Best Portland People (and Other Animals)

Best Dog Party Bus

The old dogs cruise down Columbia Boulevard in their souped-up ride.

It's Mo and Fred and Muskie and Betty and Barnaby and River and Sable and Brody and his brother Piper and Deohgee and Porter and most of all Dario, who has already shat on the floor twice before the ride even started. The speakers blast tunes. "All romantics meet the same fate someday," sings Joni Mitchell. "Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe."

At the wheel of the electric blue, 20-foot school bus sits Meg Vogt. Each weekday morning, she drives the bus—known variously as The Party Bus, the Magic Bus, the Blue Dog Bus, and the Elmer Graveen, after Vogt's childhood bus driver in Wisconsin—through the streets of Sullivan's Gulch, picking up passengers. A seat is $20 per day per dog. Destination: a local no-leash park, where the customers disembark to chase tennis balls.

"People either think I bring the party, or they're like, 'Man, you've got way too many dogs,'" Vogt says. "But look how calm they are!"

Indeed, the dozen canines meander through St. Johns' Chimney Park in a geriatric wolf pack. The English bulldog Muskie cannonballs his frame into mud puddles, Boston terrier Fred rushes ahead to greet new friends, and Piper the Scottie cannot disguise his forbidden passions for his brother. But otherwise these dogs—many of them 11-year Vogt veterans—are too old to party. 

Vogt, a former massage therapist and E! television editor during the O.J. Simpson trial, bought the bus for $3,500 in 2008, and now has 25 clients. (These include Cheryl Strayed's labradoodle, Jane Goodall.) City park rangers frown upon such a large-scale dog-walking operation; they now and again threaten fines up to $150 per dog. Vogt is hunting for 2 acres to build a Western-themed dog run and bar, which she plans to name Rawhide Ranch. But property is expensive these days.

On the bus ride home, the dogs pant satisfied, like gamblers returning flush from Spirit Mountain Casino. The walls and ceiling are plastered like a scrapbook: pictures cut from magazines, squibs of poetry, memorial announcements both human and canine. A dog party bus is a gentle defiance of time. The old dogs had a great day. They have a great day every day.

Vogt looks down at Fred, exhausted in her lap. "Living for the moment, aren't we Freddy, huh?" she says. "Living in real time." AARON MESH.

Best Human Shock Absorber

On the second floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse is a counter where hope goes to die. 

Every working day, the county's least fortunate citizens shuffle forward in a ceaseless stream, presenting paperwork notifying them of evictions and small claims lawsuits. The paperwork they bring is often dirty, folded and wrinkled to illegibility, sometimes even wet from tears.

Greeting them most days with a smile is Rhonda Smith. Smith's title is court operations specialist, but given the patience and grace with which she works, she could be called Saint Rhonda. "We deal with a lot of people who are confused and often hopeless," she says. "And a lot of people who are angry."

An ordained minister and lifelong congregant at the Allen Temple CME Methodist Church at Northeast 8th Avenue and Skidmore Street, Smith exudes calmness in a sea of stress. On a busy day at the courthouse, Smith, 55, says 100 people come to the counter responding to summons or simply seeking help to decipher the legalese in which eviction notices and lawsuits are written.

“A lot of them are in bad situations,” Smith says. “People have gotten behind. They are angry that they are being sued or have to sue somebody. They don’t like it that you can’t give them the solution that they want.” 

Smith says that only twice in 16 years has she had to summon deputies to her post. Once, a man threatened to hit her. Another time, a woman threw a box of tissues at her.

She says friends often tell her she's crazy, but she can't wait to get to work every day.

"I love my job. I love helping people. I love to listen," Smith says. "If you can leave the courthouse with a little more hope than I came with, then I've done my job." NIGEL JAQUISS.

Best Sellout

Whenever Colin Sears' past comes up in conversation, some clarification is typically required.

"The first thing somebody will say is, 'Oh, wow, you were in a band. You must've done lots of drugs and had all these groupies,'" Sears says. "It's like, 'Actually, the kind of music I played, in our scene, would be more akin to a Mormon lifestyle.'"

Today, Sears might be the top business developer in Portland, hitting what the Portland Business Journal called "the business development triple crown." But to put it in terms his current partners at Business Oregon might understand, he's also like the Pete Best of post-punk.

Sears, 49, spent his adolescence thrashing drum kits in Washington, D.C.—the birthplace of straight edge, the movement committed to extracting sex and drugs from the rock-'n'-roll equation. Though he's not one of the scene's household names, Sears' bands certainly are. Most significant among them is Dag Nasty, whose mix of melody and aggression is often cited as a precursor to emo. He was also, for about four months, an original member of legendary group Fugazi, but left before the band even settled on a name.

It might seem a little odd that the state's business recruitment officer—his job is to persuade companies to expand into Oregon—was in the band that sang, "The government controls you and brother that's not just a line."

Sears figures he just swapped one under-the-radar niche for another.

"I went from a marginal, weird, obscure, not-really-popular music field to a very weird, marginal, obscure career field," he says. Sears quit Dag Nasty in 1987, enrolling at the University of Massachusetts to study economic geography. But he hadn't yet given up on the idea of doing music as a career. During the post-Nirvana era, Sears flirted with mainstream success with another band, the Marshes, signing to the label that would eventually bring the world Creed. When that fell through, he moved to Portland and finally put his degree to use. He spent 12 years with the Portland Development Commission and a year at Greater Portland Inc. before landing at Business Oregon in 2013.

But while he might have traded straight edge for the straight life—he lives in Creston-Kenilworth with his girlfriend, three kids and a 19-year-old cat—Sears hasn't completely sold out. He plays in two bands, Air Knives and Black Theory, and in November he'll reunite with Dag Nasty for a set at Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. Sure, there are few things less punk than having ".gov" at the end of your email address. But the way Sears sees it, his job is still pretty hardcore.

"Most people who are doing business in Oregon have a DIY, 'I'm gonna do it my way' attitude," Sears says. "I'm in Oregon, doing the work I do, because I get it." MATTHEW SINGER.

Best Gym Parrot

George Comalli

Best Greek Tragedy

Around the turn of the millennium, the owner of the now-closed Greek Cusina commissioned a local artist to construct a 10-by-40-foot steel octopus covered in jaunty, polka-dot lavender fabric. "Spoticus" was then trundled several stories above the Cusina's entrance and quickly became a beloved downtown fixture before falling prey to the long arms of Johnny Law. Legendarily erected during the dead of night, Spoticus appeared at odds with existing city code: A "balloon" statute disallows any 3-D advertisements hovering over an establishment for more than seven days. Once the bar/restaurant/dance club was effectively shuttered in 2010 after dozens of fire-code violations, the signature statuary was shipped off to top a Southwest Barbur Boulevard barbershop called Brick's.

Who among us, struggling to find our place within an all-too-unfamiliar urban environment, cannot understand the pain of a disassembled, purplish cephalopod? I am Spoticus. You are Spoticus. And Kacey Birch, to an unnerving degree, is Spoticus. "I don't know why the city is so anti-octopus!" she exclaims. The former Greek Cusina DJ and current proprietor of 24-hour coffeehouse Southeast Grind purchased the artifact last October from Brick's Barber after further trouble with civic zoning pushed the shop to Tigard and left Spoticus for sale on Craigslist.

"We have him stored in a warehouse right now," Birch says. "He's ready to be reconstructed, and we would be willing to refashion him in any sort of way that the city would approve. I looked into the signage laws, [but] I need some help getting my case together. There's a team of artists asking when they can rebuild him and get him up on the roof." General wear and tear over the years necessitates certain repairs, but Birch wants "to keep him as true to his natural form as possible. I don't think the purple octopus would be the same if he wasn't purple." JAY HORTON.

Best Warlord

Just about every gun you pick up in Call of Duty was once the property of Portlander Jay Lance. Except, that is, the most modern ones. I cut off at Gulf War II," he says. But when Activision began developing the realism-intensive video game franchise that would eventually exceed 175 million in sales, the company contacted Lance about borrowing era-appropriate equipment and uniforms for 360 scans.

Portland's finest historical military consultant for film and media was not only weapons master for Call of Duty, he's been armorer for the National Geographic and History channels, and stuntman and background artist for Hollywood wartime epics (Glory, Gettysburg, Memphis Belle). He has lent relics to most of the TV shows filmed in town (Leverage, Grimm, Portlandia) and overseen 14 departments ("stunt coordinating, special effects, set dressing, prop manufacturing, production design…") as authenticity curator of locally filmed World War II action series Combat Report. In perhaps the ultimate tribute to his battlefield verisimilitude, Lance helped the U.S. Department of Defense conduct opposing-force field-training exercises for various branches of the military during the Cold War and received an unofficial rank equivalent to first lieutenant.

"My dad was in World War II," he says. "My gramps was in World War I. His brother was in the Spanish-American War. Their grandparents were in the Civil War. It just goes all the way back. We came over to the United States as Hessian mercenaries during the Revolutionary War, and every single generation of my family has served in the military since then." Raising a child alone at a time when single parents were discouraged from enlisting, Lance wasn't able to directly join the ancestral trade. But he's nevertheless devoted his life to the armed forces. "It all started from watching films with a couple friends of mine and finding all these mistakes," he recalls. "I just found it really insulting. These are 30-, 40-, 50-million-dollar films, but they can't be bothered to get it right?"

His personal cache of memorabilia proved vital for the success of Combat Report. The 2015 commando series on Tuff TV, shot mostly in Warren and McMinnville, maintained remarkable production values despite minimal budgets, though certain items required outside assistance. "It's just about making the right phone call, making the right deal," Lance says. "Everything that we had out there was in tiptop shape and fully functional. In the case of the tank, it was in almost the same condition as [when] it rolled off the factory floor. As a hobby, people collect military vehicles, restore them, maintain them, and, in some cases, even take them out and play with them. How often do you get to ride in a tank?" JAY HORTON.

Best Canine Roadside Attraction

Dogs love Laurelhurst's "cookie tree." More than 20 years ago, long before the advent of the free boxes, mini-libraries and poetry offerings that now dot Southeast Portland yards, Elisa Leverton began hanging dog treats from a tree in the parking strip in front of her Southeast Ankeny Street home, less than a block from the canine mecca of Laurelhurst Park.

Leverton says it all started about 25 years ago, when she and her two children wanted to do something nice for others on Easter. So they put dog treats in front of their house. But when Easter was over, Leverton says, the animals, oblivious to the calendar, kept coming. "It sort of morphed into doing it throughout the year because dogs don't know the difference," Leverton says. Not only dogs but squirrels kept coming back, leading to an innovation: Today, treat-filled plastic carrots and Easter bunnies hang from strings in the trees. Dog owners open the two-piece containers and reward their canine companions. "People say, 'We can't go on a walk without coming by the tree,'" Leverton says.

Over the years, appreciative dog owners have left Leverton cookies, flowers, money and even wine beneath the tree, which is a neighborhood gathering spot. The tree has also spurred imitators. "I've had people who asked if they could do it at their house and in their countries," Leverton says.

Long after her children grew up, Leverton has continued festooning her tree with dog treats. "We've had a lot of fun," she says. "The tree took on a life of its own." NIGEL JAQUISS.

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