Portland Walking Tours

In the Spotlight: Meet Portland Walking Tour Guide Joe Streckert, or as We Call Him, Mr. Versatile

October 8th, 2016

We’re going to be honest: we’re pretty wowed by our tour guide, Joe Streckert. Not only is he a native Portlander (yes they do exist!), which is a rarity these days in a city full of transplants, he actively leads five out of our seven different types of tours. How he keeps them all straight we’re not really sure. Clearly ‘versatile’ is his middle name. We’re excited that Joe took time out of his ultra busy schedule to talk to us about all the changes to his hometown, what he sometimes misses about living in Japan, and what makes Portland seagulls different (yes really).

First, a little background. Joe left Portland after graduating from Lincoln High School to attend the University of Oregon in Eugene where he majored in political science and according to him — decided to minor in philosophy for some utterly unknown reason. He claims he never wants to read another word of Karl Marx ever again. Post graduation living in idyllic pastoral Eugene involved selling books, playing ultimate Frisbee, and reading a lot of comic books. That time ended with a decision to move to Japan to teach English (which won out over going to law school). Two and a half years later he came back to Portland to teach English, lost his job, and boom we snagged him.

We are convinced that Joe’s versatility knows no bounds: in addition to the variety of tours that he gives, he does a bunch of other things which, he says, “add up to mostly a full-time job.” Things like running a weekly podcast called Interesting Times which focuses on “out-of-the way, obscure, weird, and forgotten corners of history;” running Stumptown Stories, a history collective which takes place once a month at the Jack London Bar and covers “crazy stories from the murkiest, weirdest and nuttiest corners of Portland history;” doing freelance work for The Portland Mercury and Comic Book Resources; and generally doing all that falls under his self-described moniker of “freelance journalist.”

1) You’re one of those rare breeds – a true Portland native. Can you sum up all the changes you’ve seen over the years in your home city?

Portland is cool now, which is weird. When I was going to high school we had Gus Van Sant, Elliot Smith, and… that was mostly it. Not a lot of other cool stuff. This was especially disheartening because everyone was talking about how important and great Seattle’s grunge scene was, but no one was paying attention to us. Now people are paying attention and it’s weird. It’s not bad, but it’s still strange.

2) How did you get involved with PWT and how long have you been giving tours?

I’ve been doing tours for six years now. I got hired by PWT after being laid off from a teaching job. Being at the front of a classroom and at the front of a tour take a lot of the same skills, though I never did much backwards walking when I was a teacher.

3) Did you know that you actively give the most variety of tours of any guide? (Best of Portland, Underground Portland, Epicurean Excursion, Flavor Street, Chocolate Decadence as well as private tours)? Can you compare the different ones that you do? How do you keep them all straight?

I did not know that! Food tours and non-food tours are very different. On food tours the experience is a whole lot of things. There’s the food (obviously) and often vendors like to talk to the groups. Sometimes the guests will also take a moment to chat with each other over tacos or drinks or the like. It can be a lot more conversational. The Best of Portland and Underground Portland walking tours are more like doing a one-person show or a fun lecture, though. It’s all you. Sure, there are sights and destinations, but ultimately you have to create the entire experience for the guests. That’s more taxing, but it can also be a lot of fun. As for keeping them all straight: You just get used to it.

4) What do you enjoy most about giving tours for PWT?

It’s a great way for me to be a professional history and trivia nerd! I really appreciate that aspect of the job. I’ve learned so much doing this, and I get to share that knowledge with others. That’s my favorite thing to do, really. To learn things and share things. I love that.

5) Do you have a few favorite tour stories you can share with us?

Probably! There are so many that it makes remembering things difficult. The Underground Portland tour is often beset by all kinds of colorful maniacs, especially on summer weekends. My tours have been buzzed by naked bicyclists, guys in giant clown puppet costumes, and Elvis impersonators. I get all kinds of questions thrown at me like “Why do people in Portland wear backpacks?” or “What’s quinoa?” Once on a Best of Portland tour a woman asked me why seagulls here are so much fatter than the gulls in New Jersey, and I thought that she was being weird until I looked it up and found that we do, indeed, have a different species of gull than on the East Coast. I once did a tour for blind people and had to thoroughly describe everything, which was fascinating. There are probably a whole lot of things I can’t remember right now, given how long I’ve been doing this.

6) Why should someone take a tour with PWT?

Some people have flippantly asked me why they should go on a tour when they could just walk around themselves and look stuff up. Well, you could do that, but a knowledgeable guide will show you things and tell you things that you would never even have thought to ask about. You’ll learn things that you didn’t know you didn’t know about.

7) Tell us about your time spent in Japan. Do you miss anything about being there?

I lived in Japan for two and a half years working for GEOS, a now bankrupt private teaching company. I taught English, mostly to adults. It was a great gig and I learned an immense amount about communication while I was there. Not only did I get pretty good at running a classroom, but I also learned how to get by in Japanese, though nowadays my foreign language skills are pretty rusty. I have gotten over my love of Japanese energy drinks that had nicotine in them and were basically drinkable cigarettes. But, I do miss the high speed rail. Being able to grab a train and reliably get around an area the size of California was great. I wish I could just hop on a fast train to Seattle or San Francisco. Heck, I wish I could take a reliable train to Eugene. We have Amtrak, but it’s not the same as something going over 150 mph.

8) How did your time living abroad prepare you for giving tours?

Speaking to people across the language barrier can be very difficult. I learned how to talk clearly, but without metaphors, idioms, slang, or jargon. It’s harder than you think, but that’s what it takes if someone has only basic English skills. Likewise, I gained an immense amount of confidence when I had to use Japanese. For much of my time in Japan communication was something that had to be deliberate. I had to practice it and couldn’t take it for granted. In that environment, I got good at it. I’m a better talker and communicator because I’ve had to teach my own language and learn someone else’s. It absolutely helped me get the skills I now use on a regular basis.

9) As if you’re not busy enough, we heard you’re now officiating weddings, too!

Yes, I recently did my second one. It was for some friends of a friend. I’ll be officiating another one next year. It’s fun, but sort of a big responsibility, knowing that you’re probably going to be in a picture on some folks’ mantle for the rest of their lives.

To experience the versatility of our seven different walking tours for yourself, click here to book one (or more!). You might even get to catch Joe in action. To learn even more about Joe, visit his website at joestreckert.com.

Article by Natasha Kelly

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