Hideous Airport Carpet Named Grand Marshal in Portland Parade

Person stands on ugly commercial carpet
Adored by Portlanders for its glorious teal 1980s-ness, PDX's aging carpeting is in the process of being replaced.

Adam Dachis / Flickr / CC by 2.0

The recent passing of Michael Graves, champion of universal design—designing and building to be assessable by all people—brought about renewed interest in his most famous architectural work. It was a distinct product of the 1980s that, like shoulder pads, mullets and Milli Vanilli, many would rather forget. The Portland Building, a not-so-timeless municipal office tower in downtown Portland, Oregon.

While the widely hated-on Portland Building, one of the decidedly more unsightly edifices to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been threatened with demolition, there's a different, softer public sentiment toward another perfectly hideous 80s leftover that has since reached iconic status, the carpet at Portland International Airport.

Installed in the 1987 and resembling something that a bowling alley arcade game would vomit up after one too many Bartles & Jayme's wine coolers, the PDX carpet — aquamarine with a geometric crosshatch pattern meant to symbolize "what an air traffic controller would see from the control tower at night" — has been embraced, celebrated, and revered. People love it.

“There is quite a cult following here at the airport," airport spokeswoman Annie Linstrom explained to KATU in 2013. "It's the first thing travelers see as they get off the airplane. I really feel like there's an emotional attachment, an emotional connection."

And that (ironic) love has only gotten stronger since it was first announced that the well-trodden — and no doubt well-stained — 13 acres of screamin’ teal carpet will be removed, recycled, and replaced with a vaguely more contemporary carpet. Taking place over several months, the $13 million replacement process commenced earlier this year.

Star of thousands of Instagram foot selfies and Twitter sensation, the soon-to-vanish PDX carpet is likely the only airport terminal carpet to be both the subject of misty-eyed poetry and a 1,000-word article in the Wall Street Journal. Hell, people even have PDX carpet tattoos. There’s also, of course, the nostalgia-driven cottage industry of PDX carpet–patterned merch: fridge magnets, coasters, socks, tote bags, and so on. And since this is Portland, land of microbreweries, there was also a commemorative PDX Carpet IPA.

Earlier this week, a dramatic final send-off in what’s been called the “longest goodbye to floor covering ever” was made public when the old PDX carpet was named as the grand marshal in the city’s annual Starlight Parade.

Yes, you read that correctly. The carpet will serve as the grand marshal in a parade.

One of the long-running highlights of the annual Portland Rose Festival, the Starlight Parade is actually one of three big parades to take place during the upcoming flora-themed fête. It is, however, the only Rose Festival parade — at least this year, anyway — to have an inanimate object as grand marshal. Recent grand marshals of the Starlight Parade have included kooky, bike-commuting former mayor Bud Clark, the city’s ice hockey team, and octogenarian drag queen Darcelle XV.

As reported by The Oregonian, the grand marshal of the 2015 Starlight Parade has been dubbed “Peedee” although parade officials are going for a more dignified moniker of “PDX Carpet." The carpet — rolled up, bedecked with oversized googly eyes, wrapped with an airplane seatbelt and donning a PDX baseball cap —will ride in the grand marshal’s car as the parade, famous for its elaborate illuminated floats, makes its way through downtown Portland on the evening of May 30.

Naturally, TSA agents will accompany Peedee along the parade route. These agents also served as his security detail during the announcement made yesterday at the airport’s PDX Carpet Fair.

“We get it, he is a carpet,” remarked Jeff Deering, chairman of the Starlight Parade, during the big unveiling. “But most importantly, that carpet represents the hundreds and thousands of employees that work directly for and indirectly for the Portland International Airport. The airport brings in $9.6 billion of an economic boon to our state.” He added: “It's Portland, we keep it weird. The carpet itself carries some clout. There's a lot of people behind that carpet representing things that we all care for and believe in."

So what, you may ask, will become of portions of the old PDX carpet that does not have the honor of being paraded through town in front of over 325,000 people?

Considering the carpet’s age and relatively poor condition, most of it is being hauled off to industrial carpet recycling facilities. Port of Portland, which operates the 75-year-old five-concourse airport, is aiming for full landfill diversion.

But not to fret ... not every square foot of the old carpet (28,000 square feet in total) will be recycled and never seen again. Small salvageable swaths of carpeting will be handed over by airport officials to four local vendors — City Liquidators, Carpet Mill Outlet, Two Dogs in a Boat, and Nagl Floor Covering. They have been given permission to resell the nearly 30-year-old flooring. Some of it will likely be sold off in small, keepsake-sized chunks a la the Berlin Wall. Some of it will be incorporated into visual art installations. Most of it, however, will likely be upcycled into household goods like floor mats, area rugs, and wall hangings. Each of the four companies, selected from a pool of 32 hopefuls, will receive 1,000 yards of carpeting each.

Prior to being transformed into new consumer products and souvenirs, the salvaged carpeting will no doubt be treated to a very good cleaning. After all, aside from only the most hardcore PDX carpet fans, it's unlikely that anyone would want to purchase a coaster set that's pre-stained with coffee and smells like clam chowder.