Billbored

I’m a compulsive reader. I’ve admitted that before and there’s probably nothing wrong with it. Lately I’ve found my dwindling attention span has kept me from having an interest in long form publications like books which make billboards perfect reading material. They’re set up to be attention grabbing with big lettering and simple concepts. I’ve read them all, the ones I’ve seen anyway. When I started to notice billboards together with signs that combined to form either a condtradictory message or a theme, I realized I had a concept for a blog post.

The Spark

This is not John Wayne in a movie!

A couple of springs ago, I noticed a coincidental placement of John Wayne’s cowboy claded head peering over the Bison Coffeehouse in the Cully neighborhood, which I have since learned is the only Native American owned coffee shop in the Portland area. It put the idea in my head a long time ago about odd billboard placement that could combine with either other billboards or businesses to form unintended statements or a clash of cultures imagery.

Vice Corner

Time to get busy.

Above the building that houses the Arbor Lodge coffee shop and Revolver bike shop sits a billboard duo that, I’ll admit can be challenging to photograph. I didn’t let it stop me when I spotted two signs together promoting vices, albeit legal ones. There’s an exponential power telling us get high and gamble. Years ago these vices would have been found under more shadowy circumstances, now there’s open encouragement. Whether it’s wise to do both at the same time, well, that’s beyond my comprehension.

Beer & Bar

It’s Miller time.

There doesn’t seem anything more appropriate than a billboard advertising beer outside a bar besides maybe an advertisement for a DUI attorney, but that would be tacky, wouldn’t it? Seeing the brand of beer that seemed antithetical to the type of beer sold in most Portland bars had me gearing up for a rare occurrence in my line of blog work–the investigative phone call. It wasn’t until I hoofed it up the street early one evening to take a picture of the Lombard Pub, formerly the Foggy Notion, that I saw the banner sign calling attention to the Miller beer special. Art is reflecting life and there’s truth in that advertising—almost all is right with the universe.

Is it special enough?

Pushin’

Pick your poison.

This billboard jumped out at me the second time I drove past it. The man in the picture is the image of health and vitality that is either proof that the tanning product works exceptionally well or that this gentleman/model/push up performer doesn’t need the product at all!

Jesus & Tequila

Do I have to decide?

These two advertisements appreared to represent a kind of fork in the road made all the more momentous by what appears to be a halo of golden clouds. I imagine this image as a kind of sign from heaven or an enticement from the underworld. Beelzebub will be your bartender tonight! Pardon the melodrama, but this billboard grouping seems to create the choice of either going to the liquor store or straight to church. In my mind it’s not possible to balance the two although Jesus was more likely to turn water into wine than to preach temperance.

Next: The first in an epic series of Kingsmen/”Louie Louie” related posts.

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Air

View from a meeting room.

In my professional video production days I was paid to go to public forums and government meetings. Sometimes you have to do things when there’s no payday involved. On Tuesday, March 7, North Portland community members gathered in a conference room at the Red Lion Inn  for a meeting that concerned a permit for an oil recycling business on Hayden island called American Petroleum Environmental Services or APES for short. It was inevitable that we would make an effort to find out more about area air quality issues since we had been encountering an ongoing chemical odor in our Kenton neighborhood since the days we first moved in eight years ago. I lived with it and listened to the complaints. My running joke was about how sometimes, when the wind was right, we were treated to the scent of cookies from the nearby snack factory. More often the air has been filled with the byproducts of the industrial goings on that lie between the Columbia slough and businesses along Columbia Blvd. The Sunday morning before the meeting, my wife Ronna, had been watching videos about air issues in our vicinity. One showed an infrared image of a smoke stack with waves and bubbles could only represent insane toxins spewing into out atmosphere. The image cried out for some industrial music in the vein of Tone Ghosting in the background. It was scary visualizing what’s going into the air knowing I’d been breathing and smelling that. There were also videos of a woman talking about the situation in the manner of a fireside chat detailing the work of her North Harbor Neighbors group and their concerns with the performance of the State’s Department of Environmental Quality.

In order to set the record straight I thought I’d borrow from the meeting invite posted on Facebook:


Since the public forum, in a general sense, was about air. It had me thinking about the Talking Heads song of the same name. Air has a science fiction feel to the lyrics and the music seems modern and electronic. The overall feeling is someone voicing struggles in a world gone wrong. The narrator says to himself:

What is happening to my skin?
Where is the protection I needed?
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people never had experience with…
Air…Air

Even when I first heard this song I thought it was a strange topic. I wasn’t sure why someone needed to write a song about air. Talking Head’s singer and songwriter David Bryne has probably never been to Hayden Island. Clear, pollution free air to breath is not something to overlook and even though it’s a strange song subject the reality of polluted air is alarming. It’s worse to smell it and suffer health complications as a result.

The forum gave citizens an opportunity to question DEQ employees and make comments. I wanted to see some government employees taken to task. Any of us would be yelled at by our bosses if we did what these employees did or in this case didn’t do. The moderator was a former high school teacher who presented meeting guidelines in a way that meant he had experience with keeping people in line. His list was meant to prevent the meeting from devolving into chaos or a public flogging. Attendees were encouraged to raise thumbs up or down when reacting to people’s comments which made for a lively and less disruptive participation tool.

The meeting began with questions. Those wanting to ask were given a numbered piece of paper. Mixed in with the questions were asides like:

“I’ve been breathing this crap for two years now and it’ll all poison.”

“This is people’s lives.”

“What’s going in the air?”

“We all get a little riled up about this.”

Some questions revealed that knowledgeable people were familiar with technical aspects of the situation. Hearing about a thermal oxidizer and the company being accused of being a title 5 pollutor, which is scary regardless of what kind of scale we’re talking about, were concepts over my head so I was glad to know some people knew what was going on. It was revealed that there was a tank containing PCBs on the site. I’m not sure what a PCB is but I’ve heard it’s bad stuff. How can anyone be cavalier about carcinogens? The real reporters stood on the sidelines looking bored and waiting for their chance to do their TV work. Things were heating up for me when I realized I have to live with this, or maybe die from it.

It occurred to me that I was onto a hot story although it’s taken me weeks to sort it out. I was hearing things like the DEQ wasn’t testing for all possible contaminates and that a regulatory overhaul wasn’t supposed to happen until next year. Given the circumstances, the pace of the state’s efforts seemed glacial.

Rally ’round the flag!

When Mary Lou Putnam spoke she seemed like a star to me. I had seen her videos and her discussions of what was feeling like a crisis. She pointed out that people were losing trust in government employees. Her question involved when the DEQ was going to do emission testing on the stack. Tied into that had been thoughts on full spectrum testing and 24/7 monitoring.

The DEQ point of view.

Answers were being provided by a DEQ employee with rolled up sleeves. He seemed diplomatic and careful, I’m not implying that he didn’t care but what effort he was making didn’t seem like it could be enough. Even his explanation of a one time testing process that took three hours seemed woefully inadequate. Another DEQ employee explained, “I’m committed to telling you the truth even if it’s something you don’t want to hear.” It occurred to me that people already knew the worst and they seemed like a bunch who could handle the truth.

I liked how an older generation of people felt like tribal elders, with apologies to any actual tribal elders, as they began to skirt the ground rules. There were grumblings and discontented reactions. They were fighting for us. Somewhere in all the questioning an attendee suggested that a grand jury should be impaneled. There were murmured chants of, “shut ’em down.” It felt like they had the authority to tell the state employees what was right. They could have easily blown off the meeting, given up and stayed home with their windows shut, but they didn’t.

Cornerstones of meetings: Notes, Site photos, Timer, Hand outs

Our Kenton neighborhood star Steven Glickman offered to pay for a permit to get a monitor to put on the stack. He had been the first to ask a question and later in the meeting the first to make a comment. He must have gotten there early. I felt lucky to have people with scientific knowledge challenging the DEQ representatives. It held them more accountable and didn’t allow them to hoodwink the audience with circuitous mumbo jumbo. The state was accused of not monitoring “this stuff” because it’s bad for business. One questioner made the point that the DEQ employees feared corporations more than the taxpayers. An insider to the oil recycling business offered up what felt like whistle blower details when he mentioned that he knew workers who left the industry due to fears of getting cancer. It had me hoping that Erin Brockovich was going to walk through the meeting room doors.

I learned that there was a network of groups, coalitions and advisory committees that met and were working for cleaner air often on a voluntary basis. It occurred to me that that anyone who might be partying or playing banjos or even working multiple jobs all while breathing nasty air, well, more power to them, but it’s made me appreciate the people taking their to time to make the effort to clean up out air and bring awareness to the state employees failings. In the end there was talk of more hearings and draft permits that all seemed to amount to government workers working overtime.

Homemade signs fastened with painter’s tape

 

Local coverage:

http://katu.com/news/local/hayden-island-residents-face-off-with-deq-over-air-quality-concerns

Good job Lincoln!

A Pi(e) Day Hangover





Pi Day is really supposed to be about math as I learned from The News Hour. Yet there is no reason it can’t be about pizza pie or a slice of pie. Why not? Bloggers make their own rules. I first had to find out if I could get a free piece of pie. I was looking all over for the word about Shari’s pie special on their website. Since I was looking on a Wednesday which is supposed to be the day of the pie giveaway, also the day after Pi Day, I was expecting visual website fireworks or a blaring proclamation on the site about the promotion that’s supposed to be held every Wednesday. It could have been hidden in plain sight. I’d heard the advertisement enough times on the radio over the years that it became part of my informal Oregon bucket list. Still I needed confirmation. I placed a call to a random Shari’s to ask if the pie special was still happening. I began to feel like I was losing my phone skills. I could barely hear the person on the other end and I discovered that I have developed a phone tick that involves bumping my head into the number screen causing a long beeping tone to occur. I was incompetent until I got the word that the free pie day was going strong as it has for eons on Wednesdays at Shari’s. Customers get one free slice of pie after 4pm with the purchase of an dinner entree.

I went to the restaurant that afternoon. Without seeing a wait to be seated sign, I chose a two person booth next to a wall that separated the kitchen from the dining area where I could hear workers talking. I was entertained by random discussions. “Did you see my ride?” Which was met by a response of, “Did you see my ride?” The latter ride turned out to be a black truck. There was also assorted business related talk about people’s orders. Maybe I’m too cranky, anxious, uptight or all of the above but these feelings were welling up because I was being ignored. I had no time to waste and I wanted to get into my celebration of Pi(e) Day. I was 24 hours late.

At Shari’s I was being auditorily assaulted by bland rock, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow and even “Dust in the Wind” which felt overbearing as a pie eating soundtrack. When I was spotted, my waitress informed me, in a cheerful way, that I had snuck in. I learned that it’s a bad idea to sneak into a Shari’s when you actually want to be seen there, at least by the wait staff. With menu in hand, I began the process of selecting an entree to earn my free pie prize. Then it occurred to me that with the Orbit expense account being nonexistent ordering a $3.49 slice of Chocolate Dream pie and a cup of coffee would be more economical than the cost of an entree that included free pie.

The pie pictures on the website were gorgeous, dessert porn in brilliant lighting. The menu photographs were equally enticing. The actual pie looked appetizing, perhaps not so photogenic but it included a chocolate sauce plate splash like the menu photo. The coffee order arrived in a personal carafe with individual vanilla creamers which I decided could make any coffee taste good. There was a possible lipstick stain on the mug but somehow seemed to add to  the ambience.

The pressure was on. This slice represented all that would be celebrated by me for Pi(e) Day. I knew I was going to have to describe the pie, at least the first bite. I was writing, and adding sugar to my coffee while the pie sat there. I wrote some more and was getting nervous like I was going to be caught in blog mode and kicked out of the restaurant like real journalists were getting kicked out of Donald Trump press conferences. I was putting off the first bite. It wasn’t there to pose for a photo. It was there to be eaten. The other procrastination factor was once it was gone there be no more pie and I knew I’d be sad.  The pie was becoming part of the decor. A Paul Simon song energized the dining room as an older couple shuffled by. Shuffling would be the expected result of eating an entree and a piece of pie. To avoid arousing suspicion, I needed to eat the pie slice. Restaurant critics must give themselves away by measuring, sniffing at their uneaten food and scribbling furiously. The first bite was worth the wait. So light, so creamy, I pressed down to get through the crust. Cream pies are more light on pie, but what I was really after was chocolate.

All around me pie questions were being slung at patrons. Al, who was sitting at the counter reading a newspaper seemed like a regular because everyone called him Al, was asked if he was ready for his free slice of pie. Soon after a couple was asked, “Are you ready for pie?” Then I overheard, “Do you know what kind of pie you want?” Shari’s is about pie. It’s on the sign. I considered a bold plan about showing up on pie day and inquiring about unclaimed slices.  Minutes later it was revealed that those too stuffed from their meals were presented with their pie slices in a white bag to take home. My brilliant idea seemed foiled, but my mood lightened as I poured my third cup of coffee from my personal carafe and a cowbell soul song came on.

As I sat in the restaurant I overheard the specifics of the pie special. Classic pie slices were free while gourmet slices cost one dollar. My selection had fallen into the classic category so it would have been free had I felt richer. The classics were more of the crusty and berry variety like Peach Perfection, Strawberry Rubarb Delight and Oregon Marrionberry. That Sour Cream Lemon or Key Lime would have set me back a buck. Of course you pay extra for gourmet. I was in awe of Shari’s having won pie awards from the American Pie Council. The menu was dotted with 2016 blue ribbons. The numbers were impressive: 14 blue ribbons in 2016 and more than 35 over the past six years. From the menu I read about Shari’s  World Famous Pie Shake. I’m not in position to travel the world to find out if that claim is really true but the concept was amazing. I made plans to return for Milk Shake Day.

When there was nothing left to scrape off I was tempted to lick my plate.

 

This post was not meant as an extended yelp review or product endorsement only as a last ditch effort to celebrate Pi(e) Day. Tune in next time when the subject of Air Pollution is tackled. 

 

Please (Parking Hassles)

People around here are often polite when offering instructions about certain parking situations. In a couple of signs I’ve seen, please is the lead word and it reminds me that people continue to display good manners.

please-parking-hassles

please-parking-hassles-2

I remember seeing this sign in a neighborhood around Benson High School and being perplexed for a moment about what needed to be pulled forward. The sign? The tree? I suppose it became obvious when I considered that the tree was along the curb and that back bumpers stick out and block driveways. The sign hangs dainty and delicate from the string, but commands your attention. There’s something in the power of block letters and a pleasant font.

please-parking-hassles-3

This sign, spotted by the Pioneer School, seems wordy. It’s the kind of sign one passes then wonders about. “What’d that sign say?” Even slowing to a crawl, I’m sure most drivers are focused on carefully parking the car, not reading.

The block letters are bold:

PLEASE
DO NOT PARK
BEYOND THIS POLE.

IT MAKES IT UNSAFE
AND DIFFICULT TO
BACK OUT/PULL IN
TO MY DRIVEWAY.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR
COOPERATION

Sure you’re going to cooperate if you bother to read the sign. What kind of person would you be if you didn’t? I read all signs, and I hope other people pay attention to them not to mention whether or not they’re blocking someone’s driveway. Also, that pole is an excellent boundary marker.  Anything beyond the pole is out of bounds.  I’m not critical of the message in any way. It seems perfectly reasonable.

please-parking-hassles-4

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On the other hand, I’m sometimes struck by the lengths some signs will go to. Sign makers find reminders of common courtesy necessary at times, and some parse the biblical commandments. There’s not a hint of the word please from this sign spotted in the parking lot of a defunct cluster of stores across from the Tamale Boy restaurant on Dekum St. Bossy, pushy, blaring out it’s “NO” in red ink, the parking lot had a long list of prohibitions as if to discourage people from doing anything but parking in the lot. I’m not sure why anyone needs to be reminded not to engage in any “indecent exposur” in a parking lot. And thanks for letting me play music, just not loud music. (You could have included a volume number.) I don’t like rules in my parking lots. There are no rules or even suggestions necessary for me. When I park my car, I’m there to stop driving.  I’m there to get out, do some shopping, get back into the car and get out of the parking lot. I would rather loiter and do other things from the list of activities in any other place than a parking lot.

If I had a parking lot, there would be no rules allowed except maybe that there shall be no rules or rules signs. Thou shalt post no bills is my commandment!

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What I really need to do is reread that last part of that sign, slow down and not get riled up about dumb signs in parking lots.