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Sometimes you're the real deal, other times you're the sidekick

It occurred to me the other day as I was pondering the big issues in life (a practice I’m much more inclined to indulge in now that I’m a card-carrying member of The Crankiest Generation), that many of our more “normal” cities are often accompanied by what I can’t help but label as “sidekick” cities.

Think about it. On one hand you’ve got Portland, made up of several hundred thousand more or less regular Oregon citizens. And then, just across a couple of really big but overcrowded bridges, you’ve got Vancouver. Vancouver, of course, is the sidekick.

How do I know that? Well, it’s quirky, for one thing. Everybody knows a good share of the residents of Vancouver cross that river twice a day because they don’t want to pay high Portland housing prices, high Portland taxes, etc. And lest you think I’m making up the part about being quirky, don’t forget that Vancouver voters have repeatedly turned out in large numbers to reject anything resembling mass transit. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “Sure, we know our commute is the most ridiculous one in the Portland area, but we LIKE it!”

Let’s stop a minute and review the main character-sidekick relationship. Some examples for us to reflect on might include: John Wayne and Gabby Hayes; the Lone Ranger and Tonto; Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo; Sherlock Holmes and Watson; Andy Taylor and Barney Fife; Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. There’s an almost endless list of possibilities.

The thing is, main characters and their sidekicks have to get along at least reasonably well. They might have that colorful repartee going on (Chester limping around giving “Mr. Dillon” what-for, but ultimately giving in to the wishes of the leader).

So, to recap my opening point, you’ve got Portland, played by John Wayne — and, starring as Vancouver, the slightly wacky sidekick who slurs his words a little because he refuses to wear his false teeth: Gabby Hayes.

Of course, there are other communities that come in this main character-sidekick arrangement. Right next to handsome and clever Eugene is the funny-talking but charming (in its own wacky way) Springfield. Minneapolis has St. Paul. San Francisco has Oakland.

It’s not just limited to cities, of course. The Oregonian used to have as its sidekick the Oregon Journal, which I always thought of as the one of the two with a sense of humor, a little more penchant for fun, maybe even the kind of employees you’d actually want to hang out with. Then, of course, the geniuses behind the scenes pulled the plug on the Journal, leaving the Big O to lumber on without a sidekick and (therefore) not enough charm to impress the ladies — or the readers, for that matter.

But I digress. What were we talking about, anyway?

I should have admitted right up front that my usual inclination is to lean toward the sidekick. It’s a tendency I inherited from my dad, a chronic rooter for the underdog. He always cheered for the Brooklyn Dodgers over the Yankees. In fact, our family grew to pretty much dislike any of the perennial winners (Packers, Lakers, Patriots, etc.).

Once in a while, of course, a sidekick character rises up to be his own main character. Look up spin-off TV shows and you’ll see all kinds of examples: “Frazier” appears from “Cheers”; Archie Bunker gives birth to George Jefferson; “Happy Days” begets “Mork and Mindy.”

Does that mean Philomath could some day dwarf its next-door neighbor, Corvallis? Probably not. Still, you never really know. Garrison Keillor has almost succeeded in turning Minneapolis into St. Paul’s sidekick.

And, let’s face it, Vancouver (the American one, that is) could grow to a point where it’s twice the size of Portland, but it will probably STILL be the quirkier of the two.

Mikel Kelly is the former chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.