Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pink Martini: Portland's Cocktail to the World

I don’t know where I’ve been that Pink Martini has escaped my radar until now. Oh sure, I’d heard of the Portland-based group, but it wasn’t until last night that I paid attention … at the Portland Zoo. My wife, in her wisdom, had invited me on a date to a Pink Martini concert.


The 14-piece Pink Martini is a potent, heady and rollicking cocktail.

The concert was an exuberant celebration of music, ALL music. Music from everywhere (Russia, Japan, Brazil, Egypt, France, America etc.), from all times (with a particular quirky fixation on the Forties), from numerous if not all instruments (harp, trombone, congas, cello, piano, guitar, violin etc.), and languages.

Pink Martini has a remarkably risky and rangy repertoire. Inevitably, some songs please more than others. But a Pink Martini concert, taken as a whole, is a tour de force.

The most exciting part of all this is that a young generation of musicians is sharing so much with an even younger cohort. The young fans clearly idolize the group and its musical mission. Crowded around the front of the zoo’s stage were exuberant high school students, who shouted between-tune questions. Lead singer China Forbes fielded them all with aplomb and warmth. They don’t call her the “diva next door” for nothing. Someone wanted to know where she bought her shoes. It turns out she made them — more or less.

One last thought about Pink Martini: Leader Tom Lauderdale made numerous connections to the group’s Portland roots. As Pink Martini travels the world (and do they ever!), we can only hope that they serve not merely as ambassadors of this country, but of this remarkable city.

They are a true source of civic pride.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 27, 2007

Metro to hear Hillsdale Nov. 29

The elected Metro Regional Council will meet in Hillsdale on Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. to listen community plans for making Hillsdale a "model town center." The meeting's location has yet to be determined, but Wilson High School is the expected choice.

Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, who represents our district, initiated the Council's meeting here after he broached the idea to the Hillsdale Alliance in early July.

Moreover, City Commissioner Erik Sten has asked to speak at the November session. Sten, who took a Hillsdale walking tour Thursday, wants to discuss his efforts to help families continue to live in neighborhoods they may no longer be able to afford. The city assistance would help reverse the flow of families to the suburbs and their crowded schools and would help keep Portland's schools open.

The threatened closure of Rieke Elementary School last year resulted, in part, from a shift in enrollments both to the suburbs and to private or religious schools.

Developing Portland town centers, like Hillsdale, will also boost school enrollment by providing more close-in housing located near the schools as well as businesses and transit.

Community leaders here argue that Hillsdale has all those desired elements, as well as an engaged citizenry. That makes Hillsdale an excellent candidate to be a "model" for what town centers can be.

The question to be decided between now and Nov. 29 is what needs to be done to maximize Hillsdale's potential?

And Liberty and his Metro colleagues are asking us how they can help.

Hillsdale's job is to tell them.

Labels: , , , ,

Wealth and well-being — in context

"He's got to be careful; everyone wants to be rich."

The "he" in question is John Edwards, who is proposing raising taxes on the super-rich.

The warning, as quoted in today's New York Times, comes from political science Prof. Dennis J. Goldford at Drake University.

I question the professor's statement. Not everyone wants to be rich. Most of us want to be happy, and we don't equate that with private jets or a chateau in the Bahamas.

I'd direct Professor Goldford to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's line about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." An earlier draft (and John Locke and Adam Smith) had "property" instead of "happiness" among the "inalienable rights," but Jefferson knew, and Edwards knows, that it's not all about big bucks.

In fact, psychologists are finding that wealth beyond a modestly adequate level doesn't equate with happiness, or even well being.

Think Paris Hilton. See, those jail house stories about Paris weren't just chewing gum journalism. All they needed was a little context.

The Times needed to provide context too, rather than let Professor Goldford's comment go unanswered in the story about Edward's plan. The money raised from the super-rich, by the way, would go to help reduce taxes on lower-income Americans. They don't necessarily want to be rich; they just want to be, well, happy, and Edwards knows it.

Let's save "what it means to be 'happy'" for another time, or for your own comments.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Scooter Scoop

My friend Rick Nitti is considering following my treadmarks and buying a motor scooter.

I can’t recommend my choice of scooter without reservation. It’s a TN’G Milano 49 cc (see photo), ungoverned. If the authorities are reading this, I’m in trouble as it is licensed as a moped and hence shouldn’t be capable of speeds in excess of 30 mph.

My metallic green steed, a handsome plastic brute, does 50 easily, although, in light of the law, I try to keep it to 30 mph.

My only real problem with TN’G is questionable quality. Primarily in body integrity. This is becoming apparent in surprising, but harmless (so far) ways.

For reasons unknown to me, the scoot decided to shed its license plate the other evening. I heard a clattering on the proximate pavement but dismissed it was some kind of aural anomaly. Besides, I was in a hurry.

Only later did I discover my plate missing. As a matter of routine, I should have checked the attachment bolts, but really!

License plates are supposed to stay put. How often do you check the plates on your car?

Turns out that on the Chinese-built TN’G, the holes on the plate bracket are 1/8th inch too wide for Oregon plates. Beijing, meet Salem. So the fit isn’t snug, so the nut works loose, so the plates come unattached etc.

This could be symptomatic of more serious problems to come. Pray for me.

Who knows what Rick Nitti will come up with for a scoot. Something interesting, reliable and no doubt more expensive, but worth it.

I don’t know how I got off on advising him about the, ahem, scooter “amenities” of Portland's downtown bridges in an e-mail, but there I was sputtering on about the “fear factor” to scooterista of various bridges — the Hawthorne, the Morrison, The Broadway, The Ross Island, The Sellwood.


Not really?

Too bad.

Here’s the scoop, scooterwise.

The Morrison gets the highest marks of all the bridges. Easy on/easy off ramps, and minimal grating.

Grating can be unnerving, particularly to the novice. Like pain, you just have to work through it. Anyway, the Hawthorne has a long stretch of grating, which gives the scoot the “wobblies.” Survivable, but unsettling. The Hawthorne is my second choice.

The Ross Island is looooong, elevated and, hence, often gusty. Buffeting is only slightly better than the wobblies.

The Steel is out of the way, but actually the most user-friendly of the lot. No grating and short — but watch out for silent, serpentine MAX trains.

The Sellwood is also long but gets you where you want to go (especially if it's Sellswood). Its major shortcoming is that it is narrow and requires serious, co-operative merging to get on. And then there is its perplexing sign, “Don’t throw, men below” or something like that. I’ve never figured out the meaning. Throw? Like, what? Men below? Huh?

The Burnside is out of the question. Even if it had an easy on/off (which it doesn’t), I have no use for it. I can go to where it takes me using more convenient routes.

Likewise the Broadway Bridge, which seems useful only for Blazer games.

Enough said.

So there you have it, the scooter-eye view of Portland’s bridges. Bookmark this, just in case you get the scooter bug, which I highly recommend.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The sponsored exit

I rode the Portland Streetcar today to get to and from an all-day eye appointment (Don’t ask).

The trolley ride seemed as interminable as the appointment (six ocular pressure tests spaced 90 minutes apart).

Trolley operators, unlike exposed Tri-Met bus drivers, are hermetically sealed in their forward cockpits, kind of like terrorist-plagued airplane pilots. A sign near the door (is it locked?) invites you to talk to them, but not while the trolley is moving. What are you supposed to do, knock on the door? Bring a crowbar?

“Hello? Hell-OOO?”

It’s all so uninviting, I’ve never thought to ask a question.

On the other hand, I’ve listened to Tri-Met bus drivers conduct entire therapy sessions for mildly deranged passengers. How they do this and merge with traffic is beyond me.

So I was surprised today when the trolley driver actually flicked on the intercom and spoke to us. The trolley was stuck in traffic on Lovejoy, and the driver recommended getting out and walking.

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

He informed us that earlier in the rush hour he had been stuck in Lovejoy congestion for 15 minutes.

He also warned that this would be our last opportunity to leave the stuffy car while it was in gridlock.

About 20 of us got out and walked. It felt good.

But it wasn’t the traffic or stale air that made me want to get off; it was the syrupy recorded voice telling me that the trolley stops were sponsored by … what? A Realtor, a brewery, a condominium, a hospital, the PSU Viking football team.

Yes, I know, I’ve ranted about all this before.

Captive transit riders assaulted by piped-in advertising!

Portland Street car turns public intersections into verbal billboards!

Only the deaf could love Portland's trolley!

And, yes, I have complained to the Portland Streetcar “citizens advisory committee.” They treated me as though I had dropped in from Mars, or Halfway or Hebo.

I was told that no one — NO ONE! — had EVER, EVER! complained about the announced sponsorships. Besides, selling these “opportunities” brought in something like 60 grand a year (presumably off-setting fares passengers never pay).

Here, if you scroll down the link, is the price list. Listen up! It costs $500 per month to sponsor a stop and earn access to your captive ears.

My untoward appearance was four years ago. Afterwards, I crawled back in my curmudgeonly hole, muttering, “What will they sponsor next?”

Today I found out, from the Streetcar voice, which belongs to Cheryl Hanson, a local TV news celebrity-turned-trolley-shill. We are supposed to “feel comfortable with” Cheryl, but I don’t— at least not in this context.

What next? At some point in the tranquility between announced stop sponsorships, a computer-cued Cheryl informed us that our VERY CAR was sponsored by Portland General Electric. You know, the local private utility monopoly that bought the naming rights to, and expunged forever the proud name of, Civic Stadium (Yes, that’s another one of my curmudgeonly peeves).

So here I am back in my hole, muttering again: “What will they sponsor next?”

Here’s a clue.

The “voice” didn’t do much else besides announce sponsorships of up-coming stops and the trolley itself, but at one point Cheryl matter-of-factly piped in: “To request a stop, press yellow strip or door button.”

Now there’s a missed opportunity if I ever heard one. It should be worth a grand or two.
“To request this stop, sponsored by Powell’s Bookstore, press yellow strip, sponsored by Nike Sportswear, or door button, brought to you by Starbucks Coffee.”

Who knows, someday Cheryl may send me on my way with “Have a nice day … sponsored by Riverview Mortuary and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.”

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New Hillsdale web sites, newsletter debut

With two small city grants awarded through Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. and the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations, I have created two Hillsdale web sites and a newsletter.

I urge you to visit them the sites and to tell me what you think.

Hillsdale News at is a project of the Hillsdale Alliance, a coalition of Hillsdale organizations including the neighborhood association, the farmers market, Neighborhood House, the public schools and the business and professional association. If you go to the site you will find the first issue of the Hillsdale News newsletter. To receive future newsletters as e-mails, sign up on the site.

Hillsdale Town Center is at Right now the site has minimal content but does contain several useful links and some information about the Hillsdale business community. Local businesses will have a greater presence on the site in the future.

I welcome any comments you have about the sites and the newsletter. If you have news you want to share with Hillsdale News readers, just send it to me. I'll keep you posted on how many readers subscribe.

I'd like to thank SWNI and APNBA for the grants that have made this work possible and Todd Coward at Oakstand Community Web Site Development for providing me with technical assistance and support.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Challenge

Marilyn, Betty, Carol, Chris, Barbara, Les, Sally, Lillian, Gail and Don; and Peter, Phil, Larry and Don.

Those are the roll calls for two volunteer projects I worked on today. The first group sorted books for our Hillsdale Benefit Book Sale next Sunday. Over the last five weeks, the sorters have categorized at least 8,000 books in the old Estby gas station, the site of the sale. It has been a huge task.

Sale proceeds, which could reach $5,000, will benefit our community.

The second group laid down 200-pound concrete piers for an elevated trail/walkway through the swampy sections of the Stephens Creek Nature Park. These guys have been at it for weeks. Never easy, it is particularly tough work in the muck of the creek bottom.

Their volunteering has taken a job estimated to cost $400,000 for a full-blown, city-built bridge and cut it back to a volunteer project costing $10,000 in materials. They call the difference ingenuity, determination and “social capital.”

Don Baack and I straddled the two teams today. At the site of the book sale the two of us re-installed the big “Book Sale Here Sunday” sign out in front of the abandoned gas station. Late Saturday, skateboarders decided the plywood sign would make a great ramp. Somehow they were oblivious to the “ramp’s” also being a sign. It escaped them that skate skid marks would destroy it as a sign.

The sign, by the way, was painted by two Wilson High School volunteers. I recruited one, my neighbor Hilary and she invited a friend to help her. They did a great job, which I managed to restore by painting over most of the skid marks and touching up the letters.

(Note in passing: We need a skateboard park in Hillsdale. Skateboarding is a great sport — in its place.)

I hope others will share similar stories of community involvement by young people like Hilary and her friend. We are attracting a few kids to help at the farmers market. OK, so we are happily paying them modest wages, but they seem to be getting the community-building bug in the process.

I’d like to get more young people involved in projects like these. The average age of those on the rosters above must be somewhere in the mid- to late-Sixties. The majority are certainly grandparents.

It reminds me of something sociologist Robert Putnam wrote in his classic “Bowling Alone, The collapse and revival of American community” about a sliver of a generation, born at just about the time of the Second World War. That cohort has distinguished itself as volunteers. Which isn’t to detract from the work of other volunteers from other generations. Far from it, but Putnam reports that volunteering has declined alarmingly since the rise of TV.

His main point is that this civically involved sliver was the last pre-television youthful slice of American society. We (and, yes, I am among them) were the last to have childhoods in which we spent significantly more time in real world play than in being entertained and enticed by the tube, and now the computer.

To some extent, our last pre-TV generation is setting an example, if young people can just get by the fact that we are, well, old. It turns out that many of us are blessed with remarkably good health. Putnam, by the way, notes that it has been shown that volunteering and good health go together. Well, the backs aren’t what they used to be…. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we are semi-retired, or entirely retired, and have time, but we too could choose the tube.

To not choose the tube, is to take back time — four and a half hours a day, on average.

One more thing: my generational cohort vote in disproportionate numbers. Politicians ignore us at their peril.

So here’s a challenge to the younger generation: Out-do us. Out-volunteer us. Out-vote us.

I think I can speak for my fellow graying and balding volunteers when I say, We welcome being shown up.

So, while it’s summer, while there’s time, show up and pitch in. Find time to do it during the school year. Take your “community service” graduation requirement seriously. Don’t treat it as a requirement at all, but as an opportunity and a gift, to you and to us.

Putnam, writing seven years ago, repeats the challenge in a slightly different way:

“So I set before America’s parents, educators, and, above all, America’s young adults the following challenge: Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 the level of civic engagement among Americans then coming of age in all parts of our society will match that of their grandparents when they were that same age, and that at the same time bridging social capital will be substantially greater than it was in their grandparents’ era.”

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Hallows, anyone?

I’m definitely on the outside looking in on this one, but inquiring minds want to know: What is (or are) “hallows.”

Never mind “Deathly Hallows.” (Shouldn’t it – they? – be “Deadly”?)

Obviously I ask because “hallows” is a word much in the minds of a few million readers of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

I’m not a reader of Harry largely because I’m a non-fiction, non-fantasy sort of guy. Moreover, I read slowly, have a lot to do and my demographic is all wrong.

Typewriters, jazz, Quakerism, farmers markets … and Hallows?

Not even close, especially since I can’t find a logical contextual meaning for the word.

In the dictionary what I get isn’t a noun, but a verb.


transitive verb — hal·lowed, hal·low·ing, hal·lows

1. To make or set apart as holy.
2. To respect or honor greatly; revere.

Now certainly one of Harry’s hordes, who by now have read the book, can explain what this is all about.

Labels: ,