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January 31st, 2007 Lance Kramer | Featured Stories
 

Coffee Talk

"Live Journalism" finds a home at Portland's Waypost.

     
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"Your sphincter is going to relax."

Only a few minutes into a presentation on "Sundry Manners of Decomposition" by 911 emergency responder Dale Davis a few weeks ago at the Waypost, it was already apparent there was something different about this place.

And Davis was right. Though I wasn't decaying, I was pretty relaxed at the Waypost. At least, the parts of me that counted.

The Waypost, opened last July by former KBOO news producer Michael Newman, is a little haunt near Legacy Emanuel Hospital, on North Williams Avenue. The space is a comfortable mix of the old and the new. A turntable for local DJs sits next to an old, upright wooden piano in front. Exposed wooden beams reminiscent of an old European tavern run through the entire cafe.

But looks can be deceiving—the Waypost is not just another hipster coffee shop, a breed so ubiquitous it seems to have created a 1-to-1 citizen-to-barista ratio in Portland.

What really sets the Waypost apart, though, is its eclectic lineup of programming and entertainment. A large chalkboard in front lists the upcoming schedule: a mix of art shows, DJs, movie screenings and local musicians. And some events are purely spontaneous. "You can just come in the door anytime and play the piano," Newman says.

The Waypost's signature events appear on its "Live Journalism and Experts" calendar. Each month the series focuses on a larger subject, with speakers presenting most Thursday nights. January's topic is "Health and Animation," which included Davis' death and decay event; next month, Newman has a series on "Mythology." Last month, one presentation focused on "Bicycle Repair in the Time of War."

"Live Journalism" is a fascinating experiment for the information age. The discussions feel less like mainstream media and more like Wikipedia coming to life. In a practical sense, the information is almost completely useless. But getting together to talk about random, interesting stuff has started to attract a community of people who come together simply for the pure pleasure of learning something new.

"The series is a continuation of a project [Michael and I] had worked on in our basement, called 'The Underground College,' says Jason Leivian, owner of Floating World Comics, Waypost regular and Newman's former roommate. "Michael's created an important outlet for people to talk about their esoteric interests.... It makes people less lonely and more social about their passions, bringing those topics and ideas out to the world."

The series is Newman's bread-and-butter project, and he pushes the idea aggressively—or as aggressively as a kindhearted, soft-spoken, goateed barista in a wool beanie can push anything.

In an education-loving city like Portland, Newman is probably onto something big.

Attendance at events varies like the weather. Only a small handful of folks showed up at Davis' presentation, but at a Paper Rad animation presentation two weeks ago, at least 50 people crunched inside to watch its newest DVD—a video bringing together a trippy, psychedelic menagerie of archival Garfield footage, a remix of the Meow Mix jingle, neon-colored dancing trolls, and epileptic-seizure-inducing images of Smurfs—beaming from a small television screen sitting on top of an old milk crate.

The food and drink is straightforward and simple, but tasty. Newman tried keeping a chef on staff, but it became too expensive of an endeavor. Now, alongside the requisite Stumptown coffee and espresso, Oregon-made beer and wines and Stash Yogi tea, the Waypost mostly serves up a variety of sandwiches. Newman's (own) favorite is the $3.95 "Small Planet"—hummus, avocado and tomato on a bagel.

Oddly enough, my favorite part of the Waypost is the bathroom. Its walls are covered in "free art"—various framed drawings, paintings and prints donated by local artists to beautify the unisex john. The idea is to take a piece home for free after you pee, and maybe one day you'll contribute something back to the wall. It's an ongoing give-and-take creative rotation, kind of like a socialist art gallery camped out in the lavatory.

Newman came up with the idea after someone last November stole two of his favorite pieces hanging in the bathroom. Instead of leaving the walls bare, showcasing neighborhood artists seemed like a good alternative—with one major exception.

"I was told no one would ever steal the Morrissey poster hanging there." he explains. "No one would ever want it. Some people just don't like Morrissey. That's why we put it up."


The Waypost, 3120 N Williams Ave., 367-3182.

8 am-4 pm Monday, 8 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 9 am-10 pm Saturday, 9 am-4 pm Sunday. Find a schedule of "Live Journalism" and other events at thewaypost.com.

 
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