In 2011, the Independent Film Channel (IFC) launched “Portlandia,” the brainchild of former SNL cast member Fred Armisen and singer Carrie Brownstein, a show devoted to fictional characters inhabiting the city of Portland, Oregon.
In 2012, I set out to find the real personalities who bring life to a city that is quickly becoming America’s hipster paradise, or as Fred Armisen says “a city where young people go to retire.” This series—a spotlight of the people who “Keep Portland Weird”—was originally published by the now defunct New York-based cult magazine, Alt Variety. In anticipation of Portlandia’s fifth season, Den of Geek is running the series in its entirety.
Anxious to start his life over, Eric Cavizo found himself backtracking the Oregon Trail. He zipped along the boundless plains of the American heartland on his motorcycle in a blaze of speed and desperation after leaving the Pacific Northwest – the place he’s called home his entire life. With only his bike and $3,000 to his name, Cavizo set his sights on New York in search of a reversal of fortune after a recent divorce left him homeless and unable to come up with a job.
“Imagine wanting to die, dead sober. Just not giving a shit,” he says. “I’m doing 120 MPH for hours on end without a thought.”
As a kid, Cavizo was never one to back down from a schoolyard fight, though no fight in his past could rival the bout with depression he was facing as an adult. Navigating barren highways at such high speeds—especially at night—is a jolt of adrenaline at best and call despondent cry for help at the worst. But at that point in his life, he had nothing to lose.
Three years after his late-night ride, Cavizo patrols the outside of his Portland, Oregon barbershop in a chicken suit. The bird is just one part of his new brand, an Eric re-imagined. Everything about his barbershop is designed to be unique. If the chicken waving you inside isn’t enough, the 10-foot by 40-foot steel framed Octopus that sits atop the building might draw you in. When Cavizo spends time away from his beloved chicken suit, he’s cutting hair, waxing eyebrows (the first one is free of charge) or conversing with his clientele as they sip on a complementary beer. It’s the ambiance of Bricks Barbershop that brings customers back. Therein lies his recipe for success.
Eric today is a far cry away from the broken man he once was. He’s now a local celebrity just scratching the surface of his potential. If he takes off the chicken head you’ll spot a thick, curly black mustache, a memento of sorts from his top-three finish in the 2011 West Coast Beard and Mustache Championship. The mustache title barely even makes the short list of his accomplishments over the past three years. For starters, his barbershop business has taken off. He has branched out into the Portland music scene. He was prominently featured in one of Portlandia’s most popular sketches and was cast in an upcoming feature film.
But maybe most suprisingly, Cavizo—who claims to have gotten only an “8th grade” education—has found solace in understanding Max Planck’s theory on quantum physics and Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity or E=mc2.
So, how did a man whose life was in despair just a few years back pick up his life off the side of the road?
“You’re always one conversation away from changing your life forever,” he says.
That conversation would come only after he gave up on his journey to New York. Plagued by a shoddy motorcycle and torrential downpours, he reached Sturgis, North Dakota before turning his bike and ultimately his life back around.
“I got to the point where I sat down on the ground and my motorcycle broke down again,” Cavizo says. “I’m crying outside a mall parking lot. I have no money, no friends. I’m not on drugs. I don’t drink. I just need a job. I made a very hard phone call to a family member and got a small loan.”
Cavizo used the loan to plant the seeds of a successful barbershop in Portland where he personifies the city he is proud to call home. Portlandia pokes fun at the countercultural idea that if you’re normal in Portland, you’re an outsider. Eric is unique in that he doesn’t use his life experiences and gregarious personality to define himself against others, but rather he’s used his understanding of quantum physics to connect himself to the people in a city of opportunity.
“Once I realized quantum is thought, and quantum physics define thought. I trained my thoughts on what I wanted then squared my light in the presence of people who could help me,” he says. “I feel as if I am in a gravitational pull of thought and like-minded people.
That day in North Dakota, he had the opportunity to continue his dangerous ride onward to the right coast but instead he went left. A man who once had nothing going for him has found his way thanks to the helping hands of the Portlandians. Now, with no limit to his own intellectual potential, Cavizo is just getting started.
“At every turn a new opportunity presents itself and as the welcome ambassador, I accept. It has helped me form amazing alliances and understand my failed attempts,” he says. “Past and present.”
UPDATE: Since the original story ran, Cavizo has moved his barber shop to the Portland suburb of Tigard. The giant purple octopus, Spoticus, unfortunately did not make the move. Cavizo was recently featured on the show FYI show Tiny House Hunters, which you can view here.