Never Been To A Riot: A Collage of Coverage

riot and coffee

Riot gear.

On Saturday, August 4th something was going down downtown. If I couldn’t be there in person I at least had to monitor it. The build up had me expecting confrontation between Joey Gibson’s Proud Boy crowd and whoever showed up. I was scared off by the gun talk. One unleashed bullet would have been too much. With or without gunfire, a riot seemed inevitable. A.C. Thompson, speaking on Fresh Air, expected the Patriot’s Prayer Rally to be “the next Charlottesville.” What I ended up witnessing had the posturing of a Pro Wrestling event minus the physicality.

The pre-rally provided an understanding of the importance of facing the Patriot Prayer gathers. I wasn’t sure if it was Mic Capes’ rap or his speech before hand, but I got a sense that violence didn’t have to happen. The pre-rally meeting fired people up with quotes like we have “a world to win,” and “Organize your grandma!” A speaker from Jobs for Justice said the Proud Boys were disenfranchised by getting fooled for their belief in the American Dream. The crowd chose engagement over sitting at home watching Facebook Live.

Standoff.

After the rally people made their way to the Waterfront. An interview from the crowd set the tone. “We have to make a stand,” a woman said adding, “We’re not going to give up our country.” The counter-protesters were greeted with a robotic sounding Police announcement commanding people to stay on the sidewalks and out of the pedestrian cross walks. The two parties were separated by Naito Parkway. Patriot Prayer Rally USA chants mixed with the counter-protestors singing “Eye On The Prize” and “This Little Light of Mine.” I heard myself saying, “We have to move the riot into the kitchen.”

Riot in the grapes.

The third pot of coffee had me pacing and writing illegible notes. An out-of-town interviewee described a festive atmosphere and was impressed that a brass band showed up. The feed sputtered and someone cussed. KGW-TV apologized. I lost the feed when my battery died so we switched to another phone. KGW-TV was on the counter-protest side explaining that they couldn’t cross the street due to Police Orders. I switched to KOIN coverage which was in the middle of the Patriot Prayer Rally. “It’s not about the hate over there,” Gibson was saying. It seemed like time to make potato chips. Soon after, on the Patriot Prayer side, a discussion of a dance-off began. My thought was: Joey Gibson doesn’t dance but I have no evidence of this. The whole notion of the people downtown that day channeling their aggression through dance seemed absurd but it would have been an attempt at unity. Not much was happening with the Patriot’s Prayer Rally. Would there be group prayer, recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance or more standing around?

Chip preparation.

Meanwhile the munchies were in full force. My wife was creating a dish she called “Cheese sushi,” consisting of avocado and chili oil on chunks of cheese. When KOIN’s picture froze I migrated to KATU’s coverage noting that the number of viewers was hovering between 798 and 804. The Police issued orders for people to clear a certain area or be arrested. It felt like chaos was more likely once the Police tried to manage the crowd. I returned to KOIN but their coverage seemed oblivious to the live format. A reporter was on the air texting and making phone calls  to figure out if they were going live on their television channel. When Joey Gibson was swarmed with reporters an impromptu press conference broke out. Even KGW-TV managed to cross the street. Joey didn’t seem to want to talk. “Are you running for Senate?” He was asked. “Yes,” he responded. It all ended too soon and had me wondering how anyone could run out of questions for this guy.

Clown to the left.

The KATU reporters kept throwing it back to the studio where Wesleigh Ogle told them, “continue to be safe out there.” The riot was portable. We headed to the porch where traffic sounds and barking dogs mixed with the coverage. I stumbled onto the feed of Unicorn Riot. It had the feel of an Saturday Night Live skit before I realized the reporter’s brain was buzzing with college knowledge. He approached people on the Patriot’s Prayer side focusing on the shirts worn by some of the Proud Boys that carried a message about Pinochet that declared he had done nothing wrong. The reporter knew history and made an effort to find out what statement the group was making. Those he talked to seemed incoherent, making comments like, “my kids are illegal” while mentioning that the Confederacy fought to free the slaves and wondering why he wasn’t reporting the facts or talking about what past presidents had done.

Standoff part 2.

On the other side of the street, an Infowars reporter squared off with a man in a Mexican wrestler mask. News broke that more counter-protestors arrived. By then I was into my third hour of this coverage and I felt like I was at a screening of The Sorrow and the Pity. The audio was cutting in and out. Technology can only do so much. My ears wouldn’t have been doing this if I had been there. Like Pro wrestling, when the referees look the other way, a Proud Boy seemed to have snuck a weapon (foreign object) past the Police while alluding them to creep towards the counter protest side. Over caffeination created this melodrama. I lost track of how it turned out. Tension ratcheted up when the Police declared the gathering a Civil Disturbance. The crowd was expected to disburse but one man said, “We’ll go home, when they go home.” The gathering devolved into people yelling at the Police. One man flipped them off. Natio Parkway was open to traffic but the image of a Juggalo looking guy riding through the rally in the back of a U-haul pick-up truck felt out-of-place.

Burn notice.

At this point I began to get ready for a 3pm collage workshop at our local library. I took the riot into the bathtub. I had the afternoon following the downtown activities but had seen little. Much of the coverage focused on looking at the Proud Boys from across the street. I didn’t see the Antifa presence until a member was spotted burning a flag. There were clowns too. They’re presence was mysterious, but a welcomed for its comic relief. The coverage waned. KATU’s feed skittered with views of the ground and people’s shoes. I had watched in suspense knowing that something could happen but still missed the Police crack down on counter-protestors who were accused of throwing objects across the street.

Not clowning around.

I was happy to have a refuge after my riot binge. We met Michael Albert a collage artist, who was traveling the country holding workshops. I realized how much I needed an escape from the noise and tension of the downtown gathering. Michael was upbeat, talking about his art and the enjoyment of taking time to be creative. The hours I spent watching the coverage felt like an aural and visual collage of dream imagery swirling in my mind. Gladiator costumes mixed with roaming clowns while a soundtrack of chants, brass instruments and Police announcements created a feeling of underlying chaos that can break at any moment.

***************

Post Script: The title was a lifted from the Mekon’s song which I was unfamiliar with until I wrote this piece. The lyrics are impenetrable. I couldn’t find them online. The song is about a guy who never gets to go to the riot because he’s always on the toilet.

Riot gear photo by Ronna Craig

 

A collage of collages.

 

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Ansty About Antsi Part 2



This piece is an effort to sum up feelings of ambivalence about graffiti. I’m divided on whether my reporting on something many consider delinquency means I’m supporting or even glorifying the activity. I offer a disclaimer when I’ve written about it before, a statement that has found me wallowing in wishy-washy conceits. I embrace creativity and graffiti is too pervasive to ignore. It’s on buildings, street signs, poles, highway barrier walls, jersey walls and every other wall. I’ve seen it removed, usually painted over, but it sprouts back after it’s covered. Some markings linger when they aren’t cleaned up. So, we live with those.

I’ve wondered if it’s right to bring attention to street art. A past commenter questioned responses to a previous graffiti post noting that other comments, mine included, sounded like they were written by “a bunch of people who have not had your property vandalized.” It was a mild rebuke that had me searching for where I stand. I’ve been lucky not to have had personal property tagged, but I realized that graffiti in my neighborhood is something I have to look at. I responded to another commenter with a quote from film maker Andrew H. Shirley about his movie Wastedland 2 that appeared in the Willamette Week. Referring to graffiti he said, “It’s anti-everything. It’s punk. It remains outside of the system. It alludes to dysfunction and allows a public audience to see that people without a voice still have a message, and by any means necessary will get it out to you.” The quote made clear grafitti’s unstoppable nature. It’s easier to take other’s thoughts and see how they reflect my view-point and that quote put things in perspective. Some days I complain, other days I admire. This may be my opportunity to use my blog as a way to get a dig in at all the lesser, yet omnipresent expressions of amateur-Cy Twomblys or maybe, just a chance to make a Cy Twombly reference.

Graffiti has that feeling of being something it shouldn’t be. It can be called art but it’s art foisted on an unsuspecting audience on a unordinary canvas. It’s an intrusion on people’s property or businesses. For clarity, I sought input from other sources. I had heard rumblings of a Matt McCormick film about graffiti. Matt is a film maker who keeps a tight grip on his work mostly showing it on the big screen. I was surprised to see it appear in multiple versions online. When I contacted him through messenger, he directed me to his film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal. An earnest narrator talks about graffiti cover-ups that mimic art movements, something I’ve touched on, and I found this to be humorous reaction to municipalities dealing with graffiti. He commented on something I’m guilty of: “It does creativity a disservice to lump all graffiti into the same category,” he wrote. He touched on the conundrum of the varying skill levels of people who are taking spray paint to public places noting, “there is some beautiful, creative work out there being made by some talented artists, but there’s also a lot of crap that’s just uglifying the urban landscape.” This reflects my inability to appreciate squiggles as much as someone who makes an effort to create something viable and uses a relatable tag.

Later that day Matt posted on Facebook about a new form of cover up he’s noticed that he named “cross-hatch.” I’ve noticed this and wondered about this technique, as had many commenters. Who is doing this? Does it save paint? Does it make someone who creates graffiti upset to see their work only partially erased?

Other cover-up styles include blotting out the image with black spray paint, an homage to Robert Motherwell, perhaps, or painting over it with squares that usually don’t match the paint job. I’ll touch on these questions and more when I take on graffiti abatement and clean up in a future post.

Will Simmons, who writes the Pittsburgh Orbit, explained that in Pittsburgh, “there’s a whole lot of graffiti that just feels like dogs marking their territory—stupid tags and whizzle-jiggles that seem to cover every street sign, lamp-post, building backside and bridge support.” Will finds these “cool in a gritty, urban America way,” something he explained he didn’t experience growing up in a small town. Seeing old buildings defaced bums him out though. “(Graffiti) occupies a very interesting and entirely subjective netherworld between public menace and cultural institution,” he wrote. Will derives joy from what he calls, “graffiti in another state of mind, stencils and wheat paste and cool murals and weirdo installations–the artists *know* this stuff won’t last, won’t bring them any acclaim, nor any monetary gain, but they still give it to the world.”

While working on this piece, I witnessed a tagger in action. I always thought this happened in the dead of night with the world asleep. Around 10pm during a dog walk, I stumbled upon a tall tagger wearing a white hoody. Brazen! He was applying the last of his tag on the side our neighborhood motel that’s being renovated. The next day, my inner arm-chair quarterback had me searching for a response. I could have rushed him, attacked him, at least yelled at him a bit, or called the police. I realized what bothered me more, besides not knowing what to do, was the realization that I was going to have to look at the loopy script and strange combination of letters until the renovation was finished. I’m particular about my graffiti. Anyone blatant enough to tag before bedtime deserves flak. My doing nothing led to a plot line out of a comic book. Not scaring this tagger away, with a Batman-like vigilantism, led him to return and mark up the motel’s mural. I hated seeing it tagged.

I also contacted Jeff Bagato, my go-to authority on all things underground. He offered educational tidbits, perspective and slang terminology. He has an appreciation for the “rich and diverse” street culture of Portland adding “there’s a general blackout in mainstream media regarding graffiti, most likely because they fear that publicizing it will only encourage the artists; nonetheless, these same outlets have no problem publicizing the work of serial killers, mass shooters, and monomaniacal presidents, with the same result.” This had me thinking that I have only seen one local news story about graffiti since moving to Portland ten years ago It was a story about the City’s abatement office that seemed understaffed and overwhelmed.

Like the others I’ve polled quality is an issue. “You get beginners and toys slopping cutty tags around, or you might get fully developed pieces or really interesting stickers or posters,” Jeff wrote. “Good with the bad. I believe graffiti is one of the major art and counterculture movements of our time, perhaps the only one that has remained on the edge over its life cycle since the 70s. While other movements have been commodified to some degree, graff and street art remain dangerous and unacceptable to many people. Even to photograph it, or to write about it, can be seen as an accessory to the vandalism.” Jeff pointed out that taggers get respect for the work they do, not necessarily for attention from bloggers. He schooled me on the “real hierarchy between “real” graff writers and street artists, between petty tagging and full pieces, and between those who do a couple of things when they’re bored or drunk and those who bomb the hell out of a town. There is a code among writers and serious street artists about respecting the work of others and the spots where it appears.”

Jeff included in his email a plea that people see beyond the “perception that writers and street artists are thugs or vandals or just playing around” adding that no stereotype applies because “many (street artists) are serious, educated and accomplished artists of all ages and walks of life.” He directed me to the story of Ultra, a DC street artist, who theses days teaches art and creates airbrush paintings. I may still be confused and in the middle of an unrelenting battle but the fight to stop graffiti seems unwinnable. Sure there is bad graffiti. Most would consider all graffiti bad, but those who heed the call to tag have to start somewhere. We can only hope they improve. Meanwhile people can find ways to deal with it. These other viewpoints have helped me accept graffiti. Jeff advised me to write about subjects I enjoy. Compared to ugly billboards selling me things, graffiti isn’t half bad. There’s plenty of clutter out there, blaring and blasting away at our senses. We live with it.

So what’s good graffiti?


Mook writing his name on the back of this I-5 highway sign took daring, planning and a need to  figure out how to get four letters on the back of three signs. Combining the two O’s in one panel did the trick.

This rabbit motif in pink takes the sting out of the visual clutter. Sure it’s a nuisance but a pink rabbit-like thing seems harmless.

Fast food can be equated with graffiti if you’re going for a fast food vs real food, graffiti vs art kind of debate. I’ve always appreciated these fast food meal creations. This one is operating on a scale larger than usual. The numbers are a mystery but this might be a work of biting satire.

 

Antsy About Antsi

The name, or tag rather, intrigues me. It’s part of a culture that I find fascinating when I should find it repellent. As an old curmudgeon, homeowner type, I’m expected to dislike graffiti. For me, I’m working on understanding it and living with it. It’s everywhere. Antsi graffiti has seized the zeitgeist with a spray painted, nervous penmanship. Antsi, spelled with an i, may not refer to the word antsy but it feels weirdly reassuring to be reminded of these times living in the United States of Anxiety. We’re dealing with the work of vandals creating an unstoppable visual clutter as well as the mystery of who is making it.

I didn’t realize how much of a graffiti star Antsi was until I wrote a post that mentioned the tag in passing. It began to get a slow and steady trickle of readers before becoming my most read blog entry. It’s not hard, on a typical day traveling from North to SW Portland and back for work, to see evidence of Antsi. The name is out there. Sometimes it’s small, other times it’s big and bold and it includes a black outline, my preferred method. Graffiti has to rise above the tiny nuisance scrawl.

Here’s where I feel the need to offer my typical disclaimer. I come to bury graffiti not to praise it. While a third-rate Shakespeare reference will do nothing to stop this expression, I once again run the risk of glorifying graffiti. Antsi can’t be ignored. The sheer amount of tags, the word it implies and the audacity of some of the locations, especially around I-5, makes me realize that this is, in some way, a special tag that’s due consideration. It will continue in the cycle of spray painting, clean up and more graffiti. Antsi survives by staying ahead of the clean up crew. Meanwhile, additional thoughts on  graffiti will be explored in a second post. My appreciation for graffiti involves unique looking efforts, examples created under death-defying circumstances and tags that makes sense and might carry a message, a challenge when we’re dealing with a lone word.

In a sea of “rafts,” “qwilts,” and “napkn” tags Antsi stands out. The real message may have more to do with my imagination applying meaning. I know the city and highway department have better things to do than cover up graffiti. It is a waste tax dollars. That money could find better ways to be wasted.  For me, it’s become the strange entertainment of obsessing over new tags and spray paint designs on my commute to work. There doesn’t seem much else to experience trodding back and forth with other disillusioned souls. Here’s a few tales about the good times I’ve experienced through the work of Ansti.

Antsi on a Truck

It’s hard to tell if the owner of this truck gave permission to have his vehicle painted. It seems like there was an opportunity to make the paint job spiffy. It’s apparent that no effort was made to paint over the side panel which allows Antsi an opportunity to have a moving billboard promoting his brand. Not wanting to miss a chance to get this photo, I had to drive down a side street to wait for this truck to pass by.

Antsi and the Donut King

I do have to admit to playing with my phone while driving. This was one of these moments where I was hoping to catch an image of the Donut King’s house for a future story. A decent image would save me a trip for more photos. Looking at the image later, I noticed the Antsi tag on a jersey wall in the lower left corner. The red color adds a splash of vibrancy, something different from the usual black and white color scheme.

Antsi Tags Portland City Market

It’s not everyday that you get a sense of the personal experiences that come from someone having their property tagged. I’m writing about this from a memory of a while back based on what I read on Nextdoor. The feeling I recall was pure rage. The business owner had a legitimate complaint about an Antsi tag that appeared when his Lombard Avenue business was in the midst of a renovation. Antsi managed to keep the paint mostly on the temporary plywood.

Stuck on Antsi


In the Albina neighborhood, I may have found the answer to what the Antsi promotion is about: Boasting sticker sales. Going from graffiti to stickering seems like a natural progression with opportunities for cross marketing, double branding or other phenomenons of our current times that mystify me. I’m getting more antsy trying to figure it out.

Mt. Hood Reflects Back

 

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A windshield eyed view.

After noticing one image, I found myself immersed in Mt. Hood’s use in advertising, signs and as decoration. Always a pretty picture, Mt. Hood adds serenity to visuals. It’s a reminder of our nearby nature. I do wonder if artistic interpretations are necessary when spectacular views are available from certain vantage points around town.

Artists do need to get their Mt. Hood portraits right. It’s about including the pointy top and the secondary little groove. Snow coverage is another element each artist must consider when creating these images. It has different looks all year but for much of the time it remains a winter wonderland. Regardless, the mountain’s beauty is an effective tool for drawing people into various messages and mediums.

Dumpster Diving

This dumpster, with its Mt. Hood decoration, inspired this post. I spotted this recreation of Mt. Hood in a lot with other dumpsters decorated by elementary school students near the underpasses that surround the Fremont Bridge. Images of Mt. Hood began to appear everywhere.

The Age of Vape 

Perhaps there’s a subliminal message about volcano smoke in this image concerning smoking products and ID checks, otherwise there’s no connection that I can make. Mt. Hood livens up a dull message offering pretty scenery that has me wondering if Mt. Hood is even a Multnomah County resident.

It’s Elementary

This elementary school mural in SW creates a pleasing picture of the snow-covered peak with cloud cover below and an errant sea-gull. It makes an effort to show all of Oregon weather conditions that are capable of happening at the same time.

Pyramid Power Perpetuated

Sure I bought into pyramid power back in the ’70’s, we all did, but this portrayal of “Hoodie” seen at the Interstate Kaiser Medical Office is too angular, too geometric as well as being too pyramid-shaped to depict our mountain friend in a just manner.

Q’d Up

This is a great take on Mt. Hood using expressive, autumnal colors while including lifelike, glacial features of the area. The multicolored birds flying off the side of the building are an added bonus.

At the Crest of Man and Van

Sure we all know all about the Pacific Crest Trail so the use of Mt. Hood for this business name makes sense. It’s so nicely done that I’m tempted to call them just so I can gaze at their van while they work on the house. Nice pastoral meadows dwarf the mountain a bit but this scenery is the next best thing to being there.

Best Bud’s Mountain Mural

Spotted and photographed from the window of the New Seasons across the street, it dawned on me that the Best Buds cannabis shop on Lombard Ave has offered up a Mt. Hood mural on the side of their building. This is quite the tribute to the views of the mountain that you sometimes get driving down Lombard.

Detail, Purple and white Mt. Hood.

Widmer Brewing’s Hood Garden

In the beer garden at the Widmer Brewery, a mural of Mt. Hood caught my eye. I wondered if it was advertising a new Mt. Hood beer. On closer inspection it was a gallant piece of art with only an almost subliminal W in the top corner connecting it to the brewery.  Ah, the mountain, the city, the rose, the painting lacks flowing beer which would tie this piece together.

Detail, Widmer world view

The Cat and the Dog Jumped Over the Mountain

The mountain appears simply and majestically on this sign. The addition of a frolicking cat and dog are a great way bring attention to the business. It makes sense that if a healthy cat and dog visited Mt. Hood they would leap over one another with great gusto and expressions of joy.

Better Transit, Better Graphics

Maybe not the best slogan but far be it from me to think I could come up with something better. This is a nice use of Mt. Hood. It seems to hug the city, surrounding it and offering a nice caress. Mt. Hood and Portland get along as well as any natural landmark and city could be expected to. What this all has to do with making transit better I don’t know. It might be that we should all be enjoying our Mt. Hood view as we travel by Max train over the river.

Keep Kicking it Old School, Please

Unsure window designs that work.

Sure there’s plenty to be concerned about with the future of education but I’ve been thinking about the schools of tomorrow and whether all the charm and cool characteristics of Portland’s old schools will one day be wiped out. My guess is that new schools built from scratch will reflect our current fast and cheap world of building practices. Schools are more likely to resemble big box stores than the traditional schools of yesteryear.

Maybe not even a real gargoyle.

Schools in Portland have decorative elements that are cool in their subtly. These are things that students might not notice for years until one day they begin to wonder about the concrete designs up near the roof line or they spot a lion head gargoyle and point it out to a classmate. I am no student of architecture. I’ve have seen enough schools in the district to have the opinion that when new schools are built an effort should be made to keep things interesting inside and out.

 

Mrs. Tom Jolly

I work with elementary school children which has had me wondering what the kids that surround me will remember about their school experience. There may not be much to recall about what their school looked like. This theory is based on my own murky memories of my first school, Jolly Elementary in Clarkson, Georgia. It was your basic, boxy, one story, red brick building. The only memorable thing was a large, framed photograph of Mrs. Tom Jolly, the school’s namesake sitting on an easel in the main lobby. I couldn’t have told you a thing about her then. No one at the school ever talked her up. I didn’t know her first name or why she was the school’s namesake. The picture of an ancient woman haunted me every time I saw it. It wasn’t until recently that I found out what she did to help educate children in her community and what made her worthy of having a school named after her. My point here is give kids something to remember about their school.

Brick brack

This really is one of those they don’t make ‘em like they used to pieces. Back in the day delicate design accents were included in schools. Souped up windows, columns, carvings, latin phrases inscribed in concrete and Roman numerals appeared on schools. You could almost imagine kids of that era speaking Latin as a second language and maybe knowing their Roman numerals. I appreciate subtle architecture elements in school’s exteriors knowing it creates a better educational environment, if only on a subconscious level, that might inspire students somehow. It’s the least the older schools in Portland have to offer.

Windows so beautiful.

Old schools with over the top window designs still look great. They might combine these looks with concrete doohickies (not an architectural term, I know) as well as cravings and fake columns that border huge windows. One day, while substitute teaching, I noticed a malt liquor can in the well of the faux balcony. I never did get around to letting the janitorial staff know but it seemed out of place. What about these faux balconies? Sadly I have no picture to illustrate this but when would you ever need a balcony at a school?

Roman scholars unite!

I always loved the entrance to Benson Polytechnic along with the name of the school as I’m a graduate of a Polytechnic Institute. The front doors seem epic with real looking columns. I was supposed to learn in school whether they’re doric or ionic but at times like these it’s of no significance and not even worth looking up. They are gorgeous. If I had gone to that school I would have worn a toga regardless of whether  it was allowed according to the school’s dress code. I would have been proud to enter that school every day but it’s more likely this facade would have been so distracting that I would have hung around the columns for much of my class time never learning the difference between doric and ionic columns.

This way to the auditorium.

The Kenton School, now De La Salle, was built over 100 years ago. It’s further proof of what was done right then. Concrete carvings, a nice entrance and the labeling of certain buildings like the auditorium are all admirable design offerings.

The old Kenton School with planters.

This school has nice concrete trim around the windows and roof along with it’s own school crest  and a mysterious lion gargoyle that proved challenging to photograph. Announcing to the world that the school was erected in 1913 probably opens itself up to a preponderance of sophomoric jokes and would not be the type of thing that would appear on a  school building these days.

Every school needs a crest.

One of the Kellogg School owls.

To anyone designing and building schools in Portland make the effort to create a bit of mystery and decorative work in schools that will help students thrive.  Keep alive the spirit of intrigue that still exists in Portland schools today through the use of artistic masonry. Something like the Kellogg School owls outside one of the doorways would might seem like something insignificant, but it has possibility of making kids feel special like their school is a unique and wondrous place.

Kenton School detail: Lined up to learn.

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.
Portlandia

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.

 

The Foster Files: Can the Phoenix Pharmacy Rise Again?

I was walking down Foster Road this summer during a house/dog sitting gig when I saw a large banner on the side of a store. What I could see as I approached read: Save Foster Road. The buildings in the area appeared run down so I concluded that the sign was a plea to bring attention to the area. The structure that I later learned was the Pharmacy building caught my eye. I admired the curve of the architecture and I could tell it was historical but it felt abandoned.

The Pharmacy building from the other side of the street.

When I reached the banner, I realized Save Foster Road was a different campaign from what I had assumed. I won’t get into details as I plan to visit the topic in a future post. I had forgotten about the building when I was writing posts for the Foster Files. I had been immersed in sidewalk paintings and art trees in the neighborhood but the Pharmacy came back into my consciousness when I saw a photograph posted on the Hidden Portland for the Curious group on Facebook. Jason Pedegana, an illustrator and designer who runs a Facebook site with tons of historical photos, swooped in with information and more photos. The building came alive in my imagination. I saw it in its heyday and sensed its place as the hub of the neighborhood. For a moment it wasn’t suspended in the stasis and decay that I had perceived from the other side of the street.

The Phoenix in its’ heyday.

At the risk of committing the ultimate sin of lazy journalism, I offer up some historical information that Jason posted on the thread on Facebook:

“The roughly 7500 square foot building constructed in 1922, was once home to the Phoenix Pharmacy. Built, owned, and operated by John Leach who lived with his wife on what is now the Leach Botanical Gardens, the pharmacy was centered at the core of the community, considered a gem, and attracted many people to the area. It was actually RE-built by Leach, as the previous owner had tried to burn it down, twice. Hence the name “Phoenix”.

In the glory days of VHS.

People chimed in with comments and a more complete story of the building formed through descriptions of past tenants, a doctor who had an office in the building, a video store that sold phones which seemed to be one of the last tenants and there was a mention of the second floor having two apartments. Other comments revealed that Buck Froman owns the building. If you ever need an in-person, oral history of the place you can talk to him at his stove shop a couple of buildings down.

Happy pharmacists!

I asked the person we were house sitting for about the Pharmacy building when he returned. He told me the building had been unoccupied since he moved to the area in 2004. I felt an emptiness hearing that. My urban idealism wants cool buildings to find new life even when circumstances make it challenging. It’s understandable that renovation costs for seismic upgrades, wiring and plumbing mean are potentially prohibitive to attract a tenant.

There is plenty of behind the scenes activity going on to preserve the building. A Facebook group, Foster the Phoenix, is devoted to these efforts. Someone associated with the group commented that the city has been involved in looking for ways to get the building back to it’s former glory. A mural was added to the first floor offering a sense that people are looking out for the building.

A ghost sign haunts the back.

I have to admit I’m weirdly nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced in Portland, real street cars, old movie theaters and unique, classic buildings. These days most drug stores are part of a corporate chain so I appreciated the history of this pharmacy that thrived with a staff of happy pharmacists. The story goes beyond Leach’s ability to run a successful business because of the legacy he left behind with his botanical garden. I’m hoping his Phoenix Pharmacy rises again.

The photographs, with the exception of the first and last that appear in this post, are from the City of Portland Archive. Thanks goes to J. Pedegana for his historical input and for bringing photos and this subject matter to my attention. I would have sought more information from him but I ran out of time.

 

 

Summeritis: A Wall and Some Bridges

Last week, I was out of town but still managed to write a post. I wrote it using my iPhone and sporadic wi-fi. Talk about phoning it in! This may have me resting on my laurels. There’s a post vacation malaise that took over as I was working on this week’s piece. I haven’t totally envisioned the concept, and the theme is happening as I write. My “summeritis” is hitting a wall.

When I became a car commuter this spring, I started spending time on I-5 South and in SW Portland. I went from bike commuting to taking the train and bus to my current job. Once I had a car available, I drove. I began to see things in a different section of town, and stuck in traffic. This had me examining my surroundings.

This post wouldn’t have happened if John Lennon hadn’t named one of his solo albums Walls and Bridges. That title was on my mind. As oblique and simple as it is, it had me considering the category. There were probably more walls that I overlooked but I discovered a bridge less glamorous but no less notable than other bridges in Portland. My summertime brain is mushy, but I can hear the cries of the universe begging for a blog post like this one.

It occurred to me one morning that this retaining wall along I-5 was well conceived. It’s not that I can’t point out a couple of faults, but most mornings when I looked at this heap of rolling concrete, I was pleased. Someone had executed a nice design. The wall’s grooved stucco texture and gentle curves look great. This slab did seem to be begging to be covered with impossible to clean graffiti. We’re talking about an accessible canvas in a high traffic area. I always try not to worry about the inevitable and enjoy the view. My only problem with the wavy wall of clean concrete is the chain link fence crowning it. Were there no other fence options? Anything? It’s not a classy accompaniment. It’s chain link.

Bridges in the area are classy for the most part.  How would it feel to cross a pedestrian bridge named after you? Darlene Hooley knows. The official name of the bridge pictured above is US Congresswoman Darlene Hooley Bridge. There may be only a few people who could name this I-5 crossing by the Tram station. There’s nothing fancy about it besides the name. It’s utilitarian as bridges go and gets the job done.  Foot traffic passes over the highway without the fear that comes form dodging cars.

If I had a bridge named after me I would walk up and down it often asking people, “Do you know who I am?” Maybe that’s why no one has named a bridge after me.

I often road over this crossing on SW Barbur Blvd after work. The cement arches are aesthetically pleasing. The plaque piqued my curiosity, so I made plans to stop to take photos. It offers information concerning the Oregon Electric Railway.

The word in the second line is in shadow so I can’t make it out. I know it doesn’t say “ottercrossing.” Further research filled my head with information about the Oregon Electric Railway, the historical society and trolley cars. I almost lost an afternoon delving into local railroad history, so I will leave it up to my readers to take it from here.

Another bridge in the SW Portland area boasts impressive metal work. This is a bridge that carries SW 19th over I-5. I would have no problem walking across it often, perhaps if I were on my way for a bite at Humdingers. Pattern and detail are lacking in modern slapdash bridge designs.

Looking across to the other side, I noticed what happens when a car crashes into the railing. This doesn’t appear to be something that can be straightened without some effort, so there’s no reason to get bent out of shape about it. This post was desperate for a pun–ah, rock on anybody!

Who couldn’t resist the view of a bridge behind a rain splashed windshield? This bridge leading in or out of Multnomah Village has old world charm, nice curve appeal and looks sturdy. It allows for car traffic above and below. With all of it’s grayness, it almost blends in with the gray skies. There was something quaint about this image as I saw it looming through the windshield. Like the rest of Multnomah Village it has a certain charm even  through rain drops and glass.

 

 

Fourth of July: Flags Unfurled

Capture the flag takes on a whole new meaning when you’re trying to get that shot, the one where a flag unfurls majestically revealing all of its stars and stripes in their full glory. It takes waiting for the right wind or snapping away hoping for that perfect patriotic tear inducing shot. Flags are out aplenty this time of year creating opportunities to make classic all-American images.

Unfurled in the reflection.

With an inflatable, wind sock and buntings the flag becomes secondary to this Uncle Sam scene but it does manage to sneak its way into the picture.

Porch breezes caught.

Stars are stripes are essential decorations for this holiday. Sneak them into an old flower pot and they’ll dress that up as well.

Ununfurled

Not every flag is in the right place to catch air. This flag is unable to display its faded glory. It can only hope to catch the right breeze.

Unfurling in a crazy wind.

The stripes of old glory here are encountering wind gusts from multiple angles making it tough to unflap its flapibility but it’s not with out effort.

Unfurling slowly.

A fun sculpture that attempts to heed a warning gets into the spirit of the Fourth of July with the addition of a small flag. Slow down, heed the patriotism revealed by this plastic boy and dog and you’ll keep kids safe in the process.

Bright and sunny.

Taken from a new home built across from the Post Office, whoever gets this room is going to wake up to an amazing flag view. On sunny days the sight of this is sure to supercharge anyone’s patriotic fervor.

Barely breezy.

This flag speaks to me about rights and freedom of expression and respect for the goings on behind closed doors. This flag also gets replaced periodically when it becomes tattered. Regardless of what kind of dancing goes on in this establishment, even if bears dance bare,  I salute this flag.

Bud Light drinkers unite.

This one goes out to some time Portland Orbit contributor, Will Simmons, who made a crack about Budweiser drinkers in Portland. Here’s proof that somebody is at least trying to inspire people to drink Bud and his cousin Bud Light in this town.

At some point this year it occurred to me that the American flag had been coopted, that it had somehow has come to represent those who use it as a way to show themselves to be more patriotic and even more loyal to American ideals. Sure flag waving has always been a thing but as I aim to keep things light and fluffy around here my flag appreciation remains unfettered. Things in the U.S. are in a state of flux but the flag still represents the hope and a determinations our founding fathers set out for this country in their old school, powdered wig wearing ways. This post, an annual one, is an attempt to extol the joys of flag displays. I want to see the flag as something all Americans understand as well as stand behind. I encourage everyone to get creative with Fourth of July decorations, if only for my entertainment alone.

Have a happy July Fourth!

Creepy Stairs, Not Stares

In the beginning.

On a sunny afternoon the opening to a long winding staircase peeks out onto SW Barbur Blvd. The stairs begin dark and gloomy. Surrounding trees and brush block out the sun. The steps appear in an uninviting section of this busy four lane road offering an escape from a dirt and gravel shoulder. I had no idea where they led but anywhere, even a route that required taking sinister steps had to be better than the starting location. It has the feel of a live action Candy Land game. If you land on the space you go up the stairs.

Paint job needed.

I have read a few blogs posts in the Pittsburgh Orbit about that city’s stairs. The weekend before I checked out these mystery stairs, a friend had mentioned The Portland Stairs book. I know Portland has a network of stairs too but I’m not familiar with them. Pittsburgh stairs were constructed for workers to be able to get down the hills to the factories below. With Portland it’s a given that if you live on a hill you would also need steps.

It’s not the tree that’s crooked.

The more I drove past these stairs the more curious I was about where they led. They seemed strange to me. I wondered where someone would go if they took the stairs down the hill to Barbur Blvd. The closest location of significance is the Fulton Park and Community Center or the Portland French school up the road. The stairs have a middle of nowhere feel. It makes more sense to use the stairs to get away from that section of road. I spent the first five months of the school year commuting by bus and train but since I’ve become a regular driver I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a public transportation user or a pedestrian. The stairs provide an easier way to get up the hill. The other option would huffing it up and around a steep street. There has to be a few people who benefit from the stair’s location.

The 201st step.

I ascended the stairs after parking the car on a steep incline on SW Parkhill Dr and walking over. There was never a more aptly named street. It’s hard to tell how much the stairs get used. Graffiti on one of the stair walls had been painted over but the railings suffered from peeling paint and lichen growth. Closer to the top, a pair of pants had been draped over a railing. The stairs proved to be winding but not unyielding. The steps did a nice of job of cutting through the forest and brush. It wasn’t a bad walk as I strode up the stairs with plenty of landings along the way. I spotted daylight and the landings stopped. I was stepping through tall bushes towards sunlight. I popped up in a sedate neighborhood between two nice homes on another section of SW Parkhill Dr. I was able to look back and see a terrific view across the Willamette River. After I headed down the stairs and got back to the car I lamented not counting the stairs. A stair count would offer a sense of how far up the hill the stairs go. A specific number would be impressive. I chose not to return to the stairs to count but my estimate would be at least 300 steps.

Outdoor pants drying rack?

I know there are plenty of stairs in the West Hills and other parts of Portland. Something tells me that they must be impressive if a 147 page book has been written about the subject. I haven’t had the opportunity to explore them. At this point I’m just trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit. If they’re writing about stairs, I write about Portland’s version. I found my transplant self emerging reflected by my ignorance of stair history, but it felt good to take a few minutes to check them out instead of continuing to drive past them everyday giving them little thought. On the stairs I didn’t run into trolls, sketchy or pantsless people and I didn’t end up reenacting a Portland version of that scene out of the Exorcist. There are more steps out there with there own stories or at the very least some better views.

Post Script: As I was posting this I discovered on the community walk website that the Barbur Blvd stairs are known as the Nebraska Stairway and have a total of 147 steps. My estimate of 300 steps was way off but a good guess considering I had walked up and then back down the steps. That math has me off by only 6 steps. I checked a copy of the Portland Stairs Book from the library which is the first step in my becoming a stairs expert.