Toyz in the Hood

When a certain bleakness creeps in under gray skies, I take every opportunity to consider some of the sights I’ve seen and captured digitally this summer. These are the kinds of things that might cheer me up through the long, dull rainy season that appears to be bearing down on us after a couple of dry months. These objects usually involve the stuff I like in the form of shiny, junky plastic which happens to be the material of toys. I’ve concerned myself over the past couple of years with rooting out marginal expressions of creativity. Looking around and noticing random displays of toys in my neighborhood, in tree hollows, yards and on cars, has allowed me to find a way to break up the monotony of my neighborhood surroundings.


Pet Rocks

Wiggle eyes bring rocks to life.

Wiggle eyes bring rocks to life.

These plastic eyed rocks caught my eye and had me keeping both my eyes peeled for additional North Portland toy scene arrangements. Tucked against a fence, these rocks resemble a hard luck doll. Without handdrawn mouths, it’s hard to gauge their moods but it’s quite the realization to discover that wiggle eyes can bring something as hard, cold and lifeless as a rock, to life.

A Scary Bit


Hood surfing--all the rage in North Portland.

Hood surfing–all the rage in North Portland.

This creature could inspire the beginnings of a future, full blown, art car decoration theme. In his current barren state, he remains  twisted and scary. The ratty tape job seems to be keeping this gizmo standing and fastened to the hood. You have to respect its willingness to go a long for the ride enduring mile after mile of forced hood surfing.

Bridging the Gap

This falls could use some water.

This fall could use some water.

This fountain or maybe it’s a rain catcher is the center piece of a scene that reminds me of Multnomah Falls. I appreciated seeing the bridge brought to life with a family of Playmobil characters. A bit of water would complete the scene but we don’t get much rain in the summer. Everything about this scenario is accentuated by well done design elements like the moss on the rocks, the plantings, the partially hidden Berenstain Bear character and the wire holding the toys in place.

The scenery might be behind you.

The scenery might be behind you.


Cool Party

The crazy, wild, dirt pool party scene rages in Kenton.

A crazy, dirt pool party scene raged in Kenton.

This looks like a depiction of the kind of pool party that was better than any pool party anyone attended this summer or any other summer, with its dirt substituting for water, a pink pony, and beautiful people in varying states of undress dancing crazy in a bamboo forest.

Detail from the coolest party mourned by the uninvited.

Detail from the coolest party, mourned by those weren’t invited.

This scene appeared in a Kenton neighbor’s yard and has continued to deteriorate as some of the party stragglers refuse to go home.


When the party’s over…


Oakmore Condos

Move in ready for relocating Gnomes.

Move in ready for relocating Gnomes.

A few toadstools and/or colorful mushrooms and a miniature door made me think that this tree,  in the Alberta neighborhood, has been turned into a Gnome condo. Gnomes may well have the ability and willingness to pay the outlandish prices for one bedroom condos.

Main entrance to the miniature Gnome condo.

Detail: Main entrance to the miniature Gnome condo.


Bull Donkey

Cheer up lost toy on the side of I-5.

Cheer up lost toy.

It finally occurred to me that instead of taking every misplaced toy home I can take a picture. Somewhere along the way  this angry bull found himself on the side of I-5 without even a thumb to do some hitchhiking so he could get out of town.

Hanging in the Hollow

Curb side living at Gnome hollow!

Curb side living at Gnome hollow!

The story of the discovery of toys tucked away in the hollow of a Kenton neighborhood tree (see the ping back in the comments section) straightened me out about the differences between Trolls and Gnomes. It’s nice to have expert readers who are willing to set me straight in a nice way. We continue to keep up to date with the latest additions to the tree scene and it’s ever changing cast of characters.

Hanging in the hollow.

Hanging in the hollow.


To see a video report on this blog post click here:

There Ain’t Bleep on TV Tonight

The Portland TV scene has exploded. It’s essentially free, random, stupid, alien if you weren’t alive in the ’70’s or ’80’s, but its existence can’t be denied especially if you’re too broke for cable or if you are uninitiated in the ways of Apple TV, Roku or other forms of streaming. This television landscape can be discovered with an antenna, and it’s a nostalgia blast smorgasbord overload of programming that will be at your channel surfing finger tips.

You're going to need one of these.

You’re going to need one of these.

Anyone remember the digital conversion? This happened a few years back. The end result was analog TV sets became obsolete for reception without a converter box. This is one reason old TV sets continue to be abandoned on street corners at an alarming rate. Digital tuners in current television sets pick up digital signals with antennae. Our local channels have added sub channels.  KATU, channel 2, has become 2.1 and spawned two sub channels,  2.2 and 2.3. Many subchannels carry networks pumping out old TV shows and movies. There are now more opportunities than ever for you to spend your invisible TV dollars.

Vincent Price haunts Comet TV.

Vincent Price haunts Comet TV.

Other channels to rot your brain include shopping channels, Spanish language stations, (learn telenovela Spanish!) religious channels, although I’m distraught because I can’t get Hope TV (channel 36.3) or maybe I’m dying to know what I’m missing. Then there’s the often weird and low-budget Channel 17 out of Salem featuring appearances by an under dressed weatherman.

Silver aliens could be hallucinations.

Silver aliens could be hallucinations.

Yes, I can get nostalgic, but I don’t often have the time or attention span for an old 70’s show like The Rookies. Who does? I did experience warm memories from seeing the closing credits of Welcome Back, Kotter. I was looking at a kid wearing a winter coat riding a unicycle as the theme song played when feelings of warmth and of being with my family flooded over me and brought me back to those days when I was either procrastinating doing my homework or waiting for the next show to come on.

But who under the age of 30 or 40 or even 50 finds much relevance in seeing Telly Savalas playing Kojak. I do think his “who loves you baby” is one of the greatest catch phrases ever written, but the uninitiated would have to be wondering how this guy got a television show.

Fictitious Indian portrayals are often seen on Grit TV.

Fictitious Indian portrayals are often seen on Grit TV.

This is TV worth watching at least for the sake of checking it out. There’s little financial investment other than the price you pay for a decent antenna which should equal the cost of  a month’s worth of cable. Then cast your eye on the freak out reflected by the shows we watched in the 70’s: Sleestaks on  Land of the Lost, a TV show about Kung Fu known as Kung Fu, and potentially politically incorrect portrayals of Native Americans. All of this TV watching has raised a question: What the hell is a Sweathog?

Sleestaks lurk on Land of the Lost reruns.

Sleestaks lurk on Land of the Lost reruns.

Another caveat is that free TV isn’t really free, not when you have to sit through some of the worst infomercial style commercials imaginable–and lot’s of them. There don’t seem to be any ads of the mildly entertaining football game variety. It’s a trade-off  that might have you pondering whether a show or especially a movie is worth watching while enduring constant and endless commercial breaks. It does inspire more channel surfing. There were a few times, during my recent recovery from a bike mishap, that I made an effort to try to find something on one of these many channels.  I was left uninspired. The pilot for the never produced Horshack show was the lone exception.

  A Selected Portland, OR area TV lineup:

2.2  ME TV  Nostalgia abounds! Lucy, Gunsmoke, Hogan’s Heroes. Ask your grandparents about how there was once was a comedy on TV about American POWs in a German prison camp.

2.3  Comet  This channel features Sci-Fi, B-movies, cool promos and Mesothelioma commercials. It’s the place you are most likely going to catch Godzilla movies.

6.2  Get TV  They seem to be into the 80’s shows and classic movies.

6.3  Decades flaunts it’s nostalgia proudly airing documentaries about decades past and comedy shows in black and white.

8.2  Justice TV  As the name implies, this station is heavy on shows about police work.

8.3 Estrella TV  This is the home to my favorite pink haired clown who does double duty as a talk show host.


10.3 OPB  Want to listen to the radio on TV? You can do that here.

12.2 COZI TV  Get cozy and watch some of your favorite shows like Murder, She Wrote and the Six Million Dollar Man.

12.3 LAFF TV  When you need a laugh or you want to catch a Drew Carey Show rerun.

17.1 KWVT  This station originates from Salem. It’s got a public access feel but mostly it runs YouToo America shows.

22.1 ION  Catch reruns of syndicated police dramas of the NUMB3RS variety.

22.2 qubo  It’s kids stuff.

22.3 IONlife  This is about as close as you can get to HGTV type programming without paying for cable.

22.4-22.6 Shopping Channels  If you dare buy things off of TV then there are three stations  pumping out merchandise for you.

27.1 retro TV  A mixed bag here, but you can find Lucy and Dr. Who on this channel.

KNMT-TV (various channels) Local religious programming

32.2 ANT TV It’s a reference to TV antennas not bugs. You’ll find sitcoms and Carson reruns here.

32.3 This TV Catch movies, mostly from the 90’s it seems, on this channel.

36.3 Hope TV  Nothing but a sad, black screen of despair.

46.1 KGWZ  I’m not sure what’s going on here but when I tuned it was a static shot the Portland city skyline.

47.3 Grit TV  Real manly programming is featured here. There’s plenty of cops and cowboys.

49.2 Escape  Another station devoted to airing detective, investigator and Dateline type shows.

Digital hash is a sign of weakness.

Digital hash is a sign of weakness.

Pole Art 2

Anonymous artists are at work adding pizazz to mundane telephone and electrical poles. These adornments are sometimes subtle and unnoticeable. There is a fine line between Pole Art and Pole Decoration. If a pole is decorated in an artistic way then surely it should be elevated to Pole Art status. It’s as if a committee of scholars and experts is needed to conference at a Holiday Inn somewhere next to an airport to make Pole Art status determinations and establish Pole Art guidelines.


Strands of clear tape slapped on a pole dance in a breeze. Poles become small scale bill boards for a variety of expression. Eventually whatever use the tape served morphed into weathered abstract sculpture.

Some pole artists take it upon themselves to spray paint directly on to the pole.


This redundant replication of the speed limit seems to over emphasize the need to slow down.


Spray paint creates half-assed designs resembling bananas that, at least in the past, could be seen being unloaded on Swan Island below. Pole Art can and will imitate life at times.


Electrical looking crap, for lack of a better word, left on a pole on Lombard St. can look artistic in its own right. Giving it the old black and white will help it to resemble art.

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Black and white photography is key to making pole decor artistic.


Pole step hangings have a sub genre feel in the Pole Art movement being more decoration than true art. It is an easy way to spice up a pole. All it takes is the right object to hang. The Pole Art Definition Committee will spend many days and possibly nights in the hotel bar perfecting the exact language necessary to distinguish Pole Art from Pole Step Art.


I am curious about who gets inspired to hang Pole Step Art. The question isn’t necessarily “why” so much as “why not?” Is it one neighbor doing all the hanging or is it contagious in the neighborhood in that cliched “Keeping Up With the Joneses” way? Is it all about finding the perfect hangable object that would look exactly right on a pole step rather than inside a house on a wall? Only the neighbors on N. Dana Ave. know for sure.

Would you believe there’s enough Pole Art documentation for a sequel to this blog post? Sorry to cut you off from this fascinating Pole Art world and send you back to reality. We’ll give it a rest but you can bet that someday you will barely be able to believe your eyes when you’re reading a blog post entitled Pole Art 3.

In the meantime I hope this Portland Orbit Report on Pole Art will suffice. Click here:


What Went Wrong

I broke my arm on June 22 along with my collarbone. It was gory enough to keep me sidelined from blogging and whatever else I would have been able to do this summer. The arm break required surgery in early July which seemed to go well. I slept through it. The collarbone, well there is nothing that can be done besides let it heal itself. New bone forms to connect the collar bone to wherever it ended up. I found out from a friend that’s called remodeling.**

Not that grate!

Not that grate!

On a new bike heading down the hills of Tewilliger Blvd around the VA hospital, I clipped the edge of a sewer grate in the bike route. I was trying to get around it but I didn’t make it. I went head first into the asphalt managing to turn my head in time to bear the brunt of the fall on my shoulder. My numb, dead left arm and a knot on my collarbone were the result.

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The kid is all right.

After the crash, I got up and wanted to be all right but I but I’m no Chuck Norris. There had been no cars or joggers around when it happened but then a line of cars materialized, slowed down and a driver spotted me hunched over sitting next to my bike. He could tell I needed help. I confirmed this. “I need to go to urgent care,” I said looking up at him. This stranger, who later became known as Scott, was willing and able, with a bike rack on his car, to take me and the bike.

The bike was fine. We had to take the wheel off to get it home.

The bike was fine. We had to take the wheel off to get it home.

Scott was one of many people who have helped me along the way to recovery. Whether it’s been doctors, nurses, X-Ray technicians, occupational therapists, friends offering encouragement and food, calls from my parents and brothers or other family members delivering jelly beans, the attention has been humbling. An accident with a two to three month recovery time is a drop in the bucket compared to other accidents I read about: A bicyclist in a head on crash with a car that ended up in a coma and Bono from U2 whose bike accident in Central Park required two surgeries. He also sustained eye socket damage (glasses failure?) and a mucked up finger that might threaten his guitar playing abilities.


Nothing calms pre surgery nerves like gift shop displays.

View from my hospital room, seeing the flag was much appreciated.

View from my hospital room, seeing the flag inspired me.

The accident taught me that I should never have taken for granted a fully functioning left arm and collarbone, whatever a collarbone actually does. I had a faint memory of reading about the dangers of grates. Now I was living proof. Here’s a bit of advice I figured out after the pain killer fog lifted. If you’re flipping on your bike make it a full flip.

Recently I unearthed the manual from my new bike. It was covered with warning signs and urgent pleas to read it before riding the bike which I neglected to do. It had me recalling that profane acronym RTFM. I’m not sure it if it mentions bike flips or sewer grate hazards. It might be time for me to contribute a chapter.

**Shout out to Mike Blau, who I thought could have been pulling my leg about my collarbone remodeling. (Too much kitchen remodeling on the brain.) I’ve yet to research it but since he’s practically a Rocket Scientist, I’m sure he knows his stuff.

Back next week with the long awaited follow up to my Pole Art piece.


Jelly beans having healing properties.


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:

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:

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] 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:


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:

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.


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