April 2011

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Another Portland Blog

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

 

The '07 soapbox derby

I didn't make it to the Adult Soapbox Derby at Mt. Tabor Park last Saturday due to other obligations (I had to work). "b!x" was up there though and he put together an impressive Flickr gallery. Among the highlights this year: a King Kong racer, a Noah's Ark racer and a "dive bar" mobile.

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Not that I'm advocating drunk driving or anything

And the award for "Classiest DUI of All Time" goes to Bill Murray.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

 

The top 10 reasons why Enchanted Forest will make you wet your pants - part 2

Click here for numbers 10 - 7.


# 6 - The three-headed bunny flower




"If it bleeds, we can kill it." - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Predator.

If I ever encountered the "bunny flower" as a child, I have no memory of it. As mentioned previously, I visited Enchanted Forest several times as a kid. Based on the condition of the flower, it's been in the park for years. I must have seen it at some point and, given how freakish it is, there's no way I could have forgotten about it unless I supressed the memory. Some might describe this abomination as "whimsical." Those people would be wrong. I think it would make an excellent monster in an '80s action flick. Can't you picture Jess Ventura firing a mini-gun at this thing? The flower can be found in the Alice in Wonderland section of the park.


# 5 - The crooked house and the four-eyed violinist




This one I remember well. I have a distinct memory of going to the park with around a dozen family members sometime in the '80s. We entered the crooked house, I came around a corner and encountered this, a bizzare mural of a violinist with four eyes that looks like the love child of Neil Gaiman and a random goth groupie. I'd rate the amount of terror I experienced that day on the same level as "Danny meeting the twins in The Shining." Who thought putting something this eerie in an already weird, poorly-lit amusement park atracction would be a good idea and what were they smoking? Adding insult to injury, is there any mention of a four-eyed violinist in the original nursery rhyme? No, no there isn't. I checked.


# 4 - Mary and her terrified little lamb



Here's another one that warrants a look at the source material. While the original nursery rhyme claims that "everywhere that Mary went, her lamb was sure to go" it neglects to mention whether or not the little guy was cool with this arrangement. Based on the display here, Mary's lamb is definitely not comfortable with getting dragged everywhere. Even Michael Vick didn't subject his pets to the American educational system. Mary's an animal abuser and, if you doubt it, check out the horror in the lamb's eyes and that determined, sadistic look in her's. Disturbing side note: the rhyme is supposedly based on a true story.


# 3 - The animatronic displays




The first section of the park, "Storybook Lane," is devoted to nursery rhymes, some of which include animatronic figures. They're kept in pretty good shape but they do get dusty and there's little to stop bugs from creeping inside them. Take, for example, this diorama featuring Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You can't see it but, in the corner, there's a cobweb with a real, live black widow.

Ok, it's probably just a Daddy Long Legs but, if you were Goldilocks, which would you be more concerned with? The cartoon bears in the bedroom or the spider in the corner surrounded by dead bugs? Wait, don't answer that.

In addition to the bugs, the 60s-era technology on display includes a murky audio track blaring out of old speakers. Add up the bugs, the old tech and the fact these are basically stuffed animals jumping around "by themselves" and you've got yourself enough material to fuel a few thousand preschool nightmares. If I was four year old and owned a teddy bear, I'm sure I'd try to flush him down the toilet after getting a look at the Enchanted Forest's Three Bears display.


To be continued...

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

 

The return of Yaw's...kinda

I was born a generation too late to ever eat a burger at Yaw's but, from what I've heard, the drive-in was once a local institution. For decades it served up innumerable happy memories. Many a local Baby Boomer squealed with delight when news hit that the late, great burger joint would reopen under the watch of none other than Mark Lindsey, former frontman for Paul Revere and the Raiders.

I'm not sure if fans of the original are going to take to this new incarnation though. I walked by last night and "Mark Lindsey's Rock & Roll Cafe/Yaw's" is a far cry from long-running area joints like the Giant, Humdinger or the Skyline Cafe. When I first heard about the re-opening, I pictured something along the lines of the old Jamie's chain or the drive-in Ron Howard ran around during the opening credits of Happy Days. This place is much more upscale.

Last night the owners were hosting a soft-opening and, even if I'd had an invite, I'm sure I would have been kicked out for wearing jeans and a t-shirt. There were hostesses guarding the front doors. The crowd was mostly over 50 and looked, how do you say, "well to do." That wasn't enough to deter me getting a look at the place through the windows.




Instead of a malt-shop, the cafe looks more like the inside of the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas or something you'd see in the Pearl District. Housed inside a cold, brick building, the cafe is dark, fake and feels like a martini bar or a restaurant with menu items in the "$$$" range. A round bar, the kind with booze bottles instead of soda jerks, is centered in the middle of the main dining room. Even if the bartender is willing serve you a milkshake, you're going to feel like a schmuck for drinking one in such ornate surroundings, despite the record covers on the ceiling (see above, sorry for the sub-par, cell phone quality).

Regardless of how completely wrong it feels, I hope the new Yar's does well. The cafe/radio station/museum idea is definitely ambitious and the idea of being able to wave at on-air DJs while driving down NE Sandy is cool enough. Portland could use a standing tribute to its musical legacy but did it have to be like this? Yet another icy yuppie hang-out in a city full of them?

When Rose's reopened in NW a number of years ago, it was updated but still managed to retain a lot of its original charm. I can't help but predict that the Rock & Roll Cafe is going to be the sort of place people go to once, much like a Planet Hollywood. Will it be able to pull in enough regulars to keep it going for decades like the original?

Sorry guys, I think I'm going to stick with Fat City, the Skyline or any of million other local burger joints that don't serve $8 cocktails.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

 

The top 10 reasons why Enchanted Forest will make you wet your pants - part 1

He waves from a sign perched beside I-5, beckoning travelers into his kingdom. He's Humpty Dumpty, the mascot of Enchanted Forest, the family-owned theme park outside of Salem that my sister and I visited a few Sundays back. As a kid, trips to the park always conjured up a feeling that was equal parts eagerness and terror. On on hand, I was excited to ride the bobsleds and run around Western Town. On the other, there was always the chance that an older cousin would coax me down the rabbit hole or into the Haunted House.

There's no denying that, both then and now, the park has a high creepiness factor. Here's the first of three installments covering the top 10 reasons why Enchanted Forest is freaky enough to cause thousands of wet pants a year.




# 10 - The crocodile and the castle

After passing through the main entrance, the first thing visitors come across is Enchanted Forest's castle. It looks innocent enough, with its pastel bricks but what's that waiting in the moat below? A bloodthirsty, albeit weather-worn, crocodile covered in...pocket change! What did the ol' croc have to do to earn all that misbegotten scratch? Come alive and trick passing children out of their hard-earned pennies? Or eat random stranglers that made the mistake of losing track of their parents? The old saying goes, "never smile at a crocodile" but letting him know you're carrying cash is an even worse idea.

The interior of the castle is dark and two tiny staircases lead into an even darker dungeon with displays featuring robotic dolls acting out scenes from Sleeping Beauty. Listening to a robotic witch prattling on about her plans to torture a knight with a hundred years of solitary confinement? Cree-py.




# 9 - Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall that left his brittle body broken and shattered, leaving him with thousands of of dollars worth of medical bills after the king's best doctors couldn't "put him back together again." An innocent bedtime story or a grim parable warning children of the pitfalls of the modern healthcare industry? Either way, that's pretty grim stuff to lay on a family trying to kill a summer afternoon. Plus, isn't that statue just plain freaky?




# 8 - Doogie Dork

Who is Doogie Dork? A window display near the park's front entrance offers little context. It's filled with storybooks and memorabilia devoted to what may or may not be a beloved, yet misogynistic, cartoon character. Based on the cover pictured here, for Doogie "trouble" is clearly equated with females...and purple dragons (or is that a kangaroo?) that are also, possibly, female. Maybe the author was/is a bitter divorcee stuck with heavy alimony and child support payments. If there's anything that scares kids, it's the letters d, i, v, o, r, c and e all strung together in a row. Could Sara, the book's antagonist, be the name of a former wife? Well, now I'm depressed.




# 7 - The hole

Ok, admittedly, those first three were pretty weak but now that we're at number 7, we're getting to the truly creepy elements of Enchanted Forest. As a kid, the park's Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole was a challenge- a gauntlet worthy of the cave that Luke jumps into while training with Yoda on Dagobah. I never made it more than a few feet in before getting scared and crawling back to the entrance, much to the dismay of other kids that had entered behind me. This always caused a traffic jam resulting in bumped heads and angry glares from random parents.

I was probably 12 before I made it all the way to the end. The hole is at least 20 yards long and, once you're past a certain point, it's pitch black in there. The floor is rough concrete and hard on the knees, especially if you're wearing shorts. It's a lawsuit waiting to happen and there's probably a drain in the floor to help wash all the urine that comes out of terrified kids in a given day. I'm sure one of the least pleasant jobs in the Enchanted Forest is the cleaning and disinfecting of the rabbit hole. They probably get the newbies to do it.


To be continued...

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

 

More Nugent

"Danimal," who also attended last week's Ted Nugent concert in Silverton, has posted a few photos on his Flickr account. They shine a further light on the category four hootenanny we survived on Thursday night and include a shot of the guy that looks like Walter from The Big Lebowski.

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The Goose turns 40

The Tuesday edition of the Portland Tribune has a cover story on Bud Clark and the Goose Hollow Tavern, the local watering hole he's owned for nearly four decades. On Friday, the tavern will host a birthday celebration.

I need to get one of those "still my mayor" stickers.

I've frequented the Goose Hollow since I moved back to Portland after college. I've taken many people down there over the past few years. Some of them instantly get it while others can't understand the appeal. The booths are small, the beer selection is lackluster by PDX standards, there's a creepy photo of a naked baby on the mens room door and the crowd ranges from undergrad to a few steps away from being underground. The Goose Hollow isn't cool, the interior looks like a beach house rec room littered with mementos and, despite the porch, it apparently doesn't warrant a mention in the Mercury's belated summer drinking issue (just released last week. Tbbbbbbbbt!).

But it's the tavern that served as a sanctuary during a time when I was working 70+ hour weeks between a day job and an internship. It's out-of-the-way while still close to everything. All roads lead to the Goose Hollow. It's a place where I don't have to yell to hear myself speak and can quietly kill an hour on a sunny afternoon. The Goose is low-key without being a dive bar, the prices are reasonable and it's hard to feel out of place. If I were more creative, I could come up with a term for the tavern. I think it's a place that deserves its own term.




The Goose Hollow's ability to cater to all age groups continues to amaze. With the exception of, maybe, a McMenamins, I can't think of a place in town where great-grandparents can throw back beers besides people 1/3 their age. On a recent afternoon I sat on the porch near an elderly man chatting with a friend about his dog and a group of PSU students discussing battle scars earned during a previous night's booze/cokefest.

When people from out of town arrive in Portland, where do we wind up? The big, round table at the back of the Goose. The one by the cooler that requires everyone to get up when the staff needs to grab something. Where did I go the night I turned down a rewarding career in DC in order to remain in "the best city in the world"? The Goose. Where did I create a revolutionary/controversial way to enjoy a Guinness and a Corona at the same time? The porch at? Where? The Goose. Where have I spent hours and hours but have yet to see the disco ball spin? The Goose. Where did I go after giving up on Zoobombing after a single run down the West Hills? The Goose. Where have I spent too much money over the past five years? Powell's and...er, uh, that's right, now I remember, the Goose.

Happy birthday, Goose Hollow Tavern. May you live to be a hundred million billion years old and may the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

 

It Came From My Cell Phone part 24




If only every day was Robot Sale 20% Off Day. Sigh....

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Not soon enough

Worst. High-rated. Universally. Beloved. Television. Sensation. Ever.

[Link]

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When summer's gone

By my best guess, summer ended in Portland right around July 21st.

A month later, during a time when the weather should be in the high 80s and the sky should be free from cloud clover, the Rose City is experiencing yet another overcast day with temperatures hovering around 70.

It all started with a full week of rain at the end of July. In the days since, we seen the occasional string of clear days but they always occur during the middle of the week. When Saturday comes around, the clouds inevitably roll back in and the air temperature becomes cool enough to warrant a hoodie.

The sun hasn't been out since Friday. I already have dead leaves in my hammock. Elsewhere around town, kids are pestering their parents for hot chocolate while others are content, happy that they can spend the remainder of 2007's summer days on the couch, free from the nagging feeling that they should be running around outdoors.

But not me, dammit. I want the heat. I want sunburns and sweat marks under my arms. I pine for the ability to lounge around on the decks of various restaurants and taverns without getting hit by raindrops. I need a reason to drink crappy homemade margaritas and that reason is a 87 degree day (preferably with low humidity, a light breeze and little auto traffic on my street). Like many, I begrudgingly put up with Portland's nine months of rain clouds because it always comes with the promise of 2.5 - 3 months of idyllic summer weather- weather that doesn't require me to wear socks between July 5th and the early part of October.

It's an inalienable right that comes with living in this town and we've been swindled. If there were a legal system for this sort of thing, I'd file a class action suit against the sky. I'm not entirely unreasonable. I'd be willing to accept an out-of-court, non-monetary settlement provided that the sky makes up for these days of murkiness. If it couldn't give us sunny days in August, that means it should make up for them in October. If there is any justice in this world, come Halloween we'll all be carving pumpkins in 90 degree weather.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

 

"You can't get this in France!"

How did I wind up at a Ted Nugent concert at the Oregon Garden? Let me pose a better question: how did Ted Nugent wind up at a concert at the Oregon Garden? While the man is nearly 60, he hardly appeals to the gray-haired/church social crowd that frequents the place.

On Thursday night myself, a colleague and a few thousand locals poured into the garden's amphitheater for 105 minutes of the Motor City Madman's special brand of "soul rock." It's hard to believe that a man singing recently penned odes to his "love grenade" and his desire to "eat girl scout cookies" isn't doing so at a level of irony rivaling a hundred Tenacious Ds. Nonetheless, after watching him wail on an American flag guitar between political diatribes and and running around the stage with machine guns, and despite the over-the-top absurdity of his act, I'm still convinced that:

1: Ted Nugent is completely sincere.

2: Ted Nugent is completely insane.

Some excerpts from the show:

Nugent on politics: "You know this Barrack Obama guy? Ain't he a piece of shit? And Hillary Clinton is a whore. She's a whore! She can suck on these!" At this point he broke out two machine guns and held them over his head. The crowd up front went wild.

Nugent on his own heritage: "I was born a small black child in Memphis." Sure, it's a reference to a Steve Martin movie but he repeated it numerous times with complete conviction before launching into the world's least funky cover of "Soul Man" (sans horn section). During the show he also announced: "I'm James Brown! James Brown...WITH MACHINE GUNS!" Yes, I believe Ted Nugent really thinks he's Soul Brother # 1 reincarnated in the body of a guy who once made his living running around in a loin cloth ala Tarzan. Maybe it's sorta like Spock at the end of Wraith of Kahn. James Brown's soul could very well be stuck in Ted Nugent's body. There's a freaky thought.

Nugent on children: "I'd start a guns for kiddies program if they'd let me. Tonight, every kid in the audience would get a free machine gun!"

Nugent on peace and love: "I believe in peace and love, specifically a love of superior firepower!" The title of his new album? Love Grenade because "after all, who doesn't love grenades?"

Nugent on the NW: "I love my brothers and sisters in Ory-gone! You've all got good hunting out here!"

Nugent on world politics:
"Our brave fighting men are killing assholes around the world. I'm all for killing assholes!" During one guitar solo: "Wooooo! You can't get this in France!"

Yes, I paid good money to get in and, yes, my liberal/Portland/commie pinko/plastic bottle and newspaper recycling conscience is still nagging me days later.

There was also Nugent's choice of a backdrop. Behind the drum set a row of speakers were covered in camo nets. At least a dozen machine guns ranging from M16s to Uzis were on stage, hung next to objects like a cow skull, a wolf fur and an Native American headdress. The crowd's response to all of this? 50% bewilderment, 50% adoration.




A good section of the audience consisted of bikers, fratboys and "sons of the soil," a few dressed in construction helmets with deer horns attached to the sides. I witnessed two near fights, one between a group of teenagers and two middle-aged men over politics, another between a father with three kids and a guy who looked like he was all cranked up on the meth and the alcohol and the wacky-tabbacy. A guy dressed in biker gear I encountered later on went off on a loud rant about Iraq, acting as if he was looking to duke-it-out with anyone who dared disagree with him (strangely enough, he was as staunch opponent of the war, at one point growling, "I'm 57 years old and I don't want my son to die in that bullshit"). Also in a attendance: a man that looked and dressed like Walter from The Big Lebowski. He was too busy smooching with his lady love to cause any trouble though.

Despite some incidents on the fringes, everyone was more interested in hooting and hollering along with "Uncle Ted" than flinging fists. They also kindly turned a blind eye to my Birkenstocks and a few hipster sightseers wandering through the crowd. Nugent closed the set with an amazing "Cat Scratch Fever" before returning to the stage in a headdress for a epic song about "hunting the great, white buffalo." At the climax, he broke out a bow and arrow, lit the arrow on fire and shot a white guitar.




Politics and mental illness aside, there's no getting around the fact that Ted Nugent is a amazing guitar player and still a great showman. Shooting a guitar with a flaming bow and arrow? Bad. Ass. I really wish I had brought along a camera. Instead, I had to make do with the one in my phone, which randomly produces results ranging from 600 x 400 pixel photos to blurry, stamp-sized crapulence. Its work ethic and ethos are as much a mystery to me as Unky Ted's.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

 

More from the zoo

More stuff from the zoo, including a video of an otter cleaning his face for what seems like three straight hours.













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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

 

"Crape" vs. "crep"

The debate has dragged on for years now. On one side: me. On the other: people that have spent too much time in French classes. I've been subjected to numerous "corrections" but I've never bothered to do a little internet research and find out who's right.

Is crepe pronounced "crape" or "crep"?

Sure enough, according to Webster's, in the English vernacular the word is pronounced "crape." As long as my feet are set squarely on American soil, I can say "crape" to my heart's content without fear of reprisal or eye rolls. I don't care how the French pronounce the word, this is the USA and here we say "crape."

I'm right. Those who dare correct me are wrong. I win. Hooray for me.

After work I may have to celebrate with a "crape" at Chez Machin, a "crapery" on SE Hawthorne. This cozy bistro is full of enough faux-French decor to make Pepe Le Pu swoon or anyone who hates a certain country full of "cheese eating surrender monkeys" puke in their suits. It's at least 67% as adorable as Amelie and 99.7% less smelly than the Paris Metro. Counterbalancing all the cuteness is a row of avant garde art displays made out of random bits of machinery and lights. They can be fond in the hallway leading towards the bathroom.

I've been going to Le Machin for years after discovering Orangina. The Algerian soda, now produced in France, is on the menu and tastes like a combination of orange juice and 7-Up. There's also Nutella, an ingredient used in a few of their sweet crepes. I'd never tasted the stuff before setting foot in Chez Machin but I'm convinced it could be as addictive as unfiltered cigarettes. The bistro's savory crepes aren't quite enough to sate a hearty American appetite but the decor and the menu make up for it.

The back porch is a nice place to plow through a copy of the Mercury on a warm spring day and, during clear weather, there's a few tables outside near the main entrance. During a recent visit a waitress decided to speak en Fran├žais as I sat at a sidewalk table. My dining companion and I played along, our orders in English, her responses in French. Adding another level of intrigue: halfway through the meal random people walked by with bundles of lavender. Between the fragrant scent that filled the block, the French cafe and the glowing marquee of the Baghdad, Hawthorne briefly felt much more exotic than it is, like a spot halfway between "showcases" at EPCOT or a limbo world of mishmashed global flare.

And then a passing dog licked my feet while trying to get to a piece of bread under the table.

After paying the tab, we discovered the source of the lavender. A hippie bloke was wandering up and down the street handing it out. We should have grabbed some but instead we rolled over to Movie Madness to rent Commando. After an evening of idyllic international dinning, what better way to chase it than by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger kill the entire population of a foreign locale?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

 

Bring back Deadwood

I'm one of the (hopefully) many HBO subscribers out there that are hoping the cable station comes its senses and brings back Deadwood, a show that I thought trumped the last few seasons of The Sopranos. Now that John From Cincinnati has been given the axe, here's hoping this will clear the way for creator David Milch to cobble together a few hinted-at TV movies, if not another season or five.

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Publish Post

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By the time we got to the Ross Island Bridge, we were half a million strong




Or more like 10,000+. Whatever.

The second thoughts kicked in right after we reached the Hawthorne Bridge on Sunday morning. "Shouldn't the Bridge Pedal involve actual pedaling," I asked a colleague who had participated in the event a few years ago. Four blocks later, We'd found ourselves trapped in a crowd of several thousand bicyclists. We were wedged up against a chain-link fence, bored and hoping that the foul-smelling pile of excrement nearby had at the very least come out of a dog. The bottleneck would eventually lead up to the Ross Island Bridge, where only a single lane and the sidewalk was left open to riders.




I don't know if the organizers were expecting this kind of turn-out. It seemed like every bike-owning human being within 50 square miles of the city had gotten out of bed early for this thing. Portland's annual bridge pedal allows participants to cruise down the spans that cross the Willamette, including the Marquam. In a town like this, it should come as no surprise that the event is popular.

Hurtling down I-5 towards an onramp on a borrowed mountain bike was well worth the 40-minute delay at the Ross Island. Standing on the Marquam's three super lanes before our descent was surreal. I've driven over the bridge at least a thousand times and I can't think of a spot in Portland more inhospitable to pedestrians and bikes. For the first time in my life I was able to enjoy the view for longer than a three-second glance. Any other day of the year, standing up there would be considered insane, if not impossible.




We ran into another bottleneck on the Steel Bridge. Frustrated bicyclists around us acted like Christmas was being called off. "NO STOPPING," they begged. "KEEP PEDDLING! NO! NO! NO! AWWWWW!" Around this time, I looked over and noticed a bumpersticker on what had to be a $3,000 investment. It read:

"Welcome to Portland. Now get on your bike."




Having only been on a bike three times in the last five years, I was definitely a stranger in a strange land. It took a good deal of concentration to avoid crashing into everyone around me. Riding a bike alongside hundreds of people in conditions worthy of a cattle stampede ain't easy.

Our final bridge of the day was the Fremont. As we headed up it was seven minutes away from reopening to car traffic. We peddled our hearts out to beat the cut-off. Of course, the crowd on the upper deck was still thick when we rolled down an off-ramp towards Chinatown 20 minutes later.




For all intents and purposes, the 2007 Bridge Pedal was a debacle, at least according to the Oregonian and many of the riders I heard muttering under their breath on Sunday morning. Mystery poop aside, I didn't think it was all that bad. A long wait to ride a bike down the super fast lanes of two freeway? Some people pay $50 bucks to wait hours to ride the teacups at Disneyland. $25 to ride down a super-highway after a bottleneck or two? That's a steal.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

 

More from the 99 West Drive-In




Here's a series of intermission ads from the still-not-late, great 99 West Drive-In, located in downtown Newberg. And click here for an even weirder ad starring a pair of Bic lighters.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

 

Flicks on the Bricks

The Flicks on the Bricks series returned to Pioneer Square a few weeks ago. Last night the weekly event screened Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Seeing as how I wasn't alive when the movie was originally released, I've never seen it with an audience. I've always wondered how a crowd of kids would react to the nightmarish sequence where Wonka directs a boat carrying his victims/guests through a dark tunnel filled with hallucinogenic special effects. Among the horrors dished out, a shot of a centipede crawling across a woman's face and a chicken having its head chopped off by a butcher. It's a sequence I always fast-forwarded through when I was a kid.

I expected dozens of children to start screaming once the scene rolled around but there was none of that. The ones I spotted continued staring blankly at the screen, if they weren't asleep. Maybe they just make kids tougher these days.

During Veruca Salt's "I Want it Now" song, fireworks erupted over the skies down on the Waterfront where the Bite of Oregon festival is going down this weekend. The crowd in the square couldn't see anything beyond flashes of light over the courthouse. It sounded like a war was going down four blocks away. Some members of the crowd left to watch the fireworks but most stayed to watch the movie. A testament to the longevity of Gene Wilder's performance? You be the judge. I still think his version beats the crap out of the 2005 Johnny Depp/Tim Burton remake.

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Zoo station

My younger sister and I made a trip to the Oregon Zoo in years last Sunday. A relatively new area devoted to animals from the NW was impressive but many other exhibits are looking pretty shabby these days.

In particular, the penguin building, could use some work. The inside smells like a hundred outhouses and the interior doesn't look like it's been painted or updated since the mid-60s. The African area, which was incredibly impressive when it first opened in the early '90s, is starting to look its age. A walk-through exhibit devoted to exotic birds was nearly empty. Most disappointing was the elephant pen, a crown jewel of the zoo since the day Packy, the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in nearly half a century, made his world debut. We only spotted one elephant in the pen's three areas. Where do the others hang out on busy weekends? The zoo is still home to several elephants, right?

All this would be easier to take if it weren't for a display we spotted near the tiger pen. Administrators are currently hunting down donations and funding to open a new wing and bring lions back to the zoo. This is all good and well but how about dumping some funds into updating existing exhibits? Don't give the penguins the shaft, guys.

But ignoring current infrastructure while pumping cash into newer projects seems to be the m.o. of local and national government these days, no? Anyway, here are some photos of the still impressive areas of the zoo:









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Friday, August 10, 2007

 

St. Cupcake

A large mural at the Saint Cupcake in NW Portland tells the legend of the shop's namesake. Once upon a time, a baker became so incredibly good at making sweets that they took on medicinal properties. Her cupcakes and cheesecakes could mend broken hearts and serve as powerful anti-depressants. The locals dubbed her "Saint Cupcake" and her portrait hangs on a wall near the cash register.

The shop's cupcakes come in two sizes, the smaller "dot sized" ones for $1.25 and the larger "regular" ones for $2.50. The shop also sells cookies and cinnamon rolls. I bought two during a recent visit, one with chocolate chips and a "red velvet" cupcake. Neither managed to cure the summertime blues I've been suffering from due to the lousy weather we've been experiencing in Portland these past few weeks. Still, they're probably to best cupcakes I've ever tasted, not that I'm a connoisseur or anything.




Saint Cupcake may as well be the anti-Voodoo Doughnut. The design is done up in pastels and the place looks like a fever dream of Strawberry Shortcake or Dolores Umbridge. It's a place that seems like it's aiming for a grandmotherly demographic but everyone from a group of drunken Pearl District yuppies to a hipster couple were placing orders during a recent visit. Who doesn't enjoy the occasional cupcake?

I left half-convinced that red wine is a chief ingredient in the shop's red velvet cupcakes. A quick Wikipedia search cleared up that misconception. The real culprit behind the cupcakes' ruby hue? Food coloring. I guess I haven't spent enough time south of the Mason-Dixon line or in Manhattan, places where red velvet sweets reign supreme.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

 

A review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

WATCH OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

I'm sure most fans of the Harry Potter series finished their copies of The Deathly Hallows within hours of buying them. I just made it to the last page over the weekend.

I've seen all of the movies but I've only read two other Potter books, Sorcerer's Stone and Order of the Phoenix. I don't think this qualifies me as a fan and, to be honest, I'm pretty indifferent to the series at large. I bought a copy of The Deathly Hallows because of the hype and to be a part of a literary phenomenon the likes of which won't be seen for decades to come, if ever again. Plus, I was as curious as anybody to find out which characters J.K. Rowling was going to kill off.

Speaking as an outsider, I'd give the book a mixed review. What has always bugged me about the series are the plots. Rowling is obviously a master when it comes to creating vivid fantasy worlds chock full of enough to details and character back stories to keep a million obsessive fans discussing them for a million years. But she takes her world and her characters and traps them in plotlines that aren't worthy of an early '80s computer game. When you get past the elaborate rules and decorum that fuel this wizarding society, the elaborate biographies and all the different kinds of novelties at the Weasley brothers' shop, this is a derivative hero's journey with an inevitable end that everyone could see coming from the outset.

It's Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader all over again. It's the hobbits vs. the Eye of Sauron. What really separates this series from all the other sci-fi/fantasy tomes that have come before it? Harry Potter years 1 - 7 is, collectively, another tale about a collection of plucky heroes taking on yet another kill-crazy villain.

Sure, throwing a criticism like "it's unoriginal!" at anything is unoriginal itself. Still, one of the major problems in the series is the lack of attention paid to its chief villain, Voldemort. Despite his complicated biography, he's as one-dimensional as it gets- yet another sneering, black-hearted antagonist bent on world domination that thinks nothing of killing off his underlings when he's feeling grumpy. There's nothing to the guy, he's pure evil, pure and simple- as stereotypical as a Saturday morning bad guy.




Much of The Deathly Hallows feels like it's going through the motions. After a rip-roaring start and an abrupt character death that has surely caused plenty of unpleasant bedtime story memories these past few weeks, the book settles into a dull slog as Potter and his friends aimlessly wander while in hiding. All sorts of interesting things are going down elsewhere. The wizarding world is falling to pieces. The Ministry of Magic is crumbling under the weight of a fascist plot and even Hogwarts is in lockdown under the watch of its new headmaster, Severus Snap. An underground network of heroes and students is doing what they can to undermine Voldemort's plans but Rowling isn't interested in them. For over 200 pages, she plunges her readers into unnecessary tedium.

The Deathly Hallows is rife with unfulfilled potential but there's so many great moments to keep it from becoming an outright failure. At one point, Ron Weasly is confronted by the dark side of his own id when a magical horcrux unveils his worst nightmare- the chance that Harry and Hermione might secretly be getting it on behind his back. A major plot point centers around a legend concerning three unstoppable weapons that, over the centuries, have been written off as a mere children's story. A scene in a high-security bank almost leaves the protagonists drowning in a vault of treasure that endlessly reproduces itself. Another chapter leads them into the bowels of a Ministry of Magic overcome with corruption and Nazi-era politics. A gigantic melee during the finale leaves Hogwarts in ruins.

As great as that bombastic battle is, The Deathly Hallows final 50 pages undermines the central theme of the series. One of things that has lifted Harry Potter's adventures above those found in other kid's books are its deep-rooted themes, chiefly the finality of death. When asked what the series is about, Rowling has responded with "death." She's ruthless when it comes to killing off characters and, aside from the occasional cameo by Potter's parents, characters stay dead.

Then along comes a chapter at the end of The Deathly Hallows that washes all of that away. It's a frustrating cop-out and, had Rowling stuck by her guns rather than pandering to her audience, she would have ended the book a good thirty pages earlier than she does. Instead, we're treated to a lengthy sequence that makes Obi-Wan and Luke's "let's wrap up all the lose ends" chat at the beginning of Return of the Jedi look brilliant by comparison.

The conclusion is obvious, pat and probably exactly what Rowling's fanbase was expecting and hoping for. There's not a surprise to be found at the end of The Deathly Hallows and, given the pathos and depth Rowling has given these books, it's a damn shame. Over seven installments the series became something more than mere children's stories. The author's fantasy world expanded and grew into something that could be respectfully enjoyed by readers of all ages. Then, when it comes to her big finale, she starts pulling punches. What should have ended with a bang, ends with a literal whimper and an all too happy sitcom ending.

In the end, Rowling went the easy route and her series is much worse off for it. Simply put, (I'll put this last sentence in inviso-text to keep a massive spoiler hidden...) Harry Potter should have stayed dead.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

 

It Came From My Cell Phone part 23




Everybody,

Cheers to you all, scattered throughout the Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Southeast/East Asia. Despite what the calendar says, it's 69 and overcast here in Portland. As is typical on days like this, it's either going to start raining or the sun is going to come out in the next five minutes.

And I'm sitting here on the porch at the Goose Hollow Inn, leeching off a stranger's wireless router so I can read about the movie version of Underdog on what has proven to be an incredibly unproductive Monday. Wish y'all could be here doing the same. Not reading about Underdog so much as drinking outdoors on a weekday afternoon, regardless of the weather.

My laptop battery's about to go dead. Something ought to be done about the lack of electrical outlets in Portland's lounge-around establishments.

Anyway, cheers.

-Brandon

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I'm in Les Schwab country

I'm currently sitting in the waiting room at the Les Schwab Tire Center on NW 19th. I've been here for going on two hours enjoying the 56K wonderment offered by MetroFi. My rear brakes have been squeaking but, according to the staff, there's 40% wear left on them. Now I'm waiting for the tires to be rotated. Mondays are busy down here.

Let me tell you something: if you spend a morning in a Les Schwab you're bound to meet some interesting people. OK, not really but here's a live blow-by-blow:

10:12 AM: A guy in orange overalls is waiting to have a flat fixed on his truck. He's upset that there's nothing left in the popcorn machine. He settles for coffee instead.

10:25 AM: A man who looks like my landlord is eating potato chips to the right of me. Isn't it too early in the morning for Doritos? He's laughing at something he's watching on ESPN.

11:05 AM: Finally some action. I'm in the middle of a phone call and a woman in her mid-20s, dressed in a pair of super-tight bright pink shorts, is shrieking. "MOM, THE TIRE IS ABOUT TO BLOW-OUT! HOW AM I GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?!!" Tears are running down her face. She has a tattoo on her right shoulder. After asking someone behind the counter for a phone book, she's flung it onto a table. I can tell the staff are getting ready to ask her to leave. Outside, her friend and their two boyfriends, who are dressed like extras from 8 Mile, are rolling their eyes.

11:15 AM: Some additional background info has become available. Hot Pink Shorts Lady and her friend are lingering around the coffee machine. They're on a vacation to who knows where and I get the feeling they don't care much for NW Portland, mostly because they've resolved to never leave Southern California again. "Road trips are totally not worth it," Hot Pants has just declared. Her mascara is smeared. Her cell phone tone is a clip from a hip-hop song I can't identify. Maybe Fergie? I'm thinking Fergie.

11:20 AM: Hot Pink has decided to pay for her damaged tire "her own damn self." She's just flung a tiny green purse onto the counter with a resounding thud. Her boyfriend is laughing outside.

11:45 AM: My car's done. Hot Pink and her friends are gone. I wonder what they'll tell friends and family back home about Portland. I should have made the effort to see what kind of car they're driving.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

 

Oaks Park is frightening in the daylight

Back in June I found myself wandering around Oaks Amusement Park. I'd spent the afternoon hiking nearby and noticed that the gates were open as I was heading back to my car. The park was eerily clean and vacant. There wasn't a carnie in sight. With the exception of the occasional passing bicyclist, the only person I encountered was a woman operating a cotton candy stand. Why was she working on a day when the park was closed? I have no idea.




The park looked like the setting of an early '80s Stephen King novel but I was fortunate enough not to encounter any demonic clowns or any crazed novelists wielding croquet mallets. I had my camera on hand and took photos. Click here to view them in a Flickr gallery.

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171 Starbucks in a single day

This guy managed to stop and make purchases at 171 Starbucks in Manhattan within a single day. The feat took over 20 hours. At around the 14 hour mark, both dehydrated and disoriented, he called in a driver because he could no longer ride his bicycle.

Overlooking the city's coffee culture, what would be the Portland-equivalent of drinking that much Starbucks in a 24-hour period? Grabbing a beer at every PDX McMenamins or hitting every strip club within city limits? Or maybe hunting down every pony in the Horse Project? Stopping by every condo development might take over a week...

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

 

Exercising so you don't have to

Multnomah Falls - an icon of the Pacific Northwest. A splendorous natural wonder that has awed thousands of visitors a year for over a century. A beacon of Oregon's splendors that has been immortalized on everything from novelty pens to novelty pencils.




And hiking to the top of them is more than meets the shin splints.

The furthest I've ever made it up the paved trail leading to the crest is the Falls' stone bridge, a five minute walk from the gift shop. According to a sign near the bridge it's another mile to the lookout at the top. Undaunted by the sandals he was wearing, a colleague I was with talked me into heading up there.




After making the hike I'm now convinced the sign is lying. Maybe it's a mile up if you have a jet pack and an inclination to fly straight up from the bottom of Falls. Sure, we were out of shape and, sure, we encountered a senior citizen couple on their way back down, both of them wearing sandals. Regardless, on a hot Monday afternoon when you're expecting a leisurely stroll, the hike seems like something out of the first 20 minutes of Full Metal Jacket. Towards the top, the trail descends down a trail alongside a stream past a jr. waterfall (see above) before finally arriving at a circular viewpoint beside the Falls' edge.

Unwilling to walk up there yourself? Curious to know what the view from above looks like? Then just click the play button below.







Was it worth the effort? Sure. Thanks for helping to make the trail a reality, Rick's Custom Fencing & Decking. Remember, there's no better "Friend of the Forest" than a company that produces products comprised of 99.8% lumber.

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