Carlos the Rollerblader Is Portland’s Advice Hotline on Wheels
Chances are you’ve already seen, heard, or even called Carlos the Rollerblader. The Maryland native is perhaps best known as the founder of a free Portland-based advice hotline, but they also skate around town for gigs as a comedian, DJ, event host, community organizer, youth worker, and general Portland celeb. (Seriously—they won third place in Willamette Week’s 2018 “Best Local Celebrity” poll.) But it’s not all jokes; these days, Carlos is asking big questions about identity and representation for fellow queer and nonbinary people of color—on wheels, of course.
I do love Rollerblading. When I [first] got my Rollerblades here, I would wear them everywhere, never took them off. I started doing comedy a couple years ago, went to the Brody Theater to do [my first] open mic, which [fellow Portland comedian] Brandon Lyons was hosting. I still had on my skates; I didn’t bring shoes. I signed my name “Carlos,” and he brought me onstage, and was like: “Introducing Carlos ... the ... Rollerblader!” And that was that.
The hotline was built out of a post-Trump America and a need to respond to how downtrodden the city was after the inauguration. I needed to make something where people could talk to each other and feel listened to ... something to cheer people up. The poster was intended to look like a made-for-TV ad: engaging and a little cheesy. [The poster also included numbers for suicide and domestic violence hotlines, among others.] I was definitely trying to get people who didn't vote for Trump to call—but due to the kitschiness of the poster ... a lot of people [thought] it was a joke, or an attempt at a meme, or even performance art. I did get a lot of callers who totally needed to call, as well as the joke callers, the drunk callers. I got both, and I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t all heavy lifting all the time.
I feel like the [Carlos the Rollerblader] persona was really given body after the free advice hotline. That’s the most visual and public I’ve ever been, and that’s probably what people expect of me: to be nice, to listen. But that’s not necessarily true all the time. People don’t know, or maybe they forget, but I, too, am a frustrated black queer. I’m not always Carlos of the hotline, and I’m not always Carlos the comedian.
A lot of my taste and style and habits aren’t things that people read as queer. I don’t always buck “masculine” presentations in my day-to-day—I love snapbacks, my goatee, and not wearing makeup—so I’m often read as a man, without question. There’s never a thought that I might be anything else because the idea of being nonbinary is so attached to a visual [aesthetic], rather than an individual’s account or expression. Nonbinary [gender involves] picking the things you like from different styles or different expressions and just making it what you will. People, queers included, really should open their ideas up about what gender expressions can look like outside of reinforcing or even re-creating a binary system.
It’s tough because, especially when I’m hosting events, I feel like I have to look queer in order for people to acknowledge and identify with me. How do I stay true to myself and also put out a beacon for folks who are looking for that thing? That’s my struggle now.
Portland needs to progress past its old symbolism. The old motifs of Portland—the Unipipers and the Sizzle Pies and the Voodoo Doughnuts—all of that gets so much publicity. Portland does embrace different kinds of weird, but you don’t know that based on [our] media and tourist materials. Y.G.B., a beautiful organization led by black and brown women, puts creatives of color at the forefront via events all around town, like My People’s Market, a biannual marketplace solely staffed by people of color. Think Saturday Market, but browner. They usually enlist me as a host. I think Y.G.B. should be on billboards.
Since starting the hotline, [I’ve received] somewhere near 200 calls. [Most are from] Portland, but thanks to the internet I had calls from all around the country, even [communicated with people in] France and Sweden. It may not ever be officially over. Am I promoting it anymore? No. [But] as long as that line is open and somebody has the number, I’m going to pick up.