19. The Curse of Portland

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

There’s too much cursing in this world, and I am part of the problem. For me, cursing is the natural by-product of trying to accomplish something or get somewhere. I’m always trying to get somewhere, and thus tend to travel in a blue streak.

One of these days I need to calculate how much of my life’s cursing has been:

A.  As a pedestrian cursing at motorists and cyclists;

B.  As a cyclist cursing at motorists and pedestrians;

C. As a motorist cursing at cyclists, pedestrians, and, well, pretty much everything.

Offhand, I’d guess my cussing volume, from most to least, would be  C, B, A, — even though I’ve spent more time as a pedestrian than as a cyclist, and more time on a bicycle than driving a car. Maybe my propensity to swear is proportional to my desired speed of travel.

We who share the Earth’s surface are supposed to pity the poor pedestrian. This has become more difficult in an age where pedestrians have ceased to look where they are going. Sometimes preferring to maintain my device-centric gaze, when shocked into acknowledging my surrounds, I can go profane without further provocation.

Bicyclist constantly court grim repose by flying unprotected and vulnerable through traffic-stalled motorists, sometimes by accessing places they shouldn’t be – like sidewalks – threatening pedestrians to share oblivion. With that level of adrenaline flow, the slightest slight can cause the bluest blasphemy.

But automobiles create a uniquely powerful frustration by providing painfully slow progress despite offering over a hundred horsepower at the foot-tip. Reasonably insulated from reality by a couple tons of metal, motorists are miles ahead when it comes to the curses-per-hour.

In all these circumstances I find myself swearing at others for doing things I do myself. See: Hypocrite. You would not be alone if you see a bit of yourself in that definition.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, a reasonable level of social skill requires a high level of comfort with hypocrisy. Thus I strive to become more hypocritical every day. The experts in social skill – we call them “diplomats” – would deny their own hypocrisy with aggressive nuance and vehement tact, proving my point. I can but envy their maneuverability.

A Friday morning rush hour jog around Portland’s centerpiece, the Willamette River, thrust us onto the left-hand sidewalk crossing the Hawthorn Bridge, heading outbound. There were no signs to warn us – at least not that I saw – that the narrow footpath would be heavy with a diverse assortment of inbound traffic, including power-walking execu-pedestrians, joggers, skateboarders, Segwayers, scooterers, but mostly a plethora of bicyclists. While we had every right to be going outbound, their cursing made it abundantly clear we had no business doing so. After about thirty meters it became apparent we were on a suicide mission likely to end in a bloody plunge into the Willamette below. I thought, “Shit.”

We retreated, going with the flow, looping around under the bridge, and re-assuming direction on the outbound side. From that south side I spied a large stage, of sorts, being built on the river bank. Well, over the river, really. I thought, “Huh.”

Otherwise, it was a very nice run. The western or downtown side of the river is lined by the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, reclaimed parkland which has retained a reasonable amount of greenness despite the prolonged drought being suffered by the entire region. This day was turning out to be another hot dry one, so I was thankful that a drinking fountain appeared each time my thirst required appeasement.

The Eastbank Esplanade provided a narrow path skirting between the river and the omnipresent I-5 highway. It offered a glimpse into the once working class industrial suburb of East Portland, now gentrifying. At least it used to be called East Portland.

You see, there’s a new East Portland, about five miles further east. Out of sight, that area is now populated by Portland’s minority communities, many of them having been elbowed out there by gentrification. There’s a move afoot in that newer East Portland to secede from the rest of the city, but it is unclear whether that secession can or will succeed.

Regardless of that outcome, I imagine the older East Portland will eventually rename itself something like “Upper Eastbank” or “Rolling Meadows”. That will differentiate them from the newer East Portland to support otherwise unsustainable real estate development. If you have no moral scruples and aren’t worried by the afterlife thing, I say “Buy!”

My seventeenth campaign pledge: Own, rent or squat, if you’ve been living somewhere more than five years, anybody trying to throw you out – including the government — needs to provide agreed, comparable alternate housing for you. The Smiling Kodiak administration will make it so. Anybody who doesn’t like it should get the fuck out of the real estate industry. Pardon the cursing.

We made our way back across the Willamette River on the appropriately-named Steel Bridge, something of a tourist attraction for those that like engineering oddities. The 1912 structure remains the only double-deck bridge with independent vertical lifts in the world carrying five modes of traffic (pedestrian, bicycle, train, light rail, and automobiles). Imagine the cursing!

Our experience jogging across it included the thrill of having freight train wheels rumble by at ear-level about two meters away. I realized our Amtrak train had arrived yesterday across this bridge, IMG_1621an entrance that had showcased the city’s post-industrial apocalypse.

Portland has a well-deserved reputation as one of America’s greenest cities. Furthermore, Reader’s Digest, a IMG_1627publication renowned for its obsessive cleanliness, recently named Portland as America’s cleanest city. It is noteworthy that the train tracks leading to the Steel Bridge at the city’s heart pass through a small but jaw-dropping wasteland of dumps, recycling stations, IMG_1617lumber yards, water treatment plants, shipyards, and other necessary urban infrastructure. These IMG_1626eyesores exist in stark contrast to the verdant splendor that surrounds the city, and the persnickety cleanliness that occupies it. It’s contrast enough to turn the most strident capitalist into an evangelical environmentalist.

Later that morning, we set out from the hotel once again to see some of this verdant splendor in Washington Park, Portland’s large green urban oasis. First, we thought we owed to ourselves and to Portland to check out some neighbourhoods less renown for vagrancy than vibrancy, which is to say, not Old Town. Our meanderings brought us first to the allegedly swanky Pearl District which was once warehouse and rail yards, but now revealed itself full of restaurants, residences, lofts and stores with a predilection towards describing themselves as “upscale”. A lovely place to live, no doubt.

The Pearl District gave way to the Alphabet District (with streets given alphabetically ordered names). Busy city boulevards lined with apartment buildings yielded to leafy streets of splendid Victorian homes. Come to Nob Hill, the streets got steep, and real estate even steeper. We trudged up determined to get a sweeping view, but it seemed impossible to get above the tree line. Here and there we stole a peak of the city below.IMG_1645It was approaching noon with the temperature soaring towards 100°F. Happily we arrived at the edge of Washington Park where we continued our trudge up and up and up in the relative cool of its thick green canopy. IMG_1652There’s lots to hike and see in Washington Park. Without much effort we found the Lewis and Clark Memorial, the Rose Garden, The Japanese Garden, the Arboretum, each connected by pleasant trails.

A wave of bickering reminded me it was lunch time. Temperatures rising, it took a bit of effort to avoid strangling each other. Luckily, in the nick of time a free shuttle bus appeared to deliver us to the MAX train station. We were back downtown in minutes.


IMG_1663That odd inscription, found across the top of this imposing Greek revival-style building, caught my eye, as it was no doubt intended to do. Curious to know the provenance of such a linguistic and alpha-heretical abomination, below I found another inscription identifying the place as the Elks Temple. Closer inspection revealed that as far as the building was concerned, the Elks went extinct in 1932 after only ten years occupation. The building then became the Governor Hotel, which it was for decades, before decaying as an office building for decades more. In 2014 it re-opened as the Sentinel Hotel after being refurbished, as one shovld do vnto svch bvildings.

After traipsing around its posh interior — a handsome lobby and clubby grill rejuvenating the generous appointments of its heyday — we had a long lunch at a sidewalk café on the hotel’s shady backside. There’s very little in life that is not improved with a long lunch.

During lunch we lingered over the local papers. A play named Time, A Fair Hustler, mysteriously described as a stage sequel to the film My Own Private Idaho, was to open tonight. Online, the theatre company more eloquently described the production’s intent “to meditate on the gulf between nostalgia for the raw, youthful and seedy Portland of 1990 and its current image as ‘the most livable city’ in America.” Irresistible, right? I dialed the theatre, and much to my surprise – voila! – we had tickets to opening night.

The Artists Repertory Theatre was an intimate theatre with capacity for perhaps one hundred fifty. Given that, I found it worrying that opening night wasn’t sold out, not even close. The play was indeed a follow-up on My Own Private Idaho, the actors reprising many of the characters, although I couldn’t exactly call it a sequel.

The two male lead characters, Mikey and Scott, were reprised by women actors. This didn’t trouble me in the least. Recently I had thoroughly enjoyed Geoffrey Rush playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Live theatre invariably requires a suspension of disbelief, and this particular kind of illusion has a long and rich history.

Then they started acting.

After ten years working in government it is no big deal for me to suspend disbelief. But these particular roles, Mikey and Scott, required more than that. Having spent my entire life suppressing hormonal urges, I was looking forward to Mikey and Scott arousing hormonal urges to suppress. The lady-men characters gave rise to none. It is another thing altogether to expect me to suspend the need for hormonal urges to suppress. It was unbearable.

As a result, I went into critical mode, focusing on things like the fact that most of the cast were unborn when the movie the play purported to follow-up was made. They had no experience of the “raw, youthful and seedy” Portland – you know, the one with a murder rate four times that of the present day – about which they waxed nostalgic. I realized at once this was an idiotic criticism. These were actors, after all, not documentarians. I started flipping through the program.

The program revealed that the film My Own Private Idaho had been centered around, and largely filmed in, the then-derelict Governor Hotel, now the Sentinel — where we had had lunch. In effect, the “Do Vnto” inscription had led us to a play that was about the hotel. Travel is full of such strange and wonderful coincidences – and none stranger than finding, months later, when writing this up, that Google Maps Street View was using a picture of us having lunch there. JakesHere it is, used without their permission, which I figure is okay since they didn’t have mine, either. Weird.

20150731_210315Anyway, we walked out at the interval.
Walking back to our hotel we sampled one of Portland’s many famed food trucks. A joint named “Steak Your Claimed” weirdly claimed “Pastrami Our Specialty”, and I was pleased to have the best pastrami sandwich I’d ever had outside Manhattan.

Back at the hotel the late news had a segment on homeless hygiene, or the lack thereof. It featured a photo of a man squatting atop a drinking fountain, his pants around his ankles. While his face and private parts were obscured, the clear part of the picture left little doubt that he was using the thing as a bidet. And it might have been a fountain from which I had sipped that morning.

That’s enough news for one day.