Holy snykeez, this is long overdue. I’ve been a busy little monster! Sooo, I moved out to Portland, OR from Philadelphia this spring to hang out with this wild one.
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I met her while
I was on tour with
these ones. More about that...
Here’s a lotta' background: When I was a sophomore in college, my family learned that my dad was not related to his father. He grew up in a small town in Massachusetts where people made it their business to tell him that. People in that town sucked sometimes. Finally, after years of asking, my grandmother wrote him a letter confirming this.
We later found out that I had some “half-aunts” in Portland- nothing new, I suppose, in retrospect. My mom being a nurse wanted to know my new family’s medical history. Along with that, we were obviously curious to meet these people that we were related to now.
Portland, four years ago blew my mind. It seemed to be everything Philadelphia was not: An incredible coffee scene that was noticeably better to the layperson, a booming beer scene, a totally bike-friendly city that everyone wore helmets in, and …well just way friendlier in general. The bus drivers all seemed to know Spanish, as well “correct” English (SEPTA?). And on a whole, Portland was squeaky clean. It still is!
When I graduated from college, I decided I wanted to move out there and work for Stumptown. I set up an interview and it bombed. I felt heart-broken and crushed. I flew back to Philly and very happily discovered Aaron Ultimo, Betty Ortiz, and Counter Culture Coffee. In no time, Philly (as well as NYC) had the makings of a coffee scene. Not only that, but people got crazy into biking, good beer, and different types of artisan foods and crafts. Philly got a whole lot more local and it was totally awesome.
Around this time, I joined a band called Folklore. I got the invite through my friends in Hermit Thrushes, as well as Scott Churchman, who were contributing ideas, along with Jimmy Hughes, Mr. Folklore himself and a member of radical E6 band Elf Power. Shit was awesome. Soon after in 2009, I joined Hermit Thrushes and started to tour a lot.
Along the first tour I met my GF and we decided to embark on a really fun long distance relationship. It didn’t seem so crazy because my band seemed to be perpetually on tour. If they had it their way, they would be perpetually on tour. Needless, to say, over the last four years, I’ve visited Portland more than ye average East Coast’r.
Portlandia and Living There
It’s been an interesting experience: I first viewed the town as a wide eyed kid, than a "less wide eyed man-child," followed by a professional touring musician, a week-long resident, a month-long resident, and then an actual full fledged resident: paying Portland taxes, living on one side, commuting to the other side, and working as barista in a recently re-invented coffee mecca.
In some ways, living in Portland was better than I thought it was going to be. In some ways, it was exactly how I expected it to be, gaining said knowledge through constant touring. And then, in other ways, it was worse than I thought it would be.
Upon arriving in PDX, I was lucky to land a job at Case Study Coffee, a new shop on the verge of being opened by Christine Herman and Wes Russell, formerly fulltime espresso caterers. It was a pretty wild experience working there. I jumped onboard a little before CSC was open and had a chance to help get it off the ground. While working there, I was able to work on a 3 Group La Marzocco Mistral, that had individual boilers, pumps, paddles, and foot-switch activated steam wands... Actually, everything was foot-switch activated. If it is possible to put a foot switch on something, Wes Russell will attach a foot switch to it. Foot-switch activated ketchup packets on sandwiches? In all seriousness, he and Christine have some neat ideas and while there, I saw Portland take note of said ideas. For instance, Stumptown is about to mod out some of their shop gear with foot switches. Case Study, upon opening, has made it their mission to feature only locally roasted coffee. A few months after opening, BARISTA decided to do a month-long focus on local roasters. Exciting, huh?
As touched on before that, PDX has no shortage of locally roasted coffee happening and it’s totally awesome to see how companies like Coava, Water Ave, Sterling, and Courier are pushing each other (and Stumptown) to get their “crazy on.” The spirit is amicable and cooperative. No one seems set on screwing the other out of business, which is at times a hard feat to conquer. Getting back to the point, it was just great to experience espresso on that level. It was what I needed. I feel like, in certain ways, espresso will always be a bit of a mystery to me, especially as the industry becomes more and more innovative every day. I almost have more questions than answers. But a year ago, it had never even dawned on me to consider and question some of the newer and popular espresso ideas I had JUST learned. I feel like I’m better off because of all of this, regardless. And, Faaaaulk, it was just a lot of fun to taste everything. Anyway, I hope this continues.
Biking in Portland sucks. This might come as a shock to most people, as it is the most “bike friendly” place in the world and certainly the easiest bike ride on the mountainous West Coast. But this is a lie. Mark my words: Portland is full of passive aggressive drivers and uptight tools, disguised as bike nerds. Gross. I am from Philadelphia. People are crazy in Philadelphia. People are outwardly aggressive and straightforward in Philly. I like to talk about Philly as being a sort of contained chaos. I mean, there’s order out here… an order of chaos. At best, common sense reigns supreme. The light’s red- you should probably stop. If you don’t, you might get hit. BUT if you stop and there’s no traffic coming… does it really make sense to wait until this arbitrary light turns GREEN…I gotta say, I don’t think that it does. It rejects the notion that we can be individuals… considerate and conscientious individuals. In Philadelphian, “this how roll, baby.”
But that’s not how Portland rolls. The latter situation repeated in Portland will get you a nagging “Neh Neh Neh Neh Neh.” Snurfin' vloh me*. Seriously- but not literally. You wanna say something? Then say something. Yeah, I just broke a law created by a legislature that never wanted to know my opinion on the matter anyway. I’d like to believe that as a society, we can make educated decisions with consideration to others. Biking in Portland was supposed to be awesome. In turn, oddly enough, I just felt very stressed- in a manner only I could ever feel really stressed about.
And don’t get me started on “J walking.”
Perhaps, the most disappointing thing about my stay in Portland was the sad state their DIY music scene. For a town that has awesome record stores everywhere, Sleater-Kinney, the Wipers, Dead Moon, and the now relocated Kill Rock Stars record label, besides the Artistery, there really is no steady source of DIY music and I can’t explain why. 90 minutes north, not the case at all. And while I don’t really love Seattle or Tacoma, houses like the 808 House, Healthy Times, the New Crompton, and the all ages Vera Project are continually churning out local and national DIY sonic gems.
So what gives? I don’t really know… probably a lot of things. But in general, kids just seem lazy and uninterested on another level to go for something that’s not endorsed by Pitchfork or Pepsi. More often than not, when I would invite people to my apartment for beers, games, and outside the established neighborhood/neighborhood bar, I would find myself sitting at home, with my girlfriend, her cat, and maybe a friend from Olympia who would happen to in town. And if kids weren’t interested in this (free booze and fun), maybe actually creating creative and independent music just isn’t “how they roll.”
All that being said, there are a few people in Portland trying to do something different despite the overwhelming mass of followers and they deserve your attention and I’m gratefully for hearing them: Lane Barrington and Shannon Rose Steele of the Ocean Floor are creating beautiful music that’s at once thought provoking, new, and slightly familiar, like your weird aunt or uncle that’s always off doing something crazy that your conservative family doesn’t approve of but love regardless, because that person’s warm and genuine. Their songs are extremely well crafted. Their performances are super tight. (I saw them perform on the back of a tow truck in Tulsa, OK. It was so cool). You NEED to hear them.
The Artistery is still throwing shows just about every weekend, despite pressure from ASCAP (tools) and it’s perhaps unfortunate location (it’s not exactly in the center of town, though at one point a lot of folks used to live out that way). And while, I’m not crazy about Dear Nora and Starfucker, they seem to be hitting the road enough.
The last thing I care to comment on is the food situation in Portland and I’ll make it quick: Besides pizza, Portland’s kind of awesome. Top picks in my time there: Café Velo (HOLY FAHCK!!! Mediterranean street food. The price is right for the quality, quantity, and creativity), Dove ViVi (I know what I just said about it sucking for pizza. And I still believe that…But Dove Vivi is different! It’s sort of like deep dish pizza that has an amazing cornmeal crust. Great for everyone, unless you’re poor, which everyone, myself included, is in Portland… so whatever I guess), AND the burrito truck at Interstate and Killingsworth (known most notably by their hand painted sign that advertises “Vegan Lovers Welcome,” get the carne asada with the green avocado sauce! Sara and my lunch every Tuesday.)
*keepin' it sort of civil. holler.