(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.

 

 

Special Flag Edition 2018: You Can Critique the Flag

I begin this holiday realizing that I’m trying to keep up with the Pittsburgh Orbit and their stupendous, annual flag tribute. They’re already well ahead of me having posted so they can get to the cook outs, hot dogs, and fireworks. Ah, well keeping up with the Pittsburgh Orbit is something I’ll strive for all year.

An additional thought occurred to me this Independence Day. Maybe it’s not all thought out but here in America we have freedom. That freedom allows me to be critical of the flag design, which I’ll get into later. Other nations might be less tolerant of such expressions. Of course I’ll see what kind of social media backlash occurs, mind you I am not a trained flag critic so my guess is it will not ruffle many feathers. Few media outlets and social critics pore over my words.

While seeking to bring unusual forms of creative expression to the masses, I find it challenging to highlight flag displays. There’s not much creativity in running a flag up a pole. Each year the Special Flag Edition of the Portland Orbit seeks flags displayed in unique ways.

Flags in the Looking Glass

What better way to display a flag than behind glass in a window. It may fade in time but it’s less likely to become frayed from the elements. It’s subtle, alluring even and allows for display any time of day or night.

Lone Star Nation

Spotted in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood, this flag decoration may be store-bought but it brings out a sentiment straight out of the Pledge of Allegiance. We are one nation indivisible and all that. This lone star represents this ideal of singular unity and it does it well.

A Better Door Than a Window

Sure you can make a door out of a flag like this one spotted in the Kerns neighborhood at a business located off of East Burnside Street, but you will lose some stars and stripes along the way. The flag does add bold colors to some drab, brown surroundings.

Crafty Flag

I went searching for yet another flag in a window in the Kenton neighborhood. That proved too challenging to photograph. Then I stumbled on the flag next door. It’s a gem. This flag puts the glory in Old Glory with what I want to believe is a homemade design made from fuzzy pipe cleaners. The stars are a jumbled mess shooting into the night sky background, but have you considered the state of our nation lately? It’s almost perfect and celebratory in all it’s flag waving energy. It’s one well done seasonal decoration.

Since learning about Vexillology, the study of flag design among other things and a word I still can’t pronounce, it seems like a good time to consider the layout of the American flag. I’ve realized that the rectangle within a rectangle no longer works for me. Why do the stars have to be contained in the upper left hand corner? It cuts off stripes and limits the blue to one section of the flag. I’d prefer the 50 stars spread over the entire flag. Time for an upgrade. While we’re redesigning, we could add a couple of new states. The resistance to new states seems to be that so many flags would become obsolete. My flag design would result in 13 rows of 4 stars. That’s two states added. I’d create an example but my Photoshop skills are lacking. I can’t demonstrate exactly what it would look like but don’t you have to admit it’s a concept worth considering. In the meantime have a happy Fourth Of July.

More Flags: https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2017/07/01/fourth-of-july-flags-unfurled/

and: https://portlandorbit.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/go-fourth/

Post Script:  A friend posted this on Facebook a while back. I didn’t get far watching it, but I found it interesting to hear Williams riff on coming up with the original design of the flag. Besides I owe him one for comparing his Mrs. Doubtfire look to the look of Evelyn Collins.

 

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.

All Things Prince and Purple, Another Tribute

Mural behind Motivasu Coffee Shop

Prince has little to do with Portland. He was an occasional work related visitor, but who can help missing the guy especially on the anniversary of his birth. As I write this, there’s a Pedalpalooza event with bicyclists pumping to Prince jams and biking through the tears. No matter when Prince died it would have been too soon. His birthdays remind us of this. Sure he left his music but that isn’t as tangible as his physical being.

Thinking about Prince, a purple haze drifts through my mind. Every last purple object reflects his essence. It’s a color deeper than red, bolder than blue that remains regal and rich. It adds depth, beauty and elegance to any object. Other hues in the purple family are also admirable. This isn’t coming solely from a Prince endorsement. Paint sellers at Home Depot steer the undecided to purple pigments every day. I’ve never had my colors officially done but I was told I once that purple was a good color for me. I never forgot that. One day out of the year, at least, it’s good to commemorate all things Prince and purple.

Purple Moped

There can’t be a better mode of transportation when taking a date on a visit to the healing waters of Lake Minnetonka than this purple scooter spotted in the Alberta neighborhood.

Purple Flamingo

I had never considered, nor thought about, the idea of a flamingo being purple until I saw this North Portland species. All flamingos, living and plastic, should be purple. I haven’t figured how this could happen but it should. These gallant birds wear purple well.

Purple Cage

If I had to be kept outdoors in a cage, I’d hope it would be this one spotted off Columbia Boulevard. This purple spruces up the exterior and interior of this impenetrable contraption.

Purple Plastic Scrap

Any other shade of scrap plastic would likely go unnoticed. This fragment jumped out at me after garbage pick up. It seemed in desperate need to be immortalized in a blog.

Purple Logo

It maybe the eye-catching font, but the use of the color purple contributes to a design, seen in the Kenton neighborhood, that could sell anything, including racing tires.

Purple Prius

I happened upon this vehicle parked at a SW Portland fast food establishment. It dawned on me. Purple is the best color for a Prius, really, the only option.

Purple Door

What could be more welcoming than a purple door? I doubt I could enter this house in the Kenton neighborhood if I were invited. I’d prefer to gaze in admiration at the exact right color choice for this edifice entry.

Purple House


Purple houses are beautiful and they make me wish there were more around town. This one in the Mississippi neighborhood does it right.

Purple Shudders

Since shudders have been relegated to a decorative element and aren’t as functional as they once were, this purple especially highlights their decorative nature. They look even better in the early morning summer light.

Purple Shoe Boxes

No one could possibly spend too much time considering what color a shoe box should be but it’s amazing to think how they outshine even the shoes within them in this shade in the purple family.

Thanks Prince for opening our eyes to beauty that’s found in the color purple in all it’s many shades, forms and hues. 

Garage door in the Cully neighborhood.

Mt. Hood Reflects Back

 

IMG_2428

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.

Pole Art or Not?: A Special Report

A recent mention on Reddit regarding some of my past Pole Art posts drew me back to noticing this kind of thing. I had written about one of the more perplexing styles of Pole Art because materials used appear less like art and more like something that could, with some explanation, be a functional part of the pole. The use of pieces that resemble bottle nipples, caps or other small leftover household gadgets screwed to poles have the makings of an unnamed subcategory of the Pole Art. A clue was provided by a glue cap I spotted attached to one of my neighborhood poles. Seeing something familiar in a different context made me realize this wasn’t a functional addition to the pole. This object was artistic in nature. It adhered to my belief that anything attached to a pole equals Pole Art. The what and the why is beyond even my imagination. My initial conclusion is that someone is creating what they think looks cool. There’s no shortage of available canvas which in this case is the many electrical poles around Portland.

Then more of these forms of Pole Art appeared, one right after another, on a recent dog walk. They’re small but usually placed at eye level so they aren’t hard to miss. Then again I’m one of the few who would look for them and spread the word of this Pole Art phenomenon to a slightly larger audience. With some thought, I could be inclined to come up with theories about what’s happening. Off the top of my head it feels like nods to forgotten industries, or trophies of dish soap tops, glue caps and drink tops. The mystery is overwhelming. I can’t claim to be the foremost authority on Portland Pole Art but I may be the only one who cares.

Tubular Swells

Tubing, some old Spirograph discs, a bottle cap, I’m not just creating an inventory of art parts, I’m listing the ingredients that have combined with an aura of colorful ridged textures to create a dashing piece of Pole Art.

Hands Across the Plastic

More than anything I had to consider the attachment going on between what looks like a bicyclist water bottle top and the plastic material above it. A close-up doesn’t help. It’s a jagged part that appears to be reaching out to connect the two pieces. Attempts at metaphors of human unity have never been replicated so well in other mediums.

Glue Screw

A glue cap can be a beautiful object to consider once it’s been screwed off of a bottle of glue. The  fact that this one is screwed into a blue cap with a plastic coated screw gives it additional panache. The screw is a fitting choice keeping in line with the overall plastic theme of the piece.

This Wheels on Fire

This is a hallmark of a great Pole Art. The black piece resembles either a pair of binoculars, a Polaroid camera or a VR gizmo. It’s smallness against the backdrop of the wooden expanse of the pole’s timber braces the viewer for ultimate impact.

The Endorsement Issue: Vote Early and as Often as You Wish

At primary election time I need to endorse something. An email tipped me off to the design contest for the Biketown rental bike system which became the thing that would allow me to sway people’s votes. I’m for any design that removes orange paint from those bikes. That color may offer visibility but my preference would be a shade of neon yellow or green. Now that I get to voice an opinion about what the bikes might look like there’s hope for an eye-catching design in the future.

Each quadrant of the city will have their own look which offers ample voting opportunities. My recommendation is solely focused on North Portland because it’s where I live and the area where I expect to encounter these bikes. After looking over the designs, I’ll admit to being impartial, but I liked those representing North Portland best. I must reiterate, any redesign of the bike’s appearance with multiple colors and patterns will be an improvement over the current orange standard. Now allow me to reveal that The Portland Orbit is whole heartedly in support of and thereby offering its endorsement of the design featuring the prominent use of the image of Paul Bunyan the adopted hometown hero of the Kenton neighborhood since he wandered by in 1959 and decided to stick around. From his head taking over the side of the bike basket, to his checkered shirt and blue painted pants around the seat area, there’s a playfulness that is sure to allow me some mild enjoyment from seeing people riding by on Biketown bikes.

Drawing borrowed for endorsement purposes.

I understand that a design could have represented the whole North Portland area but that probably proved too challenging. Paul is another kind of tourist attraction and for some reason I associate these bikes with tourists so why not let tourists ride on a tourist attraction inspired decorated bike. My impartiality stems from Paul Bunyan being my neighbor. He’s suffer through hard times and had his struggles with soot and peeling paint. Now he’s back, looking a tiny bit on the orange side (all shades of orange are disturbing to me these days) but I have more Paul pride than ever. It would be great to see this feelings reflected on a bike. In the winter when all the leaves have fallen off the trees I’m able to see Paul’s hat pom-pom from our house. That’s the one aspect of the design that may be flawed. I would have liked a pom-pom incorporated into the design but at this point it’s too much to ask the designer to go back to the drawing board.

******

A spin of the globe goes out to Josh G. for letting me know about the design competition.

I heard back from Josh G. that the winners have already been decided. You can find that information here.

 

 

 

The Art of Noise

Three esoteric reasons combined on April 11, to motivate me to go downtown. There was a Noise Review Board meeting, a PPS art celebration, that made me think I could score some grub to offset my Arts Tax, plus an afternoon protest over a shooting in a homeless shelter called Beds Not Bullets. The Orbit budget only covered a two and a half hour Trimet ticket. Time was tight. I started at City Hall expecting to run into protestors. If I could get through the crowds I would go to the Noise Review Board meeting then the Portland Art Museum. The tear gas and protestors had dissipated. I saw no evidence of a protest. I approached City Hall like I owned the place to find the doors locked. Discovering I was at the employee entrance I stood around until I noticed a sign directing me to the doors on SW 4th Avenue. There were no protesters around this side of City Hall. The early bird protest had me a bit dumbfounded.

I headed into City Hall catching up with two neighbors who were part of my neighborhood association. I sensed the solidarity but being a fair weather meeting attendee I didn’t get a chance to explain why I wouldn’t be there long. Entering City Hall was not as bad as expected. There was a pat down with a magic wand/metal detector but I didn’t have to remove my shoes or empty my pockets. Then we set off to find the Pettygrove Room. The quarters were cramped but it’s hard to imagine most meetings being standing room only like this one.

The Noise Review Board in action.

My interest in the meeting involved the sole agenda item concerning noise levels at the Portland International Raceway. I live near the track. For the most part it’s a live and let live kind of thing. The sounds don’t bother me. Race fans have that need for speed and the voice calling races through the P.A. system creates a feeling of an unknown nostalgia for me when I hear it at our garden plot. At this meeting representatives of an upcoming race were asking for a variance for noise levels. As explained on the City of Portland website, a variance is “for activities that make more noise than our Noise Code allows.” I had recently downloaded a decibel app on my phone which came with a handy chart. My curiosity piqued when I saw that the 115 decibel levels they were asking for are comparable to a rock concert. Beyond that I wanted to know who attends Noise Review Board meetings and see the board members. I imagined them wearing industrial headphones for some reason. None of them did. Other answers I sought related to finding out would happen if noise levels were exceeded and how the sound was measured. I caught the opening remarks of David Sweeney, representing the race promotions company and heard him talk about how excited people would be to have Indy car racing back in Portland and the boost the race would offer the local economy. He discussed how the noise levels would be controlled. Cars exceeding the levels would be taken off the track for adjustments. He explained that test days helped determine the types of tires that would be used in the races.

In the too small meeting room I detected an odor of cologne and Subway sandwiches eaten prior to the meeting. I noticed a photo exhibit in the room, shots of protestors, that were engaging images to mix into the proceedings. Deliberations might have been interesting along with a mix of different perspectives from the testimony but my time with the Noise Review Board was brief. These were a matter of fact bunch, who took on all variations of noise, the majority dealing with construction or race track. The board chairman mentioned people offering oft-repeated testimony could say something like, “it’s already been said,” to speed the meeting along. There was something about the formality that made me nervous. I had been there almost a half an hour and had already eyed the door knob and mentally rehearsed how I would make my exit. The sign on the door said pull but I reminded myself that I would need to pull the handle down first then open the door. Leaving the building, I remembered I wanted to ask the security guard about the protest but I had already gone through the turnstile. The guard was across the lobby talking to a coworker with his back turned. It was time to shift from politics to art.

Since the inception of the Arts Tax, it seemed like a burden to fork over additional money at income tax time. I learned from a crawl on the Channel 12 news that 92 art and music teachers in kindergarten through 5th grade schools were employed with the help of the tax. Working in an elementary school, it would be hard to imagine students without a music or art teacher. I’ve been slowly making my peace with the tax but the 70 bucks I pay for our household takes an annoying bite from our meager budget. This was the first I had heard of any events related to the Arts Tax so I had to check it out.

Arriving at the event space at the Portland Art Museum, I was surprised. The place was packed. Not expecting mobs of art enthusiasts, I weaved through the crowd as the school system Superintendent spoke in the museum’s third floor ball room. He sounded official, enthusiastic and supportive. I was inspired but not sure what to do about it. A video showing drama students going to Seattle to see Hamilton followed. Then more Hamilton. A student stood on a separate stage busting out a Hamilton-style Paul Revere rap. It was as educational as it was engaging but I was in Hamilton overload. Where was the food? This crowd, there were too many people to feed. Heading over to a side wall I spotted the spread on a small table with items covered in cellophane. There was not enough food to feed me much less the massive gathering. Once the food was ready I restrained myself. It wasn’t going to be fair to hog humus. I chewed and stewed then realized I needed to see the art–the fruit of the Arts Tax. The Grant High School Jazz band began. They were hopping. They played me off as I exited for art.

The ballroom crowd reminded me of how supportive people are for the arts in Portland. Having come from the Noise Review Board, I was also reminded that issues get people engaged in civic meetings too. I found the art on the first floor where it occurred to me that these young artists had ideas. There was a piece from each school with an art program. I ran into the art teacher from my school along with the artist and her family. I put the teacher on the spot by asking her if it was hard to choose a piece of art to represent the school. She emphasized the challenge of picking one creation from the work of all the students. The selected art work was neat and organized–a challenge when you’re creating your work in an hour of class time. It stood out from the other work displayed at the school. After a few minutes of trying to capture the image of a seagull sculpture I dashed off to catch the train before my ticket expired.

I arrived home with minutes to spare. After a bit of reflection, I reached two less than serious conclusions about that evening’s events. I doubted that the noise from the race track would ever bother me more than the noise in my own head and I realized that the Arts Tax is a necessary evil especially when it teaches kids about art and how to make it. This won’t stop me from complaining about it. Life will go on and next year I’ll grumble again about making the payment.

Post Script: For anyone wondering about the variance from the April 11, Noise Review Board meeting, I can report that it was approved. I would point you to the hearing’s minutes but they won’t be posted until the Board approves them at their next meeting.

Evelyn Collins: Portland’s Mrs. Doubtfire?

Years ago I was riding my bike up North Williams Avenue, at a red light I noticed a portrait of Evelyn Collins on the Urban League building. I didn’t know who she was but her name was under her image. To me, she was the spitting image of Mrs. Doubtfire, a character played by the late actor Robin Williams in a movie of the same name. I took a picture and I rode on. Since then I’ve waited for my schedule to clear so I could explore the Evelyn Collins/Mrs.Doubtfire connection.

Evelyn and Mrs. Doubtfire

Robin Williams made some good movies like The Fisher King. He did a good Oliver Sacks impression in the movie Awakenings. He was endearing in Good Will Hunting and creepy in One Hour Photo. There are others, I’m sure, but I’m forgetting. He had a personality to be reckoned with. He had a heck of a movie career for a stand up comic. I didn’t consult IMDB which will prove to be my downfall, but I’ve been under the impression that his 90’s movie output included some bad role choices or movies that weren’t good. I’m remembering a trio of consecutive films that may have started with Patch Adams followed by Mrs. Doubtfire, where he played a female nanny and Bicentennial Man where he was cast as a robot. I had even considered that a 24 hour Robin Williams film festival would have had me running from the theater if I had been forced to watch these movies in consecutive order. I don’t mean any disrespect. The loss of Robin Williams was tragic. With all the insanity going on in the world today it sure would be nice to see him cutting up on a lame talk show.

I don’t remember if I saw Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember it being a kid’s movie, a comedy of errors with Williams stumbling around in pancake make up and wig that I’ve since learned took four and a half hours to apply. It seems unlikely that Williams would have known anything about Evelyn Collins, certainly not enough to base a character on her. I’m sure he visited Portland but it’s doubtful that he would have run across her filing away her essence in his subconscious for the time his movie career would require him to play a middle-aged woman. It occurred to me that I could do some research on the computer in hopes of finding a Doubtfire/Collins link. Robin Williams was sure to have made promotional appearances for the movie. I stumbled upon an interview on The Actor’s Studio where William’s made a comparison between Mrs. Doubtfire’s breasts and his own then began riffing on the idea of God thinking out loud while designing the female body. A post about Mrs. Doubtfire on Mental Floss described the movie’s production team looking at photos of women from the 1940’s before finding the image of an English woman who resembled what they were looking for in Mrs. Doubtfire. Of course it couldn’t have been something like Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robin Williams going out to dinner at a restaurant to discuss the Good Will Hunting project while Evelyn Collins sat quietly in the background eating a bowl of soup only to find Robin Williams creating a mental character study for future reference of this interesting and vibrant woman on his way to the men’s room. This would have been impossible anyway because Mrs. Doubtfire was made well before Good Will Hunting.

I wanted to write about Evelyn Collins to learn about her connection to the Urban League and how she got her portrait hung on their building. While searching for information I learned from a blog post on the Eliot neighborhood website that Collins owned the building that has become Wonder Ballroom. There she ran a daycare facility and community center for minority children. It originally felt like I was onto something when I discovered that Collins worked in a profession similar to that of the fictional character that reminded me of her. This is only a coincidence. The Collins/Doubtfire connection has gone from a private in-joke between me and myself to a now, slightly public in-joke. I’ll still think of Mrs. Doubtfire every time I ride or drive up North Williams Avenue and look at the Urban League building but this feels unfair to the legacy of Evelyn Collins. She is known for far more than her slight resemblance to Mrs. Doubtfire. In the Eliot neighborhood piece, she was described as “an angel in our midst,” someone who provided “affordable Christian daycare to help working mothers.” From the Urban League website, I’ve determined that the portrait of Evelyn Collins is there to honor her life as a pioneer “who made a difference for Portland’s black community.” At least most people could agree that Mrs. Doubtfire dressed like Evelyn Collins.

 

Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge: An Orbit Obit

Here we go again, another place, like the strip club Exotica I memorialized, that’s shrouded in mystery to me and yet I feel a sense of loss at the closing of another Portland business. Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge, a karaoke club on an industrial boulevard, never seemed like it was in the best location. I wondered about it as I drove by on Columbia Boulevard, never stopping, but always looking to spot cars in the parking lot while imagining what was going on there. It felt lonely, the idea of someone wandering into that karaoke bar in the afternoon for a happy hour priced beverage and the chance to sing a song to a sparse crowd. It’s hard to tell if happy songs would have sounded more or less joyful in that atmosphere. I’m overlooking the social aspects of karaoke. Groups of cooperative coworkers might have congregated, sung and celebrated. I’ll never know. Unable to satisfy my curiosity, I remain haunted by the realization that I live too much in my imagination.

I heard about the last bash that happened Saturday, March 18th. Rich Reece generously offered to describe his experience closing the place out on that final night. We got sidetracked by Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge history. I learned that Chopsticks III opened sometime in the mid-aughts. Rich was familiar with two of the other three locations. There was a crew of “good jocks” that rotated through all the locations. Rich worked the deep recesses of the Average White Band back catalog at the old location on Burnside which is also closed. He joked that Chow opened Chopsticks III on Columbia Boulevard for him personally because he was a North Portland resident. He thought his quitting drinking had something to do with the closing of the business. The spirit of Chopsticks continues on at its 3390 NE Sandy Boulevard location.

David & Scott

Rich got to know the owner of the Chopsticks franchise, David Chow, when he sold advertising for the clubs while working for the Portland Tribune. One great thing I learned about Chow were the origins of his catch phrase. I’m impressed that Chow had his own phrase and he wasn’t afraid to use it. It’s there on the bar’s sign, in his ads and on his website. Rich explained that “how can be,” is a phrase of broken English used by Chow to express feelings of incredulousness. Chow also loves to use his image, a close up of his face in his advertising. He has always wanted to be a respected businessman. Rich steered me to his inspiration, car sales tycoon Scott Thomason who used his face in his advertising and has since left Portland under a cloud of controversy.

Outside the lifeless club a week after it’s last night of operation, I was struck by how big the parking lot was. A tall chain link separated the ample parking lot from the neighboring trucking business. In the corner of the outside lobby area, I spotted what should have been the first thing packed up, a decorative “how can be” ash tray with Chinese characters.

While I was taking photos a pick-up truck drove unto the lot and headed behind the defunct bar. I grabbed a few more shots bracing myself for a confrontation. An older man approached. He couldn’t have been nicer, asking what I was up to. I stressed how I had missed the bar’s last night and that I wanted to check the place out. He told me he was the new owner. This surprised me. I assumed the place would be demolished for the parking spaces. He told me he was reopening the building as another bar. Noticing the sign, he wondered out loud why it hadn’t been taken down. I mentioned that I had questioned whether this location was ever suitable for a bar. This led him to explain that his new business was actually a strip club adding something to the effect of “that’s what I’m going after.”

His revelation of being a strip club owner made me comfortable to confess that I was a blogger writing an obituary for the previous business. He seemed bemused by this which gave me the sense that the idea wasn’t strange to him. This made me feel good. We had a nice chat about the Iron City Beer/Pittsburgh T-shirt he was wearing. He’s from Portland but had been to Pittsburgh a couple of times. After that he excused himself to work on getting his club ready.

As he was leaving I asked him the name of his club.

“Desire,” he responded. Then, he walked away.