best unsung heroes

There's no point beating around the bush--this city loves its parks. From the 5,090 meandering acres of Forest Park to the 452 magnificent square inches of Mill Ends Park, we troop in our hordes to the city's greenspaces, Frisbees and sack lunches in hand, determined to step off the treadmill for a few moments and bask in the sunshine. But next time you spread your towel on the grass--or chuck your cigarette butt in the bushes--spare a thought for Portland's

park maintenance crews,

who keep the city's 239 parks pristine. These 53 Park Bureau employees, reinforced by 50 seasonal workers and hundreds of volunteers, are the shock troops in a silent war against entropy, daily sweeping up glass, cleaning toilets, mowing 1,939 acres of grass, inspecting 109 play structures, picking up

5,200 pounds of trash

, and generally acting as a citywide Karma Patrol 365 days a year (yes, they work Christmas Day). Even unusual challenges--such as an abandoned boat filled with garbage discovered in Kelley Point Park last year--draw little more than a wistful sigh. "Millions of people visit these parks every year," explains Bob Downing, an 18-year cleanup crew veteran. "We're trying to watch out for all these people and clean up after all of them, so we're out there every day.

best place to eat if you're homeless, vegetarian and mad at the government
"Four days a week, the Portland chapters of the global hunger relief/anti-military protest group Food Not Bombs lays out a spread for Portland's homeless that puts area shelters (and probably a few restaurants) to shame. Fresh green salad, desserts, pasta, side veggies and fresh juice are on offer. These anti-fancy, anti-fascist feasts are created using random ingredients donated from area supermarkets, food co-ops, restaurants and bakeries.

Formed in Boston in 1980, FNB consists of dozens of "feed teams" worldwide, four active in Portland, with each team picking up donations, coming up with meal ideas, and serving a dinner on a given day.

"We pride ourselves on quality, nutritious foods and fresh ingredients," says Friday team member Lori Burge. "We put a lot of love into the food we make."

On Wednesday and Saturday you'll find them in the North Park Blocks; Thursday and Friday, under the west end of the Burnside Bridge (visit or call 777-6398 for more details). For those progressive Portlanders with roofs over their heads, Food Not Bombs "caters" events, generally for nonprofit organizations.

best rock and roll caper-flick action sequence (in real life)
Any rock band's worst nightmare: the middle of the night, thieving crackheads, a van loaded with axes and amps. Last December, as dawn broke on a North Portland house party, Fireballs of Freedom guitarist Kelly Gately discovered some scumbag had heisted the band's fully loaded van. Disaster--but Fate had yet to play her final hand. After hours of waiting, disconsolate, for the cops to arrive, Gately fired up his cellphone to break the news to bandmate Paul Von Wenner. Instead, the rocker reached Von Wenner's roommate Mo Davis. As the two talked, Mo saw a van answering to the description of the missing steed driving past his house. In a Guy Ritchie movie, this is the point where a song by The Specials would start playing. In reality, Mo and two other heroic vigilantes pursued the van, evicted the "cracked-out" bums in possession and reclaimed the Fireballs' worldly estate. Or most of it. "The only thing missing," Gately said later, "was a pair of Etonic running shoes."

best way to fake being a native
What could there possibly be about your hometown that you don't already know? A lot. Admit it: You lie awake on your futon at night, fretting your friends will find out you're not the hardcore Portlander they think. Don't worry: If you're actually from Medford, we won't tell. Just do your homework--or rather, legwork--by taking an informative ramble with Portland Walking Tours (Tickets: 275-8352, www. Tours cost $15 for adults and include downtown, Old Town, Chinatown and the Pearl District, with special tours by request (try the Weird, Wacky and Tacky). Take the time to examine the historic bridges you're always skateboarding across. Listen to the origins of the neighborhood you moved to years before it was trendy. And don't be surprised if you actually learn something, Smartypants.

best commode commentary
From the outside, Crush (1412 SE Morrison St., 235-8150) may look like a petite, unassuming wine bar, whose warm glow and lovely servers make for great comfort and intimacy.

Entrent les drag queens!

Suddenly, Crush is not only cozy but riotously amusing, a vibe that only intensifies when you step inside the bathroom for what you thought was a momentary break from all the high-heeled drama. One barely has time to sit on the toilet when the flirtatious chatter commences. Up above, the bathroom's twin television screens are running animated grape stories interspersed with pre-recorded drag queens--who talk at you. One lady proudly dispenses advice on how to change a pad while another, with especially ornate eyeshadow, is delicately hospitable: "Do you have enough toilet paper? How's the lighting in there? Is it dim enough for you?" Part drunken twilight zone and part yummy showgirl hangout, the bathrooms (and bar) at Crush are not to be pissed at.

best way to peek inside your neighbor's closet
Short of walking across the street and actually meeting your new neighbors (what, and help move something?), there's no better way to snoop inside their house than with the City of Portland's virtual voyeur site, All the goods--tax-assessor information, year of construction, assessed values, improvements, number of bedrooms and the composition of floors and walls--that used to be available in the bowels of some God-forsaken city agency are now just a click away. Even better, the site is jammed full of GIS data, such as nearby parks and schools, a crime mapper (it shows how shady your lane really is), and aerial photos. Nosy? And how!

best auto-save program
In the Kenton neighborhood, not far from a MAX project threatening to make autos an anachronism, sits Pastime Memorabilia (8226 N Denver Ave.), a shopper's shrine to the car-crazed 1950s and '60s. From the outside, PM emanates equal parts James Dean and Easy Rider--vintage Hess Oil signs plaster the windows alongside tattered gas pumps. Inside, shopkeepers have everything from a '57 Chevy to a Whizzer Motorbike to a sign warning of the limited uses of leaded gas (remember leaded gas?). Owners Craig Osbeck and Fred Boyd are used to selling the good stuff they salvage: Osbeck rescues the best of bygone buildings, and Boyd regularly unearths treasures through his auto-sale business. But they haven't lost their attachment to the goods. "We're our best customers," admits Osbeck. "We'll be selling some stuff we might rather hold onto." In a decade, maybe Osbeck and Boyd will even be selling old MAX fare machines and bicycle racks, after Portlanders start driving hovercraft.of portland

best local shred-treads
Two-years-young skateboard gear company Savier is one savvy shoe-slinger. A technology agreement with Nike gives Savier access to the latest R&D in active footwear, especially those fancy cushioning and air technologies. But don't expect a corporate takeover--skate pros Brian Anderson and Brad Staba help man Savier's design team, ensuring that every last, uh, last is developed by, of and for real skateboarders. Extra credit for townies: Like the company name, most shoes are christened with the names of Portland streets (check out the Fremont, a slick new model in red and white).

best expression of teen spirit
How beautifully this 14-year-old has captured longing, and how ugly--but familiar--is this portrait of an unnamed Portland high school. Though much has already been said about Zoe Trope's Please Don't Kill the Freshman, (Future Tense Books, $4.95--recently purchased by HarperCollins), it's worth repeating: This 44-page memoir of a girl's first year in high school defies everything we thought we knew about angst. Trope (a nom de keyboard) bears likeness to a typical, disaffected teen: She's in love with the wrong guy (her gay best friend) and struggling to find a teacher who doesn't treat her like a nuisance. But the brevity and wisdom with which she writes about these injustices seem sprung from a mind simultaneously jaded beyond her years and completely unfettered by the shallowness that engulfs most adults. Look for an excerpt in Dave Eggers' The Best American Nonrequired Reading in October.

best jazz hands on a stock broker
If you think Jazzercise was only an '80s aerobics fad and an excuse to wear leg warmers and a head band, good luck finding an empty spot on the dance floor during Cindy Aschbacher's class (at the Greenburg Plaza Jazzercise Studio, 10855 SW Cascade Blvd., Suite A, Tigard, 620-1072). Aschbacher, 42, who owns the studio with two of her best friends, says it's one of the 10 most successful Jazzercise franchises in the country. And it's easy to see why: Her perky routines, constant "You look great!" morsels of encouragement and sincere smile, even after a sweaty 45 minutes of cardio, are just a few reasons her students chasse it out to the suburbs for her 6 pm classes. Another reason might be for some free stock advice (she's a financial consultant by day). How's that for cross training?

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