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Portland Airport Says Goodbye To Its Beloved Carpet


Now a relic of the 1980s. This one has inspired designs on clothing, shoes, even beer labels. It's a favorite backdrop of thousands and thousands of photos on Instagram of people's feet. It is the old carpet at PDX. That is Oregon's Portland International Airport. OK, I just learned today that this is kind of a thing, so I wanted to know why - why people in Portland were so upset when the carpet was being replaced earlier this year. Hey, there is even a PDX Carpet Festival happening tomorrow. We reached Julie Sabatier. She hosts a Portland-based podcast called "Rendered." Hi, Julie.


GONYEA: You did an entire episode of your podcast - you partnered with another podcast - 99% Invisible - and dedicated it to this carpet. So first, what does the carpet look like?

SABATIER: It's kind of hard to describe, but it has a very 80s teal color to it as sort of the backdrop. The carpet pattern motif is said to be mimicking what the air traffic controller sees from the tower. And it's both sort of the runway pattern - it's a crosshatch pattern with some dots on it. And it also sort of mimics that sweeping line that you see going around on a radar screen. It's a very loud carpet. It's very busy. It's probably not what you would choose to put in your home, but it just kind of fits in the airport.

GONYEA: And how did this carpet become this hipster thing?

SABATIER: Well, I don't know. I think - I think it's not a hipster thing. I think it's for one and all, young and old, cool and not cool. I think there were a lot of people who thought that they were the only ones who loved this carpet until it sort of blew up on social media a few years ago. And people started posting, as you said, pictures of their feet - foot selfies - on the carpet when they were going on a trip or when they got home from a trip to sort of say here I am. I'm at the airport. I'm leaving or I'm coming back.

GONYEA: Did all of this start when they announced they were going to tear it up? Or was it really popular even before then?

SABATIER: The hashtag - so for my story I did some research and I traced the hastag back to at least 2012. And we didn't find out that the carpet was going to be replaced until spring of 2013. So I think it's safe to say that people were in love with the carpet before they knew it was going away. The PDX carpet has not only a hashtag but an Instagram and a Twitter and a Facebook page, all independently operated, not by the airport, but by fans of the carpet.

GONYEA: There's some good news in all of this - the carpet will live on. Dozens of companies have made bids to get the old carpet. It must feel like it's miles and miles of old carpet from the airport. Four companies won, so now we'll see what? Things like wall hangings, drink coasters, what's planned?

SABATIER: That is exactly right. Well - so there's about 13 acres of carpet that they're going to be replacing throughout this year. And they have made available four 1,000-square-foot lots of carpet to four lucky companies. And they're going to be making some products like floor mats, coasters, wall hangings, pet beds, rugs, doormats, and actually some raw scraps of carpet will be available as well. And I'm told that the carpet is going to be cleaned before it is made available to these companies.

GONYEA: (Laughter) And I have to ask - how's the new carpet look?

SABATIER: Well, I mean, it's kind of like - Jeremy Dunn, who's in the story that I did, he made some socks based on the iconic carpet pattern. And he described the new carpet pattern as kind of a Jimmy Buffett version of the old carpet. And I have to say, people are not in love with the new carpet yet.

GONYEA: Give it 30 years, right?


GONYEA: Julie Sabatier hosts the podcast "Rendered" in Portland, and also shares the love for the old carpet at Portland International Airport. Julie, thanks.

SABATIER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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