Stepford Wives in Whoville

I’ve spoken before of the friendly little rivalry Tara and I have, between where we currently live (Vancouver, WA) and the place I’d love to one day call home (Portland, OR). Don’t get me wrong: I love it here. Vancouver is a great community – it’s just a little too polite and refined for my tastes. Or not edgy enough, depending on whether you view the cup as half empty or half full.

Case in point: last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. My wife was interested in seeing the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Naturally, I assumed she meant the big one in downtown Portland. Pioneer Square, the mayor, the whole shebang. True, this was the place where I was almost blown up by a terrorist a few years ago, but if that doesn’t scream excitement, I don’t know what does! As it turns out, she was referring to the tree lighting ceremony in downtown Vancouver, Washington.

How cute, I thought.

Actually, in all these years – I’ve lived in “the ‘Couv” (as the locals annoyingly call if) since 1996 – I’d never been to their official tree lighting thingy. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I told myself. Might even be quaint. Or possibly fun. It was worth a look, anyway. So we bundled up against the 42-degree chill (hush, East Coasters and Canadians) and headed down to Esther Short Park, a “five acre gem in the heart of Vancouver” and the oldest public square in Washington state (established in 1853). I have to admit, I do love this park. It’s got rose bushes, a clock tower, mature fir trees, and is the site of the farmer’s market, summer concert series, and various festivals throughout the year. But it is nothing at all like Portland. The crowd here was all toddlers and yapping pocket-sized dogs, hot cocoa, caramel corn, buttoned-up fleece, and yuppies. PDX, on the other hand, is chock full of hipsters and coffee, purple hair and tattoos, unicyclists and beards. An entirely different mix. Standing there, listening to our mayor speak, I almost had a moment in which I flipped sides, if you will. He was talking about the great citizens of this community, and how the park had been named one of the nation’s Top 10 “Great Public Spaces” by the American Planning Association this past year, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t almost win me over. Suddenly Voodoo Doughnut ceased to matter, the Alberta Arts District vanished from thought, and the Saturday Market was irrelevant. Powell’s Books? Big whoop. In my mind, I was all rah-rah over the YMCA and Barnes & Noble and Red Lobster. I turned to Tara, pride swelling in my heart, and was just about to say, “bless this wonderful town with its multiple Applebee’s  franchises and Ross Dress For Less stores” when the mayor flipped the switch to light the city Christmas tree.

And half the tree remained dark.

It was similar to the anticlimactic scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, although at least some of our lights lit up. Tara and I looked at one another, and said simultaneously, “Oops.”

I think this warrants an "oops."
I think this warrants an “oops.”

But a curious thing happened. Nobody else around us said a word. People were lifting babies onto their shoulders for a better look, snapping pictures, singing Christmas carols. It was a very Stepford-Wives-meets-all-the-Who’s-down-in-Whoville moment, one in which not another living soul acknowledged the fact that a large portion of the tree remained dark. As for the mayor? “It’s beautiful!” he declared. “Merry Christmas!” instead of apologizing for the huge screwup and cracking some joke about how he “shouldn’t be late with the electrician’s paychecks next time.” It was a prime moment for humility and humor, but neither occurred. Instead, everybody in the park was laughing and smiling and singing holiday songs, while Tara and I were left to gape in wonder.

Umm…are we both a couple of cold-hearted cynics missing the point of the holiday season? Is it foolish to expect that somebody might have actually checked all the bulbs before committing to flip a switch in front of 2,500 spectators on a cold (shut up, East Coasters and Canadians) late November evening? Granted, the festival was free, but even that’s a ripoff if the frickin’ tree doesn’t light up like it’s supposed to.

I dunno. I envy those who didn’t care. As for me, I told Tara, “next year, we’re going to Portland’s tree lighting ceremony.” And suddenly remembered how much I dislike Applebee’s. Eatin’ good in the neighborhood means Navarre or Interurban or the Tin Shed, not some place that serves “riblets” and has the audacity to call their cocktails ‘ritas, as if marga doesn’t matter. It’s not cute, guys. It’s annoying.

Tree lighting debacle aside, we enjoyed the remainder of our long holiday weekend, which included a great family Thanksgiving feast and new vintage furniture and Catching Fire and spiked egg nog and decorating the townhouse and an exciting Broncos game. Best of all, the snow is back on my blog. And possibly coating the city next weekend, if this current cold snap lasts as long as they think it will, and we’re lucky to get some moisture at the same time.

Hope your T-Day was a blast!


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

14 thoughts on “Stepford Wives in Whoville

  1. That was a hilarious entry. There were no terrorists at Pioneer Courthouse Square this year and all sides of the tree lit like magic. We watched from Departure, at the top of the Nines. It was filled with hipsters sporting beards and ten dollar hot chocolates with Baileys, and it was awesome. See you there next year.

    Thanks for including a link to our site!

    Happy holidays!


    1. Ahh, Departure…I was up there a couple of months ago for a work event. Great view of the city and Pioneer Square – now, that sounds like my kind of tree lighting ceremony! Happy Holidays to you, too – thanks for writing about Portland Christmas events!


  2. “It was a very Stepford-Wives-meets-all-the-Who’s-down-in-Whoville moment..”

    Mark, I literally busted out laughing when I read that because you have no idea how much I use The Stepford Wives and Whoville in reference to certain things – I kid you not.

    Like you though, I kinda envy those people who didn’t care that the tree didn’t light up like it was supposed to. In fact, I actually thought that was kinda sweet that it didn’t allow them to enjoy the tree lighting any less.

    I feel the same way about Philly compared to NYC, as you do about Vancouver compared to Portland. NYC has the ‘edginess and rawness’ that I like. So I can understand how you feel.

    And hey…I’m LOVIN’ the snow on your blog!!!!


    1. It’s funny, when I think of Philly, I think of “edgy and raw,” too. At least compared to my fair town here on the West Coast. It’s definitely grittier and tougher, anyway.

      I just thought the Who’s utter ambivalence toward the fact that all their presents were stolen perfectly summed up the crowd’s reaction at the Christmas tree half-lighting ceremony.


    1. Funny, I wrote a blog post answering that very question once. The short answer is, no – I’m not a hipster. I’m one beard, a few tattoos, and a pair of skinny jeans away from that distinction. But I gravitate toward the same hangouts as they do.


  3. I hate to confess this awful fact, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a tree lighting anywhere. I know. It’s a shock.

    However, I suspect, I’d want to see the lighting in Portland, as well. Glad you had a good Thanksgiving. We had the worst meal imaginable. Who goes to an Ecuadorian restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner? Idiots–that’s who. What were we thinking??!!!!

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    1. Oh, no! Sorry to hear your Thanksgiving feast was something you did not enjoy in the least. But at least you didn’t have any dirty dishes to clean up, right? <— Silver lining right there.


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