The End of Summer: Sigh, A Sign Round Up

I never complained about this summer’s heat. It’s a memory I’ll need some cold, damp, March afternoon when I’m half way between this summer and the next one. I opened my mind to the sun light and tried not to think. Appreciating the last of this summer has led me to post something requiring the least energy possible.

Caution Step Up Then Down

This homemade/handmade sign provides a valuable public service. Placed on a side door of a bar on North Lombard Street, the message could become more confusing as the night wears on. The caution warning alerts people to the need for the tricky two step dance necessary to get through the entrance.

No Dumping By Order of City Eng’r.

This sign caught my eye on Willamette Boulevard. The road is on the top of a sloping hill that runs down to an industrial ravine. It’s sure to tempt polluters or anyone who needs to dump something in the underbrush. I found amusement from the sign’s need to include a mention of the City Eng’r (City Engineer?). It’s tough to tell if this is an intimidating enough authority figure to get people to heed this warning.

Watch For Pedestrian

I don’t doubt there’s a need to warn people to watch out for pedestrians on this tricky corner of the St. Johns neighborhood near the bridge. I couldn’t tell if this was poor planning on the part of the sign maker or if there are fewer pedestrians than one would expect.

If You’re Not Outraged…

I don’t know the history of this incident but it’s worth noting that this sign spotted near the Lloyd Center has either survived since 2007 or someone continues to bring attention to the situation. The outrage feels never ending and the reminders always necessary.

Drop Your Pants Here

In the days of #metoo, this sign seems a bit crass but it’s the nature of this dry cleaners to risk letting the world know they have a sense of humor because, well, they spend their work days in the confines of a dry cleaners. It’s nice to try to loosen up a little bit although not to the point where one takes the sign literally. If the photo looks a bit too much like an advertisement I can attest to the work they do, which is, pretty good.

Stick With It

Not so much a sign but a message applied to a garbage dumpster in the Kenton neighborhood. Anyone seeking out inspiration on a dumpster would usually be out of luck but a trash receptacle bearing this message has a certain inspirational quality not usually found on dumpsters.

Notice of Free Range Rabbit

Having spotted this next to the curb on the outskirts of Kenton, I assumed the sign was staking out parking territory. Seeing it up close, I was surprised to learn about the parking strip maintainence performed by a free-range rabbit who’s whereabouts were unknown at the time I took the picture. I’d say only Jimmy Carter should heed a beware of Bunny message. My preference would be to remain mindful of the rabbit’s maintenance munching.

Got Laundry?

Oh to the ad campaign that lunched a thousand, or more, parodies. This one is funny to a certain someone I know. It seems to be trying to remind people driving down North Lombard Street to round up their dirty clothes and head back to the laundromat.

Jesu Loves

The grape vine obscures a handsome sign with an uplifting message spotted  in the Kenton neighborhood. You can tell I didn’t leave the neighborhood much this summer. The sign may yet return to glory when the leaves die back.

Please Stop Stealing  


It’s a shame someone has to post this kind of message. It’d be nice to think that people could leave their stuff out and not have to worry about theft. Another sign of the times seen in the Kenton neighborhood.

Please Do Not Steal the dogs water dish!

More theft to report, with this occurring down the road in a no man’s land between the Kenton and Woodlawn neighborhoods. It almost doesn’t matter what thieves steal. It’s always annoying.

Try Vegan

The camera optics at dusk aren’t always great but this is a cardboard plea near the Lloyd District that’s polite and offers a low frill, yet ultimately high tech way to explore the vegan lifestyle. Is the hash tag going to get you propaganda? Recipes? There’s only one way to find out.


Sure it’s good information, a notice that surely has saved many lives. The sign straddles the tracks by the North Denver Max station. This blurry photo reveals that if you only stop for half a second, or less, you can get away with standing next to the sign without violating the sign’s strict request.


(Don’t) Stop! Blogging about Stop Signs

Stop. Abandon your car.

Is it too easy? Think of your foremost pet peeve and write that word or phrase under the word stop on a stop sign. Or, better yet, get a sticker of the word or phrase so you can mass-produce your message. Even a politician’s sticker can be used against him. This protest is convenient, the opportunities are plentiful with stop signs being everywhere. These modifications do make the signs more interesting for those who pay attention to them.

My stop sign fixation started a few years back when I noticed a stop sign modified to create a plea for people to stop laughing at Danzig. Sure it was an obscure message created for a select audience, but it opened my eyes to stop sign communiques. Stop signs now serve double duty. They command brake application and inspire protest possibilities.

Stop and Smell The Roses

There’s a nice stenciled graphic here and while the message is trite, it adds humor to an otherwise bland sign. Back when Bob Mould was with Husker Du he wrote this line:

 If you don’t stop to smell the roses now, they might end up on you.

The sign decor makes an attempt to remind us of this sentiment. There’s one problem. No one planted any roses. The next task, if your pass this way on Capitol Highway in SW, is to find some roses to smell.

Stop Racism

Yes, for sure, there are many things to stop and many isms to conquer with the exception of my personal favorite, Bagism. Leave it alone! What struck me was how someone got their hands on a giant vat of white out which must have had an extra-large brush to screw off the container. If the artist hadn’t been in such a hurry to mark up this stop sign in the Sabin neighborhood, the white paint could have spruced up the stop sign lettering as well.

Stop Ableism

This sign spotted in the King neighborhood made me feel dumb. I had to ask what ableism is. I received a great answer but it’s been forgotten already. It’s important to note that if we all work together we should be able to stop it.

Stop For Love

Another sign in the King neighborhood seems to be inspired by a song title. The closest one I found was “Stop To Love” by Luther Vandross, so perhaps the message is more metaphorical than literal. I was unable to find love around this stop sign anyway. My reason for stopping then had to do with the regulations I read about in the driver’s manual at the DMV which instructed me to obey all street signs.

Stop Frowning?

In the Kerns neighborhood this stop sign had been put through the ringer. The offense of mistreatment include being scribbled on, stickered, tagged, autographed, initialed and scratched but it manages to keep delivering its message. I understand its duty in controlling the flow of automobile traffic but I had to loosely interpret what concept this stop sign asking us to cease.  After spying a hieroglyphic I surmised that we’re being asked to stop frowning. When the medium is the message it’s best muddle it.

Stop Police Brutality & Hate

I sometimes get to the point where I feel like too much is being asked of me. This is the case with this Sabin neighborhood sign. It’s a tall order even to take on police brutality. I would have been willing to stop, read the sign and perhaps have taken the first steps towards taking action, but the additional request is too much. Really, I’m going to stop police brutality and in what time I have left over I’m going to squeeze in some hate stoppage. It’s overwhelming. Let’s prioritize. Once police brutality is stopped there may be a bit less hate in the world.

Stop Eating Animals

If I saw this sign in the Mississippi neighborhood on an empty stomach I might lose my appetite or head to the nearest vegetarian restaurant. I appreciate the request. Not eating animals would be good for the planet, people’s health and animals too, but I have to imagine that it would be necessary to try much harder to get people to stop eating animals. People are going to have to go down to the food cart pod and slap BBQ sandwiches out of people’s hands. It could get ugly. The sticker affixed to the sign does makes me realized how efficient this method is to bringing people’s attention to this cause.

Stop/Support Trump

One message became two when one person’s attempt to stop Trump was crossed out. This isn’t  exactly visible while driving but I encountered this sign on a bike. Someone must have become offended and tried to get their message across while obscuring the intent of the original. Now it’s becoming a jumbled mess that would have made more sense if the word stop had been crossed out. Another solution might have been to write support above Trump’s name. The arrow is the kicker, plain and simple, if you’re not sure who you’re being asked to support.

Stop That!

It’s makes sense that I should end with something that, well, is kind of cute because after all we’ve all been asked to take on many different serious issues that need stopping. This sign in North Portland demonstrates that on rare occasions, stop signs, with a bit of help, can demonstrate a sense of humor.



Mt. Hood Reflects Back



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.

Dog Days: What Dogs Aren’t Reading

If you ever tried to teach your dog to read the first word he’d need to learn is poop followed by no or not here or maybe, don’t. Let’s face it dogs can’t read. I don’t care how smart you think your dog is he or she is never going to learn. I know signs are written for dog owners not dogs. To communicate with a dog it might be best to use doggie hieroglyphics.

I’ve always felt bad for dogs. When they go to the bathroom it’s a challenge to give them privacy. It’s not like you have to watch but dogs on a walk use the “facilities” in full view of the world. It is up to each owner to pick up after their pooch. Dogs won’t do it. If the following signs go unheeded then all I can say is may the dog owner suffer the sign’s harsh rebukes. I’m as diligent as I can be about picking up after my dog. I can deal with crap for the most part and I’m trying to be a good citizen. I did have one moment where I spaced out, what was I thinking I didn’t even realize the dog had gone. I was called out by an even better citizen. At the very least, people who post signs  should be aware that I read every sign and take pictures of them too.

Let’s begin the sign review:

Well, if my dog can’t pee here can he poop here in this no pee zone. That is going to get tricky. This handwritten sign looks like an official traffic sign of sorts in it’s design which makes it look official. Ultimately someone may be trying to protect their shrubbery. Look, there’s lots of other places to pee so we’ll just move on.

It’s actually a nice design for such a profane message. I like the black outline and green lettering. Yes your lawn does not resemble a giant toilet but my dog has never used one of those. Look, there are lot’s of other places to pee and poop, so we’ll move on.

This message gets very specific. “My lawn is not a toilet.” This confuses my dog greatly because all he knows about toilets is that they’re a secondary water source if his water bowl is empty. As far as pooping goes, no one wants to poop where they’re not wanted. There are plenty of other places to poop, despite how inviting this lawn is, we’ll just move on.

This one gets it right by using manners, exclamation points and doggie hieroglyphics (paw prints, hearts and a smile.) This looks like a nice spot, if he agrees I’ll make sure I clean up afterwards.

A store bought sign speaks in dog language if you can teach your dog that the red circle with the line across it means no. Most dogs could relate to what the squatting dog is doing. The lawn looks lush and green and tempting in the afternoon sun. If the sign is encouraging respect, the least a dog and owner can be is respectful and find another lawn.

We ran into this sign last week. It tells the whole story so I’ll take the rest of the afternoon off.

Next week: An interview with the I, Anonymous Illustrator. 

Left Behind: The Sign Edition

It’s understandable. Signs can be difficult to take down when businesses move on. So signs from former tenants remain. I was struck by how much I liked some of the signs that are still lingering despite possible confusion.

The first abandoned sign I noticed, was for a nail salon. Not having been a customer, I’m was unsure when it was operational in the last nine years. It may have shared the building with the High Water Mark bar briefly. I have seen tenants come and got to this building at the corner of NE MLK Blvd and Dekum St. At some point I realized the bar had taken over the whole space. The sign is colorful, typical in nail salon style and design, but it’s cool in a kitschy way and the L.A. connection amuses me. On a subconscious level nail salons need to encompass all the glitz and glamor L.A. has to offer so why not be overt about it. The sign is nondescript in a way to be almost unnoticeable. Any one happening by, wanting to get their nails done will be sadly left with ragged nails and a continued search for another salon.

Given the size of some of the signs it’s easy to see why they haven’t been removed. It makes sense to cover up the name of a previous business with brown paint. The real solution may be to hook up a sign for the current business to the old sign.

The Boom Boom Room on Barbur Blvd had an attractive sign to go along with their amusing name. Who could resist saying that a dozen or so times? It feels pointless now with the place being closed. The internet will tell you otherwise but it also links to the Boom Boom Room’s MySpace site. I have a sense that this sign’s days are numbered. Odds are it will be removed. The new tenant seems to be making extensive renovations to the building and has already added their own spiffy sign to the front of the building.

The renovation to the building’s exterior revealed a previous tenant.

Mackin’s Auto body still has a presence in the Kenton neighborhood. This faded painted sign is either an advertisement or it marks a previous location. I like this relic of bygone days but it’s hard to watch it fade away.

The last sign that caught my attention was spotted on NE MLK Blvd. It’s not evident what this sign may have advertised. An added dash of a graffiti does not cover up what looks like a car tire, while a human figure can be seen below with a bit of imagination. The old sign seems related to the nearby auto business. It retains a certain character with it’s oddball geometric shapes while offering itself as a canvas for additional graffiti artists.

Post script:

On the second, third and fourth day of my summer vacation I can feel a creep of dog days engulfing me. It could be the warmth or the sunshine or that plain old summer feeling. If you notice topics getting less and less challenging to the brain, well, that might be due to the neurological melt (not an actual medical condition) experienced on my part.

Free Air and Phone: Perks of the Motel Sign

For anyone passing through Portland, it must be nearly impossible to decide where to stay. If you want the motel experience, not only do you have to determine whether the name on the sign, as well as the sign itself suits your taste, you have to consider additional information that may be provided. How many TV channels are you going to get? What if you want a jacuzzi in the room? You always assume you’ll have wi-fi access but do you know? Direct dial phones? Air conditioning? TV? Sometimes it’s the bonus features that make or break the deal. The extras might make the price right. If you’re looking for more than a bed and a pillow you have to consider the features you can or maybe can’t live without for a night or two. Some motels list room features directly on the sign while others have added a marquee for that purpose.

SW Barbur Blvd

Lately, I’ve spent time driving up Interstate and walking and driving in SW where I began to look past the coolness factor of the  signs and discover aspects of them that began to appear absurd.  There were outdated listings of luxuries we now take for granted like phone service, TV and air conditioning. I appreciate the older signs. They look even better in the evening when their neon lights cut through the dark. It’s likely people don’t really consider the quality of the motel signs or mull over specific offerings when choosing a place to stay but for the purpose of writing about motel signs I decided I needed a gimmick.

N Interstate Ave

Fans of the Vikings television show probably won’t find any real Vikings staying at this motel. TV is listed at the top of the sign so it’s a given you’ll have something to watch and hopefully you won’t miss an episode. Otherwise this motel is keeping its offerings on the down low.

N Interstate Ave

This is one of my favorite motel signs in town. I’m not sure why. It could be the cowboy hat. It’s obvious the sign is old. It seems like direct dial phones were possibly a key selling point a long time ago. At least the TV you watch will be in color and the room temperature should be cool.

SW Barbur Blvd

Another old sign that has seen some wear and tear. If you’re looking for phones and kitchens you’ll find them at the Ranch Inn but free cable TV with 32 channels and Showtime movies is the real bargain.

N Interstate Ave

This is another of Portland’s finest neon signs. At night the monkey is more animated moving up and down the  tree. The addition of a marquee allows for increased sales tactics. Free TV seems to have been as much a part of the original sign as the neon monkey.

Palms sign, detail

Showtime shows up again along with commercial rates and internet. Free stuff shouldn’t make the room cost anymore.

N Interstate Ave

When the S in the sign is shaped like a dollar sign that has to imply you’ll be getting a good price. Throw in free high speed internet and you’ve got yourself a deal.  You’re not staying at a motel either. It’s an Inn.


How are you going to settle for anything less than an in room jacuzzi at any price? I loved the old sign before it was replaced. I’m sad to say I never took a photo. The new design did not include additional room perks but if you have an in room jacuzzi what else would you need?

N Interstate Ave

The Monticello makes excellent use of the marquee below the picture of Thomas Jefferson’s old home with an arrow going through it. All your questions should be answered. The motel has some tempting incentives, DSL and HBO too, although in my personal experience I can only think of one hotel experience where HBO actually had something on their schedule that I wanted to watch.

SW Capitol Hwy

I’m getting excited about this sign. I like the lettering font and the simplistic logo. Below the word Inn is an animated sign board offering a welcoming message. Spa, pillow tops, and hot breakfast feels like a little bit of heaven and certainly hospitable.

N Interstate Ave

This sign does not make good use of it’s letter board, but it does have the phrase “Affordable Rates” at the top. This is a rallying cry to cheapskates like me. Has this Inn economized on room perks? Can I at least get some ice in my bucket? There is only one way to find out.

Budget Motel Back view

N Interstate

This sign seems to be in the process of refurbishment. The lettering on the marquee is one of the only instances I’ve seen of a motel offering a special deal which makes for an extra special use of their lettering board.

Budget Motel

A better view.

Here’s a better look at the Budget Motel sign before the special offer had  been placed on the marquee.

SW 6th Ave

This is a beaut of a sign that snuck up on me on one of those traffic-is-always-bad-on-Thursday afternoons when I took a detour to get home. Back in the day AC, phones and TV seems to be what everyone was looking for. The WI-FI looks like a late addition. I’m going to go out on a limb and praise this as an incredible example of mid-century modern design. I may even be wrong about that, but what do I care.

SW Barbur Blvd

The sign alone makes me want to spend time at this motel. I’d gladly walk up and down the sidewalk out front admiring the sign’s dome and swirling arrow anxiously waiting night fall when the sign would be illuminated. In the background a smaller sign advertises high speed wireless internet. There is no need to offer much else when the main sign looks this good.

SW Barbur Blvd

Kitchenettes and suites are the main draw for the Aladdin Motel. It’s not often that I think of baking anything when I stay in a motel. The sign does have the bonus feature of being part of the Barbur Plaza sign plan. These aren’t exactly in-room perks but you do have the option of getting your nails done, grabbing a gyro, pizza, a gun or some vaping gear while enjoying your stay at the Aladdin.

Editor’s Note: Many of the photos in this piece were taken while driving. This is not something the Portland Orbit advocates or recommends. It is now being insisted upon that all photographers stop and exit their vehicles before taking pictures.

Next Week: The Purple Post

Doldrum Shake Ups: Sign Additions

Municipal signs lack something. The design aims to present information and educate the public so it needs to be eye catching but not fancy. These signs have no fear of boring anyone. I’ve mentioned in this blog that I read everything, except the fine print and the manual. I’ve been rewarded with discovering signs sporting interjections of added art by unknown artists and unsung heroes giving a bit of personality to these morbidly mundane municipal messages.

Fat Cat Walking

Some signs not only spell out their message but illustrate it as well. That’s where the fun of this downtown Portland sign begins. This is not a stretch of sidewalk for loitering. Don’t stand around or you’re liable to get trampled by a diverse horde. You might be strolled, rolled, tripped over, poked by a cane or suffer a giant cigar poke to the eye. Wait a minute, that cigar wasn’t part of the original design. How fantastic is it that someone decided this sign needed improvement? Not only did the culprit risk getting walked over when decorating the sign, they actually nailed it. If you can imagine the figure minus the cigar and top hat, the man is joining this procession in full Fat Cat stride. Admire the coolness, the back lean, hand in pocket bravado adjusting his pace as not to crowd the cane bearing slow walker in front of him. What Fat Cat should be without a giant cigar and top hat? Keep puffing along Fat Cat, if you weren’t so relaxed and cool, I’d expect to see you in the front of the line.

Walking the Dog

While the Stick Figure Guy has been the butt of many jokes in his time I’ve never had a problem with him. This floating head, handless, footless, jumper wearing dude has always represented a person doing what the sign communicates his figurative needs to be. In this case the man is trying to cross the street. The sign includes a shout out to dog walkers on SW Capitol Hwy. As a dog walker myself, I welcomed the acknowledgement of the dog walking chore. Of course dogs need to cross streets too. Why were they forgotten in the first place? Our unknown artist missed an opportunity to draw the dog in stick style although why would anyone, there’s no stick breed. Dog walking in this case is challenging when you consider that Stick Guy has nary a hand and not much of a wrist to hang a leash on.

Danger Boy

This sign on Interstate Ave. reveals another dramatic development in the life of a Stick Figure Guy. A bolt of electricity strikes deep into his inky insides from a broken wire as Danger Boy looks on. The additional drawing offers an example to Stick Man on how it’s really done. To avoid danger simple choose to sit far away from wires. With his big eyes, Danger Boy remains wide eyed, mouthlessly silent and alert in the face of all treacherous situations. He’s doing double duty filling up a serious hole of white space in a sign that suffers from a poor design.

Where the Streets Have No Name

Outside a bus stop on Barbur Blvd in SW you’ll find a street sign addition that seems to call out mournfully the absence of something, well, absence. It’s true, as the sign feels the need to say, after those gaudy iron pipes there’s no more sidewalk. How would that not be obvious to anyone who might encounter it? After a few steps and a look around someone might try consider where the sidewalk went but the sign has additional information that’s let them know the exact point where the sidewalk ends. Equally important as questions go, who felt the need to add letters as if the original message on the sign wasn’t interesting enough? Someone out there was inspired to add the necessary flare supplement the sign’s plain design. It now takes on a kind of existential quality. Thankfully the effort was made so a few bored commuters, some daring pedestrians and an urban explorer or two might have an opportunity to be shaken out of their doldrums.

6/7/17 Weeks later I was embarrassed to find out via the Hidden Portland for the Curious Facebook group that this is a reference to a Shel Silverstein book. I work in an elementary school so I know I’ve seen those books around but I was more of a Tom Lehrer fan.

I got a synchronous tip from Cupcake Macfarlane about the work of the Billboard Liberation Front.  Check it out!


View from a meeting room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is people’s lives.”

“What’s going in the air?”

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

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

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

Rally ’round the flag!

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

The DEQ point of view.

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

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

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

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

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

Homemade signs fastened with painter’s tape


Local coverage:

Good job Lincoln!

Please (Parking Hassles)

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



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


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

The block letters are bold:




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



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

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


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

Mystery Businesses

Where's the sign?

Where’s the sign?

There are secret businesses operating all over Portland. I know, I know that has the sound of the beginnings of a weird conspiritorial rant but it’s probably not that big a deal. These operations do their thing in nondescript buildings that fit the description that the phrase undisclosed location brings to mind. There’s no prominent identification, no signs so it’s hard to tell what’s going on behind closed doors. My assumption is that the businesses have a name but for whatever reason they’re not telling and I don’t get it.

A lack of signage creates an air of mystery around businesses. You’d think any establishment would want to shout out it’s name to excite the world and get people interested in what they do. My limited business sense tells me signage is important. Is this post a cry for appropriate signage or for any at all? That’s part of my complaint. Come on! Opportunities for graphic art designs to come to life are being thwarted here.

Planning this blog post had me curious about the goings on of these places and their low profile. Sometimes it’s a challenge to determine what happens on the inside of a building. There might be clues but that doesn’t confirm anything.

Everything seems to be about name recognition but these places aren’t playing by these rules. I’m not saying the mystery is bad, it’s more perplexing as to why these places don’t introduce themselves. It keeps me wondering. I may also just be curious or nosy but I feel excluded like these businesses are telling me it’s none of my business.

Food Factory?

Good enough to eat.

Good enough to eat.

It wasn’t a rumor but more of a vague memory mentioned in some Kenton neighborhood news release that a bagel company was moving into our area. It’s still hard to tell. I’ve never smelled bagels baking. I do see kitchen equipment on warm nights when they leave the doors open in the back. Still, why not hang an oversized rendering of the food item being manufactured along with the name of the company? Are the people who work there worried that other people would line up outside the building entrance looking to buy the food product being manufactured. Bagels would be popular so a low profile prevents long lines of unsatisfiable bagel shoppers.

I do have to say this is a great neighbor. They are quiet, they keep their odors to a minimum and if they make bagels, I love them and maybe I’ve had eaten their product somewhere in town.


Image borrowed from the internet.

The building used to be the home of Branom Instruments. The old sign never shed any light on the mystery of what a Branom instrument is. Despite all this being left in the dark stuff, I’m at least glad to see the building back in action.

Warehouse Stories

Tracks of my tears

Tracks of my tears

This is another one of those locations where I’m relieved to have any business there at all, even if I have no idea what it is. The building, on Interstate Ave, was dormant for too long. When we moved here over eight years ago the previous tenant had something to do with car repair from what I recall. It looked like a cool building and I hated to see it vacant. During those empty years there were exterior paint jobs and graffiti attacks and signs advertising for an occupant. After a few too many years, a crew spruced up the space and cars filled the parking lot along with a shed and a canopy. A mural was added, a nice touch, but it offered nary a clue as to what goes on in the building. I spotted large ceramic jars through a window in the back which might be my best guess as to what they produce.

This place can do what they want as long as they keep the cool 3D mural around.

This place can do what they want as long as they keep the cool 3D mural around.

Bring your 3D glasses over!

Bring your 3D glasses over!

Mystery Body Shop

Irregular hours for side jobs.

Irregular hours for side jobs, I think.

It’s not much of a mystery because it’s clearly an auto mechanic/body shop that faces Interstate Ave in our Kenton neighborhood. It doubles as a junkyard due to the bumpers and other car parts piled high behind a tall chain link fence. I’m going to bemoan, once again and ad nauseum, the lack of signage but why not display a spiffy name even if it is a laisser-faire operation. There’s something shady about a place that can’t tell you who they are or bother to come up with a name. That has to be the fun part of starting a business. Their anonymity is part of the deal of living in a neighborhood where we’re surrounded by plenty of other nameless neighbors.

Glass Works?

How to succeed in business,

How to succeed in business.

The industrial gray paint job stands out. It appears fresh amidst drab surroundings on Fessenden Ave. Upon closer inspection I could see it wasn’t a shop. The lack of any sign on the building and the blocked off windows revealed nothing. So, here’s a pro tip. If you want to know something you hang around. I kept walking by at lunchtime and one day noticed some glass blowing happening through on open door. This explained the pile of broken glass outside the side of the building.

That's a pile of glass shards.

That’s a pile of glass shards.

Mystery Biz

No sign of business.

No sign of business.

This was another business I noticed that didn’t identify itself. I took the picture in passing so I didn’t spend any time to figure it out. There could be a sign around the corner but there’s nothing obvious to me. It’s also an odd mix of architecture that might make more sense based on the tenant.

So you may have already asked yourself why this blogger hasn’t gotten off his duff (that’s an old fashioned word for keister) and done some research or reporting, you know like knock on a few doors. Well, I would do that but I’m leaving said door open for a part two to this post. In time I will find out something that takes the mystery out of these operations and I’ll pass on my findings.