Going Out Of Business!

Portland Edition.

I went out on a lil urban hike yesterday morning and was confronted by the reality of a frequently occurring conversational topic of late: commercial real estate in Portland.

The rug shop on the corner across from my place is closing. Well, is closed.

Just as a reminder, I live in a neighborhood called The Pearl which is nestled in the Alphabet District of Portland’s Northwest neighborhood. Essentially, this neighborhood runs from Burnside to Lovejoy streets from North to South and from Broadway to 8th to Park and then 9th-13th on the East to West streets.

It’s an 8×11 street grid.

There is/was three rug shops within that grid, so “How many rug shops do you need in that small area?” is a valid question.

Here’s one of the survivors, which was forced to move from its original location a few years ago to make way for a 14 story, half a city block apartment building that is finally nearing completion.

I’m not complaining. Once this is done early next year, my immediate area will wrap up its fourth major building project over the last four years. That’s two new hotels and two new apartment buildings that added about 500-700 new neighbors and countless tourists to my corner of the world.

Until the Post Office project begins in god knows when, I’m in the clear, construction-wise.

Interestingly, the opposite corner of my block (shown above) rented nearly a year ago and just recently opened. It’s a rowing studio, which upset the Filipina Fox greatly, since she and her husband were planning – still are – to open a row studio. But if you got clients that are too lazy to walk into class, you’re probably better off not even bothering to open.

At least they are friendly. Homegirl gave me a nice friendly smile and wave.Still, it goes back to my earlier question, how many <insert business here> does one small part of town need?

When it comes to gyms, I can think of too many:

The grand daddy of the OGs, 24 Hour. It’s been here since well before the turn of the century. Another OG – LA Fitness – came in a decade and a couple blocks later.

There’s now City Row, Yo Yo Yogi, Pearl Yoga, Firebrand, Barre 3, Bar Method, RevoCycle, BurnCycle and countless CrossFit studios within my tiny grid. Including one that moved into this site for about an hour.

But fitness and rugs aside, this whole conversation started with a few notable business closures.

Namely, Pearl Bakery and Henry’s Tavern with an honorable mention to Byways Cafe.

Pearl Bakery had been in its current location for 23 years, serving up fresh baked breads and pastries as well as top notch coffee the entire time. It was a Pearl landmark.

Henry’s, on the other hand, could arguably be said to have been here in the Pearl since before there was a Pearl to be in.

Henry Weinhard’s started brewing beer here in 1906 and I know people just a few years younger than me whose parents worked there. It was bought by AB a few decades ago and brewing operations were consolidated elsewhere sometime after that. In the 90s, the brewery was redeveloped into a founding corner of the a Pearl called the Brewery Blocks, which enveloped the block that Powell’s sits on and also included a couple of condo and apartment buildings The Henry and The Louisa, named for Weinhard and his wife. One of the old brick buildings was remodeled and became home to Henry’s Tavern, run by the recently relegated to the annals of bad business Restaurants Unlimited. Still, RI was snatched up by Landry’s and there was hope that the namesake restaurant in the Pearl’s Brewery Blocks would be spared the axe.

Alas.

Still, you gotta wonder, if coffee and beer can’t make a go of it in one of Portland’s affluent destination living and shopping districts…hadn’t there got to be a bigger problem?

Henry’s is hardly the only brewery or taproom to face this fate.

Last year, Bridgeport shut down brewing operations in the Pearl and later closed its onsite restaurant.

Avid started its life as Atlas before being sued over copyright infringement and forced to rebrand. It opened last year in one of the two nearby apartment building projects i mentioned.

On Deck will close permanently at the end of the year, putting the Pearl down a sports bar.

It was quite the summertime destination – for some, not me) with a rooftop that probably doubled its square footage. I think this business in particular struggled with a too common threat in the neighborhood these days:

Redevelopment

Rumors circulated for the better part of a year that this block was due to go under the wrecking ball to create a new mid-rise building. Office Depot occupied the other corner of the block and pulled out last year.

And while I am a supporter of housing density, the panic future development rumors create is detrimental to our present.

Indeed, my backup – and preferred – coffee house is on that block, you can just make out the red reflection of its “Open” sign in the picture above. As a matter of fact, Nossa is new to this block within the last couple of years, having moved from literally two blocks down when its former location came under the same redevelopment axe.

Yet, here its former location is. Empty as the rumors that helped facilitate its relocation. Also, some randomly occurring Jingle Bell runners.

But as in favor as I am of redevelopment, I think the overall benefit is mitigated by the negative impact of commercial real estate’s larger problem: greed.

Real estate – both commercial and residential is at a premium in Portland overall and more so in the Pearl specifically since it’s such a hub. So, for every new building that goes up, there’s at least one – if not two – large restaurant or retail spaces included in the new building as anchor spaces.

Case in point, The Rodney.

This apartment building was finished early this year and included a large restaurant space on the ground level. This corner is on Glisan, one of the two busiest one-way through-fares in the neighborhood. Including construction, there’s been over two years to lure a business into this spot. It’s next door to 10 Barrel Brewing and Rogue Brewing’s taproom restaurants and a block from Andina, another Pearl District restaurant mainstay.

That they can’t rent this space out is problematic. Then again, it took two years post-construction for City Row to open in the large space next to my building, so…

A bigger problem?

The building right across Glisan that should be complete and open early next year. Including what I assume will be at least one large restaurant space in its three corner spaces – it’s a big building.

Between these two buildings, we’re adding around another 750+ residents to the neighborhood…it shouldn’t be that hard to draw a business that can make a go of it here. As long as it’s not named something complementary-awkward to its neighbor. All we need is an apartment building named The Slice sitting across the street from The Rodney.

But large restaurant space is tricky. Even chain based restaurants can’t make a go of it. Back before RI went out, they snatched up Pacific Restaurants. This was back in 2007 and I believe – forgive me if I’m wrong – PR was an affiliated evolution of Farrel’s Ice Cream Parlors.

Between the two, they put successive restaurants into this Glisan corner space for decades.

It was home to Palomino and Trader Vic’s with at least one other incarnation from the brand’s portfolio in the mix. Then it sat empty for a couple of years before signage for a Pink Taco went up in the windows screaming about a new future.

Then silently came down.

More recently, the space has quietly announced a new tenant.

And apparently the low key nature of its announcement saved enough money for remodeling to actually begin this time around.

Meanwhile, on the opposite corner of that block, facing Hoyt, another of the Pearl’s pioneer eateries sits vacant after closing in the middle of the night a few years back. Oba! was an exciting happy hour destination and a swanky date night or celebration restaurant destination.

Then, poof!

Gone.

Ironically, another Pearl nightlife mainstay is rumored to have leased the space, but those rumors are growing stale after almost 18 months.

Jimmy Mak’s was a jazz venue in the Pearl since the days where there was only one or two industrial co-ops and maybe one condo building in the hood. Then they moved catty corner to a new location next to one of our three neighborhood rug shops.

Then, the rumors came.

Kush decided to move ahead of the demolition of its half-block. Jimmy Mak’s decided to close down once its owner’s cancer resurfaced. The farewell party was planned – a New Years Eve to Mark the end of the Jimmy Mak’s era.

On New Years Day Jimmy died. It was tragically sad and a simultaneously beautiful ending to the story.

Until…a couple of former employees decided to reopen Jimmy Mak’s in the Oba! space six months later. Another beautiful tribute to a legendary entertainment venue.

The “Leased” sign is up…but 18 months in, we’re still waiting.

Celebrity chef based restaurants aren’t faring any better than chain-backed ventures.

Isabel Pearl was a restaurant opened by cookbook author Isabel Cruz back in 2008. After a decade, plans for the San Diego based cookbook author cum restauranteur to expand into the old Gilt space a few blocks away on Broadway were announced.

Gilt was the space’s former tenant and is the restaurant made famous by the Colin the Chicken episode of Portlandia…

If you can’t stay in business with that pedigree…alas, instead of expanding to a second location, Isabel decided to “reimagine” their original Portland location.

A hand-drawn magic marker sign. I can see that no expense was incurred – at least they learned something from Pink Taco.

Speaking of which, maybe that’s the restaurant that should anchor the building across from The Rodney!

Here’s a few more spaces that recently transitioned:

The Star brings deep dish pizza to the space formerly home for tow decades to The Paragon. Hopefully, they enjoy a similar tenure.

Two Wrongs is a collaboration between a Portland bar/restauranteur and the marketing/brand master behind Portland Gear. They took over a former Black Rock coffee house to open a bar.

Here’s Byways, which I mentioned earlier. Fifteen years ago, this was Shakers Cafe. Both incarnations were kitsch themed diners and have occupied this space for…gosh, 25 years collectively? They announced their closure after failing to negotiate new lease terms with the building’s owner.

There’s that greed again.

That the Sheepskin shop that shares the building with Byways has outlasted them is truly mind boggling. And it’s not like the building is going anywhere. There’s a co-op on one side and a similar small building housing a taco joint and a kitsch decor store called Cult on the corner.

Taprooms aren’t the only alcohol based destinations to struggle. This space is in the building that the Silver Fox lives in. It sits on Everett – the other main through-fare in the Pearl used to House a wine bar called Remedy. They limped along for a couple of years before closing and one of the owners – who owned the commercial space – had it rezoned and remodeled into his private residence.

An old school shared office building (pictured top) closed up last year. It had been here forever. It featured a now whitewashed wall that formerly depicted a mural of home state hero Steve Prefontaine and a fun neon sign helpfully suggesting the proper use of ones time.

I’d like this mural restored, if they’re just gonna cover it over and then leave.

Come to think of it, I want the neon back, too! Maybe keeping the “Working” side lit would keep homeless people from camping in the doorway.

Given its billion dollar a year losing competitor across the park, I can see where it would be hard to compete successfully. But this is Portland. We’re supposedly hard wired to support the underdog. WeWork should not have won in this scenario.

Affluence doesn’t always guarantee success over commercial real estate greed, either. Opposite the corner housing Pearl Bakery – which started this whole ball rolling – was a Charter School. It had been there for quite some time, bringing kids into the Pearl’s North Park Block neighborhood. That was an add that even this grumpy old man appreciated.

The City even collaborated to renovate the old Park Block playground into this

Bit then the school decided to move – for whatever reason. Hmm…what could it be?!?

Greed?!?

Perhaps.

Maybe they just outgrew the building.Ok, ok…I know this is running long. I think I’m wrapping up. I mean wearing myself out.

Let’s compromise and call it both.

The corner pictured above used to be a favorite pre-turn of the century coffee haunt of mine called Torrefazione. I actually made it a hangout for my main character in No One Of Consequence.

Anyway, Starbucks bought the small chain out and then closed them all up! Talk about cutthroat.

The Torrefazione family responded by leasing the restaurant space in the new high rise condo that was built on the opposite corner and opened Caffe Umbria.

Take that Charbucks. The family’s roastery May be Seattle based, but at least one of the family members lives locally and drops in to watch soccer with his toddlers on the weekends.

It was a very Portland thing to do, protest opening a business like that…even if selling out wasn’t so Portland.

The three pics below all represent businesses being priced out or rumored out of their homes. The Beneficial Bank looks nice, right?

It should.

After being forced out of its home for a couple of years once it’s space was slated for a high rise residential project, it was welcomed back with a paint job. Seems funding may have hit a snag. Who knows? Anyway, score one for the little guys.

Snow Peak, on the other hand, is just beginning it’s rumor based adventure. There’s a new “Coming Soon” window sign up a few blocks away. It coordinates well with the rumor of a new mid rise building in its current spot.

What I can’t figure out, though, is the how of that mid rise rumor. The Snow Peak space sits between the aforementioned and newly remodeled Rogue Brewery space on one side and an architecture firm on the other side.

I’m kind of worried that the architect space will come down to make way – along with Snow Peak – for another high rise apartment building.

The rub?

It’s right across from The Rodney – so maybe that intersection isn’t out of the redevelopment woods just yet.

Even more surprising is the answer Snow Peak represents to my “How many” question from earlier.

Snow Peak is in the Pearl’s crowd of outdoor and cold weather clothiers.

REI, Nau, Fjallraven (with TWO locations in the Pearl!), North Face, Patagonia and Icebreaker…and I know that I missed some!

Ironically, for as persistent as outdoor clothing stores are in the Pearl, home stores don’t fare so well. The Tactics skateboard shop above is a new notion for a space that was a gallery and then a home store and then a home store and then nothing. Likewise, the brick warehouse across the street was a furniture store and the space across the alley was also a home store that became a CrossFit gym for an hour or so before settling into its current sweatpants and ponytail version of an empty space.

In a further fit of irony, the CrossFit space was subdivided when it was a home store to reduce the size of the shop and thereby the overhead. It was slated to become Jimmy Mak’s new home before the cancer resurfaced. Then it became an “event space”.

Let’s hope the Oba! space fares better. Eventually.

Design Within Reach expanded last year to the above space, leaving its old two-story space vacant.

It looks way more inviting now, so I’m glad. But it got me wondering.

Maybe the evolution/solution to our commercial real estate vacancies is going to be something that Design Within Reach, Snow Peak and Nossa Familia have all already learned – along with countless college students.

The way to control real estate expense is to move.

It may cost more in the short term, but overall you leverage the expense downward.

For everyone.

It forces the market price correction that is necessary to offset the empty space and make those spaces affordable. I mean, commercial real estate brokers could just do the right thing and re-write current leases.

But how likely is that?

The banks didn’t do it with mortgages during the real estate crisis until Obama forced them to. Somehow, I don’t see the commercial real estate industry doing the right thing here.

Then again, investment brokers are doing something similar right now, by cutting transaction fees all the way to $0. I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

Until then?

I wouldn’t mind seeing out city planners get a little more involved in approving all of this ground floor commercial space.

Or not approving it.

I think there’s a case to be made for more ground floor live/work space.

With the Pearl spanning 11 blocks on the North to South expanse, surely we could limit the commercial space on the ground floors to maybe 4-6 of those blocks? I mean, residence density is our goal here, not excess vacant commercial space.

We don’t need a brewery, yoga studio, flower shop or restaurant on every block.

I think the current situation has proven that.

Going Out Of Business!

Ridiculously Devastated

Rojo the Llama has died.

I can’t believe how sad this has made me. Nor, how utterly surprised I am at the feelings the death of this Weird Portland Icon has created within me. I’ve found myself misting up, on the verge of tears repeatedly today.

He was – and I suspect will be – a part of the tapestry of weirdness that Portland both nurtures and embraces.

The Unipiper.

Voodoo Doughnuts.

PDX Carpet.

The Church Of Elvis.

Rojo.

Rojo was a therapy animal, professionally and famously known as Rojo the Therapy Llama, he made appearances at Portland’s Pride festival, myriad local corporate events, schools, farmers markets, perhaps even a low-grade protest here or there…and was even sighted riding on the local light rail once by mine truly.

I’d read over the last few months of his retirement. In recent days of his upcoming trip to OSU for advanced veterinary care and then this morning learned of his passing from the Filipina Fox via her Instagram Story.

I was absolutely gobsmacked by the news.

Heading immediately to his page, I watched emotional story clips by his “mom” describing his final day.

I saw people posting pics of them wearing their Rojo swag in memorial…so many emotions at the impact he made and his therapeutic legacy.

That legacy will live on. Rojo will be taxidermied and placed at the School for the Blind in Vancouver, Washington where he can continue to make a difference in his own unique way.

Until then, we’ll always have Rojo Cake. Er, doughnuts?

Rest In Peace, you magnificent buck-toothed therapy stud.

Ridiculously Devastated

TIL #10: Bufferin

They should just market this as a people repellant.

Because, people – me, at any rate – need a buffer.

Yeah, don’t kid yourself, Today I (didn’t) Learned…why they call this Bufferin. Although, the bros that just walked into the Arthouse Cafe – f&b was renamed and rebranded to compliment the neighborhood a bit better.

Complete with street art!

Anyway, these bros order food and then execute my trending pet peeve:

Taking the seat closest to me in an empty space!

It’s truly annoying. You’d think my favorite part of this shituation would be that they both started playing videos on their phones.

I mean, why even go out to eat together?!?

But, I noticed they were sports videos, even those these two were obviously gay for each other. Maybe the videos provided distraction enough to keep them from soberly blurting out

I love you, man!

Whatever. I don’t care.

No, the most annoying part of this wordless bromantic breakfast was the gift of allowing me to watch them tossing food into their never-closing mouths and then grind it up before sending it on its way to the poop chute.

So gross.

Therefore, since I’m not being given my people buffer and there sadly is no pill to rectify that, I’m going to distract you with a story. This happened a few weeks ago while I was working, and since my lil PT gig provides me with an opportunity to interact with people and is decidedly unchallenging, I exploit the opportunity to my maximum amusement.

In this case, it involves taking another pet peeve and making up a fact around it.

Of course, the story starts with a cute guy.

Goes without saying for this ho without a laying? Right?

He was tragically buying smokes and looked under 30, so I carded him. He whips out an out of state ID and I ask if he’s visiting.

No, I’m practically a native, I’ve lived here so long!

Me:

What? Oh, wait…are you a native? How long do I have to live here before I can call myself a native?

Me:

Stop saying “native”.

Indigenous?

Ok, that made me chuckle.

I went on to tell him that natives don’t call themselves native, they call themselves SNOBs – Society of Native Oregon Born.

It’s a thing, but I was vamping, we call ourselves natives all of the time. But he was enjoying my schtick, so I kept playing.

So, how long until I can be a SNOB?

Me:

Never.

That’s what I was afraid of.

Me:

Wah-wah. Look, here’s the deal, being an Oregonian isn’t about time served.

It isn’t?

Such wonder and naïveté.

Uh-dorable.

Me:

No, it’s fucking Oregon, not a prison sentence.

More laughing, which I take as him begging me to slide deeper into – er…keep going.

Me:

Being an Oregonian is about how one drives.

Trick question! You cycle, right?

Me:

Yes, but no.

Kinda dying over here…

Me:

Alright, alright. Simmer down. It’s how you drive. Specifically, relative to pedestrians.

Oh, really? Wait, wait…the whole “No, you go” thing, right?!?

Me:

Partial Credit. That’s the filtering device.

So, transplants see someone at a crosswalk – maybe they see them, pedestrians might not even register to out of towners – and just whiz on by. “Watch out, poor people, I have an automobile!”

But SNOBs stop!

Me:

Of course, but more importantly, we stop correctly.

Because there’s a right way.

Me:

Yes! This is the difference between a self-proclaimed Native and a SNOB.

Natives fall all over themselves making a show of stopping. Standing on the brake and laying down 10 feet of rubber at the last minute, if need be.

SNOBs understand that crosswalks always exist, even if you can’t see a person nearby, and are ready to stop.

Seems like an arbitrary differentiator…

Me:

Does it? Ask the car waiting to cross traffic from the side street while the native driver idles in the intersection in a dissipating cloud of stinky blue tire smoke.

Damnit! I see that all the time!

Me:

There ya go.

Ok, the gay bros left.

Thank you for allowing me to distract myself!

TIL #10: Bufferin

That Moment When…

Do you ever start telling a story about “the old days” or “a classic” movie/song/what-have-you only to have your brain catch up with your mouth halfway through and realize the story you’re nostalgically telling doesn’t pass current PC muster?

Of course this happened to me.

So, I suppose this should be titled “That awkward moment when”…

There I was, at Nossa – hey, it’s Sunday…it’s what I do. Anyway, I was talking to my barista boyfriend while he made my drink and the Silver Fox found the perfect table – y’know, one that looks perfect but spills my drink when he innocently adjusts his foot. Our conversation started after The Fox asked if the tables outside were reserved for the brunch the bar downstairs hosts on the patio on Sundays.

It’s a shared space, so sit wherever you want!

I heard a chipper and enthusiastic statement but his body language had an edge to it, so naturally that was the conversational thread I chose to pull. I commented that they sure put a lot of effort into their brunch service, since they start serving at 10 and I’d been there at 8 before to see them beginning their set up.

Yeah, they don’t even open the downstairs space, they just use the patio until their regular hours.

That was kind of surprising, since Portland weather is kind of…unreliable. But on top of two-plus hours of four people setting up the patio – which I assume is mirrored on the back end for clean up – with a bar cart, racks of tableware staged at the edge of the building and a music set up – which is usually a live band; they are spending money on extras as well.

Well, like all that isn’t extra.

But they are either buying extra pub height tables and chairs to supplement the regular patio furnishing the landlord provides or they are emptying out the bar below to provide seating. On top of that, Nossa has a couple of umbrellas they usually put out to shade the tables – I think there’s eight tables normally. The first time I witnessed this brunch endeavor, the restaurant added in some orange umbrellas. Today, the umbrellas were all a nice, dark green. No red Nossa umbrellas in the mix at all.

I don’t mind, really. It brings people in…

“Yeah, but with those green umbrellas, you’re probably gonna end up with not just your customers or their customers…you’ll probably get some Starbucks customers coming in to add a really confusing third leg to your customer barstool.”

Bring ’em on!

“Oh, really…you think you can rehabilitate Starbucks customer’s palates with your good coffee?”

He looks like he makes a real effort at thinking about it for a second, then says,

Well, maybe some of them…

We both laugh at that and that’s when it happened. I was thinking about that aha moment of a Starbucks drinker experiencing good coffee and instantly questioning their previous life choices.

That was the scene that popped into my crazy head, which made me laugh even harder. I asked my Fake Boyfriend if he’d ever seen Young Frankenstein.

I think I watched it a couple of years ago at my parents’ place one Christmas.

“Of course. It’s the perfect holiday movie! Do you remember when Madeline Kahn meets The Monster?”

Yeah. Hehe. Wait, I think I do…

So, naturally I go on to describe the scene and he’s giving me, “Yeah. Yeah!” as he listens along and remembers.

Except as I’m talking, I’m starting to remember this part of the scene

Where The Monster kidnaps Madeline and how the whole “Sweet mystery of life” moment occurs while The Monster is forcing himself on her.

I’m beginning to simultaneously try and gauge the people standing nearby – because were in Portland, for crying out loud…the wrong combo of AntiFa and Feminista overhearing this could get me in real trouble – and figure out how to get out of this conversation.

And then a third thing happened.

I got mad.

This was the part that did it…

I was suddenly disgusted with the notion of framing a rape as the woman being wrong about what she wanted and coming out the other side of her assault fulfilled and awakened.

Ruined.

So, I’ve been running a B-reel argument about how “times have changed” and “it’s a comedy” with myself to help figure out whether my nostalgic feelings about this movie can survive in this woke #MeToo day and age. I told myself,

Just watch it again and make sure you’re not misremembering the context…

Nope. Can’t fall for that argument. I’m not planning on running for office, but still…can’t have Jeff Bezos tattling on me if he sees Young Frankenstein in my viewed queue.

Now I’ve given myself a headache.

That Moment When…

How to Make Friends

by Me!

As much as I may say that I don’t like anyone, I actually tend to make friends pretty easily. When I have a mind to.

Ok, even when I just can’t help myself.

I was reminded of this a few times over the last week, and it had me thinking that I might be leaving you all with the wrong impression of my favorite person.

My ruminations took me back, all the way to my first days in Seattle. As the Operations Manager at the downtown Macy’s it was indirectly my job to make sure the store actually opened every day. It was directly Loss Prevention’s job, but often the Dock Manager would help and if I was there, I did, too.

You see, we had seven banks of doors to open on the main level, each bank had three double doors. On the sixth floor, there was a single door coming off the sky bridge from the parking structure and on the basement floor, there was a bank of three double doors coming off the light rail and bus tunnel. We weren’t hurting for doors so much as we needed a friggin’ army to open them all at 9:00 each day. When I first offered to lend my key to the process, I got the distinct impression that these guys weren’t used to a lot of support from my predecessor.

That didn’t stop them from taking advantage of my FNG status (Fucking New Guy) and giving me some hazing as a thank you for my contribution.

This is how I came to be opening the southeast bank of doors on 4th Avenue each day.

My first customer every day – no matter how strategically I began opening the doors – was a very friendly and exuberant young disabled man. He was the exact opposite of a Walmart Greeter, inasmuch as he didn’t work for us and did not let that stop him one bit.

The first day I opened the southeast doors, I opened all of the inner vestibule doors and then as soon as I opened the first outer door, he was right inside, up in my stuff.

“What is your first name, please?”

I’m standing there with the door in my hand, trying to pivot backward, around and away from him, so that I can keep opening the remaining doors. He actually sidesteps his way with me, until my back is up against the backside of the door I just opened. People were just funneling in the only open door available as I looked down at this guy – who had to be all of 4’5″ and built like a little fireplug – who was completely blocking my access to anywhere but where I presently was.

He repeated himself.

“What is your first name, please?”

“Excuse me, I need to unlock those other doors, please”, I say as I futilely try to negotiate my way around him.

“And, what is your last name, please?”

Somehow, he seems to be perfectly fine assuming my name is “Excuse me, I need to unlock those other doors, please” and has moved on to getting to really know me by asking my last name. He also seems to be taking notes.

Over his head – without much effort, obviously – I see our LP Manager pushing through the doors behind my new friend to open the remaining two doors in my block.

He might be smiling just the teensiest bit. He’s definitely not trying too hard to disguise his laughter at my discomfiture.

This happened several times a week for the 15 months or so that I worked at that store. I have no idea who this kid was or where he came from, but every day…

“What is your first name, please?”

First thing in the morning. No matter where he was when I started opening doors, he used that compact mass of his to move into position so that he was the first person through the door when I twisted my key in the cylinder. I mean, as far as first customers go, I’ve definitely experienced worse.

The Macy’s Greeter situation all came back to me the other week when I passed a guy on a street corner that turned out to be a beggar. The Guy From Saigon. God, of course this has to happen right in front of my mother, but we had parked around the block to run into Penzey’s Spices for one of their coupon offerings and were on our way back to the car. I saw the guy, dirty, straggly hair and all weather jacket that had seen better days standing there in the middle of the corner so that people crossing the street on either side had to pass by him. Mom and I were just hoping to walk around the corner, but had to do so single file because of his positioning.

“I am from Saigon!”

His voice is like a hatchet, chopping through his greeting. Caught slightly off guard by his delivery, I absent-mindedly took his hand when he held it out.

“Can you give some money!”

Note, that was not a question. I was glad that I had boldly let mom go first, so she could keep going as I got this guy’s attention.

“You know, I only have plastic on me”, I apologized as my feet tried to keep moving, but he had not yet returned custody of my hand to me.

“That is ok. You can buy me some food!”

He’s now let go of my hand and is motioning toward the restaurant behind me, which is a Vietnamese restaurant that just doesn’t think Panda Express charges enough for their food.

“You know, that’s a big ask, and I’m gonna pass! Thanks, though!” I’m as cheery as possible to avoid accidentally triggering this guy.

That’s a lesson I accidentally learned about 30 years ago while walking through downtown with my dad. I’m not sure what downtown it was, to be honest. The timeframe should place us in Long Beach, but for some reason, I remember it as Old Town in Portland. Either way, this clearly homeless Native American guy jaywalks across the street and demands, “Give me a dollar!” with an open palm, while literally standing in the gutter.

“No!” I reply, indignantly while me father pulls me into the crosswalk and away from this unknown character. It was probably a good thing, too. I was really worked up over his poor manners. This was back in the days when minimum wage was around $2.35/hour, so this fella had some nerve in my hard working book.

Fortunately, The Guy From Saigon was more than happy to move on to other pedestrians trying to make their way to shops or cafes during their lunch breaks. for her part, mom only got the meagerest of pleasures out of the interaction. Her mom radar noticed me holding my hand away from my body before I realized I was doing it.

“I’ve got some hand sanitizer back in the car.”

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of hand sanitizer, but in this case, I was glad to have my Swiss Army Mom handy.

Because I live where I live, there’s no shortage of opportunities for me to make friends on the street as I make my way to my here’s and there’s on any given day. There is an outfit called Central City Concern that provides shelter and social services to the less fortunate in our city. Since their board wisely gobbled up real estate in Old Town before the Pearl District became a reality, they own about 25% of the buildings in the area. They put them to good use with short term micro studio housing as well as longer term shelters, flop houses and rehabilitation centers.

The end result is that I get a lot of chances to “meet” folks on the streets of the central city that are…concerning.

One such guy is a fella I call The Forgetful Guy.

He’s a shambler.

Just making his way from here to there, just like the rest of us, albeit without any real focus or urgency. It’s a nice day when his antipsychotics are all loaded up just so, he just meanders down the middle of the sidewalk around the Burnside/Broadway/Couch/8th block for hours at a time. I’m not sure where he goes when he’s not there, and when I see him anywhere else, it usually disorients me for a moment.

Then there’s those days where maybe he didn’t get his meds mixed just right or into his system on time. Or maybe his socks are wet. I don’t know.

What I do know is that those days he is just the most vocal, disturbing person to be around. And he’s pissed because on those days, he’s lost track of something.

“Where’s my LIGHTER?!?”

He mixes up the things that he’s lost from week to week or sighting to sighting – because in all fairness, he’s “on” more than he’s “off” – but when he is off, I try to give him about a block’s worth of buffer. It’s still an assault on my ears, though.

Couple weeks back – right around the time I met The Guy From Saigon with mom, I came up behind him on the Couch part of his circuit and when I was about 10 feet behind him, he just let it rip at some woman walking toward him.

“WHERE’S MY SMOKE?!?”

Holy mother of…that was a good effort.

I think I jumped higher than the woman his outburst was actually aimed at, but she went sideways and landed with one foot on the curb and the other in the street. I moved up to her real fast – which I think did nothing for her frazzled nerves in the moment – but I wanted to get myself between her and him.

Before you think I’m too brave – because, I’m too stupid, if anything – I know this guy well enough to place him when he’s around, but I couldn’t pick him out of a line up if I had to. What my quasi-familiarity provides me is the knowledge that he is a one-hit wonder when it comes to these outbursts.

One per customer, please.

Then it’s usually, nothing to see here, please move along, until he encounters a fresh victim.

So, that’s reassuring, I guess. The most impressive part of his walkabouts is that he never lifts his head. I’m sure it’s a physical disability that gives him this posture, but the impressive part is how attuned his peripheral vision is to people around him. Like I said, it’s one verbal assault per customer, and he’s done with you and on to spread his special brand of attention to the next lucky pedestrian. Which is way better than cornering some poor tourist who doesn’t know any better than to expect weirdness in general in Portland, but specifically on this particular block getting pinned against a wall or parked car and not able to get away from The Forgetful Guy. Lunch time is the only really bad time for him to be out and off his meds. Otherwise, there’s not too many people on this particular block. Thankfully.

Now…I have to take a moment to say that I’m really bummed, because when I thought about this Who’s Who of the Friendly-ish Portland Crazies, I made notes about my usuals and then made this note:

The Lincoln High (not) Grad.

“Hot second!”

And, for the life of me right now, I cannot recall the incident that prompted those notes. Clearly someone who was sharing his educational accomplishments-slash-shortcomings with passers by one day a couple of weeks ago while this blog notion was kicking around my brain. A guy who also happened to have quite a catchy verbal tic.

Alas.

I’ll keep my eyes and ears peeled for Mr Hot Second, but that I haven’t seen him in the last couple of weeks suggests that he might be a true transient and has moved on. Maybe he was just letting us all know that he was only gonna be around for a hot second when I saw him.

I think the Silver Fox would be disappointed if I didn’t mention The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland while I was talking about our (mostly) affable street folks.

The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland is a fella that we usually see when we head over toward Nossa Familia for a Sunday coffee or if we need to – need to – buy a lottery ticket. Safeway is one of two joints nearby where we can get a lottery ticket once it gains enough potential ROI to get on the Silver Fox’s radar. The other place is a murder mart called Pico Mart, but they close early and are dangerously close to the Bing Me! food cart, so when we go to Pico Mart for a lottery ticket, we feel ripped off if we can’t get a Bing at the same time.

So, Safeway it is, oftentimes.

And when we go, there he is, The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland, standing by at his station, ready to avail himself to the kindness of strangers.

Or Safeway customers as they exit the store onto NW 13th.

I nicknamed him The Richest Homeless Guy in Portland because he is a monolith of wool, every time I see him. Covered, no…wrapped from head to toe, face barely visible, in more blankets than you could imagine carrying. The first time I saw him, I thought to myself, “That homeless mo-fo is gonna trip over those blankets”, because the edges of his blankets drag the ground.

But he never has, as far as I know. And if he did…he’s well cushioned. And god help him, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say a word. It may be because his mouth is partially covered by blankets, thereby muffling his words. But I really think he’s a quiet guy. All I see of him is eyes, nose, tufts of wayward hair and whichever hand is holding his sign. Otherwise, he’s just slowing moving through the streets of the Pearl District, either on his way to or from the Safeway like a statue of liberty wrapped in moving blankets.

And frankly, aside from an occasional outburst or two from The Forgetful Guy? These folks are all local flavor. Down right affable in the case of The Guy From Saigon and pretty much harmless if they are anything other than affable. It makes me feel…generally comfortable, if that’s the right expression. Not that we have homeless people wandering in our midst. But that they are at least mostly harmless fixtures in our community.

There’s panhandlers that make me feel ill at ease on every block, don’t get me wrong. Usually with a dog I trust more than I would trust them. These friends I’m talking about that I’ve made while living in the Pearl neighborhood? They’re good enough folks. And I’m glad that Portland has the social-ist network that they need for support in their day to day lives.

Because it can’t be easy for them, that’s for sure. That’s why I always try to give them some eye contact and a smile or nod when I encounter them.

How to Make Friends

Today I Learned #12

Calculated Risks

I don’t want anyone to mistake this entry for something serious.

Like wine.

I mean, I take wine seriously enough to not abuse it. I mean, waste it…I’m sure anything I do that could be described as wine abuse is actually closer to self-abuse or self-medication, depending on the circumstance.

That said, I feel like we should discuss decanting.

Sidebar: Autocorrect just changed “decanting” into “decaying” and I literally decant even.

Decanting a sure thing bottle is convenient for aerating the wine and opening it up do the acidic notes can mellow versus overwhelming the rest of the flavors when you…sip. So I’ve generally made a habit of decanting a bottle anytime I have company over, but switching to a by-glass aerator if that second bottle tries to get popular.

My logic? Maybe that second bottle doesn’t get finished, right?

What? I’ve heard of that happening…

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Wine is much like friends vs dating later in life.

You get to know the quality peeps in your life that deserve and have earned decanting rights. Then there are the new unknowns that are best taken on a by-glass basis.

As I’ve managed to overcome my desire for a relationship and remain a Singleton this past year, I’ve engaged in a little thought exercise. I examined my urge to open or order what I consider great bottles of wine on a first date. Was I simply indulging my tastes and myself as I did something I’m not super comfortable doing?

Sidenote: Roller Coasters should have wine stands at the beginning of the line.

Or, was I trying to show off?

Ugh.

I’m going to skip over the grisly details. Suffice it to say, hearing an attractive man say that my wine was really good as he leaves are perhaps the least validating final words to hear from someone.

In case that needed to be mentioned.

The last time someone came over for wine in a dating capacity, I legitimately caught myself thinking – as I reached up for my decanter – “Am I prepared to try and switch bottles because ‘This doesn’t taste right, let’s try something else’ if this guy doesn’t seem worth the rest of the bottle?” More importantly, am I cool enough to pull off that switch to a bottle of TJ’s finest?!?

But, like I said, this isn’t a post about wine.

Exclusively

It’s about any variety of risks we take. Moreover, it’s about how our own opinions of those risks change over time. And how we assess and prioritize those opinions.

A fairly blue case study – oh, I should write about Gee sometime – to illustrate my point:

Yesterday, I had a solo lunch date with dad. Mom had gone shopping with my sister and his usual Friday lunch with his own dad was rescheduled for a doctor’s appointment.

Usually when mom, dad and I go to lunch, I can bank on each of them making use of the facility’s facilities. Occasionally it’s all three of us, which affords my dad and I the opportunity for a rather humorous take on what frequently happens at Portland intersections.

Yesterday, as our departure from the restaurant became imminent, I caved and asked dad if he wanted you use the restroom before we left.

He passed.

I raised my eyebrows.

When we got to my place, I asked if he wanted to come up and talk for a while longer. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to more kill time while my mom and sister were out. He said no, so we sat in the car and chatted a while before I got out of the car and chatted more while standing at the door.

When he drove off, I crossed the street, fobbed into my building and then tapped my toe impatiently while waiting for the world’s slowest elevator to return to the main floor.

Then I did a full on pee-pee dance in the elevator as we made our glacial ascent to the building’s fourth floor.

Seriously…it is so slow. I’m tempted right now to go take a ride and count off the “thousands” it takes to climb from the Ground floor to 3. Sadly, I have to meet friends in two hours and nine minutes, so I’m afraid there isn’t time.

By the time we reached my floor, I was straining so hard to keep my bladder sealed that I accidentally let a fart fly.

That felt better!

But I consciously tightened everything up again as I prepared to engage my legs and leave the lift. My concern? Was that just gas or was it a…warning?!?

I farted out a few letters of the alphabet on the way to my door and while I was fumbling to get my door unlocked. Fortunately, neither of the other two residents on my floor chose that time to leave their units!

There I was, sitting victorious upon my throne. The contents of my bladder successfully vanquished, I reflected upon the Battle of the Bladder.

Were my check-ins with dad legitimate concern or projection on my part?

I want to say legitimate concern, since he drives about 35 miles home after he visits.

But the reality was that this was my second elevator dance of the week, so…

Either I need to move to a building with a faster elevator – or, better yet, a turbo lift! – or I need to stop projecting and openly check-in with my own plumbing to calculate risk vs transit time between cans.

So far, I’m not there. I have only gotten as far as calculating the height of a curb as it relates to chances of a fart in my body’s state of misadventures. Maybe it’s time to up that game.

Bet you wished this had only been about wine now, right?

Wine and poop. I’m a real enigma, aren’t I?

Maybe this whole Calculated Risks thing is more about food and drink, now that I think about it. The last example that popped into my head was about coffee. While that folds nicely into the bathroom urgency risk, it’s more about heartburn!

I’ve long maintained that I only need one good cup of coffee to satisfy my craving.

And the occasional need for a jump start.

The end of that saying of mine is that I’ll drink diner coffee all morning and still not feel satisfied. But I will end up with a banger of a case of heartburn. But I understood the risk and how my body worked.

Now, since I haven’t been working, I’ve sat at f&b for a second cup of their cold brew while chatting-ish with the Silver Fox. As my unemployment has dragged on, though, I’ve had to re-examine that habit.

The cold brew at f&b is brewed using the Japanese method for iced coffee.

Cold brew, iced coffee, Japanese iced coffee; three very different things. At least inasmuch as acidity is concerned.

Cold brew has very little acid, meaning I can drink it all day. That it’s made with good, medium roast beans means I really can sip it all day, but feel satisfied after a single cup.

Iced coffee, Japanese brew method or not, medium roast bean or not…has all the regular acidity of coffee.

When I have that second cup, I’m weighing the risk factors. Usually, with The Fox, the calculations come out in his – and mine, by extension – favor. When I’m alone, I’ll stop at one cup, go somewhere else or skip it altogether.

The cost/benefit calculated risk exercise I go through when it comes to the debate over taking a shower and getting presentable just to go out for a cup of coffee are a little…embarrassing.

How about some interaction? Surely, I’m not the only one that does this type of calculating…although, maybe I’m the only one that admits to it.

Tell me in the comments, what are your Calculated Risks?

Today I Learned #12

Free Money = Best Money

The Silver Fox started my day off with an email about National Coffee Day and I was off to the races. Like I needed an excuse. But, having slept a full eight hours off just one Mellie last night, my options were dwindling as far as execution on drinking coffee at 4 pm was concerned: f&b, my normal neighborhood outlet for coffee was closing at 4 and I’m low grade mad at most of the other coffeehouses for a variety of manufactured offenses…so Nossa Familia was the only option.

An option I’m not even upset with. Somehow, they moved two blocks further from me – literally from Johnson to Lovejoy in the Alphabet District – without raising my hackles. Credit their awesome coffee and baristas that are largely either tolerably hipster, cute Portland guys or brash and sassy young women. I’m ok with all of those things.

I’d showered at 5 when I got home and then watched the disappointing Wrinkle In Time movie while my hair dried, which was a fine way to end my work day. Still, my quasi urgent need for coffee to end my melatonin induced zombie walking fog meant a courtesy brushing of the teeth and a ball hat to hide my bedhead was the maximum effort I was willing to expend in getting presentable.

Even with that minimal prep time, I arrived at the cafe three seconds after the family of three trundled in the door to Nossa. I could have not picked up that penny I saw on the street to give myself the edge, but my grandmother taught me better than that! I could have also sped up in order to beat them in the door, but I hate for my competitive streak to be obvious.

I ended up slowing down for them to complete their entry maneuvers and silently – I think – groaned.

I stood back and waited for the inevitable “expresso” as two things became immediately clear:

First, this family of three had never ordered coffee in Portland before. Triangulating the cafes location compared to any nearby hotels – the closest is probably either the Residence Inn at 9th and Overton or the Canopy At 9th and Glisan…6 or 8 blocks, respectively – I decided that these people had just gotten off the streetcar that stops outside the cafe on Lovejoy.

A Canopy guest would just inherently know how to order coffee and something told me that the ~$100/night difference in room cost between the ResInn and a hotel five blocks away, across the river and by the Convention Center was a reasonable trade off for a family from – I’m guessing – a flyover state.

Forgive me, the caffeine hasn’t fully kicked in yet – I’m only about two shots into my quad- shot mocha – and I’m still grumbly from the Kavanaugh shenanigans on Cap Hill this past week…for which flyover state folk get a lot of credit. Nonetheless, I have no problem imagining why someone casually passing by this cafe would want to come in. It’s adorable and serves great bean juice.

But these people were not casually strolling by.

The cute appropriately hipster barista was giving me some serious empathy from behind his La Marzocco as the sassy young woman taking orders tried to not be sassy to these folk who would not get it.

Second – you thought I’d forget I was enumerating, didn’t ya? – the Dad was driving this trip to the cafe because he had to take a whiz.

He ordered a 16 ounce drip and then quickly started looking around for the bathroom while his wife and son ordered. It’s upstairs and through the shared vestibule, but I wasn’t going to volunteer that information.

This was about the time the cute, appropriately hipster barista decided to recreationally fuck with these people. Dad had ordered a drip and pretty much ran off, returning and trying not to look desperate about the time mom finished ordering a decaf iced mocha for their son and starting in on her own struggle of a coffee drink, so he missed out on the being fucked with.

There’s a sign at chest level telling you the current bean offerings for drip and espresso.

Poor mom was fixated on the drink menu above and missed this detail.

She ordered a light roast latte and our bored bean slinger asked her which bean she wanted since they don’t stop at light, medium or dark roast here in Portland. Shade grown or farm altitude can affect how beans taste, so can overall region or continent on which the farm is located, then the roasting enhances – or obliterates, in the case of Charbucks – the bean’s natural flavor.

This poor thing gave up and desperately decided to just get a drip, probably mentally chastising her husband for not going before they left the motor inn. Still, there’s two drip options, so the cashier got in on the fun and asked which she wanted. And, this does make a difference, especially with drip. If I’m getting drip, I want nutty and chocolatey notes over fruity in my cup.

I imagined I could see her skull pulsating as it built up to a regular old explosion – blindly picked a bean, from the espresso assortment.

I questioned whether that penny was really worth this experience.

“That’s the decaf, do you want decaf?”, the barista clarified.

Oh, no…I’ll take the Guatemala Timoteo.

Good job, mom! You picked the “light roast” that you originally wanted on your second guess. Unfortunately…it wasn’t a drip option.

I was actually beginning to feel bad for this woman as the barista offered to make her an Americano – which she would have loved. The hubby helpfully pointed out the two drip offerings as she picked the third espresso option. When the barista – I think feeling a little guilty now – offered to make that an Americano, too, she just collapsed and said, “Just give me what he had”, utterly defeated.

While this was spiraling, the barista had gotten my 16 ounce iced quad-shot hazelnut latte order and was starting it as he presented the son’s iced decaf mocha. I decided to throw her a bone and said, “Oooh, the chocolate whipped cream here is so good!”, providing her and her son with a nice shared tasting moment to take the sting out of what had just happened.

“Do you want some on yours?”, the barista attentively asked me.

I declined, excitedly declaring that that would be like a Nutella latte while mentally warming the boy about the dangers of paying me too much attention.

I’m old, I get confused.

So, what does all this have to do with free money?

Well, while finding the penny on the way over was a net zero experience – since in my idle time watching this coffee house drama unfold I was lamenting the good old days in Shittatle when I would find random $20s blowing across the street – I was getting a free drink today. On my last visit, our appropriately hipster, cute barista had “punched me up” on my punch card for no reason, so my next – this – drink was free.

Oh, no! I accidentally made you a mocha!

Earned me this

I can re-pull the shots!

“No worries”, I told my cute little barista, “as long as it’s a quad-shot, everything else is just a delivery system!” I don’t know why I was so chipper.

Oh, yeah…a cute boy was paying me attention. That is apparently better than any number of espresso shots.

Finally tally – and the day has just begun for me: one cent, a free coffee and two tokens for free drinks in the future. It’s not a $20, but at $18.01, including tip, that’s as close as I’ve gotten in Portland. A penny is still better than nothing, right?

Somewhere on the web is a post from my original blog called Rolling Twenties detailing my lucrative wanderings in Seattle.

Good luck finding it.

Free Money = Best Money

I Took A Break

From being grumpy.

Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my normal Grumpopotamus self in the morning.

For today, though?

This has been me:

You see, e-scooters have come to Portland. You’d think I would have strong feelings about them, but I feel like the cacophonous complaints from the rest of the city has drowned me out so completely that I don’t even care any more.

Well, check that. I can still muster a sympathetic lil eye roll when someone else mentions the subject. But otherwise? Meh.

I’ve got 99 problems. E-scooters can be everyone else’s. I’m kind of just glad people are demonstrating an ability to experience the combination of low grade anger and impotence to effect change that is my daily struggle.

Go ahead, shake your fists in the air as these e-scooters silently and quickly surprise you from behind.

Rage at those windmills as people leave them scattered about without thinking of the impact their actions will have on anyone else.

Cluck your tongue in disapproval as you witness obvious violations of the simplest e-scooter operating guidelines.

…for all the good it’ll do you.

To their credit, Lime has made their operating guidelines pretty idiot-proof. To their fault, they seem to have willfully failed to realize that there is no bar so low that a #StupidAmerican won’t try and crawl under it.

Here are the rules, presented as pictographs so you barely need to know how words work to understand.I’m a little bothered that this handbrake thing needs to be explained.

There was one more about avoiding obstacles in the roadway, like potholes. I’m not in love with that one so much because I’m usually rooting for my pal Darwin anytime Stupid Americans are involved.

Hey, I don’t want bad things to happen to people. I do, however, expect their actions to support that they don’t want bad things to happen to themselves either, though.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to people carp about this or that e-scooter issue for a few weeks now. Most of the complaints tend to be one of three things:

1) Helmets

2) Riding on sidewalks

3) Scooter parking

I pretty much keep my own counsel on these conversations because, Darwin can use a win and I think these scooters can help take some of our bigger idiots out of the gene pool…I know, that was pretty savage. That said, I don’t want that win to come at the expense of some oblivious everyday Joe that’s texting as he walks down the street and trips over a carelessly parked scooter.

AKA: me.

If you remember the picture rules above, you’ll recall that there isn’t anything in the pictures that says “don’t ride on sidewalks”. As a matter of fact, I mistakenly believed that e-scooters were supposed to be used in bike lanes and sidewalks as opposed to traffic lanes.

I think I was wrong. But, aside from the stoplight picture, I only know that because I watched the maybe-minute-long instructional video on the Lime website.

How many people are gonna do that? Certainly not too many of the people complaining about the scooter users.

From what I gather from said video, you shouldn’t use e-scooters on sidewalks. I’m discerning that mainly from the demonstration video, where all scooting was done on the road and sidewalks were only shown with parked scooters. Riders were also told to obey all traffic laws and the helmet advisory was repeated.

Sorry, Darwin, old pal. If riders bother to watch this, you’re gonna get screwed.

Nevertheless, I’m just listening in on these conversations. I’m also assuming that when I complain about my grumpy old man triggers that I look like the sane e-scooter haters and not the frothy-mouthed versions.

It’s my blog, I can delude myself if I want to.

But my voyeuristic pleasure took an upgrade this week when I subscribed to Nextdoor. I’ve been hearing exasperated sighs from the Silver Fox lately when his phone Pavlov’s him and it’s not anything exciting like a text or a juicy news tidbit to fuel our coffee clatch conversation. “It’s just Nextdoor” hell say dismissively, without explaining.

So I joined.

At first, I totally got his exasperation:

Lost cats.

Inconsiderate dog owners.

People seeking recommendations.

But, then…the scooters!

Here’s a little snapshot of the conversation that’s gotten me through the last couple of days. Just my favorite parts, if you’ll pardon my editing out the repetitive stuff.

Hehe…that second guy kinda turned on the Original Poster by telling her that complaining on Nextdoor was pointless.

That last one really gave me an inner tee-hee moment. Not ten whole violations in a single hour!

The scoot-manity!

I just imagined that cranky lady sitting in the Adirondack chairs outside Lovejoy Bakery barely able to enjoy her luxury pastry and alternative milk latte for all the fist shaking she was doing. She sounds like the type that might make the staff make her a new latte since her first didn’t stay hot.

These scooters…they’re like Christmas!

Icing on the cake?

Our local free weekly rag, Willamette Week, ran a story after week one with a headline that basically congratulated us citizens for the fact that only one scooter had ended up in the Willamette River in the first week of use.

Seriously? What did they think would happen?!?

Stupid Americans.

I Took A Break

I Had an Idea On My Way to a Tiny House Warming

107-ish weeks ago, I posted an entry about a party that I’d been invited to and to which, I had actually gone. What was unique about it was that it was an invite from someone outside my inner circle, so my comfort was not necessarily assured.

This party was part of the impetus for my writing project that year. I called it #TheYesGame and the goal was…well, fairly obvious.

Well, I’m proud (?) to say that yesterday, I said yes again! While I’m sure there were additional moments of success in The Yes Game in the intervening 107 weeks, I’m still a grumpy old man at heart. What that means is that my reply to an invitation is more likely to be “maybe” versus “fuck, yeah”.

Still, yesterday’s party in question wasn’t too risky compared to the Garden Party of 2016. Back then, I only knew the host, not any guests. As a matter of fact, I really only knew the host as a service provider…he was my hair guy. I was confused about whether he was inviting me as a date or simply a guest. My confusion was enhanced because I really wanted to coitus him like a white guy.

None of these factors was in play yesterday.

The hosts yesterday are known to me through my inner circle friends. I guess that makes them second ring friends, right outside my Chosen Family. So, I really like them. Additionally, without confirming with any of our mutual friends, I had a high degree of certainty that I’d run into someone I know at the party besides the hosts.

That didn’t happen, but just like in the Garden Party of ’16, I had a really good time!

In both cases, I was able to find people to chat with and just be sociable. Plus, I got to see the hosts’ new Tiny House, which was the whole purpose of their party.

One thing that was different and surprising this time around was the getting there. Proverbial wisdom suggests that it’s half of the actual fun, right?

Well, yesterday I had to choose a means of getting there. Since it was hotter than Hades yesterday, I chose Uber over the bus.

The hosts aren’t MAX adjacent, so I didn’t have the option of taking a train. On a really hot day, I can tolerate a train…buses, though are kind of ugh on a normal day.

Anyway, as I’m wont to do in most situations, I just started chatting with the driver. Well, it’s that or attaching my face to my phone for the duration.

It’s my experience that most Uber drivers drive part-time as a means of supplementing their income. Yesterday, I had an Uber Unicorn – a full-time driver!

He went on to say that if anyone ever did an Uber Driver Reality Series, he was going to be on it.

…and, my imagination was off to the races.

I started with suggesting that the series could follow a Real Housewives type format, but that my preference would be to have more of a Portlandia vibe to the production.

Sure, it would be cool to give these featured drivers a communal garage and/or living space. But that latter feature feels kinda Real World-y. The Pacific Northwest hadn’t really embraced those types of shows in the past, though.

Additionally, Uber’s vehicle standards is kind of elitist, but only inasmuch as they want to protect the value of the experience their service provides. That standard lends credence to more of a Real Housewives-type luxury. Again, not very PNW-y.

For those reasons of exclusion, my gut said a Portland based reality show would have to come from a more quirky concept.

So, we’re back to Portlandia.

Obviously we’re gonna have to design our own app. The benefit there is that you can work in the usage waiver for appearing on camera to the Terms and Conditions.

No blurry faces on my show!

The point of the app is the same, basically. My vehicle standards would just be appropriately Portland-ized. Less this

More this

Imagine finishing up with your date, a great dinner or show or what have you and opening up the Uber app only to find it’s surge pricing.

Screw that!

What better reason do you need to open up the Portland version and get a ride? Sure, you’ll be on TV – and probably a lil buzzed – but you won’t get gouged by da man.

Then this guy pulls up

That would make for an interesting ride home.

The next day you could ask yourself, “Did I not get any because I’m cheap or because I traumatized my date by making her get into that car?!?”

But the real twist on my program wouldn’t be weird cars. It would be alternative transportation.

Maybe even a power share vehicle…our own version of a fare split.

We are kinda famous for our weird means of getting around. Electric Scooter shares just launched in town. We’ve got BikeTown stations all over the place. Segue commuters are as common as our Segue Tour service.

The person skateboarding down the street is equally likely to be a 50-something as they are to be wearing a wedding dress. I’m just saying we take it to its next illogical incarnation with a ride share app that is distinctly us.

Of course, there’s only a couple of options for moderators that come to mind. It’s got to be either our controversial and quirky former mayor

Or this guy

Obviously.

Because, like I said earlier, getting there is half the fun!

So…anybody know Andy Cohen? Hook me up.

I Had an Idea On My Way to a Tiny House Warming

Why Do Drag Queens Hate Me?

News Flash: they don’t.

Well, not any more or less than the usual person.

For some, I’m an acquired taste.

But as we flit into Pride weekend in Portland, I figured drag was as good a topic to reflect on as any. And I’ve had kind of a funny history with drag queens. Or DQs as I’ve referred to them in the past, since saying two words is so damned hard.

Actually, in thinking about this, I realized that maybe DQs should hate me. Maybe just a little.

You see, I realized that in my early gay days, I was kind of embarrassed by people who did drag. Reflexively, I want to give myself a pass for this early discomfort, since it is something that I know was happening when I was first working to overcome my own gay shame and internal homophobia.

This was the late 80s and early 90s. My knee jerk (or just flat out jerk) reaction when seeing a drag queen in a Pride parade – about the only place I ever encountered them – was “Welp, that’s what will lead the news story about Pride”. My thinking – or frustration – with that obvious reality was that Pride parades were supposed to help normalize our culture for the flyover states. Showing the most flamboyant elements of our culture was doing more harm than good in that battle.

Then I realized a few things:

First, unless we’re naked, we’re all in drag. This is some Grade A DQ wisdom. And it’s dead-bang spot on, especially once we start dressing ourselves. We dress how we want to be perceived in the world.

Second, and piling onto and expanding that sense of expression, drag is a frigging art. If you’ve never watched one get into face- as it’s called – find a YouTube video and be prepared to be amazed. Drag Queens are equal parts self expression and performance art. Regardless of whether they are on a stage or socializing, when a DQ is in face, they are performing. That’s not just Jeff in a Dress you’re seeing. Jeff has a different name and persona once he slips those stilettos on.

Third, our community’s most extravagant fringes should be our ambassadors to the Normie Culture. Accepting anything less than our wildest representations is acceptance with conditions, like that friend who accepts that you’re gay as long as you don’t do gay stuff around him.

Bitch, when I’m being your friend…that’s me doing my gay stuff.

So, flash forward to me overcoming my own homophobia. It only took me leaving the LBC for Florida, living in Texas, moving back to Long Beach and landing back in my hometown of Portland.

Easy-peasy.

Except…not so fast.

When I move back to Portland in ’96, I lived on the Willamette River. This was back when Stark Street was commonly and crassly referred to as Vaseline Alley because most of the gay bars were clustered along a three-ish block stretch. Not the closest gay bars to my home, of course. That was Embers.

Half dance bar, half drag performance venue…I would bypass it for Stark Street unless I was out with a group of friends that wanted to shake their booties.

Interestingly enough, I credit this balance between my “safety in numbers” approach to Embers and my early onset grumpiness with helping me develop a comfort and then appreciation of the drag community. You see, I would go dance at Embers with my friends, but being an evolving grouch, I could only take so much crowding and being stepped on before I had to give myself some alone time on the drag side of the bar.

Not that it was empty or even less crowded. But it was quieter…if only by comparison to the dance side. I’d stand in the back and watch the show for a bit or throw a $20 into the video lottery or grab a beer and enjoy it solo.

Ok, I usually did that last thing with either of the first two while the walls buffered the thumpa-thumpa of the music next door and I decompressed.

It was here that I first saw Linda Lee, Raven, Poison Waters and many other performers that showed me the breadth of our drag personalities.

Linda Lee simply refused to tuck as part of her prep. Usually you could count on at least one flash of a pantyhose encased crotch during her performance. She also didn’t really bother to learn the words to the songs she was lip syncing. When she got to the end of the words she knew, rumor – or legend now – had it that she’d either start mouthing “fuck you” over and over until she found another chorus or treat us to an incredibly obscene tongue display.

I remember seeing Linda out in public one day. Well, part of her, at any rate. It was a summer day and I was driving around doing errands and had one stop downtown before heading home. I was looking for parking and realized that I’d just missed an opportunity in the shape of a car door being carelessly flung open in front of me. I’d just rounded a corner and stopped versus trying to change lanes to avoid taking the door off. The door started to close again just as the driver’s leg was coming out. It was a thick, varicose veiny old man’s leg and it caught the door to stop it from amputating the leg as he tried to exit the car.

That was when I realized the leg was attached to a subtle pump, maybe a tasteful 2″ heel. It was midday after all. Gradually and awkwardly, Linda pulled the rest of herself out of the old car, her skirt riding up as she scooched of the driver’s seat, turning to hold the door open with her half exposed ass as she gathered her stuff off of the passenger seat.

Another signature Linda Lee show.

Raven was another story. For a crass as Linda was, Raven was to opposite to the point of genteel. The first few (hundred) times I encountered her, I was sure she was hitting on me. She’s Native American, so right up my alley. She’s also about 20 gay years older than me, so that alley ends at the end of a pier. Gradually, I got comfortable with her overtly flirty style and would just enjoy our occasional chats from her perch at the bar for what they were: low key social interaction. Those “I’m talking to a man in a dress” conversations were what really helped me embrace drag as both an art form and lifestyle that was an integral part of our gay community.

Still, neither of my experiences with these DQs prepared me for the time a performer ended her number by jumping off stage and making her way directly toward where I stood at the back of the bar. She was smiling like a crazy person and barely broke eye contact as she navigated the tables between us, prompting me to basically do one of those look-to-both-sides-then-mouth-“me?” things like the cool guy I am.

It was me she was headed for.

Apparently, I was distracting her throughout her number and I was to be chastised, thanked and asked out on a date.

In my stunned and flabbergasted state, I agreed, forgetting my Groucho Marx motto about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. That carried over to finding fault with someone who was attracted to me…I wasted so much time hating my beautiful younger self.

This was somewhere between hereand here

in my 20s.

<sigh>

Anyway, we went out. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember our date started with me picking him up at his place and ended at my place the next day.

Being a good American conspicuous consumer, I appreciated that I was picking him up at his place in an old two story 20s-era apartment that I’d probably just about kill to live in. Tile roof, stucco exterior, arched doorways and fantastic landscaping. I was jealous and impressed…drag obviously paid better than I’d thought. Turns out, his day job – and family, black sheep that he was – set him up pretty well. Drag was just an expensive hobby, as his second bedroom turned sequin gown filled dressing room attested.

He was a beautiful boy outside of that fancy dress, but it was that second bedroom – and the later realization of that thought about the dress – that made us a bad match at the time. Both my faults. I’ve often wondered where he ended up…he was a really nice, fun guy. Too bad FaceBook was still a decade away.

After my decade long Seattle exile, I moved back to Portland and re-settled myself near the remnants of the now scattered gay bars. Stark Street has been rendered unrecognizable from the enclave of gay bars I’d left, only one remaining. Gentrification touches everyone…but I’d positioned myself close to my primary gay watering holes: Embers and CCs, which had the added bonus of being close to Hobo’s and Fox & Hounds for when I wanted to eat with my people and/or be left alone, respectively.

Embers and CCs has a steady stream of Drag Queens because they both had a drag component to their bar environment, CCs even has a Drag Queen Bartender

which is truly a rarity, I believe she’s one of only three in the US. Every shift is a completely different incarnation, each a very elaborate artistic creation.

Major drag bars aside, my favorite interactions with DQs occurred in settings that reminded me of my barside chats with Raven all those years ago. The Fox & Hounds is around the corner from CCs and on the opposite side of the block from Darcelle’s, Portland’s own world famous and Guinness Book of World Records holding female impersonator. This provided a steady stream – trickle, really – of drop in drag queens who, like me, wanted a drink in relative peace.

Even though I’m pretty sure all three bars are semi connected by Portland’s underground network of Shanghai Tunnels, most DQs would work the sidewalk around the block, chatting and taking in a casual smoke on their way to Fox & Hounds for their “break”.

I’d casually chat with these performers about where they were performing or whether they were just out and about for the night as well as what was going on. Sometimes, we’d just sit quietly, sipping in the camaraderie, others we’d play some video lottery and urge each other toward victory or commiserate our losses. Still others, we’d talk about our town and the community and the subculture that is drag.

At the end of the day, our struggles were what united us more than our sexuality. After one evening of winding down at Fox & Hound, I’d decided to wander around the corner to CCs to see what was going on. It was the first day that weed was legal for recreational use in the great state that is Oregon and there was a palpable – if not subdued, for some reason – energy in Old Town. There was a group of people from all walks of life planning a sort of smoke in on the Burnside Bridge beneath the ubiquitous Old Town sign

I learned this as I was passing CCs’ hostess in residence. Our relationship had run the gamut from enthusiastic, gushing fan when I saw her at my first Pride after moving to Seattle – a welcome bit of my hometown – to our current low key drive by greetings as she worked the crowd at CCs. This particular night, she acknowledged me by offering me a hit off her joint. I passed, but thanked her. She reminded me to go to the bridge later to celebrate. End of story.

My absolute most favorite DQ story happened shortly after this. I was meeting a friend at the Mock Crest tavern for a drink after work. I was working a few blocks away in North Portland at the time and got off work around 11. Oftentimes I’d chill with a beer or two before catching – or missing – the last bus home. We were sitting in this little shotgun of a hole in the wall bar, enjoying a beer and listening to the three piece band that they’d managed to somehow cram into this tiny space as we talked.

It was very pleasant, which I know is a surprise coming from me.

As we’re sitting there chatting, in walk a couple of Drag Queens and I’m wondering how the hell they got so lost as to end up in a dive bar in NoPo…only to realize one of the two was friggin’ Raven!

It’d been nearly 20 actual years since I’d seen her and my presumption was that she’d died, like her counterpart Linda Lee had. I bought her and her friend a beer and learned that she wasn’t dead, “just in my 60s!” as she’d put it. We chatted for about a half hour before she and her friend took off for town. They had stopped in to mentally prepare themselves for the evening out on the town seeing friends while navigating the crowd of “bitchy kids” as she put it.

I apologized for having been one of those bitchy kids when we first met and she gave me a big kiss, hugged me and told me I was always a delightful companion at Embers.

Not bad for a future grumpy old man.

As if that wasn’t enough to put a smile on my face, I’d also missed the last bus of the night. Naturally, I stayed and closed the place before grabbing an Uber home, reflecting on how life really is just such a rich and delightfully strange and unpredictable journey.

Back to my titular (hehe) question. Drag Queens certainly don’t hate me. If anything, some might say the opposite. In the best possible way, their collective acceptance of pretty much anyone they come across helped me to become a better human. Certainly, the acceptance I have felt from the drag community over the years has helped me accept – and stop hating – myself.

The things we learn in unexpected ways…

Why Do Drag Queens Hate Me?