Aaron “Geek in the City” Duran dreams of many other people doing the same thing. After a long and complicated applying process (long story), he has received Portland’s official OK to gather signatures of support. If all goes well and the support is there, Portland may – may – change the name of NE 42nd Ave. to NE Douglas Adams Blvd.
42, without giving away too much, is significant to Adams’s best-known work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Hitchhiker’s is a 1979 radio series-cum-special LP recording-cum-5-novel “increasingly inaccurately named trilogy”-cum-BBC miniseries-cum-computer game-cum-tie-in towel (really)-cum-2005 movie. (Whoa. Complicated.) It also was a huge influence on many of my fellow geeks, up to and including writer Neil Gaiman, who got to know Adams and who also wrote the official companion book about Hitchhiker’s.
Douglas Adams himself, who died way too soon in May 2001, was a beautifully bent thinker, an inveterate electronics collector (he bought either the first or second Macintosh ever sold in Britain), a famed deadline-blower, an enthusiastic alcohol appreciater, an outspoken atheist, a battler of bureaucracy, a depression survivor, and a passionate environmental activist.
One of his skills was gentle, humor-infused but sincere explaining, especially of how we might use changing technology. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is a kind of proto-Internet, with all of the knowledge of the universe at one’s fingertips…all of it of debatable accuracy. He applied quantum mechanics, alternate realities, and music theory to a detective story in his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987). He could explain jokingly, like an essay detailing the difference between “a Friday and a fried egg,” or really seriously explain the import of helping endangered species, as he did in one of his best books, 1992’s Last Chance to See.
Duran, in his own bent way, thinks Adams deserves a Portland memorial. Last year he walked the walk as well as talked the talk, creating Rename 42nd Dot Org (FAQ here) and weathering the procedural weirdness of street renaming. Cort and Fatboy of Rock 101 KUFO, and Rick Emerson of AM 970 The Talker, are supporters of Duran’s drive, which is why one can sign the petition at their building (as I did!). All of them have talked up the drive on their shows, and it’s starting to get media play (Amy J. Ruiz of the Portland Mercury has already given it plenty of coverage). They’re all Douglas Adams fans: and as they said on Friday’s Cort and Fatboy Show, Adams was a Portlander who just happened to be born in England.
So if all goes as Duran and I and others hope, 42 will not just be The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, it will be a way to give directions in East Portland.
And hey, if we’re unable to change the road name, someone here will eventually create a beer in Douglas’s honor. (Maybe we should aim to show it is indeed possible to make a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster in Earth’s atmospheric conditions! Change the course of alcohol!)