If you look around you notice things falling apart. It took little effort to discover the rapid deterioration that is happening to the raised dotted yellow rectangles planted in the sidewalks near intersections. Many of these look shabby. Some are strewn with graffiti while others have missing chunks. They take on the appearance of abstract art. It would be difficult to report these conditions to the city because I don’t know what these things are called. I’d like to see them fixed but how do I explain it? It seems crazy to even say out loud, “the yellow rectangles with the raised dots are crumbling.” For starters, I don’t know who to call. It almost makes more sense to accost people on the street. “The yellow rectangles with the raised dots, they are crumbling,” l’d whisper hoping my plight for the rectangles would become contagious.

Knowing that I live in the internet age, the answer is online. As I thought about the search I began to fear what would be revealed, or worse, that I would get information about the specific words instead of the complete phrase. The search for “raised dots on a yellow rectangle” ended up being painless. The promise of the information age came through identifying something I had wondered about for a long time.
These raised dotted yellow rectangles are part of what’s called “Detectable Warning Systems.” It seems obvious that they help people with visual impairments navigate sidewalks. They are component in the braille paving system that can be found in other ways on streets and train platforms.
With this information I realized it would be easier to contact the city and tell them, “Yo, your Detectable Warning Systems are crumbling.” Of course after that it might be necessary to describe what I was talking about, “You know, the yellow, raised dotted rectangles; they need help.”
At one point I was on the street taking a picture of a couple of these “Detectable Warning Systems” for an example of what they looked like when they’re in reasonable condition. A man asked me what I was taking a picture of. He said he was only curious but I couldn’t help him with his curiosity. There were no words to explain what I was doing. If I could have thought straight in the moment it would have been something like, “Ah, I’m trying to blog about things.” I recall muttering not much of anything and wandering away fast.
Taking pictures of Detectable Warning Systems in good condition made me realize that regardless of wear and tear they all end up getting filthy. People put their feet on them.
It’s easy to see why these Detectable Warning Systems are falling apart. They are out in the elements getting walked on, stood on and generally roughed up. I have wondered whether anyone else besides me has noticed this deterioration or has become alarmed by it. It has me considering what other parts of our infrastructure are in disrepair and going unchecked. I want to believe these parts of the sidewalk are maintained on a regular basis and replaced or repaired as needed. It’s a minor thing but it leads me to wonder how anyone can keep up with the onslaught of all the things that are busy falling apart around us. My guess is that a few city employees have the time on their hands to be a part of my vast audience. They’ll get the message.
I’m dealing with a Pacific Northwest winter that’s mild by most standards but what does envelope us is the grayness of it all, the pale, sunless skies that stretch on for weeks shed dim light on grimy streets and now no one’s going to the car wash as the “Wash Me” scrawls accumulate on these dirty vehicles. Meanwhile everywhere I look I see lines of meaningless graffiti or somehow worse bad painted cover up jobs, not to mention misaligned hair cuts in the grocery store. I’m no longer sure I can tell the difference between a winter chill and a flu symptom.  My seasonal despair has me  bracing for the next month which Rich Reece described as being tougher. Most days I try to shake out the ear worm of Jeff Dodge and the Peasant Revolution Band’s version of The Pogues “Dirty Old Town.” Crumbled bits of plastic from the Detectable Warning Systems seem to be the last straw.
Post Script: Admittedly I became a bit confused about these warning systems. The bumps and rectangles were referred to in many different ways in my research. These systems have been put in place in conjunction with the American Disability Act.
Post Post Script: If you’re looking to check out the video link to “Dirty Old Town,” you can fast forward to 55:34 of episode 3 of Season Two of the Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour. Don’t say I did warn you about the possibilities of an earworm.

An Orbit Obit: Portlandia: The Love Song of F. Robert Armisen and C. Rachel Brownstein

The key out the window gag was here.

Everybody’s writing about Portlandia now. The eighth and final season began airing January 18th. I missed the mark on the advanced promo. Someone forgot to send me the DVD boxed set of seasons 1-7. I live in a neighborhood where segments of the show were taped which can’t be hard since it was shot all over town. It offered a behind the scenes look at the show’s creation. Seeing neighborhood haunts on screen makes the show special to me. I have encountered a love-hate attitude for Portlandia. It may be closer to indifference, but people have been quick to tell me when they didn’t find it funny. There’s also the idea that the show has been the ruin of Portland. At this point it feels like we’re trapped in one long Portlandia sketch that’s running a bit too long. I’m afraid to see how it ends.

The Letter

Last August a notice appeared on the door. Taped up with blue painter’s tape, it informed us that Portlandia would be in the neighborhood shooting one last time. The notice included a nice note that was signed by Janet Weiss. It took me a second to realize that this was, the Janet Weiss, Carrie’s bandmate and that she was also working for Portlandia. The fanboy in me wanted to call the phone number she included but I don’t really want to bother anyone.
The initial reaction to the Portlandians coming to Kenton had a vibe similar to Indians receiving the Pilgrims. There was excitement about the arrival of these exotic and interesting people. My only Carrie sighting was spotting her in the neighborhood wearing a striped sweater which had me wondering if it was something the costume department was making her wear. It wasn’t long before I became jaded. By season 8 they didn’t hang around long and I couldn’t be bothered to razz local antique store owner Mo Bachmann about celebrity sightings. I was always curious about what felt like a mythical place, this place known as Base Camp. When the crew showed up, there seemed to be a dozen canopies with people working on laptops underneath. The show involved many people, some doing unknown things. Mostly I tried to stay out of the way.

Where’s base camp?

Of course I’ve got Portlandia stories. During one of the early Kenton shoots I walked our dog, Max, by the make-up truck. Star hungry, I tried to look through the blind covered window then realized I was looking at a partial image of Juliet Lewis. Meanwhile Max was peeing at the bottom of the last step of the trailer while the owner of this converted RV, who was standing watch, looked on in dismay. It’s been a source of pride for me, and Max, knowing that Juliet Lewis stepped in dog pee after getting camera ready. I didn’t get to watch her scene which was shot in the front yard of a house up the street because I had a very Portland type event, a book group meeting across town in a SE bar.

The make-up “truck.”

Juliet Lewis acted on this lawn!

My one beef with the show was with guest appearances. Portlandia had the connections to bring in all kinds of interesting performers and big names which had me seeing lost opportunities for local talent. Sometimes it felt like they were showing off their connections. Maybe I needed more Ed Begley Jr. and less Jeff Goldblum. Who wouldn’t want to be on a show with Fred and Carrie? I was unavailable for what seemed like my one chance to be an extra because I was working a temp job that I was hoping would become a real job. At least if you watch this season you can probably catch Henry Rollins’ and Chris Novoselic’s appearances so the star turns aren’t always bad. The show had a homegrown feel but it was big time. Any show with Lorne Michael’s name attached is going to be. They had the freedom and the money to book any guest star they wanted. That had to be part of the fun.

Don’t park here.

A show is only as good as the material and I was always impressed that the ideas kept coming allowing an 8 season run. Some people may have been jumping off the Armisen train or they couldn’t take the spoofing of Portland. The show evolved. There were recurring characters and a city that continued to provide inspirational absurdity. The show’s feminist bookstore employee caricatures seemed dead-on. Kyle MacLachlan’s Mayor portrayal was always good. Who could forget the gender bending Lance and Nina? The joke was on all of us. Everyone involved with Portlandia seemed to be having a great time making the series while creating multiple opportunities for wig wearing. The show’s humor could get tedious. There were times when Fred was selling a bit too hard but the comedic style was infectious. Portlandia inspired people to create their own comedic riffs in the show’s style. The only trouble was they had cornered the market.

Official Notice

Back when I had days off during the week, I was feeling annoyed and left out—no guest appearance for me. The neighborhood was full of Portlandia crew. I sought refuge in the local coffee shop when who should show up–the Portlandia gang, cameras blazing as they worked on a brief side bit without Fred and Carrie. If I’d been sitting in the right place I could have been in the scene. It was chaotic. They barged in on what seemed like a group of unsuspecting coffee shop patrons. That afternoon I was inspired watching director Jonathan Krisel’s seamless direction. The scene involved a bureaucrat minion assigned to stop people from working on laptops in coffee shops. We found out later that the orders were given by an impostor mayor played by Rosanne Barr. Two quick takes featured a suit wearing actor slapping laptops. After this blitzkrieg, the Portlandia crew was out the door reassembling across the street for the next shot.
Portlandia 3 Sketch

Comedy Sketch/60 Minutes

I held off immersing myself in Portlandia’s recent medial blitz. I didn’t watch the 60 minutes piece. It was disappointing to find out it wasn’t solely focused on the show. I hope to catch up on the other articles I spotted in the local weeklies after I post this. Everyone else’s thoughts were going to cloud my own. A tiny bit of an interview I heard on OPB’s State of Wonder seemed to be offering up a critique of why Portlandia may have tarnished Portland’s image. It had something to do with the idea that Portland was once an undiscovered gem of a place and the show brought attention to it. I switched over to the AM dial as not to dilute my own weak kneed tribute with the thoughts of others. I’ll admit I haven’t kept up with Portlandia. The last time I tuned in it was wigs and track suits but I’ve appreciated the opportunities to see Kenton on the little screen. I recall the bike vs car stand-off led by Spike being set in the heart of Denver Avenue. There was a moment of surprise wondering how they slipped past us to shoot the scene? The show’s opening makes Portland seem like the coolest place to live. The gurgling theme music created sentimental images out of rows of houses, Powell’s bookstore, a guy playing bike polo and a bridge lift. That’s the Portland I’ll remember.
Wardrobe truck

What should I wear?

How can anyone complain about a show about Portland? Everyone is looking for the reason people keep coming here making things crazier and crazier while overlooking that Portland is the kind of place that inspired a show. How many other cities have their own shows? I remember Carrie Brownstein being interviewed on the OPB show Think Out Loud. She was comparing her Portlandia’s seasons to Clash albums. At that point they were on their “Sandinista” season. It’s amazing that they made it past Cut the Crap and somewhere up around Live at Shea Stadium where Joe’s stage banter had me thinking that he wasn’t quite getting that people were really in the stadium to see The Who. I can’t say Portlandia overstayed their existence. I’m assuming the ideas were still fresh and everyone involved continued enjoying themselves. I sure can’t imagine another show about Portland. It’s been done.
* * * * *
P.S. I don’t know what the hell I was trying to do with that title but any time an English major has a chance to reference T. S. Eliot it proves irresistible.


Pole Art 3 part 2: Brightening Up the Days of Passersby

I’m feeling the pressure of being the sole arbiter of Pole Art.** It’s a challenge. With this power comes great responsibility that I can’t really handle. I can breathe easier by admitting that all I really want to do is share Portland’s offerings of Pole Art with the world. No pressure there. I hope it catches on because I long for the day I can wander from pole to pole to see various manifestations of Pole Art that have sprung up from this craze. Utility poles are everywhere. It could take a while. Until then let’s enjoy the Pole Art we have.

Pole of Cards

Right at the entrance of Pittman Addition HydroPark is a pole covered in playing cards. This was the case this summer anyway as it’s hard to tell how many card games have broken out in the park. The cards may have been pilfered by now. The immediate reaction may be how much of an artistic statement this is. People might be thinking it’s just cards attached to a pole. What the concept lacks in artistic merit it makes up for in fun and spectacle.

A pole covered in cards takes effort, vision and at least a couple of decks of cards. There isn’t a casino in the vicinity so this Pole Art feels random but it doesn’t have an inferiority complex whether it’s artsy. Remember, too, Pole Art is a broad category. If you read last week’s post you know that anything stuck is Pole Art.

Oceanic Swirl

A swirling seascape of fish, colorful bubbles and kelp slithering up this pole in the Sunnyside neighborhood has the feel of a hippyish, paisley, old tie design. A little paint creates Pole Art thats bursts with life adding vibrancy and color to an otherwise lifeless utility pole. I’m appreciative of the effort that was made to jazz up this neighborhood.

Busy Squirrels

This pole was created from what looks like leftover decorations from a nearby yard covered with knickknacks and bird baths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. The tastefully arranged squirrels appear to scamper up the pole. Life often imitates this piece of Pole Art, at least in my neighborhood where real squirrels run rampant up undecorated poles.

Fast Art

The fast food art of an obvious fast food enthusiast appears as graffiti on traffic signs around town. Then it caught my eye on this pole near the Portland Meadows horse race track. What looks like a simple chalk drawing applied to a utility pole creates another example of, you guessed it, Pole Art. Are these images modern hieroglyphics, subliminal advertising, the eye-catching subject matter of unwarranted public art, all, or none of the above? Consider yourself lucky no multiple choice test is involved at the end of this Pole Art blog post.

Pole Art, Art

 photo by Graham Marks

In a Pole Art overview we must also consider the art that’s inspired by utility poles. This is an example of a photograph that captures, in epic detail, what utility poles endure through the application of multiple heavy-duty staples and nails for posters and flyers. This  frame freezes in time the world-weary, battle-scarred nature of the life of a North Lombard Avenue utility pole.

Found Art Pole Art Found

 photo by April Stock

In response to seeing a Facebook posting about last week’s Pole Art piece, April asked if I had seen this Pole Art. This one was new to me. Initially I thought it was fantastic. Well, it is, but I had been under the impression that it was a piece of original art attached to the pole. A closer look revealed that it to be more of a found art conglomeration. It’s still a striking piece of Pole Art and skillfully arranged. Much discussion followed about where this Pole Art was located. I feel it’s important to let any possible Pole Art aficionados know in case they want an up close and personal viewing. This art was spotted last spring so at first the recollections were spotty. It was narrowed down to Butterfly Park before iPhone technology saved the day offering the more specific location of SW Miles Place.

A License to Art

In case anyone is wondering what to do with the license plates that pile up in the garage that seem like souvenirs from all the places you’ve lived but are really a heap of colorful metal gathering dust, this example of plate Pole Art in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood might be the answer. It’s the kind of thing that’s fun to look at. It adds color, geographical information, along with letters and numbers to otherwise drab surroundings.

Keep Smiling

Here are two examples of a design that can be found all over town. It’s not only seen as Pole Art but on stickers too. In faces and flowers we see the wide open third eye keeping watch for the rest of a face reflecting total bliss. These decorations were found in the North Williams corridor and they seem to be offering something in the way of brightening up the days of passersby.

**If you have a look at this Pittsburgh Orbit post you’ll see someone else is hot on the trail of Pole Art in a specific way. I’m sure someday there will be a meeting of the minds concerning the significance of all of this Pole Art.

Pole Art 3 part 1: A Further Odyssey and Slight Exploration of the World of the Pole Art Phenomenon



I won’t exaggerate and say I’ve looked at every utility pole in Portland to bring you the best Pole Art this town has to offer. All I can serve up are examples from my random encounters. The city has the poles inventoried so there is a record of every telephone pole out there but I can’t tell you if this information collected includes details about Pole Art. Consider the people whose job requires them to wave a gizmo across barcodes posted on the poles. Pole inventories seem crazy for an item that would be hard to misplace. The Portland Orbit gets into the spirit of these inventories by focusing on poles graced with Pole Art.

In previous posts I speculated about committees meeting to discuss what constitutes Pole Art. I have to admit that was a warped fantasy, bureaucracy run amok and a lost cause dream to bring legitimacy to Pole Art. At this point, because I’ve done no research independent of looking at poles, there could be some, as of yet, undiscovered Pole Art scholars out there. As far as I know, I am the sole judge and jury of what constitutes Pole Art. I’ll try not to let this power go to my head. I have even made an effort to create a new genre of art formalizing it with capital letters to make it Pole Art. I could distinguish between categories of Pole Art but I prefer to lump them together. Why should there be a difference if someone decides to hang art on a pole while someone else turns one into an object of art with paint or other art supplies? No one wants to organize committees of art experts who would then meet at a Holiday Inn out near the airport to discuss and draft definitions of what determines what is and isn’t Pole Art. Who needs to expound on Pole Art movements and subcategories either? Say no to Post-Pole Art, Modern Pole Art,  Abstract Pole Art or any other possible combination. Let’s keep it simple and call it all Pole Art.

Join me on yet another Pole Art odyssey.

High in the Polls

Here’s one Pole Art secret that will soon be out of the bag. If you are planning to adorn a pole with art hang it high so no one can jump up and swipe it. It may not be as noticeable but that will keep it around longer. The steps necessary to have this art nusiance removed from a public utility pole might include city workers answering calls about potential bothersome Pole Art, scheduling a pole inspection, making a return visit after retrieving the right ladder while also determining the best time remove the offending art piece. This example from the Foster-Powell neighborhood looks like a spray painted stencil. It resembles a homage to a science fiction B-movie featuring an overgrown mutant hairy elephant that’s run amok but I’ll leave it up to others to make their own interpretations. The art is nice in it’s subtlety. Once spotted it adds a bit of whimsy to an otherwise boring and unadorned pole.

This is really the way to go to make utility poles more attractive. This is a nice piece of metal folk art with intricate markings. Sure it’s competing with the beat up nature of the pole’s exterior with its flyer remnants and rusty staples but the art on this NE Alberta Street pole distracts from the rough hewn nature of its surroundings offering a unique piece for appreciation.

Pole Count

photo by Graham Marks

Here’s further proof of the importance of keeping track of telephone poles so they’re not lost. Poles are decorated with random numbers, pole inventory bar codes and medallions, the meaning of which is lost on a laymen such as myself. I have a budding interest, along with a low level of expertise, in Pole Art but anything official looking befuddles my mind. It can’t help but offer up the image of someone having to check an awful lot of telephone pole bar codes while also getting a chance to admire some Pole Art in the process.

A Trilogy of Tidings

Utility poles work double duty. They don’t just hold up wires. On other occasions they act like community bulletin boards passing messages. I spotted these signs in the Kenton neighborhood. This artistic sign with its simplistic Pay Attention message had me thinking that if someone really wants me to pay attention they shouldn’t distract me with signs that I’m going to read that tell me to pay attention while requiring me to take my eyes off the road as I’m driving. Find another way to present this information.

On the other hand I still think about Doug and hope he’s no longer lost. The third sign in the photo offers an official warning making me wary of any pole that displays it. This may be the one thing government officials can do to discourage Pole Art artists and keep them away from poles. Posting official, colorful and cryptic signs should keep literate people at bay. The problem is I have no idea what backfeed is so the warning is effective. I don’t want to experience backfeed of any kind. Possible backfeed is as daunting and intimidating as any other form of backfeed could be.

Flowering Pole Art

A display like this one found in SW is never a good sign. It’s a memorial to someone who has perished in the vicinity. There’s no way to know if the pole was involved but it seems like a tragic spot. Pole Art has it’s gray areas between art and memorial.

Crap Up A Pole

A pole consumed with information in that old college bulletin board way blends into a cinematic montage seen through a kaleidoscopic lens. Invitations to DJ nights, stickers, show advertisements pile on top of each other creating layers of crumpled, ragged and shredded paper flapping in the breeze. The pole combined with other urban elements like a graffiti strewn newspaper box and trash can in the Mississippi District have evolved into a living piece of conceptual art.

Help Me…

A cry for help won’t go unnoticed when it’s posted gallantly on a pole on Lombard Avenue. When there’s no one around to offer help to it’s certain to go unheeded. It summarizes my state of mind after being immersed in Pole Art. Bear in mind this is only part one! Part one will be followed by part two next week rather than keep anyone in suspense for longer than necessary. I think it’s accurate to say we have saved the best for last which may have you wondering how we could possibly have topped the images of Pole Art that you’ve already seen. Just wait.

Begin the New Year Wallowing in What Happened Last Year: A Portland Orbit 2017 Year in Review

Total Eclipse of the heart. Yea, yea.

It was nice to have time during the summer, as brief as it was, to stare at the sun and tour the city by bike with an out-of-town guest. Then it was back to no time between work and pet care. Writing returned to conditions of duress and the need to be write fast with fury but I was glad to have an outlet to continue exploring my interests.

Why the Year in Review? Most of you are thinking that the Portland Orbit has never attempted such a theme, well, we actually did a lame version in 2015 which mostly featured a Perry Mason update. Mainly this is happening because every other publication in the world resorts to this type of thing. People need stuff to read while lounging around their in-law’s place over the holidays. The Pittsburgh Orbit relishes in excellent year-end reviews (don’t wait until the end of the year to catch up) and I’ve enjoyed reading those posts so it occurred to me that it would be fun to write one of my own. I am getting the sense that I don’t get the format so well. This post has the style of a woebegone Christmas letter.

Free drink included.

I can look back through the pages of the Portland Orbit and see what a crazy and weird year has passed. One discovery was the need to move away from short and generic blog post titles. This year it dawned on me that long, engaging titles, like the one associated with this post, bring in readers. Otherwise, I’m grasping at straws. I never know what’s going to capture people’s attention. For instance, it’s a mystery why two of this year’s most read posts had origins in SW Portland. Still analytics and stats haven’t dictated what I should write about. This leaves me feeling obligated to produce something but free to make it about whatever I choose.

I’ll admit 2017 got off to a slow start writing about resolutions I couldn’t keep, snow days and Salt Lake City. Coming off Christmas break is always tough. After that I got back to highlighting artisanal bike racks and the messages people scrawl on their cars. It was great to be able to honor Buddy Holly on the anniversary of his death. My neighborhood has a low-key, unofficial Buddy Holly memorial.

Superman vs Nuclear Holocaust

I can’t over estimate the importance of hitting the streets where the action is. It prompted wild speculation about the menace of Exotic Defacement, that I saw happening on a light pole down the street. Concrete carousing also had me observing the terrific genre of outside art and polite signs people make in attempts to regulate neighborhood car parking. In March, I focused on mundane activities like eating pie, attending government meetings and musing about the meaning of billboards.

This year the Orbit stumbled onto a device involving multiple posts on a certain theme. The Kingsmen’s cover of “Louie, Louie” had guest columnist Will Simmons extolling the band’s virtues which led to my stumbling around Seaside, Oregon searching for the origin of their inspiration. It also inspired me to interview Stew Dodge about the ‘62 Seaside riot and to visit a little known sound wave sculpture based on the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie.” The sculpture visit brought me downtown where I noticed the city’s Liberty Bell Replica and a prankster’s sign alteration that opened my eyes to the world of humorous sign additions.

Never tire of tire art!

Spring fever had me contemplating Tire Art, what I thought were creepy SW Portland stairs as well as vintage motel signs. Posting pictures of purple paint jobs hardly seems like the makings of a good blog post but how else can one honor Prince on his birthday? There was something satisfying about spending time considering the two pieces of sculptural work of Carlton Bell on the grounds of a SW Portland office park. I’m still on the hunt for more details about this artist.

Getting ready at the Soap Box.

Goofy stuff can cloud my brain and this year was no exception. I considered, more than most sane people ever would, obsolete signs, antenna toppers and obscure bridges and retaining walls. Of course there was the traditional Fourth of July salute to Old Glory. The summer offered a chance to explore, in depth, topics I was long curious about like the art car known as the “Space Taxi” and the Adult Soapbox Derby. In between I went to the Zine Fair, read signs that dogs could never read and stared directly at the sun in a moment of sheer Eclipse Hysteria.

Hop aboard the Space Taxi.

Great times were had when I got to talk to illustrator Kalah Allen,  report on a reading by rock singer Allen Callaci and interview filmmaker Bryan Hiltner about his film retrospective screening. Somewhere in all that I had a chance to obsess over owls and mourn the loss of a dance club. I spent the rest of the year delving into the sidewalk and tree art of the Foster-Powell neighborhood as well as one of its old buildings and displays of protest in the neighborhood. I also investigated a President Kennedy tribute and another possible tribute on Columbia Blvd. Bloggers don’t always take the  holidays off so I continued my Turkey of St. Johns annual post and I wrote about a toy museum for Christmas Day, which, I’d say, seemed exceptionally timely.

Of course and without further ado, the year ended as I wrote this post and began when I officially published it which has made this year in review piece circular in some strange way. Beginnings and endings have blended together like the years but this year comes with a different number that has the feel of a new world opening up to the discoveries that await.