Tuesday, July 9, 2013

. . . You're My Home

A year gone by, now, and everything is the same, and everything is different. One year ago today-- July 9, 2012-- we rolled into town with little clue and high expectations.  We were tired, having driven that day from Snake River Canyon in Idaho. Our first stop was Pearl Self-Storage, where we planned to sign some papers, pay some cash, and get some keys to a storage unit that would store all of the Stuff we had been stupid enough to cart across half a continent. The Stuff that had once Occupied a three-bedroom house; and we now had 500 square feet. (I capitalize Occupy, as in "Occupy Wall Street," because I've come to believe that our Stuff Occupies us politically, forces its will upon us. But, I digress.) We accomplished all of that, and were welcomed by a manager of the storage units called Tim, who informed us that we would be an "awesome" addition to Portland.

The plan, of course, was that Montana's dad and uncle would start unloading the Penske truck with all of our Stuff, while we drove downtown to our sublet. We'd be back in only! a! few! minutes! and then we'd help them finish unpacking. Subletting apartments is technically against the rules, but we'd talked to both the current renter and a manager of CYAN/PDX apartment complex, and both of them were okay with bending those rules. The only problem was that neither of them were there when we arrived.

We'll call the employee we ended up having to deal with "Brad," mainly because that's his name. "Brad" informed us that he did not know what was going on, and that subletting was Against the Rules, and he was certainly not going to give us our key. I was clueless at the time, but after a year here in Portland, I now understand that "Brad" was probably from California. The Rude, the Obnoxious, the Car-Horn Honkers, the Fake-Boob-People: they are all, apparently, from California. Brad fit several, if not all, of those criteria.

We ended up having to drive to suburbia to pick up the key from the renter. We didn't get back to Pearl Self-Storage until Montana's dad and uncle had finished unloading the Penske. Exhausted, we directed Gary Don and Larry to their motel (in-- your standard "that's another story"-- what turned out to be the red-light district), and we drove back to CYAN/PDX.

So many memories of first impressions flit through my mind on this anniversary. Recapturing those memories, it's like trying to catch a lightning bug in a jar. The ginormous Portland Trailblazers billboard that faced us as we idled in traffic, waiting for the Steel Bridge to lower. (The drawbridge was up: Montana and I looked at each other-- "Does this happen all the time?"-- It doesn't. We were just lucky, as they say.) Driving through PSU the first time on our way from Pearl Self-Storage to CYAN/PDX. Walking down from our sublet to get essentials from the car, I chanced into the pedestrian mall connecting Lovejoy Fountain with the Ira Keller Fountain and beyond. The automobiled street ends at that block, and it's all pedestrians. It's hard to describe what it looked like to me, in the mood I was in and coming from Texas. But it seemed otherworldly in that night air. It was a spot that my still-influenced-by-Texas logic dictated should be Occupied by cars. But there were trees, and dogs cavorting, and people lounging in what ought to be an SUV-infested street. It was-- in that moment-- an alien landscape, an Ewok village, a blissed-out Utopia. Even after the stressful day we'd just experienced. Maybe because of the stressful day we'd just experienced.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, we'd experience many such new experiences. Ironically, somewhere in there I remember telling Montana that I didn't want to forget how Portland looked to us in 2010, when we visited as travellers.  I always wanted to keep some of that tourist appreciation. Now, it all just looks like our life. I struggle to recapture the feelings and remember the way things looked even a year ago, let alone in 2010. So much that was once brand-new has become-- I don't want to say "commonplace," at least not yet; I'm not that spoiled, but-- familiar.

I try to hold on to the awe, because this place is awesome, but I also revel in that newfound familiarity. Early on, I was raised a railroad brat, which is something like being raised an army brat in that you move around a lot. I was more comfortable in the far midwestern outposts of Kansas than I ever was in Texas, but, at age twelve, the road paused for me in Texas for three decades. I never felt at home there, or anywhere.

Until now. Finally, I feel at home. I can't offer a complete explanation; I don't thoroughly understand why. It's just a thing, an ineffable Thing. My wife recognized it the instant we exited Union Station on our Grand West Coast Tour of a Honeymoon. Portland was an afterthought, a Coastal Starlight train stop between the California central coast and Seattle. But, upon exiting Union Station, Montana breathed in and said she liked it here. Then: She said she really liked it here. It took me slightly longer, but, now that I am here, I am not leaving. This is home. Finally. I will grey here, and I will die here, and my ashes will be thrown into the Willamette River from the Hawthorne Bridge. And if the Great Cascadian Megaquake hits before that happens, and I survive it, I will ride a bike around the post-apocalyptic ruins of the city, and I will do what I can to help rebuild it. I will not leave. Ever. Because this is a place I can, and do, love. It is-- for me, at least-- the Last Best Place on Earth.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My friend don't listen to the crowd / They say 'Jump"

This location, about halfway down from the Vista Bridge
(commonly referred to as Suicide Bridge because of all the
jumpers) is the new location of
The Oregonian offices.

How is it that this town can support two alternative newspapers, one of which-- the Willamette Week-- has won a Pulitzer (the Mercury's sister paper, Seattle's The Stranger has also won one); Pamplin Media Group's mini-empire of weeklies including the Portland Tribune and various area papers; independent neighborhood newspapers littered throughout the city; a few glitzy magazines; left-wing, right-wing, anarchist, socialist, and libertarian rags; and 'zines of all stripes, but a simple daily newspaper with no competition can't make a go of it? All these publications are printed on paper. They weren't killed by "The Internet".

The question might be partly answered by the way The Oregonian's bloodbath went down. Printing every day but only delivering three times a week? What kind of model is that? But wait, that's been changed. Now, they're delivering "three times, plus a bonus newspaper once a week." Now, that's been changed. Now, they're delivering "four times a week". Isn't that the same as three plus a bonus? No. It's better! Somehow. And moving out of downtown? Are you kidding? Downtown, you see city councilors while buying a Schnitzelwich at a food cart. How is phoning it in from Beaverton or somewhere going to improve the news coverage, exactly? And having to rename your new web site after one day because it sounds like a porn site? Seriously?

C'mon, Oregonian. This is the Pacific Northwest. You can do a suicide better than this.

Fred A. Stickel, publisher of The Oregonian for 35 years, said, upon his retirement in 2009, that he believed newsprint would endure:
"There are too many readers who want it in their hands. I can't carry that [computer] into the bathroom. I can't tear it out, keep it."
The Oregonian fired Stickel's daughter, Bridget Otto, yesterday.

Monday, December 31, 2012

my favorite things

Columbia Sportswear and puggles with sweaters
People with hoodies and earrings with feathers
Dancing with strippers pretending to sing
These are a few of my favorite things.

Elephant babies and U.N. house bands.
Live silver statues and people untanned .
Bridges, more bridges, and air trams that swing.
These are a few of my favorite things.

To Saturday Market with things we upcycled
Via streetcar and Prius and tall unicycle!
We’ve got everything here except a right wing!
These are a few of my favorite things.

Hookers on Sandy are batting their lashes
The green line is shut down because of car crashes
Ghosts of hippies in Lair Hill who threw the I Ching
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog “fights”
When the cyclist stings
When I'm feeling SAD
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

sellwood bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down

My wife and I have a goal to walk across every bridge in Portland. One of PDX's plethora of nicknames being Bridgetown it just seems like a thing to do. We'd walked a couple by happenstance before I really formulated this goal, but once I did, I knew the Sellwood would have to be the bridge we walked first. A new bridge is being built to replace the Sellwood and there will be some sort of detour I don't really understand starting in January. This would be because the Sellwood Bridge is, in the words of a Yelp reviewer, a "deathtrap". (Yes. Bridges get reviewed on Yelp in Portland. There are probably individual trees, homeless camps, and rabid raccoons in Portland that are reviewed on Yelp.)1 

The Sellwood Bridge really is, however, something of a deathtrap. It's rated "two out of one hundred", and this is frequently repeated by people who never explain what it means precisely: "TWO out of a HUNDRED!!!" That certainly sounds bad, so I'm working under the assumption that those of us wanting to walk the Sellwood are racing against, not only it's planned demolition, but also it's unplanned collapse. Walking or driving it you just hope it doesn't fall down while you are on it. And you get the sense that, even in this most secular of American cities, the city leaders will be doing a lot of praying until January.

This is my (let's see, how pretentiously can I phrase this?) Photographic Essay about our walk across the Sellwood Bridge a few weeks ago.

If you approach the Sellwood Bridge from Sellwood Waterfront Park, as we did, you pass the Oaks Pioneer Church, formerly St. John's Episcopal Church.  The historical marker on it says that it is the oldest Oregon church in continuous use and that it was dedicated on December 10, 1851. One of the two major uses of Oaks Pioneer Church today is to say a prayer before crossing the Sellwood Bridge and, if your prayer is sincere enough, the bridge might not fall down while you are on it. The other use is for weddings. It is traditional for the entire wedding party to jump up and down on Sellwood Bridge before the wedding. If this causes the Bridge to collapse and the entire wedding party to plunge into the pristine waters of the Willamette, it foretells woe for that marriage. But if the bridge doesn't fall down, you will have a happy marriage. Actaully, I made all of that up.  It is true that about 75 couples a year get married in Oaks Pioneer Church and it is also true that none of them are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages while getting married in the Church.  It's also a good idea not to consume alcoholic beverages while or before crossing the Sellwood Bridge.  That could lead to a scenario in which the bridge doesn't fall down, but you do, and the sidewalks are very, very narrow.  You would likely fall into traffic.

This is actually the sign on the other side of the bridge, but I am putting it here for the narrative flow of my pretentious Photographic Essay.  The Sellwood Bridge has had a hard time of it ever since before it was built.  It started its life in the shadow of SCANDAL! If you've seen the episode of Grimm in which Nick investigates the murder of a bridge construction contractor who is a beaver, by a building inspector who is a troll, it was kind of like that, only in this case the bridge designers did apparently in fact pay tribute to the trolls so they could design the Burnside Bridge, the Ross Island Bridge and the Sellwood Bridge.  These particular trolls, three county commissioners called Rankin, Rudeen, and Walker, were eventually charged with  "graft, bribery and malfeasance". Also, there is, according to the Sellwood Bridge website an "ancient and active landslide which is gradually pushing eastward from the West Hills." This should not have been a surprise to anyone, on account of the landslide being ancient and all, but apparently it was, and they kept having to shore up the structure and remove pieces from it to reduce stress almost from the beginning.  
Rankin, Rudeen, and Walker.  Seriously, don't these guys look like trolls?
(From SellwoodBridge.org)
This suicide hotline sign has been defaced.  I'm thinking that whoever
defaced it understood that those on the Sellwood Bridge are pretty
much suicidal by definition and probably had the number memorized.
In this picture, you can see underneath the bridge, where
the trolls live.  I didn't take a picture of it, but behind me is
an apartment complex that looks as if it will be partly
underneath the detour bridge or the new bridge or both. I'm
very confused about the construction process, but maybe
the trolls demanded nicer accommodations?

Damage to the Sellwood Bridge like this adds
to the thrill of crossing the bridge!
Why it's worth it: There are some great view of Downtown
Portland from the Sellwood Bridge. Nevertheless, I don't
plan on walking, or driving on it until the new one is built, and
buses aren't even allowed on it.

Here as everywhere, however, only malcontents review on Yelp. What they have to be so malcontent about here is often beyond me and I frequently daydream about sending the lot of them to Hobbs, New Mexico or Anthony, Texas. Those are places one can really work up a good malcontent about.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the swift blackberry apocalypse

UPDATE (6/22/2013):
It is now berry season again. When I wrote this last year, I was high on all the other joys of a Portland summer. The berries had mostly blown past me. Not so this year. I've walked downstairs to the farmers' market almost every week for several weeks to buy strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and, yes, blackberries. I regularly lurch into Hot Lips Pizza demanding a marionberry soda. I guess what I'm saying is that I am now That Guy I was (gently) poking fun at last year. And, yeah, around September 13, you will very likely find me running frantically around the PNW "looting every last blackberry and Swift I can find." So it goes.


(9/13/2012) The short weeks between Labor Day and the Autumnal Equinox are, it turns out, a time of Fear and Loathing in Portland, Oregon. We arrived here in midsummer, when Oregon is a paradise unrivaled on Earth: Sunny, but not hot; humid, but not sweaty; green, and breezy. With weather like that the Oregonians are positively giddy.  Ordinary citizens walk down the street smiling at the sky like they have Down's Syndrome, and-- I am not kidding about this-- spontaneously breaking out into song. Sunlight is well known to provide Vitamin D; in Oregon, it apparently also provides Vitamin E, the infamous MDMA, the rave drug Ecstasy.

And then Labor Day happens, or as I like to call it, the kickoff of Blackberry Panic. My awareness of Blackberry Panic began with this humble reminder on the Willamette Week's "It List: The Top 10 Things in Portland and the World"
3. Blackberries Eat them while you can, as they will soon be gone/obscenely priced for 10 months.
OK, that makes sense. Good advice I'll try to follow.  Of course, living mostly in the southwest, the closest thing I've ever had to an in-season fruit or vegetable is a Hatch green chili, but I'm nothing if not up for new experiences.

But it didn't end there.  Montana's supervisor, the Associate Dean, is a fellow beagle-companion-person.  Her husband has a love-hate relationship with their beagle, Ruby. Yesterday it was mostly hate, because he left an entire container of blackberries on the kitchen table and Ruby leapt up on the table and ate them all. And then it was all over except for the
So, we're watching from the roof of our building as crazed blackberry-hunters run panicked through the burning city streets like they are being chased by zombies crawling out of their very graves, and we get a text from our webfootted friend, Sonya:
The Swifts?  Turns out watching the migrating Swifts is a northwest tradition. Every year, thousands of Swifts gather in Portland in preparation for migration to Central America and Venezuela. However, ominously,
In Oregon, the leaves begin to turn and The Fear
arises in the Oregonians

So, there it is. All summer, as we raved about the temperate weather and complimented new acquaintances on their friendliness, we heard it, again and again and again: "Talk to me in February." The encroaching mists of winter are always there in Portland.  Even in the sunny summer, they lurk somewhere outside the city like a bill you don't have quite enough money to pay.  After Labor Day, Portlanders can feel the mist rising as in a Stephen King novel and they desperately clutch to what's left of the glorious summer-that-was . Swifts. Blackberries.

Myself, I don't fear the mist, at least not this first year. On the contrary, living in Texas, I learned to hate the sun.  So, what I'm really looking forward to is next summer, when the sun comes out of the mist and I, too, can experience that druggy Vitamin D high. And, also and even, I look forward to running around a year from now, panicked, like I am being chased by the very Hounds of very Hell, looting every last blackberry and Swift I can find.

Friday, August 31, 2012

unrequited love among the downtown doggy set

Last Saturday, Powell's Books had a little street festival to celebrate their anniversary and we went up there to hang out for awhile.  Part of the entertainment was a troupe called Mortified; they read/perform embarrassing pieces of writing that they did when they were younger.  One performer read her angry letters to her fellow students when she was a "weirdo" teenager in San Antonio before coming to "weirdo central," Portland, Oregon.  A man read his diary entries from 1987 in the voice of his Dungeons and Dragons character. And one lady read her embarrassing teenage diary entries and love letters to the "love of her life" when she was thirteen.

Austin longingly stares at himself in the mirror, wondering
if Giant Poodle thinks he's cute

Now, one of our beagles, Austin, is two, which is a teenager for a dog.  And he faces similar issues.  So, I would like to present for your entertainment Austin's mortifying letters to the Love of his Life:
GIANT POODLE! I love you, Giant Poodle.  I do not know your name, because my parents are MEAN and they WILL NOT LET ME come over and sniff you.  I pull and pull at my leash trying to get to you, but mom and dad say you are bigger than your companion person and she may not be able to control you on your leash if I got you excited.  MY PARENTS ARE SO MEAN TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you break off your leash, Giant Poodle, we could run away together.  Maybe into the Big Park across the street. They would never find us there.
GIANT POODLE! I love you, Giant Poodle.  I WILL NEVER FORGET TODAY!!!!!!! Today, we ran into you and I got to sniff you!!!!!! I am SO excited.  Did you like how I smell, Giant Poodle???? You must have!  You got so excited that you peed on the sidewalk and your mom acted all embarrassed.  Humans are SO STUPID sometimes.  THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND OUR ETERNAL LOVE!!!!!   
GIANT POODLE!  I LOVE YOU, Giant Poodle.  Today, my dad walked me over where you walk and I smelled your beautiful presence.  I peed on the grass there so you would know I'd been there.  Oh, Giant Poodle.  When can I sniff you again, Giant Poodle?
GIANT POODLE! I haven't seen you in TWO days!!!! WHERE ARE YOU???? WHY WON'T YOU RETURN MY LETTERS??? 
GIANT POODLE!  I saw you out the window today.  I looked down eight stories and there you were on the sidewalk.  It was like an ETERNAL distance of my longing heart.  I just stared and stared and then I barked a little and then I saw ANOTHER DOG come up and sniff you and you sniffed him.  OH, GIANT POODLE. Why do you play with my heart?  
At this writing, Austin is trying to get his brother Clyde to ask Giant Poodle if she likes him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The devil over my shoulder wishes we had never moved to Portland

One of the positive side effects of Portlanders' Funhouse MirrorTM perception of their city is the phenomenon that, no matter how awesome the quality of life here may be, Portlanders will find a cause to band together around, to MAKE IT EVEN AWESOMER.  Today was an idyllic day: a cool 72 degrees, a slight breeze, sunshine, and the ten-day forecast holding out the promise of cool days all the way to September.  (Since August is maintained to be "the most hellishly hot ZOMG NIGHTMARE NIGHTMARE NIGHTMARE" month, this could suggest that our horrifyingly horrible six days of 90-degree weather might have come to an end.) I walked the dogs over to Lovejoy Fountain.  Lovejoy Fountain is part of a supercool pedestrian mall which goes on for several blocks of downtown and includes several fountains.  Now, Lovejoy isn't in a grassy park like the Ira Keller fountain.  There are several trees, but also (ominous chords) concrete.

Walking through the area1, I saw the usual mix of lunch-breaking downtown workers-- it was 2:45 pm, but, hell, they don't call PDX the "City Different" for nothing. Wait: they call Santa Fe the "City Different".  Ah, well, if we can steal "weird" from Austin, we can certainly steal "Different" from Santa Fe.  GO GO GO PDX, what I like to call the "city that never sleeps," "that toddlin' town," "the Big Easy".

Where was I? Oh, yeah, "I saw the usual mix of lunchbreaking downtown workers, kids playing in the fountain, nannys nannying, dogs dogs dogs, and a sign affixed to the Lovejoy Fountain sign that read, 'This used to be Lovejoy Fountain.'" Right, okay, except the sign wasn't, you know, part of the usual mix. It also wasn't the only sign.  Giant pieces of-- well, it looked liked butcher paper to me, because I'm a teacher.  Why do they still call it butcher paper, anyway? They should call it "teacher paper". But, I digress!  Giant pieces of teacher paper proclaimed the fountain to be "a waterfall,"  the waters below to be "a lake," and the concrete wall behind to be "a mountain".

It was very curious! I walked the dogs around the "waterfall," and by the "lake," but did not try to climb the "mountain". Mainly because its vertical ascent approached 90 degrees.

Then I saw a youthful Portlander with (ominous chord) teacher paper. The teacher paper read, "This is a field," and he was carefully placing it on a square-shaped concrete bench.  I maneuvered the dogs over to his vicinity and said something clever like, "What's up with the signs?"2

"Oh!" he replied. "We are trying to raise awareness that there is no grass in this park." I looked around. I had been laboring under the mistaken understanding that I was already aware of that. "Well," he went on,"no nature. Unfortunately, there's not a field here. Unfortunately, there's not a mountain. So we just have to imagine them. We're trying to get the city to consider putting some green space here. We have a petition. We brought our own grass." He gestured over at his friend, who sat forlornly on two squares of turf with a clipboard.  He looked at me with Beagle Eyes. My beagles looked up at me with Beagle Eyes.

And the old cynical Barry, the devil over my shoulder, says, of course, you have a petition. It's Portland.  I'm sure there was a petition when the clock on Jackson Tower stopped functioning and, now that it hasn't functioned for awhile, I'm sure there'd be a petition if it ever started working again.  Coming from a town where, like, one-tenth of one-percent of the electorate votes in city elections, it's just weird to see people so engaged.

An unidentified male sits on grass by Lovejoy Fountain. Unfortunately,
he had to bring his own grass. Please help us right this wrong!
Lovejoy is okay with me as it is. I like Lovejoy. Also, I wasn't convinced that the fact that there was no mountain in downtown Portland was "unfortunate".3  But the angel over my other shoulder won out, and I signed the petition.  Engaged Portlanders may be. Weird they may be. (Sorry, Austin, we stole the slogan, but we deserve it.) But Portlanders are also earnest, and how can you say no to Beagle Eyes?

It will become clear, momentarily, why I refer to Lovejoy as an area and not a park.

I also did not ask his name, his friend's name, or if they had an organization I could credit in this narrative. I'm just going to do what I usually do when I totally forget social niceties and pretend I have Asperger's.

3 Because, walkin' heah!

UPDATE: "Youthful Portlander" identified. Also, here.
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Upside Down on Mars by Barry J. Cochran is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.