July 21st, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | Special Section Stories
 

Best People

     
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Best Lightbender



Peter Thanh Cao. IMAGE: cameronbrowne.com

“You see this cross? You don’t get that in Portland. New York, maybe. Not Portland.” This is neon signmaker Peter Thanh Cao talking, in an ebullient thick accent. “Peter” is quite literally his Christian name—he was born in Vietnam as Thanh Cao before emigrating in 1979—and he is gesturing to a labyrinthine array of strategically painted glass tubing that, seen from dead on, converges to form a lowercase “t” in a handwritten scrawl. (His “n” is, he says, likewise foreign to this town, a trick picked up in New York City.) Neon, if you didn’t know, is a kind of magic: a reverse trompe l’oeil that collapses three dimensions into two. Black paint obscures the backtubing, but many signs sport ungainly backsides and strange loopbacks; Cao’s, though, are as tight as any electrical schematic, often even slyly so. Back in New York he was a prodigy of glass bending, honing his craft on the millimeter-precise switchbacks of scientific-industrial tubing—including the navigator lights on F-14 Tomcats. At Artico Lite (8621 SE Powell Blvd., 253-9406), which Cao founded in 2000, the company’s backbone is crafting signs for the predominantly Asian-owned businesses nearby, from the intricately articulated neon lobster at Wong’s King Seafood to the Vietnamese script on banh mi takeout shop windows. (And the cover of this issue.) But Artico is also developing a reputation among artists for harboring the difficult and the off the wall. “After 30 years,” says Cao, “you get a little tired. Give me a challenge, give me something new, it refreshes me.” That is, he likes to have a little fun. When local artist Zack Blei wanted a neon version of his cockeyed drawing of a monkey—underset by equally cockeyed script reading “painting is dead”—Cao’s negotiation tactics were a little unorthodox: He said he’d knock 25 percent or more off the price of the neon, but only if Blei promised to sell the finished piece at a much higher price than originally intended. “Something like this, this is unique,” says Cao. “This is fun. You got to sell it for a lot of money.” MATT KORFHAGE.

Best Outdoor-School Savior


Morgan Mulkey’s greatest accomplishment as a student teacher became clear on the first day of her first assignment, in 2008: “The first thing I asked was: ‘When do we go to Outdoor School?’” It was then that the sixth-grade science teacher discovered that the popular environmental program—which places thousands of 11-year-olds in the woods for a week of environmental learning each year—had been cut from the Beaverton School District’s budget nearly a decade before. A handful of garage sales, donation pleas, business sponsorships and grant applications later, the newcomer had single-handedly raised enough dough for the school’s entire class of sixth-graders to take the outdoor field trip. And when transferred as a full-time teacher to Whitford Middle School, the young educator brought her fundraising efforts along, succeeding again in her efforts. Both schools plan to continue the program in 2010. In a time when the price tags of extracurricular activities elicit obscenities from the mouths of budget makers, Mulkey’s efforts can serve as a reminder to us all: There’s nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing like hell anyway. NATALIE BAKER.

Best Czech Royal



Teresa Mahoney. IMAGE: Simone Hrouda

After graduating from Loyola Marymount University in 2009, Teresa Mahoney wasn’t sure what to do with her time. “I was so used to going to school every day for 22 years,” she says, “and the only thing that I really knew was that between now and whenever, I’m going to die.” With that morbid yet practical thought in mind, why not enter a pageant? Last August, just a few months after receiving her marketing degree, Mahoney traveled from Portland to Wilber, Neb., to compete against 13 other women in the town’s 23rd annual Miss Czech Slovak US Pageant. “I’m not really a pageant-y type of person,” says Mahoney, “but this is different. This is about heritage.” She was crowned first runner-up. Mahoney, who is half Czech on her mother’s side, sold traditional hand-painted eggs to raise money for the trip. She won the Authentic Costume award for wearing the hand-stitched kroj (a customary folk dress) that her mother bought from a Prague flea market in the 1970s: “Back then, she bought it for $700,” Mahoney said. “Who knows how much it’s worth now?” She was also given the Oratory award, a “really surprising” win that spurred her on to pursue internships with Portland Monthly and, starting soon, KPTV. Away from the Slavic-focused Midwest, Mahoney can’t find any Czech language programs in town, but she remains active within Portland’s small Czech base. The Czech Society of Oregon, the group that helped sponsor Mahoney’s pageant bid, is “struggling to get younger people interested,” says Mahoney. “I’m one of the only members under the age of 40 or 50. They’re really excited someone young has a voice within that community.” As part of her plan to establish an Oregon chapter for the pageant, Mahoney is working to set up an Oregon board of directors; she has also been coaching the state’s 2010 contestant, Simone Hrouda. Na zdraví, your highness. CAITLIN MCCARTHY. See missczechslovakus.com for info on the pageant and Mahoney.

Best Archivist of Ass-Kicking



Dan Halsted. IMAGE: leahnash.com

Grindhouse Film Festival founder Dan Halsted is the Indiana Jones of film nerds. Last year, the intrepid collector embarked on an epic journey into the concrete jungle of Vancouver, B.C., to retrieve the holy grail of kung fu cinema: a collection of Hong Kong martial arts flicks thought lost to time.

“Trying to find them before other people was like racing against the Nazis. Everybody’s like, ‘Don’t let other collectors know,’” he says.

Halsted’s mission began when he purchased some remarkably well-preserved film trailers from a seedy gent who wouldn’t disclose their origins. After finding an old ticket stub in a film tin, he discovered the theater on the ticket was formerly owned by a niece of the Shaw brothers, the legendary Hong Kong studio heads whose company, Shaw Brothers Studio, was the MGM of 1970s kung fu exploitation.

Before he could say Wu Tang, Halsted sped up I-5 to visit the former Shaw Theater in Vancouver. After fighting through throngs of crackheads in the grimy alley behind the theater, he ventured underneath the stage and hit the jackpot: 200 films in pristine condition. Most are the only original prints in the Western hemisphere.

“I was more overwhelmed than anything,” he says of the more than 1,000 tins of film canisters stacked haphazardly in the dark space.

Halsted persuaded the building’s owners to donate the flicks to Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, which runs the American Genre Film Archive, and loaded the reels into a truck. But, as anyone who has seen Raiders of the Lost Ark knows, escaping with the loot provides its own adventure: The contracted truck driver was flagged at the U.S. border, where a copy of 1979 kung fu comedy Dirty Ho raised suspicions of porn trafficking. After convincing authorities he wasn’t a bootleg Larry Flynt, Halsted sent the prints to Texas—keeping a dozen gems, which he screens periodically in Portland to rave reviews.

Some consider kung fu exploitation the cinematic junk food of a bygone era. But Halsted insists the genre is significant to film history, and he will continue his crusade to unearth the treasures for all to enjoy.

“Most people don’t know anything about these movies,” says Halsted. “It’s the fuckin’ Shaw Brothers, and the films are in incredible condition. It’s such a big fuckin’ deal.” AP KRYZA.

Best Petite Philanthropist



Amiri Horn. IMAGE: Timothy Horn Photography

Amiri Horn is a man on a mission. Well, make that a munchkin on a mission. When the North Portland 3-year-old heard about the earthquake in Haiti in January, he gathered all the Band-Aids in the house to send to the devastated island. But Amiri wanted to do more. After hearing stories about lemonade stands, the tot philanthropist persuaded his mother, Ayana, to let him run a stand for Mercy Corps, the Portland nonprofit dedicated to responding to worldwide crises. With the help of donated treats from Vergnetti’s Coffee, LemonAid Love for Haiti raised over $1,200 last Valentine’s Day, making Amiri the youngest fundraiser in Mercy Corps history. But Amiri still isn’t satisfied—though he’s raised $3,700 through his website (mercycorps.org/fundraising/bandaidsfromamiri) and lemonade stand, he wants to reach a $5,000 goal. Another lemonade stand is in the works for summer, and Amiri loves to hear from his supporters online. And how will he celebrate reaching his $5,000 goal? “Have another lemonade stand!” he says. CAITLIN GIDDINGS.

Best Bet Against Sam Adams in a Municipal Twitter Smackdown


What do shaved heads, shootings, organic firearms, whales and blind spots have in common? The newest Wes Anderson film, you automatically postulate? Nay, these are just a few topics of the 3,400-plus Twitter posts (“tweets,” if you’re hip to it) showered on the world by Portland’s Twitterific TriMet bus driver, Dan Christensen (twitter.com/Dan_Christensen). A former history teacher, the collective chauffeur of our city’s carless thinkers and drinkers has amassed an impressive following of more than 18,000 folks—that’s only about 7,000 less than Portland’s own tweeting mayor, Sam Adams (and more than Willamette Week, The Portland Mercury, the Portland Tribune and Bike Portland combined). What a Twitter smackdown would look like is beyond us, but our money—that tiny sum left over after that darned Internet got so popular—is on Christensen. NATALIE BAKER.

Best New Lit Leader


Portland’s tough enough on the average outlander. Imagine being a Canadian, educated in Great Britain, apprenticed in New York and thrust into leading Literary Arts, the 25-year-old organization that runs Portland Arts & Lectures and the Oregon Book Awards; organizes Delve Readers Seminars; and recently revived Poetry in Motion on TriMet vehicles (see Best Poetry Pusher, right). A city that already boasts arts executives like Chamber Music Northwest’s Linda Magee and Portland Center Stage’s Greg Phillips sets high standards—standards Andrew Proctor has surpassed in his first 16 months in town. The tall, thin Proctor has combined real business savvy with a strong national perspective to keep ticket sales high and donations strong. Al Gore’s November appearance at Keller Auditorium showed his knack for hybrid marketing: Attendees received Our Choice with their tickets. Then in January, Proctor and his organization welcomed The Moth to the Gerding Theater for a performance that sold out the day it was announced. Nice start, eh? RICHARD MEEKER.

Best Love Story



Marilyn de Oliveira

Hollywood screenwriters, take note: Have I got a script for you.

Two self-described “cello dorks”—one from Canada, the other, Brazil—find each other, fall in love and score positions in the Oregon Symphony together. As a romantic comedy, it lacks dramatic conflict. But sometimes all you want is a cheerful love story with a happy ending, and Marilyn de Oliveira and Trevor Fitzpatrick manage both.

Both de Oliveira and Fitzpatrick were raised in musical families and started playing cello at age 5. In 2001, they met at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival in Ohio, and immediately hit it off as stand partners. Fitzpatrick, from Toronto, was in a relationship, but felt drawn to de Oliveira, who grew up in Brazil and was studying at Indiana University. They saw each other occasionally at auditions for the next three years. Then, in 2005, they ended up in the same fellowship program in Miami.

“We were both the kind of people that while everybody else was partying, we’d be playing scales in a dark room by ourselves,” de Oliveira says, laughing. “It was like, ‘Wow, there’s someone else like me!’”

After marrying in 2007, they struggled to find full-time jobs. Then, a miracle: Both were hired to play in the Oregon Symphony.

“It’s hard enough to get a job in a symphony orchestra, let alone two jobs after one gets married,” Fitzpatrick says.

Now, when not performing at the Schnitz or playing duets for fun, de Oliveira and Fitzpatrick enjoy vegetarian food and traveling. This spring, they spent 10 days in Panama volunteering at the Alfredo de Saint Malo festival, teaching young people to play orchestral music.

No one seems more surprised by his good fortune than Fitzpatrick, who recalls thinking when they first met, “I wonder what type of guy ends up with a girl like this?” A cello dork. CAITLIN GIDDINGS.

Best Body Worker


We Portlanders like to think of ourselves as active, fit types—running Hood to Coast, hiking Forest Park and Mount Hood, dancing till all hours, and even turning out by the thousands to bike around town in the buff. Sometimes, though, our bodies just break down. That’s when it’s time to call Patti Koehler (pronounced “KAY-ler”) at West Portland Physical Therapy Clinic (1630 SW Morrison St., Suite 100, 227-7774, wpptc.com). In a town filled with fabulous body workers, Patti takes the cake. You may need a doctor’s prescription to have insurance cover your visits. Once you do, though, nobody is better at diagnosing and treating what ails your aching trunk and limbs. Koehler specializes in women’s physical therapy needs and has been working on Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers since 1992—that alone should serve as proof of her miracle-worker qualities. RICHARD MEEKER.

Best Poetry Pusher


At first glance, Mark Pruitt seems as unlikely a champion for Poetry in Motion—the program that places poems in TriMet vehicles—as one could imagine. The owner of Wilsonville’s Professional Sign & Graphics, Pruitt isn’t particularly interested in the literary arts, and has never ridden a TriMet bus. Nevertheless, when approached by Lamar Advertising, the firm that oversees TriMet advertising, he agreed to print some 2,000 Poetry in Motion placards pro bono. Pruitt says giving back is part of being a “good corporate citizen,” a goal he strives for. His company shows it; it’s donated printing to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Boy Scouts and a host of Wilsonville community events. But has seeing all the poetry going through his presses sparked an interest in the form? Not quite. “When I was a high-schooler I wrote poetry,” he says. “But it’s not a talent I have now.” BEN BATEMAN.

Best Believer


Many Portlanders like to spend their weekends doing something recreational in the outdoors—fishing, for instance. Cliff Barackman prefers to spend his on a less conventional pastime: Bigfooting. Bigfooting, Barackman says, is actually a lot like fishing: It requires a lot of baiting and waiting, and one must be in the right place with the right tools. Barackman, though, isn’t searching for something simple like steelhead. No, he is after much more elusive prey—the North American Bigfoot.

Barackman isn’t your average Bigfoot believer. Although he admits to being a bit eccentric, the 39-year-old schoolteacher describes himself as “intelligent and well-rounded.” He isn’t zany or crazy. He isn’t a hack like the two Georgia men who perpetuated a worldwide hoax when they tried to fabricate a Bigfoot corpse back in 2008. No, Barackman relies only on the facts—facts he says leave no doubt that Sasquatches are real.

For the past 16 years Barackman, a member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, has spent much of his free time collecting evidence from the field and interviewing Bigfoot witnesses. His research can be found on his website, NorthAmericanBigfoot.com, where he stockpiles photos of footprint casts, possible audio recordings and an interview with Jane Goodall saying she’s sure an undiscovered species like Bigfoot exists. He also writes a Bigfoot blog that he updates twice a week.

Although Barackman has not yet seen a Sasquatch, he is positive that he will run into one someday—and hopefully he can record the evidence, even if it means risking his life. It wouldn’t, he muses, be such a bad way to go: “If a ’squatch picked me up with one hand and threw me 80 feet—yeah, that’s a great way to go,” he said. “When you find my corpse, just make sure you uncurl my hands so you can get the hair samples out of it.” PETER GRIFFIN.

Best Shop-Class Savior


If endangered educational programs could earn protective status, shop class would be the spotted owl of Portland Public Schools.

In 2010, only three of PPS’s 10 main high schools offered any metals or woodworking classes. After decades of budget cuts at the district, money to pay for supplies has dwindled and new equipment has proved prohibitively expensive. But one school, Franklin High, has kept its doors to shop open largely because of one man, a 55-year-old volunteer named Charles Landers.

A cross between Wilford Brimley and the Al Borland character from the 1990s television show Home Improvement, Landers has volunteered in Franklin’s shop for 13 years, the last seven as a teaching assistant, he says. He has also donated countless hours to repairing school district equipment and used thousands of dollars of his own money to keep the school’s shop stocked. Without him, Franklin’s endangered shop classes might not exist today, admits Shay James, Franklin’s principal.

Injured 20 years ago in an on-the-job accident, Landers describes himself jokingly as a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” He’d worked as a painter, a handyman and a custom furniture maker until that devastating fall, which made him eligible for disability payments—and available for volunteer work.

Several current students at Franklin credit Landers with keeping them interested in school. He is equally well known for his corny pronouncements. “The more you learn, the more you earn,” is one such Landerism often overheard in the shop.

Julia MacDonald, a 16-year-old Franklin student, counts Landers as a mentor. Last year, with Landers’ help, MacDonald made a nightstand—no small feat for a student who was once scared of table saws. ldquo;He taught me not to be afraid of tools,” she says, beaming. BETH SLOVIC.

Best Politician Money Cannot Buy



Ben Cannon. IMAGE: Otto Schell

Ben Cannon is unusual. The Oregon state representative is the only Rhodes Scholar serving in the Capitol. Rather than spend his time monetizing the brains that won him that honor, Cannon, 34, chooses to teach—and at a private school, Arbor, where pay lags behind what public schoolteachers take home.

But here’s what really makes Cannon unique: Since first running for state representative in District 46 (Southeast Portland, including Laurelhurst and Lents) in 2006, Cannon has refused all contributions from corporations or political action committees. In Oregon, one of only five states that allow unlimited political contributions, that means Cannon effectively welded a lid on his campaign coffers.

“My constituents expect me to be most responsive to their interests, whereas the majority of dollars raised come from entities pursuing narrower interests,” Cannon says.

Having won a five-way race for an open seat in 2006, Cannon is unlikely to face competition for his seat again. He acknowledges that makes turning away contributions easier.

“I benefit from not having the pressure associated with winning in a swing district. No question about that,” Cannon says. “But even folks in safe seats need to fundraise.”

Cannon chairs the House Environment and Water Committee, but advancing into party leadership has historically required large-scale fundraising from all sources. Cannon says he’s unsure of his aspirations, but acknowledges stiff-arming big donors could make advancement harder.

Janice Thompson, director of the good-government group Common Cause Oregon, hopes Cannon will inspire other pols.

“Ben is a great example of doing politics without special interest influence,” she says. “Ben’s personal choice points to the institutional change that is desperately needed in campaign fundraising.” NIGEL JAQUISS.

Best Sibling Shot-Slingers


Sibling rivalry’s a bitch. But for Jason and Rose McCormick, owners of the funky, off-the-beaten-path North Portland public house Liberty Glass (938 N Cook St., 517-9931), it’s just business. “We have a lot of trust and get along,” says Jason, 29, who opened the bar with big sis Rose two years ago. “I don’t have any brothers, and I’m not allowed to beat the shit out of my sister. We don’t have energy to fight.” The sugary-sweet Ohio natives, who have no other siblings, find their close bond has prevented them from going to the mats when it comes to business. “We became two people who worked together, whereas before we were two people who got drunk and hung out,” says Rose, 33, with a giggle. “There were some arguments, but we love each other. But it was a lot of work getting the relationship to grow up.” AP KRYZA.

Best Girl-Power Generator


In a society where sexting and general sluttery win the spotlight over brains and class, it’s easy to see how little women can get morally disoriented. In steps Girls Inc. (girlsincnworegon.org). Through the nonprofit organization’s enrichment efforts, which include after-school programs and individual mentorships, Girls Inc. connects 300 to 500 local girls with trained mentors and volunteers each year to turn Portland’s young women into empowered, confident future presidents. “Participants learn about commitment, responsibility, support and healthy relationships in and out of the workplace,” says executive director Elizabeth Nye. Each girls group culminates with the creation of a media project documenting their experience. Here’s how group leader Alaina Lesko summed up the program: “The girls learned to be proud of who they are and proud of what they do, and to be allies to each other in the group and others in their school.” Best! WHITNEY HAWKE.

Best Badass Barkeep



Lizzie Robarts-Dille. IMAGE: cameronbrowne.com

There are two rules at The Slammer, a Buckman tavern with an outdoor sign boasting “The Friendliest Bar in Portland.” First, be ready to make a few drinking buddies. Second, and more important: “Never poke the Bear,” advises one patron, half joking.

Seconds later, the Bear is poked when a drunkard gets rowdy on the sidewalk. The Bear’s head snaps in his direction, fiery ginger hair whipping as her icy blue eyes lock on him.

“I didn’t realize you were out here,” mutters the groggy twentysomething shyly.

“It’s all right, hon…knock it off,” snaps 59-year-old Lizzie Robarts-Dille, Slammer’s co-owner and Mama Bear. Crisis defused, she hugs the kid and swigs her red beer.

“There’s a lot of passive people in the world. I’m not one of ’em,” she says, laughing.

Robarts-Dille, who began working at the Slammer 28 years ago and bought the joint 12 years later, is among Portland’s best-loved barkeeps. As manager and mascot of the Slammer’s summer softball team, she’s notorious for game-time shit-talking on a megaphone. After games, she welcomes the league’s players as they converge on the bar, often greeted by standing ovations and free pizza. Earlier this summer, she even commissioned a marching band to perform in the street outside the bar.

“I like kids, and the energy they have. It keeps me young,” she says, taking a deep drag from a Camel.

A sweetheart with a spine, Robarts-Dille busts the balls of rabble-rousers (who, admittedly, have to rouse considerable rabble to draw her ire) and the Man in equal measure: The Slammer was among the first bars reprimanded when the indoor-smoking ban hit last year. A customer complained about smokers near the entrance, and Lizzie raised hell when the county demanded she relocate her air conditioners to prevent air intake.

“That’s frickin’ ridiculous,” she says, lip curled. “I yelled; I called ’em Nazis. But there’s not a hell of a lot you can do.”

Raised in poverty without a high-school education, the mother of three has nonetheless transformed the Slammer into a hot spot for drinkers young and old. She loves her bar and its patrons (most of them) as much as they love her.

“If you work hard, and you’re a good person, you can do anything,” she says. “But don’t poke the Bear.” AP KRYZA.

Best Keeper of the Calm


Remember when you first heard about that thing called the swine flu? Luckily for you, and everybody else in Oregon, state public health officer Dr. Mel Kohn was around to calmly handle the situation. Kohn and his office—who had been preparing for such an event for 10 years—were there to help you not freak out by giving you the right information and instructions on how to protect yourself: Wash your hands, cover your cough and get vaccinated. “I wanted people to understand the risk realistically that this posed, and to use that to motivate them to do whatever they needed to do to protect themselves,” says Kohn. “I love how I see people cough into their elbow. That’s not something people were doing much before H1N1.” PETER GRIFFIN.
 
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