Real Portlanders don't just live here. We have a true relationship with the city. We sleep together. Our lives are entangled. We love Portland—its eccentricity, its responsibility, its idealism—but we're also intimately familiar with its faults. And just like in any stable human relationship, every now and then we focus on these faults. This is one of those times. A few weeks ago, we delivered to you the Best of Portland. This week, in a tradition that started here many years ago, I'll nag and whine and bitch about the city. But only because I love.
And I'd like to think that's my main qualification to write this vicious screed: I'm just some 23-year-old punk who's bitter beyond his years, but I was born and raised in Northeast Portland. I remember when all Last Thursday on Alberta meant was that the crackheads were out of food stamps. I'm the proud product of Grant High School. I've watched our sleepy, drizzly city explode into whatever the hell it is now. And despite all the thorns I can find in the City of Roses, it's my home and I love it. So here it is: one petty, cranky, concentrated lump of tough love for Portland.
Don't know Yiddish? "Kvetch" means to bitch, complain and gripe 24-7.
You've seen them. Those youngsters with green Mohawk and Black Flag T-shirts who also wear hemp cutoffs and Tevas. Are they Hippie or Punk? Make a choice, because punks' angry nihilism is the polar opposite of hippies' laidback humanism. Standing with one foot in the Summer of Love and one in CBGB will you get you torn in half. Face it: The Misfits would have kicked the shit out of Moby Grape.
Don't you "arr" us, Portland. This is an intervention. The city's pirate addiction started benignly enough (it always does)—an eye-patch here, a peg leg there. At first, it seemed like a phase—just normal, natural curiosity about pirates. But innocent experimentation rapidly developed into abuse. Now Portland can hardly function without a regular buccaneer fix. Whether it's pirate-themed businesses like Sandy Boulevard's jug-shaped Pirate's Cove strip club and the Pirate's Tavern vegan bar, or pirate-themed events like the Plunderathon and Portland Pirate Festival, the city is testing the limits of safe pirate intake. If Portland keeps it up, overdose is imminent. So mothball your Jolly Roger and feed the parrot to the cat. Portland doesn't want to be known as "the city that used to be cool, till it got hooked."
Forget panhandlers—it's the underemployed college kids in OSPIRG T-shirts permanently haunting the square who drive us nuts. They need to stop begging and move along. Portland's Living Room isn't a proper fundraising venue, and people sprinting for the MAX usually don't "have a moment for the environment." Call us old-fashioned, but we like to make informed decisions about our political donations—not carelessly write checks on a street corner. So stop trying to hand us your clipboard, stick your pitch in the mail and sit by the phone. Half the time, the dispassionate canvassers rattle off their spiels in the confused monotone of a stoned robot. On the other hand, when Scruffy the Hobo bums 50 cents so he can buy a Natural Ice tallboy, you know he cares.
Bowling, roller derby, kickball—more signs that Portland only likes its "sports" with a healthy dose of kitsch. We've got a hunch the twentysomething coeds behind these revival leagues don't really love the games—they just want an excuse to don retro headbands and knee socks. They parody real sports, because competition is too much like caring (totally uncool). And let's face it: Waifish hipsters aren't exactly synonymous with athleticism. Until Portland learns to love game over glam, it will remain on the sidelines of American sports.
They may be channeling absurdist Parisian street performers—ahem, Alberta Street Clown House—but riding a double-tall bike is just impractical. Is dismounting an excuse to show off your tumbling skills? We're all impressed by your creativity with a welding torch, but commuting on a 9-foot-tall Schwinn is a cry for attention.
We're pretty sure the PGE Park sculptures are evil. It feels like those disembodied bronze faces are trying to lure us into a van. Saccharine smiles, hollow eyes, not to mention the whole peeled-off-faces thing—they're creepy for the same reason children and clowns make the scariest characters in horror movies. Now, let's play ball!
Actually, we've got nothing against stripping or strippers. We love 'em. Our beef is with those who argue that stripping is a feminist statement. Sorry, it ain't. No matter what you wrote on your sociology term paper, strippers aren't reclaiming their sexuality. There's nothing shameful about being an "exotic dancer." It's a job, and a high-paying one at that. But plucking ones off the rack with your rack is not an act of neo-feminist protest, even if you have "Rosie the Riveter" tattooed on your ass.
Eggs are next to ramen noodles in the low-income cookbook, but somehow many Portland diners get away with charging close to $10 for an omelet. It's not like there's a high demand—everyone in Portland is vegan. Eggs this expensive better come from something endangered.
Bars are supposed to be dens of vice and sin—that's why we love them. So Oregon's smoking ban, which goes into effect January 2009, is downright sacrilegious. Secondhand smoke may be unhealthy, but you're not heading to the pub to do push-ups. What will be banned next? Unwelcome sexual advances? Awkward dancing? Regrettable hook-ups? Drinking? Bars are where we do things we shouldn't because they seem like good ideas at the time, and smoking always seems like a good idea when we're wasted.
Portland has more and better craft breweries than anywhere else in the country, yet somehow there's a certain crowd—think guys who shop at Diesel—that insists on ordering mediocre, overpriced imports. They do it for the same reason they pay $180 for jeans someone else already wore out: to cover up their lack of taste with flashy brand names. If you never jumped on the micro bandwagon or are just getting drunk on a budget, fine, drink High Life. But don't order Heineken or Stella Artois—the Budweisers of their home countries—for $5 a pint. When you say, "I'll take a Stella," what you really mean is "I'm a tool who's trying to act sophisticated." Bottoms up!
"You go." "No, no, you go." "Haha—we both went at the same time and then stopped. Look all at the backed-up traffic. Hilarious." Oh, Portland drivers, do you ignore your right-of-way to be polite, or because you don't understand the rules of the road? Just so you know, those rules exist not to victimize drivers on your left, but to keep traffic moving smoothly. And when you unexpectedly yield for no logical reason, it fucks everyone up. Four-way stops turn into Mexican standoffs. So when it's your turn to go, for the love of God, GO!
Maybe because Portlanders are incapable of learning the rules of the road, the city seems to have opted out of stop signs entirely in some neighborhoods. Seasoned eastsiders, accustomed to unmarked intersections, have perfected the cautious roll. Or they do a quick right-left check, punch it and hope for the best. Both are common strategies. But for non-natives, the almost total lack of stop signs in entire Portland neighborhoods can be disconcerting. Assuming right-of-way can get you T-boned by another Portland newbie. The law says yield to the car on the right, but in practice, firsties generally go to the more aggressive driver. So until the city invests in a long overdue batch of red octagons, be careful—or don't, and hope someone rich hits you.
Actually, you can swim in the Willamette—if you're not that attached to your skin. Sadly, the river that could be Portland's swimming pool is instead our own filthy Superfund site, complete with carcinogens and super-intelligent mutant sturgeon. And, if anything, the Columbia is worse. Somehow, in a city wedged between two rivers, we have to drive past Troutdale to the Sandy for a safe swim—if you call sharing sand with drunken rednecks safe.
Sure, the Timbers get decent crowds and coffee shops fill up at 4 am for World Cup matches, but most Portland soccer fans don't really love soccer. They love the way it goes with their macchiatos and Italian loafers. They love its Euro-chic sophistication and stylish jerseys. They love to pretentiously call it fútbol. They love to roll the R's in foreign players' names. And they love that it's so unpopular with the traditional jock crowd. All together now: Goooooaaaaalllllll!!!
Every half-cocked Portland idealist points to Sweden as the role model for world government. Kind of like how everyone around here points to Portland as the role model for American cities. Clouded by visions of universal health care and stylish yet affordable home furnishings, they forget both Portland and Sweden are small pockets of lily-white, well-educated, middle-class, secular liberals who generally agree on the big issues. Pioneering solutions is easy in places where everyone thinks alike. But try exporting Sweden's form of government to the infinitely more diverse and complicated melting pot of America. Or pasting Portland's policies onto Baltimore. You'll have better luck pronouncing the labels at IKEA.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the last trains of the night run through downtown around 1:30 am (on weeknights, they stop even earlier). But last call isn't till 2 am, so the tipsy masses turned out of downtown's pub hub fight for cabs or—disturbingly often—fumble keys into the ignition and drive home drunk. If the MAX kept running for just one more hour, it could keep hundreds of drunken drivers off the roads. Crowding the trains with boozy bar-hoppers is bound to cause some problems, but since 77 percent of fatal crashes between midnight and 3 am are alcohol-related, it's worth a few scuffles and puke puddles to keep those same lushes from getting behind the wheel.
This one's our bad. In a brief frenzy of goodwill, brought on by our monthly officewide Arbor Mist binge, WW got a little loose with our stickers. Now it seems like every eatery in town has a "Willamette Week Pick" decal in the window. Sorry, you'll just have to read our paper for restaurant recommendations. It's all falling into place.
If cyclists want to cruise down Southeast 39th Avenue at rush hour, they have the right. Even if just two blocks east runs a nearly traffic-free designated bike route down 41st Avenue (most busy thruways do have nearby parallel bike routes). But a philosophical argument about right-to-the-road won't be much consolation when an ER doc is stapling your face back onto your skull. Drivers ought to watch for bikers, but they often don't. And even in Portland—America's most bike-friendly city—plenty of drivers resent anyone without a motor. For instance, everyone's grandpa.
It may be true that "not all who wander are lost," but Portlanders who feel the urge to plaster their multiple beliefs on their bumper are in need of some serious therapy—or a colonic irrigation. Those "Keep Portland Weird" stickers were a lot weirder when every Volvo on Hawthorne didn't sport one. And no one's happy to have Bush in office (actually, according to the latest polls, 11 Portlanders are), but we're not blaming you, so peel off the "Kerry-Edwards" sticker already. Granted, those "Kucinich '08" stickers are hilarious, but less is more. If your bumper is such a mishmash of pasted-on words it looks like a kidnapper's ransom note, you've got problems. Bumpers just aren't the proper forum for expressing political ideology—that's what the buttons on your messenger bag are for.
It's become Portland foodies' destination for authentic Asian food, but the next Alberta it's not. There's some charm in stumbling upon a great dim sum joint wedged between Check into Cash and Xotic Tan in an unlikely strip mall. But it's a big leap from nibbling barbecue pork buns to converting Honeysuckle's Lingerie into a studio apartment. Plus, then where would you go for live thong modeling? Oh, right, up the street.
For 60 years, the landmark Waddles sign at the entrance to Jantzen Beach greeted Portlanders with a simple directive: "Eat Now." And we did. But in 2005, the historic (and adorable) Waddles duckling was consumed by the top-heavy owl of Hooters. Titties and hot wings are hard to argue with, but we'll miss that homegrown island in a sea of cement and big-box retail. Portland will just have to dry its tears with hot pants.
We'll probably get shot for saying this. Fixed-gear bikes have a sleek, minimalist appeal that's made them the steed of choice for Portland's cool kids. Unfortunately, the price for their simple elegance is impending death. They're called "track bikes" because they are meant for the track. As in a controlled, traffic-free environment that goes on in one theoretically endless circle. Hence, no need for separate brakes. There may be a handful of street riders who can actually safely handle a fixie in your modern urban environment. But our completely unscientific survey reveals that 8.14 out of 10 fixie riders are in it for the image (think about Portland's low helmet-to-biker ratio) and don't really know how to ride them. A handbrake might hurt your bike's clean lines, but can you really count on those spindly, vegan legs to do your braking in a pinch?
Reed College has churned out wonderful graduates, many of whom are employed at WW. But admit it, it attracts too many trustafarians who come out West to play hippie on daddy's dime because they heard Oregon has "kind bud." Then after a decade in grad school, the quintessential Reedie comes down long enough to forsake socialism and move to Wall Street...to, uh, change things from the inside.
Portland, enough of the holier-than-thou holistics. No matter what your guru told you, allergies aren't all mental. Half the city spends two seasons a year sneezing uncontrollably, and the green stuff oozing out of their noses isn't blocked chi. We'll buy that acupuncture does something, if you stop naysaying all of Western medicine. Did you live to adulthood? Are you crippled from polio? Enough said.
If your business is an established landmark clinging to tradition, then cash-only is a reasonable policy. But if you're a hip new bar or restaurant cashing in on Portland's cultural boom, chalk up the credit-card surcharge (between 1 and 5 percent) to the same progress behind your business' success. If you insist on driving away business for a few cents a swipe, at least make it clear. Post a large sign in a prominent place, note "cash-only" on the menu, and apologize profusely for running a penny-wise-pound-foolish business—because accepting plastic has become the rule, and your business is the exception. We assume you'll want our money in whatever form we choose. And do not follow the example of Beulahland: The Southeast Portland bar posts Visa and MasterCard decals on the door but refuses debit cards—even if they also have a Visa or MasterCard logo—"due to exorbitant processing fees." The bar will, however, happily direct customers to its ATM, which charges several dollars per transaction.
Where can Joe Six-Pack drink a six-pack? Portland's nightlife tends toward extremes. You either have to fight clouds of cologne from downtown's metrosexuals or bask in the irony at too-cool hipster strips like Alberta and Mississippi. It's slim picking if you shun the tanning booth and the tattoo parlor. Where is the jeans-and-T-shirt crowd to go?
Waiter: "Would you like to start with some edamame?" Us: "You mean soybeans? Sure, can we also get an order of jibjabs? That's what you call french fries when they cost $12 an order." Chic Portland bars like Saucebox are slanging edamame (pronounced ed-uh-MA-may) as the pretentious, imported alternative to peanuts. It's ridiculous yet effective rebranding. No reasonable person would order soybeans with their mango-tini, but slap 'em with a Japanese label and an inflated price tag and this bland bean becomes another Portland food trend.
Three streets, 14 lanes, five lights, infinite possibilities for fatal car accidents.
All of you who wanted the Pearl to be a bohemian arts enclave of rough-cut warehouse conversions, you need to give it up. You lost. Please don't bore us with your whining about how the Pearl has mutated into a bland, commercialized caricature of its old self. Perhaps the fight truly ended when LexiDog Boutique and Social Club moved in. The point is, it's over, so stop bitching. If you're still really pissed, shoplift a $90 T-shirt from Anthropologie or dine and dash at P.F. Chang's.
Mini Coopers are quickly gaining on Subarus as Portland's car of choice. It's not surprising: Cute, fuel-efficient and consciously un-macho, they're like four-wheeled Vespas. But maybe because they barely look like real cars, Mini drivers barely drive like real people. Nervous, erratic and aggressive, they're like the Jack Russell terriers of the road, constantly nipping at your bumper.
Every kid who was raging against the establishment three power chords at a time five years ago is suddenly learning to yodel. Talk about a stylistic U-turn. Fine, now you like the washboard-and-banjo sound of old-timey country-western. But will it last? Our guess is that in another year or so you'll be channeling Frankie Goes to Hollywood on the keytar.
Stop waving the distracting glow of your Nokia between us and the stage. Sure, nothing takes memorable footage like a low-res camera phone waving above your head from 30 rows back, but not every experience needs to be shared via MySpace photos. What happened to raising a lighter?
Sick of hearing ourselves complain, we extended the invitation to a motley assortment of Portlanders WW ran into this week.
"I can't stand the Goth/Punk kids that hang out downtown asking for money to feed their drug addiction while their tie-dyed malnourished dog next to them looks for nutrients from the grease in a wrinkled-up Big Mac wrapper. These kids can't take care of an animal, it costs money they don't have, they are probably only using them for the sympathy factor to get a few more bucks. And where does the dog shit, anyway? You never see one of these Goth kids following a dog around with a poop baggie, do you?" —Nate Jacobson, Nike employee
Cyder Verling, 23, works at the soon-closing Music Millennium on Northwest 23rd Avenue, so her neighborhood complaint was predictable: "It's going more yuppie.... You could put anything there other than a Gap and a Williams-Sonoma and I'd be happy." She fears other local businesses like Twenty-Third Avenue Books are also in danger, and blames locals for abandoning "tangible media." "I think Portland needs to get over the iPod," says the Discman devotee. "It's just a lazy man's way of listening to music."
For Amanda Felt, owner of the vegan outpost Black Sheep Bakery, the day she lost it was the day "when all the Mercedes-Benzes in the entire city went to biodiesel and when the prices of all of my other [baking] supplies went up." The culprit? "Fuckin' corn-based ethanol." Felt feels it's ludicrous to "take a staple food source and turn it into fuel when there are people that are starving right now.... It really doesn't help our dependence on [petro] oil, either." If the trend continues, she fears that, "they're gonna start using regular canola oil."
Al Herre, the voluble owner of Fat Kitty Falafel, graced us with a barrage of kvetches:
1. "The fuckin' hippies and their mud mansions, dancing around for a week...then two months later the shit's all still there. At least I got to see a bunch of hairy, naked girls, though...."
2. "Well, I don't dislike anybody really, I just...I dislike the disingenuous and un-integretous [sic], and 'I do this one thing, so that makes me better than you' [type of people]. But then I'm like, dude—you've got an eight-ball tattoo and flames sleeves and you just stepped out of a Humvee. I'll still kick your ass."
3. "My general bitch about Portlanders: Be more faithful to your falafel guy. While I sit out here and freeze...don't forget about me in the winter. Be consistent—come once or twice a week. Stop going on vacation to Thailand and shit."
"How about the fact that we're not allowed to pump our own gas? I have a four-year college education and I'm not smart enough to pump my own gas? And five miles away across the river in Vancouver, apparently they're smart enough. It would take me two minutes to do it, but I always have to wait in line." —Devan Jaecker, engineer
"I wish we could fix everyone's smug sense of self-satisfaction. Take 'em down a notch. Everyone thinks that Portland is so great, they're totally closed to anyplace else. I was on a plane the other day, and the lady sitting next to me asked, 'What's so great about Portland?' and I said, 'It's the best city in the world'...and I realized everyone here thinks that." —John, student, street performer and member of the Timbers Army
"...And I thought of one more thing that bugs me, now that you got me started...guy who's always on the phone and doesn't realize that 20 people are unwillingly listening to his conversation.... I could care less about what a bitch Madeline his secretary at work has been lately. What we really need is a noise ordinance specifically for cell phones. What really freaks me out is when I'm sitting on the MAX and a kid with briefcase and suit starts talking to me from across the aisle about some killer party he went to over the weekend, only after a few awkward grins and head-nods I realize he isn't talking to me but into the gadget attached to his ear...." —again, Nate Jacobson, Nike employee
"What do I hate? The ham-fisted thuggery of the RiverPlace Homeowners Association, in their Grinch-like quest to keep cyclists off the Willamette Greenway Trail. Putting up path-blocking signs and karate chopping people off their bikes is pretty tacky." —Dave Lowensohn, musician
"Where is my $3.95 thing of broccoli and garlic sauce at 4 in the morning?" kvetches an unidentified cashier at Rich's Cigar Store. But her real beef is with the screamer living across the hall in her apartment building. He likes to shout at his own door. "He usually calls it a fucker," she says. Other residents in her building include "Elvis" in the parking lot and the elevator decorator whose calling cards range from "a used pregnancy test" to something unmentionable "with a piece of corn." Asked to name her charming abode, Cigar Girl coyly giggles, "I call it Pearl Projects."
"We love our jobs!" giggled Beverly and Ruth of the Multnomah County Central Library. But when ruminating on their personal PDX gripes, the lovely reference ladies were on a roll: calling for more rooftop gardens, decrying dangerous bicycling, and lamenting the street urchins with pit bulls. "The thing I wish I could change about Portland is that we don't get enough people [visiting the library] who need wheelchair help," Beverly told WW. "Also, there are a lot of people who could be using the library but don't. People don't realize that libraries help them find stuff. They think of it as 'books only,' and it's so much more...." And on the latter point a bolder Ruth blurted out: "I wish people would take more showers. Because they're in the library, stinking up the shelves...."
"I think that Portland is 'considerate' in thinking that the 'Honor' system for MAX will work for us, but I DON'T AGREE. You get crazies that ride because they can. I ride it all the time and never have been asked to show my ticket. I think that it would be a cleaner, safer, friendlier place to ride if they charged everyone before riding. I am guessing they would also make money on the deal, since I hardly ever see anyone buying a ticket." —Serena Dietrich, finance manager
"The one thing that bothers me the most about Portland is the dirt, trash and cigarette butts that blanket the sidewalks and streets. I currently live and work in Northwest, an area full of restaurants serving organic foods and shops selling natural products, yet the streets are FULL of litter. I don't understand how people can be so respectful and earth-friendly towards all the products they buy and then turn around and throw their cigarette butt on the ground. Granted a fair share of the lovely layer of grime in the area can be attributed to the multitude of homeless who call this area their 'home,' but I don't think anyone is naive enough to truly believe that these Portland nomads are the whole problem. Late-night partiers, PGE Park patrons, teens out shopping and just your regular old Joe headed to work have all been spotted 'misplacing' their beer bottle, game program, Rockstar can or Starbucks receipt as they meander through our streets. Did all of these people really have mothers who followed them around 24-7 and picked up all their stuff? And even if they did, apparently they missed the moment they were supposed to grow up and gain responsibility. Portland is a city full of trash cans and they only sweep the streets twice a year, so we all need to be a little more conscious of what we're doing with our wrappers and remnants of our latest nicotine fix before we all have to invest in rubber boots to shield our feet from the disgust that fills the streets and sidewalks." —Liz Thompson to WW via email, accounting assistant
"I live in Northwest, and the trains go by whistling so loudly every night at 2 am. It's not just one or two short whistles—it whistles the whole way down! I heard that they wouldn't have to do that if they put in double barriers for pedestrians, but the city didn't want to because it would cost a lot of money. There was a big debate about it. So that's what I hate. That's what I would change: No more whistles. But I guess it's either save lives or annoy more people. —Tony, Red Bull Mobile Energy Team
"Homeless people's signs! 'Homeless Vet, need food for dog, anything helps, God Bless'.... I mean, how many homeless vets/dog owners/Christians are really out there? Their signs should say 'lazy ass crazy person who needs money for anything besides food because I get enough from the city.' If we get rid of cardboard I think we could get rid of the damn beggar signs...well, a person can dream. Closing thought: Wal-Mart and McDonald's hire. —Adam, 4th grade Teacher
"I wish everyone would just drink black coffee, like me," say Kari, a barista at Nordstrom's Espresso Bar. "And I wish all the construction would end. It makes walking to the bus take TWICE as long."
Ever since I moved to Oregon from Southern California I feel like I'm "putting on airs" when I wear earrings. I was denied a room in two (count them) houses because I wear perfume. My Miami-transplant roommate complains that Portlanders call her style of tank-tops and skirts "hootchie hippie." And my friends' upcoming wedding is pointedly a "casual" affair. Doesn't anyone strut their stuff here?? Anne, a Pioneer Courthouse Square flower shop girl, agrees with me: "Nobody gets dressed up. I don't like getting dressed up, but I like seeing people dressed up." Exactly. I'm overjoyed (and hypoglycemically overwhelmed) with the plethora of tasty vegan baked goods and all, but what we really need is some eye candy in this town. Or, more specifically, we need to be allowed to get fancy and not feel like the spawn of Satan. It's not like I want to parade around in a miniskirt and diamond-encrusted Jimmy Choos! But if I did, who are you to judge me, Portland? Huh? Answer me! —Annie Bethancourt, WW intern, songwriter
Pascal Sauton is too nice to name names. But the 49-year-old chef and owner of French favorite Carafe will share his ire for restaurants that dishonestly "jump on the wagon" of advertising local, organic ingredients. "They put that label out there and don't really carry it through," he says. Nothing annoys him more than to be served "local" wild salmon, when "you know it's not in season anyway, you know it doesn't look the same, it doesn't taste the same." Also worth a kvetch are kvetchers themselves: "People complaining about restaurant prices...when indeed I think the overall average price in restaurants in Portland is quite low."
Shopkeepers on Northwest 23rd Avenue live in mortal terror of...the screamers! Or as a 20-year-old male manager (who refused to give his name) at Noah's Bagels calls them, "drug addicts that bother people constantly and make me feel unsafe." "It's when they start following you, threatening you," he says. Then again, he's less concerned for his own well-being than for others': "There's a guy who used to come in here every day...screaming at my employees," he complains. "People like that need to just go to jail, regardless if they're homeless."