back in the USSA: portland


I flew into Portland on the 4th of September and was met at the airport by my friends Jess, Lea, and Jason, as well as Jason’s son Jude, who I was meeting for the first time. After hellos, I headed back to Jess and Lea’s place where I would stay for the remainder of my trip. The first thing they did was offer me a fantastic dinner, and the next thing they did was to open several bottles of red wine. This set the tone for my stay in Portland.

The photo at the top of the page is a real miscapture of what Portland’s all about. Portland is a small city with a really vital downtown and neighborhoods that are defined by small businesses and tight-knit communities. The Willamette River flows through Portland’s downtown, and the northern part of the city is bounded by the Columbia River. It’s hard for me to define the precise sensation that I get from the city, but I think it’s something like this: Portland is San Francisco if San Francisco was a punk-rock college town. All over Portland you’ll see more piercings and tattoos (and beards!) than you can possibly imagine, all on people who are busy riding around town on fixed-gear bicycles with interesting books in their messenger bags. There’s a real café culture here too — one that actually encourages contact and conversation — and this filters over into the bar scene as well. One of the major reasons Portland’s DIY culture can exist is because — unlike San Francisco — the price of housing hasn’t yet become so astronomical that no one without a position in management can afford to live comfortably there. But land values are rising, and so are new highrises (see photo above). Hopefully this isn’t the signature of the kind of city evisceration that took place in San Francisco during the tech boom of the 90s, though I find the possibility highly unlikely since Portland doesn’t have the kind of economic underpinnings to prompt a facelift that ends up destroying every last ounce of character.

And did I mention that Portland has one of the highest number of strip clubs per capita of any city in the nation? My favorite is a place called The Pirate Cove that’s shaped like a whiskey jug and advertises itself with signs that say things like, “We treasure our chests” and “Come inside to see our pirate booty.”

And did I mention that Portland has an incredible Suzhou-style Chinese tea garden?

And don’t forget the 24-hour Church of Elvis.

Since Jess is currently between work — which means that he’s spending his time studying electronics and building homemade robots on the cheap — we got to spend the day wondering around Portland together while Lea was at work. The first stop was Kornblatt’s, a New York style deli where you can get the most fucking unbelievably delicious Reuben. And free pickles.

After lunch, we decided to walk down to the river and we passed this giant bronze elephant sculpture which seems to have been done in a kind of hybrid Chinese/Incan style. And does it actually have a camel for a trunk? It is so mysterious green to me.

Portland really is a river city and, unlike many cities where the old riverfronts have been hidden behind piles of urban buildup (Osaka comes quickly to mind), Portland’s waterfront has been transformed into a series of riverside parks. It was one of these parks that Jess and I were walking through — passing groups of stoned street kids enjoying the warm afternoon — when we happened to run into Eric “Monkey” Wilson, an old friend from Petaluma who was also visiting Portland for a few days. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t allow us to meet up again, but we did have some time to catch up. Apparently our old pal Jesse Garcia and his girlfriend have opened a restaurant called Lovely Hula Hands that serves a menagerie of cocktails that were popular in the 1920s, as well as a smorgasbord of quite delicious foody items. Jessie used to live above Markey’s Café in Petaluma, and one of my favorite habits of his was his tendency to wake up in the morning and come down to the café for breakfast wearing his bathrobe. He was, of course and sadly, eventually asked to put an end to this practice.

I can’t really remember what this paddle boat was doing on the Willamette. I think it’s some kind of museum or something. Somehow, the “Museum of Water Safety” comes to mind, though I’m sure that can’t be right.

Portland is one of the great bridge cities in the United States — it has some really amazing steel-truss drawbridges — but I was only able to get a couple of decent bridge pictures of a couple of the least spectacular bridges. However, you can find a nice set of photographs of bridges in Oregon here.

Jess and Lea simply call this “The Hammer.” Apparently, the new medical school, or hospital, or whatever it is, that was built on one of the hilltops surrounding Portland was very poorly conceived. They forgot to put in enough parking. The solution? They are building a cable-run gondola system so that you can park your car down by the river, get in a gondola, and then cable through the air until you arrive at the crown of the hill. Needless to say, the host of people who will be living underneath the cable are not impressed. Something tells me that this one has Detroit People Mover written all over it.


4 Responses to “back in the USSA: portland”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    I find your observations really fascinating and I am amazed at your photography. It also meant a lot to touch base with you again in Portland.

    I keep a blog at that serves a very different purpose than your blog….still, if you want to touch base with what G and I are up to check in now and then.


  2. 2 Trane DeVore

    Hey Jacqui,

    That’s so funny that you should leave a comment tonight because your’s and Geoff’s entry comes next!

    It was great to see you in Portland, after too long, and I’ll definitely be making regular visits to the site of the J and the G.

    xo T.

  3. 3 Anonymous

    Actually the OSHU Hospital at the top of the hill is not new, it’s been there for many years. With little room to expand on the hilltop, they purchased land in the new South Waterfront district to build additional medical offices (the new OSHU building is at the left of the tram tower in your photo). Therefore, OSHU commissioned a Swiss company, with partial city funding, to design and erect the tram, which will transport doctors, nurses, patients, etc. between the two areas.

    It will open in mid-December for staff and patients and in January 2007 to the general public.

    I live on SW Whitaker St. a block from the tram line. Although at the first talk of the project a few years ago, many of my neighbors (including myself) were opposed to the idea, but after a lot of negociating upgrades for our neighborhood infarstructure and gondolas designed so that riders can’t see directly down into residents yards, we’re all pretty OK with the project now.


  4. 4 Trane DeVore

    Thanks for the good local scoop Jett! I didn’t realize that the hospital itself was going to be divided into two facilities. The tram makes much more sense as a form of transportation between workspaces than as a device for moving people from a parking lot to a hilltop. I probably misunderstood my friends when they were talking about it because I was too busy trying to catch good photos of “the hammer.” I suppose the tram is distinctly preferable to a bunch of cars or busses streaming up and down the city streets. Glad to hear that the neighborhood isn’t too bothered by it all, and that you got some service upgrades to boot!

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