While the rest of us sit on our asses waiting for a market-ready version of Doc Brown's garbage-based, time-travelin' Delorean fuel, Portland's own GoBiodiesel (gobiodiesel.org) has been busy promoting a forward-thinking fuel of its own. Since September '02, the co-op has been collecting waste vegetable oil from local restaurants and converting it into a safe and efficient non-petrol fuel for diesel engines. Tired of air pollution and the United States' less-than-stellar international oil diplomacy, GoBiodiesel is currently providing this fuel alternative to members only, with plans to create a fully sustainable, vegetable-oil-powered operations facility by October. And with practically no drawbacks apart from limited availability, even biodiesel's byproducts (soap and water) are squeaky-clean. To learn more about the co-op's guilt-free gas or to give your exhaust that fresh-popped popcorn emission, check out Biodiesel's regular socials, held at the Red & Black Cafe (2138 SE Division St., 231-3899) on the second, third and fourth Tuesdays of each month.
School hallways are drab, soul-sucking places in terms of color; sometimes the only bright spot amid the institutional liver brown and pea green is that mysterious orange powder that's sprinkled on vomit. Not so at Edwards Elementary School (1715 SE 32nd Place). Earlier this year 200 kindergarteners through fifth-graders at the year-round Southeast Portland school painted a cheery Oregon-throughout-the-seasons mural down an entire hallway, with help from artist-in-residence Carol Basch and funds raised through the Run for the Arts program. Every child contributed, painting mushrooms, ladybugs, clouds, vines, leaves, branches, rain or flowers. See, kids, year-round school isn't so bad!
Last year, the Portland Women's Crisis Line (235-5333, 888-235-5333 statewide) answered more than 23,000 calls. The staff of 15, aided by 73 volunteers, listened to such difficult issues as domestic violence and psychological problems faced by adults who were molested as children. The crisis line also provided 24-hour response to sexual-assault victims. PWCL is the oldest crisis line in Oregon and one of the five oldest sexual-violence crisis lines in the U.S. Check out www.pwcl.org if you want to donate or volunteer.
Enron, mutual funds, Martha Stewart. As financial scandals and indictments keep piling up, terms like "SEC investigator" and "General Accounting Office" start to sound cool, stealth or even heroic. The mystique is nothing new in Portland, though, where there's long been a comic-strip hero lurking in City Hall. For more than 20 years, the post of director of audits has been held by none other than Dick Tracy. "My mother's English, and she had no idea," says Tracy, who went by Richard or Rich before his name evolved into Dick with the popularity of the Chester Gould comic strip and later the 1990 movie starring Warren Beatty. Rather than being a point of frustration, the name has been useful as an icebreaker, he says. Sure, he deals in "initiatives" and "performance measures" instead of molls and gats. He doesn't communicate by wrist TV and even claims to be "sort of technologically challenged." But still, he's our own famous sleuth. Over and out.
To see David Lynch's Blue Velvet is heavenly; to see the bloodied ear from Blue Velvet, up close and in person, is divine. For years at Movie Madness (4320 SE Belmont St., 234-4363, moviemadnessvideo.com), owner Mike Clark has been sending movie fanatics into fits with his extensive museum of authentic Hollywood costumes and props. Now he's adding to the collection. New pieces such as Blade Runner's 5-foot, 500-pound Yukon Hotel set and Barbra Streisand's saucy costume from her '70s role in The Owl and the Pussycat will be rotated into the current collection until Clark makes room for more.
Is it possible to have more than one hemorrhoid at a time? How much did Microsoft stock sell for 10 years ago? How much sugar do you use to brew beer? These are all questions staffers at the Multnomah County Library reference line (988-5234) have answered for curious (and we mean that) patrons. "It's an education working here," says reference detective Haley Isleib. "Librarians will worry about a question until they figure it out." Web surfers can now submit questions through the library's website (www.multcolib.org/questions.html) and even chat with a librarian online. And don't worry that your query's too outlandish--they've heard weirder. The spark-plug torque for a 1995 Mitsubishi Galant? That'd be 15 to 21 pound-feet--use the information wisely.
The biggest problem finding Portland's best secret society is, well, secret societies tend to be secret. But ask around and you'll hear about some doozies. Case in point: the Phantom Shit Brigade, a group of like-minded individuals who compete by going No. 2 in public places. Members score points for the odd places they go--which must be verified. The more offbeat, the higher the score. "Anyone can take a dump behind a bush at Laurehurst Park," says the group's reigning champ, a man known only as Turdious Rex. "But to pinch a loaf in the lingerie section at Nordstrom, that takes a real Phantom Shitter."
Ever wish you'd learned Spanish before your first birthday? No? Well, just cuz you're content being monolingual doesn't mean your offspring shouldn't enroll in El Pilar, a Spanish immersion school for children ages 6 weeks to 10 years (6805 SW Vermont St., 892-9009). Director Maria-Immaculada Herrera-Latorre (you can call her Maria) offers year-round instruction in the U.S.' unofficial second language with games and songs palatable to even the most stubborn niños. (Cost per student varies by age and type of enrollment.) And just think: On the family trip to Cabo next year, Junior can haggle with the street vendors. Qué bueno!
Following Portland's urban-reinvention trend, brothers Kris and Eric Robison chose an airy, 4,000-square-foot space in an unlikely spot in Old Town for Backspace Gallery (115 NW 5th Ave., 248-2900, backspace.bz), their cafe/gallery/gaming venture. This postmodernist mecca provides space enough for bohemians to sip cappuccinos and read Proust and for skaters to play Vice City in its cavernous back room. But it really ups the ante with its multiroom art showcases, which range from graffiti and installation to new father Eric Robison's recent collection, a dreamscape titled Ineffable Birth.
Find out how fast that hunk of junk can really go by driving your auto at top speed, racecar-style, at the Portland International Raceway (www.portlandraceway.com). You don't need a Beamer to join the BMW Club, just some wheels, plus $100 and a $35 annual fee. For less than the price of a speeding ticket, your perks include the opportunity to legally put the pedal to the metal, the inside scoop on fuzz-free back roads and the acquisition of more motorhead cronies than a Parnelli Jones family reunion. Register at bmwacaportland.com, get a helmet and make sure you can pass the tech inspection before hitting the track.
Plenty of politicos run around crying, "Watch out! Student test scores are falling," without offering much in the way of solutions. But the Portland-based organization Community of Writers is actually doing something about it. COW (communityofwriters. com) is out "to improve student writing achievement by improving the quality of writing instruction," says program director Wendy Thompson. Novel idea, no? Through a weeklong training workshop led by authors Larry Colton and Peter Sears, and continued mentoring by writers-in-residence, such as Leanne Grabel, David Greenberg and Nancy Coffelt, COW inspires teachers to improve their skills. In the past five years, COW has trained more than 500 teachers in Portland, Tigard, Tualatin and Clackamas and has arranged for more than $50,000 in books in Tigard alone. With their help, kids are developing the ink-slinging chops to stand out from the herd.