buys and renovates old vending machines for about $500 each, finds local artists to paint or decorate them, fills them with unusual drinks (sold for $2) from around the world, and places them around the city.
The first Pagoda sits in a corner of D-Street Noshery, a food-cart pod on Southeast Division Street. Through Craigslist, Anders found artist Neil Perry to paint the machine with a large, glowing, blue bear surrounded by a mountainous landscape. The second Pagoda, which sports a giant, flying, emoticon-looking face with fangs, was painted by local toymaker Charlie Alan Kraft and was recently deposited among a pod of carts on Southeast Foster Road. A few more are slated to find homes soon, including a machine that artist Sam Klein is transforming into a TARDIS from Doctor Who.
Anders, who works for a green pest-control company by day and as security for the Crystal Ballroom by night, says the idea for Soda Pagoda has been brewing in his head since he took a post-high school trip to Asia, where he discovered a plethora of beverages and flavors that he wanted to share.
Most of the drinks he gathers aren't quite as eccentric as Bird's Nest. One of the more popular is a sweet carbonated coconut soda called Coco Rico, the national beverage of Puerto Rico. Many are made from exotic fruits such as lychee, dragon fruit and mangosteen. Some, like the dragon-fruit soda, have strange consistencies. "They're not easy to accept…the chunky ones," Anders says. Others, like the black garlic soda, are just plain strange.
Anders is shooting for one new permanent Pagoda per month and is so far keeping in line with his goal. As he finds more dwelling places for the machines—a tricky task among the Coca-Cola and Pepsi monopolies—he hopes to incorporate a voting function on his website, allowing the communities around the Pagodas to choose which sodas will be available each month.
"I'm trying to offer alternatives to the conventional beverages that we're all served," says Anders. âI want people to be able to drink differently.â