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July 24th, 2013 WW Staff | Featured Stories
 

Best of Portland 2013: Best People

bop_2013(sherman-jackson)Sherman Jackson at Platinum Fade Salon. - IMAGE: Vivian Johnson
     
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BEST DRUG KINGPIN-TURNED-BARBER

In the 1970s, Sherman Jackson ran possibly the biggest heroin ring in Portland’s history. Today, Jackson runs a spotless barbershop in Northeast Portland called Platinum Fade Salon (5010 NE 9th Ave., 284-2989, platinumfadesalon.com). The walls are yellow-gold, the floor shines, and the 12 workstations gleam. He keeps a bowl of taffy on the counter, and he greets both staff and customers with pound hugs and cheek kisses. He pulls out a ragged file folder filled with photocopies of decades-old Oregonian and WW articles about his criminal record.

“They keep me on track,” Jackson says, gesturing to the tattered copies.

Now 65, Jackson spent close to 15 years in federal prison for conspiracy and money-laundering, all related to his role as a drug kingpin in Portland in the ’70s and ’80s. Back then, the Oakland-born, Portland-raised Jackson wore natty pinstripe suits and owned several cars, including a Rolls-Royce (customized with lamb’s-wool carpeting and a telephone) and a Corvette. These days, he wears a black apron slung over a polo shirt and jeans, and he’s got just one car, a green 1998 Corvette. He’s still got a slight limp, though, from when he was shot, four times, in 1989.

Barbering, Jackson says, was always his preferred path. He’d first learned the trade while serving time in California, and he’d run a barbershop even when dealing heroin and cocaine in the ’80s.

“When I was locked up, I told everybody, ‘You’re going to see me on TV,’” he says. “I said, ‘I’m going to open my own shop. I’m going to have TV commercials.’ Everybody doubted me. But I did what I said I was going to do. It’s been hard, it’s been a struggle with the economy, but I’m still here.”

In the 11 years since he was released, and the seven and a half since he opened Platinum Fade, Jackson says he’s not gotten so much as a ticket for jaywalking. He’s forthcoming about his past, and he spends time visiting kids in churches and juvenile detention, urging them not to follow his example. “Being a black person back then, there was nothing to do but to sell drugs,” he says. “But I’m not proud of what I did. I was selling that poison into my community.”

Despite this candor, he insistently turns conversation back to the present: “Why do you keep going back to the bad stuff?” he asks. “I want to talk about the good stuff. The only thing about me now, I work. I cut hair. I cut hair instead of cutting dope. That’s the difference.” REBECCA JACOBSON.


BEST DISPLAY OF CITIZENSHIP

Most mornings, before Portland City Hall opens for the day, the sidewalks outside are swept clean of the debris left by the homeless people who pitch their sleeping bags along Southwest 4th Avenue. The man who sweeps up does not work for the city and receives no pay. He’s known to City Hall security as Joe, but to Joe’s neighbors at the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp, he’s “Hayseed.” A tall man with a long white beard and bright blue eyes, Joe is also very shy. “I’m not different than anyone else here,” he says declining an interview on the corner of Southwest 4th Avenue and Jefferson Street. “I just get caught more.”

But security guards say he’s more frequent and regular than others. There’s no apparent meaning or ritual, says Angela, who sleeps on the streets Joe sweeps, it’s just about keeping the sidewalk clean. “He uses his money to bring us coffee every morning and candles at night,” Angela says.

Angela says Joe started sweeping during the Occupy movement, where two neighboring parks became campsites for hundreds of activists and homeless people. After Occupy was tossed from the parks, he moved across the street, to the sidewalk he now sweeps. “He is one of three people who held down the fort here the entire winter,” Angela says.

Joe has since relocated to the Right 2 Dream Too camp on West Burnside Steet. During the day, he stands outside City Hall, talking to people about their problems. He listens, then he gives them stamped and addressed postcards so they can send their complaints to the governor. Sometimes, when he needs a break, he disappears into the woods for a couple weeks. “It’s like when you fight with your family and you don’t want to see them for awhile,” says Graham, a fellow homeless man. Eventually, Joe comes back, bringing his broom and fresh cups of coffee. “He is a really good human being,” Angela says. “Things are better with him here.” EMILY SCHIOLA.


BEST ELEVATOR OPERATOR

When you first step into the Oregon City Municipal Elevator, you might not notice the operator tucked away behind a plastic partition in the corner. But when Steve Brenner is working, you won’t miss him for long, as the 63-year-old quickly meets every rider with a toothy grin and a warm greeting.

Oregon City Municipal Elevator operator Steve Brenner.
IMAGE: Ronit Fahl

Seven people split time pushing buttons at the elevator in Oregon City (orcity.org/publicworks/municipal-elevator), but hope you’ll get Brenner, who makes himself valuable to people riding between the upper and lower sections of this Portland suburb, which is divided by a basalt cliff.

“I’ve done a lot of things, and it’s the most fun job I’ve ever had,” says Brenner. “It’s like being a 30-second bartender—you get to hear all of the stories, only they’re considerably shorter.”

Some of those stories come from the lawyers and policemen traveling to the courthouse every day, business owners headed to and from work, or tourists interested in the “spaceship-looking thing” they saw from the highway, which is the elevator’s upper observation deck, a mini-museum that resembles a flying saucer.

While Brenner enjoys hearing riders’ stories, he also likes talking about the elevator—all part of the job description. Ask a question, and he probably knows the answer. The elevator was built in 1914 and originally powered by water, he explains. It used to take up to 15 minutes to scale the 90-foot cliff separating Oregon City’s lower business district from its courthouse and topside neighborhoods, he says. He sure is glad the elevator now takes only 30 seconds, he jokes. KAITIE TODD.


BEST CHEAPSKATES

They’re there, rain or shine, day or night, to support their favorite stars. It could be 9 o’clock on a rainy Saturday morning in Tigard, or 5 pm at the Lloyd Center.

Never mind the Timbers Army. These are the city’s most die-hard fans...and they’re actually there for Die Hard. They’re the Movie Pass Mafia.

Who are these people who flock instinctively to see anything from World War Z to The Oogieloves? They’re me. They’re you. They’re of all ages and races. And they come packing Regal Rewards cards.

Every week, studios host advance movie screenings for critics. But there’s no sense in booking a whole theater just for a bunch of nerds with notepads. So the studios fill the theater with holders of free passes, given out on the radio, at newspaper offices and online.

These screening junkies—“passholes,” as the surlier critics call them—have formed their own community around waiting in line. They’ll camp outside theaters for hours just to get their fix. Since seating isn’t guaranteed, they hit the multiplex and camp out for what is essentially the cinematic equivalent of tailgating.

Once inside, an outsider might feel like they’ve walked into a private party as this interconnected community—who hit the Web to share screening locations and concession coupons—walks from row to row, sharing whatever discounted goodies they’ve nabbed (one refillable Coke, for instance, goes a long way when divided between a dozen tiny cups). Some are known to bring freshly baked banana bread, still steaming as the aluminum foil is unwrapped.

Many don’t even know what they’ll be seeing. Once, a tired-looking woman turned to me. “Do you think it’s going to be violent?” she asked. It was a war film. She left during the opening credits…after waiting in line for 90 minutes.

Week after week, the same faces populate the same seats. They shout to one another from opposite sides of the theater. When the movie’s done, the studio conducts an exit poll, and Mafia members nearly always give an emphatic thumbs up. They populate a strange world where, finally, Marmaduke and The Master coexist.

These folks have become the lifeblood of these screenings in Portland, a Dixie-cup-toting army unto themselves. Rain or shine, they’ll be there. And if you’re ever looking for a sip of soda during a particularly awesome screening of the new Chipmunks movie, they’ve got your back. AP KRYZA.


BEST TRAFFIC BREAK

Dancing is a sweat job, Astaire used to say. That’s doubly true for Travis Crowdon’s smoothly athletic variant of break dancing. Surrendering his body to an endlessly regenerative kinetic spiral from the moment his headphones begin blaring Wild 107.5, he can achieve grace not with smoothness, but with exhaustive physicality.

Today, the slight-of-stature 23-year-old is advertising the new Analog Cafe on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. He was recruited to work outside the venue by owner Donnie Rife, who was mesmerized by Crowdon’s routines for a Foster Boulevard furniture showroom catering mostly to Russians. You may have also seen him shaker-boarding outside Little Caesar’s Pizza outlets, which we’re wholly ready to believe he’s single-handedly kept afloat.

Portland’s finest practitioner of the break-dancing sign-spinner routine essentially created his own position a few years back; his distaste for one particularly dead-eyed mascot led to an impromptu class in proper promotion of commerce. He is a street team of one, eschewing special outfits or props beyond cardboard signage highlighting the business. He is a miracle worker, too: The Portland native has evidently repopulated a dizzying array of traffic-starved establishments across the city through his relentlessly effervescent approach. Absent external musical accompaniment, Crowdon’s faintly repetitive performance requires a certain patience before the irrepressible delight asserts itself. He works in ways that a target audience headed the opposite direction at 30 mph can’t possibly appreciate.

Disinclined to pursue competitive dance-offs (should they exist), Crowdon has given voice to only one dream: to found a studio one day for disadvantaged youth. Rife, the Analog founder who is also the founding frontman of long-lived local shock-poppers Smoochknob, has announced plans to record an EP of Crowdon’s hip-hop stylings for limited release. Intuitive body agility hardly guarantees lyrical flow, of course, but, even without hearing the CD, we bet the release party will draw quite a crowd. JAY HORTON.

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