Portland, Imagined from Afar

Editor’s Note: For those keeping score at home, I am still recovering from injuries involving a broken collarbone and arm due to a bike mishap which will be detailed in an upcoming blog post, of course! I’m recovering from surgery and the healing process requires intensive rest. Will Simmons who writes the Pittsburgh Orbit blog offered to contribute and I can’t thank him enough. I like that this piece offers a glimpse into how Portland is perceived from the outside world. It’s nice to be able to provide content until I can make my return, hopefully in August.


line of food trucks, Portland, OR

Everyone eats here all the time…maybe? Food trucks on a sunny day, somewhere in Portland. (photo: trazeetravel.com)

This is a work of fiction–or, at least, of the imagination and speculation. Your writer has only ever been to Portland once, as but one of many stops on a five-week (nearly) coast-to-coast (and back) road trip more than twenty years ago. The details of that visit are extremely vague–a rainy night in an old movie theater, seeing Japanese spaz-rock band The Boredoms at a big nightclub, The Museum of Advertising, squabbling with our local hosts, a big breakfast at a lumberjack diner on an island–or maybe we just had to cross a bridge. Who knows?

I loved it. But I loved it in the way you get excited about any brand new place you just get to have fun exploring for a few days before moving on or heading back to the real world. What do I know?

Three men holding full beers in toast around a copper brewing kettle

Everyone in Portland is a beer geek, right? (photo: Willamette Week)

So what gives this no-nothing any right to author a post for the prestigious Portland Orbit? Well, I’m going to tell you something. I took an oath–yes, a blogger’s oath. Orbit C.O. David went down with a broken arm incurred in that most Portland of circumstances–a bicycle wreck. David’s convalescence will greatly impede his ability to report, photograph, and write, so I stepped-up with an offer to do what bloggers do best: figure out how to make it all about me.

six-story office building with floral outer layer

Where even office buildings look like the wallpaper in an opium den and are named like microbrews and/or circus acts. The Fair-Haired Dumbbell (proposed). (photo: Norris, Beggs, & Simpson)

[Cue: fantasy music and shimmering soft-focus.]

That single visit way back in 1993 may be short on specifics, but it made a deep impression. Clean, crisp air, an enviable climate[1], gentle, easy lifestyles, a fierce old hippie/new indie–dare we say pioneer–spirit, ample natural beauty in all directions, trees and flowers everywhere. Some of these things aren’t going to change, but we wonder about the others.

What of the city itself–what does it look and feel like? The Internet offers us ways to travel vicariously like never before. Maps show pretty much everything east of the Willamette River as a giant grid, with a few bisecting angles and some gentle curves–Jeffersonian in its sensibility with enough interesting variances to not seem completely metric.

“Virtually” touring the city via Google Streetview (without knowing where to go) a bunch of the stereotypes jump right out: plentiful trees, bicycle infrastructure, uh…youth/yuppie-oriented businesses, hippie colors, and yes, expensive-looking brand new condos. I was surprised by how pancake flat so much of the east-of-the-river/majority of the city appears to be–aren’t you guys in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains? The wide streets and long stretches of low-slung buildings seem very western (or, at least, mid-western) to these eyes.

The intersection of Burnside & 28th, Portland, OR with new condos, novelty bicycle rack, old-school cocktail lounge, and a store called "Smut"

Is this what Portland looks like? Burnside & 28th: new condos, novelty bicycle rack, old-school cocktail lounge, a store called “Smut”. (photo: Google Maps)

The intersection of Stark & 82nd, Portland, OR showing wide streets, low-slung buildings, lots of parking, some hills in the distance

…or is it more like this? Stark & 82nd: wide streets, low-slung buildings, lots of parking, (almost) no trees, very flat, but with some hills (or is that a park?) in the distance. (photo: Google Maps)

Friend and co-worker “Rizzo” moved to Portland with her husband three years ago and though still a relative newcomer she’s already adopted the native complaints of rising rents and “damn Californians moving here!” The couple were ousted from their cute, rented bungalow in Mt. Tabor by a landlord looking to sell the place for the better half of a million bucks. From afar, it sure seems like the real estate market is off-the-charts nutso and its attendant crush of people sounds like a headache and a traffic jam all rolled-up in enough stress to harsh the mellow of even the kindest (now legal) bud.

Are Portlanders already moaning about the golden days of…what were the golden days? The pre-hip eighties? The punk rock nineties? The microbrew/locavore aughts? The last day before Portlandia[2] first aired?

costumed people riding bicycles, Portland, OR

Take the high road. White people retro bicycling (photo: dollface.net)

We imagine the palest of “whitopias,”[3] a place where over-educated liberals congratulate themselves on their acceptance and diversity of opinion–at least when it comes to transgender rights, body piercing, and euthanasia–but may go days without seeing a black person. Media would have us believe the inmates have taken over the asylum–that every denizen of this quickly-growing middle-to-large-sized city is a hopped-up doobie-smoking punk rock vegan costumed bicycle-riding gluten-free transvestite. It can’t really be like that…can it? I would assume there are, you know, “real people” who work everyday jobs, drink Budweiser, shop at Wal-Mart, and watch network TV at night[4]–but you wouldn’t know that from the press.

The future’s here right now, the song says, if we’re willing to pay the price. It’s a strange, wonderful, and horrible time to be alive, I suppose–the whole world at one’s fingertips, every thought, image, and deed but a click away. But what do we really know? Ah, heck, I need to get out and visit David, Rizzo, and the gang and see what the hell is really going on.

[1] This cool weather-lover considers 45 degrees and drizzling to be ideal. On the other hand, I imagine it would be a bummer if you don’t ever get real snow.
[2] It is impossible to write a Portland imagined piece without name-dropping this ultimate national media satire of its citizens. I’ve only watched a couple of episodes and stopped because I just didn’t think it was that funny. People tell me the same thing about Dilbert: “You don’t get it.” I think I probably do.
[3] Pittsburgh also ranks as one of (perhaps the) “whitest cities,” depending on who’s counting and what measure they’re using–but that’s mainly when you consider the entire region, which includes six very rural counties surrounding Allegheny, and the city’s overwhelmingly white suburbs.
[4] SteelersBars.com lists two establishments (A & L Sports Pub and Skybox Sports Bar & Grill) that suggest at least some of Pittsburgh’s ex-pats haven’t traded in their Terrible Towels for hemp dashikis…yet. Whether the natives ever show up for “an imp ‘n Iron” is unknown.

Go Fourth!

Sure the Fourth of July is all about picnics, fireworks and probably America beer but we can’t forget the decorations found around town.

This tradition was started by our cross country rival publication the Pittsburgh Orbit and has inspired a need to showcase displays of patriotism in the Portland area as well.


I saw this display around 15th and Broadway in NE. It doesn’t explain itself but it makes good use of it’s window design, construction paper elements and symmetry to create an appealing, eye catching, festival of patriotism.


This is a good example of an interior flag decals. Others I’ve seen are faded and peeling off. If this doesn’t make you put your hand over your heart and mumble the Pledge of Allegiance, I don’t know what will.

USA Cart

At the tail end of my own shopping cart hysteria, I discovered this mobile can and bottle collecting vehicle chained to a sign at the end of our street. The decor it sports shouts a patriotic fervor that can’t be denied.



Flag waving sentiments were found within a backdrop of pole art when a cloth flag was affixed to a utility pole in North Portland. This banner may not yet wave like the song says but it does make for a grungy addition of American spirit to an old pole.


I like inflatable decorations of any kind, type or holiday so this Uncle Sam bear cub was destined to catch my eye and camera lens. The bear looks great in patriotic plastic. Here’s hoping he can dodge drifting fireworks sparks.


Faded glory for sure but this one harkens back to the days when we were all proud to be an America back when Lee Greenwood was haunting many a concert stage. While the stripes have long since faded on the flag, the bumper sticker offers up a historical record of there being yet another barber shop in Kenton.


Having made it to the Vernonia Friendship Jamboree on a bike camping trip last summer, I saw this banner decoration attached to a sale sign. Stars and stripes are never a bad way to increase traffic to whatever kind of sale you wish to advertise.

See also: https://pittsburghorbit.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/flag-post-a-very-orbit-independence-day-2016/


Hiatus Notice


The Portland Orbit will be on hiatus due to a biking accident. This blogger will return to action when he regains use of the left side of his upper body.

Pole Art (part 1)

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You enter a dimly lit room with a high ceiling and sit at one of the many tables in an otherwise empty space. You become mesmerized by twinkling lights that swirl and cut through the darkness. Shimmering curtains in the back of the room are made of mystical, metallic material. A soundtrack of a loud, sweetly distorted guitar solo fills the still air. Your eyes fixate on a single pole that appears in a spotlight. Out saunters a with dancer in a leather bikini with fringe hanging from the waist band, being quite naive, you had no idea they made those. Her hips sway as she moves like the star of an alternate culture ballet. She approaches the pole, reaches up with both hands and wraps one thigh high up and around. Your mind drifts to another kind of pole art.

Shoe art Division St (1)

You can’t help it. It seems strange but it started with shoes attached to poles and you saw more examples of it and had been trying to figure it out. It occurs to you that there is no way to know what qualifies as a true example of pole art. You’ve never been sure, at least not sure enough to expect to have telephone poles dragged into the Portland Museum of Art for a major pole art retrospective from the last two decades. Besides, pole art is anonymous and more in line with street art. A pounding drum solo disrupts your revery. A dancer lies in a concentric circle at the bottom of the pole. All of your money has leapt out of your wallet and remains crumpled up on the floor. A bouncer is tapping you on the shoulder and tugging at your collar. You long to escape to the purity of this other world, a different kind of pole art.

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The versatility of poles is evident in their ability to hold up wires and display art. One of my earliest recognitions of pole art was found in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood. The exact street has been forgotten, but I saw it off Ainsworth St. Others might describe it as found objects affixed to a pole–more eyesore than art which may be getting us closer to a pole art definition.  As a resilient repository, poles can withstand nails and staples and suffer through affixations of flyers, poster hangings, spray paint, street signs and other displays.

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There are the times when it’s hard to say what artistic statement is being made or if the attempts at art are serving an actual purpose. Gizmos like the screwed in plastic gadgets, have a function that is anyone’s guess. They resemble bottle caps. It’s hard to imagine the concept behind anyone wanting to screw something into a telephone pole as an artistic statement.  I lean towards them having some functional use because I’ve seen similar devices on other poles. They do spruce up an otherwise dull piece of wood though.



Another artsy type accouterment I’ve seen on poles is this tulip/headband looking number. See below:

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I’m not sure who is trying to dress up the poles around here, but the nailed in,  red, star flower symbol with a strap is really jazzing up the look of the poles in my neighborhood. It means something to someone and something entirely different to someone else.


I know, ah, it’s that similar feeling when a show ends with a to be continued message. There’s so much more coverage concerning Pole Art that it will have to be continued. I apologize for the difficult week you will have to endure as you wait and wonder about what else can be written on the subject matter. Tune in for part 2 anyway and be glad you only have to wait a week.

(Sadly, you will be waiting more than a week due to a bike accident. Check back in August.)

The Color Field Cover-Up

Admittedly this idea is borrowed or maybe a better word is inspired, by a September 2015 piece in the Pittsburgh Orbit about abstract art that had been described in the post:

“created and maintained as a joint effort between some number of indefatigable spray paint-wielding taggers and what we imagine is a combination of city D.P.W. (Department of Public Works) ‘graffiti busters’ and concerned citizens taking matters into their own hands.”


No. 2  (St. Johns Coffee Shop)

From that post, I recognized the local angle of the Rothko style graffiti cover-up. Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist painter, lived in Portland during his youth. Not to make light or be too simplistic, but it seems like growing up with Portland’s dreary rainy season weather could have contributed to the depression he suffered in his life.


No. 6  ( Upholstery Shop, Lombard St.)

Finding out that Rothko attended Lincoln High School blew me away. When I consider a couple of other graduates including voice artist Mel Blanc of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and many other Warner Bros cartoon characters fame and Simpson’s creator Matt Groenig; they represent a hallowed trinity of creative geniuses. These guys make me think there’s a force field within the walls of the school or a hyperbolic chamber there that shaped these minds. This theory begs for more research and a separate blog post. It might also get me arrested if I were to wander into the school unannounced, spouting such theories and making demands to complete my research by being directed to the genius chamber. This trinity idea, and in the creative world I consider it holy, may be thwarted by the possibility that there may be even more famous and weirder Lincoln graduates which would create a new theory about something being in the water from the drinking fountains creating the possibility of my being arrested multiple times for trespassing to drink from these fountains. These days you don’t want to drink from any fountain in a Portland Public School due to impending lead testing.

lead testing
Get the lead out!

Field est

Color Fields in action.

fielde with extra

No. 13 (Peninsular Ave)

My aim is to acknowledge an accidental Rothko homage in a technique used to cover up graffiti that’s seen all over town. Big blotchy splotches with features from Rothko’s color field paintings are painted on building walls and under overpasses. They don’t measure up to the abstract expressionism work of Rothko, but they could be considered elementary renditions if a bit of imagination were employed. This coincidental connection is a way of honoring a man that Portland needs to claim as a favorite son. He did spend his formative years here and received most of his education in Portland before getting the hell out and going to Yale.

Brown field over pass

No. 21 (railroad bridge support, Columbia Blvd next to I-5 overpass)

A block of paint to cover graffiti serves as an accidental nod to Rothko. It’s barely in the ballpark though because it’s rare to see the more dynamic colors Rothko preferred like maroon or orange. Instead we get industrial shades of gray, brown and beige. While I appreciate the efforts to clean up vandalism, I’ve never understood the idea of not using a similar or identical paint color in order to get a less Rothko result.

multiple colorfields

In threes: Color Field, Max Bridge near the Denver Ave. Station

Ultimately, I like these unintended reminders of Rothko. I’m left to wonder if his childhood spent in Portland inspired his art style. When I think of Rothko, Portland and big blocks of paint with sharp edges it all comes full circle.

pole field

No. 28 (Columbia Blvd)

Argyle Colorfield

No. 25 (Concrete Brown, N Argyle St)

View a video edition of this blog post with additional photos: https://youtu.be/Lsi5ZOAOb9c

Art on the Blvd

It was a gradual thing, a minimal cultural renaissance that I noticed happening outside a trio of buildings along North Columbia Blvd., an industrial collection of warehouses and blue collar businesses. I want to imagine the art in this area springing up from the businesses trying to one up each other. That would explain the three pieces of roadside art in close proximity to one another. Regardless of the how and the why, without this art work, there would only be views of parking lots, weeds, railroad tracks and corrugated steel walls.

Art Flag 2 (1)

The exploding American flag has always been hard to miss. Bright, bold and a tad fuzzy, the flag reveals a stylish patriotism. What the initials SMF on the building stand for is still a mystery as Google searches would only direct me to information about the Sacramento airport so it’s anyone’s guess how the flag relates to the business. This just in: I caught a glimpse of the sign on the other side of the building. SMF stands for Specialty Metal Fabricators, not as much of a mystery as I thought.

Art Flag 1

Art Flag 3 detail

Trying to write about the flag painting technique only makes me feel like an art critic or art historian, something I’m not qualified to be. I appreciate the ragged stripes, star bursts and the 3D aspect of the waving flag revealed when I got up close and personal with this piece. There’s an energy, pizazz even (probably not an art critic word) although it wouldn’t take much to brighten up the gray skies and grimy surroundings of the Columbia Blvd industrial district.

Mural on Columbia wide (1)

A couple of buildings down, I noticed a mural. From a distance, I suspected it was making a statement about or depicting the realities homelessness. I like the train-car graffiti style and political feel.

Mural on Columbia close up

The imagery communicates the idea of humans being put out with the trash. Up close, the human is not fully detailed. I was thinking, “hotdog in a bun.”  I enjoy how the painting is framed in a starry-sky dream-world. It’s also a great addition to a bland cement wall.

Mantis wide (1)

The mantis appears to be more of a legitimate art piece. It may relate to the nondescript business inside. It reminds me of how cool praying mantises are. As a kid, I saw them as unusual, rare and exciting. They still seem exotic and more fascinating than gross. So a giant mantis is a good choice to break up a monotonous wall.

mantis close up (1)

This mantis seems to be peeling off his black background – artistic effect or a cause for concern?  We don’t know. The subtle red outline also adds  dimension. I’ve always been happy to look across the road and see this particular praying mantis. It’s art where it’s sorely needed.

You can take this art walk on Columbia Blvd off of N. Argyle anytime. You don’t need a First Friday, Third or Last Thursday to have a look.  You may have to dodge trains or stumble over weeds, but the tour potential is there. These works also have drive-by possibility. See the art while driving on Columbia Blvd heading towards St. Johns.


Many thanks to the blog Stag Beetle Power for listing us in their favorites column. Their latest post has a great list of upcoming events so be sure to check that out.


The title of this blog post is sure to cause stomachs to rumble. I can imagine people thinking, finally this guy is writing about chicken sandwiches and the various delicious options from food carts, but then once it gets figured out people think, WTF, this guy is writing about shopping carts?!?


When I began noticing random shopping carts in neighborhoods while I was biking to work it seemed like this phenomenon was worth writing about. These carts had strayed from their usual grocery store and parking lot environments. It seemed strange to see them outside of that context. Appearing next to a tree or leaning against a street sign, they seem more noticeable. I waited for a revelation or inspiration to make a grand statement, but realized there is nothing to say about them and there is no one to speak for them.


You may see these shopping carts and not give them a second thought. Many of them are used by the homeless to haul belongings. Some stores have tried to implement security so carts can’t leave. According to my research, though, there is a widely known work-around allowing many to escape. Escape they do, but to where? For what purpose?


I became concerned with the matter of shopping cart neglect while pondering several examples of these simple, dutiful machines I’ve observed in the wilderness. They make shopping easier for us, but in the real world they are tossed out, knocked over, abandoned and abused and far from the brightly lit aisles and good times gently rolling with full-bellied willingness. Here they were scattered all over North Portland – on sidewalks, gathered around signage, and on the bike path that parallels Columbia Blvd. Some were stuffed with trash while others lay on their sides like dying horses.


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I talked to a person who saw me taking a picture of a cart parked behind her house. It stood in a no man’s land between her fenced-in property and the alley. She told me what an eyesore she thought it was. She was hoping someone (maybe even me) would haul it away. I was there only for the sake of documenting the cart. The last thing I need is a shopping cart zoo, but it’s nice to know I could have one if I wanted it. That cart has remained unmoved for months in what now seems like an Island of Misfit Toys scenario, abandoned with no one coming to its aide.

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before and after

…and sometime after.

I could have sworn I saw a guy with a sign on his truck that advertised a cart retrieval service, but tracking him down and hearing his adventures is a whole other blog post. At this point he seems to be slacking on the job.


My shopping cart sightings eventually led me to something I could get excited about. At the Lombard Transit Center bus stop, I spotted a piece of shopping cart public art. Of all the types of art that move me, this one had me shaking. There, at N. Interstate and Lombard skirting a low wall, is an art piece featuring fifty overlapping shopping carts stenciled in blue. Nothing I’ve seen or photographed has approached this level of art that I saw when I made this discovery. After seeing cart after cart and trying to make sense of it, this cart art seemed to compile, in a figurative sense, all the sad and wayward carts I’d encountered in my travels. The photos I post may give you a sense of the art but a pilgrimage to witness it in person, while no doubt passing multiple abandoned shopping carts in the process, would be well worth it.


Not for the faint of heart. Five panels of shopping cart art!


Carts found in their native land, a grocery store parking lot!

Author and shopping cart

The author with a shopping cart; an uneasy truce.

See a video report with more photos: https://youtu.be/wsSDLd5QpqU

The Parade Chase: A St. Johns Parade Extravaganza

For years I worked weekends and could never get to the St Johns parade. I had to find out what I had been missing. My plan was to take in a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds. It was a safe bet I’d be hearing squeals and giggles of children along with brass instruments, revved up engines, whistles and drum blasts. I expected to see plenty of colors and blurry motion. By the time I found a place to park, I ended up popping up in what I thought was the middle of the parade. I began a chase for the front. The sidewalks were clear but when I arrived at Ivy Island, the old gateway to downtown, I felt wedged in. I was across from the guns and ammo store and had caught up with as much of the parade as I was going to catch so I stayed put. Standing against a chainlink fence next to a construction site, I realized the battle for Ivy Island had been lost. The Rose City Model T Club rolled by. Old cars make the best parade subject matter!

old cars!.JPG


Early on the parade was clogged with politicians. It made sense with the election three days away. My inner cynicism kicked in. My brain flooded with snide thoughts. A waving Dan Saltzman reminded me of how politicians never really look at you. Ted Wheeler seemed in need of a stylist which is probably unnecessary for Portland politics. Steve Novick takes his dog everywhere. I realized it was going to be too brazen and probably unethical to trade a Sarah Iannarone vote for a piece of bubble gum. Jules Bailey impressed me. He wasn’t riding in a convertible and his entourage walked the talk carrying signs with messages concerning air quality.


After seeing so many old cars and a couple of dune buggies, I got excited about seeing of all things—a boat! The Multnomah Sheriff’s department dragged along a river patrol boat. My transportation topper was Teeter Roofing and their gang of ATV riders, something you don’t often see at parades.


More middle school bands marched by. It didn’t seem to matter what song they played. They all had a warm, warped sound, like vinyl. It occurred to me that transportation was the major theme of this parade as Miss Teen Rodeo Oregon brought her posse of assistant teen queens by on horseback. Soon after the Clark Country Saddle Club followed. It was great to see how young ladies in sparkly country outfits and cowboy hats are another parade must-have. I realized I was missing the parade watching it through a camera phone so I headed back through the onlookers to another spot. The rain made me realize I needed water proof paper and floats!

As the Roaring King Car Club weaved back and forth along the route I realized there was something cool about a car club. The cars looked like modified ex-police cars with a basic design but I’m guessing supped up engines.

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The Mexican dancers twirled around in colorful dresses that cut through the gray skies. I have no idea why someone was making comments about caterpillars as they swirled past.


Then just when I needed to see unicycles the most—they appeared!

marching bands

Another middle school band passed playing Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train.” Tall people at parades began to get on my nerves. Floats? I was getting desperate for floats when the Power Pep Band rolled by in what looked like a ship on fire.


Ronald McDonald was working the crowd behind this float. He was too chatty. There is nothing worse than a talking clown. Although his make up was impeccable and his hair poofed and cherry red, he creeped me out in the kind of way I’d feel if I looked at a hamburger patty too long. Behind me I heard a mother say, “Stop whining about it,” which brought me back to the parade and the crowd. I wanted a picture of Ronald. I still hadn’t forgotten the year he was made Grand Marshal. My camera malfunctioned when I hit a button that turned the screen white. By the time I figured it out Ronald McDonald was too far down the street. As I considered whether to chase him down, it occurred to me that he gets all the publicity he needs from having been on TV all the time in the 70’s.


With Ronald out of the picture, I spotted a woman in full clown regalia in the crowd. My need for a clown photo fix drew me to her. I caught up to this clown, passed her and turned to get a photo. She seemed happy to comply or was this happiness due to the perma-grin painted on her face? She suggested a selfie which I attempted but due to being selfie impaired I failed. Ugh! No selfie with the lady clown. I began to wonder if the parade would ever end, my only real complaint was about the rainy weather. I spotted Ellen Rosenblum parading by. She was running for Oregon Attorney General. It’s fun to find a politician with a sense of humor. I heard Ellen say, “Vote now, vote yesterday.” Due to Oregon’s ballot by mail system people were able to vote early either by mailing ballots or dropping them off. Little Leaguers walked by and another middle school band played Michael Jackson complete with dancers doing Thriller moves.

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Then I watched a tall tuxedo clad man stroll in the street while a woman wearing a tiara waved from a Jeep. These were representatives from the Skyliners Tall Club. Tall people were now in the parade instead of standing around watching it and blocking other people’s views. The rest of the parade was a blur due to the rain on my glasses.


A car held out a sign with the word JOY scrawled on it. I found out later that this was the theme of the parade. This part of the proceedings felt spontaneous with a car driving around with someone holding a sign out the window. The enthusiastic, low budgetness of it all was joyful.

Holy Trilogy
Pirates announced themselves with obnoxious gun fire. But at that point I was witnessing what felt like a holy gathering, a culmination of a very St. Johns-centric trilogy of Pirates, Wrestlers and floats full of mermaids. Realizing I could catch the rest of the parade on the way to my car I followed the remaining participants back through to the staging area.

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Sharon Nasset was riding shotgun in a mini van—not even in a convertible. She seemed keep the lowest profile of the bunch.

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A biker gang, well bicyclists on bikes with long handle bars known as Belligerent, were rounding out the parade. A man with a bull horn rode his bike in a circle announcing that the parade committee was “saving the best for last.” I rounded the corner and ran out of parade. I now had the choice of going to the car or meeting back up with the lady clown who was clamoring away from the parade. I’d had almost enough excitement for one day so headed home.

Punny Business

What the cluck? I mean how could anyone resist putting that phrase on a banner and stringing it above the entrance to a chicken restaurant. This post is focused on puns used by businesses to enthrall, entertain and inspire us to become customers. It seems only fair to consider what a pun is and isn’t. My big, red dictionary, a gift from Mrs. Reser years ago, defines it as the humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest different meanings or applications or of words having the same or nearly the same sound but different meanings. This definition will be applied to see how well these puns work.

While it seems like a good pun may depend on a person’s sense of humor, the idea of puns used by businesses have the potential to be the kind of stuff that would cause viewers of Good Morning America to spit their coffee in hysterics. Puns are big business. They create smiles. They help people remember your business and get people talking about it. Making people happy creates a desire to spend money. Puns will make you rich. Use them to spread joy and good humor throughout the world. Be clever with the language, and the people of earth will laugh along with you and throw money at your feet. Somehow, in all that, I managed some pun free copy. So, brace yourself, a pun overdose is about to kick in.

Puns that Cuss

What the Cluck?

How can you not appreciate a pun that references profanity? It employs bad taste with good humor. “What the Cluck?” is the right message for a banner on a chicken restaurant. It sounds like what chickens actually already say to each other in the barnyard.


Shih Tzu has always been a funny name for a dog breed and, as I learned from auto-correct, hard to spell without using profanity. I originally left out that pesky silent “h.” The word has a sound halfway between a swear and a sneeze which suits this type of dog well. This sign was spotted outside a Vet’s Clinic at Hayden Meadows where it sure seems like you’ll have a good chance of working with a veterinarian that will laugh with your pet instead of at it.

Dog Puns

Howliday Inn Lettering

In the Central Eastside business district you have a doggie day care facility/hotel with a clever name. I have to digress by saying that I can’t say dog day care, it always has to be doggie for some reason. The business name seems to be a combination of a reference to a Bing Crosby movie and the reaction guests have when their owners drop them off.

Expressoing Yourself

Expresso Yourself sign

Yes, you might end up expressoing yourself especially if you speak with an Italian accent. You may well express yourself better if you drink expresso. A sign at the T.J. Maxx keeps it simple and begs you to buy the sign, take it home and hang it in your kitchen above the coffee maker.

Posies sign pun

A sandwich board outside of Posies goes for the gold. In fact, I just caught the last pun by studying my photo extra hard. The message ends with, “It’s a latte” and it is a lot to take in. To translate, the sign says: “I can’t express how much you mean to me, but I can try. It’s a lot.” By now you know how puns work so you’ve, or I have, figured out that the keywords are words pertinent to coffee shop nomenclature. It’s a colorful sign too. It inspires me to want to drink expresso, coffee and possibly a latte. I’ve never been much of a chai person.

Maxx for the Minimum

If you spend anytime at all at T.J. Maxx you may find strange objects mixed in with bargains. You might try to imagine for them a new owner and where and how this person might use the door knocker in a bikini or the grill cleaning brush with a gorilla sculpted into the handle.  It might seem like it would take a lot of imagination.


Consider this spoof of the second greatest line to come out of “Jerry Maguire.” Not to be out-shined by all the cute kid antics, Tom Cruise and (don’t forget) Renee Zellweger, was the script with a couple of famous lines. When a mixed-up in love character played by Renee Zellweger delivered the line,“You had me at hello,” no one was able to resist repeating it, spoofing it and mangling it for the rest of the 90’s and possibly beyond. “You Had Me at Merlot.” Is it even a pun? I don’t know. I’ve gone insane. It’s the sign version of a wine bottle upside the head. Nevertheless, it is nice to think that you could buy something like this and hang it in your wine cellar because the joke would never get old.

An Orbit Obit: Interstate Lanes

bowling sign

On April 30, 2015 I blogged about Interstate Lanes. The piece was posted exactly a year before the bowling alley’s last day of operation. At that time, I had heard rumors that alley operations would cease, but I was resistant to considering it. My denial was strong enough to let me enjoy one more year of the bowling alley. Over the course of that year, I didn’t step foot into the place until the last day of business, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t happy to see it each time I drove or rode by. I’ve also appreciated knowing the people of North Portland, who really needed a bowling alley, had one close by.

interstate entrance

bowling mural (1)

Huddled for warmth and bowling!

Needing one last taste of bowling atmosphere I headed over to Interstate Lanes in the afternoon of the last day of operation. I needed to see the red neon outlining the windows and the other decor left over from a bygone era. Whether it’s ’70’s, ’80’s or 90’s it’s hard to tell but bowling chic is comforting. The multicolored, multiple bowling, bowlers mural was magical. A kind of magic that’s hard to let go. That was part of the beauty of the bowling alley, the ability to escape into a bowling world and shutting other world out. There’s the clatter of falling pins, blaring classic and the mechanical sounds of the machines cleaning up pins and spitting back bowling balls. I think Interstate Lanes was clued into my bowling world concept. On one side of the alley, the interior decorations resembled giant bowling balls rolling over cityscapes–a bowling world takeover? The intergalactic mural on the outside of the building spoke to my world domination through bowling theory.

One side empty (1)


I bombed into the alley on the afternoon of the last day with my camera phone blazing trying to get the right shot of the congenial note on the door reading:

Interstate Lanes will close
at midnight tonight for the last time.
We want to thank all of
our loyal customers for supporting
Interstate Lanes for so many years.

The worker at the counter gave me the hairy eyeball. I was self-conscious but I’ve since come to realize that people who blaze into bowling alleys with phone cameras held high are annoying. I wanted one last peek at the the bowling gear vending machine. I stood in front of it only to find it empty. Bowling gear purchased from a machine like tape and powder and maybe ball cleaning supplies has always amazed me. Next to the machine was a glass case with bowling pins on sale for five bucks. I had no cash on me. One side of the alley was empty but the other had a few bowlers who seemed to be enjoying themselves. I watched a girl bowl. Seeing her knock nine out of ten pins down felt satisfying. I looked up at the ceiling. It looked stained and worn out. It hit me. After that evening’s cosmic bowling session the alley would lock the doors and never open them again.

bowling pins for sale (1)

A short history of my visits to Interstate Lanes and my experience with bowling in general reveal a mild obsession. I was once in a bowling league. There’s nothing like the pressure of trying to pick up a spare with one pin left and a match on the line. As you can imagine, I whiffed and it’s haunted me to this day. The PE credit I picked for a college bowling course offered little improvement to my mechanics. We grew up with a grandmother who watched duckpin bowling on Saturdays. Years later we had to break the news that the bowling coverage was being cancelled. Working in a group home I had opportunities to watch bowling and I appreciated the talents of the guy who throws the ball down the lane without using the finger holes. I made two visits to Interstate Lanes: once, just after we moved out here and again when a subsection of our book group decided to meet there. A haphazard discussion of Being There broke out during our quest for strikes.

I’m going to miss that place. It seems obvious now why the paint was peeling outside. There was no reason to spruce up what’s going to be torn down. An apartment building will never have the charm or character that this bowling alley had and yes I can accept the economics of it all but I don’t like the idea of people having to hoof it over to Big Al’s or out to Gresham to go bowling. Maybe Grand Central is not so bad. It seems strange that a bowling alley closing puts a hole in my heart, but I know I’d feel the same about a movie theater shutting down or other forms of old school entertainment. What gets me sad is that sooner than later I’ll drive up Interstate to see a hole in the ground. Bulldozers or wrecking balls will have quietly moved in and not so quietly done their dirty work. A year ago I was writing about bowling alone, which seems like a strange and impossible concept to me, but now I’m writing about not bowling at all, at least not in North Portland.