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Another Portland Blog

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Sailing down the ol' Mississip'

I got lost last night in North Portland. In the neighborhoods that gentrification has yet to touch. For about an hour.

I drove the wrong way down a few one way streets and pissed off no less than one drug dealer. A car belonging to one of his clientele was blocking a narrow street. He looked at me, shook his head and signaled to the driver to unlock the passenger-side door. After a long pause, he rounded the car, jumped in and they turned the corner.

Or maybe they were just screwing around. I don't want to make any assumptions here. They could have been going bowling.

After driving in circles I finally landed at my destination: a brewpub on North Mississippi. The street's line of bars and shops are the polar opposite of the boarded up storefronts a few blocks away on MLK. The place was filled with the sort of crowd you'd typically find on Belmont or Hawthorne. Phil Busse was even sitting at a table near the door.

Later at the Crow Bar*, I passed a table full of hipsters arguing with a disoriented man in an old wool jacket. "Get away from our table," one said with a sneer. "You're probably full of scabies."

A few minutes later, the same guy wandered over to us, threw his arm around my shoulder and started arguing with the bartender.

"We've been over this before. You're not welcome in here if you're going to hassle the customers."

"Ok, hey. I'm a customer. I wanna buy a beer. Here you go."

He tossed four quarters down on the bar with a defiant smirk on his face. The bartender gave the change a quick glance and sent him packing. White guilt may as well have come complimentary with our drinks like a bowl of peanuts. There's no telling what his backstory is. Maybe he's a retiree that's been priced out of his home by the g-word and has turned to the bottle or worse to deal with it. Or maybe he was just some old junkie that has made a living doing this sort of thing on the street for decades. Maybe we should have bought him a beer or maybe we should have done just what we did: continued to stare at our drinks and let the bartender deal with the situation. He left the quarters behind as he headed out.

As I drove people home, I was regaled with tales of guys that sit at bus stops but never actually get on a bus and prostitutes that argue with their pimps on sidewalks. About crackheads lighting up in broad daylight and tossing their pipes on lawns. The days for this brand of urban blight are no doubt numbered. Maybe Phil Stanford will one day write a book about the area's past and the new residents will look on the era with glassy-eyed nostalgia like they do Prohibition and the mafia. Maybe an entrepreneur will set up a North Portland tour and lead people down the streets with tales of drive-bys and crackhead ghosts that still linger in certain alleyways. "And this is Bishops Barbershop, folks. Out of misguided frustration over the direction their neighborhood was heading, a former local tossed rocks through this very window."

There's no way to throw out something like this and not feel like a jackass for sticking it up on the internet. Nonetheless, here it is. At least you should be able to agree with this: "Crow Bar" has to be the worst name ever for a North Portland bar.

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