PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

May 5th, 2006

First Thursday

First Thursday is a tradition in Portland, a gallery walk on the first Thursday of the month where folks meander from art gallery to art gallery, looking at the artworks, sipping wine, munching cheese, and discussing the finer points of art appreciation. At least, that’s what I’d always thought it was.

Last night I had the opportunity to be in the Pearl District for First Thursday, and got a chance to see the reality. While there were plenty of people who were clearly patrons of the arts, it was also clear to me that First Thursday is mostly a pub crawl with delusions of sophistication.

Not that there weren’t entertaining moments. A young man wandered in and starting playing a didgeridoo. If the sound of a didgeridoo being played live and in person isn’t surreal enough for you, ask the performer to wander slowly around the room pointing it at people as he plays. I must admit that I’ve rarely seen anyone with a better mastery of circular breathing.

I’m not going to make any judgments and say that we had a homeless guy in the crowd, but this guy sat in the corner of the lobby all night long, periodically going back to the buffet table for more sandwiches and chips and getting a refill of wine. His conversation with the wine server was classic:


“Ah, would you like some more wine?”


“I see. And what were you drinking, the pinot grigio?”


“I’m sorry, what did you say you were drinking?”


“Ah. Something red. Well. Here’s some more ‘red’.”

I also saw several examples of young hipsters in their native habitat. I was shocked to discover that I was quite familiar with the current hip and happening hairstyle. In fact, I realized that I often sport that very trendy ‘do myself. Of course, in my case, I generally call it ‘bedhead’ and reach for the mousse to try and eradicate it.

And what’s with young, apparently healthy males carrying around toy dogs? I’m sorry, I can’t take a man seriously that owns a chihuahua or a toy poodle. You better at least have a pug with a bad attitude if you don’t want your masculinity seriously questioned.

Sadly, most folks just ducked in, scoped out the snakki treats, grabbed some wine, and left. However, even I have to admit that the Pearl District was alive last night. There were a ton of people out and about, sitting on sidewalks, talking and laughing, and generally enjoying the particularly fine evening. There was an almost carnival atmosphere in the Pearl. I think I’d like to come back sometime, and bring the wife. Maybe I’ll even muss up my hair for the evening.

April 30th, 2006

Room(s) with a View

The Pittock Mansion is one of Portland’s landmarks. Situated on a 46 acre estate on a hilltop 1,000 feet above Portland, it was the home of Henry and Georgiana Pittock.

Henry Pittock came to Oregon in 1853 at the young age of 19. Starting out penniless, he eventually attained ownership of the Oregonian newspaper, with investments in real estate, banking, railroads, steamboats, sheep ranching, silver mining, and the pulp and paper industry.

The Pittocks began planning and designing their dream home in 1909, and the Mansion was completed in 1914. The Pittock family lived in the mansion until 1958, when it was put on the market. Unfortunately, a severe storm in 1962 caused extensive damage to the Mansion, and concerned citizens convinced the City of Portland to restore the Mansion and convert it into a historical monument and park.

Today, I took the kids to see it. It’s quite a place. The building itself was impressive for its time, with a central vacuum system, intercoms, and indirect lighting. The master bathroom has sitz bath, and a shower system having multiple spigots, including needle jets surrounding the bather, an overhead ’shampoo’ showerhead, two showerheads at waist height pointing inward, and a ‘bidet’ shower head mounting near the floor and directed upward (you can see a picture of the shower here). The sweeping main staircase is marble, the mansion is sandstone, and incredible handcrafted woodwork can be found in nearly every room (you can see a picture of the fabulous staircase here).

In addition to novelties like the sleeping porches (I want one!), I pointed out additional details to the kids, like the absolute separation between the family quarters and the servant’s facilities. The servant’s entrance, the servant’s stairwell, and the servant’s rooms were nearly completely hidden from view, while most rooms had some means of summoning “the help” if they were needed. It’s good to be the boss.

In addition to the Mansion, the estate has a Gate Lodge which is a small house in itself, and a gift shop in the original garage. But the greatest attraction at the Pittock Mansion is the sweeping view it offers of Portland. From the front lawn, you can see Mount Saint Helens, with it’s truncated top to the northeast:

While Mount Hood dominates the downtown area to the east:

It’s well worth a visit to soak in the vista from the top of the hill, and think about what it must have been like to live in such a palatial home. To give you a tiny taste, I took a panorama looking toward downtown. It still doesn’t do it justice.

Update: Don’t ask me why it didn’t occur to me to take pictures INSIDE the Mansion. It just didn’t. Fortunately, others are not so absent-minded. If you want to see a damn near complete tour of the interior of the Pittock Mansion, these folks have done the work for you.

April 16th, 2006

Wascally Wabbit

The kids were all hopped up on goofballs this morning (i.e., flying on sugar) and the wife had a headache. So I volunteered to get them out of the house for a while. We went to the Nature Park, where the children spotted a bunny near the boardwalk:

Yes. It was a bunny. That we saw on Easter. It was an Easter bunny.

We also saw this interesting fungus:

The visit was truly capped by seeing a Pileated Woodpecker on a young cedar tree. It was a beautiful bird, and was totally unconcerned with us watching him excavating a good-sized hole in the side of the tree. Alas, none of the pictures I took do him justice.

And a Happy Easter to all of you, my gentle Readers.

April 13th, 2006
April 2nd, 2006

Leafy Refuge

I was walking back from lunch the other day, up 5th avenue, when I saw this little bird sitting on a neatly trimmed shrubbery (Ni!):

It seemed abnormally fearless, even for an urban bird. It let me get quite close to it, with no sign of any concern. The reason for this nonchalance became clear when it decided I had finally gotten close enough, and abruptly disappeared!

You see those gaps in the foliage? They provide access to the interior of the shrub, which is nearly completely empty space, except for a maze of bare branches spreading out from the base. It was a perfect refuge, nearly impenetrable. All this bird had to do was duck inside, wait for whoever it was to lose interest, and pop back out. Sure enough, as soon as I moved a few feet further:

It popped brightly back out, and was promptly joined by another bird. This combination of defiance and ready retreat tickled me, and put me in a good mood, at least as much as the spring colors did:

This was a lovely little flower bed, just flowering. It provided a bright spot of color that contrasted with the bare tree limbs above.

March 2nd, 2006

Man About Town

I had a lunch appointment a few blocks from work, at the Veritable Quandary. I took advantage of the walk to take a few photos. I love the streets and sidewalks downtown. Not the people on them, but the sidewalks themselves. There’s a lot of brickwork, laid out in beautiful patterns. And they are kept surprisingly clean.

I also love the little green things here and there. Portland has beautiful trees, but there are also patches of growing things in the nooks and crannies. No one likes the mildew, but the moss is nice.

February 28th, 2006

On Enforcing Responsibility

There were a total of three neighbors at the meeting last night, including myself. There was also a local business owner. That meant we had a ratio of audience to presenters of 4:3. Pretty pitiful. I’m really surprised more of my neighbors didn’t show up.

Anyway, the engineering firm that came up with the expansion plan had some nice wall charts showing the building plan, the building plan superimposed over a satellite image of the neighborhood, etc. They came prepared to handle all the questions that arose.

Long story short, they’re going to expand an existing building. They’re going to take out some existing railroad tracks that are currently not in use. And they’re going to put in a new parking area for semitrailers. While they will be laying down a lot of new pavement, the impact on the wooded buffer zone between them and us will be minimal. I think they only have to cut down a few trees along one corner of their lot. There will be no encroachment onto the riparian zone of the creek between us. They say that overall, truck traffic will be decreased as a result, and that there is mostly no activity overnight at this facility anyway.

It was a very cordial meeting. It seemed like they were genuinely concerned about how the project could affect their neighbors, and that they wanted things to go as smoothly as possible. I know, every corporate entity wants to avoid trouble and bad publicity, but these guys seemed genuine.

One thing stuck in my mind, though. At the end of the meeting, I commented that they had clearly tried very hard not to impinge on the creek, or the surrounding wetlands, and had managed to avoid a large impact on the surrounding vegetation, and I thanked them for that.

The engineering guy laughed shortly and said something like “Well, thank the Clean Water Act and the City of Beaverton, because we couldn’t go anywhere near the creek without a violation.”


The owner of the building immediately also noted that they wanted to be good neighbors, etc. etc. But that comment really struck me.

You see, one of the reasons I’m a (gasp) liberal instead of a conservative, is that I strongly believe that business and industry is incapable of policing itself. You have to have rules to protect the environment, and the health of workers and citizens, because there will always be a monetary incentive to pillage the countryside and screw your workers. Unless there is a penalty structure that makes it more expensive to be Snidely Whiplash than to be Dudley Do-Right, anyone that is responsible to shareholders will always take the cheaper route. That’s their job.

I just never thought I’d hear such a definitive affirmation of those beliefs delivered directly to my face.

Bonus Question: How do you know when you’re not getting enough sleep?

Answer: When you fall asleep on the couch at 9:00, and sleep until midnight. Oy.

February 3rd, 2006

This is Not a Cashless Society

I went walking at lunch today, because I haven’t walked in a while and it was only raining a little bit. I took a lap around the river, then grabbed a quick bite to eat. As I was walking back to my office I thought to myself that an iced mocha would be a mighty tasty treat for a Friday afternoon, and so I headed for the next Starbucks.

As an aside, I should point out that when I say ‘the next Starbucks’, that’s precisely what I mean. Not ‘the Starbucks’ or even ‘the nearest Starbucks’, for they are far too ubiquitous for that. No, I mean the very next one along my intended route. But I digress.

There was a young man entering the building just ahead of me. A young woman was coming out at the same time with her hands full of caramel mochafrappa-something-or-others, and as she pushed the door open it tapped him on the shoulder. He shot her a look that was, well, it was equal parts shocked and petulant. Although she said she was sorry, he sure looked like he wasn’t satisfied with her apology. We went on into the store.

Now, I know exactly what I want. And I know exactly how to order so as to minimize the amount of time I have to actually spend in Starbucks. But I found myself in line behind Petulant Boy, who was nervously playing with his hands as he spoke to the woman behind the counter.

“… um …. I got a hot caramel macchiato yesterday … no, it was iced … but I wanted it hot … and I called the store … um … and the lady told me … I just had to come in and you would give me another drink …”

The lady behind the counter was quite professional. “Can you tell me the name of the person you talked to?”

“… um … Abbie … I think …”

“I’m sorry, there is no Abbie working at this store. And if someone had taken that message, they would have left me a note, or an email, explaining the situation. And nobody left me a note, so I’m sorry but I can’t help you.”

Petulant boy started to get a whiny tone in his voice. “…um….I called the store… the person I talked to said … um … I would get another drink ….”

“Are you sure you called this store? Because we don’t have an Abbie working here. Did you call another store by mistake?”

” …um … maybe … but I bought my drink at THIS store.”

“I’m very sorry, but unless someone left me a note, or you have a receipt, I can’t give you another drink.”

” … um … ”

First of all, my daughter is a MUCH better liar than this guy was. Perhaps she should give lessons. Second, I wish I could live in HIS universe for a while, where apparently all you have to do is make a vague assertion about some error in service at some unspecified previous time and you get free stuff!! Wheeee!!

Petulant boy, who was now Sullen Boy, then asked for a glass of water. And I got my iced mocha, which I actually paid for myself. And oddly enough, if they had given me the wrong drink, I’m pretty sure I would have brought it up before I left the store, while I still had it in my hand, rather than calling them up the next day and hoping that I would get a free drink using magic pixie dust.

If Petulent Boy wants free coffee, he’s going to have to put in his time panhandling for latte money like all the other sullen kiddies.

January 11th, 2006

Give me Numbers

I’ll admit, I’ve been whining about the rain lately. It certainly seems to be coming down harder, and for longer, than it has in recent winters. But my perceptions are subjective. Perhaps I’m just more depressed this year. Perhaps I’m outside more, and so have become more aware of the amount of rain trickling down the back of my neck. I was trained as an experimentalist, and so when push comes to shove, I trust numbers more than some wishy-washy personal opinion.

So, after trudging out to get the paper this morning in yet another downpour, I was gratified to see some actual DATA in the newspaper.

That’s actual rainfall data, y’all. That’s not subjective. To be more precise, that’s the estimated rainfall over the last two weeks in the state of Oregon. In Metro Portland, that translates to anywhere from 5-8 inches. God help them, there are places in the Coast Range that have seen 20 inches of rain over the last fortnight. Time to build an ark.

January 9th, 2006

At Least I’ll Admit I’m Miserable

I went for another walk at lunch. You may be impressed with all the walking I’ve been doing lately. What with walks along the river and walks in the nature park. Let me just remind you that I was given an ultimatum, given it over my cell phone in my local grocery store, and it was delivered with all the warmth a mafia enforcer would use when talking to a bookie who’s been skimming the take: I need to get some exercise.

So, I found myself setting off across the river again. It was pretty miserable. But I amused myself by observing the runners, their muscular thighs and sunken cheeks blasted an incandescent pink by the wind-blown rain, desperately trying to pretend they were enjoying themselves. I tell no such lies, to myself or anyone else.

But even though I don’t enjoy walking in the freezing rain, I do enjoy being outdoors, at least a little. It’s been very interesting to see the Willamette river running so high. The opaque brown water shoves through downtown with a force that is easy to overlook–until you see the roiling, turbulent cauldrons downstream of the bridge pylons. I would never have appreciated the violence streaming through town if I hadn’t been out walking next to it. There is a visceral connection to the world through its weather, a connection that you run the risk of severing when you never go outside and get all your information through the TV or the internet.

I walked further today, from the Hawthorne Bridge all the way to the Steel Bridge, and back over the river. If I’m going to make a habit of this, I’m going to have to bring a change of clothes, or at least a pair of rain pants.

And I’ll need to practice that glazed, pink-cheeked grimace that lets everyone know a little cold and rain won’t keep me indoors.