While in Minneapolis for a brief, busy weekend exploring new apartments and job prospects, a mid-April blizzard hits town and I miss my flight home.Read More
I have never been very current on fashion, so my trips to the mall usually included eye-opening updates on trends. Apparently, judging by the three Russian figure skaters, there was some huge fad for czaritsa chic going around.Read More
Stand anywhere in Portland, Oregon, throw a rock in any direction and, with that rock, you could hit two bicycle frame builders. Maybe though, don’t throw rocks. (Just a thought.)Read More
One night, after picking up a box of wine from Fred Meyer, I noticed a stolen bike leaning against the rack next to my bike. After confronting the man standing next to it, I got maced, twice, trying to rescue the bike. Initially, I set out to write this story down but It became a much larger story than just this incident. Here are some excerpts.
Houselessness in Portland
It is impossible to discuss bike thievery in any city without discussing, homelessness. The homeless situation in Portland is bad and getting worse:
“[Homeless camps] are ubiquitous all over Portland, mostly because our city has not been able to decide what should be done for our homeless community, beyond a well-meaning but largely inept stop-gap measure of benevolent tolerance, punctuated by fits of police-state cruelty. This has created a weird and horrible game of whack-a-mole between the city and its camps: the homeless are allowed to flourish for a period of time (which they do, with aplomb) until, randomly, the sheriff and a hazmat crew are called in to raze them and any of their structures from the earth.”
“Maybe, long ago, these chop-shops used to operate in the shadows, but not anymore. Now, perhaps because of the sheer number of stolen bicycles to process, and the lack of shadows, they set up tool benches and get to work out in the open, stripping and processing enormous quantities of frames and valuable components to either be sent to other cities, where they can be anonymously sold, or to stay here where they’re pieced together as any of the myriad frankenbikes seen creaking around town.”
Vigilantes are assholes, so why did I become one?
I’m not proud of what I did. So why did I try to take back a stolen bike? Especially, one that hadn’t even been stolen from me.
After having two bikes stolen in Portland, I’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to bike thievery—not so much one of consideration, or even (dear God) heroism as it is an inability to think clearly, or act otherwise:
“I never felt proud about taking the bike, I was ashamed. I thought that was obvious. I thought it was obvious—a man’s recklessness shouldn’t ever be confused with heroism. And it was reckless, especially for a husband and a father. Foolishly, I expected everyone would be on board with that concept.”
On getting maced
Before getting maced, it’s hard to tell—what’s the big deal?
As far as epiphanies go, getting maced was surprisingly effective. Certainly, it wasn’t as bad as getting shot. But still, a facefull of mace is enough to inspire reflection—to consider the decisions we make in life—about the big-picture missteps that brought us to this unfortunate moment. If only long enough to regroup:
“I’d never been maced before, (check that off the bucket-list). It was alarming how disabling the mace was. I could breathe but the air was spicy and toxic, like sucking in a handful of red-hot tacks. Before being maced, it’s hard to imagine the effect—I once minced a pile of peppers without gloves and spent an afternoon dipping my fingertips into cream. But this was like bathing in peppers, and drinking it in with every breath. Everything was on fire, deeply, and the fire spread everywhere.”
Have we learned nothing?
Somebody (either Einstein, Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin) once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I like that quote (though, in my case, I might switch ‘expecting’ for ‘hoping’). That quote handily summarizes the most profound takeaway from this (and similar) incidents: wishing, somehow, I could have done things differently, but also knowing, given a similar opportunity, I’d probably do it all over again.
I loved my white bicycle like some people love their dog. So when the bike was stolen, I went a little nuts.
The bike, an all-white, single speed, had a very specific look, so whenever I saw a bike with even a partial resemblance, I locked in, fight-ready to rescue my beloved bicycle. Occasionally I spotted similar looking bikes on the road, going the other way and, without hesitation, I spun-round and chased them down.
I suppose that must have been very alarming for those poor cyclists. One minute, you’re riding along. The next minute, some asshole pulls up alongside, creeping hard on you and your bike, and then, inexplicably, turns away.
Who even does that?!
This was not the first bike I’ve seen stolen in Portland.
One sunny day in June, 2007, at the end of my first day of work at OMSI, I returned to where I’d locked my bike and found it had been replaced with a junker bike with two flat tires. My lock was still there, it had been either clipped or sawed-through and wrapped around the junker.
While I wasn’t excited about the theft, I was also kind of glad to see that bike go. I hated that bicycle and was thankful for the excuse to finally replace it, which is, I guess, if you’re bike is going to get stolen, the best possible outcome.
The white bicycle was the first (and last) bike I assemble from brand new.
I’d recently been hit by a car. The driver was gunning for an open parking spot in the Pearl District (a rarity). The driver turned hard and sent me sailing into a gather of signs for a nearby construction site, mangling my bike as they drove over it. The last thing I remember, as I was launched out of my saddle, was reaching down to the bell on my handlebars for one last, angry ding.
I got a quote from a bike shop for a replacement. It was a modest quote, but realistic. I took that to the lawyers, and returned to the shop with the paydirt. I’d never done anything like that before. The swagger! To walk around the shop and point to rims, components, a frame and all the trimmings, saying “That one.” and “I’ll take that one.” and “Two of those, good sir.” And so on.
I chose a white frame, with silver components. Even the rims were painted white! Even the chain was white. A white chain!
It’s safe to say, I got a little carried away.
Temporary insanity notwithstanding, I’d managed to murder-out a stunning bicycle. Even if it was a boutique piece, it was solid—bombproof.
Likely, that is what lead to the bike’s theft—it was, too pretty.
There’s a valuable lesson to be learned there. About pretty things, about the impermanence of life, and the consequences that come with showing-off—especially if you’re as careless as I was—to have left it parked in a friend’s backyard, leaning against their garage, like a radiant unicorn in the night.
This was on a quiet suburban street in North Portland, not much foot traffic. To get into the back yard, meant moving aside a massive gate, a very loud chain-link fence that creaked and rattled like a marching band every time it opened or closed. We were all inside the house, playing board games, in a room close to the driveway—nobody heard a thing.
Someone passing by had seen the bike, seen their chance, and, like the wind, took it, and disappeared.
What a pro.
I’ve recounted this story numerous times, to many people. Almost every one of them catch on the part where I’m chasing after bicyclists who are riding a similar looking bike. They want to know what I would do if one of those cyclists I chased down were actually riding my bike.
It’s a good question.
In spite of appearances, I’m not thrilled that my first, and possibly only instinct, would be to attack—take back the bicycle, end of story. Especially since so much time has passed now, the bike, if it’s still in one piece, could have been sold many times over by any number of people. Even if it hasn’t been sold, even if I encounter the very thief who took it, I am loathe to admit, they stole it fair and square. They didn’t even have to clip a lock. There’s a solid argument that any cyclist whose bike is stolen in such a way was probably not the bike’s rightful owner in the first place.
The chances I’ll ever cross paths with my dear bicycle again are exceedingly slim. I’d like to think I would be able to behave myself, even if, historically, my track record is not stellar.
Until then, I can only dream, as I often do of my white bicycle, hoping its new rider is giving it a run for its money. Hopefully it’s out there, somewhere, slicing through traffic like the radiant unicorn it was meant to be.
After our ungodly dry and hot summer, the wet has finally returned to Portland—with aplomb. Thank God.
Just in time for the rains, I finished repairing our rain barrels. It wasn’t a moment too soon. At the first hint of rain, they were filled immediately—two, 50 gallon water barrels. I thought this was amazing and decided to look into this further. I have since gone down the nightmarish rabbit-hole that is DIY rain-harvesting where I found this interesting fact:
For every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect about 600 gallons of water. So, ¼ inch of rain on an average roof = 3 full rain barrels.
That’s a lot of water.
I have no idea what I’m going to do with that much water.
Also, now that we’re drowning, there’s no need to water my garden from my rain barrels, which was the whole purpose of getting them watertight in the first place.
Actually, that’s not the real reason I built the rain barrels. The real reason I built the rain barrels is for when the big earthquake hits. Not for gardening. Fuck gardening. Who am I kidding? I couldn’t grow weeds if I tried.
No, the water is a doomsday piggy bank. After the earthquake hits, the big one, and Portland is rubble, our water will surely be shut off. The rain barrels will provide a source of fresh water we can use for drinking (filtered, of course. I’m not an idiot.) and for washing the car.
However, providing a solution for one thing only creates problems for another, and now that I’ve got the water problem solved, I’ll have to buy guns to protect the rain barrels from post earthquake looters.
I don’t think that’s overreacting.
Once, in 2012, after a local reservoir tested positive for bacterial contamination, the City of Portland issued a boil notice for our water supply. Everyone went nuts. There was a run on the grocery stores. The beverage aisle at the Interstate Fred Meyer was decimated within the hour. I was there. I saw it happen since I’d foolishly stopped by for ice cream.
In real life, I saw a guy standing in the checkout line with a cart overflowing with what looked like the store’s entire stock of Mountain Dew. And that was just for a boil notice. There was still plenty of water.
Maybe people just forgot the recipe for boiled water?
I hate to think of what happens to a community when the taps run completely dry. There certainly won’t be any more orderly lines at the Fred Meyer checkout.
Recently, the CDC issued a massive recall on all romaine lettuce. This means we’re poised for another round of scarcity frenzy, this time, for lettuce.
Leave it to Americans to go nuts the moment they’re told they can’t have something. Even if that something is something they don’t want. Not long from now, every anti-salad vegetable-hater will declare the long hand of the government is infringing on their God-given right to lettuce. Keep an eye on Twitter for the upcoming #lettucechallenge, as scores of fed-ups—in another fad-wave of misguided protest—post videos of themselves eating tainted lettuce.
It would seem fitting that, given our universe’s cruel bend to black humor, lettuce should turn out to be the keystone to our social structure, and its sudden and complete scarcity should lead to our country’s implosion.
So, rather than hope my countrymen are capable of holding it together, even for a lettuce drought, it seems the sensible and proactive addition to our earthquake kit are guns. Loads of guns.
And grenades. It’s gonna rain grenades.
Giving a reading is the laziest form of show business. It requires no physical agility, unless standing still is considered agility.
There’s no singing, no dancing.
Not that song and dance is forbidden at book readings. I guess, if the mood should strike—knock yourself out.
But in terms of pizazz, reading from a book is one step above dragging in a tv.
It’s also a terrifying business.
What if nobody shows up? What, on earth, am I going to talk about for an hour? A whole hour! And, also, who even am I to be giving a reading? Last I checked there was not a deficiency of middle-age white mansplainers. Could the world be clamoring to hear from one more?
In spite of all this, I gave a reading at the Kenton Public Library.
The Kenton Library is my home library. So it was weird, to walk into my library and launch into addressing a crowd. I kept wanting to use my library voice.
More people showed up, than I thought would come. And the crowd was patient and forgiving. Some of them even got my jokes! (I think.)
My two new friends, Heather and Patty, even bought a copy of the book. I sure hope they like it. I hope, if we bump into each other around Kenton, that we’re still on speaking terms.
I’m very lucky for the opportunity to read at the Kenton Library. The staff was quite generous in offering their space and the valuable time of their employees. I am very grateful.
After my modest reading, and thanking everyone for coming, I was glowing. It was a lovely evening. It seemed like there was nothing that could ruin—
This was the first real sign of Autumn in Portland. I just get so excited. I just love Autumn.
I know it’s dumb to swoon over a season, believe me, I just spent a whole Summer listening to the sun-lovers go on about how the sunshine gives them life, and a reason to live. About how their visits to the beach (or whichever sun-drenched hell-hole) was such a rad opportunity to get back in touch with the things that really matter in life.
Give me a break.
Summer is the alpha cheerleader, the star quarterback, the one that grew up with all the friends and the charmed life. Summer is the one that grew up pretty. And because Summer grew up pretty and popular, Summer didn’t have to work for anything so summer grew up stupid and lazy and uninteresting and will die alone.
Autumn, grew up ugly. Autumn had to fight for its place at the table. And because Autumn had to fight to survive, Autumn is the funny one, the one that read all the interesting books and knows how to cook and loves all the best music. So you’ll please excuse me while I gush, I’m blossoming, for the first time in this year. I just feel so, alive, finally in tune with the things that really matter in life.
This week I:
auditioned with a friend for The Amazing Race
stood uncomfortably at a great (really loud) show
tried out the new e-scooters that signify the end of western civilization as we know it. Then, I wrote this satirical essay
wrote this love letter to Portland’s Steel Bridge
captured the dulcet tones of my neighbors kicking the goddamn shit out of each other
E-scooters are finally here! It’s about time.
To be exact, E-scooters are twenty-five years overdue. When I was a kid, the world promised me electric scooters would be ubiquitous by the early nineties. I was also promised hover-boards no later than October 21, 2015.
Life, it would seem, is full of bitter disappointments. So, if we can’t have hover-boards, I guess I’ll settle for scooters. Better late than never.
My review of the electric scooter.
I love E-scooters! They’re ridiculously fun and the vehicle of choice for heavy drinkers.
If I had one complaint, it’s that you have to operate the accelerator with one hand and the brake with the other, which leaves no hands available to operate a phone, let alone a camera. How the hell am I supposed to ‘Gram my scoot?! Come on!
Do E-scooter’s make us lazy?
Yes. But it’s a drop in the bucket. Life remains very very hard.
While life is still crushingly difficult and exhausting, I am pleased to report, that E-scooters take actually zero effort to operate. Any amount of walking I might have accomplished before E-scooters is now a hassle of the past. I’m still waiting though, for the app where I can summon someone to come and pick me up, from my office chair, and carry me to the nearest scooter.
Until then, I guess I’ll just have to walk.
It wasn’t until my second ride on a scooter I discovered just how lazy I could get.
The scooter I’d chosen had a full battery, but there was something wrong with the accelerator. You could feel the drive catch and the scooter pull forward just before slipping and slowing down again. The scooter never got over one or two mph.
I did stop, to look for another scooter I could swap for my broken one, but there was nothing close by. So, like this, I rode a half mile, sputter-stop-starting to my destination, rather than just getting off to walk, which would have gotten me there much faster.
My review of people.
E-scooters are a big change for a city. If it’s one thing people cannot abide, it’s change. As such, our reaction to the dawn of E-scooters has been less than savory.
There’s been a rash of complaints about the scooters being parked in the middle of everything—in the middle of sidewalks, in the middle of the street, in the middle of bike lanes or in the middle of the Willamette River—I don’t know what all the complaining is about. Why is it such a hassle to just walk, or pilot your wheelchair, around a scooter in the middle of the sidewalk?
As for everybody complaining about how e-scooters are causing pandemonium on the streets—I swear to God, if I have to listen to one more person complain about how they nearly killed some guy who was trying to enjoy his first scoot… They say “nearly killed” like that’s a bad thing. Seriously, there are so many people in the world. Thanks to E-scooters, we might finally be able to cull the herd and the only way people know how to respond to this godsend is with a litany of complaints?!
Scootchie Gang: this is why we can’t have anything nice.
E-scooters are a miracle. The best thing since penicillin. The sooner we can get over ourselves and accept that we might never have to walk anywhere ever again, the better. But just like Anti-Vaxxers and Penicillin, all of the people are welcoming this miracle device the only way we know how to welcome any other miracle, with brutality, death and destruction.
If E-scooters have revealed one thing about ourselves, it’s that people are assholes—soup to nuts. You give us one nice thing and we devise endlessly creative and elaborate ways to destroy or villainize it.
Gifs via @pdxscootermess
Author’s note: this story was transcribed using a dictation app. I’ve become exceedingly lazy lately and I’m officially over the whole typing thing. Since I’ve stopped typing with my sandwiches, typos and grammatical snafus are peanut for the course. You should fly it for themselves! Never in the years of scallop has aluminum been more affordable, I think to eat a Diet Coke&
Portland was the official gateway to most of my childhood road trips—from Seattle to San Diego—a dour landmark that confirmed our family’s vacations were officially non-refundable.
Passing by the city, there was no sweeping skyline to greet us. I thought Portland had always lacked a stunning skyline, the dramatic, jutting structures of a traditionally dynamic silhouette. From faraway, the city’s profile seems to have been intentionally cluttered with mediocre architecture, dissuading fun-seekers and joy-trippers to a more glamorous San Francisco, say. Or, better yet, Los Angeles.
Anyone looking to be readily impressed by a city would have to look a little harder.
Portland is cut-through by the Willamette River. Interstate-5 runs parallel to the river, so that a drive North or South is a carousel past the bridges that staple together the city’s dueling banks. All the bridges look very old and rickety. The oldest and ricketiest of these was the Steel Bridge.
A seeming holdout from Portland’s frontier days, the tar-caked Steel Bridge appears, paradoxically, both lethally brittle and indestructible. It is a tetanus playground. A tangle of rusty trusses and railroad tracks that shudder like a drawer full of cutlery when trains clamor over it’s rickshaw rails. To accommodate the ships waddling into town, the bridge’s lower quarters are simply hoisted up two thick legs, as if to hike a squat dress, to allow the boats to pass underneath.
It wasn’t until my first ride through Portland, with a friend, that I became overwhelmed by the rotten beauty of the Steel Bridge. We were riding along the pedestrian path. In a gushy, foolish moment, I pulled up next to her, to swoon over the bridge when a bicyclist behind us swore at us for riding side by side and taking up the whole pedestrian path.
I was in love.
Often, on weekdays, there’s nobody at the pool. We have the run of the place. The water is eerily calm.
On the far side of the pool, there’s always a water aerobics class. The lady teaching the class has a playlist she hasn’t changed up in the three years since I’ve been going to the pool. On that playlist (mostly EDM remixes of oldies and 80’s pop), she has Turn Down For What at like, three different places.
I think someone made her the mix as a joke. It’s a good joke too. Every time she plays the mix, the song (that awful awful song) comes on and she has to run over to the boom box to skip the track. Most the time she just lets it play though. When she does, those seniors are real troopers. Sure, there’s a lot of eye-rolling, but they soldier on, working up a lather in the deep end.
I first saw him play long ago at the Velvet Elvis Lounge (RIP), when he played guitar for Himsa. Since then, he’s been art director at Southern Lord Records, photographer and in thousands of other pretty incredible bands.
I got to meet him the other day at his free show at Green Noise Music (an excellent shop btw), and the rumors are true — he’s a super nice guy. Always love to hear what he’s got cooking. His new project, Ramprasad, is a lot like Russian Circles—great instrumental metal. Not for the faint of heart. Fans of heavier music would do well to check them out.
This was maybe the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. It was offered by my sister, Gwyneth, who’d grown frustrated with me on a hike, long ago, through Yosemite National Park.
I was scrambling to keep up with her and my brother. Heaving for air, it was all I could do to keep an eye on the path and ensure that, along with bringing up the rear by a generous distance, I did not also misstep and break my ankle.
Why had I come all this way, she wanted to know, if all I was going to do was watch my feet?
It was a good question.
She didn’t know then, and I didn’t know then, that this small suggestion would become a staple through my life—to always take a moment to look up, to look for something. Pay attention on that commute you take every goddamn day. Ask one of your customers an unexpected question, if you can stomach it.
Chances are, every time you look closer, and with curiosity (even with the mundane stuff) you’ll see something new, something fascinating. You might even (gasp!) learn something.
I’ve been riding my bike under this tangle of forbidding freeway overpasses for almost eleven years. This particular spot, at the base of a steep hill on Interstate, does not lend to rubbernecking: going downhill, I’m often tucked into a bleary-eyed charge for that green light. While uphill is a breathless slog over the pedals for a cruel, steep climb.
Still, every time, I try to sneak a peek, because these overpasses are marvelous structures. Utilitarian, and also, soaring. Somehow, somebody was able to take these unfathomably heavy structures, and make them fly.
It is hard to not feel puny, riding under these overpasses. They are a stark reminder, twice daily, how small and insignificant I am, how crushable. Even a tiny earthquake could send them crumbling down on me and I would be squashed, in an instant. But, not just squashed. I would be reduced to a smear, an afterthought so completely obliterated, I might not have existed at all.
Nate Fasser and I drove to the Spirit Mountain Casino, not to gamble, but to try out for the Amazing Race. It’s a reality show that we weren’t going to get picked for. But the whole thing sounded so crazy, I simply couldn’t resist.
We had a great time catching up in the car (we rarely get to see each other). And we stuffed ourselves silly at the buffet there. I love awful buffets. Buffets are where I make all my best, worst decisions.
The idea behind the Amazing Race tryouts, from what I could tell, they were looking for a team of two people who had a strong connection and entertaining rapport that could easily translate to the show. The Amazing Race is a reality show. The premise is, there’s a ‘race’ kind of thing, in which people are given a challenge and must overcome a number of obstacles to beat the other teams to the end. Along the way, the teams laugh, and cry and they discover something deeper about life, and themselves.
At the Casino, there were a number of groups that were trying a lot harder than we were. There was a lady dressed up as the Oregon Ducks mascot. One guy, whose partner was in Minnesota for a wedding, he printed up a life-size cardboard cut-out of his friend. The people Nate and I were standing behind in line, it was hard to tell what their ‘thing’ was. They were both obscenely fit, but they were wearing the new Nike Air Max shoes, with the tags and everything. So… Go team?
You get one minute to make your pitch. Nate and I thought ours up along the drive to the Casino. We decided to introduce each Nate by asking the other Nate three questions about themselves. Two of the things were true things. One of the things was a lie. And it was up to the Nate being introduced to tell which one of those things about them self was a lie. Nate got his wrong (that he, one time, shaved his body completely bereft of hair). I got mine right, guessing correctly that I’d never danced on stage with Billy Joel.
Some day, Billy Joel. Some fine day…
At the end we had ourselves a little hug and a cheeser to the camera. What a great time! I’m lucky for friends with patience and a sense of humor.