Only the most devious real-estate agent would classify the tract of land occupied by Cartlandia as "prime Portland." Splayed across a parking lot on Southeast 82nd Avenue, just a few hundred feet north of the Clackamas County line, the food-cart pod exists in a margin that it's hard to imagine Portlandia would want to exploit—unless a skit about porn huts, used-car dealerships or chain saw-wielding outlanders seemed relevant to the show's weekly attempts at capturing the zeitgeist.
Instead, Portlandia—currently halfway through its fourth season—recently featured bicycle activist Spyke being forced to buy a car because his T-shirt delivery job has grown so busy (it's not long before he's staging a Critical Mass ride for motor vehicles). There were tailgates for Prairie Home Companion. Steve Buscemi tried to bring down "Big Bacon."
Such types are hard to spot out here on 82nd, where RV shop Mt. Scott Motors feeds on the abundance of nearby mobile homes like a remora. Mount Scott itself looms on the horizon, casting a baleful glare at the yuppies using said RV lot as a turnaround for their hybrids when they overshoot the entrance to the pod that houses the lobster cart they keep hearing about. This is (technically) Portland, but is it Portlandia? After a couple of visits to Cartlandia for the pod's weekly screenings of the IFC series, I'm still not entirely sure.
"Who's here to watch Portlandia?" barks a husky bearded guy in his 40s from behind a plastic beer trough covered in Solo cups. The tent—er, "beer garden"—houses a diverse crowd. There's an elderly couple kvetching about Square terminals, a sizable Latino family with a few youngsters running amok, and a flanneled 20-something couple devouring a mountain of pad thai with stoned ebullience. The bearded guy adjusts a 60-inch flat-screen TV that's probably on loan from his own home-entertainment system. "Well, if you're here to watch the show we have a special treat!" he says, gesturing to a pair of familiar pink boxes. Aside from the Springwater Corridor Trail, the Voodoo Doughnut minivan outside may be the only tangible connection between Cartlandia and the dystopian hipster playland in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein exist.
"Free doughnuts! Fuck yeah!" exclaims a guy with spiky black hair as he rushes to join a girl in a patterned velour tracksuit. I ask if he's here to watch Portlandia.
"Hell yeah!" says Kelly, a 27-year-old who just moved to Portland (well, Milwaukie) from Tucson with his 21-year-old girlfriend, Melina. "This show makes fun of yuppies and hipsters, which is hilarious. Not a lot of that back in Arizona."
"Did you move here because of Portlandia?" I ask.
"Nah, but it's cool that everyone here is really free," he says. "You can be the person you truly are and be accepted for it. That's what's beautiful."
The other couple finish their pad thai and slink out. I follow. "Do you guys think this is an accurate portrayal of the Portland you live in?" I ask.
"Ha, I dunno, man," the guy replies. "Maybe we thought it would be when we moved here from Idaho last year, but we can't even afford to live in that part of Portland. So now we live off Flavel between a meth dealer and some old people."
"Yeah," the girl chimes in. "We couch-surfed around Alberta for a minute, but it was too cool and too expensive. The place we're at now is chill, but you don't see vegan bike messengers anywhere. It's mostly families and schizos."
Back inside, a skit featuring Nina and Lance, a couple played by Armisen and Brownstein both in drag, starts to roll. According to the text on the screen, the scene takes place on Northwest Kearney Street, an unlikely place for a neo-retro rockabilly couple that's into motorcycles and "cacao." In this sketch, Nina thinks she might be pregnant.
"Shut the fuck up!" Kelly yells at the Latino family. The dad looks up for a moment but does nothing to wrangle his screaming children. The guy at the plastic trough angles the speakers toward the two people actually interested in the show.
While Nina and Lance clumsily prepare for parenthood, I wonder where they would end up once a child entered the picture. Certainly not a flat in the Alphabet District, that's for sure. They should give the outer east side a look. Until Portlandia rears its head, at least the rent is still cheap.
SEE IT: Watch Portlandia at Cartlandia, 8145 SE 82nd Ave., at 7 pm every Thursday.