Outside Art


When I see Outside Art I admire it. I do wonder why people display it outside. Outside Art tends to look discarded unless it’s hung properly. There are fancy pieces, oil paintings that look valuable yet they are in the elements as if the weathering process is part of the artistic process. It reflects the impermanence of our material world while not being so obvious about making such a statement. There’s something to appreciate about art being displayed in an unusual way outside the typical art gallery or walls of a home.

Octopuses Garden

Octopus’s Garden

I asked Jeff Dodge about the Outside Art he has on a fence tucked away in a corner of his backyard and surprisingly, he had no real story. The way he described it, it felt like it had always just kind of been there. He was pretty sure it came with the house. There it hangs an unobtrusive dash of art in a shadowy section of a backyard.

Can anyone find the bridge?

Can anyone find the bridge?

Detail, Outside Art

Detail, Outside Art

In the Woodlawn neighborhood I saw this piece on a shed. In the upper photo the piece fits in well with the truck, trash can and recycling bin making these elements more homey. People must respect the art. Up until the point I took photos, no one had stolen the painting. The subject matter captures a bridge to nowhere scenario which feels like a fitting theme for Outside Art, an outdoor scene that remains open ended and mysterious.

Subject matter clouded by distance.

Subject matter clouded by distance.

Nice day for a bike painting.

Nice day for a bike painting.

Another nice fit for this spot between North Williams and Vancouver is this energetic portrayal of outdoor bike riding. It might make more sense if the building is affiliated with a bike shop which I think it is. It’s in a combination Leroy Neiman, Jackson Pollock style. All right, so I’m proving that I know nothing about art when I break out random names. At least I didn’t say Bob Ross. The painting is also appropriate with its location being in a heavily traveled bike corridor. There might be something to Outdoor Art gravitating to an outdoor theme if only on a subconscious level.

Not bugging me.

Not bugging me.

Bugs are perfect subjects or, in this case, specimens of Outdoor Art. This one on Mississippi Ave gets bonus points for being a kind of three dimensional piece complete with a tile frame and some additional tile pieces. It looks like the art is cemented into the building making theft impossible. An art hater or thief would have to use a chisel. It’s a handsome bug too, more arty than creepy.

What is it about this recurring theme about art theft? I’m really not sure but having watched TV shows and movies about it has planted the idea in my brain. Art works that might be easy pickens may not be the type of art that fetch high prices in the underground art market and art thieves hanging stolen art on their walls are reminded of their crime every time they see it.

Color My World

Color My World

One nice thing about Outside Art is the freedom it has to spruce up dreary spaces. Behind Cup coffee shop in North Portland and beyond a graffiti splashed fence hangs a piece of Outdoor Art on a shed. It’s bright background highlights a stenciled, business suited man from another era. My first out of date reference was Hugh Beaumont, but Don Draper will work. He doesn’t have to do much besides look over the fence and be pleasant while standing in front of a sunny backdrop. He appears to be a good listener if that stuff that look like butterflies is going into his ears instead of heading out. The coffee ring stains are a nice touch.

Join the party!

Join the party!

Some art is left outside for varying lengths of time either for display purposes or perhaps it’s part of a curing process. More proof that I may not know as much as I think I do about art. I mean curing process? This painting was placed on a porch by a neighbor and it accentuates the already outstanding taste in exterior design. The theme of the painting mimics the flesh and bone themes used in the porch decor.

Sidewall, sidewalk Art

Sidewall, sidewalk Art

This piece, propped up against an auto body shop in Kenton, has an industrial look to it. Besides that there’s no story I know as to who left it behind or created it. The rust factor in this abstract piece is perfect for it’s outside nature but it looks abandoned. It’s hard to tell how long this synthesis of industrial art loitering outside an industrial workplace will last. Every once in a while an example of Outside Art makes the sad transition to discarded art.

Exotic Defacement


When an official looking green sign caught my eye, I decided to walk the dog over and have a look. It was a public notice taped to a side wall of a of a dormant building, home to a small and former, nondescript auto repair shop. I thought notices were usually orange but this one, regarding a Marijuana Regulatory License, made its green color all the more appropriate. Finding out about another pot shop moving into the neighborhood is not the story here. The more the merrier, I guess. Even a marijuana dispensary taking over a potentially contaminated auto shop is not reason enough to call the EPA. What would be the point?


On my way over to read the public notice I took a picture of a poster on a utility pole. There were messages scrawled on it and a splash of red ink that looked like an anarchy symbol. It was getting dark when I photographed the poster so I didn’t look at the image until the next morning. That’s when I made the discovery: Someone had it out for the Exotic Ball.

Poster torn!

Poster torn!

I remembered that I had seen similar posters torn down. My theory was someone was defaming while someone else didn’t like the defamation or was offended by the poster. These assumptions flooded my mind as I traveled by Max train and bus to work on a rainy morning. My questions were: Why take anything out on a poster? What has it done to anyone besides try to look foxy and do a bit of advertising? If you need a platform for your political message why use someone else’s sign? You don’t jack someone else’s poster. In the name of free speech people should be able to display ads without reprisal by those who might be offended. The best theory I’d considered revolved around a loner who couldn’t get a date to take to the Exotic Ball. It’s like an R rated Stalker/Cinderella plot. Someone type up that screenplay right away!


Let’s consider this defamation. First there’s an awful lot of gobbledy gook obscuring the image of two ladies, with fantastic taste in foot wear, perhaps in a bathroom, an image of how wild things get even in the restrooms of the Exotic Ball. Then we see 666, I mean really if the devil doesn’t go to the Exotic Ball who the hell does? Or who admits to it, anyway? Also, I’m wondering about Hot Shot and Lord Pound.


While riding home that day after work, I realized the poster had nothing to do with the Exotic Ball because it doesn’t exist. I had confused exotic with erotic, easy to do when the words are one letter different. This post is becoming one of those elderly hard of hearing jokes. It’s the Erotic Ball that’s held at varying times each year at the Crystal Ballroom. My assumption was that it’s held in February but there probably is already enough romance that month. I remember being at a Crystal Ballroom event and getting an unsolicited earful and an over informative report about the experiences of one participant. There was one specific clue from the poster that had me taking a long, slow fall from my jump to conclusions and embarrassing myself while dealing with the realization that I had just written my first piece of fake news.


It hit me, the medium is the message. The interpretation is anyone’s guess. I can see Marshall McLuhan from that scene in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall but now he’s talking directly to me. “You know nothing of my work,” he says.


The women in the defaced poster were Exotic pinups from a magazine that’s distributed from various area strip clubs. I went from defending the Erotic Ball to dealing with something that became weird and possibly not in the realm of upbeat, positive Portland sanctioned weirdness. This was an attack on pin up photography which included prankish and juvenile Satanism. I characterize it that way because the easiest way to shock people is to reference Satan. I understood what made people want to tear it down. There’s a Satanism bias that occurs when people see the number 666. I tend to laugh these things off but there’s a disturbing element to all of this. A perfectly good Exotic pin up poster was trashed multiple times.

Reaping wind!

Reaping wind!

Now I have to ask myself, or maybe the world, a series of different questions that may never be answered. Who designs posters by scrawling over Exotic Pinup February 2017? What is the message? Who tore the posters off the other utility poles? Did the devil make anybody do any of this? What’s the point of including an illegible (uh oh, legible on another poster) email address? Who would I be emailing and what would be said? Something like: I’m an admirer of your illegible, satanic, insanity, perhaps? I have no answers at this time but I’m only half as confused as I was when I started this blog post.

Auto Message


It can be a nice life if you’re easily entertained as I am. If something out of the ordinary catches my eye I want to document it. This compulsion has grown since I’ve had pages of a blog to fill. I was attracted to the handwritten and homemade feel of these messages that I spotted on cars and in car windows. I appreciate people’s needs to communicate especially by way of automobiles which have the potential to be roving bulletin boards.

Honkies Stop!


If the first part is too faint to read it says:

Do not beep your horn to make me go faster. These roads are for walkers, bikers; the old and the young.

I do believe there’s a semi-colon in the message written in marker directly on the car. Or, is it a stray random dot above that comma? The poor sad semi-colon feels like a dying breed in the punctuation world. A message could get lost due to over analysis. No matter – the message is clear. Is it possible that some of the honkers are people still mad about past elections? Since the message is fading it’s harder for people to read the driver’s anti-honking proclamation.


Rage in the Machine

This statement is bolder and may be easier to see in a traffic jam. Visibility is hard to gauge since I have not had the pleasure of seeing this sign bring its message to where it’s needed the most: to the people stuck in that traffic. I use the word pleasure because I know I need a good laugh and reading material, ideally a combination of the two, when I’m stuck, ass-deep in bumpers and car exhaust and I’m not going anywhere for awhile.

I’m trying desperately not to acknowledge the typo in this message just as I would hope my audience would not throw the errors in this blog back in my face. No one has ever gotten mad enough or made any signs that I have seen about the traffic engineers who designed our roads and created this stasis induced road rage leading to nightmares about a traffic system. These folks seem never to have anticipates an influx of traffic year after year. I suppose that message is too complicated to express on a sign taped to the inside of a back window.

Driving Blind


You have to love this simple, yet effective and humorous sign. It’s a great depiction of a nervous dog. It’s hard to imagine how anyone gets a nervous dog to pose for a picture but here’s proof that it can be done. The message about a seeing eye dog insinuates that the student driver is sight impaired. Is that even safe?  To top it all off the sign is unceremoniously taped to the window with wide gaudy yellow tape. Nice touch. Who put the sign on the vehicle the dog or the blind driver?



Buddy Holly Lives On


This graffiti has been a fixture in the Kenton neighborhood for years. It can be found on a building that looks more commercial than residential but it does not appear to be a business. The first time I saw it I considered old Buddy Holly and I agreed. He lives. Holly died young on that fateful early February night fifty-eight years ago and left a lasting legacy. This is a tale of graffiti with a few revisions. The original wasn’t something I bothered to document. Fortunately neighborhood instagrammer and raconteur, Graham Marks, had taken a picture. “Buddy Holly Lives,” it said until someone added the word “on.” Now Buddy Holly Lives on.


In the time I spent working in a group home I had a routine with one of the clients.  We played music while I helped him get dressed for work. We wore out his slim cd collection. Then I discovered the weirdly reasonable selection of cds for sale at Rite Aid. There was a cd of Bruce Springsteen demos, some Dylan, Aerosmith, Willie Nelson and Meat Loaf.  We passed on his greatest hits as too bombastic for a group home. When I saw a Buddy Holly cd it was my client’s era and gave me a chance to get past the hiccuped hits and delve deep into his discography. Weeks after that shopping excursion a Rite Aid employee oddly enough was trying to push a Buddy Holly recording on me. I may have been standing near the cd section. I fought off any need to discuss my interactions with Buddy Holly’s back catalogue. I was avoiding “mansplaining” before I even knew that was a thing. The idea of having a cultural interaction with someone at a drugstore, however brief, was something I appreciated though.


Sometime later, an infinity sign was added to the Buddy Holly memorial wall. Someone must have felt this was necessary. Perhaps it was a certain Rite Aid employee. I would like to think that Holly’s music will be appreciated as long as recorded music exists. Infinity, I don’t know about. That’s forever. We still kind of remember Virgil the Poet although I’m not sure he had any “Top XL” hits. I’d like to imagine someone will be googling Holly two thousand years from now.

Buddy Holly was an iconoclast who won’t be forgotten soon. His death being referred to as “the day the music died” is proof of his impact on rock music history and his influence on The Beatles is also notable. Sadly he didn’t make the cut on that gold plated disc NASA sent into space. Chuck Berry somehow seemed like a better representative of early rock. He missed out on an intergalactic audience but there’s bound to be a bronze statue in Lubbock. And here in Kenton a spray painted slogan reminds the world not to forget the spirit of Buddy Holly.


Have a gander at Graham Mark’s instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/geemarks/

Next week’s message will be an Auto Message. 


Art Racks 2

Art Rack Logo

Decorative bike racks or what I like to call Art Racks are all over the place. It’s a safe bet that most people have seen these, but I’m hoping I’m presenting a couple that are new to the Art Rack game or others that are more out of the public eye and not over-exposed. At the very least I hope my pithy commentary adds a deeper dimension to these dedicated pieces of art serving double duty as bike racks.

Product Placement

I caught a glimpse of this bike rack on a day when the eBike store on N. Rosa Parks was closed. It made more sense. If it had been surrounded by bikes, the cord may have been obscured. While it reminds me of one of my tangled electrical cords at home, this rack is well looped to secure bikes and it sports a giant, well balanced plug, a nice sculptural element that feels like a visual pun on the store’s electric bike product. Buy an eBike and unplug! (So you can ride it!)


How appetizing is a half eaten donut? Is it more appetizing than a half eaten donut bike rack? It reminds me of the best way to eat donuts–two bites. The first, a test bite, then down goes the rest. There seems to be an overly sweet intensity to considering a giant pink parking place,  donut-eating-wise – appealing to the eye, appalling to the stomach.

Bikes Seeking Bikes

A condo building on North Williams was designed with every detail imaginable taken under consideration. Whether it was an after thought or a decision debated in multiple meetings, (we’ll probably never know) these bicycle-looking bike racks were included in the project. Streamlined, functional, elegant.  That covers the categories essential to condo bike racks. The inescapable feeling that the racks are either cliché or ironic is best left on the boardroom table. No further meetings are scheduled.


While on N Albina Ave, I spotted this ingenious rack that includes bike parts. In the photo it is difficult to see where the rack starts and the real bike ends. This camouflage might mean the bike rack will soon be stolen.

To Rack or Not to Rack

I may be going out on a limb assuming this NW located sculpture is a bike rack. It could serve double duty as a bike rack and sculptural name of the company working out of the building. The internal debate would go something like this: Is it a sign or a bike rack? Then I’d work in some logic. If I can lock my bike to it then it’s a bike rack. This works with railings and fences too unless someone posts a sign like this:


The last consideration has to be about how a bike mars the sign’s look, but at least that’s only on a temporary basis while the bicycle is locked up. Unless your bike and lock somehow damages that shiny painted ironwork finish. It may be worth the risk if you are desperate to enter TOPAZ.


In St Johns this rack takes on the look of a Star Trek insignia. I do feel a “Beam me up Scotty” joke welling up. It’s a bit wonky but it looks well bolted into the concrete and sturdy enough to do the job when you’re in town.

Odd Fellows

I’m not knocking these racks outside of Sparky’s Pizza on MLK and Lombard, when I describe them as buried safety pins. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Also it’s important not to get their various locations mixed up when ordering carry out. The design seems so different. I may even be wrong to assume they are bike racks. They could be related to pizza making process, although I’ve never seen anything related to food preparation going on under the bricks or in the metal tubes in front of a business. I like the look of these and their green color. I can’t attest to the functionality because I’ve never picked up a pizza carry out order while riding a bike.


This rack outside the Odd Fellows on Lombard St. seems more dedicated to topping the rack off with a symbolic design than offering anything more than a slim pole to lock a bike to but that’s an Odd Fellow convention. Would you want it any other way?

Good Night

Nothing spectacular here, but these racks, seen one night in the Clinton St. District, are more eye-catching than your run of the mill bike racks and possibly more functional. With that, this blog post rolls on into the night. May all your biking adventures include time with an art rack.

For more on Art Racks and a couple of additional photos see:

Tune in next week for an Orbit Buddy Holly tribute.

Photographer Doyle Thomas shared a link to his art rack photos if you want to see more: http://www.primaryfocusphoto.com/portfolios/bicycle-racks/



One Night In SLC

You can’t figure any place out in one night but that hasn’t stopped me from taking random guesses and wallowing in conjecture. What I ended up doing was looking for the familiar to fight off feelings of alienation while wandering around downtown Salt Lake City but getting a sense of anywhere takes more time than I had.

The scenery scene on the road to SLC.

The scenery seen on the road to SLC.

After spending the holidays in Colorado, we made our way back to Oregon and stopped in Salt Lake City which was an urban oasis that ended the first day of a two day drive. As recommended we took Highway 6 from Grand Junction and drifted through empty, yet scenic landscapes of hills, rock formations that sometimes grew mountainous and plain old expanses of snow covered terrain. There was a point where I stumbled onto some random Hindi Diwali music on the radio, an oddly perfect soundtrack to my surroundings. As I looked down on a cloud covered valley I had to consider for a moment whether I was driving in heaven. Many hours later, I was spit from the scenery into the five laned concrete morass of Interstate 15 as it ran from from the exurbs and suburbs into downtown Salt Lake City.

I arrived at the hotel, seething with white line fever thinking this couldn’t be good for the composure of the poor kid who was doing the valet parking. Here’s where I made my first generalization based on an interaction with one person: Everyone in Salt Lake City is nice. The valet parker was patient in every way possible no matter how many questions I asked or requests I made. He accommodated me as I made an effort to unpack the car and dog while juggling the needs of the other cars that needed to be parked. This may be more about what I want to believe, that there could be a place where everyone is hardworking, honest and clean cut. I have no idea why that’s a need in my search for a utopia.

Bright lights and medium city.

Bright lights and medium city.

All I wanted was a comfortable bed to hide in. It was New Year’s Day so my expectations for anything to be happening were low. The empty downtown reminded me of Omega Man, a trippy sci-fi movie from the late 60’s. I’m sure my big brother hyped it up so much that it became legendary in my mind. The movie starred Charlton Heston back when he was freaking out making ape movies and before he was so publicly obsessed with guns. In the movie, Heston was one of the sole survivors of some kind of plague and had to roam city streets dodging zombie-like creatures. Despite seeing a parallel in an empty downtown, I had a dog to walk so into the desolate streets I went.

Portland has the orange version.

Portland has the orange version.

The first thing I noticed was wide streets that were laid out in a numbered grid of a kind of Mormon ingenuity and order. I checked out holiday lights on trees and the tops of the buildings. In this downtown old buildings had ornate trim while all tall buildings seemed to have been built by bankers. I stumbled upon a block that had a pub next to a Scottish store with an Italian restaurant a few doors down, the ethnic section of town. It made me think that it might be cheaper to skip the United Kingdom trip and just stay blotto in that Salt Lake City pub while making occasional side trips to the Scottish store. There’s sure to be someone with a brough in there for the sake of authenticity. This is the kind of thinking that explains why I’m not a travel agent.

Plan your SLC/UK vacation around this photo!

Plan your SLC/UK vacation around this photo!

I had just scratched the surface of learning anything about Salt Lake City. I knew they had a Max train system. I saw bike route signs and wondered how bike friendly the city was. I was in the heart of the theater district where there were at least a couple of theaters. On any other night the area might be crawling with hardcore patrons of the arts, the only people who can be lured downtown anymore, but I encounter few people or zombies besides a guy screaming at one of the train stops. I decided not to get too close. Turning a corner I peered into an empty Olive Garden. It seemed sad. It may have been the juxtaposition of the barren restaurant with the lively music that sounded like the Big Night soundtrack blaring from the outside speakers. The hotel was right up the street so we headed back to the room.


A sign of support.

The next morning I decided to walk the dog around the hotel. It had snowed the night before. I was lamenting that my boots were packed away in the valet parked car but the snow was powdery and didn’t cling to my shoes. We turned down a street with coffee shops and a Used and Rare Book Store a sight for sore eyes. There was a guy in a sleeping bag blocking the display window so I couldn’t get a good look at the coffee table book with the picture of 70’s Elvis on it. There was snow to sniff and while the dog focused on that, I found myself disoriented. The blocks were huge and all I wanted to do was to get ready for a long day’s drive and not be lost. The only way to reorient myself was to look up at the buildings, the same ones I had been looking at from the hotel room. I had a sense of where I needed to go when when I recognized an area of town from a previous visit. Then I heard the familiar strains of the big band spaghetti music blasting from outside Olive Garden that led me back to the hotel. The music must have played all night, a soundtrack to the gentle, falling snow.


Fresh air and capital views.

From the confines of the hotel restaurant, I could look out and see a guy shoveling the sidewalk while across the street someone was clearing walkways with a small Cat bulldozer with a plow attachment. The people of Salt Lake City were up early and working hard. We had more miles of slushy driving conditions then we could imagine ahead of ourselves so it was nice to take a few more minutes to catch our breath and have an extra cup of coffee. My brief visit to Salt Lake City produced very little salt, no evidence of a lake and not nearly enough of the city and without a dog to walk even less would have been seen or smelled. I hope this inspires people to take their pets for a visit to Utah’s state capital.

PS I’m not sure anyone besides an outsider like me refers to Salt Lake City as SLC but I was reminded of a movie recently that used this shorthand. For some reason that abbreviation seemed cooler than spelling it out.

We’re back next week with an Art Racks–an Orbit staple!

Snow Daze Indeed

Wind makes a winter wonderland.

Wind makes a winter wonderland.

Portland, Ore. BREAKING NEWS: Heavy snowfall throws local blogger off his publishing schedule.

Anyone who has read the Portland Orbit more than once might be curious as to how snow fits into the theme of the blog. It has no relevance but this particular weather phenomenon has the whole area in a contagious tizzy. There is nothing else anyone can think of other than to consider that we are snowed under. We can’t get anywhere, we can’t work, we can barely think other than to make as quick an effort to adapt to the ways of Eskimos. There is snow day/cold weather sloth to wallow in and the drifting back to memories of childhood snow day anticipation. These memories have become more familiar because I work for the school system.

A cancelled school reminder came early.

A cancelled school reminder came early.

This was a significant snow accumulation event in Portland that began Tuesday night. That weather man phraseology has something to do with watching round the clock news coverage which I now realize is completely optional but, hey, sometimes you get sucked in. We live in an area that can be paralyzed by an inch of snow so imagine twelve times that much. After a while it became obvious that all these live reports added up to one fact: This is a lot of snow and the city is shut down. When the snow started falling it was satisfying to be able to watch traffic camera shots of cars stuck on the highway from our warm and cozy home.

The post blizzard dawn.

The post blizzard dawn.

Unlike Eskimos we only have one word for snow. It’s snow, snow and snow. This is more snow than the last significant snow fall which occurred eight years ago. This means I won’t drop everything to write another blog post like this one until 2025. Portlanders don’t see much snow but this is the third snow event of the past six weeks. I’ve had eight snow days off this winter. There’s not much preparation, no plowing or sanding and recent debates erupted about salting the roads but no salt could even be located to use when this snow storm began. There’s that word. The media has erupted with the use of the storm word. If their isn’t enough snow to cover the grass, which happened last weekend, then it’s hardly a snow storm. That word promotes hysteria and insanely long lines at the grocery store and it keeps us glued to the news allowing for more opportunities to sell us cars and mattresses. I wanted to rant but you have to admit that anytime ice occurs you get an ice storm and then with this situation the snow piled up fast and furious like we’d never seen it and we got a legitimate snow storm.

Snow inspires snowmen.

Snow inspires snow creations.

Our response to the dumping around our household was to bozoing it up and dig ourselves out with a dust pan and a canoe paddle. Okay so we brushed the snow off the cars, got a rudimentary path on the front sidewalk and cleared the driveway for the mailman, the least we could do for the guy. The next day the sky was blue and the sun was doing its best to melt the snow despite cold temperatures. That’s where I leave this story. I now realize how this does relate to this blog. People get creative when they get snowed under. I enjoyed a slide show of exotic snow men, snow creatures and polar bears made out of snow on an episode of AM Northwest. People are not taking as many selfies in order to focus on photographing the beautiful snow scenes. I only spotted one full fledged snowman with terrific hair and a baby carrot nose in my neighborhood. But kids of all ages are taking time to enjoy the snow. There’s also more personal contact that comes when talking to neighbors about fallen tree limbs or passing by the people whose cars may be stuck as well as a chance to spot occasional cross country skiers. I was relaxing, feeling sluggish and thinking that I needed to use my snow days to compose a symphony or some thing when it occurred to me that my favorite four letter word was slot and all I needed to do was add an h to achieve sloth. (Cabin fever has done something to my brain.) I’m okay with trying to enjoy a break. Soon enough I’ll be back to my comfortable rut of gray skies and rainy afternoons. Portland is experiencing winter, not like a Shakespearean winter of discontent so much as real winter with actual snow and cold. It’s nothing to get too excited about it’s just some thing to dig.

Snow. Long shadows. Cigarette ads.

Snow. Long shadows. Cigarette ad.

Back to our regular programming next week with a speculative commentary about Salt Lake City, Utah. 



A Resolution Revolution

When I get time off I want to at least make an attempt to enjoy it. But then I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. There were year end reviews to read and too many worst year ever Facebook comments. Then Will from the Pittsburgh Orbit threw down a challenge to create a New Year’s resolution post.


I’m not one to let Will down and I won’t let my readers down either. That’s my first resolution. I resolve to never disappoint my readers. That becomes all the more important after obtaining a reader or two. It helped to have some writing to do since I was almost out of my mind with cabin fever. Have no pity on me. I was high in the mountains looking at picturesque snow and tall trees with the best group of in-laws anyone could want. I was wary because I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution that I didn’t break minutes after ringing in the New Year. The only notable exception being last year’s experience of giving up coffee for a month which might not have even been a resolution in a true sense.


A porcelain head ponders a new year.

In considering resolutions, my first thought concerned boosting my readership. Recently I  subscribed to a YouTube channel. It was from a kid who posted a video of herself and a friend running around construction sites and sitting in the seats of bulldozers. I subscribed to offer support. If you know you have more viewers maybe you’re going to up the stunts. The next video I watched involved resolutions. Talking directly to the camera, she resolved to get 5,000 subscribers. Now that’s the kind of number I’m talking about. Once you become a blogger you can get completely absorbed in numbers. My stats offer specifics on how many visits I get and how many times each post is read. I even get pin point data on readers in foreign countries. It’s exciting but also a bit weird to see that someone in Ireland or Japan is checking out my blog. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve to attract readers. I resolve to make that effort which has no effect on those who are already dedicated readers but an increased audience will improve my morale.


The author revising the revisions.

If you think I should be resolving to create better content my resolution actually involves finding better readers. That was an attempt at humor that has, no doubt, fallen flat and was not meant as an insult to any current readers. Coming up with ideas to write about has challenges but it’s the easy part. Ideas can be a dime a dozen while ideas that work are pennies on the dollar either way they leave me staring at a blank page. I feel like I just hit a cliche trifecta there! But getting started is the biggest challenge which has me resolving to keeping the unexplored angle on subjects of interest and people who don’t get press. Really, I’m looking for stories that write themselves.

The other resolution I can make and try not to break involves specific subjects I plan to tackle. I’ve always planned to run interviews. In the interest of time, the time it takes to transcribe interviews, I plan to keep Q and A sessions to a minimum of three questions. I figure if you can’t get to the heart of the matter in three questions you might be asking the wrong ones. In the interest of saving even more transcription time I may pioneer the yes or no answer interview. The ideal format for that would be 20 questions.

Along with interviews, I resolve to take on subjects that require more research. I hope to get out of my shell and mix it up with people. There have been more few ideas for my “What’s in a Name” category lately. I’m always curious about how people name things. Probably the only subject I’ve written in this style featured this very blog. I’m telling you the origins of names promises to be fascinating.

My last resolution has to be about a continued search for inspiration. As blogs go, I am always inspired by what the Pittsburgh Orbit covers. We’re in different geographic areas but still end up in a similar galaxy. With this recent time on my hands, I had a chance to read many posts from a blog called Bus75. This covers the Portland area along a TriMet bus line. It was sad to see they were taking a break but the quality of the writing and photography would have been enough to wear anyone out. I also just discovered Parkbench which I have not had time to investigate but the interviews with St. Johns business owners they were running looked interesting. This seems like a good way to get connected to a Portland neighborhood. Somehow I’m thinking that anything inspirational will keep me from writing in a vacuum.


Stand in the place where you are.

2016 became a strange year punctuated by an unexpected, for many, election result. It was also a year of never ending celebrity death that shook people up. I had to take stock in what I have, what I’m doing even where I live. When I stopped to take the picture above I did so because I noticed improvements and improvements in progress in the downtown of my Kenton neighborhood. These are small changes for the better despite feelings of uncertainty. It’s time to resolve to take action and get involved in our communities from a local level on up. Demonstrate, hopefully in a Robert’s Rules of Order way more than a random smashed windows way. The calming rants of the heroic Phil Nunnally have offered me guidance and hope. Hopefully others will find this as well. Also, don’t hesitate to become a frequent reader of the Portland Orbit. 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year and I resolve to contribute as best as I can.


Art box, troll, giant church, red van, ah Pittsburgh.

Need more resolutions that you don’t have to worry about breaking? See the column that inspired this one: www.pittsburghorbit.wordpress.com.




Have a Boozy Holiday?

An alien olive almost captured.

An alien olive almost captured.

Sometime in late November I looked up and saw the lights. I expect to see lights at Christmas time but it was after seven in the morning. The design was making me wonder what statement was being made. I was looking at a giant martini glass strung over three balconies of an ultra modern, boxy housing complex. Little did I know I’d be obsessing over it trying to get the right photo while discovering the limitations of my iPhone camera.

Who makes the declaration, in lights no less, that the way to holiday enjoyment is through giant martinis with olives bigger than water melons? While writing this I imagined the King of Swing (think that character in the movie Boogie Nights with his robe flying open) with exotic mixed drinks and good times on his agenda, remaining sober enough to hang lights before his holiday binge begins.

From what I can tell the lights stay on all day. I see them lit up in the morning and again in the afternoon as I pass through town and the sun is a half hour from setting. I view it with bemusement but I can’t figure out what it has to do with Christmas other than being a design made out of what most people refer to as Christmas lights. It is festive, fun and a subtle advertisment for people to cut loose and guzzle an oversized libation. There’s no mystery about that. It’s a swimming hole sized martini glass on the hill side that borders on being tacky. Of course there’s a pun in there about this being in the “spirits” of the season. Groan, slurp from martini glass, ahhhhh!

Afternoon martini at an angle.

Afternoon martini at an angle.

My effort to get a picture I could use for the blog became my biggest challenge. From the downtown Max stop it was too far away. The distance and lighting conditions in the morning and afternoon made it difficult to capture the true green color of the olive. Let’s face it, that is the nicest touch, otherwise it’s the outline of a glass. The stir stick is another great addition. This is an authentic and huge martini glass so my inability to do it photographic justice frustrated me. I took pictures at the Max stop cropping to produce a never quite right image. I took pictures on the bus as it roared by but that had limitations.

View from a bus with neon everywhere.

View from a bus with neon.

The last ditch attempt was going to be walking to the bus stop closest to the martini hoping the morning light would cooperate enough for a satisfying shot while allowing for the opportunity to get back to the bus stop in time to get to work.

Above a motel, lives a martini.

Above a motel, lives a martini.

On a Monday morning I decided I had 8 to 11 minutes which was plenty of time to get to the next bus stop and get the best picture possible without renting climbing gear. As I approached, the martini glass had the aura of an oasis or maybe a mirage but the pictures prove it’s real. If someone were to climb up the hill and scale the porch they might be rewarded by the King of Swing with an appropriately sized martini or maybe get shot with a foreign made gun of an unusual caliber. I had to cross the tricky intersection of SW 5th and SW Broadway as a car was honking at a bicyclist. There above the motel dead center in my view finder, yet still too high in the sky, was that glass of holiday cheer. The olive was only glowing a slight alien green, details were lost even from that distance. I am happy with my iPhone camera in most circumstances but I also stubbornly refuse to read the manual.

A martini lurks in the morning.

A martini lurks in the morning.

So there you have it folks. If you’re downtown in the PSU area look to the West Hills to see the oversized martini glass. It’s really something in real life. The olive glows a gorgeous green. I could not do it justice, but no photograph could. Kids put down your red solo cups and get classy. Raise a martini glass to this well lit example of good cheer.

Happy Holidays to one and all. Indulge yourselves a little bit, in whatever way you see fit, (giant martinis seem a tad extreme) and the Portland Orbit crew looks forward to seeing you or you seeing our work in the new year!

TriMet Tales, Not the Final Chapter (But it Should Be)

15399019_10211748068883540_1477338520_oPhoto by Becky Hoven

I bore myself with the stories I have about public transportation. It’s not interesting to those who aren’t immersed in bus lines and breaches of etiquette on the train. By condensing my experiences and employing some snappy editing, I’m hoping to provide a thrill ride of a blog post. I been riding TriMet max trains and buses most weekdays since this school year started. Everyday something happens. There’s a mechanical issue or some one acts out in public and it becomes an epic story of what I endure for my commute.

Maybe because I’m spending an hour each way I’m desperate for a little entertainment. I can equate my travels as a kind of living theater although it’s always improvised. The man who fought so gallantly with the transit employee checking for proof of payment and looking over the old ticket stub he’d been handed was one example. “Give me back my bus pass,” the man demanded before pulling down the red emergency flap to open the door only to be chased and caught. I felt the horror of his situation. If someone took my bus pass I wouldn’t have exact change or any money to get on a bus after work.


Real theater occurred the afternoon I was sitting across from two goth guys–a couple. One of the men was on the phone with his mother making plans to meet up with her and trying to help her confront her fears of dealing with the technology needed to navigate the online TriMet system. His frustration was humorous yet identifiable and riveting. There were hang-ups and his partner tried to soothe him. All the while I was thinking about how goth one of the guys was adorned with multiple gothic accoutrements while the guy on the phone only seemed semi-goth. Did I have a problem with the costume designer in this living theater? Maybe.

There’s dramatic intensity when people want a bus ride but have no money. Nobody rides for free and bus drivers enforce this rule. I witnessed a desperate woman trying to get into the hills of South West. It’s like a mountain up there so who would want to make that climb if you could bum a ride? The bus driver showed no sympathy as he drove off without her. Too bad I never have exact change, I could have paid her fare.

The first couple of months on the train I didn’t see any authorities checking for payment. One recent time, the first guy confronted offered up a crumpled piece of paper and some rambles. It took so long a line of people formed and they all got off at the next stop. My assumption was they took advantage of a getaway opportunity.


That’s my beef about the train. Anyone can ride free risking the possibility that they might get caught. There’s no supervision so you get the early morning electric guitar playing guy, unplugged at least and the drunk man, who pulled out a wine bottle and asked me if 2012 was a good year. I was more flipped out by seeing that the cork was floating in the bottle. Another morning there were two different people on either side of the train engaged in monologues. They were amazing from the snippets I heard. There’s a climate that borders on fear of breaking the silence, especially in the morning. People seem to clam up when others are acting badly. No one was willing to do anything about the two men, under blankets that were sleeping and taking up five seats on either side of the car. My reaction get out at the next stop and move to a different car. When I got off the train that morning I looked back through the window and saw the two guys, still asleep, taking up space. I’m not sure who is supposed to police this kind of thing. It may not be a big deal to let people sleep unless you really need a seat that morning.


Taking buses and trains means you get to have run-ins with a regular cast of characters like the guy who wears beige overalls every day. A guy wearing the MC Hammer pants shocked me. It might have been because he was normal from the waist up. I looked down and saw the puffery and the intricate and flamboyant design of the garment. The tapering around the ankles was a give away but not even Hammer would be caught wearing Hammer pants theses day. Most days I appreciate a bit of weirdness and hope for what I call “bus luck.” Bus luck is getting to a train or bus stop as the vehicle is rolling in as opposed to approaching a stop as a ride is pulling away resulting in a 13 to 16 minutes while sitting on a wet bench.


I wrote about Trimet in the past after having minimal public transportation experience. Everything seemed exotic and strange, every experience magnified. Years of being a bike commuter left me little need for buses and trains. Now I have a route all mapped out that works. Despite break downs, weather challenges and the odd behavior to witness the system is pretty good. The effort to try to get so many people where they need to be is ambitious. During rush hour there’s usually a bus or train every 15 minutes with multiple bus routes that can get me in the same general vicinity. And yeah, it probably takes three times as long but at least I’m not driving. I have time to practice karate, play an electric guitar, work on a monologue out loud if I prefer or write my next blog post on my phone with my thumb. I usually keep to myself at the risk of boring anyone.