A Long Winded History Of A Half Century of Living in Dodge City

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Jeff Dodge is too busy for fame. He’s multitalented. He knows music, videography, sound engineering, computers and history. With the latest technology he streams a monthly, live TV show from his home office. He makes movies, short films, music videos, produces bands and he recently recorded a 33 song triple concept album. There are more projects in the wings. Jeff’s always up to something.

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Another project, in production.

I’ve written other posts about him but I couldn’t let this significant birthday go without acknowledging his work. Participating in his show, The Peasant Revolution Band Variety Hour, gives me an opportunity to experience any number of interesting Portland characters, musicians and performers. I only have to leave the house once a month for this. Hanging out with Jeff means a whirlwind of ideas, costumes, fun, craziness and the occasional technical difficulty. The suits he wears as the show’s host are hilarious. It’s great to know someone with so much going on. I contribute what I can and the rest of the time I live vicariously through his exploits and I don’t end up exhausted.

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After a half century, I am curious about what keeps Jeff going. I thought it would be fun to see where he’s been and hear tales from his associates. I started with members of the Peasant Revolution Band who appear as the house band on the show. I didn’t know how Jeff put the band together. Curtis Worsely, aka The Commander, explained that Jeff “was the one who gave me my name. That was a big leg up in my career.” They’ve had an on and off again musical relationship that goes back 30 years to the days of one of Jeff’s early bands The Bolsheviks. The Commander appreciates how Jeff has always welcomed him in after telling me he joined the Peasant Revolution Band when he moved back to Portland. He described Jeff as a “historical encyclopedia of information.”

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photo by Echo Narcissist (Courtesy of Darge productions)

Bassist Steve Cebula goes back with Jeff to their days at Central Catholic High School. Steve was a rocker in pleather when Jeff was hanging out with a punk rocker named Tom Nims and sporting a “Travis Bickle” look. These were different circles. They got to know each other in Jazz and Stage Prep Bands and played Cream songs with the Pep Band at football and basketball games. Steve had a front row seat to watch a band teacher trying to keep Jeff in line. I discovered Steve wasn’t in the Middle Fingers but joined Jeff’s next band Pink Milk, a name that could have been inspired by Cream. Both band names were controversial at the school. All these years later Steve, the consumet sideman, tells tales of Jeff being a tyrant in the recording studio. I wanted to believe he’s joking from his vivid description of Jeff Dodge in a “one more take” fervor. “Mannequin parts get thrown against the wall—well, one part but it’s heavy,” Steve said.

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In 2013, Jeff organized a Badfinger Tribute Benefit Show for Scott Peterson who had been through a health crisis. Rich Reece sat in on drums. Meeting Jeff, he could see the years of work experience that went into coordinating the event. “Everyone else would have given up,” Rich said considering the logistics of organizing 30 different musicians to perform for two hours. “One of Jeff’s big talents,” he pointed out, “is to just keep going. He doesn’t stop.”

It was Phil Jefferson who inspired me to seek out testimonials. He spoke highly of his experience working with Jeff who recorded and played on his flute centric album Madness of Crowds. He explained that Jeff lives for spontaneity and going into studio sessions fresh not knowing what he’ll be playing. “We didn’t know where it was going to go,” Phil said before offering a comment that explained Jeff’s people person persona. “He wants to be around as many people as he can. That’s his thing.”

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When houses in her neighborhood were being demolished, Jordi Leeb decided to make a film about the situation and the impact it had on her and her neighbors. Being a first time film maker, she called on Jeff.  Jeff took the lead with some assistance from me. Jordi experienced Jeff’s business side finding him to be professional, methodical and patient. “I never felt judged or talked down to. He laid everything out and it was so helpful for me to understand all of the steps. He was eager and excited about my project. He made the whole experience approachable for me,” she said. Jeff’s efforts earned him Jordi’s respect and their collaboration resulted in the film “Diary of a Street.”

Robert Pardington is also known as Bobby Caesar. I always saw him as an archenemy of Jeff’s because, as legend has it, he left the Peasant Revolution Band to go solo. He later showed up to battle Jeff in the movie WNYCee New York. Robert met Jeff through high school friends and later roomed with him in the “infamous White House” in Eugene in the early 90’s. Robert admires Jeff’s openness. “He always included everyone, frat types, stoners, nerds,” he said. Robert is in awe of Jeff’s musical brilliance, phenomenal ear and their Meerkat brotherhood.

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On location. photo by Echo Narcissist (Courtesy of Darge productions)

Clint Sargent meet Jeff in 1988 at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. Since then they’ve played music together and  partnered to make a cable access TV show and feature length movies. Clint praised Jeff’s prolific nature. “I have never known anyone with so many visions going at once. There seems to be no end to his ideas that flow non stop.”

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The stories Jeff shared in a frenetic phone call set the scene. He remembered seeing the puppeteers Sid & Marty Kroft on TV giving career advice, “If you want to make sure you keep control of your content in this society, keep your name on it,” one of them said. Jeff took note giving birth to the Jeff Dodge brand. Somewhere in the middle of playing Plastic Man with his sisters a character named Julio would be involved. Julio was resourceful and had a local connection everywhere he went. Jeff aspired to these qualities that have inspired his modus operandi. It adds up to him being fearless. He let’s everybody in the pool resulting in either Busby Berkeley choreography or everybody drowning.

A half century is something to consider. “The winds of age are upon me,” Jeff says quoting a line from one of the movies about his alterego Jeff Steele. (I know, Jeff Steele and the Lost Civilization of NyoNuc from 2004.) Still, there is time for new beginnings and even old dreams. Jeff hasn’t given up on the one where he owns and operats a historical amusement park. With Portland being the creative place that it is, there could be thousands of Jeff Dodge types out there. I’m talking about catalysts who create scenes of fun loving havoc. And most everyone is too busy creating to know what anybody else is up to. Clint Sargent described what Jeff does as “unmatched entertainment” and that makes all the difference. 

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Behind the scenes of Jeff Steele and The Children of the Doomed         photo by Echo Narcissist (Courtesy of Darge Productions)

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Post Script:  The Dodge City from the title is not a nickname anyone ever had for Jeff. Hanging out with him has always felt like visiting another world of his making. I  refer to it as Dodge City.

 

 

Spring Cleaning (The Stories I Could Never Get To): A Fictional Account of the Bernie & Bonnie Story

I had this theory about two restaurants. There had to be a connection. One I saw a bunch of times when I had a temp job around the NW 23rd business district. The other, a place I drove past many times on Columbia Boulvard. These places were two peas in a pod but I’m not sure that was on their menus. They had similar signs. Sure signs can be designed and bought by any sign maker. They were billed as one person operations. This is not the case with Bonnie’s—it was family owned. They both specialized in burgers and teriyaki. Okay, that’s an unusual combination but it’s probably a coincidence. I wanted a story and I wanted it so bad I realized I had to make it up, something that’s never been done this blatantly in a Portland Orbit story. It goes something like this:

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Bernie and Bonnie met in a meet cute way that had something to do with spilled food or a broken dish.They fell in love over their passions for making and serving delicious meals. Food was their lives so they combined them getting married and opening a restaurant. It was nothing fancy, family fare—the basics. (I’ll get the research department in on this) but let’s name the place B & B’s Diner. No, that doesn’t work so they renamed it BeeBee’s. Life was good, in the kitchen and everywhere in between.

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In all stories something has to happen. Over time the stress, the challenge of running a small business took its toll. Both restaurateurs had their niche but their combined efforts didn’t jell. Bernie and Bonnie had different ideas about their respective Teriyaki recipes. Their stubbornness and inability to compromise led to fights in the kitchen that threatened to spill into the dining area.Tension made the work environment difficult and some staff quit. To paraphrase a line from an old Burt Reynolds (not Ryan Reynolds) movie: the love had gone out of their relationship. Where love had once inspired great meals that satisfied customers their restaurant venture couldn’t survive without it.

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One restaurant became two. Was there animosity? It seems possible since their establishments ended up spreading out from one end of the city to the other. Bonnie’s went to NW 21st in a building tucked under a billboard in that bore her name. The establishment shared space with a gas station. This always brought to mind one of the rules of the road that Fred Owens and I learned the hard way: Never eat in a restaurant attached to a gas station. I’m trying to be fair here. This is a love story gone bad not a restaurant review. I’d like to tell you about Bonnie’s but rules are rules. I’m sure those who could overlook the connection to the gas station appreciated the food.

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Bernie’s place has always intrigued me. It has a desolate feel as if set in an Edward Hopper painting. It looks like an ideal place to nurse an espresso on a cold, gray afternoon. Any other thoughts about the place would be assumptions. I’ve never been there. It looks like a rough and tumble, blue collar joint. That’s an opinion formed from its location in the middle of an industrial section of town intersected by Columbia Boulevard.

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I’m not poking fun or being snooty. I’ve always liked Bernie’s large windows facing the road. It allowed me to look in as I drove by. I could imagine the atmosphere with food smells drifting off the grill. It feels like a place to hide out and wile away an afternoon if I ever had one of those to kill. Or maybe it’s about the quick bite of cheap, filling food. In deciding to read up on some reviews of these places I came across a 4 star Yelp review that described Bernie’s Hamburgers & Teriyaki by saying, “this place does not look spectacular from the outside.” That is part of its charm.

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Meanwhile across town I received some sad news after finding a Reedit thread that spelled out the demise of Bonnie’s Burger and Teriyaki restaurant that was run by a Korean family. At this point the piece becomes a bit of an Orbit Obit. A major renovation of the gas station resulted in a decision to go in a Convienience Mart direction. Bonnie’s had to close. My best guess was that this happened in June of 2019. There was fanfare from dedicated fans who enjoyed the good, cheap meals they dished out but there was no word on whether Bonnie has ever reunited with Bernie.

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Along Come Marys: The Mother of All Mother’s Days

Bless this!

I couldn’t think of a better way to honor mothers than write about one of the greats. She entered motherhood under tough circumstances having to bed down in a manger with barnyard animals. Since then she’s been sainted, name dropped in a Beatles song and has been named after countless churches including a famous Paris cathedral. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people honor her, in statuary form, with a place of residence in their yard.

As the two Orbit franchises that have managed to hang on, there’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship between the Portland and Pittsburgh offices. That’s why it’s not accurate to say I’ve stolen this idea because it would have been shared freely if I’d asked. My version originated from a kind of oneupmanship, a comparison of our respective cities. Pittsburgh Orbit head honcho Will Simmons asked me if there were Marys in Portland after he ran a few posts showcasing displays of her image. Because I had never noticed them I assumed they were scarce. When I started looking, they appeared all over town.

Chain linked in Pittsburgh.                     (photo by Will Simmons)

I reached out to Will for the details of his Mary fixation. Growing up in Southwest Virginia, he found little of the Catholic presence he would experience when he moved to Pittsburgh, a city known to have one of, if not the highest, per capita Catholic populations in the country. Will’s fascination with Catholic culture percolated when he realized the gambling operation run by a priest at a Catholic Carnival was possibly illegal. This had him thinking, “The Baptists don’t do this.”

Will has long wondered “why Catholics have this deeper connection to Mary than other Christians.” While that notion is a mystery to me I realized it was intrigue like this that fueled his writings. He’s returned to ideas inspired by Catholic culture in multiple posts. In an email Will wrote:

“In Pittsburgh, it’s not just where people go to church on Sunday (or, often, Saturday evening) but all of these other cultural tangents–fasting for Lent and its byproduct of church-sponsored fish fries; Greek Orthodox “onion dome” architecture; retail stores that sell nothing but bibles, crucifixes, and “Last Supper” reproductions; framed portraits of past popes for sale at every estate sale.”

Will points out that in the Pittsburgh area, Marys are everywhere. There are Every Neighborhood Marys, Porch Marys, Built Into Brickwork/Grotto Marys, Garden Marys, Up On Cement Blocks Marys and Embedded In Concrete Flower Pot Marys—all variations on this theme that Will has photographed and blogged about for years.

Personal Mary. (photo by Will Simmons)

Not religious himself, Will has contracted Mary fever with a Mary of his own to prove it—a friend who rescued her from the trash. He has a blast keeping “an eye out for new Marys” while lamenting those hidden away in people’s backyards that he’ll likely never see. Will also willingly burst my bubble, hey what are friends for, telling me that I was confusing what I thought could be Marys with wings with plain old angels. Some angels look a bit too much like Marys with wings.Wannabees! At least I’ve learned the rules.

Our Lady In Lavender

Not too dry for tears.

This purple cloaked Mary, spotted in the Powell neighborhood, stood out on a late August afternoon when forest fires had created an orange haze that blanketed the area. Sitting in a brick bordered dirt pedestal, she remains calm and serene. The surrounding burnt grass makes her seem a bit parched from the relentless summer sun. The spot light means this Mary merits an evening visit.

Hearts Afire

Sunny Mary

A Mary this bright and colorful becomes a lesson in the challenges of taking photographs at high noon. The detailing is great including the visible heart and the rosary. Additional surroundings offer a feeling of a peaceful oasis.

Radiant Lady

A serene scene.

As if sculpted out of ivory or a giant bar of Ivory soap, this Mary gleams. Her namaste/prayer pose is striking. She appears to be levitating or about to launch out of the bird bath of flowers. Her serenity flows into the surrounding yard off of Interstate Avenue in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood so hard that it keeps a Fu Dog subdued and disinterested in the prey potential of the deer family reclining nearby.

From the Shadows

There could be a gnome too.

I caught sight of this Mary battling overgrowth outside the remainders of the long since gone out of business store Yesterday and Today store in North Portland. There’s a stoic feel from Mary’s grace as she half grins and bears her plight facing eventual engulfment from rouge foliage in this side yard.

Keep Calm And Mary On

Ready for Palm Sunday.

This blue cloaked clad Mary popped out of a Kenton neighborhood yard. Her expression reads pure chill while her attitude offers a blunt reminder that any and all interlopers, stragglers and wayward souls should make all attempts to embrace solemnity as well.

Porch Plopped

Porch perch.

Mary has earned the right to be respected. While she winds up being yard decoration, there’s a need for her to be honored as a focal point to a design scheme. What I came across was disheartening. This Mary display was too unceremonious. To leave her on a doorstep hanging out with a random Francis or possibly Joseph seems like sacrilege. It’s a different story if she’s meant to ward off possible porch pirates. Here’s hoping Mary has the power to make someone think twice about committing theft.

Okay With Angels

All in this together.

I know, I know, Mary doesn’t do wings, but that doesn’t stop her from hanging out with winged sculptures. It was obvious that she was comfortable when I came upon this scene in the Mississippi neighborhood. This display works. There’s lightning, a flower and a pair of angels. It all comes together to make this crown wearing Mary appear even more regal. It’s a setting that has her so blissed out as to not be bother by a few weeds.


Altared Reality

Keep it glowing Mary!

Going through my photo archive, I discovered a Mary doing actual duty as part of an altar set up on a stump left from a house demolition and tree clear cut that transpired in the Woodlawn neighborhood a few years ago. The situation created ill will with the area residents and it seemed like someone thought Mary might be able offer some solace.

Wing Over Portland

Wings, but no Mary.

Garden angel.

I was initially fooled because these statues, seen in North and Northeast Portland, were roughly the same size as the other Marys I’d spotted. Maybe I didn’t want my Hunt for Mary efforts to be wasted. Mary is an angelic presence but in the end I shouldn’t be confusing myself or anyone else with fruitless debates. Instead I’ll lead you out with angels. Peace and good thoughts to all you Mothers out there.

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Will Simmons has a whole Mary/Mother’s day tribute on his site:

The Mother of All Mothers! A Mother’s Day Mary Super Round-Up